NOAA announces launch of crowdsourced bathymetry database

By Lt. Cmdr. Adam Reed, Integrated Oceans and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) Assistant Coordinator

Today NOAA announces the end of a testing phase in the development of a new crowdsourced bathymetry database. Bathymetric observations and measurements from participants in citizen science and crowdsourced programs are now archived and made available to the public through the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry (DCDB) Data Viewer. The operationalized database allows free access to millions of ocean depth data points, and serves as a powerful source of information to improve navigational products.

The crowdsourced bathymetry database, displayed in the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Data Viewer, has an updated user interface.
The crowdsourced bathymetry database, displayed in the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Data Viewer, has an updated user interface.

NOAA began database development in 2014 with the IHO Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group. The database is part of the IHO DCDB and is hosted at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which offers access to archives of oceanic, atmospheric, geophysical, and coastal data. Sea-ID, a maritime technology company, provided early testing and support and is currently working to encourage data contributions from the international yachting community. Ongoing participation from Rose Point Navigation Systems, a provider of marine navigation software, helped kickstart the stream of data from a crowd of mariners.

The crowdsourced bathymetry database now contains more than 117 million points of depth data, which have been used by hydrographers and cartographers to improve chart products and our knowledge of the seafloor. NOAA, working with George Mason University, is using the database depths to assess nautical chart adequacy, determine when areas require updated survey information, and identify chart discrepancies before an incident occurs. The Canadian Hydrographic Service used this dataset to update several charts of the Inside Passage, a network of coastal routes stretching from Seattle, Washington, to Juneau, Alaska.

Data are contributed to the database through a variety of trusted sources (e.g., partner companies, non-profit groups)—referred to as “trusted nodes”—that enable mariners to volunteer seafloor depths measured by their vessels. Contributors have the option to submit their data anonymously or provide additional information (vessel or instrument configuration) that can enrich the dataset. The trusted node compiles the observations and submits them to the crowdsourced bathymetry database, where anyone can access the near real-time data for commercial, scientific, or personal use.

Mariners provided millions of bathymetry data points to the crowdsourced bathymetry database by voluntarily submitting the depth data collected by their vessels.
Mariners provided millions of bathymetry data points to the crowdsourced bathymetry database by voluntarily submitting the depth data collected by their vessels.

NOAA invites maritime companies to support this crowdsourcing effort in their systems by making it simple for users to participate. For example, Rose Point Navigation Systems further promoted the IHO crowdsourced bathymetry initiative by moving the option to collect and contribute bathymetry data to a more visible section of their program options menu.

By submitting crowdsourced bathymetry data, mariners provide a powerful source of information to supplement current bathymetric coverage. Nautical charts need to be updated as marine sediments shift due to storm events, tides, and other coastal processes that affect busy maritime zones along the coast. Crowdsourced bathymetry data helps cartographers determine whether a charted area needs to be re-surveyed, or if they can make changes based on the information at hand. In some cases, crowdsourced bathymetry data can fill in gaps where bathymetric data is scarce, such as unexplored areas of the Arctic and open ocean and also shallow, complex coastlines that are difficult for traditional survey vessels to access. Crowdsourced bathymetry data is also used to identify dangers to navigation, in which case NOAA can issue a Notice to Mariners about the navigation hazard within 24 hours.

The utility of crowdsourced bathymetry data extends beyond the territory of the United States and into international mapping efforts. Seabed 2030 is a global mapping initiative to produce a complete, high-resolution bathymetric map of the world’s seafloor by 2030. GEBCO (which operates under the IHO and International Oceanographic Commission) and the Nippon Foundation launched the initiative in 2017, and received NOAA-wide commitment of resources and support.

Seafloor mapping is integral to many NOAA products, and crowdsourced bathymetric data supports NOAA’s Integrated Oceans and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) initiatives to maximize potential sources and use of mapping data. Crowdsourced efforts are poised to become a major source of information for improving nautical chart coverage and accuracy, and the crowdsourced bathymetry database contributes to national and international seafloor mapping efforts as a growing repository of bathymetric data.

Any mention of a commercial product is for informational purposes and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government or any of its employees or contractors.

