Welcome to the National Ocean Service website for the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Surveying and Mapping Activities in U.S. Waters for Coastal and Marine Data Acquisition.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Ocean Service (NOS) is the country’s leading authority on a wide variety of marine sciences, including hydrography; shoreline mapping; nautical charting; and water level, tides, and currents measurement.
Learn more about the NOS NEPA process for surveying and mapping activities, including compliance with other environmental regulations and executive orders.
NOS has prepared a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with NOS’s recurring surveys and other related data collection throughout the U.S. and its territories. Data obtained from these projects are needed to produce charts and maps that are relied upon by mariners, scientists, shipping and fishing industries, and countless other users in the U.S. and beyond. The Proposed Action for the Draft PEIS is to perform a wide variety of data collection field activities, including hydrographic surveys and habitat surveys (performed from crewed vessels or remotely-operated or autonomous vehicles), and to install tide gauges and other instruments and equipment. Field work may be performed by NOS field crews, other NOAA personnel on behalf of NOS, contractors, or grantees from NOS's program offices.
The purpose of the Proposed Action is to gather accurate and timely data on the marine and coastal environment. The need for the Proposed Action is to provide the public and private sectors with nautical charts, benthic habitat condition maps, current and tide charts, and other products necessary to ensure safe navigation, economic security, and environmental sustainability. Select a topic below to learn more about each of these key components.
Scope refers to both the geographic and temporal range of the Proposed Action. Geographic scope is the spatial extent of the areas potentially affected by the Proposed Action. Temporal scope is the timeframe over which the Proposed Action is evaluated. NOS determined the scope of this document on the basis of the current extent of NOS project work and the ability of NOS program offices to reliably predict their future level of activity.
The geographic scope is the “action area” for this Draft PEIS. The “action area” encompasses rivers; states’ offshore waters; the U.S. territorial sea; the contiguous zone; the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone; and coastal and riparian lands for projects such as the installation, maintenance, and removal of tide gauges. This includes the U.S. portions of the Great Lakes and internal waters such as Lakes Tahoe, Mead, Champlain, Okeechobee, and parts of major rivers. The action area is organized into five regions: Greater Atlantic Region, Southeast Region, West Coast Region, Alaska Region, and Pacific Islands Region.
The temporal scope of the Proposed Action covers a time period of six years, 2022 through 2027. As with any planning process, the confidence with which an agency can foresee and evaluate its actions, and the environmental effects of those actions, decreases at longer time intervals. Changes in spending levels, the environment, the data needs of the public, and technologies and field methods available to NOS can all change how surveying projects are executed. For the purposes of this Draft PEIS, a specific project could take place at any time of year.
Consistent with Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance that “[NEPA documents] that are more than five years old should be carefully reexamined to determine if the criteria in Section 1502.9 compel preparation of a [NEPA] supplement.” (CEQ, 1981a), NOS would reevaluate the Final PEIS to determine if the analysis contained within remains sufficient, or if new analysis is required. If necessary, this new analysis may take the form of a supplemental PEIS, a new PEIS, or more extensive project-level analysis.
NOS surveying and mapping activities include the use of a variety of equipment and technologies to gather accurate and timely data on the nature and condition of the marine and coastal environment, including:
NOS projects addressed in the Draft PEIS include the use of underwater acoustic sound sources to perform surveys for nautical charts, underwater obstruction detection, marine debris identification and location, and benthic (sea floor) habitat characterization. Below is a short video that explains how a multibeam echo sounder and side scan sonar are used to perform a hydroacoustic survey.
A three-minute video about multibeam and side scan sonar, including a visualization that shows how sonar data is used to make products like nautical charts. | Download: Soundscapes
Learn more about the resources and impacts analyzed in the Draft PEIS:
The Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) published in December of 2016. During preparation of the PEA, NOS determined that because of the geographic and temporal scope of the Proposed Action, extensive acoustic modeling approach, and complexities of the analysis, a PEIS would provide the agency and the public with the appropriate framework to understand the potential impacts to critical resources such as marine mammals.
