Office of Coast Survey

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The Office of Coast Survey (OCS) is the nation’s nautical chart maker. OCS collects, manages, and compiles the data and information necessary to maintain the national suite of 1,000 nautical charts, hydrographic surveys that measure water depth, and historic maps and charts. The OCS Navigation Response Teams supports response requests following extreme storm events and routine survey requests to support safe and efficient maritime navigation.

OCS highlights from fiscal year 2009 include:

  • Providing immediate support for high-risk situations. OCS’s Navigation Response Teams, survey vessels, and contract surveyors responded to survey requests in some of the nation’s busiest ports in 2009. OCS teams located the wreck of the 71-foot fishing vessel Lady Mary, which sank 74 miles from the entrance of the Delaware River, tragically losing four crew members. Survey teams supported the search effort for the missing engine of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. OCS conducted surveys in Honolulu Harbor in response to reports of container ships touching bottom while docking because of uncharted and dangerous shoaling. Also in 2009, OCS survey teams located the submerged oil rig ENSCO, which was toppled by Hurricane Ike near Galveston, Texas, and assisted the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with salvage operations of a 175-foot derelict barge in the Hylebos Waterway in Commencement Bay, Port of Tacoma, Washington. These examples highlight OCS’s ability to respond quickly for hydrographic survey needs to benefit both maritime commerce and environmental protection by reducing the risk of maritime accidents in U.S. ports and waterways.
  • Delivering ratification that will result in international changes. In his role as the National Hydrographer, the OCS Director made history this past year by leading a U.S. delegation to deliver President Obama’s first signed instrument of ratification at the 4th Extraordinary International Hydrographic Conference. The document provides U.S. affirmation of sweeping organizational changes to the International Hydrographic Organization’s (IHO) Convention, and will set the global stage for broader geographic coverage, better consistency and quality, and easier availability of nautical charts produced around the world. Once the changes take effect, the IHO will be even better equipped to support standardized navigational products and services. Global chart and survey standards will ultimately increase the safety of navigation in U.S. waters and reduce environmental damage to sensitive marine ecosystems.
  • Continuing to support California sea-floor mapping. In 2009, NOS, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service continued a successful coastal mapping partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy, various state agencies, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The California Sea-floor Mapping Project is a multi-year partnership to acquire data that will allow scientists, coastal managers, and policy makers to more effectively manage marine ecosystems and coastal resources, identify obstructions to navigation, and better understand the unique natural hazards of California’s coast. By effectively leveraging resources and capabilities across the state and federal government as well as the private sector, this Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping effort will provide approximately 7,550 square kilometers of high-resolution bathymetry and acoustic backscatter data along California’s coast. This project supports the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health, in which sea-floor mapping was identified as a high priority for achieving key goals in the coastal zone.
  • Delivering products that played a vital role in the safe arrival of a liquid natural gas (LNG) tanker. NOAA products played a pivotal role in the transit of the 155,000 cubic meter liquid natural gas (LNG) tanker British Diamond to the new $750 million Cameron Parish LNG terminal along the Calcasieu Ship Channel in Hackberry, Louisiana. OCS updated its nautical charts to depict the new terminal, which has the capacity to process up to 42 million cubic meters of natural gas per day, helping to make Cameron Parish the world’s largest LNG receiving area. Pilots can now use NOAA’s Electronic Navigational Charts and data from the Lake Charles Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System to navigate safely and more efficiently.
  • Accepting a new system to revolutionize nautical chart production. OCS formally accepted the foundation of a new system that will revolutionize how NOAA produces its national suite of nautical chartsNautical Chart System II represents a technological leap forward in creating the charts that mariners need to bring people and goods safely and efficiently through America’s oceans and coasts. This system will produce all formats of charts – from paper and raster to Electronic Navigational Charts. Now that technology has evolved to enable a single production line, OCS can better allocate its resources and people to manage the nautical charting database of information and reduce redundant efforts. 
  • Conducting hydrographic surveys to support homeland security. OCS and its Survey Vessel Thomas Jefferson supported the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Homeland Defense Survey effort in the waters off Connecticut. At the request of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, the Thomas Jefferson and an autonomous underwater vehicle conducted baseline hydrographic surveys for the Groton/New London waterways’ port security and mine countermeasures operations. This cooperative effort is significant due to the potential threat to the economy and military mobility should an incident that impedes ship traffic occur in a U.S. port or waterway. Hydrographic surveys would be used in such situations to determine what was on the sea floor before and after an incident, thereby enabling faster and more efficient detection and removal of mines. 
  • Adding a new research survey vessel to the NOAA fleet. The Bay Hydro II is a major milestone in NOAA’s efforts to modernize its fleet with state-of-the-art research vessels. The Bay Hydro II replaces the Survey Vessel Bay Hydrographer—a former Navy research vessel built in the early 1990s. Equipped with sophisticated hydrographic sonar mapping technology, the 55-foot long catamaran has a "moon pool" to allow scientific equipment to be deployed and retrieved with ease. The new boat is much faster, enabling quicker transits to and from working areas. The new Bay Hydro II will be based in Solomons, Maryland, and OCS will use it to test new technologies for measuring water depths and identifying obstructions on the sea floor that can impact commercial shipping and recreational boating. NOAA’s hydrographic data also supports multiple planning, management, and science applications in the coastal zone.
  • Launching a new version of the nowCOAST Web portal. OCS and the University of New Hampshire Coastal Response Research Center launched a new version of nowCOAST – a Web mapping portal that provides access to coastal observations. The new nowCOAST will support NOAA’s Emergency Response Management Application (ERMA), a Web-based geographic information system tool that integrates relevant information to provide a common operational picture to responders, managers, and stakeholders involved in an oil or hazmat spill. ERMA relies on nowCOAST’s Web Map Service for near real-time surface weather and ocean observations, National Weather Service (NWS) weather radar reflectivity, National Centers for Environmental Prediction daily sea surface temperature analysis, and surface wind and wave forecasts from the NWS National Digital Forecast Database. The new version provides forecasts for Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska in addition to the continental U.S. and includes hourly updates of surface wind and air temperature analyses.
  • Releasing a national vertical datum transformation tool. In 2009, OCS, the National Geodetic Survey, and the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services were instrumental in releasing the VDatum tool in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Pacific Northwest (San Francisco Bay to Strait of Juan de Fuca). VDatum is a revolutionary vertical datum transformation tool that translates geospatial data between vertical reference systems and removes the most serious impediments to data sharing. VDatum provides NOAA and other mapping agencies with the ability to seamlessly integrate geospatial data for numerous critical applications, allowing for easy and accurate transformation of elevation data from one vertical datum to another. 
  • Allocating stimulus funds to support hydrographic surveys. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), NOS allocated $40 million to map the sea floor, collect data in critical coastal areas, and update nautical charts. Projects supported by ARRA funds range from surveying nearly 675 square nautical miles within an area of Alaska that is a main shipping route between the Pacific Northwest and Japan to surveying over 400 square miles of waters with a high concentration of oil and gas platforms off the coast of Louisiana. Other projects will be completed in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington. Using stimulus funds, private contractors will conduct a total of 39 surveys using the latest technologies to map the sea floor, measure water depth, search the ocean for storm debris or accident wreckage, and record the natural features of coastal seabeds and fragile aquatic life. Collected data will be used to update nautical charts. Some selected areas were last surveyed over 70 years ago, and the ARRA-funded surveys more than doubled the area that would have been covered by NOAA's survey contractors in 2009 without ARRA funds. All of the projects will help to improve the safety and efficiency of the nation’s marine transportation system.