NOAA makes forecast data easier to display in marine navigation systems

By, Neil Weston, Office of Coast Survey Technical Director

Have you ever been on the water when weather and sea conditions suddenly change? As mariners can attest, decisions need to be made quickly. Many rely on NOAA operational forecast system (OFS) data—a national network of nowcast and forecast models—to make decisions about their situation on the water. NOAA OFS are available to the mariner as data streams through a variety of websites, including nowCOAST™. However, only recently has OFS data been viewable on marine navigation systems, making it even more convenient for those needing to make critical decisions on the water.

Rose Point’s Coastal Explorer displays NOAA surface current data.
Rose Point’s Coastal Explorer, one example of many navigation software packages available, displays NOAA surface current data.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey recently started producing OFS data in formats that are easily ingested by marine navigation systems, such as Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), portable pilot units (PPU), and electronic charting systems (ECS). These data not only have the potential to display nowcasts and forecasts in real-time on navigation system displays, but can also optimize route planning for commercial ships. Ultimately, these model forecast data will be available for machine-to-machine exchange, with data file sizes small enough to enable delivery from shore to vessel over existing communication and data networks.

Nowcasts and forecasts are scientific predictions about the present and near future state of a coastal marine environment including water levels, currents, salinity, and sea surface temperature for many coastal regions. OFS are national networks of operational nowcast and forecast models that consist of automated integration of observing system data, hydrodynamic model predictions, product dissemination, and continuous quality control monitoring. These versatile systems can be used for a variety of activities such as search and rescue, recreational boating, fishing, and storm effect tracking.

Seapilot Navigation computes the optimized route from start to finish via any waypoints, considering wind, current, land, shallow water and the properties of the boat.
Seapilot Navigation computes the optimized route from start to finish via any waypoints, considering wind, current, land, shallow water and the properties of the boat. This system also displays NOAA OFS data (surface currents).

Initially, the Coast Survey converted surface current data for several OFS regions from a format primarily used by scientists (netCDF), to a format more widely used in meteorology (GRIB 1 & 2). A parallel developmental effort is underway to include conversion of netCDF data to an internationally recognized format (HDF5) adopted by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). Within the IHO, many product specifications, including tides, water levels, and currents, are developed using HDF5 encoding. The goal is to produce products and services that comply to internationally accepted standards such as those adopted by the IHO. Compliance with these standards increases data interoperability, allowing navigation platforms to easily ingest and display the data. Coast Survey plans to disseminate OFS data in the HDF5 format by the end of 2018.

Any mention of a commercial product is for informational purposes and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government or any of its employees or contractors.

NOAA RNC Tile Service displays first ENC-only product

NOAA Office of Coast Survey released its 1:12,000 electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®of the Merrimack River, Massachusetts, in the RNC Tile Service. This is the first time a navigational chart—created solely as ENC product—is included in the tile service. The tile service renders a traditional depiction of the nautical chart for use with GPS-enabled electronic chart systems or other “chart plotter” display systems to provide real-time vessel positioning for recreational mariners. This chart is included in the single chart tile sets and the quilted tile sets both in the online and offline versions.

The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border.The single chart tile set is named​ 13274K0000_1.
The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border. The single chart tile set for this area is named​ 13274K0000_1.

The tile service version of the Merrimack chart retains the look of a NOAA paper chart but is derived from the ENC charting database. This gives users the opportunity to use ENC-only data with a traditional NOAA chart feel. NOAA intends to incorporate all future charts that are produced only as ENCs into the tile service (ENC-only charts are outlined in the National Charting Plan, page 25).

“This release represents a major milestone in nautical charting,”  said Rear Admiral Shepard Smith, the director of Coast Survey.  “This is the first chart that was digital from its inception, breaking with the longstanding practice of digital charts based on paper charts.”  

For professional mariners, it is important to note that there is no paper chart equivalent, and that this chart will not be served by the Notice to Mariners systems provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  Updates will be made as necessary by NOAA weekly.  Customers with compatible applications will get the updates automatically.

