NOAA ship readies for historic deployment to the Western Pacific to map the oceans

NOAA Ship Rainier in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

In three weeks, NOAA Ship Rainier will depart on the farthest journey of its 52-year history as it embarks on a multidisciplinary mapping trip to the Western Pacific. Rainier and a diverse team of scientists on board will map the waters from shore to almost 2000 meters deep around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. The data and observations collected will support safe navigation, coral habitat and fisheries conservation, and storm surge and tsunamis modeling. The data will also be made available to those at the local level and contribute to the larger national and global initiatives regarding comprehensive seafloor mapping.

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NOAA hydrographic community prepares for field season at annual workshop

Attendees of the NOAA 2020 Field Procedures Workshop.

The field of hydrography, like most sciences, is comprised of experts honing their craft, improving their tools, building upon the successes of previous years, and learning from their mistakes. Hydrographers typically accomplish this iterative process in the field, publishing papers, presenting at industry conferences, and often through discussions over the phone or via email. However, once a year, the NOAA hydrographic community — those who measure and describe the features of the seafloor to update nautical charts and support a variety of sciences — meets at the Field Procedures Workshop to not only share information, but have frank discussions about their challenges and the path forward in preparation for the upcoming hydrographic field season.

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NOAA releases 2020 hydrographic survey season plans

NOAA 2020 Hydrographic Survey Season Story Map Cover

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!

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One year later – Coast Survey’s response to the Anchorage earthquake

Multibeam data acquired by eTrac in Knik Arm, offshore of Anchorage.

By Lt. Cmdr. Bart Buesseler

At 8:29, on the morning of Friday, November 30, 2018, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Anchorage, Alaska, for thirty stressful seconds. It was the largest earthquake in Anchorage since the Good Friday Quake of 1964, and brought Alaska’s most populated city to a standstill as residents evacuated buildings and came to terms with what they had just experienced.

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NOAA Ship Rainier returns to survey the Hawaiian coast, provides update on lava flow development

Rainier collects multibeam sonar data along Puna Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii.

By Ens. Harper Umfress

NOAA Ship Rainier’s four-decade tropical sonar silence is over and Hawaiian hydrography is back! The 2019 field season was productive, challenging, and geographically diverse. After starting the season with traditional hydrographic surveys in Alaska, Rainier was re-tasked to support science diving operations in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument that surrounds the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Though the primary purpose of this dispatch was to support coral reef research, the world’s most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform would have been remiss to forego this opportunity to ping new waters.

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NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson tests innovative DriX unmanned surface vehicle

Drone photo of the DriX underway from the ship with the DDS still in the water.

By Ens. Taylor Krabiel

During the month of October, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson integrated and operated a DriX, an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) created by the French technology company iXblue. The primary goal of the project was to test iXblue’s unique deployment and recovery solution specifically designed for Thomas Jefferson’s on board survey launch davit. Survey launches are limited to daylight operations and deployment and recovery are the most challenging operations the ship undertakes. Utilizing a DriX for continuous survey operations without having to recover and/or service it for up to four days straight would significantly increase the ship’s efficiency.

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NOAA Ship Nancy Foster performs full-coverage mapping survey of Northern Blake Plateau

ST Barbee and NOAA Affiliate Veronica Martinez deploy Nancy Foster’s Underway CTD.

By Julia Wallace and Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster conducted survey operations offshore of coastal South Carolina from August 12-30, 2019, as a joint effort between NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. This survey encompassed portions of the Blake Plateau, and was particularly special because this region has never been mapped using contemporary sonar systems. The project served Coast Survey’s mission of providing contemporary data to update nautical charting products and supported the U.S. contribution to Seabed 2030, a multi-national initiative to map the world ocean by 2030. NOAA’s contribution to this project includes providing continuous multibeam survey coverage within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

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NOAA supports safe ferry transit in Puget Sound

By Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

If you have spent time on the water in Puget Sound, you have probably seen the large, distinct green and white vessels. These vessels move passengers, vehicles, and cargo across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands and to Victoria, Canada, year round. They are a part of the Washington State Department of Transportation ferry system. The state has been operating ferries since 1951, and intended to run the ferry service until cross Sound bridges could be built.  These bridges were never built, and the state continues to operate the ferries to this day. As of last July, there are 22 state-operated ferries on Puget Sound, with the largest vessel able to carry 2500 passengers and 202 vehicles. 

One of these routes is a 30-minute transit from Coupeville, WA, to Port Townsend, WA, at the mouth of Puget Sound. This route carries roughly 820,000 passengers a year, and saves travelers from a five- hour drive around the Sound. n 2013 the Washington Department of Ecology and the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington installed instruments on board to measure the velocity of current at the entrance of the Sound. Due to the shallow depth of the ferry terminal at Coupeville, extreme (low) tidal conditions interrupt this ferry route up to three times a month. 

Ferry with navigation response vessel.
NRT-Seattle with the F/V Salish, one of the two ferries completing the Coupeville to Port Townsend route this summer. Credit: Adrian Biesel

NOAA’s Northwest and Pacific Islands Navigation Manager Crescent Moegling received a survey request from the Washington State Ferries in early summer of 2019 to survey this route. Following completion of a routine survey in Bellingham Bay, Navigation Response Team – Seattle (NRT-Seattle) along with augmenters Lt j.g. Joshua Fredrick, NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, and Adrian Biesel, an intern at NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s Pacific Hydrographic Branch, traveled to Oak Harbor, Washington, on August 14. After safety and familiarization briefings, NRT-Seattle got underway from the Fort Casey State Park boat ramp daily to collect multibeam data. The team completed this request on August 19.

Lt. j.g. Joshua Fredrick on trailered survey response vessel.
Lt. j.g. Joshua Fredrick following a fresh water rinse of the boat at the end of a survey day. Credit: Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano
Intern Adrian Biesel prepares the boat for daily operations by deploying the surface sound speed sensor.
Intern Adrian Biesel prepares the boat for daily operations by deploying the surface sound speed sensor. Credit: Lt. j.g. ichelle Levano

The density of the team’s data allows for confident detection of 1×1 meter objects on the seafloor. In addition to collecting information on the depth of the seafloor, the team also verified, investigated, and updated several features on the chart including but not limited to kelp beds, fog signals, and pier pilings.

NRT-Seattle truck and response vessel transiting from Mukilteo, Washington, to Clinton, Washington. Credit: Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano