The quiet history of Coast Survey

As NOAA strives to meet the present and future navigational needs of the maritime transportation system, it is sometimes helpful ‒ not to mention inspirational ‒ to look back at history. Coast Survey has an amazing history that isn’t well known. It is a quiet history of men and women who led the country’s mapping and charting advancements in the centuries since Thomas Jefferson authorized the Survey of the Coast in 1807.

Coast Survey maintains a publicly accessible Historical Maps and Charts Collection, with about 35,000 images that anyone can download and print. For history buffs, searching through the images is a great way to find images related to your area of interest. Exploring the charts, one can almost develop personal relationships with the individual Coast Survey assistants and cartographers who produced some truly beautiful work. (Check out the Civil War Special Collection to find some especially intriguing maps, including the pivotal 1861 map showing the density of slave population in the Southern states.) Or you can spend some quality time browsing through little-known sketches and maps in the historical collection maintained by the NOAA Central Library.

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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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NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson finds two divers in Block Island Sound

NOAA hydrographic survey vessels are valuable assets for search and rescue operations, as experienced crews use their knowledge of tides and ocean currents to develop science-based search patterns. Last month, two divers found out just how valuable NOAA’s expertise can be. — DF

Report submitted by Ensign Brittany Anderson, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

On the morning of August 26, 2012, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson was conducting routine hydrographic survey operations south of Block Island. At 0904 hours, a distress call was made on the very high frequency (VHF) radio to the Coast Guard Station. The caller reported two divers lost in the water at Southwest Ledge, a popular recreational point off Block Island. The coordinates were a mere seconds north of the Thomas Jefferson.

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Joint Canada-U.S. mapping cruise in the Atlantic winding up

RV Atlantis
UNOLS Research Vessel Atlantis, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, transits to a joint Canada-U.S. survey location in the North Atlantic.

The U.S. and Canada have been surveying in the northern Atlantic Ocean this summer, gathering data to support both countries’ territorial claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The survey project started on August 15, and the ship is scheduled to return to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on September 10.

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NOAA survey teams wrap up response to Hurricane Isaac, return to normal duties to protect ships and people

As Gulf ports in the path of Hurricane Isaac bring operations back up to normal, Coast Survey’s navigation response team has finished its hydrographic surveys at Port Fourchon and is heading back to its regularly scheduled 2012 survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas.

Port Fourchon started allowing ships to enter the port yesterday, after NRT4 found only minor shoaling and no underwater debris that would pose a danger to navigation.

NOAA surveys ports to keep navigation safe and efficient. As Coast Survey’s navigation response team was wrapping up its surveys of Port Fourchon and Belle Pass on August 31, the pilot of the multi-purpose supply vessel HOS Achiever, inbound, asked if they found any dangers to navigation. The team found minor shoaling but no hazards.

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NOAA navigation response team has a harrowing start to a successful afternoon of surveying at Port Fourchon

Coast Survey navigation response teams know the meaning of “rapid” in Rapid Maritime Response, as their ongoing response following Hurricane Isaac demonstrates.

As we explained in yesterday’s post (NOAA looks for dangers to navigation at Port Fourchon), getting a navigation response team (NRT) into the water at the port, to search for underwater debris and shoaling ‒ ASAP ‒ was Coast Survey’s highest priority. It was also a priority for port authorities, who know more than anyone how important it is to resume maritime operations quickly at “The Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

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NOAA looks for danger to navigation at Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” helps port resume operations

A rapid maritime response by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will likely pay dividends to the U.S. economy, as a high-tech survey team today began surveying the channels of Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” to search for dangers to navigation caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Coast Survey’s navigation response team, in the water at Port Fourchon, started searching for underwater dangers to navigation today, speeding the resumption of shipping.

“Time literally means money for U.S. consumers when it comes to navigation through many of the Gulf of Mexico ports,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, Office of Coast Survey director. “In this case, when a port can’t service offshore oil rigs, everyone — and most especially consumers — gets hit in the wallet.”

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Ready, set…

Coast Survey’s Rapid Maritime Response assets for Hurricane Isaac are now in place, and are ready to move in when the storm moves on.

The teams will search for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation in port areas, to speed the resumption of shipping in areas impacted by the storm. A rapid response — that gives Coast Guard officials vital information on the condition of ship channels — reduces economic losses in maritime trade, reduces potential disruptions in energy supplies when ports are serving energy providers and oil rigs, and keeps mariners safe. (For more, see Coast Survey Prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac.)

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Update on Coast Survey pre-positioning for Rapid Maritime Response to Tropical Storm Isaac

As NOAA’s National Weather Service adjusts the track of Tropical Storm Isaac, so Coast Survey adjusts pre-response planning and deployment. (BTW, the New Orleans/Baton Rouge NWS Tropical Weather Briefing is a great resource for maritime observations, as is nowCOAST.) Based on updates in the hurricane models, and after multiple briefings with Coast Guard officials, Coast Survey is moving to pre-position two of the navigation response teams closer to the expected impact areas. (See response asset graphic, below.)

Major ports along in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will likely be closed later today, if they aren’t already. With over $153 billion in ocean-going trade through New Orleans annually, and another $31 billion a year in and out of Mobile, it is essential to get shipping channels cleared for the resumption of traffic as soon as possible after a storm. Just as important, the Gulf produces 23 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 7 percent of natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The resumption of operations at ports serving the energy industry is essential to keeping supplies flowing.

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