NOAA navigation response team has a harrowing start to a successful afternoon of surveying at Port Fourchon

Coast Survey navigation response teams know the meaning of “rapid” in Rapid Maritime Response, as their ongoing response following Hurricane Isaac demonstrates.

As we explained in yesterday’s post (NOAA looks for dangers to navigation at Port Fourchon), getting a navigation response team (NRT) into the water at the port, to search for underwater debris and shoaling ‒ ASAP ‒ was Coast Survey’s highest priority. It was also a priority for port authorities, who know more than anyone how important it is to resume maritime operations quickly at “The Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

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NOAA looks for danger to navigation at Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” helps port resume operations

A rapid maritime response by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will likely pay dividends to the U.S. economy, as a high-tech survey team today began surveying the channels of Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” to search for dangers to navigation caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Coast Survey’s navigation response team, in the water at Port Fourchon, started searching for underwater dangers to navigation today, speeding the resumption of shipping.

“Time literally means money for U.S. consumers when it comes to navigation through many of the Gulf of Mexico ports,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, Office of Coast Survey director. “In this case, when a port can’t service offshore oil rigs, everyone — and most especially consumers — gets hit in the wallet.”

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Ready, set…

Coast Survey’s Rapid Maritime Response assets for Hurricane Isaac are now in place, and are ready to move in when the storm moves on.

The teams will search for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation in port areas, to speed the resumption of shipping in areas impacted by the storm. A rapid response — that gives Coast Guard officials vital information on the condition of ship channels — reduces economic losses in maritime trade, reduces potential disruptions in energy supplies when ports are serving energy providers and oil rigs, and keeps mariners safe. (For more, see Coast Survey Prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac.)

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Update on Coast Survey pre-positioning for Rapid Maritime Response to Tropical Storm Isaac

As NOAA’s National Weather Service adjusts the track of Tropical Storm Isaac, so Coast Survey adjusts pre-response planning and deployment. (BTW, the New Orleans/Baton Rouge NWS Tropical Weather Briefing is a great resource for maritime observations, as is nowCOAST.) Based on updates in the hurricane models, and after multiple briefings with Coast Guard officials, Coast Survey is moving to pre-position two of the navigation response teams closer to the expected impact areas. (See response asset graphic, below.)

Major ports along in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will likely be closed later today, if they aren’t already. With over $153 billion in ocean-going trade through New Orleans annually, and another $31 billion a year in and out of Mobile, it is essential to get shipping channels cleared for the resumption of traffic as soon as possible after a storm. Just as important, the Gulf produces 23 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 7 percent of natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The resumption of operations at ports serving the energy industry is essential to keeping supplies flowing.

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Fairweather’s quick reminder of why we need to update Arctic nautical charts

This week the NOAA Ship Fairweather is completing her 30-day hydrographic reconnaissance survey in the Arctic. The crew’s personal observations during this successful cruise brings home the importance of measuring ocean depths and updating nautical charts with precise and accurate modern data. Ensign Owen provides Fairweather’s last blog post for this project.  – DF

by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)

1200 hours, Sunday, August 26, 2012:55°57.2’N  166°01.2’W, Bering Sea, approximately 100 nautical miles north of Unimak Pass

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Coast Survey prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac

With the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac, headed toward the state of Florida, Coast Survey navigation managers and navigation response teams have moved into Rapid Maritime Response preparations. Coast Survey is often called upon to speed the resumption of ocean shipping — slowed or shut down by hurricane damage — by searching for submerged debris or other dangers to navigation in port areas or shipping lanes. After navigation response teams survey the areas, ports can resume operations safely and efficiently.

Our navigation managers work with port representatives, and state and federal officials in the area, to coordinate their requests for NOAA data and services, and our manager for Florida is already fielding requests from port officials and the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida.

Navigation response teams deploy with small boats trailerable by truck to any U.S. destination. In addition to regular assignments that make shipping safe in and around ports, they are prepared to respond to disasters.

Coast Survey deploys six navigation response teams, at all times, to conduct long-term hydrographic projects in critical maritime areas. While surveying, the teams remain on alert to respond to emergencies anywhere on the nation’s coasts. The teams are three-person crews who can transport the hydrographic equipment and 28’ survey boats to coastal locations where submerged debris or shoaling would cause a danger to navigation.

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NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler submits survey of historic wrecks acquired during test and evaluation operations

by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler

Three-dimensional model of the seabed in the vicinity of USS New Jersey (north) and USS Virginia (south) created with Hassler multibeam echo sounder data.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.

The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather: “We made it!”

by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)

1200 hours, Saturday, August 18, 2012:  69°41.4’N  141°03.3’W, at anchor, 1.5 nautical miles west of Demarcation Point, on the United States/Canadian border

We made it!

Zacharias Demarcation Point
Photo by Caryn Zacharias, LT/NOAA

I must admit, I had my doubts a week ago. But we made it safely through relatively ice-free seas to the northern border between Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

We were able to collect multibeam echo sounder data along the entire route. The area continues to be relatively shallow (8 to 25 meters) and relatively flat (1 to 1.5 meters of relief). However, dramatic ice scours and scars on the seafloor are easily visible in the data collected.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather crew takes in Arctic beauty as they collect hydro data off Alaska’s North Slope

by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)

1200 hours, August 17, 2012: 70°13.7’N  144°49.6’W, approximately 250 nautical miles along the coast SSE of Barrow, AK

The water turned a silty gray-green early afternoon yesterday, Thursday, August 16. The Fairweather was transiting through areas with depths under our keel of between 8 and 20 meters – a somewhat caution-inducing sight for a vessel of our size. But the ice has opened up and we have made it east of Barrow. We are currently the furthest east along the North Slope of any NOAA or U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey hydrographic ship, as previous surveys were last conducted by field parties with much smaller boats, in the 1950s and 1960s. As the crow flies, we are currently 90 miles or so west of the Canadian border and our turn-around point. However, we are of course not transiting in a straight line but in the zigzag/argyle pattern, so have a bit more sea floor to cover.

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Ice pack recedes, Fairweather takes nearshore route

Good news! When NOAA Ship Fairweather started her Arctic reconnaissance survey, on August 1, there was some question about whether she would be able to complete the entire trackline. The icepack from Barrow to the Canadian border had not yet receded. Thanks to  satellite imagery and ice forecasts, we can see open water up to Barter Island, and then thin ice to Demarcation Point. Cmdr. Jim Crocker is now able to follow a nearshore route. They will survey closer to shore than the planned transit route – and acquire very useful hydrographic data!

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