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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Bringing nautical charts of the Erie Canal into the digital era

The construction of the Erie Canal was one of 19th Century America’s most significant feats of engineering. Built between 1817 and 1825, the canal provided a water route from Albany to Buffalo, New York, nearly 363 miles to the west. The Canal connected the Hudson River with the Great Lakes via parts of the Mohawk River, through various land cuts and natural lakes. The New York State Public Works Department and the US War Department’s Corps of Engineers began geographically documenting the canal’s route with maps and nautical charts beginning in 1917. The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took ownership of the charts in the early 1970’s and has maintained and updated them for over 50 years. Currently, these charts are undergoing changes to usher them into the digital era of electronic navigational charts.

Check out our digitizing the Erie Canal ArcGIS StoryMap linked here or click the image below!

An image showing the Erie Canal at Waterford, New York during a festival.
An image showing the Erie Canal at Waterford, New York during a festival. Credit: Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor/Halldor K. Sigurdsson.

NOAA helps develop undergraduate course in lakebed mapping

Grand Traverse Light aerial of Northport Michigan.

As the New Blue Economy grows along with demands for a climate-ready workforce, NOAA is connecting the dots between climate resilience and the need for a workforce skilled in science and technology supporting ocean and coastal mapping. Exposure to key disciplines, from geodesy, oceanography, and science data management to modeling, hydrography and GIS-based cartography, is critical to building robust interest, opportunities and expertise in the government and industry geospatial careers supporting climate resilience. NOAA works with a variety of partners to advance workforce development in these foundational geospatial areas. In particular, hydrography – measuring water depths, locating hazards, and describing the seafloor – is a challenging but exciting field dependent on skilled technicians, surveyors, and scientists to acquire mapping data using state-of-the-art technologies. With only 50% of U.S. coastal, ocean and Great Lakes waters mapped, there is a lot of work to do! Read on to learn about a hydrographic surveying project NOAA is supporting with Northwestern Michigan College in the Great Lakes.

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Naming Brennan Reef, a previously uncharted pinnacle in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Brennan Reef, shown via shaded relief on the National Centers for Environmental Information bathymetric data viewer.

NOAA Corps Rear Adm. Richard T. “Rick” Brennan, recent director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, was deeply dedicated to NOAA’s mission and was an integral part of building connections across NOAA programs to benefit coastal communities around the United States. One example of Rick’s leadership was the Southern California Seafloor Mapping Initiative, a partnership between Coast Survey, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Among many important accomplishments of this coordinated mapping effort was the survey of a previously uncharted reef in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Through legislative action led by U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal of California’s 24th District, this reef has been officially designated as “Brennan Reef.”

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Help keep nautical charts up to date through citizen science

A graphic showing an artistic Citizen Science banner.

NOAA maintains a suite of nearly 2000 electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®), as well as the ten volume United States Coast Pilot®. The seafloor and coastline are dynamic environments, which means that our products are constantly scrutinized for possible changes. Each year we make thousands of updates to ENCs, ensuring we are providing the most accurate products possible. The source data for most of these updates comes from NOAA or contractor surveys or from our federal partners, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. However, we also rely on many other data sources to help keep our ENCs up-to-date.

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Have it your way – creating customized nautical charts using the latest data

An image showing the output of the NOAA Custom Chart application with a chart covering the western side of the Chesapeake Bay.

Nautical charts have always contained a great amount of information – even more so with electronic navigational charts. This information is constantly being updated, necessitating the need to keep your nautical chart suite as current as possible. The Office of Coast Survey’s online NOAA Custom Chart application enables users to create nautical charts directly from the latest official NOAA electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®) data. Users now have the ability to create their own nautical charts using individually set parameters, and then save this custom nautical chart as a file that can be viewed or printed.

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Coast Survey launches NOAA Chart Display Service

This is a graphic showing an electronic navigational chart depicting the entrance to the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon. Graphical information on the chart is rendered by the new NOAA Chart Display Service and shows traditional paper chart symbols.

The new NOAA Chart Display Service (NCDS) renders NOAA electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®) data with “traditional paper chart” symbology in online and offline applications for which a basemap of nautical chart data is desired, including GIS, web-based, and mobile mapping applications. The new service uses symbols, labels, and color schemes familiar to those who have used NOAA paper nautical charts or the NOAA Custom Chart application. NCDS is available as Esri REST Map Service, OGC Web Map Service (WMS), and MBTiles formats.

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The nautical chart update process – build it and we will chart it

Nautical charts are updated with the most current information available through several processes and workflows within NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. The large majority of these updates consist of revisions to water depth information. The bottom of a water body is changeable by nature, thus hydrographic surveys are constantly necessary to show contemporary depths in a given body of water. What doesn’t happen quite as often are changes to land along the coast, altering the way inlets, harbor entrances, and river mouths appear from a bird’s eye view. Unless there has been a catastrophic event, these changes in land are usually the result of human interaction.

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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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