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Navy, Army and NOAA Celebrate 10 Years of Hydrographic Support

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS080709-11
Release Date: 7/9/2008 5:34:00 PM

By Shannon Breland, Naval Oceanographic Office Public Affairs

KILN, Miss. (NNS) -- Representatives from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reaffirmed their partnership to advance airborne lidar technology, July 1, at a ceremony held at the Stennis International Airport.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor attended the event. Scott Walker attended for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.

Lidar technology is similar to sonar but uses light pulses instead of sound waves to detect underwater features and map nearshore areas. Navy, Army and NOAA use the data they collect for coastal mapping and charting around the world.

In 1998, the Navy and Army formed the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise (JALBTCX). Since first collaborating in 1994, JALBTCX has completed more than 400 project surveys in 14 countries and produced a variety of new tools and uses for airborne lidar bathymetry.

"The products created here at this center allow our forces, Army and Navy, to operate quickly and safely in coastal environments," said Ed Gough, technical director for the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, a member of the joint center.

The center uses airborne lidar for accurate, cost-effective coastal mapping and charting of U.S. and international bodies of water. Aircraft used in the airborne hydrography program can survey large areas more quickly and efficiently than traditional boats or ships.

"Once on scene, we have the capability to survey many times faster than surface boats using sonar," said Bob Pope, Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) Survey Center of Excellence director. "We can operate in areas that would be very challenging for small boats to work due to remoteness, weather, or dangerous conditions."

NAVOCEANO has conducted airborne surveys in Kenya, Israel, Morocco, West Pacific Islands and Philippines to support safe navigation in the waters around the countries. The Army has mapped more than 5,500 miles of U.S. shorelines, including the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The primary hydrographic equipment system on the JALBTCX plane, called CHARTS, is owned by NAVOCEANO. The system supports development of nautical charts for NAVOCEANO, whose ultimate goal is the safe navigation of all U.S. military forces.

"The CHARTS system is the most advanced coastal mapping and charting system in the world today," said Pope. "While there are five similar airborne systems in the world today, no other system meets the full capabilities of our CHARTS system. It is the world's only integrated hydrographic lidar, topographic lidar, digital camera, and hyperspectral imager."

CHARTS also supports the Army's national coastal measuring and monitoring program in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico.

CHARTS was operational for two years before it was upgraded in 2005. The upgrade tripled its survey coverage rates and added a capability called hyperspectral imaging, which increases its precision in mapping. These images are fused with lidar data to automatically characterize environmental features, such as wetlands, seagrass beds, sands and corals.

As a result of the government's investment in lidar and JALBTCX's leadership in the field, industry has noticed capabilities in coastal mapping and charting and its commercial potential. Complementary technologies are evolving to meet specific needs. This directly led to several new companies locating at Stennis International Airport, and nearby Stennis Space Center, to leverage and support these efforts.

Developed by OpTech, Inc., CHARTS is installed on a commercial aircraft operated by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary, Canada, and staffed by survey personnel from 3001 Inc. This fusion of government and commercial equipment and personnel results in a very flexible and efficient data collection capability to quickly respond to JALBTCX needs.

The center continuously improves its capabilities and equipment. It is developing a lidar system called CZMIL, which significantly improves spatial resolution, target detection performance and reliability while maintaining accuracy and working in a wider range of water conditions. It is expected to begin acceptance testing in 2010.

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