NOAA Ship Fairweather uses new technology to improve survey efficiency

By ENS Peter Siegenthaler

Following the scheduled winter repair period, Fairweather is kicking off the 2017 field season in Tlevak Strait; the waterway between Dall Island and Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. This area was last surveyed between 1900 and 1939, and the lead-lines used at the time to determine depths were susceptible to omission of rocks and other features in an area. Using the latest innovations in hydrographic technology, Fairweather will be resurveying these areas with complete coverage multibeam echo sounder bathymetry. This allows Fairweather to identify any rocks or shoal features missed in prior surveys, increasing the safety for local communities, whose economies and livelihoods are dependent on maritime transportation of goods.

One of the new developments Fairweather’s survey department in particular is excited about is a new software program affectionately named “Charlene.” Charlene was developed by PS Eric Younkin at Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Systems and Technologies Branch (HSTB) to automate the night processing workflow. This simplifies hours spent each night converting and correcting raw sonar data into an automated script which takes in raw data at one end and generates products at the other. Initial results are promising, and the ship is looking forward to fully integrating Charlene into the processing workflow.

Another new development for the 2017 field season is new multibeam sonars for the ship’s survey launches, which were installed during the winter repair period. The preliminary data acquired by these sonars has shown vast improvement over their predecessors’ data, which will go a long way towards reducing data processing timelines. The new sonars do this by automating most of the acquisition parameters in real-time, far faster and more effectively than could be achieved manually. They also take advantage of a multitude of hardware and software advances that have taken place over the past several years, resulting in systems that are quieter, smaller, and easier to operate.

Fairweather is continuing to use and develop the launch-mounted lidar systems (lasers) for the acquisition of shoreline data. This was another HSTB-developed process that was validated during the 2016 field season. This year, Fairweather is using those lessons learned in order to further improve our acquisition workflow. These systems create accurate real-time point clouds of features above the waterline and have revolutionized the way hazards to navigation are documented. Before the use of lasers, shoreline verification frequently required physically touching rocks and obstructions above the water surface for accurate measurement and placement. This process involved increased risk, took more time, and produced less accurate data. The new laser workflow addresses all these limitations. By scanning the shoreline at a distance with calibrated equipment, efficiency, accuracy, and safety are all greatly improved.

Overall, Fairweather is enthusiastic about being back at work in Alaska. With her new software, sonar systems, and dedicated crew, the stage is set for and productive field season!

Area surveyed by Fairweather May 30- June 10, 2017.
Area surveyed by Fairweather May 30- June 10, 2017.

Change of command for NOAA Ship Rainier

The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier (S-221) hosted a change of command on January 12 while moored in its homeport of Newport, Oregon.

Cmdr. John Lomnicky accepted command of Rainer, replacing Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele in a ceremony with crew and guests in attendance, including Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey; Capt. Todd Bridgeman, director of Marine Operations, OMAO; Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, Newport, Oregon; and Cmdr. Brian Parker, commanding officer of Pacific Marine Operations Center.

CoC Rainier official party
The official party (from left to right): Cdmr. John Lomnicky, Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele, Cdmr. Brian Parker, Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, and Capt. Todd Bridgeman

Cmdr. Lomnicky follows nearly two dozen officers commanding Rainier in her 49-year history. He started his NOAA Corps career as a junior officer onboard Rainier and served as the ship’s executive officer for the past two years.

The commanding officer of a NOAA survey ship is not only a mariner. The CO is also the ship’s chief scientist and senior program representative. This means that, in addition to being responsible for the safe management of the vessel, the ship’s CO is also solely and ultimately responsible for the completion of the science mission: delivering quality hydrographic surveys.

rainier-change-of-command
Cmdr. John Lomnicky (left) accepts command of NOAA Ship Rainier, replacing Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele (right) as Cmdr. Brian Parker (center), commanding officer of the Pacific Marine Operations Center, facilitates the exchange.

Capt. Van Den Ameele has been the commanding officer of Rainer since June 2014. During 2015, Van Den Ameele led the ship on a trip into the Arctic Circle, surveying over 137 square nautical miles around Kotzebue Sound, Alaska. Surveying in Alaska is no easy task, and often presents a wealth of challenges — both hydrographically and operationally — that Van Den Ameele met and overcame.

