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 2010 include:

  • NOAA Survey Benefits Maine Fishing Communities
    NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey conducted extensive surveys in U.S. waters off the coast of northern Maine in response to requests for assistance from fishing communities to discover why several fishing vessels have gone down recently in Maine's Cobscook Bay. Fishing communities in the area have lost 16 men in vessel sinkings over the past five years.  Last year, NOAA located the wrecks of two vessels and identified other potential dangers to navigation using hydrographic data to update nautical charts. Using side-scan imaging, a NOAA Navigation Response Team searched for the wreckage of a 34-foot urchin dragger that sank in late October with three fishermen on board. Community leaders and the families of drowned fishermen have commended NOAA for providing this assistance. This year's survey operations commenced in June and will continue through October with additional surveys planned in 2011 if needed. 
  • Mobile Bay Surveys Aid in Development of Gulf of Mexico Circulation Model
    NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey conducted hydrographic surveys off the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi, collecting bathymetry data that set the foundation for a new northern Gulf of Mexico circulation model. The joint project (managed by OCS, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, and National Geodetic Survey) was originally a proactive effort to support predictive capabilities in oil and hazardous material spills, planned well before the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. In addition to providing data useful in planning or responding to oil spills, the new circulation model will improve forecasts for harmful algal blooms in the northern Gulf of Mexico and will contribute to more accurate models for inundation from storm surge, tsunamis, and sea-level rise. 
  • NOAA’s 2010 Hydrographic Surveys Support Economy and Marine Habitat
    OCS continued to make progress towards addressing the survey backlog with updated hydrographic surveys of critical areas of the United States as NOAA Ships Thomas Jefferson, Fairweather, and Rainier alongside contractors surveyed more than 3,100 square nautical miles of U.S. waters.  In addition to reducing critical survey backlogs and surveying fairways for maritime safety, the ships mapped habitat in three national marine sanctuaries and responded to numerous requests for surveys.   Without the surveys, ocean bottom conditions that are hazardous to navigation will not be located, identified, and placed on nautical charts to help mariners navigate safely and avoid accidents, spills, loss of life and cargo, and damage to the environment. 
  • NOAA Makes It Easier to Access nowCOAST
    NOAA's Office of Coast Survey recently unveiled a new Web service for nowCOAST, a map-based online gateway to ocean and weather observations and forecasts. Updated regularly throughout the day, nowCOAST displays near real-time weather and ocean surface observations directly on an interactive online map. With the new Web Map Service, users may now conveniently access nowCOAST's marine weather or ocean conditions from the palm of their hand with a smart phone, or create their own applications that combine nowCOAST maps with background maps from other sources, such as Google® Maps.
  • NOAA Surveys Arctic Waters
    At the request of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Maritime Pilots, and the commercial shipping industry, OCS sent the NOAA Ship Fairweather to survey 350 square nautical miles of Arctic waters around the Bering Straits.  Most of the shoreline along Alaska’s northern and western coasts has not been mapped since 1960 and confidence in the region’s nautical charts is extremely low.  Staff on the NOAA Ship Fairweather, whose homeport is Ketchikan, Alaska, spent July and August examining seafloor features, measuring ocean depths, and supplying data for updating NOAA’s nautical charts. The data also supports scientific research on essential fish habitat and the establishment of new tidal datums in the region.
  • NOAA Conducts Hydrographic Survey of North Atlantic Right Whale Habitat
    In a continuing effort to prevent vessel collisions with North Atlantic Right Whales, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey conducted a hydrographic survey to help mariners avoid whale calving areas in and around Brunswick, Georgia, during the winter months. The survey data will be incorporated into nautical charts used for both commercial shipping and recreational boating. The survey will cover a proposed new route for vessel traffic that will bypass the areas of highest North Atlantic Right Whale density during the winter calving months. The survey and rerouted vessel traffic routes are the result of collaboration between OCS, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Region, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of Georgia. The ultimate goal is to reduce conflicts between maritime trade and wildlife protection.
  • NOAA Hydrographic Vessel Aids in Oil Spill
    The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson based out of Norfolk, Virginia, embarked on an oil spill research mission to investigate the presence and distribution of subsurface oil from the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. This mission served as the ship’s first oil-focused project and consisted of collecting water samples within five miles of the leaking wellhead and conducting sonar and ultraviolet scans.  The mission also focused on collecting water samples to distinguish deep-water anomalies from actual submerged crude.  The team included researchers from NOAA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of New Hampshire, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Office of Coast Survey voluntarily diverted the Thomas Jefferson from its planned hydrographic operations and was one of NOAA’s first tasked Deepwater Horizon survey operations.
  • Training with Republic of Korea Strengthens Foundation for Continued Hydrographic Exchange and Collaboration
    NOAA employees were immersed in a month-long education course offered by OCS that provided theory and hands-on experience in a wide range of hydrographic topics necessary for producing nautical charts.  OCS hosted two hydrographers from the Republic of Korea’s Korean Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration for the training, which included all aspects of hydrography, including operational planning, survey acquisition methods, sonar theory, geodesy, tides, product creation, and compilation of nautical charting products to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) S-57 standard for navigation safety.  As an IHO member, the United States has committed to IHO goals for building hydrographic survey capacity in developing countries with such partnership activities as sharing technical capabilities. This activity is part of an ongoing NOAA-wide agreement with the Republic of Korea to collaborate on integrated coastal and ocean resources management projects of mutual benefit.