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U.S. Remapping Storm-Battered Coast

Monday, September 9, 2013

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The deadly force of Hurricane Sandy so ravaged the U.S. East Coast in 2012 that much of the region's coastline and coastal waters now need to be remapped from scratch, the federal government has concluded.

Three federal agencies have announced a joint effort to remap significant sections of the East Coast, where the October 2012 hurricane unleashed more than $50 billion in damage, altered seafloors and shorelines, leveled buildings, killed 147 people, and disrupted millions of lives.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now using emergency supplemental funds from Congress to survey coastal waters and shorelines, acquiring data to update East Coast land maps and nautical charts.

SeasideHeightsBeforeSandy SeasideHeightsAfterSandy
Google (left) via NOAA; NOAA (right)

Hurricane Sandy altered shorelines and seabeds along the East Coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers other before-and-after aerial views of the shifting coastline here.

“Our approach is to map once, then use the data for many purposes,” said NOAA Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Under the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, NOAA and its federal partners are taking a 'whole ocean' approach to get as much useful information as possible from every dollar invested to help states build more resilient coastlines.”

Rebuilding Strategy

The agencies announced the surveying plan Aug. 20, a day after the Obama Administration's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released its Rebuilding Strategy. The strategy details 69 policy recommendations, some of which have already been implemented, to rebuild infrastructure, homes and businesses, and communities.

The strategy includes a call for coordination by federal, state and local governments and a "region-wide approach to rebuilding" that includes cutting "red tape" and "align[ing] federal funding with local rebuilding visions."

The recommendations include a process to prioritize all large-scale infrastructure projects and map their connections and interdependencies, as well as guidelines to ensure all of those projects are built to withstand the impact of climate change.

Mapping the coast
Photos unless otherwise credited: NOAA

NOAA Corps Ensign Lindsey Norman retrieves the side scan sonar that NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson used to survey the Hudson River.

The strategy also explores how to harden energy infrastructure to minimize power outages and fuel shortages during future storms.

Ships and Satellites

Using ships, aircraft, and satellites, the agencies will measure water depths, look for submerged debris, and record altered shorelines in high-priority areas from South Carolina to Maine, as stipulated by Congress in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

The areas to be remapped will be based on their relative dangers to navigation, effects from the storm, and discussions with state and local officials as well as the maritime industry. The information, which will be available to the public, can be used for updating nautical charts, removing marine debris, replenishing beaches, making repairs, and planning for future storms and coastal resilience.

Much of the data will be stored at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center and through NOAA’s Digital Coast.

Collaborative Effort

The federal agencies are collaborating to maximize topographic and hydrographic coverage, and work is already underway.

Sandy aftermath - Marcus Hook, PA

NOAA survey vessels responded to calls for assistance after Sandy. Here, a navigation response team clears a launch path in Marcus Hook, PA.

Earlier this year, a NOAA navigation response team surveyed the waters around Liberty Island and Ellis Island in New York Harbor, measuring water depths and searching for debris that could endanger navigation. In June, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson began surveying the approaches to the Delaware Bay.

NOAA also plans to contract with commercial firms for additional hydrographic survey projects and high-resolution topographic and bathymetric elevation data and imagery in the region.

New Elevation Data

The U.S. Geological Survey will also collect very high-resolution elevation data to support scientific studies related to the hurricane recovery and rebuilding activities, watershed planning and resource management. USGS will collect data in coastal and inland areas, depending on the hurricane damage and the age and quality of existing data.

The elevation data will become part of a new initiative, called the 3D Elevation Program, to systematically acquire improved, high-resolution elevation data across the United States.

ShipChannelSurvey

A NOAA research vessel surveys ship channels near Hampton Roads, VA, after Sandy.

“The human deaths and the powerful landscape-altering destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy are a stark reminder that our nation must become more resilient to coastal hazards,” said Kevin Gallagher, associate director for Core Science Systems at USGS.

"Sandy's most fundamental lesson is that storm vulnerability is a direct consequence of the elevation of coastal communities in relation to storm waves. Communities will benefit greatly from the higher resolution and accuracy of new elevation information to better prepare for storm impacts, develop response strategies, and design resilient and cost-efficient post-storm redevelopment."

Bathymetry Support

The Army Corps of Engineers and its Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise are covering particular project areas in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey. They will coordinate operations, research, and development in airborne lidar bathymetry and complementary technologies for USACE, NOAA, and the U.S. Navy.

SearchForStormDebris RebuildingAfterSandy
NOAA (left); HUD (right)

A federal team (left) searches for underwater storm debris and maps the depths of New York Harbor. The remapping effort was announced a day after a federal task force released its "Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy."

Preliminary U.S. damage estimates make Sandy the second-costliest cyclone to hit the United States since 1900. Sandy's 147 direct deaths recorded is the greatest number related to a tropical cyclone outside of the southern states since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Engineering; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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