By Cmdr. Chris van Westendorp, Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
Almost one year following the passage and destruction of Hurricane Maria, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has returned to Puerto Rico. Following the storm, Thomas Jefferson deployed in September 2017 for hydrographic hurricane response work in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (PR/USVI). The ship and crew surveyed 18 individual port facilities to ensure safety of navigation and help re-open the region for maritime commerce. Thomas Jefferson’s second major project of 2018 has brought the ship back to Puerto Rico from August to November, conducting follow-up survey work along the north and south coasts.
While anchored in Bahia de Guayanilla, Cmdr. Chris van Westendorp, commanding officer of Thomas Jefferson, was invited by the Puerto Rico South Coast pilots to speak at a South Coast Harbor Safety & Security Committee meeting in Salinas. Attended quarterly by area commercial, federal, and local maritime stakeholders, each meeting features presentations on a variety of topics such as harbor safety and preparedness, maritime security, and relevant oceanographic research (e.g. PR SeaGrant, PR Climate Change Commission).
Several presentations discussed ongoing Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, and conversations with attendees emphasized that storm effects still permeate businesses and the island economy. The meeting also revealed the existence of strong interagency relationships in the group, reflective of South Coast culture. These connections enable close and effective collaboration of agencies such as NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and SeaGrant, in supporting the region’s environmental resources, economy, and security, as well as forming improved hurricane preparedness and response plans.
Accompanied by Coast Survey Atlantic Hydrographic Branch’s Julia Wallace (ERT), Cmdr. van Westendorp presented on nautical hydrography, including an outline of the ship’s 2017 post-Maria work, as well as current project plans and preliminary results. During and after the presentation, attendees showed particular interest in survey results in and around Guayanilla, Ponce, Jobos, Las Mareas, and Yabucoa; port areas previously identified by the South Coast pilots as critical for local and island-wide economies alike. The Coast Guard Captain of the Port (based in San Juan) and his staff also engaged Cmdr. van Westendorp and Julia Wallace in conversations regarding the allocation and positioning of survey capabilities in preparation for major storm events in the PR/USVI region.
A year after the devastation of Maria, it is clear that Thomas Jefferson’s presence and ongoing work are gratefully received by and worthwhile to the people of Puerto Rico.
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson departed the western Gulf of Mexico in early August 2018 after completing scheduled survey operations on the Approaches to Houston project. Data collected for the project will update nautical charts for the approaches to the main shipping channel leading to the ports of Houston and Galveston.
The Port of Houston is the largest U.S. port in terms of foreign trade and petroleum products. The main shipping channel extends from Houston, down the Buffalo Bayou, through Galveston Bay, and into the Gulf of Mexico at the pass between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. The approaches to Galveston Bay are heavily trafficked by all manner of commercial vessels. In fact, the anchorages outside of the entrance to Galveston Bay were among the busiest traffic areas the ship’s command had experienced.
Multiple safety fairways and numerous oil platforms with pipeline infrastructure are shown in the image above. The safety fairways are kept clear of oil and gas infrastructure and are used by large commercial traffic to transit around the Gulf of Mexico; however, obstructions are sometimes reported and charted within the bounds of the safety fairways.
The image above shows two charted position approximate (PA) obstructions within the safety fairway to the south of Thomas Jefferson’s main project area. As seen in the image, two vessels favor the north side of the safety fairway in order to avoid the charted PA obstructions and passing nearer to each other than would otherwise be prudent. In this case, both PA obstructions were disproved by Thomas Jefferson and will be removed from the chart.
Overall, the Approaches to Houston project was highly successful. Thomas Jefferson was able to collect over 9,500 linear nautical miles and more than 500 square nautical miles of survey data. In addition to the two PA obstructions described previously, Thomas Jefferson corrected the position of five navigationally significant wrecks and obstructions, disproved the existence of one additional navigationally significant charted obstruction, identified two previously uncharted wrecks, provided updated Aid to Navigation data to the U.S. Coast Guard, and located numerous uncharted and/or exposed pipelines. This work will improve chart quality for an area of critical importance to our nation’s economy.
