NOAA bathymetric data helps scientists more accurately model tsunami risk within Barry Arm

Barry Glacier, Alaska.

In May of 2020, local geologists identified a steep, unstable slope that has the potential to become a tsunami-generating landslide in Barry Arm, a glacial fjord 60 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. With documented cases of tsunami-generating landslides in Alaska including Lituya Bay in 1958 and Taan Fjord in 2015, this new hazard immediately caught the attention of state and federal partners who quickly joined forces to quantify the risk to those living and boating in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, specifically the communities of Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, Tatitlek, and Chenega.

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NOAA navigation response teams complete hydrographic surveys following Hurricane Laura

Lt. John Kidd operates the NRT-Stennis vessel in Devil's Elbow.

Hurricane Laura, the first major hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, made landfall over Louisiana in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 27. As a Category 4 storm and with maximum sustained winds reaching 150 miles per hour, it caused significant damage along the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and southeastern Texas. For NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey –  whose job it is to identify dangers to navigation and help speed the reopening of ports and waterways following severe storms – this marked the first hydrographic survey response effort of the hurricane season.

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NOAA joins federal and state partners in signing MOU on emergency maritime response in Hawaii

Coast Survey’s hydrographic survey experts along with the Office of National Marine Sanctuary staff are ready to survey Honolulu Channel following Hurricane Lane.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, United States Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Honolulu, State of Hawaii Department of Transportation and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Honolulu Division established a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining each signatory’s area of responsibility in the event of a disaster in the Hawaii region. The intent of the MOU is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of response efforts and speed the reopening of the ports and waterways following an emergency. 

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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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