Van Den Ameele’s dedication to the mariner was demonstrated during his pursuit of dangers to navigation on his projects around Kodiak Island, Alaska.  Following meetings with the fishing community, the officers and crew of Rainier identified a considerable number of dangers to navigation, submitted those for charting, and followed through to ensure these made it to the chart.

During the last three field seasons of Van Den Ameele’s command, Rainier mapped nearly 1,000 square nautical miles and surveyed over 11,700 linear nautical miles -– enough miles to have sailed halfway around the world, if the miles were put end to end!

“The efforts of Capt. Van Den Ameele and the crew of Rainier have improved the products we provide to the world’s mariners and helped increase the safety and efficiency of American maritime commerce in those areas,” said Rear Adm. Smith. “On behalf of the Office of Coast Survey, I want to congratulate you on completing a successful sea tour and job well done.”

The 231-foot Rainier is one of the most modern and productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world. The ship is named for Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. Rainier’s officers, technicians, and scientists acquire and process the hydrographic data that NOAA cartographers use to create and update the nation’s nautical charts with ever-increasing data richness and precision.

Change of command for NOAA Ship Ferdinand Hassler

The crew of the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler (S-250) hosted a change of command on November 5, while moored at its homeport in New Castle, New Hampshire.

In front of the crew and guests – including Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, director of the Office of Coast Survey, and Capt. Anne Lynch, commanding officer of the Atlantic Marine Operations Center – Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton accepted command of Hassler, replacing Cmdr. Marc Moser.

Welton is the new survey ship’s third commanding officer.

Lt. Cmdr. accepts command of NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler as Cmdr. Marc Moser looks on.
Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton accepts command of NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler as Cmdr. Marc Moser (right) looks on. Lt. Jon Andvick, Hassler‘s operations officer, observes from the left.

Glang congratulated Welton on her new responsibilities. “You have proven yourself capable and successful in your previous assignments, and we have great expectations you will continue to succeed at your new command-at-sea,” he said.

A commanding officer of a NOAA survey ship is also the ship’s hydrographer, chief scientist, and senior program representative. This means that, in addition to being responsible for the safe management of the vessel, the ship’s CO is also solely and ultimately responsible for the completion of the science mission: the hydrographic surveys that are delivered to Coast Survey.

The event marked the end of a successful tour for Moser, who served as Hassler’s second commanding officer, beginning in December 2013. Glang commended Moser for his service as “a resilient, resourceful, and extremely competent leader.”

During Moser’s tenure, Hassler achieved significant reductions in survey processing time, which cut an average of 55 days from the time it takes to get newly acquired data on to nautical charts.

Highlighting the importance of working to minimize conflicts with commercial fishing operations during survey projects, Glang thanked Moser for coordinating with the local fishing communities in the Gulf of Maine and adapting survey schedules to try to avoid impacts on fishing operations. Moser also demonstrated his “understanding and commitment to the customs and traditions of a seagoing service, when Hassler intercepted a derelict sailing vessel that had been drifting for three days in the New York Bight,” Glang pointed out. The crew facilitated the vessel’s rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Moser succeeded Cmdr. Ben Evans, who brought Hassler through its delivery and initial shakedown period and into operations – including responses to hurricanes Irene and Sandy. In the Sandy response, Hassler searched for dangers to navigation and sped the resumption of shipping and naval traffic through deep draft routes to the ports of Hampton Roads and Baltimore.

Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton
Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton

Welton, who has served as Hassler‘s executive officer since May 2014, congratulated Moser for his successful command, and then went on to “thank everyone here – and those who couldn’t be here, too – who have supported this ship through all the trials and tribulations of transforming a newly constructed ship of unique design to a safe and effective operational ocean mapping vessel.”

Welton received her commission in 2003, and is one of a growing number of females in the NOAA Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services.  Of the total 320 officers, 91 are women. NOAA’s female percentage of 28.4 compares favorably to 14.5 percent of the active-duty military force, and 10.5 percent of the U.S. Coast Guard total force of active-duty and reserve personnel. (See CNN, By the numbers: Women in the U.S. military, January 24, 2013)

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler is a small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) vessel designed for improved stability. Hassler’s officers, technicians, and scientists acquire and process the hydrographic data that NOAA cartographers use to create and update the nation’s nautical charts with ever-increasing data richness and precision.

The ship was named for Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, a visionary scientist who planned the survey of the coast after President Jefferson signed enacting legislation in 1807. Hassler became the first superintendent of Coast Survey, serving until his death in 1843.

