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Speeches & Presentations

March 26, 2013

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director, NOAA Office of Coast Survey
Remarks at U.S. Hydro 2013

Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to provide some keynote remarks on behalf of NOAA, and NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

It is a pleasure to be here at U.S. Hydro 2013. I always look forward to these biennial conferences; these conferences are the only opportunity for many of us in the hydrographic communities to interact and talk with our professional peers from the commercial and private sectors, and from other government agencies. We have the chance to meet folks who we otherwise only communicate with through email or by telephone, and we have the chance to re-connect with old colleagues and friends. Hydro conferences are of course also the opportunity for us to see and learn about the latest equipment and software, and to hear presentations on the latest techniques, advances, and experiences. I’m thrilled to also see the beginning of new traditions, the inaugural celebration of the Hydrographic Society’s Hall of Fame.

As you may know, I am one of only two participants from NOAA attending this year. Because of the government’s automatic budget cuts – known as the sequester – NOAA had to cancel the participation of dozens of my colleagues. I wish this were not the case – my NOAA colleagues all looked forward to attending this conference and many worked very hard to prepare technical papers for presentation. I know they sincerely regret having to miss this opportunity. Fortunately, the other NOAA participant is Andy Armstrong, co-director at the UNH-NOAA Joint Hydrographic Center. We’ll each cover some of the presentations, although a couple will not be delivered. However, all of the NOAA papers should be available on the conference CD. And I’d like to acknowledge, and profusely thank, the paper co-authors who have volunteered to present papers on behalf of the NOAA authors who cannot be here.

It is worth remarking how impressed I am with the resilience of this event. U.S. Hydro has matured into a conference that is well represented by especially the private sector, and I thank THSOA (The Hydrographic Society of America), and the Louisiana Chapter especially, for organizing a world-class event that has attracted so many of you to participate; an event that even the government sequester cannot knock the wind out of.

It was suggested that my address touch on four areas today: our agency’s hydrographic mission; our assets – ships, hydrographers, equipment; future challenges to our missions; and how we train our hydrographers.  
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s chartmaker and we’re responsible for the over 1,000 nautical charts that cover the 3.4 million square nautical mile U.S. EEZ. We consider about 500,000 square nautical miles of the U.S. EEZ to be navigationally significant waters for the U.S. marine transportation system. Of those 500,000 square nautical miles, we consider 40,000 to be areas critical to navigation, and many of these areas require periodic resurveying because the sea floor is constantly changing (and new wrecks or obstructions appear). The U.S. marine transportation system moves nearly 80% of U.S overseas trade by weight and approximately 50% by value. Measured in terms of trade economics:

  • In 2011, over 1.34 billion metric tons of cargo valued at $1.73 trillion was shipped in and out of U.S. ports in foreign trade.
  • In addition, in 2011, 10.9 million passengers took 4,222 cruises in and out of U.S. ports.

Nearly every ship operating in U.S. navigable waters must carry charts published by Coast Survey. We have an enormous charting responsibility that is absolutely essential to the protection of life, property, and the marine environment. We manage and execute an end-to-end charting process, from hydrography to compilation. That’s our mission in very broad terms.
How do we meet our mission? Coast Survey hydrographic data is primarily sourced from our NOAA ships, and from our contracts for hydrographic data. Depending on the budget year, we accomplish between 2500 and 3500 square nautical miles of hydrography per year. We rely on the four NOAA hydrographic survey ships: Rainier and Fairweather operate primarily in Alaska and on the West Coast, and increasingly in the Arctic; the Thomas Jefferson, and ‒ although not quite fully operational yet – the Ferdinand Hassler, operate primarily on the U.S. East Coast.

At present, we have seven different firms under contract for hydrographic data through early 2014, and we are now in the process of preparing for the new 5-year contract cycle. Let me take a moment to emphasize how important these hydrographic contracting firms are to our success. Since 1997, 38% (or over 20,870 square nautical miles) of all our acquired hydrographic data has come from our contracting partners – over $360M in contract awards since 1997.

To meet emergent navigation issues and verify our electronic navigation charts, we also operate six navigation response teams, or NRTs. I’ll discuss these more during this afternoon’s talk on the Hurricane Sandy Response.
People are an important asset, of course. Interestingly, if you look at Coast Survey’s workforce of approximately 250 people, we have more cartographers than hydrographers; about 45% of our workforce is classified as cartographers, but only about 35% can be classified as hydrographers. I’ll skip discussion of the equipment we use, since RDML Brown covered that so well. But feel free to come talk with me later if you’re interested.

What are some of our challenges for the future? I could get really bogged down here and describe some technical challenge, or I could be conventional and talk about how a decreasing federal budget will challenge us. But I think our future challenges involve all of us – these are not just NOAA’s challenges. These are challenges that our government agencies and our private sector partners need to solve. I’ll talk about three:

Map once, use many times. Perhaps you’ve heard this expression. An increasingly important activity that Coast Survey leads for NOAA is the U.S. effort to integrate and coordinate ocean and coastal mapping. The technology we use in hydrographic surveying now enables a range of users from amateur to scientific to produce seafloor maps and data. Integrated ocean and coastal mapping (or IOCM) is a way of doing business where we all are mindful about the purpose of our mapping work up front, and we actively work to make our data useful for as many purposes, and to as many end-users, as possible. Planning, partnering, surveying to standards, and data stewardship are all key activities to making “map once, use many times” achievable.

Arctic. The largest geographic challenge we face is in the Arctic. Here is a place that is largely still un-surveyed and uncharted, which is lacking much of the geospatial infrastructure necessary for positioning and elevation. The Arctic is a region that has only sparse tide data and water level observations. Much of the shoreline and hydrographic data we do have is old and not adequate for today’s navigation purposes; we have significant gaps in our nautical chart coverage. A region that was historically inaccessible, without widespread need for charts, the Arctic marine transportation routes are now emerging as important to world trade, and to regional natural resource extraction. The Arctic is a tough place to work, with short seasons and extreme conditions – plenty of challenges across the spectrum of hydrography for all of us.

I’ll put this last challenge out there for you all. No hydrographic office can stay on top of the new technologies, nor can they recognize the opportunities that are on the horizon, without top-notch people. I think one of the technical papers being presented here addresses some of the human resource issues. I’m proud of NOAA’s opportunities for education and training. We do much informal training; and we also make available to our employees the ocean mapping and hydrographic programs at the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Southern Mississippi. No doubt, we have some major challenges in transferring acquired knowledge to a future generation of hydrographers. But it is exciting to see just how many students are here today at US Hydro. I think it is fantastic how much THSOA, and the Louisiana Chapter, have done to sponsor so many students to attend. For us old-timers, the challenge this week is for us to reach out to these students, tell them a few sea stories, and get them excited about career possibilities in hydrography and ocean mapping.

I think I’ll end my remarks here with a quote from Einstein (provided to me by my staff writer, who tries to make me sound good). “The true sign of intelligence,” he said, “is not knowledge -- but imagination.” This conference is chock full of papers and presentations that will spur our imagination and will help us solve our challenges. If Einstein were here today, he would get a kick out US Hydro 2013.

So, welcome to New Orleans! Be safe – check the curfew age on Bourbon Street (I think it’s 18, but I’m not sure). I look forward to meeting and speaking with you, and especially the students.

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