NOAA
Office of Coast Survey
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce


September 26, 2018

Hello Coast Survey,

I’m Lt. Cmdr. Sam Greenaway, currently the chief of the Hydrographic Systems and Technology Branch (HSTB). I am wrapping up my stint here at Coast Survey headquarters and will be heading back out to sea next month as executive officer of NOAA Ship Fairweather. Rear Adm. Smith kindly asked me to put in a quick note for this newsletter. We are knee deep in a bunch of cool projects here in HSTB. The good news is, all the work has been done by the team here, and so I fully expect things to keep humming along until Lt. Damian Manda arrives to take over the helm in a few months. Lt. Manda is currently the operations officer on Fairweather and is just the right kind of person for this shop – he will do great.

A few projects of note: our optionally unmanned launch conversion project is a few weeks from operational delivery. In test runs so far, the launch has driven a survey line, though like a human boat driver as the first few lines were snaky-waked mess! This, along with the data-radios installed on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (7 Mbit/s at 5 miles!) are key parts of Coast Survey’s unmanned systems strategy. Also, in the robot realm, we just took delivery of a few small quadcopters (don’t tell anyone, but Matt Sharr was flying them around the lab yesterday), and are planning an operational deployment off Thomas Jefferson next month. We have been working closely with National Geodetic Survey's Remote Sensing Division and NOAA Aircraft Operations Center to figure out the administrative hurdles as well as the technical ones for these small, unmanned aerial systems (sUAS).

I’m confident we will have a clearly defined path to using this technology very soon. My hunch is sUAS coupled with structure-from-motion processing is the right answer for the near-shore verification mission. I think we have made huge strides with automating the data processing workflow, and I am keen to see the fruition of some machine-learning projects for some of the more routine data processing tasks. I just got back from briefing NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) folks on how we have fully transitioned to surveying on the ellipse, which has been a tremendous success for the whole organization. I am particularly impressed with the operational datum support that HSTB has been able to spin up (need a grid of the WGS-84 to Mississippi River datum separation? We can do that.). The collection and processing of acoustic backscatter is moving in the right direction; the inter-system normalization efforts put out in the field this year builds on over a decade of work and significantly improves our products. While we have streamlined some of the documentation, I suspect we have stacks of work to do to streamline and automate the ancillary analysis and products as well as our main survey deliverables.

The rise of the robots is going to increase data volumes; we need to befriend the robots to do some of the documentation, analysis, and processing as well. I’m convinced the right way to do this is in collaboration and partnership with other hydrographic offices and users, and the public release of the full Pydro universe (yes, you can now use Pydro at home!) is a big step in this direction. It has been a real treat to work here in HSTB, there are perhaps few places better suited for a deep dive into hydrography than HSTB, so it has been a real honor to work with all the folks here in the branch, across Coast Survey, and with all our esteemed collaborators.

Lt. Cmdr. Sam Greenaway
Chief, Hydrographic Systems and Technology Branch