Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report:
Office of Coast Survey

The Office of Coast Survey is the nation's nautical chart maker. Coast Survey 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 Coast Survey Navigation Response Teams support response requests following extreme storm events and routine survey requests to support safe and efficient maritime navigation.




Emergency Navigation Response Speeds Resumption of Maritime Commerce

NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II searches for dangers to navigation

NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II searches for dangers to navigation in Hampton Roads following Hurricane Irene.

Human-induced and natural events can change characteristics of U.S. waterways, ports, and harbors, which may interfere with ocean commerce and safe navigation for fishing and recreational vessels. Investigating those changes, in order to speed reopening of maritime areas, is an important responsibility for the Office of Coast Survey.

Days before Hurricane Irene hit the U.S., Coast Survey mobilized assets and personnel, getting ready to respond to navigational needs of the 192 ports in Irene’s path along the Eastern Seaboard. Coast Survey positioned navigation response vessels for potential deployment to an area from North Carolina to Rhode Island, ready to search for underwater debris and other submerged hazards in critical port areas and shipping lanes. That advance preparation made a particularly vital difference to the port area of Hampton Roads, Virginia, where an average of $5 million worth of cargo is shipped in or out, every hour.

On the heels of Irene, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Hampton Roads requested Coast Survey’s assistance in “clearing the waterways and opening the port to commerce.” As soon as conditions permitted, NOAA started hydrographic surveys around the clock, applying state-of-the-art assets to restore the port to its full capacity. Three NOAA vessels surveyed 200 linear nautical miles within 48 hours, giving the port the data needed to lift vessel restrictions and resume shipping.

In March, Japan’s tsunami reached U.S. shores and caused considerable damage to two California port areas. Responding to requests for assistance, Coast Survey deployed navigation response teams to Santa Cruz and Crescent City, where hydrographic experts searched for submerged debris. Using small boats equipped with powerful echo-sounding SONAR equipment, the teams searched the seafloor in the approaches and federal channels, looking for sunken vessels, debris, shoaling, and other hazards dangerous to commercial shippers and recreational boaters. The surveys gave port authorities the information they needed to resume operations.

Navigational Chart Improvements Support Increasing Arctic Navigation

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Arctic

NOAA Ship Fairweather, with it's contingent of shoreline mapping boats and equipped with the latest echo sounding technology, heads to the Arctic to re-survey areas where depths were last charted more than a century ago.

As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise. This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges, and fishing vessels. Keeping all of this new ocean traffic moving smoothly is important to the U.S. economy, environment, and national security. That is why the Office of Coast Survey is hard at work updating Arctic nautical charts.

Working with stakeholders and government partners in fiscal year 2011, Coast Survey analyzed Arctic maritime operations and navigational needs to set priorities for better charts and additional hydrographic surveys. The Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, issued by Coast Survey in June, provides a detailed scheme for additional nautical chart coverage in U.S. Arctic waters and reports on what additional resources are necessary to produce and maintain the charts.

Hydrographic Surveys to Meet State and Local Requests

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and one of her hydrographic survey launches.

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and one of her hydrographic survey launches.

Ocean transportation contributes more than $742 billion to the national economy, and NOAA’s effort to improve efficiencies benefits communities and industries that rely on maritime trade.. Using three NOAA ships equipped with small boats for near shore work, six 28-foot survey boats, a 57-foot research vessel, and private contractors, Coast Survey acquires hydrographic data that can update the nation’s nautical charts with the accuracy and precision that is essential to maintain the public trust in navigational products. Coast Survey works with state officials, marine pilots, port authorities, the U.S. Coast Guard, and researchers to set surveying priorities for critical areas of the continental United States and Alaska.

In 2011, the Office of Coast Survey conducted its 177th hydrographic survey season, acquiring bathymetric data for over 2,400 square nautical miles of seafloor. The millions of collected depth soundings will be used to update charts and will assist ocean-based research such as habitat characterization, tsunami modeling, and fisheries management for coasts or port areas of Michigan, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Washington, and Alaska.

Expanded Selection of Nautical Chart Products Available to Public

nautical chart

Since President Thomas Jefferson asked for a survey of the coast in 1807, Coast Survey has been the nation’s trusted source for nautical charts covering the coastal waters of the U.S. and its territories. NOAA’s charts are available in a variety of formats to meet the needs of everyone from commercial shippers to the 13 million boaters in the United States.

In addition to maintaining the accuracy of paper charts, which are available from chart agents in traditional form or in an updated “print on demand” format, Coast Survey regularly updates electronic navigational charts and raster charts, which are available as free downloads. The public is providing excellent feedback on experimental BookletCharts, available as letter-sized PDFs that anyone can print for free. Also in 2011, Coast Survey collaborated with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Maritime Office to give chart users a single website to view 2,700 NGA nautical charts and 1,000 NOAA nautical charts for the U.S. and specific locations throughout the world. 


nowCOAST Provided Enhanced Forecasts for Estuaries and Great Lakes

screenshot of nowCOAST

NOAA's nowCOAST, a map-based online gateway to ocean and weather observations and forecasts, provides easily accessible and vital information supporting the marine transportation system as well as coastal management and emergency response.

In 2011, Coast Survey made substantial enhancements to nowCOAST. The improved version displays extended forecast guidance developed by NOAA models, improving on the previous version that showed "nowcasts," or present conditions. Users can now access model forecasts of surface water currents and temperatures as well as water levels out to 24, 36, or 48 hours. The new service is provided for the Port of New York and New Jersey, the St. Johns' River in Florida, Galveston Bay, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and Tampa Bay. The guidance is updated on nowCOAST four times per day. In addition, forecast guidance from Coast Survey's experimental NOS Gulf of Mexico Model and the U.S. Navy's Coastal Ocean Model are also available in the new version.