NOAA supports arrival of USNS Comfort to New York City

USNS Comfort

For more than 200 years, nautical cartographers have methodically charted our nation’s coastline, adding new features or hazards and updating meandering shorelines, all in an effort to aid safe navigation. However, occasions do arise that require immediate charting, particularly in response to national emergencies. Notable examples include charting the projected oil spill zone during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, as well as hazards during hurricane response efforts. Most recently, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey was called upon to support the arrival of USNS Comfort to New York City.

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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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One year later – Coast Survey’s response to the Anchorage earthquake

Multibeam data acquired by eTrac in Knik Arm, offshore of Anchorage.

By Lt. Cmdr. Bart Buesseler

At 8:29, on the morning of Friday, November 30, 2018, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Anchorage, Alaska, for thirty stressful seconds. It was the largest earthquake in Anchorage since the Good Friday Quake of 1964, and brought Alaska’s most populated city to a standstill as residents evacuated buildings and came to terms with what they had just experienced.

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NOAA responds to bridge damage near Houston following Tropical Depression Imelda

Overview of multibeam and side scan sonar data overlaid on chart 11329.

While many are aware that hurricanes can inflict costly damage when they make landfall, tropical storms and depressions are not to be underestimated. Tropical Depression Imelda moved over the Texas coast in mid-September producing heavy rain and causing extensive flooding. Nine barges broke free from their mooring on the San Jacinto River and two of these barges hit the Interstate 10 bridge in Lynchburg, Texas. At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port Houston-Galveston, NOAA’s Navigation Response Team (NRT)- Stennis was called in for rapid hydrographic survey response.

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NOAA completes hydrographic surveys following Hurricane Barry

Lt. j.g. Patrick Lawler and Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano remove the side scan sonar from the water.

By Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

Seven tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean have been named Barry, with the first storm making landfall in 1983. In 2019, Hurricane Barry reached Category 1 status on July 13, becoming the first hurricane of the 2019 season. 

On July 11, Office of Coast Survey’s Gulf Coast Navigation Manager, Tim Osborn, received requests from U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and local ports for resources to confirm navigational depths in Louisiana waters. Once a navigation manager receives requests for hydrographic surveys, Coast Survey formulates logistics to complete these requests. In the case of Hurricane Barry, Coast Survey’s navigation response team (NRT)- Stennis mobilized to respond to Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost port. Port Fourchon supports significant petroleum industry traffic coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, furnishing about 18% of the U.S. oil supply

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From historic air disasters to hurricane response, NOAA uses cutting edge science to survey the seafloor

NOAA ships Rude and Whiting's search limits off Martha’s Vineyard.

By Christine Burns

Hydrographic surveying continually evolves to improve safety, efficiency, and accuracy in data collection. From using side scan sonar equipment during hydrographic survey response efforts following air disasters in the late 1990s, to recent hurricane response efforts to re-open ports to maritime commerce, our science always strives to be cutting edge.

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Coast Survey spotlight: Meet Tim Wilkinson

As a navigation response team member, Tim conducts hydrographic surveys on one of several small survey vessels to help make our coastlines safer for navigation. His normal area of operation is Washington and Oregon but will be called to assist with emergency response all across the country.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.


Tim Wilkinson, navigation response team member

“Our nation’s waterways are constantly changing and the technology we’re using to chart them is becoming increasingly more accurate. My position and my counterparts on the other teams are integral to developing accurate charts to ensure safer navigation. We also act as emergency responders to situations such as hurricanes and ship groundings.”

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Coast Survey spotlight: Meet John Doroba

John aboard the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada as they perform autonomous underwater vehicle operations near Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.


John Doroba, physical scientist

“Once I saw the mission I was hooked. It was the best job a recent graduate who loved being in the field could ask for, especially when you get to travel all around the country. Where else could I practice my love for science, utilize my education, solve real world problems that serve a purpose, and directly impact people in a positive way?”

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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”