NOAA Ship Fairweather: “We made it!”

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

1200 hours, Saturday, August 18, 2012:  69°41.4’N  141°03.3’W, at anchor, 1.5 nautical miles west of Demarcation Point, on the United States/Canadian border

We made it!

Zacharias Demarcation Point
Photo by Caryn Zacharias, LT/NOAA

I must admit, I had my doubts a week ago. But we made it safely through relatively ice-free seas to the northern border between Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

We were able to collect multibeam echo sounder data along the entire route. The area continues to be relatively shallow (8 to 25 meters) and relatively flat (1 to 1.5 meters of relief). However, dramatic ice scours and scars on the seafloor are easily visible in the data collected.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather crew takes in Arctic beauty as they collect hydro data off Alaska’s North Slope

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

1200 hours, August 17, 2012: 70°13.7’N  144°49.6’W, approximately 250 nautical miles along the coast SSE of Barrow, AK

The water turned a silty gray-green early afternoon yesterday, Thursday, August 16. The Fairweather was transiting through areas with depths under our keel of between 8 and 20 meters – a somewhat caution-inducing sight for a vessel of our size. But the ice has opened up and we have made it east of Barrow. We are currently the furthest east along the North Slope of any NOAA or U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey hydrographic ship, as previous surveys were last conducted by field parties with much smaller boats, in the 1950s and 1960s. As the crow flies, we are currently 90 miles or so west of the Canadian border and our turn-around point. However, we are of course not transiting in a straight line but in the zigzag/argyle pattern, so have a bit more sea floor to cover.

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Ice pack recedes, Fairweather takes nearshore route

Good news! When NOAA Ship Fairweather started her Arctic reconnaissance survey, on August 1, there was some question about whether she would be able to complete the entire trackline. The icepack from Barrow to the Canadian border had not yet receded. Thanks to  satellite imagery and ice forecasts, we can see open water up to Barter Island, and then thin ice to Demarcation Point. Cmdr. Jim Crocker is now able to follow a nearshore route. They will survey closer to shore than the planned transit route – and acquire very useful hydrographic data!

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Update: Fairweather reconnaissance survey finds differences from chart depictions around Point Hope; scientists assess biological and chemical trends in Chukchi Sea

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

1200 hours, August 12, 2012:  70°38.7’N  162°06.6’W, approximately 22 miles north of Icy Cape, Alaska’s North Slope

In 1963, the town of Point Hope (68° 21’N  166°46’W) – a small, ancient, and archeologically-significant Inupiaq community on Alaska’s North Slope that remains at present a largely native village – narrowly avoided the creation of an artificial harbor by underwater hydrogen bombs. Part of “Project Plowshare,” the planned creation of a deepwater harbor by thermonuclear power was intended to demonstrate the peaceful use of nuclear power for construction purposes. It was opposed by Native American communities, scientists in the state, and the Episcopalian church across the United States. The protest has been credited as one of the first government projects successfully challenged on the grounds of its potential environmental impact.

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Finding WWII wrecks at sea, now and then

Coast Survey’s Vitad Pradith (right) offers instruction on the use of the magnetometer, prior to actual deployment. From left to right are team members Pasquale DeRosa, ship’s captain; John Wagner, maritime archaeologist; and Joseph Hoyt, maritime archaeologist.

How do ocean explorers know where to look when they investigate and document the historical secrets of the deep? Well, archaeological expeditions use a myriad of modern surveying technologies. Recently, when NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was investigating a World War II underwater battlefield site, they called on a surveying expert with NOAA’s Coast Survey to assist.

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Fairweather in the Arctic – Log Entries, August 2 and August 5

Before we get to the Fairweather logs, we need to update the last post, NOAA Ship Fairweather zigzags her way to accurate and precised depth soundings. Cmdr. Crocker reports that the “normal” zigzagging won’t start until they head further north, starting near Point Hope. It was not planned for the trip to Kotzebue, and he would have run a straight course if he could have. This log by Ensign Hadley Owen explains why they zigzagged earlier than planned, as well as what they are doing for their first scientific project. We apologize for the error in the last post. -DF

Fairweather Log Entries, August 2 and August 5

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

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NOAA Ship Fairweather zigzags her way to accurate and precise depth soundings

The officers, scientists, and crew of the NOAA Ship Fairweather have started their 30-day Arctic reconnaissance survey, and you can watch their progress on NOAA’s ship tracker website.

The planned route of Fairweather’s reconnaissance survey, August 2012

The diagram on the right shows the corridor Fairweather will travel during this survey project. (Fairweather’s survey corridor is shown in green.) The ship will zigzag back and forth within that corridor, checking actual depth soundings against measurements acquired during the 20th century or even earlier. (See the vintage of the depth measurements in the Aug 1 blog post, Arctic reconnaissance survey checks old soundings to prioritize future surveys.)

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Arctic reconnaissance survey checks old soundings to prioritize future surveys

NOAA Ship Fairweather starts the Arctic reconnaissance survey on August 1, 2012

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, Alaska, and the nation’s economic vitality have been intertwined for 145 years. We strengthen that bond on August 1, as NOAA Ship Fairweather begins a reconnaissance survey to the northernmost tip of the Alaska’s Arctic coast. Fairweather will check soundings along a 1,500 nautical mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to the Canadian border. (At least, we hope Fairweather can go all the way to the Canadian border… The ice cover is a little stubborn this summer, and may not recede sufficiently for safe passage. CMDR Jim Crocker, the ship’s commanding officer and chief scientist of the party, will keep us updated through the coming weeks. Watch this blog site for Fairweather updates!)

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Capturing the seafloor’s rich history while positioning America for the future

Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team 4 is conducting a year-long survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas, re-measuring ocean depths and searching for dangers to navigation. Coast Survey will use the data to update future nautical charts to help mariners protect lives and increase shipping efficiencies. Recently, the team also found an opportunity where they could support marine archeological preservation.

Last week, the navigation team worked with federal and state partners who help us understand the rich history – and the secrets of human sorrows – lying on the seafloor. In collaboration with NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Texas Historical Commission’s Marine Archeology Division, the navigation response team — with the State Marine Archeologist onboard —  re-mapped the location of two historically significant wrecks. (Some of the data was collected under an antiquities permit, as Texas requires for investigating historic shipwrecks in state waters.)

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Survey discovers exposed natural gas pipeline south of Mobile Bay

Ocean floors are always changing. Coast Survey’s hydrographic surveys are intended to find and measure those changes. Often, we need to do more than that, as shown by a recent survey of the seafloor in Alabama coastal waters.

A Coast Survey contractor ‒ David Evans and Associates ‒ found a large high-pressure natural gas pipeline that had been uncovered and was lying exposed, as shown by this side scan sonar image. The exposed 36-inch diameter pipeline, pressured to 2,100 psi, posed a threat to navigation and the environment.

Side scan sonar of exposed pipeline

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