Autonomous vessel operations in the Arctic: Lessons learned from the Summer 2020 Mapping Mission

On May 28, 2020, four uncrewed vessels departed Alameda, California, to begin their transit across the Pacific Ocean, through Unimak Pass, across the Bering Sea, and into the Arctic. These small, uncrewed vessels, powered only by wind and sun, arrived at Point Hope, Alaska, in early August to start an ambitious project acquiring new depth data along the 20 and 50 meter depth contours from Point Hope to the Canadian border. This was the start of a challenging Arctic project that would contend with weather, sea ice, and equipment failures, all while avoiding potential conflicts with indigenous subsistence hunting. 

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Coast Survey Spotlight: Meet James Moy

James Moy with chart in background

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.


James Moy, Cartographer

“As a cartographer, I consider it a success if the updates to a chart are accurate and justified, reviewed by another with little or no revisions, and is deemed useful and safe for the public.

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NOAA bathymetric data helps scientists more accurately model tsunami risk within Barry Arm

Barry Glacier, Alaska.

In May of 2020, local 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.

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NOAA navigation response teams complete hydrographic surveys following Hurricane Laura

Lt. John Kidd operates the NRT-Stennis vessel in Devil's Elbow.

Hurricane Laura, the first major hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, made landfall over Louisiana in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 27. As a Category 4 storm and with maximum sustained winds reaching 150 miles per hour, it caused significant damage along the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and southeastern Texas. For NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey –  whose job it is to identify dangers to navigation and help speed the reopening of ports and waterways following severe storms – this marked the first hydrographic survey response effort of the hurricane season.

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Nautical charts reflect alternate route along Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

Portion of Chandeleur Sound Gulf Intracoastal Waterway alternate route.

In anticipation of the temporary closure of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW)’s Inner Harbor Canal Lock, the Office of Coast Survey released three updated NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) reflecting the Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route and the addition of 97 Aids to Navigation (ATON). The updated charts include US5LA24M, US4LA34M, and US4MS12M and can be viewed in NOAA’s ENC Viewer or downloaded from NOAA’s Chart Locator.

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NOAA awards cooperative agreement to UNH/NOAA Joint Hydrographic Center

Students from the Center recovering a seafloor grab sampler.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey awarded a 5-year cooperative agreement to the University of New Hampshire for the continuation of the Joint Hydrographic Center. The Joint Hydrographic Center is a NOAA/University research and education partnership aimed at maintaining a world-leading center of excellence in hydrography and ocean mapping. The new award, which will begin in January 2021, will build on the work of the Center since its founding in 1999. 

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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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NOAA releases prototype surface current forecast data for industry testing

portable pilot unit on the bridge of a ship

Prototype data for surface current forecasts in the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) S-111 format is now available for testing through the NOAA Big Data Program. In June, NOAA announced that we were preparing surface current forecast data for dissemination trials. Now that these data are available, industry can integrate these prototype data into different types of navigation software systems such as portable pilot units and under keel clearance systems. By making these data more accessible, more machine-to-machine readable, and more integrated, NOAA aims to amplify the power of our navigation data for users across the maritime industry.    

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Coast Survey Spotlight: Meet Fernando Ortiz

As a physical scientist, Fernando conducts a variety of tasks. One of his primary tasks is to review sonar and multibeam data as a quality control check. These reviews ensure that our data is accurate enough to ensure safe navigation.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.


Fernando Ortiz, Physical Scientist

“It’s rewarding to be able to utilize new scientific technologies and processes to collect this necessary data.”

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