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Ships set sail for NOAA survey season

04 May 2014

NOAA ships, small boats, and hydrographic services contractors will be surveying more than 2,000 square nautical miles in US coastal waters this year, collecting data that will strengthen the foundation of the nation’s environmental intelligence.

Most of the vessels have already set sail to their initial project areas.

The NOAA Office of Coast Survey will manage and conduct surveys that will measure water depths and collect ocean floor data so the agency can update its nautical charts, identify navigational hazards, support wind farm sitings, map ocean habitats, and assist state governments with their ocean projects.

“Accurate data are absolutely necessary to engage in informed discussions and make sound ocean policy,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Protecting life and property at sea is the major objective of the hydrographic survey programme. Since vibrant tourism and commercial fishing industries mean more traffic on the ocean, NOAA ships Rainier and Fairweather will gather hydrographic data to supplement old and sparse depth measurements on nautical charts covering Alaska's Kodiak Island. Rainier will also work in Cold Bay, Alaska, charting approach areas where ships can take refuge when the harbour’s currents are too strong. NOAA has also contracted with TerraSond to survey Bechevin Bay, the easternmost passage through the Aleutians from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska.

NOAA contractor C&C Technologies will survey in Louisiana, offshore of Barataria Bay, to acquire the data needed to establish turnoffs and turning basins for large vessels. Leidos will survey the approach lanes to Mobile Bay, Alabama, to increase shipping safety there. Another contractor will survey the approaches to Lake Borgne and Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana, where nautical charts still display depths measured in the 1800s.

On the East Coast, NOAA ships Thomas Jefferson and Ferdinand Hassler will survey an area offshore of Rhode Island Sound to identify a safe route for deep draft oil tankers. The Coast Survey Research Vessel Bay Hydro II will survey critical areas in central Chesapeake Bay. Coast Survey's six navigation response teams (NRTs), small two or three person boats equipped with both multibeam and side scan sonar systems, are acquiring data to address possible charting discrepancies ‒ data that is outdated or wrong ‒ and other concerns.

Sound data
The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and a navigation response team are surveying in Long Island Sound to provide data to the multi-state, multi-agency Seafloor Mapping Initiative. The Thomas Jefferson will also collect data that scientists need for essential habitat mapping in Fishers Island Sound, Connecticut. Measuring ocean depths and characterising the seafloor is an essential preliminary step when governments and industry consider offshore sites for wind turbines. The Hassler will survey a possible site in the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay, and another possible area offshore of Rhode Island Sound.

The Hassler is also surveying off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, collecting data that will contribute to habitat mapping and the state’s effort to locate sand resources for beach replenishment.

Images for this article - click to enlarge

NOAA Ship Rainier and its six small survey boats return to Alaska for a summer of hydrographic surveys. Credit: NOAA

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