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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Surveying the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska

NOAA Ship Fairweather in College Fiord, Alaska

By Matt Canning and Ensign Carly Robbins, NOAA Ship Fairweather

Sheets of ice stretch for miles and miles. Mountains and peaks reach with jagged arms straight for the heavens. Snowmounds inoffensively deafening visitors in the winter months with a quiet like no other. Glacier walls and their child icebergs bobbing in the deep, cold water at every turn. Wildlife of the sky and sea of every shape and size, from Tufted Puffins and Kittlitz’s Murrelets to harbor seals and orcas – this is Prince William Sound.

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Learning the ropes aboard a NOAA hydrographic survey vessel

By Natalie Cook

Natalie Cook aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and NOAA are giving undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in seafloor mapping and associated exercises aboard a survey vessel this summer. Natalie Cook, a junior in the Ocean Engineering program, is spending eight weeks aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, a 208-foot hydrographic survey vessel, experiencing all aspects of hydrography. Natalie is standing survey watch, processing data, working on survey launches, and serving as an active member of the hydrographic survey team.

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Surveying the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay

Thomas Jefferson at anchor in Lynnhaven anchorage
By Ensign Gabriella McGann

After a busy winter in port, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson started the 2021 field season in familiar waters, returning to survey the approaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Towards the end of the 2020 field season, the crew of the Thomas Jefferson spent their first 45-day “COVID-19 bubble” on this project.  A bubble is formed when crew quarantine and test for COVID-19 prior to crewing the ship, staying isolated onboard until the end of the 45-day period. This protocol is part of the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) COVID-19 mitigation strategy. In April and May of 2021 Thomas Jefferson spent an additional 28 days surveying an area approximately 40 nautical miles east of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Surveying in the Strait of Juan de Fuca during a global pandemic

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.

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The Interagency Working Group on Ocean and Coastal Mapping announces progress report on mapping U.S. ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters

The Interagency Working Group on Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IWG-OCM) released the second annual report on the progress made in mapping U.S. ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters. The depth, shape, and composition of the seafloor are foundational data elements that we need to understand in order to explore, sustainably develop, conserve, and manage our coastal and offshore ocean resources. The 2020 National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone and the global Seabed 2030 initiative make comprehensive ocean mapping a priority for the coming decade. The Unmapped U.S. Waters report tracks progress toward these important goals.

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New hydrographic surveying matching fund announced

Update (2/19/21) – Notes and slides from the January 28, 2021, webinar on the NOAA Coast Survey Matching Fund Opportunity are now available.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey recently announced a new pilot program for a Hydrographic Surveying Matching Fund opportunity through a Federal Register Notice. The purpose of this notice is to encourage non-federal entities to partner with NOAA on jointly-funded hydrographic surveying, mapping, and related activities of mutual interest. The pilot program relates directly to Coast Survey’s Ocean Mapping Plan and a goal to expand U.S. EEZ mapping by also expanding use of Coast Survey’s hydrographic services contract vehicle.

The concept behind the pilot is that NOAA and partner(s) will match funds using a memorandum of agreement for NOAA to receive the funds.  Coast Survey will rely on its existing contract arrangements to conduct the actual surveying and mapping activities. We expect this unique fund matching opportunity to expand our collaborative partnerships and mapping efforts while also serving to increase funds available for NOAA hydrographic contracts. Further details may be obtained in the federal register notice, but we encourage any additional questions to be sent to iwgocm.staff@noaa.gov for follow-up. 

Izzy Kratchman, hydrographic surveyor for eTrac, leads acquisition efforts on R/V Inverness while surveying in Barry Arm.
In May of 2020, local Alaska geologists identified a steep, unstable slope that has the potential to become a tsunami-generating landslide in Barry Arm, a glacial fjord 60 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. With documented cases of tsunami-generating landslides in Alaska including Lituya Bay in 1958 and Taan Fjord in 2015, this new hazard immediately caught the attention of state and federal partners who quickly joined forces to quantify the risk to those living and boating in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, specifically the communities of Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, Tatitlek, and Chenega.  NOAA Coast Survey worked with funding partner U.S. Geological Survey to contract for data acquisition to support the state and other data users with timely information on the condition of the slope underwater. Pictured: Izzy Kratchman, hydrographic surveyor for eTrac, leads acquisition efforts on R/V Inverness while surveying in Barry Arm. Credit: eTrac

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: Map Once, Use Many Times.  Coast Survey is committed to IOCM principles, coordinating and collaborating with NOAA and external partners on mapping wherever it can.

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson returns to survey approaches to Chesapeake Bay during the 2020 field season

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

By Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sophia Tigges

For the first portion of the 2020 field season, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson surveyed approaches to Chesapeake Bay. Thomas Jefferson’s 2020 field season consisted of two 45-day “bubble” periods. A “bubble period” is the time a ship closes to personnel transfer while they shelter in place for seven days and undergo COVID-19 testing per NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operation’s COVID-19 protocol to mitigate exposure. The ship spent the entire first bubble working off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia for this project. These surveys served as a continuation of the ship’s work in the area in the 2019 season.  (To learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s work in this area last year, read the 2019 post titled, “NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson tests innovative DriX unmanned surface vehicle.”

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