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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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 Coast Survey’s new strategy supports charting mandates and broader seafloor mapping

This week, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey released the Mapping U.S. Marine and Great Lakes Waters: Office of Coast Survey Contributions to a National Ocean Mapping Strategy. This report is part of NOAA’s ongoing commitment to meet core surveying and nautical charting mandates while supporting broader needs to fill gaps in seafloor mapping and environmental sciences.

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Capturing scenes from hydrographic surveying

NOAA Ship Rainier kayak in Holkham Bay, Alaska

There are many benefits to working on a hydrographic survey project for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. Some would say having the opportunity to visit amazing landscapes, work with talented people, and collect important environmental data are just a few of them. Recently, Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division hosted an internal photo contest inviting employees and contractors to submit images in the categories of Ships and Boats, Landscapes, People, and Data. On this Earth Day 2020, we thought we would share our contest winners with you.

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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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NOAA releases 2019 hydrographic survey plans

NOAA Hydrographic Survey Projects 2019 story map cover

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:

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From NOAA Ship Fairweather to Mt. Fairweather: Commanding officer summits ship’s namesake

The high camp, at an elevation of 10,400 feet on the Grand Plateau Glacier.

By Cmdr. Mark Van Waes, former commanding officer of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Mount Fairweather stands tall above Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, dominating the skyline for miles around (when weather permits visibility). Only about 12 miles inshore from the Gulf of Alaska and soaring to 15,325 feet, it is one of the highest coastal peaks in the world.

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NOAA researches autonomous survey system in the Arctic

The unmanned surface vehicle BEN launched from NOAA Ship Fairweather. Photo by Christina Belton, NOAA.

By Rob Downs, Office of Coast Survey unmanned systems projects lead

A team composed of research engineers and a graduate student from the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center (UNH CCOM/JHC) and personnel from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey are aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather to test UNH’s BEN (Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator) unmanned surface vehicle (USV). On Saturday, July 28, the Fairweather made the first successful launch of a USV for an operational hydrographic survey from a NOAA vessel in the Arctic. The team conducted four additional deployments, including an extended overnight survey made in coordination with the ship.

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NOAA surveys the unsurveyed, leading the way in the U.S. Arctic

President Thomas Jefferson, who founded Coast Survey in 1807, commissioned Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1803, the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the contiguous United States. Today there remains a vast western America territory that is largely unknown and unexplored – the U.S. waters off the coast of Alaska. As a leader in ocean mapping, NOAA Coast Survey launches hydrographic expeditions to discover what lies underneath the waves.

Alaska is one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States, and has more than 33,000 miles of shoreline. In fact, the Alaskan coast comprises 57 percent of the United States’ navigationally significant waters and all of the United States’ Arctic territory. Alaskan and Arctic waters are largely uncharted with modern surveys, and many areas that have soundings were surveyed using early lead line technology from the time of Capt. Cook, before the region was part of the United States. Currently only 4.1 percent of the U.S. maritime Arctic has been charted to modern international navigation standards. Continue reading “NOAA surveys the unsurveyed, leading the way in the U.S. Arctic”