This Draft PEIS will satisfy NOS requirements for transparent and informed decision making under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Draft PEIS will cover NOS mapping and surveying projects operated by NOS field crews, other NOAA personnel on behalf of NOS and NOS contractors, grantees, or permit/authorization holders. Ocean mapping activities conducted by NOAA programs outside of NOS are covered under a separate NEPA process. Although other NOAA surveying and mapping projects are not evaluated in this Draft PEIS, this document may serve as a useful reference for other NOAA Line Offices analyzing activities similar to those covered by the Draft PEIS.
Federally recognized tribes have a critical role in helping NOS understand the unique aspects of subsistence hunting and fishing and cultural resources. The knowledge gained through coordination with federally recognized tribes helps inform the analysis of potential environmental impacts of the Proposed Action. Engagement with tribes promotes transparency, facilitates better decision-making, and helps federal agencies identify data gaps and any potential tribal implications. NOS developed a comprehensive public facing website for the Draft PEIS and published newspaper advertisements in order to reach interested parties throughout the U.S. and its territories including federally recognized tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations, and Alaska Native regional and village corporations. NOS used broadcasting public service announcements on radio stations to reach an estimated 97% of Alaskans, even those with unreliable internet.
NOS invited federally recognized tribes to engage in government-to-government tribal consultation pursuant to EO 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments. NOS recognizes its unique relationship with tribes and trust responsibility with tribal governments as set forth in the U.S. Constitution, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and court decisions. It is the policy of NOAA to consult on a government-to-government basis with federally recognized tribal governments when the federal actions and decisions may affect tribal interests. This consultation and coordination process will be conducted in accordance with NOAA’s Procedures for Government-to-Government Consultation with Federally Recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.
Additionally, NOS is seeking assistance from federally recognized tribes to identify other historic or cultural resources that may be potentially affected by NOS surveying and mapping activities pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Although NOS does not anticipate any effects on historical or cultural resources, if there is a potential for adverse impacts NOS will engage with federally recognized tribes to develop agreements to avoid or minimize those effects.
NOS is committed to ensuring the concerns raised by federally recognized tribes regarding NOS surveying and mapping activities during this process are heard, understood, and considered.
The term “sound” refers to vibrations which cause pressure changes that travel as a wave through a medium, such as air or water. Physical differences between air and water result in the same sound having different speed, pitch, and intensity.
In general, sound travels much faster and farther in water than in air. Sound travels faster in denser mediums; however, the density of seawater varies with the water’s salinity (salt concentration), temperature, and pressure (depth). On average, sound travels at about 1,500 meters per second (m/s) (3,500 miles per hour [mph]) in seawater compared to 340 m/s (760 mph) in air. The frequency, or pitch, of a sound impacts the distance the sound travels. In general, low frequency sounds travel farther than high frequency sounds. Some sounds, particularly low-frequency ones, can travel hundreds of kilometers underwater.
The intensity, or loudness, of a sound depends on both the sound and the medium in which the sound is traveling. Intensity is typically measured in decibels (dB), a relative unit on a logarithmic scale that compares the sound pressure to a reference pressure. The reference pressure is different for different mediums. In air, decibels use a reference pressure of 20 microPascals (μPa) such that they are scaled to the range of human hearing, so by definition, a 0 dB sound in air is the lowest limit of human hearing. Humans perceive a 10 dB increase as a doubling of loudness. In water, decibels are scaled using a reference pressure of 1 μPa. Since dB in air and dB in water use different reference pressures, sound intensity reported in dB in air is not the same as sound intensity reported in underwater dB (DOSITS, 2019).
The ocean floor changes over time; therefore, accurate and updated survey data are critical to providing products that support safe navigation for commercial shipping, the fishing industry, recreational boaters, and military and government functions such as law enforcement.
