Physical scientist Ed Owens, from the Coast Survey Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), checks data being obtained off the sea floor aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster off western Puerto Rico, Feb.
27. A submersible equipped with cameras is helping to provide the most detailed maps of underwater shelves and coral
reefs off the island ever recorded. The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy are looking to use NOAA undersea mapping capabilities to bolster their global maritime domain awareness efforts.
restore waterways and resume the flow of commercial
vessels on the inland waterways.
In 2001, before the Arctic frontier became a major
topic of interest in the global warming debate because of
the shrinking icecaps, a NOAA team joined the Coast
Guard aboard the polar icebreaker Healy in what is an
ongoing effort to conduct mapping expeditions in the
region to collect more detailed data of the Arctic floor.
And very often it is a NOAA vessel that is called
upon by the Coast Guard to locate wreckage from aircraft disasters, among them the pieces of the jumbo jet
TWA Flight 800 that crashed off Long Island, N.Y., in
1996, the 1999 crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 in the sea
off Massachusetts and John Kennedy Jr.’s plane that
was found off Martha’s Vineyard in 1999.
“We do this every day, day in and day out, not finding planes, but finding things and surveying the bottom,” said Capt. Steven R. Barnum, director of NOAA’s
Office of Coast Survey.
Barnum described the agency’s charting mandate:
NOAA produces a navigational product — a nautical
chart for safe navigation — and his office is charged with
charting the nation’s 3. 4 million square nautical miles of
coastline, the Exclusive Economic Zone and U.S. territories. NOAA surveys about 3,000 nautical miles per year.
“Part of that process is to collect the raw data from
surveys to delineate the bottom and the depth, and
also identify wrecks and obstructions for the mariner,”
said Barnum, who noted NOAA’s primary hydrographic surveying techniques include multibeam sonar,
which provides pictures, and side-scan sonar, which
uses color-coded graphic imagery to provide information on the depths of an object.
“This imagery [also] is very useful to mine hunters,”
said Barnum. “You are basically creating an image of the
sea floor that can provide that baseline of the objects
that are there, so that if somebody put something in the
water, or said they put something in the water, then it
increases the efficiency of the mine hunters, so they
don’t have to go prosecute every single object on the
bottom. They look for change.”
Angove expanded on Barnum’s explanation of
NOAA’s prospective assignment. He said that the Navy
and NOAA have the same equipment and abilities, but