The original 1:12,000 ENC of the Merrimack River was released at this time last year. Recognizing the need for a more detailed chart, a group of local and state stakeholders concerned with the economic revitalization of the area contacted NOAA to create a new, larger-scale chart. The new, larger-scale ENC was compiled using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, NOAA lidar data, and privately funded survey data. When shown in detail, the combined data provides mariners with a clearer picture of the overall conditions and dangers to navigation. The availability of this chart in the RNC tile service provides mariners greater flexibility in viewing the chart.

This update to the RNC tile service also includes the ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service, adding support for source chart metadata from within ArcMap and other GIS applications. Instructions for loading the tile metadata into ArcMap have been added to the developer’s website.

merrimack-tileservice3
Instructions for loading tile metadata into ArcMap are available from the tile service website.

The ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service can be accessed from a web application, as shown below in our ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.

merrimack-tileservice4
ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.

 

 

NOAA surveys for recreational boat traffic safety in Tampa Bay

NOAA’s navigation response team 2 (NRT2), homeported in Fernandina Beach, Florida, conducted a survey around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and additional members of the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety Committee requested the work and expressed interest in establishing alternate routes for recreational boating traffic. Alternative routes will alleviate increasing congestion where the main ship channel passes beneath the bridge. This area is naturally restrictive to navigation and, as a result, there have been multiple accidents and near accidents here in the past.

Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA
Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA

Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse from NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II installed a topographic lidar system on NRT2, which marked the first time a lidar system was employed from an NRT boat. The lidar system enabled 3D data to be collected for those portions of the bridge that are above water line. NRT2 collected lidar data for associated bridge protective structures and two fixed light range towers in addition to the bridge and bridge supports.   

The accurate positional and dimensional information gleaned from this data will be used to compliment extensive hydrographic sonar data collected beneath the surface. Together, the complete data set will enable full consideration of area features, both above and below the water line, in determining the placement of alternative routes.

TampaBay_SunshineSkywayBridge

The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (left) were successfully captured from lidar data (right). Photo credits: NOAA
The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (above) were successfully captured from lidar data (below). Credits: NOAA

A USCG approval decision is anticipated in the spring. If approved, the chief of the cartographic team will work to have the alternate routes added to all affected NOAA charts.

The NRT2 team consists of James Kirkpatrick (team lead), Lucas Blass, and Howie Meyers. NOAA’s NRTs operate trailer-able survey launches to provide time-sensitive information during emergency response and maritime incidents such as vessel groundings, sinkings, or cargo loss. The launches are equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar, which can help identify navigation hazards and mitigate risk to life and property.

The largest scale raster navigational charts of this area, charts 11415 and 11416, are available online.

Is your boat is ready: Remember your nautical chart

Ah, the boat is ready, the safety vests are stowed on board, the sky is blue, and the water beckons… But hold on a sec, sailor! Where is your nautical chart?ChartDefinitionTransparent

A terrific t-shirt is sold in tourist shops at some of our nation’s harbors. It has a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.” It’s funny… but unfortunately, too true too often.

Resolve to get your nautical chart this year and consult it before you hit something. Advancements in Coast Survey’s digital processes now allow us to review and update charts weekly, and get them to boaters’ fingertips faster − and with less expense − than was possible years ago.

So, what product is best for you? Check out the options…

Paper nautical charts, printed “on demand.” Coast Survey maintains 1,025 nautical charts and provides the digital chart images to NOAA-certified agents, who print the latest version (incorporating weekly updates) when you order it. Order from any of our print agents – several with distribution to local marine shops – that offer different papers and optional premium services.

Free PDF nautical charts. Almost all nautical charts are available for download from our map-based interactive chart catalog or the numbered list. Crop, re-size, print or display them. (Just don’t use them for navigation if you are a SOLAS vessel, since regulated vessels need charts from NOAA-certified printers.)

Free BookletCharts™. For easy printing at home, choose NOAA BookletCharts. These PDFs have the same information as the regular paper charts, but they are sliced and diced into 8 ½ x 11” pages, so you can keep them in a regular notebook. Some boaters like to slide the pages into sheet protectors to protect them from the spray.

Free raster navigational charts. The NOAA RNC® is a geo-referenced digital image of the paper chart, used in a variety of commercial electronic charting systems.

