NOAA’s newest ship, the “Hassler”, has some of the most sophisticated equipment available to collect that data.
The scientific research being done aboard the Hassler will have some very practical applications.
The “fish” being deployed into the water is actually a side-scanning sonar device that enables the team of scientists and NOAA officers to make a detailed survey of the sea floor.
“The side-scan is very important because it gives us a very high resolution picture of the sea-bed. It allows us to clearly see obstructions and wrecks,” Lt. Cmdr. Ben Evans said.
And in shallow water it is capable of scanning a very wide area of the sea-floor. This data, along with depth readings from multi-beam sonar devices, is used by NOAA to produce maps and charts to guide merchant vessels transiting the port of Hampton Roads.
“The port is a huge economic engine for the area, so we want to make sure those container ships can come in fully loaded and know exactly how much water they have underneath of their hulls,” Andrew Larkin with NOAA said.
Keeping the maps and charts up to date is a constant process because like the crew of the Hassler, the sea floor is constantly on the move.
“The out-flow from rivers or storms can move the sand and mud in the area to the approaches of the Chesapeake Bay,” Larkin added. “Occasionally we’ll see things like wrecks, a ship could go down or a container could fall off a ship and block the channel.”
The technology aboard the Hassler enables scientists to find and record changes to the sea floor in a fraction of the time this process used to require.
“What used to take mariners with a sounding line, it would take em two minutes to do one sounding. Now we’re doing 1,028 about 20-times a second,” David Moehl said.
In fact, the Hassler and her crew are gathering more data than was ever possible.