Updated Arctic chart mitigates risk for commercial transportation on the Kuskokwim

By Andrew Kampia, chief of Products Branch A, Marine Chart Division, Office of Coast Survey

When we say that many Arctic charts are lacking information critical to navigation, we’re not overstating the issue. A case in point was the 2005 edition of Chart 16304, depicting the mouth of Kuskokwim River to the City of Bethel, in Alaska. This was a preliminary chart with no hydrography, no depth measurements whatsoever.

Chart 16304 - 2005
Preliminary Chart 16304, issued in 2005

Coast Survey just released updated NOAA Chart 16304, which now includes contemporary shoreline and hydrography. (The NOAA ENC® equivalent — US4AK85M — will be available in a month or two.)

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Coast Survey publishes new international chart for navigation between Florida and Cuba

As the nation’s nautical chartmaker, Coast Survey produces the country’s traditional paper charts for coastal waters, territorial waters, and the Great Lakes. We maintain the Print-on-Demand charts that you can purchase from OceanGraphix and East View Geospatial. We make the nation’s raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®) and electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®). And the free downloadable BookletCharts. But did you know we produce international charts, too? NOAA has five international charts covering the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea… and we just published our sixth, for the opposite coast.

International mariners entering U.S. waters around southwestern Florida now have a new international (INT) nautical chart to help ease their transit. The new chart, INT 4148, has the same information as Chart 11420, Havana to Tampa Bay, but the depictions are converted to the metric system. (Most U.S. charts use either feet or fathoms for depth measurements). INT charts also use some different symbology, so Coast Survey makes those modifications as well.

Chart 11420 - INT 4148
The image on the left is a close-up of Dry Tortugas on NOAA Chart 11420. The image on the right is the same area on INT 4148. Note that converting fathoms to meters results in different contour lines for the same area.

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Coast Survey issues new Arctic Nautical Charting Plan

In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the first edition of the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to improve Arctic chart coverage that is inadequate for modern needs. After consultations with maritime interests and the public, as well as with other federal, state, and local agencies, we have issued the updated Arctic Nautical Charting Plan: A plan to support sustainable marine transportation in the Alaska and the Arctic.

“Maritime challenges are increasing in the Arctic. As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners.”

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Recreational boaters get – and give – free nautical information

Getting free information

One of NOAA’s handiest navigation products, especially for recreational boaters, has been Coast Survey’s experimental BookletCharts™ — nautical charts that are easy to download and print from home computers. We have now moved the BookletCharts from experimental stage into official production.

BookletChart 12225Nearly a thousand newly updated BookletCharts are available free on the Web. The BookletCharts, which cover the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline and the Great Lakes, are smaller scale than our traditional paper charts, but they contain most of the information found on a full-scale nautical chart. They are in an 8 1/2 x 11 inch PDF format for home printing.

“It is especially appropriate that we unveil these easy-to-use nautical charts as recreational boaters begin to think about their boating adventures for 2013,” explained Capt. Jon Swallow, chief of NOAA Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Branch. “NOAA’s nautical charts help to protect lives and property, and boaters should take advantage of these free nautical products.”

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U.S. and Canada eliminate overlapping ENC coverage in the Great Lakes

Countries issue advance notice for changes in electronic charts

To comply with internationally agreed practices, Canada and the U.S. have been eliminating overlapping coverage of electronic navigational charts (ENCs). New changes will soon take effect in the Great Lakes. Under the new ENC coverage scheme, each country is changing their areas of coverage so that only one country’s ENC is available for any given area at a particular scale.

These changes come into effect 0000 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), on 22 February, 2013.

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NOAA Coast Survey cartographers update and maintain over a thousand nautical charts

During the first six months of the Coast Survey blog, we have focused largely on the field work – surveying sparsely charted Arctic waters, responding to calls for help following hurricane destruction, finding dangers to navigation, and even identifying historic wrecks. We haven’t covered the day-in, day-out job that is our reason for existence: creating and updating the country’s nautical charts.

Coast Survey has compiled and maintained the nation’s nautical charts for nearly two centuries, after President Thomas Jefferson approved legislation in the Ninth Congress in 1807, and we now maintain a suite of over a thousand charts. We sometimes get the question, “aren’t you done yet?” Haven’t we finished charting all of the U.S. waters?

Coast Survey issued new Kotzebue chart 16161, partially depicted here, in May 2012.
Coast Survey issued new Kotzebue chart 16161, partially depicted here, in May 2012.

The simple answer is no: because storms alter seafloors, and water depths constantly change due to shifting shoals, submerged hazards, and coastal development, Coast Survey must continually update the nation’s nautical charts. Charting those changes, and ensuring chart accuracy and precision, is essential to protecting life and property.

The more complicated answer may surprise you. Many of our nation’s marine shipping lanes, harbors, and port areas haven’t been mapped since the 1920s, when measurements weren’t as precise – or even as accurate ‒ as is possible now. Some areas, especially in Alaska, haven’t had bottom measurements since the mid-1770s.

Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division employs many of the nation’s best cartographers. Since 2009, cartographers have applied approximately 50,000 critical charting corrections to NOAA’s various charting products. In fiscal year 2012 alone, cartographers applied more than 11,000 critical corrections to chart updates.

Over those four years, Coast Survey has also produced over 500 new chart editions (of current charts), and built 200 new NOAA ENC® (NOAA electronic navigational charts). This includes 155 new chart editions and 56 new ENCs in fiscal year 2012.

This year, Coast Survey produced several brand new nautical charts, including a new chart for the Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and for the Kotzebue Harbor in Alaska, where increasing ocean commerce required improved navigational products. Coast Survey also released an updated chart of Norfolk Harbor, with a new inset of the Inner Harbor, which has developed as a multi-purpose port area.

In addition to updating old charts, and creating new ones, Coast Survey is making more information accessible from its electronic navigational charts. Effective early 2012, several of NOAA’s ENCs that cover the approaches to the East Coast now alert mariners when they are approaching the right whale seasonal management areas, giving them better information to plan to reduce their speeds or avoid the areas altogether. The seasonal management areas, as encoded into the ENCs, graphically show the areas where vessels greater than 65 feet in length must travel at 10 knots or less to reduce the risk of collisions with right whales. The ENCs will also provide for an alarm on the ship’s electronic chart display and information system as vessels enter the speed zone, further alerting the bridge watchstander of speed restrictions.

We are seeing a gradual shift from paper nautical charts to raster navigational charts and electronic navigational charts. Over the last four years, the public has purchased nearly 428,000 print-on-demand paper charts, and another 392,000 traditional paper charts. Reflecting the booming technology in navigation, the public has downloaded countless millions of the electronic and raster navigational charts that NOAA offers free on the Internet.

Even while cartographers use their expertise to update and innovate, there is still the matter of uncharted U.S. waters – waters that remain to be surveyed. Coast Survey is mandated to provide nautical charts for all U.S. territorial waters and the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, a combined area of 3.4 million square nautical miles that extends 200 nautical miles offshore from the nation’s coastline. A complete survey of all of those waters would require 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data. Lacking those resources, NOAA has instead established priorities for the hydrographic surveys that acquire data necessary for reliable charts. Those priorities are updated annually, and are available on Coast Survey’s website, as NOAA Hydrographic Survey Priorities.

A critical need for new or updated charts is especially emerging in the Arctic, and Coast Survey’s Arctic Nautical Charting Plan addresses the tasks ahead.

Commercial mariners and recreational boaters will always rely on NOAA’s charts to keep them and their passengers and cargo safe from harm. NOAA’s cartographers will always work to earn that trust.

Additional resource:

If you note a chart discrepancy, please report it through our online service.

NOAA and American Pilots’ Association sign Memorandum of Agreement to advance safe navigation

Capt. Michael Watson and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan with the new memorandum of agreement

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation & Prediction, signed an agreement today that recognizes the longstanding working relationship between marine pilots and NOAA’s navigational services. Coast Survey has a long-term working relationship with the American Pilots’ Association, whose members include virtually all of the 1,200 state-licensed marine pilots working in the 24 coastal states and the Great Lakes. This agreement updates an earlier collaborative agreement between APA and NOAA. Continue reading “NOAA and American Pilots’ Association sign Memorandum of Agreement to advance safe navigation”

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson mapping Long Island Sound seafloor: contributing to multi-level collaboration

How many geospatial products can be developed by one seafloor mapping project? As a phased-in project for Long Island Sound shows, a strong collaboration among diverse groups of researchers and technology developers can integrate temporal and geospatial data sources to produce dozens of products. In addition to updating NOAA’s nautical charts, ongoing collaborations in Long Island Sound will create products that depict physical, geological, ecological, geomorphological, and biological conditions and processes – all to balance the development of new ocean uses while protecting and restoring essential habitats.

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The United States Coast Pilot, with one of the Nation’s longest publishing records, gets better with age

The United States Coast Pilot®, originally called the American Coast Pilot, has been published for over 200 years. This set of sailing directions for U.S. coastal waters has kept millions of mariners safe from perils at sea. Last week, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey unveiled yet another improvement to the nine-volume set geared to modern mariners who need updated information as soon as it becomes available.

Anyone can now access PDF versions of the United States Coast Pilot that are updated weekly. The volumes, and the list of corrections or updates applied each week, are available for free on the NOAA Coast Survey website. For those who don’t want to print corrected pages (or the entire volume!) on their home printer, the most up-to-date volumes are also available as Print-on-Demand products from some commercial vendors. (The traditionalists among us will still be able to purchase the hard copy printed annually.)

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Fairweather’s quick reminder of why we need to update Arctic nautical charts

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

by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)

1200 hours, Sunday, August 26, 2012:55°57.2’N  166°01.2’W, Bering Sea, approximately 100 nautical miles north of Unimak Pass

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