NOAA hydro officers honored

Each year, the NOAA Association of Commissioned Officers recognizes NOAA Corps officers for their extraordinary accomplishments and contributions. This year, three of the four awards went to officers supporting Coast Survey’s hydrographic program. Congratulations to the officers honored with Junior Officer of the Year, Engineering, and Science awards. Coast Survey applauds your accomplishments!

Megan Guberski
Lt. Megan Guberski, NOAA

Lieutenant Megan Guberski was awarded the “Junior Officer of the Year” award for her outstanding performance as operations officer on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. Lt. Guberski successfully submitted 13 hydrographic projects, ensuring mariners received critical safety of navigation data in a timely manner. Undeterred by challenges outside of her control, she developed a creative staffing and logistics plan to ensure Thomas Jefferson continued its primary data acquisition mission with survey launches even when the ship lost days at sea. This added over 390 acquisition hours, which would have otherwise gone unrealized. Lt. Guberski also made certain that data processing and survey delivery was not delayed due to server shutdown during drydock, by managing the move of the data servers, survey department, and part of the wardroom into Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch to continue hydrographic data processing. Finally, Lt. Guberski seamlessly stepped into the role of acting executive officer with less than 24 hours notice, managing all aspects of the ship budget, personnel, and logistics in addition to her primary duties.

Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton
Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton

Lieutenant Commander Briana Welton was awarded the “Science Award” for her thesis work “A Field Method for Backscatter Calibration Applied to NOAA’s Reson 7125 Multibeam Echo-Sounder.” Seafloor acoustic backscatter is a valuable measurement for characterizing the marine environment and has been used in such diverse fields as geology, habitat mapping, and marine construction. Lt. Cmdr. Welton’s contribution to this field allows a more seamless integration of multi-sensor data sets and improves the utility of the environmental mapping data acquired by NOAA’s fleet.

Lt.j.g. Eric Younkin, NOAA
Lt.j.g. Eric Younkin, NOAA

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Eric Younkin was awarded an “Engineering Award” for his innovative and comprehensive analysis, design, and implementation of shipboard data management infrastructure, including remote processing, data archival, and network optimization. This resulted in government cost savings of over $400K while improving performance and maintaining data integrity.

Job well done!

NOAA observes World Hydrography Day by honoring lost crew members of the Robert J. Walker

Today, June 21, is World Hydrography Day. Hydrographic offices in over 80 maritime nations observe this day every year, since 2005. It is our special day to tell the public what hydrography is, and how it is employed to make navigation safer. Simply, hydrography is the science we use to obtain the data needed to create nautical charts. NOAA’s 200-year history is proof positive that those charts – and therefore hydrography – are a national investment that pays off daily with navigation safety, efficiency, and coastal protection from accidents at sea.

But today’s observation of World Hydrography Day is more profound. It is personal to every person who works in or supports hydrography in the United States.

It was 153 years ago, to the day, that the U.S. Coast Survey experienced the largest single loss of life in our history. In the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, on stormy seas, the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker was hit by a commercial schooner when she was transiting from Norfolk to their homeport in New York, after surveying in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship sank quickly, and twenty crew members died. Another man died from his injuries the next day.

Martin painting of the Walker
In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. It is now at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Today, we honored the lost crew members of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation.

The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is currently working near where the Walker sank. They are taking a couple of hours to survey the area, with multibeam and sidescan sonar, as part of a NOAA Maritime Heritage effort to pinpoint the exact location and confirm the identity of the Walker wreck. (While NOAA nautical charts show a seafloor obstruction, we have not positively identified the Walker.) For the survey, Thomas Jefferson commanding officer Larry Krepp welcomed two “wreck experts” on board: Joyce Steinmetz, a nautical archaeology and maritime history expert from East Carolina University, and Vitad Pradith, the technical director with Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch.

Steinmetz - Pradith - Krepp
Joyce Steinmetz, Vitad Pradith, and Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp on board the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, as they departed on the survey leg that included a search for the wreck of the  Robert J. Walker.

Honoring the memory of the 20 USCS crew members who perished the morning of June 21, 1860, the Thomas Jefferson’s newest hydrographer, Ensign Eileen Pye, laid a memorial wreath on the waters above the sunken wreck of the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker.

