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.

New commemorative chart marks the Battle of Midway’s 75th anniversary

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries created a commemorative nautical chart for the Battle of Midway’s 75th anniversary. This nautical chart was first published in 1943, and the commemorative chart includes the original depth soundings surrounding the islands overlaid with historical photos from the battle.

The Battle of Midway was fought from June 3–7, 1942, at and around the island of Midway in the central Pacific Ocean. Today, it is considered to be the decisive battle of the war in the Pacific. Over the next few days, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the battle. The battle resulted in the loss of four Japanese aircraft carriers and their accompanying aircraft and crew, accounting for two-thirds of Japan’s fleet carrier force. Despite sinking the American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown during the battle, the Japanese Navy’s severe losses would never be fully replaced, forcing them to fight a strategic defense for the rest of the war. While the primary carrier fleet engagement occurred to the north of Midway Atoll, much of the secondary action originated from the atoll itself. Midway is a tiny, remote atoll which was, 75 years ago, one of the most strategically important few square miles of land in the world. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese officially surrendered to end WWII.

midway-battle-chart-hd

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers Midway Atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge lies within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a marine protected area encompassing all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In 2000, the Secretary of the Interior designated Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge as the Battle of Midway National Memorial. This was the first national memorial designated on a National Wildlife Refuge, reminding us of the heroic courage and sacrifice of those who fought against overwhelming odds to win an incredible victory.

Within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Midway Atoll is known as Pihemanu, which is a Hawaiian word for loud din of birds, and Kuaihelani, which is a Hawaiian word meaning back bone of heaven. The Monument’s intrinsic cultural and natural heritage value assured its place as a World Heritage Site. 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the monument, the 5th anniversary of its World Heritage inscription, and on August 26, 2016, President Barack Obama expanded the monument to become one of the world’s largest marine conservation areas.

NOAA clarifies National Charting Plan vision for production of NOAA paper charts and RNCs

Whether navigating an oil tanker, cruise ship, fishing vessel, sailboat, or any craft, the mariner requires a suite of navigation charts that are consistent and easy to use. The public feedback we received to the National Charting Plan regarding the “sunset of paper” charts (p. 26) highlights two navigation products in particular, NOAA paper nautical charts and raster navigational chart (RNC).

We recognize the continued popularity and dependence of many of our users on our paper and raster charts, and NOAA will continue to update these charts with all critical information. Despite some reports to the contrary, the draft plan does not offer a timeline for ending the production of NOAA paper charts or RNCs. We expect this process may take decades to complete, as user communities continue to adopt electronic navigation and our production system and products continue to improve. However, we do want to start the conversation and solicit feedback to focus our improvement on electronic navigational charts (ENC). In response to a surge of interest in the past few weeks, although the official comment period ends June 1, 2017, as stated in the Federal Register Notice, we will continue to accept comments on the National Charting Plan through July 1, 2017.

The ENC vector chart is still relatively new and needs some improvement. We recognize that in many cases, the ENC is not as easy to use as its paper equivalent, even though it satisfies all requirements for safe navigation. The long-term goal at NOAA is for ENCs and charts derived from them to surpass paper charts in all categories and for all mariners to prefer them to paper.

The Merrimack River (US5MA1AM) provides an example of how a new NOAA ENC® fulfilled a local request for larger scale data. Historically, charts did not depict the river from Newburyport to Haverhill, MA, at an appropriate scale for recreational boaters to navigate safely. NOAA created a robust 1:12,000 scale ENC (without corresponding large-scale paper and RNC charts) to allow recreational boaters to navigate safely on the river. NOAA intends to increase its large-scale coverage in recreational areas but does not believe that it is always practical to offer corresponding traditional paper chart coverage. Large-scale data across large areas is better suited for use in electronic navigation systems for both regulated and recreational mariners.

NOAA announces open house on nautical cartography

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is pleased to announce its first one-day open house in conjunction with the International Cartographic Conference (held this year in Washington, DC, at Marriott Wardman Park). This one-day event will focus on nautical cartography, highlighting the field of charting and GIS. It will offer nautical cartography-themed posters, presentations, tours, and exhibits. Participants will include industry partners, government agencies, and charting offices from around the world. This event is open to the public.

The four main themes for this year’s open house include: From Hydrography to Cartography, Nautical Products, Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure and Databases, and Innovative Cartography.

 Date: Friday, July 7, 2017

Time: 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Location: NOAA’s Science Center (1301 East-West Hwy, Silver Spring, MD 20910)

Registration: Send your name and organization to nauticalcarto2017@noaa.gov to expedite entry into the NOAA building.

For further details about the open house, please click here.

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.

Coast Survey hurricane prep starts now

Official hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1, but Coast Survey’s navigation managers are heavily involved throughout April and May in training exercises with the U.S. Coast Guard, ports authorities and NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Why is Coast Survey involved? With our expertise in underwater detection, NOAA navigation response teams and survey ships are often the first ones in the water after a hurricane, looking to make sure that no hidden debris or shoaling poses a danger to navigation. The faster we can advise “all clear” to the Captain of the Port, the faster the U.S. Coast Guard can re-open sea lanes for the resumption of shipping or homeland security and defense operations. So our East Coast and Gulf Coast navigation managers – who are NOAA’s “ambassadors” to the maritime public – engage with response partners during hurricane exercises. Their reports of NOAA survey capabilities and assets are an important factor in testing federal response options.

