Fiscal Year 2012 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.




Responding to Changing Conditions in Alaska and the Arctic

NOAA Ship Fairweather

NOAA Ship Fairweather is the first U.S. ship to complete a reconnaissance hydrographic survey all the way to the Canadian border in the U.S. Arctic waters off Alaska's North Slope. Data collected will be used to identify future surveys needed to create new charts for growing Arctic maritime transportation.

As Arctic sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise. With these changes come 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. In fiscal year 2012, the Office of Coast Survey (OCS) updated several hydrographic data sets to ensure smooth and safe navigation for new ocean traffic in the region.

In 2012, NOAA released a new nautical chart for Kotzebue Harbor and Approaches, addressing a pressing need of the Arctic regional transportation hub in northwest Alaska. The new chart’s accurate and precise depth measurements will make ocean-going vessel traffic more efficient through northwest Alaska. Currently, large transport ships must be anchored at least 14 miles out in the Kotzebue Sound and their freight must be lightered by smaller barges to Kotzebue. The new chart, produced from data acquired last year by the NOAA Ship Fairweather, will help mariners protect life and property in the coastal waters of Kotzebue.

NOAA survey ships were busy in Arctic and Alaskan waters this year. The NOAA ship Fairweather conducted a hydrographic survey mission in the Arctic to check sparse soundings along a 1,500-nautical-mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to the Canadian border, providing valuable information needed to prioritize NOAA’s future survey projects in the Arctic. The NOAA Ship Rainier conducted hydrographic surveys south of the Alaska Peninsula, covering navigationally critical areas from the Shumagin Islands to the northern coast of Kodiak Island. The Fairweather and Rainier surveys covered approximately 600 square nautical miles.

Also in 2012, OCS and the National Weather Service (NWS) collaborated to help the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and Russian T/V Renda navigate their way through Bering Sea ice to deliver fuel bound for Nome, Alaska. The Coast Guard asked NOAA to recommend a route based on ice thickness, and OCS and NWS worked together to analyze ice thickness data and provide the information needed for safe passage.

Locating Dangers to Navigation in High Vessel Traffic Areas

One of NOAA's navigation response teams

One of NOAA's navigation response teams, whose search for underwater debris following Hurricane Isaac (2012) sped the resumption of operations at Port Fourchon, La., watches as the HOS Achiever safely enters the port. 

On April 30, 2012, a small aircraft crashed near a Port Canaveral, Fla., shipping lane, presenting a potential hazard to commercial ships and Navy vessels that transit the area. At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, a NOAA navigation response team responded to the emergency and located the underwater aircraft within 75 minutes of starting their survey inside the Port Canaveral shipping channel. The plane was resting in the inbound lane of the channel, in 36 feet of water and protruding about 6.5 feet from the sea floor, posing a clear danger to shipping and submarines. Using NOAA’s accurate position and details, the Coast Guard issued a danger to navigation notice, so mariners could avoid the site until the plane was removed.

Responding to another request from the Coast Guard, NOAA deployed a navigation response team to Port Fourchon, La., to locate a shrimp boat that sank on May 17, 2012 in an area of high vessel traffic. Using multibeam echo sounding technology, the team quickly located the boat and generated an image that gave the Coast Guard a situational picture of the site. Port Fourchon is the Gulf’s energy connection, servicing approximately 90 percent of deepwater oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mariners transporting $1.4 trillion of cargo to and from U.S. shores rely on NOAA surveys, nautical charts, and other navigation services to prevent accidents, loss of life and property, and harm to coastal environments. NOAA’s navigation response teams and other survey vessels contribute to maritime safety by locating wrecks and other objects on the sea floor, allowing salvage crews to remove dangers to navigation, and providing essential information for determining—and correcting—the reasons for accidents at sea.

High-Tech Coastal Mapping Vessel Ferdinand R. Hassler Commissioned

The NOAA Ship Ferdinand

The NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler plays a vital role in ensuring safe navigation and commerce as NOAA works to position America for the future.

On June 8, 2012, NOAA commissioned the Ferdinand R. Hassler, a state-of-the art coastal mapping vessel to detect and monitor changes to the sea floor. Data collected by the ship is used to update nautical charts, detect potential hazards to navigation, and further enhance our understanding of the ever-changing marine environment.