TJ ceremony
Cmdr. Larry Krepp, Lt. Cmdr. Chris van Westendorp, and Ensign Eileen Pye during the honor ceremony onboard the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.
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Ensign Eileen Pye, the Thomas Jefferson’s newest hydrographer, lays the wreath over the waters where the USCS Robert J. Walker sank.
Teele rings ship's bell
Seaman surveyor Anthony Teele rings the Thomas Jefferson ship’s bell, honoring the Walker crew.

At the same time the Thomas Jefferson was memorializing the crew at sea, NOAA employees gathered at NOAA offices in Maryland. Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, led the ceremony and reminded the assembled group, “With leadership comes an obligation to honor these men who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation.”

RDML Glang
Rear Adm. Gerd Glang noted that this year’s celebration of World Hydrography Day was “more profound,” as it was “personal to every one of us who works in or supports hydrography in the United States.”

David Moehl, a senior survey technician on the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, rang an historic hydrographer’s bell, once for every man who died that day, as Cheryl Oliver, the president of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Historical Society, read each man’s name.

Meohl rings bell in honor of the men who died
Senior survey technician David Moehl rang an historic ship’s bell as Cheryl Oliver reads the name of each Robert J. Walker crew member who died.

Rear Admiral Michael Devany, director of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, talked of connections. “Despite the time that has passed, today’s NOAA employees, mariner and non-mariner alike, share a unique connection with these sailors. The common heritage of love for the sea and sky bond us with the men of the Robert J. Walker regardless of time.”

“The sacrifice paid by these 20 men reminds us of the dangers intrinsic with operations at sea,” Devany said. “We cannot go back and undo the events that took the Robert J. Walker and her crew from us, but I believe they would be honored to know the work they set out to accomplish over a century and a half ago continues today by NOAA ships and the people of NOAA.”

RADM Devany
Rear Adm. Michael Devany noted that the crew of the Walker would be honored to know that their work continues today.

David Kennedy, deputy under secretary for operations at NOAA, spoke to the heart of the accident: the need to honor all federal employees. Kennedy explained that the men who died were not the scientific or naval elites: “They were the the guys working below deck.”

“At NOAA, we celebrate the science, we tout the satellites and the surveys — and, above all, we are always mindful that we are a team. The stewards and cooks and firemen from 1860, and the technicians and support staff today, are the reasons we are able to accomplish what we do.”

“The crew of the Robert J. Walker, and the people who have followed them on hundreds of thousands of hydrographic surveys since, have served the United States government in our many hours of need. Their work – your work – has improved the welfare of our people over the centuries, as our hydrographic missions improve the safety of navigation.”

“Today, we thank and publicly honor the crew of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation. And, in that,” Kennedy told the NOAA hydrographers, technicians, and support staff, “we honor and thank you all as well.”

David Kennedy
David Kennedy, Deputy Under Secretary for Operations, told the NOAA audience: “Today we thank and publicly honor the crew of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation. And, in that, we honor and thank you all as well.”

Two other federal programs are also involved in the nation’s hydrography. We were very pleased that representatives from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency attended the NOAA event. In a show of solidarity, the hydrographic office of the U.S. Navy held their own simultaneous ceremony at their location in Stennis, Miss.

Naval Oceanographic Office
The Naval Oceanographic Office joined NOAA in honoring the Walker crew on World Hydrography Day. AGAA Jahmal Moore, Steven Harrison, NAVOCEANO Hydrographic Department Director, and Michael Jeffries, technical director of the Fleet Survey Team, lead the ceremonies.

Walker Ceremony 06212013 USCG Honor Guard Retires Colors 2_DHall NOAA

Rear Adm. Glang also read from a letter that Admiral R.J. Papp, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, wrote to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s acting administrator. “I want to add my tribute to the memory of the sailors who perished in that accident, ” Papp wrote. “Coast Guardsman are always saddened by the loss of life at sea and especially so when those lost were working to make the lives of other mariners safer by charting the waters of the United States.” (Read his full letter, especially for more about the history of the Walker.)

In honor of the strong ties — historical and contemporary — between NOAA and the Coast Guard, a USCG Honor Guard proudly posted and retired the colors for the ceremony.

Back in 1860, the U.S. Coast Survey never published the names of the lost crew members. However, the New York Times, on June 23, 1860, wrote about the accident and published this list.