Port of Morgan City planning
Ports along our Atlantic and Gulf coasts hold planning meetings, like this one at Port of Morgan City last year, to prepare for hurricane response. Photo credit: Tim Osborn

 

Tim Osborn, the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, has been organizing hurricane response for 15 years – since Hurricane Lilli in 2002 – and he brings NOAA priorities to the table.

“Ports and waterways are huge parts of our nation’s economy,” Tim says. “Our core mission at NOAA is to safeguard them and work – literally at ‘ground zero’ – to respond and reopen these very large complexes and job bases as quickly and safely as possible.”

Alan Bunn and NRT - Hurricane Isaac
Navigation manager Alan Bunn advises one of NOAA’s navigation response teams as they prepare to respond to Port Fourchon after Hurricane Isaac. Photo credit: Tim Osborn

 

Coast Survey navigation managers are planning to participate in hurricane exercises in Hampton Roads (Virginia), Charleston (South Carolina), Savannah (Georgia), Jacksonville (Florida), and in port locations all along the Gulf Coast. Additionally, a joint hurricane task force meeting, organized by the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association and USCG District 7 office in New Orleans, will include pilots, federal agencies, port authorities, and the navigation community from Panama City (Florida) to south Texas. Plans are also in the works to engage with Puerto Rico and American Virgin Islands hurricane response teams.

“We are fast approaching another hurricane season,” said Roger Erickson, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We have now gone five years in Louisiana and nine years in Texas without a land-falling hurricane, but there is always work to be done to keep our communities prepared.”

The people along the Atlantic coast can readily attest to Erickson’s observation. In the five years since Coast Survey navigation managers and survey teams responded to Hurricane Isaac’s fury at Port Fourchon, our men and women have worked to speed the resumption of shipping and other maritime operations along the East Coast after hurricanes Matthew and, of course, Sandy.

Kyle Ward - hurricane Sandy
Navigation manager Kyle Ward briefs U.S. Coast Guard officials on NOAA survey progress in the aftermath of Sandy.

 

For more information: “Port Recovery in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: Improving Port Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change,” by U.S. Coast Guard Fellow Commander Linda Sturgis, Dr. Tiffany Smythe and Captain Andrew Tucci (USCG), examines how an effective private and public sector collaboration enabled a successful and timely port recovery.

Teaming up with small business to expand hydrographic technology

Sandy shoals in certain near shore areas shift continuously and present a danger to navigation. It is logistically impossible to keep nautical charts current using the traditional survey methods when the bottom contours change so rapidly. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey leverages remote sensing data in new ways to derive bathymetry for the purposes of updating nautical charts in dynamic coastal areas. An exciting new method Coast Survey is exploring is X-band radar wave imaging. Marine radar is not a new technology, however, there are advantages to exploring old technology for new purposes. Many NOAA vessels and other coastal installations are already equipped with the hardware to facilitate this type of data acquisition.

Radar wave imaging uses backscattered radar intensity to create remotely sensed images of waves. So how do we derive bathymetry from wave images? The shape and depth of the seafloor—whether rocky or sandy, shoal or deep—influences surface currents, as well as the character and speed of waves, and swell. Radar backscatter processing over time yields a series of coherent images of the wave field. By simply averaging the images of waves over a period, it is possible to depict the general shape of the seafloor bathymetry. Additional processing of the coherent wave-speed images produces derived depths.

To determine the value of using radar as a method for deriving water depths in near shore areas, NOAA teamed up with the Korean Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency (KHOA), Oregon State University, and the private company Areté Associates. NOAA contracts awarded through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program funded Areté Associates for the research and development of X-band radar bathymetery technology. SBIR is a competitive program that enables domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and development that has the potential for commercialization.

NOAA conducted radar bathymetry activities in two locations, the Oregon coast using Oregon State University’s X-band radar installed atop the U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay tower; and Beaufort, North Carolina, using a temporary X-band radar installation at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Macon near the Beaufort Inlet.

To explore the potential for wide-use and commercialization of the radar data, Areté created a real-time cloud service to automatically process regular uploads of nonproprietary radar data to produce raw and time-averaged radar images and movies, bathymetry and uncertainty grids, and water levels. This method presents potential for planning with regional navigation services field teams because they can easily collect radar data and process it in the cloud, eliminating the need for extra software, a technician, or even training requirements. Further, using the cloud service makes subsequent commercialization of the data easier for third-party developers.

The following is a video of time averaged X-band radar of Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. This video is a product of Areté’s cloud-based processing service.  Each frame of the movie represents a 15-minute average of the radar backscatter (or images of waves). Notice the evidence of shoaling just outside the entrance to the inlet. Additional processing of the coherent wave-speed images produces derived depths.