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.
by Ensign Kaitlyn Seberger, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
This fall, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has had the pleasure of hosting Sub-Lieutenant Uchechukwu Erege. Sub-Lieutenant Erege, known to the ship’s crew as “UK,” is a hydrographer in the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office. The Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office is the national hydrographic authority for the country and is responsible for conducting hydrographic surveys in territorial waters, ensuring nautical charts are up-to-date, processing bathymetric data, and providing Notice to Mariners for hazards to navigation.
UK joined the Nigerian Navy in 2012 after graduating with distinction from the University of Lagos with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in geoinformatics. He then completed a 10-month training program at the Nigerian Defense Academy before transitioning to his current position in the hydrography branch.
“At the time, the Nigerian Navy was searching for graduates in various technical fields,” UK says, “and joining the Navy was a great opportunity to serve my country and secure a job in my field of study.”
The United States and Nigeria are both member States of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), whose primary aim is to ensure the world’s oceans and navigable waterways are surveyed and charted. Through a grant funded by IHO and the government of South Korea, members of developing countries are able to attain higher education in the field of hydrography. UK was awarded this grant in 2014 and used it to attend the University of Mississippi’s 12-month master’s program in hydrographic science.
“My wife, Ezinne, has been very supportive during my time in the U.S.,” UK explains. “I would not have had as much success here without her.”
During his time at the University of Mississippi, a professor put him in contact with Captain Shep Smith, commanding officer of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. Through a recommendation from the Nigerian Chief of Naval Staff and Capt. Smith, UK augmented for three months on Thomas Jefferson.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how hydrography is practiced outside of Africa,” UK says. “I wanted to develop new skills that would be an asset to my office. My experience at the University of Mississippi and on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has been a great way to network with other hydrographic entities and build international partnerships.”
While on Thomas Jefferson, UK gained hands-on experience as a sheet project manager, and in ship and hydrographic survey launch acquisition of multibeam and side scan sonar data, conductivity-temperature-depth casts, system integration, and troubleshooting.
“As a project manager, I was responsible for ensuring adequate data collection and maintaining good data management. The skills I gained on TJ will be a valuable asset when I return to Nigeria.”
UK proposes creating standard operating procedures in his office, for processing efficiency. An SOP for public affairs can also help inform the country of hydrographic survey projects. UK would also like to recommend more collaboration with international agencies, such as NOAA, and with Nigeria’s West African neighbors in regards to hydrography.
Sub-Lieutenant Uchechukwu Erege has been a valuable asset to the Thomas Jefferson crew and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. Fair winds and following seas!
by Ensign Diane Perry, onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
From 2005 through today, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has been surveying Long Island Sound, one project area at a time. Some of the area was last surveyed between the late 1800s and 1939. For the 2014 field season, Thomas Jefferson was assigned her final Long Island Sound project, 89 square nautical miles of Eastern Long Island Sound, Fisher Island Sound, and Western Block Island Sound. When this project is complete, we will have resurveyed over 95% of Long Island Sound and all of Block Island Sound with modern survey technology that allows for a complete picture of the seafloor and highly accurate soundings.
Data acquired by the Thomas Jefferson will update the region’s nautical charts and will serve other users within NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and a New York and Connecticut Long Island Sound Seafloor mapping initiative. The mapping initiative creates products for habitat mapping and geological interpretation, and supports state planning and management of this vital resource.
Bringing the hydrography of this area into modern times has been a huge task, and we appreciate being welcomed as a part of the area’s maritime community! When Thomas Jefferson was asked to participate in the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival in New London this summer, the crew was excited for the opportunity to showcase the results of nearly a decade of surveying effort.
On September 12, Thomas Jefferson docked at City Pier, dressed in semaphore flags to welcome crowds lining the pier eager for guided tours. As the sun set, Thomas Jefferson hosted judges and the announcer during the festival’s lighted boat parade. The ship continued to provide tours the next day, and was the highlight of the event for many visitors. More than 500 visitors toured from fantail to bridge, learning about the ship’s mission and hydrographic survey operations, life at sea, and maritime heritage of NOAA and the Office of Coast Survey.
As the festival ended, Thomas Jefferson’s crew cast off from City Pier to return to their Long Island Sound working grounds and continue survey operations. We are excited to return to the survey area and complete the 2014 Long Island Sound mapping project.
The 2014 hydrographic survey season is underway, with the NOAA fleet beginning its projects for this year.
Have you ever wondered how Coast Survey goes about determining where to survey and when? Several considerations go into prioritizing survey plans, which are laid out several years in advance. Coast Survey asks specific questions about each potential survey area.
