In order to optimize efficient survey operations in diverse environments, the right tool(s) must be identified and applied. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey (OCS) is responsible for charting products throughout the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which encompasses a diverse suite of environments; from remote Alaskan shores, to shallow estuarine environments along the East Coast, and the Great Lakes of the Midwest. In order to optimize NOAA’s limited resources, OCS has utilized a diverse suite of uncrewed systems (UxS), each with individual strengths, weaknesses, and unique operational constraints. By utilizing a diverse suite of platforms, and not pushing a single system (or autonomy in general) OCS was able to let the needs of the survey dictate which platform(s) should be utilized, and if autonomy was the most technically sound or cost-efficient approach. Examples of the uncrewed systems utilized to date include: REMUS-600 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), Wave Adaptive Modular Vehicle (WAM-V), EchoBoat, XOCEAN, C-Worker, DriX, SeaMachines, Saildrone and NOAA’s Optionally-crewed Hydrographic Survey Launch (OHSL). We present how we determined the optimal uncrewed platform for the job, the successes and challenges of each, and how the Office of Coast Survey plans to use uncrewed platforms for ocean mapping in the future.
Michael Stephens is the Acting Chief of the Operations Branch of NOAA’s Hydrographic Surveys Division. Operations Branch is responsible for the planning, management, and oversight of all of the Hydrographic Surveys conducted by NOAA’s fleet of Government Vessels, as well as NOAA’s private sector contractors. Michael’s permanent position at NOAA is as the Contracts Team Lead within the Operations Branch, where he oversees OCS contract program.
Prior to joining NOAA, Michael worked for an Environmental Engineering firm as a Marine Scientist specializing in geotechnical investigations, dredged material evaluations, unexploded ordnance detection, and site characterization and remedial investigations surveys.
Rob Downs has over 30 years of experience working with marine technology and maritime safety beginning with his enlistment in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1986. During
his time in the Coast Guard, Rob served as a sonar technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton and as a watch supervisor at the Vessel Traffic Service in San Francisco. In September 1999, Rob brought is background in sonar systems, navigation safety, and information technology to NOAA’s Coast Survey Development Laboratory in Silver
Beginning in 2004, Rob served as the lead for the Office of Coast Survey’s uncrewed systems projects. He has led the testing and operational evaluation of shallow and mid-water Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Uncrewed Surface Vehicles (USVs), including the operational transition of DriX USV aboard NOAA hydrographic and fisheries survey ships.
Currently, he is the chief of the Hydrographic Systems and Technology Branch of the Coast Survey Development Laboratory and serves as co-chair of NOAA’s Uncrewed Marine Systems Working Group.
Megan Greenaway is the Technical Advisor with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hydrographic Surveys Division. Megan is responsible for monitoring the Office of Coast Survey hydrographic surveying operations and serves as a liaison between the field operations and management. Her key interests are international standards, facilitating operations across internal and external partners, and in identifying efficiencies within NOAA’s workflows.
Megan has held numerous positions within NOAA over the past 20 years including cartographer, survey technician, and project manager. The NOAA positions have given her the opportunity to travel to unexplored areas in Alaska and to cities around the world.
Megan earned a Masters in Hydrographic Science from the University of Southern Mississippi, a Cat A certified program. She is also a member of The Hydrographic Society of America (THSOA), American Association of Geographers (AAG) and the Women’s Aquatic Network (WAN).