NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle is home to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of the Office of Coast Survey, the NOAA sub-agency responsible for the generation of nautical charts for the US Exclusive Economic Zone – 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean that are vital to the US maritime economy. A task this enormous and demanding requires a team effort between data providers, scientists, cartographers, and many others. In fact, NOAA relies on other scientific organizations for some of the bathymetric data that they use to update nautical charts. This data, from organizations outside NOAA’s hydrographic team, is called External Source Data (ESD) and can be from organizations such as those studying bathymetric ecosystems, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Coast Guard, and other research institutions, just to name a few.
Because External Source Data has inherent differences in their collection, one of the biggest challenges for NOAA is assessing their uncertainties. To work towards a solution to this problem, I worked alongside members of the Pacific Hydrographic Branch to create a user-friendly application intended for External Source Data providers who plan to contribute datasets to be included in future updates of OCS nautical charts. The application, which functions like an interactive questionnaire, asks data providers about the particular techniques by which data were collected, including any offsets or corrections made to the instruments collecting data, or the geospatial datum used to calculate a vessel’s position. Once the metadata fields are filled out by the ESD provider, a machine-readable file is created by the application – a file that is then to be sent back to the Office of Coast Survey where it will then be used to assess the data’s quality.
The JISAO internship, however, included a whole lot more than simply writing a computer program. To become more familiar with the hydrographic data collection process, I was able to accompany hydrographers on the NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II for a survey of the Hudson River in New York State. During this trip, I learned about the seemingly endless number of corrections and particularities associated with any hydrographic survey’s accuracy. I was also able to help the survey collect data using the vessel’s multibeam echosounder, an acoustic instrument that is used to calculate depth as a vessel cruises along.
While back in Seattle, I was able to complete a functional beta version of the ESD Metadata Collection application with enough time to enjoy the beautiful weather and wonderful activities that make up a perfect summer in the Pacific Northwest. A truly irreplaceable experience, the JISAO internship provided me with invaluable experience, timeless memories, and great connections that will help me in my future career. I owe many thanks to Tom Ackerman, Jed Thompson, and the entire JISAO staff for making such a wonderful summer possible!