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.

NOAA Ship Rainier surveys the waters around Kodiak Island

kodiak-ais
Concentration of automatic identification system (AIS) traffic around Kodiak Island. Green is a low concentration, yellow is medium concentration, red is high concentration. Notice the approaches to Port of Kodiak show high traffic.
by ENS Michelle Levano

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.

In order to access all the Port of Kodiak has to offer, vessels must first travel through Chiniak Bay, which was last surveyed as far back as 1933 via wire drag (see details in the Descriptive Report for the Wire Drag survey of Women’s Bay and St. Paul Harbor).

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.

Please contact NOAA Ship Rainier’s public relations officer at michelle.levano@noaa.gov for more information.

kodiak
Rainier‘s bathymetric survey coverage since March 29, 2017. The multicolored areas show where Rainer surveyed using multibeam bathymetry. The blue dashed areas show where Rainier intends to survey this year.

NOAA navigation response teams improve charts for ships transiting Miami and San Francisco

Coast Survey’s navigation response teams, which are 3-person hydrographic survey teams on small boats, have made a fast start on this year’s survey season.

In Florida, where Coast Survey is preparing to issue a “new and improved” Miami Harbor Chart 11468 to alleviate vessel congestion at the Port of Miami, a navigation response team finished final hydrographic surveys to ensure the new chart has the latest and most accurate depth measurements around several areas identified as critical within the port. In just ten days, team members Erik Anderson, James Kirkpatrick, and Kurt Brown acquired, processed, and submitted the multibeam survey data covering 64 nautical miles.

NRT2 Miami survey
NOAA Navigation Response Team 2 just finished up this survey in Miami

The Biscayne Bay Pilots and others requested the new chart, which is reconstructing old charts in order to provide large-scale coverage of the entire precautionary area where vessels congregate to await pilotage and commit to an approach course to the channel. Updating the chart information and expanding chart coverage will alleviate a navigation safety risk for the world’s busiest cruise port, and will protect endangered coral reefs from inadvertent anchorages.

One interesting side note on the Miami survey… The team found a sunken car, which a Miami Police Department Marine Patrol/Underwater Recovery Detail dive team subsequently investigated. It appears to have been there for approximately 20 years, divers said. We understand they retrieve around 50 cars a year, but have never seen one this old. They plan to raise it later this month. Any bets on make and model?

NOAA navigation response team found this submerged auto at PortMiami
NOAA Navigation Response Team 2 found this submerged auto at Port of Miami

Meanwhile, in San Francisco Bay, another navigation response team is planning a special hydrographic survey to update NOAA charts 18656 and 18657. The action comes as a follow up to a July 2013 grounding by a tug and a barge carrying 80k barrels of crude oil in Benicia Anchorage 22, near Carquinez Strait, San Francisco. After the accident, team members Laura Pagano, Ian Colvert, and Edmund Wernicke conducted a reconnaissance hydrographic survey to determine if an uncharted obstruction caused the grounding. The survey determined that shoaling was the culprit and the evidence indicated that a charted shoal has been creeping through the Benicia Anchorages towards the federal shipping channel at Carquinez Strait. Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard requested an extensive survey to determine the extent and significance of shoaling in the Benicia Anchorages, and the team is planning to conduct the survey shortly.

NRT6 survey
NOAA Navigation Response Team 6 conducted a recon survey of area where a tanker barge went aground

NOAA navigation manager Gerry Wheaton suspects heavy sediment runoff from rains over the years have altered the sea floor in navigable areas near the Strait. While the initial NOAA recon survey provided information to notify mariners of the dangers, conducting a full bottom survey to update NOAA nautical charts will provide additional detailed depth information necessary to safely navigate the area.

Great Lakes mariners get new NOAA nautical chart for St. Mary’s River

Vessel operators transiting St. Mary’s River, between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes, have a new nautical chart to help lessen the dangers inherent in this narrow and complicated waterway. The first edition of Chart 14887 (St. Marys River – Vicinity of Neebish Island) is available this week as a paper print-on-demand chart, PDF, and raster navigational chart. The electronic navigational chart will be available by March, in time for the beginning of the shipping season. (UPDATE, 2/12/14: NOAA ENC US5MI50 is now available.)

Coast Survey has built the chart from original sources, providing the highest standard of accuracy for hydrographical and topographical features and aids to navigation. The chart provides large-scale (1:15,000) coverage of the up bound and down bound channels of the St. Mary’s River – one of the busiest waterways in the nation. Over 4,100 transits of commercial and government vessels move about 75 million tons of cargo through the 300-day shipping season.

Corrected shoreline, chart 14883
The red lines show the shoreline as depicted before the updates. NOAA cartographers are applying the corrected shoreline and feature positions to the new chart and new editions of current charts in the Great Lakes.

Chart 14887 uses updated shoreline data, collected with NOAA’s high tech remote sensing planes. (See National Geodetic Survey’s shoreline data viewer.) At the 1:15,000 scale, the positions of many of the features were corrected an average of ten meters from positions in prior charts, a vital correction for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long.

Coast Survey also plans to issue new editions of the current four largest scale charts of the St. Mary’s River in late January. Charts 14882, 14883, 14884 and 14962 will have all new shoreline, updating the locations of features and aids to navigation. These updates for the St. Mary’s River follow 21 new editions for Great Lakes charts from Buffalo to Thunder Bay Island, around the Lower Peninsula to Milwaukee Harbor and Ludington. More updates are slated for 2014 and 2015.

Chart 14887 was compiled by Nathan Burns and reviewed by Laurie Bennett, under the direction of Marine Chart Division branch chief Andy Kampia.

Iron ore shipment on Lake Superior
Updates to NOAA’s Great Lakes nautical charts will benefit ships like this one, carrying iron ore on Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Carolyn St. Cyr.