The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was powerful, with the strongest storms occurring consecutively from late August to early October. The sequential magnitude of four hurricanes in particular—Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate—made response efforts challenging for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. Coast Survey summarized this season’s response efforts along with the efforts of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) in the following story map.
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!
Kodiak Island is the 2nd largest island in the United States; it is part of the Kodiak Island Archipelago, a group of islands roughly the size of Connecticut. Due to the island’s location in the Gulf of Alaska and North Pacific Ocean, Kodiak is ranked as third in commercial fishing ports in the U.S. in terms of value of seafood landed. In 2015, the Port of Kodiak was responsible for 514 million pounds of fish and $138 million of product. More than one-third of the jobs in Kodiak are related to the fishing industry.
The Port of Kodiak is home to more than 700 commercial fishing vessels, and has more than 650 boat slips and three commercial piers that can dock vessels up to 1,000 feet. In addition to fishing, Kodiak is the hub of the Gulf of Alaska container logistics system, serving the southwest Alaskan communities with consumer goods and outbound access to the world’s fish markets.
Today, we are going over the same areas and surveying them utilizing multibeam echo sounders to collect bathymetric soundings that measure the depth of the seafloor.
This year, Rainier is surveying the approaches to Chiniak Bay, covering the following areas: South of Spruce Island, Long Island, Middle Bay, Kalsin Bay, Isthmus Bay, Cape Chiniak, and offshore of Cape Chiniak.
Since arriving on project, Rainier has been busy surveying these areas, confirming what has already been charted, updating with more accurate depths, and finding some new features for the charts along the way! So far Rainier has patch-tested her launches to ensure survey accuracy, started work on Long Island and Kalsin Bay surveys, and established a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) base station to gain a higher positioning accuracy.
Rainier will continue to survey this area of Kodiak until mid-June. Check back on the Coast Survey blog for more status updates. Interested in visiting the ship? Rainier‘s crew will be offering tours on May 27, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and May 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the city pier in downtown Kodiak.
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.
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.
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.
How tall is that rock, really? Is that islet charted correctly? Mariners will have greater confidence in the location and height of charted features as NOAA’s hydrographic ships increase their use of newly adopted laser technology to measure and locate topographical features like rocks, islets, and small islands.
“Fairweather used this laser throughout this past season for feature attribution, and I was tasked with creating the procedures and training other ships,” Debroisse reports. “Rainier will be the next ship to receive the lasers, followed by the East Coast ships [Thomas Jefferson and Ferdinand R. Hassler].”
NOAA charts features such as rocks, piles, islets, kelp beds, and buoys, to give the mariner a clear picture of the dangers that could be in the area. Along Alaska’s and Maine’s rocky shores, for instance, features can be especially important because the tide ranges can be large. It’s especially important to accurately measure a rock at low tide, so a mariner will know its depth when they can’t see it at high tide.
Charted features are also used for visual points of reference during navigation.
Until recently, hydrographic ships’ launches were used to locate the features. To get a reasonable location, the launch would carefully approach the rock or other feature, and “kiss” it with their bow. They would then add the five feet from the boat’s GPS unit to the feature, and mark it on their field hydrographic sheets for use by the cartographers. If the seas are too heavy, or the area too rock-strewn, the surveyors stand on the ship or shore, and use a hand-held laser range finderto measure the height and distance of the feature, and then note the time so it can be corrected for the tide.
This laser technology will be safer than using a launch, and more precise than is possible with the human eye. The laser uses focused light to find and place objects accurately, similar to the way sonar is used to find the seafloor. The laser head produces sixteen laser beams, which reflect off the target object and are received back by the laser head. The computer then uses that data, along with precise positioning and attitude (roll, pitch, and yaw — or orientation) data, to determine the height and location of the object.
These infrared lasers are invisible and completely safe to the eyes of humans and any animals in the area. Also, unlike airborne lidar units that obtain shallow water bathymetry, the ships’ laser cannot penetrate the water.
“Fairweather worked with the Coast Survey Development Lab to test this laser scanner, to determine its feasibility as a topographical tool in the Alaskan environment,” Debroisse says. “We found that this laser method increased the speed and accuracy of data acquisition, and increased the safety of the boat crews completing these surveys.”
And safety, after all, is important for everyone from the NOAA charting teams to the millions of chart users.
Matthew became a hurricane on Thursday, September 29, and it was soon clear that NOAA’s navigation services would be called into action. Coast Survey knew they would be needed for the maritime transportation system’s rapid recovery operations, to search for underwater debris and shoaling. That Saturday, while Hurricane Matthew was still three days away from hitting Haiti, Coast Survey was already ramping up preparations for assisting with reopening U.S. shipping lanes and ports after Matthew’s destruction. By Monday, as NOAA’s National Hurricane Center zeroed in on a major hit to the southeast coast, Coast Survey’s navigation service personnel began moving personnel and survey vessels for rapid deployment. Calling in survey professionals from as far away as Seattle, teams were mobilized to locations outside of the hurricane’s impact zones, so they would be ready to move in and hit the water as soon as weather and ocean conditions allowed.
