A look back at 2023 and the Office of Coast Survey’s significant activities throughout the year

An image of a rocky coastline and low clouds with the title Coast Survey Year in Review, superimposed over it.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is reflecting on a successful and remarkable 2023! We completed many significant activities with meaningful impacts. As we look ahead to more progress in 2024, we are proud to share some highlights of the past year in our Coast Survey Year in Review ArcGIS StoryMap.

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Surveying the Pribilof Islands, from Pathfinder to Fairweather

Two images of Pathfinder and Fairweather lined up side by side.

By Lt. Taylor Krabiel

In the 1950s, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) Pathfinder surveyed the Pribilof Islands with the latest technologies to chart previously unsurveyed waters and bring the islands into a common datum with the mainland. Fast forward 71 years and NOAA Ship Fairweather continues this work. Despite the decades and technologies that separate the two ships, they share many commonalities in their mission and their surveying techniques.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather surveys the remote Pribilof Islands

Northern Fur Seals on the beach of St. George as Fairweather navigates the thick fog in the background.

By Lt. Taylor Krabiel

The Pribilof Islands are remote and isolated, located in the Bering Sea roughly 280 nautical miles north of Dutch Harbor Alaska. The economy and community are reliant on the surrounding ocean, while the islands themselves provide shelter for vessels working in the Bering Sea. Accurate nautical charts are not only integral to safe navigation and delivery of goods and services for the community, but also to commercial fishing and crabbing. The last major survey of the area was conducted from 1951 to 1954 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey vessel Pathfinder. However, much of the shoreline around St. George remained uncharted. The Fairweather’s surveys of the islands will provide modern bathymetric data for updating NOAA’s charting products in support of navigation safety.

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United Nations Ocean Decade endorses Seascape Alaska

A graphic showing the Seascape Alaska and United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development logos on a blue background.

Congratulations to Seascape Alaska! The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently endorsed this important regional mapping campaign as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 (Ocean Decade), in part for its contributions to The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

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Planned data collection for Southern Alaska highlights agency partnership

Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) is the practice of planning, acquiring, integrating, and sharing ocean and coastal data and related products so that people who need the data can find it and use it easily. NOAA’s IOCM program also aims to make the most of limited resources, with a goal to map once, use many times. The IOCM program is happy to share that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NOAA have entered into a cost-sharing agreement to conduct mapping activities off Kodiak Island, Alaska in support of Seascape Alaska, a regional mapping campaign. This multiyear study is funded primarily by the USGS on the survey vessel, NOAA Ship Fairweather. NOAA’s Coast Survey is also providing project management, environmental compliance evaluation, data acquisition and processing, and quality assurance. The data will be archived at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, so that other users can access as well.

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Underway from Alaska to California encountering a new phenomenon, cellular service

Image showing NOAA Ship Fairweather turning towards the Golden Gate at the end of the project.
By ACHST Simon Swart, Operations Officer Lt. Shelley Devereaux, and HST Adriana Varchetta

After six months of surveying in Alaska, NOAA Ship Fairweather was ready to point the bow south and set sail for San Francisco Bay. However, an unforeseen circumstance stymied the planned underway date. Although we eagerly anticipated the warmer waters of San Francisco Bay, this delay was well received by the hydrographers in the survey department and amongst the NOAA Corps officers. Our work had begun stacking up due to an extremely busy season, coupled with the fact that for most of us, this was our first time working on hydrographic project sheets. Therefore, we happily used this week of “down-time” to complete previous project sheets and plan for the upcoming survey. Those of us as sheet managers focused on cleaning multibeam data, processing backscatter mosaics, attributing features, conducting quality control checks, and writing descriptive reports. This process was greatly assisted with the help of augmenting physical scientists Pete Holmberg and Janet Hsiao. In the end, we were able to finish processing a number of sheets and reach a comfortable place on all the others. After a week of long hours, we were finally ready to toss lines and say “see you next year Alaska.”

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Deep fiords and hydrographic history in Glacier Bay National Park

NOAA Ship Rainier at anchor in Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park.
By Ensign Alice Beittel and Ensign Karl Wagner

Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, NOAA Ship Rainier surveyed numerous bays and inlets of Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. As one of the largest national wilderness systems and a United Nations designated World Heritage Site, Glacier Bay National Park includes over 2.7 million acres of marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems. This dynamic landscape is a living example of a never-ending cycle of geological and ecological change and adaptation. With up to 20-foot tide ranges, seasonal migrations of humpback whales and salmon, and glaciers in flux, the resilient ecosystem attracts millions of visitors each year. This year, Rainier surveyed the Beardslee Islands, Geikie Inlet, Berg Bay, Muir Inlet, Bartlett Cove, Pleasant Island, Taylor Bay, and Dundas Bay. Each survey area revealing several changes in seafloor bathymetry and bottom type. High-resolution seafloor bathymetry will be used to update nautical charts for safe navigation and serve as baseline data to support further research of this culturally and ecologically significant marine environment.

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The Kodiak archipelago – whales, foxes, and bears, oh my!

An image showing the mountainous shoreline of Kodiak Island
By Simon Swart and Adriana Varchetta

Between April and August of 2021, NOAA Ship Fairweather visited the southern part of the Kodiak archipelago to survey and provide updated bathymetry for a remote, yet important area that sorely needed new chart data. Early in the year, abundant wildlife and the sparse population meant the ship’s crew only had to contend with spritely weather patterns. But as spring turned to summer and the weather improved, the village of Akhiok became a hive of activity. Many types of fishing vessels began plying the waters around Alitak Bay, dropping crab pots and casting nets as they went. The increase in sunlight also transformed the landscape from brown, barren hills into a lush green canvas. Quick waves hello and calls from locals to not run over their crab pots, kept the importance of the mission at the forefront of the crews mind, with an occasional aircraft sighting jolting them back to the 21st century. 

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