Is it considered a critical area? If so, how old are the most current survey data?
Have local pilots or port authorities submitted reports of shoaling, obstructions or other concerns?
Does the U.S. Coast Guard or other stakeholders from the maritime community (e.g., fisheries, energy, pipelines) need surveys for economic development or ecological protection?
Coast Survey’s 2014 projects reflect these priorities.
NOAA Ships Rainier and Fairweather will be surveying Kodiak Island, specifically Kupreanof Strait to the north and Sitinak Strait to the south. These are considered emerging critical areas, because of both old soundings (1900-1939 for North and 1900-1969 for South Kodiak Island) and increased demand from the tourism and commercial fishing industries to chart safe passages closer to shore.
The Rainier will also continue her work in Cold Bay. The projects focus on charting potential areas of refuge for ships approaching the harbor, especially when currents are strong. Cold Bay is a very small harbor town on the Aleutian Peninsula. (You may recall that when the Rainier visited last year, all eight of the town’s school children came aboard to learn about driving the ship and making nautical charts!)
One of NOAA’s hydrographic services contractors will survey Bechevin Bay, a priority area because it constitutes the easternmost passage through the Aleutians from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska. In addition, hydrographic surveys in this area will help validate an algorithm, being tested by NOAA’s Remote Sensing Division, that estimates water depth strictly from satellite imagery.
Fairweather will survey south of the San Juan Islands, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Washington. The team will also investigate reported shoaling in Friday Harbor.
One of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams, NRT6, is surveying in San Francisco Bay, where the San Francisco Bay Pilot Association requested surveys in San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay at the Reserve Fleet area, and in Richmond Harbor to address charting discrepancies and other concerns. The ship will then survey Anchorages 22 and 23 (Carquinez Strait, near Benicia, CA) to chart a shoal that has migrated toward the federal channel and caused a tug and barge to run aground.
Gulf of Mexico
Pilots and port authorities requested hydrographic surveys in Galveston Bay and the vicinity, and NRT4 is responding. Anchorages in this area are of particular interest; the team will survey Anchorage Basin A in Bolivar Roads and the newly charted barge channels and charted features along the main Houston Ship Channel.
A NOAA contractor will survey in Louisiana, offshore of Barataria Bay. About 5,000 deep-draft vessels transit the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River per year. Surveys will be looking for turnoffs and turning basins for large vessels. A re-survey of sandy, changeable bottoms in the areas of Mobile Bay, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida, will also be conducted to finish surveying approach lanes to these ports. A NOAA contractor will survey the approaches to Lake Borgne/Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana, where charts still use data acquired by the U.S. Coast Survey in the 1800s.
NRT1 is surveying in Panama City, Florida, acquiring data in St. Andrews Bay and West Bay. The team will also investigate shoaling and a changing channel course in Grand Lagoon, depths and features in West Bay and West Bay Creek, and depths along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. After they finish up in Florida, NRT1 will continue the rest of the 2014 survey season in Louisiana.
NRT2 will survey in the St. Johns River area near Jacksonville, Florida, in response to a request for support from the U.S. Coast Guard. The survey team will investigate hazards to navigation in the waters of a proposed anchorage area seven nautical miles northeast of St. Johns Point.
NRT5 will survey in the area of Eastern Long Island Sound. Along with providing contemporary hydrographic data, this survey will support the Long Island Sound Seafloor Mapping Initiative. NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson will also survey in Long Island Sound, performing essential habitat mapping in Fishers Island Sound, and continuing Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy surveys that were started in 2013.
In central Chesapeake Bay, the research vessel Bay Hydro II will survey critical areas, measuring depths where shifting sands and shoaling have been reported. NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hasslerwill survey a possible wind turbine site in the approaches to the Bay.
The Hassler will survey off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This data will contribute to habitat mapping and the state’s effort to locate sand resources for beach replenishment.
Finally, the Thomas Jefferson and Hassler will survey an area offshore of Rhode Island Sound to identify a safe route for deep draft oil tankers. The area is also a potential site for wind turbines.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
There’s a fascinating story behind (literally) the painting of the Walker. See A Good Story, from the Mariners Museum blog.
UPDATE: AUG 28, 2013: NOAA 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.)
“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.”