Coast Survey prepared two navigation response teams – small vessels with 3-person crews – and NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler for survey work prioritized by the U.S. Coast Guard, in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ports, terminal operators, state officials, and local emergency responders. Two navigation managers, Kyle Ward (Southeast) and Tim Osborn (Central Gulf of Mexico), were augmented by Lucy Hick and Michael Davidson, navigation services personnel in Silver Spring, Maryland, to coordinate personnel safety, property protection, and navigation service delivery before, during, and after the storm.
Port Canaveral, Florida
Tim Osborn, who deployed to Port Canaveral from Baton Rouge, is a veteran of NOAA’s many hurricane responses in the Gulf of Mexico ports. Osborn lent his expertise and experience to the Port Canaveral pilots, port officials, and U.S. Coast Guard, as they quickly resumed operations. While the port re-opened on October 8 for cruise ships during daylight hours, they needed a Coast Survey navigation team, working in coordination with a private survey company contracted by the port, to search for dangers to navigation for the deeper draft vessels. Navigation Response Team 4 (Dan Jacobs, Mark McMann, and Starla Robinson) worked through the day on October 9, and the port was subsequently opened for full operations.
Port of Charleston, South Carolina
As luck would have it, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Jaskoski, was surveying the approaches to Wilmington, North Carolina, this fall. They broke off survey operations and headed to Charleston as Hurricane Matthew approached, so they were in position to assist with reopening that port. Knowing they would need additional technical help for around-the-clock operations, physical scientist James Miller drove from his NOAA office in Norfolk to Charleston (the normally six-hour trip taking over 14 hours, due to flooded roads) to augment Hassler‘s normal complement of scientists. As soon as conditions were safe, on October 9, Hassler went to work. From 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Hassler surveyed 50 nautical miles. They processed their data, checking it for dangers to navigation, and got their report to the U.S. Coast Guard by 6:40 that evening. Armed with Hassler’s report, along with data from the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard was able to reopen the port with restrictions by about 7:00 p.m.
Port of Savannah, Georgia
Ferdinand R. Hassler’s next assignment was to assist with survey operations at the Port of Savannah. After waiting for safe transit conditions in departing Charleston, they arrived in Savannah in the late afternoon of October 11, joining Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team 2 (James Kirkpatrick, Lucas Blass, and Ian Colvert), who had been surveying there since October 9. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) also surveyed, as shown below. With offshore conditions too choppy for small boat survey operations, Hassler went to work surveying Savannah’s entrance channel, planning to survey for about ten hours into the night. They hope to deliver their report to the Coast Guard before daylight on October 12.
UPDATE (10/13/2016): Hassler finished the Savannah survey at about 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, and started transiting to their next assignment ten minutes later. The ship’s physical scientists continued working on the Savannah data, and were able to deliver their report to the Coast Guard at about 11:45 p.m.
Port of Brunswick, Georgia
Next, Hassler will join with Navigation Response Team 4 for surveying at the Port of Brunswick, to work with the Georgia Port Authority, the U.S. Coast Guard, the harbor pilots and the USACE to reopen the port to commercial vessel traffic. NRT4 completed inshore survey operations on October 11, and Hassler will survey the offshore area on October 12.
UPDATE (10/13/2016): Hassler arrived at Brunswick at about 3:00 a.m. on October 12, but the sea was too rough for surveying the approach and entrance channel. Ultimately, conditions did not improve during the day, and Hassler had to demobilize and return to Charleston.
NOAA Ship Rainier recently arrived in Uganik Bay, off of northwest Kodiak Island, to complete hydrographic survey operations in Uganik Passage and Uganik Bay, including the Northeast Arm, North Arm, and South Arm. Rainier has spent 2013 through 2016 surveying areas around North Kodiak Island, including Kizhuyak Bay, Whale and Afognak Passes, Kupreanof Strait, and Viekoda and Terror Bays. The ship will remain in Uganik Bay until the end of October.
Rainier is using multibeam sonar technology to acquire high-resolution seafloor mapping data to provide modern chart updates that support Kodiak’s large fishing fleet and higher volumes of passenger vessel traffic. Some of the data appearing on NOAA’s charts in this area are from surveys conducted between 1900 and 1939. (See the source diagram in the bottom left corner of NOAA chart 16597.) However, this is not Rainier’s first visit to Uganik Bay. In the early 1970s, Rainier was in the same vicinity performing survey operations and installing survey stations at Broken Point, Uganik Bay, and Shelikhof Strait.
Commissioned in 1968, NOAA Ship Rainier has a 48-year history in NOAA’s fleet of research ships and aircraft. Homeported at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Pacific in Newport, Oregon, she is operated and managed by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The 231-foot Rainier is one of four hydrographic survey ships in the NOAA fleet that support the nautical charting mission of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to keep mariners safe and maritime commerce flowing. The ship, her four aluminum survey launches, and other small boats collect data that is used to update nautical charts and inform decisions on coastal science and management.
Each of Rainier’s small boat launches has modern sonar systems that gather data nearshore as well as offshore. Additionally, the ship itself has a sonar system mounted to her hull for offshore operations. This information can provide bottom seafloor habitat characterization for sustainable fisheries initiatives, and provide data for ocean tourism and recreational fishing.
If you happen to be in the area, and see a white hull with S-221 painted on her bow, please do not hesitate to contact the ship to acquire more information regarding the ship and her mission. Rainier monitors VHF channels 13 and 16. Or, email Rainier’s public affairs officer at email@example.com.