Coast Survey Spotlight: Meet Kolleen Mortimer

Kolleen Mortimer standing on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Virginia.

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.


Kolleen Mortimer, Physical Scientist

“Knowing the data we examine every day contributes to safe navigational products is greatly rewarding. It’s also rewarding to see the process come to life in a greater scope. When the data leaves my desk and makes it to a chart product, I can say that my work contributed to that.”

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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 Ship Nancy Foster performs full-coverage mapping survey of Northern Blake Plateau

ST Barbee and NOAA Affiliate Veronica Martinez deploy Nancy Foster’s Underway CTD.

By Julia Wallace and Lt. j.g. Michelle Levano

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster conducted survey operations offshore of coastal South Carolina from August 12-30, 2019, as a joint effort between NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. This survey encompassed portions of the Blake Plateau, and was particularly special because this region has never been mapped using contemporary sonar systems. The project served Coast Survey’s mission of providing contemporary data to update nautical charting products and supported the U.S. contribution to Seabed 2030, a multi-national initiative to map the world ocean by 2030. NOAA’s contribution to this project includes providing continuous multibeam survey coverage within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

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Register for NOAA Nav-cast webinar: NOAA’s nowCOAST

Image announcing Nav-cast webinar.

UPDATE: The Nav-cast scheduled for 9/26 at 1 p.m. (EDT) is cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Join us for our next NOAA Nav-cast, a quarterly webinar series that highlights the tools and trends of NOAA navigation services.

NOAA’s nowCOAST: A one-stop-shop for coastal conditions before you head out on the water

NOAA’s nowCOAST (nowcoast.noaa.gov) — a free online interactive map viewer —provides situational awareness on present and future weather and oceanographic conditions for mariners and other coastal users by integrating data from across NOAA and regional observing systems. Users can assess present conditions by creating maps of the latest in-situ weather/marine weather observations, weather radar mosaics, cloud images from GOES weather satellites, and surface wind and sea-surface temperature analyses for the last few hours. Users can also obtain maps of critical weather/marine weather advisories, watches, and warnings, weather forecasts, tropical cyclone track and intensity forecasts, and forecast guidance of water levels, water temperature, salinity, and currents from NOAA oceanographic forecast models.  Users can display these maps using the nowCOAST map viewer or by connecting to its map services. nowCOAST operates in a high-availability hosting facility and is monitored 24 x 7.

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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

S-100 sea trials: working toward harmonized navigation products

International team participating in the S-100 sea trial.

By Julia Powell, deputy division chief of the Coast Survey Development Lab

On August 27, an international contingent from the United States (NOAA), the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, and the Canadian Hydrographic Service participated in the S-100 sea trial in Busan, Republic of Korea.

S-100 is the International Hydrographic Organization’s (IHO) Universal Hydrographic Data Model’s framework standard from which a variety of product specifications can be developed for use within navigation systems and marine spatial data infrastructure.  For many years, NOAA and the Ministry of Fisheries of the Republic of Korea have had a Joint Project Agreement and one of the projects is to develop and promote and S-100 test bed.  This test bed is designed to help further the development of S-100 infrastructure used to develop S-100 related products and further the testing of S-100 interoperability within navigation systems.

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Hawaiian island surveys will update nautical charts and support habitat mapping efforts

Three of Rainier’s hydrographic survey launches moored in Kahului Harbor, Maui.

By Ens. Lyle I. Robbins

For more than 50 years, NOAA Ship Rainier and its hydrographic survey launches have surveyed the Pacific seafloor. During this time, Rainier sailed thousands of miles, including the entire U.S. west coast, Alaska, and Hawaii. This year, Rainier expands on its traditional role of hydrographic survey and is supporting dive operations in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. While Rainier is sailing these remote coral atolls, the survey launches — that are usually in its davits and deployed directly from the ship — are tasked to their own surveys around the islands of Maui, Moloka’i, and O’ahu.

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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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