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Vieques Island Database and Mapping Project

NOS Team Wins Top Award with Method to Map Underwater Unexploded Ordnance

sonar imagery of UXO

Two views of unexploded ordnance located in the waters off of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, a former Navy bombing range.

A team of NOS researchers recently won the Department of Commerce Gold Medal for developing techniques to locate and map underwater unexploded ordnance in shallow water.

This is the highest award given by the Secretary of Commerce.

The award winners, members of the Office of Response & Restoration and the Office of Coast Survey, are working in the waters of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, at a former U.S. Navy bombing range. This area is now a Superfund site.

While many agencies are working to clean up the island's coastal and marine areas, the threat of unexploded ordnance in the water is a constant threat. 

Working with federal and commonwealth partners, the team put NOAA methods and expertise to work to find and map these bombs using high-tech sensors so the clean-up work can safely continue.

The scientists used all the tools in their arsenal: side scan and multibeam sonar mounted on a NOAA Navigation Response Team boat, magnetometer readings, a Remotely Operated Vehicle, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, and even divers. It was the first time NOAA had applied its scientific expertise and technologies to address such a problem.

Once data for a given region are incorporated into a geographic information system, the clean-up teams know exact locations of unexploded ordnance and how close that ordnance is to human populations or areas set aside for public recreation. 

The data collected from this ongoing project will continue to be used to protect and restore the coastal and marine resources of Vieques and as a tool to inform local residents of the danger of underwater unexploded ordance.