NOAA concludes hydrographic survey response following Hurricane Delta

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson Launch 2904 surveying the Bar Channel, Calcasieu, Louisiana Approach.

This week NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey concluded its hydrographic survey response following Hurricane Delta. At the immediate request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), NOAA’s navigation response teams (NRTs) and NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson surveyed areas within the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), Calcasieu Ship Channel, and the entrance to the channel. With lessons learned from the response to Hurricane Laura — the first major hurricane of the 2020 season and the first hurricane response during a pandemic — the teams and Thomas Jefferson successfully collected, processed, and delivered data to the USACE, identifying significant hazards to navigation and helping to ensure the timely reopening of waterways.

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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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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 supports safe ferry transit in Puget Sound

By Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

If you have spent time on the water in Puget Sound, you have probably seen the large, distinct green and white vessels. These vessels move passengers, vehicles, and cargo across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands and to Victoria, Canada, year round. They are a part of the Washington State Department of Transportation ferry system. The state has been operating ferries since 1951, and intended to run the ferry service until cross Sound bridges could be built.  These bridges were never built, and the state continues to operate the ferries to this day. As of last July, there are 22 state-operated ferries on Puget Sound, with the largest vessel able to carry 2500 passengers and 202 vehicles. 

One of these routes is a 30-minute transit from Coupeville, WA, to Port Townsend, WA, at the mouth of Puget Sound. This route carries roughly 820,000 passengers a year, and saves travelers from a five- hour drive around the Sound. n 2013 the Washington Department of Ecology and the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington installed instruments on board to measure the velocity of current at the entrance of the Sound. Due to the shallow depth of the ferry terminal at Coupeville, extreme (low) tidal conditions interrupt this ferry route up to three times a month. 

Ferry with navigation response vessel.
NRT-Seattle with the F/V Salish, one of the two ferries completing the Coupeville to Port Townsend route this summer. Credit: Adrian Biesel

NOAA’s Northwest and Pacific Islands Navigation Manager Crescent Moegling received a survey request from the Washington State Ferries in early summer of 2019 to survey this route. Following completion of a routine survey in Bellingham Bay, Navigation Response Team – Seattle (NRT-Seattle) along with augmenters Lt j.g. Joshua Fredrick, NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, and Adrian Biesel, an intern at NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s Pacific Hydrographic Branch, traveled to Oak Harbor, Washington, on August 14. After safety and familiarization briefings, NRT-Seattle got underway from the Fort Casey State Park boat ramp daily to collect multibeam data. The team completed this request on August 19.

Lt. j.g. Joshua Fredrick on trailered survey response vessel.
Lt. j.g. Joshua Fredrick following a fresh water rinse of the boat at the end of a survey day. Credit: Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano
Intern Adrian Biesel prepares the boat for daily operations by deploying the surface sound speed sensor.
Intern Adrian Biesel prepares the boat for daily operations by deploying the surface sound speed sensor. Credit: Lt. j.g. ichelle Levano

The density of the team’s data allows for confident detection of 1×1 meter objects on the seafloor. In addition to collecting information on the depth of the seafloor, the team also verified, investigated, and updated several features on the chart including but not limited to kelp beds, fog signals, and pier pilings.

NRT-Seattle truck and response vessel transiting from Mukilteo, Washington, to Clinton, Washington. Credit: Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

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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