July 30, 2012
NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
NOAA Ship Fairweather begins a 30-day survey mission in the Arctic this week, scheduled to check a sparsely measured 1,500-nautical mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, north through the Bering Strait and east to the Canadian border.
The mission will collect needed information to determine NOAA’s future charting survey projects in the Arctic and will cover sea lanes that were last measured by Captain James Cook in 1778.
“Much of Alaska’s coastal area has never had full bottom surveys to measure water depths,” said Cmdr. James Crocker, commanding officer of Fairweather, and chief scientist of the party. “A tanker, carrying millions of gallons of oil, should not be asked to rely on measurements gathered in the 19th century. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what navigators have to do, in too many cases. NOAA is changing that.”
NOAA has made it a priority to update the nautical charts needed by commercial shippers, tankers, passenger vessels, and fishing fleets transiting the Alaskan coastline in ever-greater numbers. In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to update Arctic nautical charts for the shipping lanes, approaches, and ports along the Alaskan coast.
NOAA Ship Fairweather will take sample depth measurements along the trackline corridor (pictured in green) to validate earlier data collected by non-NOAA ships. The new measurements will guide charting decisions as to what earlier data can be used to update charts and where NOAA should conduct new hydrographic surveys.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
“We expect more increases of Arctic maritime traffic due to melting sea ice, which will require accurate and precise navigational data,” said Kathryn Ries, acting director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The sheer size of the task -- the coast length of 921 nautical miles is really 2,191 miles of low tidal shoreline once you figure in the bays and inlets --- requires that NOAA increase its charting efforts.”
Before NOAA cartographers can update the charts, however, they need the depth measurements and other data gathered by NOAA’s survey vessels like Fairweather.
Many of today’s Alaskan coastal nautical charts, created by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, use sporadic depth readings reported by private vessels, some decades or centuries old. Those vessels lacked the ability to report their exact positions to enable them to gather data accurate enough to ensure quality measurements.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s chartmaker. Continuing a heritage of service to the maritime transportation system, Coast Survey has been America’s trusted source of navigational charts, data, and services for two centuries.
NOAA Ship Fairweather is part of the NOAA fleet of ships and aircraft operated, managed and maintained by NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes both civilians and the commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The ship is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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