“The following list of the missing crew has been supplied by Mr. CHARLES GIFFORD, Quartermaster on board of the Walker, to whom we are also indebted for the particulars of the collision:

Marcus (or Marquis) Buoneventa, ward-room steward.

Michael M. Lee, ship’s cook, (colored.)

James Patterson, ward-room cook, (colored.)

Henry Reed, second mate.

Timothy O’Connor, second gunner.

John Driscol, seaman.

Michael Olman, seaman.

George W. Johnson, son of Mr. Johnson, the actor.

Charles Miller, ordinary seaman.

Robert Wilson, seaman.

John M. Brown, captain of after guard.

Jeremiah Coffee, cooper.

Cornelius Crow, landsman.

John Farren, fireman.

James Farren, fireman.

Samuel Sizer, fireman,

George Price, fireman.

Joseph Bache, fireman.

Daniel Smith, fireman.

Peter Conway, fireman.

            Total 20.”

For more information, see nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/RobertJWalker.

Also, listen to this recent National Ocean Service podcast interview of Rear Admiral Glang.

There’s a fascinating story behind (literally) the painting of the Walker. See A Good Story, from the Mariners Museum blog.

UPDATE: AUG 28, 2013NOAA announced that a wreck located off the New Jersey shore has been positively identified as the Robert J. Walker. This summer, a private-public collaboration sought to find the Walker, as experts zeroed in on where the Walker was reported to have gone down. Those experts included Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archeology student at East Carolina University, who briefed NOAA staff on government records and newspaper accounts she had unearthed in her studies. Capt. Albert Theberge (NOAA, ret.), from the NOAA Central Library, brought his research of the early years of the U.S. Coast Survey, including correspondence between various Coast Survey officials and the ship’s officers. James Delgado, director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage program, added his expertise gathered from years of discovering and documenting wrecks. Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, provided technical expertise in using NOAA’s multibeam and sidescan sonar systems — onboard the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson — to locate and image underwater structures. (Thomas Jefferson was in the area conducting post-Sandy hydrographic surveys.)

The site of the collision and location of the wreck is plotted on this nautical chart from 1852.
The site of the collision and location of the wreck is plotted on this nautical chart from 1852.

“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”

NOAA’s intent is not to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.

“We want to enhance the dive experience and support the dive industry with enhanced access to this wreck,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “New Jersey is home to some of the most accomplished wreck divers who not only understand history and wrecks, but who have also been in the forefront of wreck exploration. We look forward to working with them on the Walker.”

For more information, see the National Marine Sanctuaries report, Rediscovering the Walker.

Listen to a podcast from two of the experts who found the Walker. See video of what the divers found, on Finding the Robert J. Walker.

A nation pays final tribute to Civil War sailors interred at Arlington National Cemetery

Last week we blogged about the Civil War sailors whose remains were being interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8. The funeral, for unknown sailors who were lost when the USS Monitor capsized, was solemn and stirring, and reflected the nation’s great esteem for our fallen patriots. The unknown sailors were lost along with 14 of their shipmates when Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1862.

All 16 sailors will be memorialized on a group marker in section 46 of the cemetery, which is between the amphitheater and the USS Maine Mast memorial.

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, was honored to represent NOAA in the officer escort for the caissons. Glang and Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN) served as Escort Commanders, and were joined by Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain) and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard), as the nation paid a final tribute.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator, spoke at the chapel service preceding the procession and burial. (See NOAA: Remains of USS Monitor sailors interred for highlights of Dr. Sullivan’s remarks.)

Thanks to public affairs officers David Hall (NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) and Lt. Lauryn Dempsey (U.S. Navy), we are able to provide a photographic montage of the burial ceremony.

Transferring the caskets for funeral procession
After a moving memorial service in the Fort Meyer Chapel, the caskets are transferred for the funeral procession. (Photo: Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, U.S. Navy)
Casket teams position the caskets on the caissons, while the escort team salutes.
Casket teams position the caskets on the caissons, while the escort team salutes. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Caisson platoon members
Members of the elite Caisson platoon at Fort Myer draw the caissons to the burial site. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Officer escorts
Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain); Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN); Rear Admiral Gerd Glang (NOAA); and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard). (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

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The funeral procession arrives at the burial site. (Photo credit: David Hall, NOAA)
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After the graveside religious service, casket teams remove the flags from the coffins. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
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Folding the flags. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Escort officers and caskets
A final moment. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

NOAA Coast Survey director to escort caissons for USS Monitor sailors’ interment at Arlington

On Friday, March 8, a NOAA Corps admiral will have the honor of doing something extraordinary. Coast Survey’s director, Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, will be the NOAA Escort Flag Officer for the full honors funeral of two unknown sailors who went down with the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor in 1862. Rear Adm. Glang will join Rear Adm. Anthony Kurta, U.S. Navy, as the two officers escort the caissons during the somber event at Arlington National Cemetery.