Ferdinand R. Hassler will operate mainly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Caribbean Sea, and Great Lakes in support of the NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s mission. The vessel will measure water depths along U.S. coasts, acquiring the data necessary to produce navigational charts that help position America for the next century of maritime economic growth. Hassler has already joined the fleet of NOAA vessels that search for underwater dangers to navigation after hurricanes and other emergencies, having responded to Hurricane Irene (2011) before the ship was even commissioned.

The 124-foot ship conducts basic hydrographic surveys of the sea floor using side scan and multibeam sonar technologies. The ship is also equipped to deploy buoys and unmanned submersibles and conduct general oceanographic research. Ferdinand R. Hassler is a small waterplane area, twin-hull vessel—the first of its kind to be constructed for NOAA. The ship’s twin-hull design minimizes the rocking motion caused by wave action, making it particularly suited to mapping the ocean floor.

The ship was named by a team of tenth-grade students and a teacher from Naugatuck High School in Naugatuck, Conn., who won a regional NOAA contest to name the vessel. The ship's namesake, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770–1843), served as the founding superintendent of the Coast Survey, the precursor to today’s NOAA.

First Regional Operational Forecast System Available for Northern Gulf of Mexico

Water depth profile generated by the Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System.

Water depth profile generated by the Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System.

The Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System (NGOFS)—NOAA’s first regional ocean model—provides mariners, port managers, and emergency response teams short-term predictions of water levels, water currents, water temperatures, salinity, and wind derived from National Weather Service models. Developed by the Office of Coast Survey and the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, in partnership with the National Weather Service and the University of Massachusetts, NGOFS uses a hydrodynamic model to generate nowcast (past few days to the present) and forecast information for the continental shelf and coastal areas between Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Emergency responders increasingly rely on NOAA modeling and forecasts to focus the scope of response activities and speed discovery. On Feb. 28, 2012, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crashed in Mobile Bay, Ala., during a training exercise, leading to the tragic loss of four personnel. In the search for casualties, the U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance from NOAA’s Disaster Response Center and its Science Support Coordinator. NOAA provided special graphic products and model forecasts from NGOFS that covered the region of concern. Thanks to quick coordination within NOAA, the Coast Guard was able to integrate NGOFS forecasts with a Search and Rescue model to refine the analysis for the successful search for all casualties.

New Hydrographic Products and Services Support Whale Conservation, Habitat Restoration, and Fisheries Management

The nautical chart of the Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico—experiencing a tremendous growth of maritime traffic—got an additional economic boost when NOAA created a new nautical chart that will make vessel traffic safer and more efficient through San Juan Bay and the port area.

NOAA's electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) for the U.S. east coast now alert mariners when they are approaching right whale seasonal management areas—empowering mariners with the information needed to reduce the risk of collisions with right whales. The seasonal management areas, as encoded in the ENCs, graphically show the areas where vessels greater than 65 feet in length must travel at 10 knots or less. The ENCs also provide for an alarm on the ship's electronic chart display and information system as vessels enter the speed zone, further alerting the mariner of speed restrictions. NOAA’s nautical charts are the backbone of today’s modern computer navigation systems, both on the bridges of the largest commercial vessels and in the wheelhouses of countless boats that line local marinas from coast to coast.

NOAA charts and marine spatial expertise provided a vital foundation for the planning and construction of new artificial reefs in Lake Pontchartrain, La. Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Department of Transportation and Development used NOAA’s hydrographic resources to aid in the related siting and permitting processes and in setting specifications for the construction materials.

The NOAA Ship Fairweather collected sonar data and bottom samples in the eastern Bering Sea that will support a NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center study to correlate habitat with fish stocks and possibly develop guidelines for fish habitat mapping. Fairweather also acquired depth data to update nautical charts and evaluated a high-tech sonar system with potential applications for hydrography (the measurement and description of a water body’s physical features). Part of NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping initiative, the project supports the Science Center’s fishery surveys to measure the distribution and abundance of commercially important fish and crab stocks in the eastern Bering Sea.