This week the NOAA Ship Fairweather is completing her 30-day hydrographic reconnaissance survey in the Arctic. The crew’s personal observations during this successful cruise brings home the importance of measuring ocean depths and updating nautical charts with precise and accurate modern data. Ensign Owen provides Fairweather’s last blog post for this project. – DF
With the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac, headed toward the state of Florida, Coast Survey navigation managers and navigation response teams have moved into Rapid Maritime Response preparations. Coast Survey is often called upon to speed the resumption of ocean shipping — slowed or shut down by hurricane damage — by searching for submerged debris or other dangers to navigation in port areas or shipping lanes. After navigation response teams survey the areas, ports can resume operations safely and efficiently.
Our navigation managers work with port representatives, and state and federal officials in the area, to coordinate their requests for NOAA data and services, and our manager for Florida is already fielding requests from port officials and the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida.
Coast Survey deploys six navigation response teams, at all times, to conduct long-term hydrographic projects in critical maritime areas. While surveying, the teams remain on alert to respond to emergencies anywhere on the nation’s coasts. The teams are three-person crews who can transport the hydrographic equipment and 28’ survey boats to coastal locations where submerged debris or shoaling would cause a danger to navigation.
by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.
The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.
1200 hours, Saturday, August 18, 2012: 69°41.4’N 141°03.3’W, at anchor, 1.5 nautical miles west of Demarcation Point, on the United States/Canadian border
We made it!
I must admit, I had my doubts a week ago. But we made it safely through relatively ice-free seas to the northern border between Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.
We were able to collect multibeam echo sounder data along the entire route. The area continues to be relatively shallow (8 to 25 meters) and relatively flat (1 to 1.5 meters of relief). However, dramatic ice scours and scars on the seafloor are easily visible in the data collected.
1200 hours, August 17, 2012: 70°13.7’N 144°49.6’W, approximately 250 nautical miles along the coast SSE of Barrow, AK
The water turned a silty gray-green early afternoon yesterday, Thursday, August 16. The Fairweather was transiting through areas with depths under our keel of between 8 and 20 meters – a somewhat caution-inducing sight for a vessel of our size. But the ice has opened up and we have made it east of Barrow. We are currently the furthest east along the North Slope of any NOAA or U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey hydrographic ship, as previous surveys were last conducted by field parties with much smaller boats, in the 1950s and 1960s. As the crow flies, we are currently 90 miles or so west of the Canadian border and our turn-around point. However, we are of course not transiting in a straight line but in the zigzag/argyle pattern, so have a bit more sea floor to cover.
Good news! When NOAA Ship Fairweather started her Arctic reconnaissance survey, on August 1, there was some question about whether she would be able to complete the entire trackline. The icepack from Barrow to the Canadian border had not yet receded. Thanks to satellite imagery and ice forecasts, we can see open water up to Barter Island, and then thin ice to Demarcation Point. Cmdr. Jim Crocker is now able to follow a nearshore route. They will survey closer to shore than the planned transit route – and acquire very useful hydrographic data!
1200 hours, August 12, 2012: 70°38.7’N 162°06.6’W, approximately 22 miles north of Icy Cape, Alaska’s North Slope
In 1963, the town of Point Hope (68° 21’N 166°46’W) – a small, ancient, and archeologically-significant Inupiaq community on Alaska’s North Slope that remains at present a largely native village – narrowly avoided the creation of an artificial harbor by underwater hydrogen bombs. Part of “Project Plowshare,” the planned creation of a deepwater harbor by thermonuclear power was intended to demonstrate the peaceful use of nuclear power for construction purposes. It was opposed by Native American communities, scientists in the state, and the Episcopalian church across the United States. The protest has been credited as one of the first government projects successfully challenged on the grounds of its potential environmental impact.
How do ocean explorers know where to look when they investigate and document the historical secrets of the deep? Well, archaeological expeditions use a myriad of modern surveying technologies. Recently, when NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was investigating a World War II underwater battlefield site, they called on a surveying expert with NOAA’s Coast Survey to assist.
Before we get to the Fairweather logs, we need to update the last post, NOAA Ship Fairweather zigzags her way to accurate and precised depth soundings. Cmdr. Crocker reports that the “normal” zigzagging won’t start until they head further north, starting near Point Hope. It was not planned for the trip to Kotzebue, and he would have run a straight course if he could have. This log by Ensign Hadley Owen explains why they zigzagged earlier than planned, as well as what they are doing for their first scientific project. We apologize for the error in the last post. -DF
The officers, scientists, and crew of the NOAA Ship Fairweather have started their 30-day Arctic reconnaissance survey, and you can watch their progress on NOAA’s ship tracker website.
The diagram on the right shows the corridor Fairweather will travel during this survey project. (Fairweather’s survey corridor is shown in green.) The ship will zigzag back and forth within that corridor, checking actual depth soundings against measurements acquired during the 20th century or even earlier. (See the vintage of the depth measurements in the Aug 1 blog post, Arctic reconnaissance survey checks old soundings to prioritize future surveys.)