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.”
As our newest survey vessel, NOAA Ship Ferdinand Hassler, prepares for a long survey career, the crew is taking her through final repairs, upgrades, training, and inspection this spring. If all goes well, Hassler will then survey approaches to Chesapeake Bay in July, before heading to her new homeport in New Castle, New Hampshire. Once there, Hassler plans to survey approaches to New Hampshire and conduct some tests and evaluations of a new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) for surveying.
On the West Coast, NOAA Ship Rainier will spend part of her season in southeast Alaska, surveying numerous locations, and moving to the Southern Alaska Peninsula in late summer. Rainier will survey 183 SNM of Chatham Strait, which is used regularly by cruise liners, ferries, military vessels, and tugs and barges – and provides larger ships with refuge when they need to avoid storms in the Gulf of Alaska. Rainier also plans to survey 70 SNM at Behm Canal, and 165 SNM at Sumner Strait and Affleck Canal. Later in the summer, Rainier will survey around Cold Bay and the Shumagin Islands. During the transit from their homeport at Newport, Oregon, Rainier will also acquire multibeam backscatter data off the Washington and Oregon coast.
We had to change plans for NOAA Ship Fairweather, which was originally scheduled to tackle some work in the Arctic this summer. This 45-year-old ship needed repairs, and won’t be available for surveys until late August – which is too late for the long haul up to the Arctic. Instead, as soon as she gets underway, Fairweather will assist with an ocean acidification project along the California coast, which will help inform climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Fairweather may also survey around Los Angeles / Long Beach and San Diego.
Even though Fairweather won’t be headed north this year, we continue our commitment to the Arctic by using a commercial hydrographic contractor for the essential survey work needed in the approaches to Red Dog Mine and around Krenitzin Island. We are also planning for additional contractor surveys as part of our post-Sandy survey work in New York and New Jersey waters, and for chart updates in the approaches to Mississippi Sound, approaches to Barataria Bay, and along the Louisiana coast.
Additionally, Coast Survey’s navigation response teams are surveying this year in Panama City, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Florida; Galveston and Sabine Pass, Texas; Eastern Long Island Sound; and San Francisco Bay. Of course, prime survey season is also prime hurricane season, so the navigation response teams are also updating hurricane plans and performing preventive maintenance so they are ready to deploy as needed for post-hurricane rapid maritime response.
By Ensign Brittany Anderson, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
After a quiet winter at home port, the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson completed her sea trials this week in preparation for the 2013 field season.
Each year, prior to departing for working grounds, the Thomas Jefferson transits to the Chesapeake Bay to perform tests on the ship’s and launches’ systems and hydrographic survey equipment. Crews conduct numerous tests to check the accuracy and precision of multibeam echosounders, side scan sonar, and the sophisticated suite of programs that process all the data. Additionally, this is an opportunity to ensure the safety of the vessel and her crew by performing numerous safety drills and readdressing safety standards and operating procedures.
But it wasn’t all just tests and drills. During her transit, the Thomas Jefferson also deployed a GPS tide buoy to make real-time tides more accurate and efficient for the region.
Now that the vessels and equipment are ready for the season and the crew has their sea legs back, the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson will be returning to the Northeast this year to further update nautical charts for critical shipping and transportation regions.
After 193 days away from home, the hydrographic survey vessel completed 14, 768.9 linear nautical miles of survey. This covered 352 square nautical miles of area in Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound. Due to this work, 38 dangers to navigation (DTONs) were issued, protecting maritime traffic in the area.
Additionally, the Thomas Jefferson was in prime position to respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in October and November. The U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance from NOAA after New York Harbor was closed to all traffic, preventing crucial goods and services from reaching the citizens of New York City. The Thomas Jefferson and her two launches ran 170.74 linear nautical miles of side scan sonar and multibeam echo sounder operations (MBES), while also surveying 53.82 linear nautical miles of object detection MBES.
Thomas Jefferson has returned to homeport for the winter. On November 9, after an exceedingly successful field season, the ship and her crew arrived at NOAA’s Marine Operation Center – Atlantic in Norfolk.