The interment will be open to the public.

facial reconstruction of lost sailors
Facial reconstruction of the two sailors found in the Monitor’s turret (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette)

The Monitor sank southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during a New Year’s Eve storm, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.

The wreck was discovered in 1973, and confirmed in 1974 by John Newton and a team from Duke University. The ironclad was lying upside down with the turret separated from the hull, resting in 230 feet of water approximately 16 miles off Cape Hatteras. In the late 1990s through 2002, experts recovered iconic Monitor artifacts, which are now conserved at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Two skeletons were discovered in 2002 when the turret was raised from the seafloor, and efforts to identify the remains have been unsuccessful so far.

To protect this national treasure, Congress created the nation’s first national marine sanctuary. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1975.

The U.S. Coast Survey was intricately involved in the Civil War, creating the Slave Density Map, making thousands of copies of maps and charts for the war effort, embedding with the Armies and supporting naval operations, writing and distributing Notes on the Coast (which were essential for the blockades), and documenting the war’s successes and failures. Coast Survey had no involvement with the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack (or Virginia), but NOAA historian Albert Theberge tells us that the unpublished autobiography of Joseph Smith Harris, a Coast Surveyor and future railroad magnate of the late 19th century, has an interesting story…

Harris was assigned as the officer-in-charge of the Coast Survey steamer Uncas, which was supposed to be Admiral Farragut’s primary Coast Survey vessel during the bombardment of Fort Jackson and subsequent attack on New Orleans. The Uncas left New York in late February 1862 but had to put into Hampton Roads because of storms and low coal. It was determined at that time that the Uncas was not seaworthy, so Coast Survey secured a second vessel. That vessel, the Sachem, left New York, apparently in company with the Monitor, on March 4, 1862, for Hampton Roads.

The trip was exceedingly stormy. Harris writes:

“Her [Sachem’s] captain, a former merchantman, told me of their voyage down… On their way down, probably on the night of March 4th, the Monitor telegraphed to the Sachem to come and take off the crew as the vessel was sinking. Just then the band which encircled the head of the Sachem’s rudder slipped, and the vessel became unmanageable. It took perhaps an hour to secure it, and when the Sachem was laid along side the Monitor, it appeared that the panic was past. A heavy sea had gone down the smokestack, the gas forced out from the furnace had overpowered the engineer and the assistant engineer, and left the engine in the hands of a young man just making his first voyage who became badly scared. By the time an hour had passed the fear had passed too, and they were willing to try their fate further, but the Captain told me that if the rudder band had held the Monitor probably would have been abandoned that night. On how small occurrences great events turn! In that case the Merrimack would have had no competent antagonist, and the Government might have lost control of Hampton Roads. The Captain, whose name I immediately forgot, seemed like a reliable person and I have no doubt he told me the truth.”

Theberge explains that “Harris was not one to embellish his stories, as is shown by his description of what he saw in Hampton Roads” during the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. “Although Harris reported that he entered Roads on the night of March 9, he apparently erred in his date” as he reports:

“We headed about for Hampton Roads which we reached early on the evening of March 9th. [Theberge points out that this had to have been March 8.] We noticed during the latter part of the night a bright light evidently from a fire ahead and supposed a barn was burning, but it turned out to be the U.S. frigate Congress, set on fire by the C.S. steamer Merrimack, and in the morning about 8:00 A.M. we saw firing from vessels a few miles to the S.E., which I thought was artillery practice of our own vessels, but which was the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack…”

Tomorrow’s interment of the two unknown sailors from the Monitor represents the nation’s enduring commitment to our men and women who serve in uniform. We are proud that Rear Adm. Glang will represent NOAA, the NOAA Corps, the National Ocean Service and Coast Survey in honoring the memory of fallen comrades at sea.

More resources:

Coast Survey Civil War Collection

War Record of J.W. Donn

Coast Survey and Army Operations during the Civil War