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NOAA Outlines Plans for Future Navigational Charts

By MarEx 2016-09-08 07:46:03

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has outlined the future of its navigation efforts in testimony before the U.S. Subcommittees on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and Water Resources and Environment.

NOAA is tasked with surveying and producing over 1,000 nautical charts covering 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of waters. Rear Admiral Shephard Smith, Director, Office of Coast Survey, NOAA, outlined two major shifts are underway that are changing the paradigm of how NOAA produces and delivers nautical charts during his testimony on September 7. 

First, NOAA’s Coast Survey has nearly completed the transition to a new charting system that uses one central database to produce all NOAA chart products. This system speeds new data and updates to all chart versions of the same charted areas and removes inconsistencies. 

“We will complete this transition in time for the IMO’s 2018 requirement to carry electronic navigational charts as the primary chart on the bridge of large international commercial vessels,” said Smith. 

Second, since NOAA privatized all chart printing and transitioned to full print-on-demand in 2014. “We can now support faster digital updates that are synchronized across all products rather than the delayed publications made necessary by the old paper chart system. Our charts can now reflect real world features that change monthly, such as updating an ocean inlet changed by winter storms in time for the summer boating season.”

Further, NOAA plans to identify areas needing more detailed chart coverage, and reorganize its electronic navigation charts (ENCs) to provide seamless electronic coverage for U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes. 

“We will prioritize new data acquisition based on reported chart discrepancies, new traffic patterns, and coastal changeability,” said Smith. “New techniques using satellite imagery to estimate water depth and crowdsourced depth data from volunteer boats will allow us to more efficiently target our survey resources to areas that will have the most impact.

“Unlike existing paper and digital charts, we are prototyping new high-resolution charts for ports that provide the level of detail needed to optimize the management of risk/return in ship movements from the sea buoy to the berth. Working with commercial partners, these hi-res ENCs will support integration with real-time observations and rapid model forecasts to allow mariners to sail using dynamic depths representing the safe depth of water at the actual time of transit under the bottom of the vessel.”

The Port of Long Beach provides a tangible example of the potential benefits, says Smith. By using its new underkeel clearance decision support system that is fuelled by several kinds of NOAA data, the port will save an estimated $10 million per year by eliminating the need to offload cargo from vessels offshore before they enter the port. 

It is a model for future collaborations in other seaports, says Smith, where NOAA can work with others to address challenging navigation safety margins by integrating high resolution data and products, and where feasible, leverage private investment.

“We are also working with industry partners and app developers for mobile devices to deliver data in a unified, intuitive fashion to the mariner. This will provide mariners with accurate, real-time information that is simultaneously collected, integrated, analyzed and delivered electronically to the user in a harmonized fashion to ensure their safety, the security of their vessel, and the protection of the marine environment.

This summer, NOAA plans to acquire 275 square nautical miles (SNM) of Arctic hydrographic survey data in the Etolin Strait east of Nunivak Island and off the North Coast of Unalaska Island. In addition, the NOAA ship Fairweather will conduct a fisheries habitat survey in Bristol Bay to optimize data quality for habitat mapping; any usable hydrographic survey data that meets NOAA charting requirements will be applied to nautical charts. 

The witnesses’ testimonies are available here:
•    Rear Admiral Paul F. Thomas, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, United States Coast Guard 
•    Rear Admiral Shephard Smith, Director, Office of Coast Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
•    Mr Edward E. Belk, Jr. P.E., Chief, Operations and Regulatory Division, United States Army Corps of Engineers