As of 2020, only 43 percent of U.S. underwater territory had been mapped to modern standards. Coordination within the ocean and coastal mapping community is facilitated through the Interagency Working Group on Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IWG-OCM) under the National Ocean Council. In addition to NOAA, other federal agencies undertake or permit surveying and mapping projects for navigation, conservation, resource exploration, and other purposes, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Park Service (NPS), Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO), United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Only 43 percent of U.S. oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes waters extending from shore to the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone limits have been mapped to modern standards. 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. NOS ocean mapping and surveying provides the public and private sectors with nautical charts, benthic habitat condition maps, current and tide charts, and other products necessary for safe navigation, economic security, and environmental sustainability.
The National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring and Characterizing the U.S. EEZ calls for interagency coordination for mapping, and developing and maturing science and technology for mapping. The PEIS satisfies NOS’s requirement to assess the environmental effects of its proposed actions prior to making decisions under NEPA. Additionally, the PEIS establishes an informed decision making process that will support streamlined compliance for NOS ocean mapping projects with other statutes protecting natural resources such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Because the PEIS provides analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a more widespread adoption of new techniques and technologies to more efficiently perform surveying, mapping, charting and related data gathering, NOS will be able to support the implementation strategy for exploration and characterization activities.
Each of the eight NOS program office plans surveying and mapping projects well in advance and informs the public through publications on their own websites. For example, each year OCS summarizes the coming year’s survey projects in an interactive story map: https://nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/data/current-year-survey-plans.html.
Yes, NOS underwater active acoustic equipment is different from military sonar or seismic airguns.
Military sonar is primarily used for communication and detecting objects in the water requiring higher power acoustic equipment and at a variety of frequencies depending on the communication, detection, or imaging needs. The higher power increases the communication and detection range as well as improves signal processing. Low frequency may be used for long-range communication while higher frequency sonars may be used for better resolution in detection or imaging. Seismic airguns produce low-frequency, impulsive sounds (typically ~100 Hz) used to image geological strata beneath the seabed. Airguns are typically used in arrays to increase the overall sound energy to provide greater penetration and resolving power in seismic surveys. In contrast, NOS uses active acoustic equipment to generate images of underwater features such as the seafloor, benthic habitat, and marine debris. Most of the active acoustic equipment used by NOS operates at frequencies above 200 kHz, which is above the hearing frequency range of most marine species (e.g., marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, and aquatic macroinvertebrates). NOS acoustic equipment that operates below 200 kHz is lower power than military sonar. NOS uses this acoustic equipment to direct the sound energy downward using a narrow beam width to map the seafloor and sediment layers. The low frequency acoustic equipment used by NOS produces non-impulsive sounds of lower sound energy than seismic airgun arrays.
Therefore, NOS active acoustic equipment is considered less harmful to marine species than military sonar and seismic airguns because of the differences in equipment and uses.
The Draft PEIS is currently available for a 60-day public comment period from June 25, 2021 through August 24, 2021. You may submit comments on the Draft PEIS and Appendices (NOAA-NOS-2021-0055) by any of the following methods:
Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov and enter NOAA-NOS-2021-0055 in the Search box. Click on the “Comment” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
Mail: Please direct written comments to DOC/NOAA/NOS Environmental Compliance Coordinator, SSMC4-Station 13612, 1305 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Please note that this email link will only function properly if you have set a default email client. If the email link does not function as expected, you may need to type email@example.com in your mail client.
Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NOAA will accept anonymous comments — enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a document analyzing the possible impacts of their proposed action and reasonable alternatives.
In December 2016, NOS published a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA). During preparation of the PEA, NOS decided the scope of the surveying and mapping program and the complexities of the analysis warranted a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). A PEIS evaluates the consequences of broad proposals or planning-level decisions on the environment. An EIS is the most comprehensive of NEPA documents. A PEIS may include a wide range of individual projects, implementation over a long timeframe, and/or execution over a wide geographic area. The purpose of the NOS PEIS is to:
Inform NOS and the public on the physical, biological, economic, and social impacts of NOS mapping and surveying projects; and
Assist NOS in deciding how to execute its mapping and surveying program over the next six years.
