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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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 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 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 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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Hawaiian island surveys will update nautical charts and support habitat mapping efforts

Three of Rainier’s hydrographic survey launches moored in Kahului Harbor, Maui.

By Ens. Lyle I. Robbins

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.

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NOAA Ship Rainier successfully field tests autonomous hydrographic survey launch

Autonomous survey launch.

By Lt. j.g. Airlie Picket

NOAA Ship Rainier field tested a new hydrographic survey platform this season. Last winter, one of the ship’s hydrographic survey launches was converted into a semi-autonomous vessel, allowing it to be operated remotely.  Hydrographic surveying is, by nature, dangerous. Autonomous systems have the potential to augment traditional surveying methods, improving efficiency and decreasing (or eliminating) risk to the surveyors themselves. As such, this technology is an exciting step toward fully-autonomous hydrographic survey systems.

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