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.

NOS is preparing 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 PEIS is to perform a wide variety of data collection field activities, including hydrographic surveys and habitat surveys (performed from manned vessels or autonomous vehicles), and to install tide gauges and other instruments and equipment. Field work may be performed by NOAA staff, contractors, or grantees from one of NOS's program offices.

Map of the action area five regions

Waters of the U.S. and its territories require routine measurement and data collection to ensure safe navigation, economic security, and environmental sustainability. Select a topic below to learn more about each of these key components.

NOAA has identified 500,000 square nautical miles as “navigationally-significant waters” which are in greatest need of modern surveying. NOS uses survey data to create products that support safe navigation for commercial shipping, the fishing industry, recreational boaters, and military and government functions such as law enforcement.

Shipping on the nation’s network of coastal waterways, navigable channels, ports, and marine terminals is a primary mode of moving goods around the country and connects the U.S. to the global marketplace. Port authorities, mariners, and coastal communities depend on accurate navigational information provided by NOS to make informed decisions that support the U.S. economy.

NOS coastal and marine data also support ecosystem stewardship. Survey data enable marine resource managers to conserve, preserve, and restore ecological resources, including critical habitat for endangered seabirds, coral, seagrass, fish, sea turtle, and marine mammal species.

Purpose and Need

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 for safe navigation, economic security, and environmental sustainability.

Nautical Chart of Chesapeake Bay Entrance

NOAA updates and maintains nautical charts in U.S. waterways — just one of the many products and services produced through surveying and mapping.


Scope refers to both the geographic and temporal range of the Proposed Action. The “action area” for this Draft PEIS encompasses rivers; states’ offshore waters; the U.S. territorial sea; the contiguous zone; the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone; and coastal lands. The action area is organized into five regions: Greater Atlantic Region, Southeast Region, West Coast Region, Alaska Region, and Pacific Islands Region.

Map of the action area five regions

This illustration shows the five regions of U.S. waters that make up the "action area" for this proposed action.

The temporal scope of the Proposed Action covers a time period of 5 years. At the conclusion of the 5-year period, NOS would reevaluate the Final PEIS to determine if the analysis contained within remains sufficient, or if new analysis is required.

Overview of NOS Surveying and Mapping Activities

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:

  • Manned Vessel Operations
  • Anchoring
  • Operation of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Unmanned Systems
  • Use of Echo Sounders
  • Use of Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs)
  • Use of Acoustic Communication Systems
  • Use of Sound Speed Data Collection Equipment
  • Operation of Drop/Towed Cameras and Video Systems
  • Collection of Bottom Grab Samples
  • Use of Passive Listening Systems
  • SCUBA Operations
  • Installation, Maintenance, and Removal of Tide Gauges
  • Installation of GPS Reference Stations
Graphic of NOS surveying and mapping activities

NOS surveying and mapping activities | Transcript

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

NEPA Process

NOS published a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) in December of 2016. During preparation of the PEA, NOS decided that the scope of the surveying and mapping program and the complexities of the analysis warranted a PEIS. A Notice of Availability (NOA) will be published in the Federal Register to announce the publication of the Draft PEIS for public review.

NOS is, to the fullest extent possible, integrating the requirements of NEPA with all other applicable environmental review requirements. The PEIS will serve as the consultation document for the following regulatory requirements.

Other Environmental Compliance Requirements

  • Jurisdiction: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

  • 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.

  • Jurisdiction: NMFS and USFWS

  • 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).

  • Jurisdiction: NMFS

  • 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.

  • Jurisdiction: States and Territories

  • 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).

  • Jurisdiction: State Historic Preservation Officer/Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO/THPO)

  • 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 will also engage as needed in tribal consultation pursuant to EO 13175, which requires agencies to consult with Indian tribes and respect tribal sovereignty as they propose actions that may impact Indian communities.

  • Jurisdiction: Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

  • 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.

Infographic Transcript: NOS surveying and mapping activities

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:

  • Continuously operating reference stations
  • Water Quality Monitoring
  • Buoys: Ocean chemistry, wave sensors, water temperature gauge, meteorological sensors, harmful algal bloom monitoring
  • ATON mounted acoustic doppler current profiler; bottom mounted acoustic doppler current profiler
  • Single beam sonar, multibeam sonar
  • Glider or autonomous underwater vehicle
Coming Soon

NOAA's National Ocean Service will soon seek public comments on a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with NOS’s recurring surveys and other data collection throughout the U.S. and its territories. This page describes the purpose, need, and scope of these proposed activities.

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Author: NOAA

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