NOAA and Coast Guard work together to get more surveying done in the Arctic

By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator

With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.

One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.

So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…

Monitors on SPAR
Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.

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Coast Survey unveils NOAA ENC Online Viewer

For more than ten years, since NOAA introduced its electronic navigational charts, you have needed to purchase a specialized chart display system to view the NOAA ENC® as a seamless chart database. Starting today, you don’t need a system to view the ENC depictions; you can use Coast Survey’s new web-based viewer called NOAA ENC® Online. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that make ENCs so valuable. NOAA ENC downloads are still free to the public.)

Screengrab from NOAA ENC Online
Screengrab from NOAA ENC Online

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