Free electronic navigational charts. The NOAA ENC® is produced from a vector database of features. It supports real-time navigation as well as collision and grounding avoidance. ENCs are used by many computer navigation programs and mobile apps, as well as ECDIS.

Free historical charts (in jpg). Reflecting Coast Survey’s beginnings as the first scientific agency in the U.S. government, the Historical Map & Chart Collection has nearly 35,000 images of nautical charts, topographical maps, sketches, and more.

Okay, you’ve decided which product you want. Now, what chart do you need?

Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download the chart(s) you need.

Chart catalogs are handy to have around. (Note: Coast Survey is transitioning from the large format to an easier 8½ x 11″ PDF catalog that you can print at home. Some of the catalogs are beginning to appear on Coast Survey’s website now, with all five catalogs scheduled for completion by the end of June.)

More information is available to make your trip more enjoyable.

The United States Coast Pilot® is a nine-volume book series (geographically based) that contains a wealth of information: regulations, facilities, weather, prominent features, radio procedures, currents, small-craft facilities, and more. They are now available as free PDFs, or you can purchase hard copies from NOAA-certified print agents.

nowCoast is a map-based portal that provides one-stop access to coastal observations and forecasts.

Coast Survey’s wrecks and obstructions database provides latitude and longitude on thousands of wrecks along U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes, along with some historic and descriptive details (where available).

Does a chart have wrong or outdated information? Report discrepancies.

Seafloors, channels, shorelines, and aids to navigation are constantly changing. Coast Survey applies corrections to charts and the Coast Pilot every week, but we need the public’s help pinpointing changes in the 3.5 million square nautical miles of U.S. charted waters. Report charting discrepancies.

Have a happy and SAFE boating season!

NOAA’s latest mobile app provides free nautical charts for recreational boating

UPDATE: the beta testing period for MyNOAACharts has ended 

Public is invited to try beta version of MyNOAACharts

As recreational boaters gear up for a summer of fun on coastal waters and the Great Lakes, NOAA is testing MyNOAACharts, a new mobile application that allows users to download NOAA nautical charts and editions of the U.S. Coast Pilot. The app, which is only designed for Android tablets for the testing period, was just released.

MyNOAAChart, which can be used on land and on the water, lets users find their positions on a NOAA nautical chart. They can zoom in any specific location with a touch of the finger, or zoom out for the big picture to plan their day of sailing. The Coast Pilot has geo-tagged some of the major references and provides links to appropriate federal regulations.

MyNOAACharts on tablet
MyNOAACharts, a mobile app beta test for Android tablets, can easily integrate the user’s location, the nautical chart, and all the navigational information from the U.S. Coast Pilot.

Easy and workable access to nautical charts is important for boating safety, says Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA Office of Coast Survey. He recalls a funny, but poignant, reference to charts.

“A popular t-shirt has a ‘definition’ of a nautical chart splayed across the front: ‘chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit,’” Glang explains. “As creative as that is, a boating accident can kill. Keeping a nautical chart on hand – before you hit something – can save lives.”

The beta test for MyNOAACharts will end on Labor Day, September 2, 2013. Coast Survey will then evaluate usage and user feedback, which will be pivotal in any decision to move forward.

“Expanding the app across a multitude of platforms, ensuring easy accessibility to over a thousand charts and nearly 5,000 pages of U.S. Coast Pilot, will take considerable resources,” Glang notes. “We truly want users to let us know if the app meets their needs.”

Boaters who don’t have an Android tablet shouldn’t despair. The Office of Coast Survey provides free BookletCharts, which are 8 ½” x 11” PDF versions of NOAA nautical charts that can be downloaded and printed at home. The U.S. Coast Pilot is also available in a free PDF version.

Important notice for commercial mariners: The mobile app MyNOAACharts and the BookletCharts do not fulfill chart carriage requirements for regulated commercial vessels under Titles 33 and 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Recreational boaters get – and give – free nautical information

Getting free information

One of NOAA’s handiest navigation products, especially for recreational boaters, has been Coast Survey’s experimental BookletCharts™ — nautical charts that are easy to download and print from home computers. We have now moved the BookletCharts from experimental stage into official production.