The Draft PEIS evaluates three alternatives:
The No Action Alternative (Alternative A), under which NOS would continue to gather accurate and timely data on the nature and condition of the marine and coastal environment, reflecting the technology, equipment, scope, and methods currently in use by NOS at the current level of effort (i.e., the status quo);
Alternative B, under which NOS would increase the adoption of new technologies to more efficiently perform surveying, mapping, charting and related data gathering; and
Alternative C, which also includes the adoption of new techniques and technologies and includes an overall funding increase of 20 percent.
Alternative B was selected as the “preferred alternative” because it reflects the most likely scenario for the level of activity needed to meet NOS mission requirements. Alternative B most accurately aligns with anticipated technological needs over the six-year time span based on current and anticipated agency priorities. NOS will make an official decision after the agency signs a Record of Decision (30 days after publication of a Final PEIS).
All environmental consequences from each of the alternatives are anticipated to be adverse, minor to moderate, and insignificant, except for the environmental consequences to socioeconomic resources which are expected to be indirect, beneficial, and moderate . The primary difference of impacts among the alternatives is one of scale, with the impacts from Alternative C the same or slightly, but not appreciably, larger than those under Alternatives A and B for each impact causing factor. Among these impacts, NOS identified the potential for acoustic disturbance to marine mammals as an area warranting detailed analysis. In this draft, NOS finds that, after conducting quantitative acoustic impacts modelling, that impacts on marine mammals under all alternatives are expected to be limited to minor behavioral disturbances that would be temporary or short-term and would not be considered outside the natural range of variability of species’ populations, their habitats, or the natural processes sustaining them.
The Summary Comparison of Impacts includes a comparison of the assessed environmental consequences associated with alternatives for the Proposed Action for resources analyzed in the Draft PEIS.
A Notice of Availability (NOA) was published in the Federal Register on June 25, 2021 to announce the publication of the Draft PEIS for public review.
Pursuant to 40 CFR 1501.6, NOS invited several agencies to participate as consulting agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Both agencies agreed to provide a comprehensive technical assistance review prior to publication of the Draft PEIS. In coordinating with NOS, NMFS and USFWS participated in multiple meetings and reviews during the development of the Draft PEIS.
NOS is, to the fullest extent possible, integrating the requirements of NEPA with all other applicable environmental review requirements. NOS will initiate consultation efforts with the regulatory agencies to comply with the following environmental regulations and executive orders.
The MMPA prohibits the “take” of marine mammals; take includes the harassment, hunting, capture, or killing of marine mammals. Section 101(a)(5)(A-D) provides a mechanism for allowing the incidental, not intentional, take of small numbers of marine mammals.
Under the MMPA, NMFS is responsible for the protection of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. For species under the jurisdiction of NMFS, incidental take authorizations may be issued as either: 1) regulations and associated Letters of Authorization (LOAs), or 2) Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs). LOAs are available for actions with potential to result in serious injury or mortality. LOAs are issued by region and can be valid for up to 5 consecutive years. An IHA is also issued by region, can only be valid for 1 year, and is limited to authorizing take by harassment. NOS will apply for an LOA for the Proposed Action. As part of the LOA process, NMFS will facilitate and request additional public input.
The USFWS has jurisdiction over walruses, manatees, sea otters, and polar bears under the MMPA. For these species, NOS will submit an Incidental Take Regulation (ITR) request. ITRs can be issued for periods of up to 5 years and can cover all forms of incidental take. As part of the ITR process, USFWS will facilitate and request additional public input. Once an ITR is granted, individual projects will apply for a project specific LOA under the ITR.
