NOAA ship readies for historic deployment to the Western Pacific to map the oceans

NOAA Ship Rainier in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

In three weeks, NOAA Ship Rainier will depart on the farthest journey of its 52-year history as it embarks on a multidisciplinary mapping trip to the Western Pacific. Rainier and a diverse team of scientists on board will map the waters from shore to almost 2000 meters deep around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. The data and observations collected will support safe navigation, coral habitat and fisheries conservation, and storm surge and tsunamis modeling. The data will also be made available to those at the local level and contribute to the larger national and global initiatives regarding comprehensive seafloor mapping.

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NOAA hydrographic community prepares for field season at annual workshop

Attendees of the NOAA 2020 Field Procedures Workshop.

The field of hydrography, like most sciences, is comprised of experts honing their craft, improving their tools, building upon the successes of previous years, and learning from their mistakes. Hydrographers typically accomplish this iterative process in the field, publishing papers, presenting at industry conferences, and often through discussions over the phone or via email. However, once a year, the NOAA hydrographic community — those who measure and describe the features of the seafloor to update nautical charts and support a variety of sciences — meets at the Field Procedures Workshop to not only share information, but have frank discussions about their challenges and the path forward in preparation for the upcoming hydrographic field season.

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NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson tests innovative DriX unmanned surface vehicle

Drone photo of the DriX underway from the ship with the DDS still in the water.

By Ens. Taylor Krabiel

During the month of October, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson integrated and operated a DriX, an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) created by the French technology company iXblue. The primary goal of the project was to test iXblue’s unique deployment and recovery solution specifically designed for Thomas Jefferson’s on board survey launch davit. Survey launches are limited to daylight operations and deployment and recovery are the most challenging operations the ship undertakes. Utilizing a DriX for continuous survey operations without having to recover and/or service it for up to four days straight would significantly increase the ship’s efficiency.

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NOAA Ship Rainier successfully field tests autonomous hydrographic survey launch

Autonomous survey launch.

By Lt. j.g. Airlie Picket

NOAA Ship Rainier field tested a new hydrographic survey platform this season. Last winter, one of the ship’s hydrographic survey launches was converted into a semi-autonomous vessel, allowing it to be operated remotely.  Hydrographic surveying is, by nature, dangerous. Autonomous systems have the potential to augment traditional surveying methods, improving efficiency and decreasing (or eliminating) risk to the surveyors themselves. As such, this technology is an exciting step toward fully-autonomous hydrographic survey systems.

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Saildrone launched with seafloor mapping capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico shows promise for remote Arctic mapping

Rear Adm. Shep Smith, Richard Jenkins, and Brian Connon in front of a Saildrone.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), and Saildrone accomplished a key milestone in the research and testing of unmanned technology that can lead to enhanced seafloor mapping capabilities with the launch of the first Saildrone — a wind-driven and solar-powered unmanned surface vehicle (USV) — equipped with multibeam echo sounder technology in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA anticipates the success of this mission and technical achievement will lead to mapping projects in the Arctic.

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NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson tests drone use for shoreline mapping

By, Lt. j.g. Matt Sharr, NOAA, and Lt. Charles Wisotzkey, NOAA

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) recently conducted operational tests of small unmanned aerial systems — or drones — on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in support of survey operations conducted along the south coast of Puerto Rico. The tests show the potential of imagery from low-cost off-the-shelf drones to meet NOAA survey specifications for near-shore and shoreline feature mapping. This could replace traditional shoreline verification and mapping techniques used by NOAA hydrographic survey field units. Potential benefits of using drones for shoreline mapping include: improved data collection efficiency compared to data collection from small skiffs; more accurate feature investigation than traditional techniques; and, most importantly, removal of personnel from potentially dangerous situations (i.e. survey in close proximity to features being mapped). Continue reading “NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson tests drone use for shoreline mapping”

NOAA researches autonomous survey system in the Arctic

The unmanned surface vehicle BEN launched from NOAA Ship Fairweather. Photo by Christina Belton, NOAA.

By Rob Downs, Office of Coast Survey unmanned systems projects lead

A team composed of research engineers and a graduate student from the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center (UNH CCOM/JHC) and personnel from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey are aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather to test UNH’s BEN (Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator) unmanned surface vehicle (USV). On Saturday, July 28, the Fairweather made the first successful launch of a USV for an operational hydrographic survey from a NOAA vessel in the Arctic. The team conducted four additional deployments, including an extended overnight survey made in coordination with the ship.

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NOAA and Coast Guard survey shallow channels in eastern Chesapeake Bay to update aids to navigation

Echoboat ASV surveys in the Pocomoke River Channel to investigate possible shoaling.

By Lt j.g. Patrick Debroisse

The area of the Chesapeake Bay along the Eastern Shore of Maryland is one of our nation’s treasures. Home to unique underwater grasses, fish, and shellfish, this complex transition from river to sea is also home to millions of tons of sediment delivered annually from eroding land and streams. Recreational boaters, fisherman, and cruising vessels are keenly aware of the shifting sands and sediment deposits in these shallow waters and rely on aids to navigation (ATON) — a system of beacons and buoys — to travel safely to and from the harbors and docks along the shoreline.

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NOAA surveys Lake Champlain for improved flood modeling and mitigation strategies

At the request of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL), NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey deployed a survey team and a new autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) to gather hydrographic data in and around the narrow causeway inlets that dot the Lake Champlain basin in Vermont. GLERL will use the data to improve flood forecast models and analyze flood mitigation strategies in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system as part of a U.S. and Canada study led by the International Joint Commission.

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