BookletChart 12225Nearly a thousand newly updated BookletCharts are available free on the Web. The BookletCharts, which cover the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline and the Great Lakes, are smaller scale than our traditional paper charts, but they contain most of the information found on a full-scale nautical chart. They are in an 8 1/2 x 11 inch PDF format for home printing.

“It is especially appropriate that we unveil these easy-to-use nautical charts as recreational boaters begin to think about their boating adventures for 2013,” explained Capt. Jon Swallow, chief of NOAA Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Branch. “NOAA’s nautical charts help to protect lives and property, and boaters should take advantage of these free nautical products.”

“Many boaters don’t use nautical charts, trusting local knowledge or their memories. But that can be dangerous, as seafloors constantly shift, shorelines erode, and dangers to navigation are discovered,” Swallow said. “BookletCharts will tell a boater about these developments, and will help ensure a safe voyage, whether it is around the bay or down the coast.”

Getting boaters to recognize the importance of carrying charts is an uphill climb. A tourist shop in Charleston recently offered (an admittedly funny) t-shirt for sale. It had a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, noun: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.”

Of course, smart recreational boaters know that a chart is more than that. It is the first line of defense for the lives of boaters. Hundreds of boating accidents happen because boaters are inattentive or unaware of the environment around them – underwater obstructions or shoals, for instance, that are depicted on a nautical chart.

As your boating experience bears out, the bottoms of our waterways and oceans change from the effects of storms, accumulation of sediment, and debris. Our shorelines are in a state of change, from natural powers or because of human development. And that brings up another important safety issue: Coast Survey, as the nation’s nautical chartmaker, is responsible for updating the nation’s nautical charts, to reflect those changes.

Regular readers of this blog see the fantastic work done by NOAA’s four survey ships (Fairweather, Rainier, Thomas Jefferson, and Ferdinand R. Hassler), our survey research vessel Bay Hydro II, our six navigation response teams, and independent survey contractors. They face a huge challenge: the U.S. has nearly 3.5 million square nautical miles of coastal waters, and surveying those waters, relying solely on current NOAA resources, would take 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data.

Giving free information

Fortunately, thousands of citizen volunteers in this nation’s nautical community are committed to helping us ensure safe navigation. Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, recently met with many of them at the U.S. Power Squadrons annual meeting in Jacksonville. The meeting was a tremendous occasion, as NOAA and the USPS renewed a 50-year commitment to a cooperative charting program that facilitates updates to the nation’s charts.

RDML Glang and Chief Commander John Alter
U.S. Power Squadrons Chief Commander John Alter (right) presents Rear Adm. Gerd Glang with an honorary USPS membership at the ceremony for renewing the 50-year Cooperative Charting Program.

As Glang explained in his remarks at the USPS meeting, “Coast Survey is a small program with a very large mission. Our few hundred people dedicate themselves to protecting people who venture on the water for their livelihood, for the nation’s defense, or for enjoyment.” He was quick to point out, however, that we also count on the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members who scrutinize their local charts for accuracy and report discrepancies to us.

Coast Survey and the U.S. Power Squadrons formalized the voluntary program by signing an updated Memorandum of Agreement. Under the MOA, members of the U.S. Power Squadrons look for changing conditions that could be reflected on NOAA nautical charts and submit their reports online. Coast Survey cartographers review and incorporate changes to charts and the United States Coast Pilot.

Over the last ten years, volunteers have submitted over 28,000 corrections to NOAA’s nautical charts and the Coast Pilot. More than 4,000 USPS members submitted reports, adding their particular local knowledge to NOAA’s national effort to keep navigation materials accurate.

“Sailors must be able to trust their nautical charts,” Glang pointed out. “Since charting began, cartographers have tried to capture the ocean depths at a moment in time, so we can depict them with accuracy and precision. You and I know, however, that what is precise and accurate today may be inaccurate with the passing of a single storm. So our job never ends.”

You don’t have to belong to a Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary to give us a chart update. Anyone can report a charting discrepancy, any time. NOAA – and recreational boaters – will thank you!

Updated nautical charts help recreational boaters stay safe.
Updated nautical charts help all recreational boaters stay safe.