By Ensign Jessie Spruill and Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Simon Swart, NOAA Ship Fairweather
Last Thanksgiving, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather were busy surveying in one of the country’s busiest waterways. A global maritime entryway to the Pacific Northwest, the Strait of Juan de Fuca sees over 8,000 transits of deep-draft container ships, cargo and chemical carriers, oil tankers, and barges coming to and from Puget Sound and Canada. In addition to industrial shipping, the Strait of Juan de Fuca also supports over 200,000 transits of recreational vessels and Washington State Ferries. Located north of the Olympic Peninsula, the Strait forms the northwestern most border between the contiguous U.S. and Canada. On the American side, the region is home to eight million people including 50 First Nation communities with centuries old cultural ties to traditional fishing.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, United States Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Honolulu, State of Hawaii Department of Transportation and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Honolulu Division established a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining each signatory’s area of responsibility in the event of a disaster in the Hawaii region. The intent of the MOU is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of response efforts and speed the reopening of the ports and waterways following an emergency.
NOAA hydrographic survey ships and contractors are preparing for the 2020 hydrographic survey season. The ships collect bathymetric data (i.e. map the seafloor) to support nautical charting, modeling, and research, but also collect other environmental data to support a variety of ecosystem sciences. NOAA considers hydrographic survey requests from stakeholders such as marine pilots, local port authorities, the Coast Guard, and the boating community, and also consider other hydrographic and NOAA science priorities in determining where to survey and when. Visit our “living” story map to find out more about our mapping projects and if a hydrographic vessel will be in your area this year!
Did you know that there are about 120 World War II era aircraft lying at the bottom of Lake Michigan? The Navy used these aircraft to train and certify pilots to take off and land from aircraft carriers during World War II. U.S. Naval operations along Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, began in 1923. Between 1923 and 1942, operations expanded as the Navy built hangars, airfields, and landing strips across the village of Glenview, Illinois. By 1942, the Navy had a robust presence on the shores of Lake Michigan. With the U.S. entrance into World War II, the Navy needed a location to train carrier pilots. The growing threat of enemy vessels and mines along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines and an already strong Naval presence in the area made Lake Michigan the safest location for carrier training.
On November 15, 2019, the crew of NOAA Ship Rainier hosted a change of command in Valejo, California. Cmdr. Sam Greenaway accepted command of Rainier, relieving Capt. Ben Evans in a ceremony led by Capt. Michael Hopkins, commanding officer of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Marine Operations Center-Pacific.
For more than 50 years, NOAA Ship Rainier and its hydrographic survey launches have surveyed the Pacific seafloor. During this time, Rainier sailed thousands of miles, including the entire U.S. west coast, Alaska, and Hawaii. This year, Rainier expands on its traditional role of hydrographic survey and is supporting dive operations in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. While Rainier is sailing these remote coral atolls, the survey launches — that are usually in its davits and deployed directly from the ship — are tasked to their own surveys around the islands of Maui, Moloka’i, and O’ahu.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical chartmaker, and maintains a suite of more than a thousand nautical charts. Coast Survey is responsible for charting U.S. waters and Great Lakes covering 3.4 million square nautical miles (SNM) of water and 95,000 miles of coastline.
NOAA’s hydrographic survey ships along with hydrographic contractor vessels,recently kicked off the 2019 hydrographic survey season. These surveys not only update the suite of nautical charts, but also help to maintain the safety of maritime commerce, recreational boaters, natural ecosystems, and much more. Operations are scheduled for maritime priority areas around the country and are outlined in Coast Survey’s “living” story map. Here is a list of where they are headed this year:
Formed by retreating ice sheets over 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes have long represented one of the most valuable fresh water resources in North America. They contain more than one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh surface water, and the vast size is easily visible from space. From Native American hunting routes to French fur-trade exploration to influential battles in the War of 1812, the Lakes have proved a key platform for numerous historical events that shaped the development of the country.
Uniquely, these bodies of water served as the gateway to connect the booming production of an expanding population in the Midwest from 1825 to 1925. During this time, a broad range of wooden, sailing, and steam-powered ships trekked across the lakes, carrying coal, grain, and passengers. Due to unpredictable weather conditions, fire, ice, high-traffic areas, and an ever-increasing pressure to meet shipping quotas, hundreds of ships were lost in collisions and accidents. These incidents have earned this period the nickname “Shipwreck Century.” Today, the history of the “Shipwreck Century” is presented at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s visitor’s center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, in Alpena, Michigan.
Thunder Bay is located in Lake Huron, near one of the most historically dangerous areas of navigation in the Great Lakes. The sanctuary covers 4,300 square miles. In this area, over 200 shipwrecks are known to exist, and 92 have been discovered and accurately charted. The staff provides continual archaeological monitoring to ensure the preservation of the sites.
NOAA announced that one of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams found the underwater wreck of the passenger steamer City of Chester, which sank in 1888 in a collision in dense fog near where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today. City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on August 22, 1888, when it was struck by the steamer Oceanic. Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident.
Navigation Response Team 6 (NRT6) found the wreck in May 2013 while they were conducting regular survey duties for safe navigation, assessing a potential pollution threat from the S.S. Fernstream, a wreck from 1952. Sonar images confirmed that the target was the 202-foot steamship City of Chester, sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal, rising 18 feet from the seabed.
One would be forgiven for thinking that measurements of the ocean floor just produce numbers. It turns out that the data acquired by sound (sonar) can be translated into some truly beautiful graphics. Check out this gorgeous digital terrain model created by Ian Colvert, a physical science technician with Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team 6. Colvert produced the image file by processing data acquired with the team’s multibeam sonar during a recent hydrographic survey project.
The digital terrain model depicts the wreck of the freighter Fernstream, a 416-foot motor cargo vessel that sank after a collision near the entrance of the San Francisco Bay in 1952. NRT6 surveyed Fernstream as part of a recent study – identifying potential polluting shipwrecks – conducted by the Office of National Maritime Sanctuaries and the Office of Response and Restoration.