The ESA regulates the conservation of endangered or threatened species and their ecosystems. Under Section 7(a)(2), federal agencies must ensure that their actions are not likely to jeopardize ESA-listed species or damage designated critical habitat. Federal agencies must consult with USFWS and NMFS when an action may affect a protected species or critical habitat. The consultation process is initiated by the preparation of a Biological Assessment (BA). NOS intends that this Draft PEIS serve as a BA. NOS will initiate consultation with USFWS and NMFS following publication of the Draft PEIS.
The MSA regulates marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters and encourages the conservation and restoration of essential fish habitat (EFH) and resources. EFH refers to all waters and substrate necessary for fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. MSA Section 305(b) requires consultation on all actions, or Proposed Actions, authorized, funded, or undertaken by the agency that may adversely affect EFH. EFH consultation is managed by NMFS’s Office of Habitat Conservation. If adverse effects are anticipated, NMFS will recommend measures to avoid, minimize, or offset any adverse impacts associated with the activity to ensure no reduction in the quality or quantity of EFH occurs as a result of the proposed activity. NOS will initiate consultation with NMFS following publication of the Draft PEIS.
The MBTA is the primary legislation in the U.S. established to conserve migratory birds and requires the protection of migratory birds and their habitats. It implements the U.S. commitment to four bilateral treaties or conventions with Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia for protection of a shared migratory bird resource. The MBTA prohibits, with certain exceptions, pursuing, hunting, taking, capturing, killing, or selling migratory birds or any part, nest, egg, or product of migratory birds. Migratory birds protected under the MBTA include those that are native to the U.S. which are listed in 50 CFR § 10.13.
On January 7, 2021, a new rule (the January 7 rule) (86 FR 1134), effective on March 8, 2021, was proposed to restrict the scope of the MBTA to cover only intentional killings or injuring of birds; however, on May 7, 2021, the USFWS proposed a new rule (86 FR 24573) to revoke the January 7 rule. The effect of the May 7 proposed rule would be to return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take as well as intentional take. The effective date of the May 7 rule will follow the public comment period which ended on June 7, 2021. The Draft PEIS assesses the potential incidental effects of NOS activities on Federally protected birds.
The CZMA is a voluntary program for coastal states, Great Lakes states, and U.S. Territories and Commonwealths that encourages proactively managing natural resources for the state’s benefit and the benefit of the nation. Section 307 of the CZMA is known as the “federal consistency” provision and requires federal actions that affect any land or water use or natural resource of a state’s coastal zone to be consistent with the enforceable policies of the state coastal management program (CMP).
In order to facilitate CZMA review for surveying and mapping projects, NOS will coordinate requirements for federal consistency with coastal states and territories pursuant to Section 307 of the CZMA. NOS will provide this Draft PEIS to coastal states or territories with approved CMPs.
The NHPA regulates the management of historic properties. NHPA Section 106 requires federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on historic properties. Agencies must identify and consult with the appropriate SHPO/THPO if actions could affect historic properties. NOS intends to coordinate with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to develop potential approaches for addressing programmatic activities. Any programmatic approach developed in coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would guide project-specific compliance. In addition to the NHPA, NOS will invite tribes to consult after publication of the Draft PEIS pursuant to EO 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments. This EO ensures that all Executive departments and agencies consult with Indian tribes and respect tribal sovereignty as they develop policy on issues that impact Indian tribes.
NMSA regulates the management of areas of the marine environment that are afforded special protection, such as national marine sanctuaries. NMSA prohibits injury to sanctuary resources such as biological and cultural resources. NMSA Section 304(d) requires consultation to be initiated by the submittal of a sanctuary resource statement (SRS) to ONMS that describes the potential effects of a proposed activity on sanctuary resources. NOS is preparing an SRS for consultation that includes a programmatic-level evaluation of impacts from the NOS Preferred Alternative (Alternative B) on each sanctuary. NOS will initiate 304(d) consultation after the publication of the Draft PEIS.
This graphic depicts a coastal waterway and shows many of the various surveying and mapping tools or activities used within U.S. waterways, to include: