Mapping our Ocean with the help of superyachts

Contributing Globally While Underway

By Matthew Zimmerman, CEO FarSounder, Inc.

For many owners and guests, the allure of yachting is the adventure of cruising through pristine waters and voyaging to some of the most exclusive locations in the world. These unique experiences stem from a fundamental urge to explore our world and see its beauty. To be immersed in unspoiled beauty means venturing into the unknown. According to Seabed 2030 (a global initiative by the Nippon Foundation and GEBCO to map the world’s oceans 2030 and make it available to all), we’ve mapped less than 24% of the world’s sea floor. “We know the topography of the Moon and Mars in greater detail than that of our own planet.”The blue lines indicate all locations that are considered mapped by GEBCO and are included in the Seabed 2030 initiative. Note that GEBCO’s definition of “mapped” requires only 100m resolution which is much lower than navigation chart standards. (image credit: Seabed 2030)The most fundamental characteristic to ensure safety when sailing the oceans is knowing how deep the water is. Mapping the seafloor’s bathymetry is a critical key in safety and in scientific endeavors to understand ocean circulation, tides, tsunami forecasting, fishing resources, sediment transport, and environmental changes. It’s also important for commercial endeavors such as infrastructure construction, cable laying and pipeline routing.

Of course, knowing what’s underwater ahead of your vessel is also paramount to safe navigation. Even in well charted areas, you might think that everything you need to know is already on your nautical charts. If so, you would be mistaken. The US has some of the best charts in the world yet according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “about half of the depth information found on NOAA charts is based on hydrographic surveys conducted before 1940” and “in too many cases, the data is more than 150 years old. Sometimes, particularly in Alaska, the depth measurements are so old that they may have originated from Captain Cook in 1778.” Take a moment to think about the reliability of the chart data when you’re navigating in the “exotic” locations your guests’ itineraries demand.

Fortunately, yachts have a wide range of navigation sensors they can use, in conjunction with their charts, to help them navigate such waters more safely. While navigating in these locations, yachts are able to be a part of the solution through a worldwide crowdsourcing initiative. They have the opportunity to contribute to the global community by recording their depth and position observations along the way.

Jennifer Jencks, Director of the IHO Data Center for Digital Bathymetry (DCDB) at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, is the Chair of the IHO’s Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group (CSBWG). She shares that “measurements collected by the yachting community during the course of their normal operations are a valuable contribution to the IHO’s crowdsourced bathymetry efforts. Contributions to the IHO’s Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry are made available for public use and are included in the Seabed 2030 initiative.”

Participation in these types of initiatives is an easy way for the yachts to contribute to the wider, global community, while operating in their “typical” manner. One example of such industry participation is highlighted by a recent collaboration between the IHO and the Yacht Club de Monaco. Participating vessels are outfitted with a simple NMEA 2000 data logger which records the single beam echosounder measurements.Simple NMEA2000 data logger used to collect single beam echosounder data as part of the IHO’s collaboration with Yacht Club de Monaco. © Direction de la Communication du Gouvernement Princier / Stéphane DannaYet another example is collecting recordings from FarSounder’s Argos 3D Forward Looking Navigation sonars. More advanced sensors such as these are able to record more sophisticated information and can measure a wider swath of depths as the vessel travels as compared to a standard single beam echosounder.

The FarSounder’s Argos series sonars are designed primarily as a realtime, forward looking sensor for obstacle avoidance. These navigation systems can provide a 3D image of waters and bottoms ahead of the vessel out to 1000m range. However, FarSounder’s sonars also include their Local History Mapping feature which builds a map of the bathymetry everywhere the yacht transits. The size of this map is only limited by the hard drive space available on the bridge computer.FarSounder’s display software includes both a 3D view of the sonar data as well as a chart view with sonar, AIS, and ARPA data as overlays on standard S57/S63 format charts. Realtime forward looking data is available inside the sonar’s field-of-view (i.e the “pie wedge”) with Local History Mapping data stored indefinitely and displayed anywhere the vessel has previously transited.The standard configuration of FarSounder’s sonars is a stand alone system which keeps all the data inside the software. However, FarSounder customers can choose to participate in the company’s Expedition Sourced Ocean Data Collection Program. As part of this program, participants are sent a USB hard drive, which records all the raw data received by their system. When the drive is full, it is sent back to FarSounder for compilation.

“Observations collected and contributed by the yachting community can provide depth measurements from locations often not covered by formal surveys,” says Dr. Mathias Jonas, Secretary General of the IHO, “These unique contributions play a key role in our crowdsourcing efforts and can help increase our knowledge of what is happening below the surface.”

FarSounder is an official trusted node for the DCDB and all contributions to the IHO’s database are available for public use. Through the DCDB, the data is also shared with Seabed 2030. This program is an opt-in program for select current customers and is focused on those who are traveling to exoctic locations (though data from any location is of value to Seabed 2030).

Jamie McMichael-Phillips, Director of Seabed 2030, echoes the sentiment of Dr. Jonas, “Many yacht captains don’t realize that they have an opportunity to provide real value to the global community without making changes to their itineraries and daily activities. For those vessels where privacy is a concern, their contributions can even be anonymized before submission through the IHO’s network of Trusted Nodes.”Crowdsourced data has many known uses and new applications for the data are being developed by engineers, scientists and hobbyists around the world. One example is using crowdsourced data from trusted sources to help fill in the gaps in traditional hydrographic surveys. The Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) recently produced an update to chart 7053 using data collected by a vessel equipped with FarSounder sonar and made available through the DCDB. In this case, the CHS had no survey data from this part of the Northwest Passage. Using the customer submitted recordings and metadata about the vessel, the CHS was even able to assess the quality and reliability of the measurements.The Canadian Hydrographic Service does not have comprehensive official surveys in much of the Northwest Passage. The inset shows the location of Chart 7053 which incorporates depth measurements from trusted community contributions including some from a FarSounder customer. (image credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada)In another example five vessels operating off the coast of Antarctica during this past season participated in the FarSounder program. When those drives are returned, it is hoped that there will be recordings of multiple voyages over similar locations which will allow for the generation of a large surveyed area. There are plans to repeat this effort in subsequent years through the FarSounder data collection program with the hope of not only expanding the coverage of the surveyed area but also producing information about the seafloor as it changes over time. Such observations of the Antarctic seafloor have never previously been collected and could be a unique perspective for scientists who are studying climate change and polar ice caps.

Heath Henley, PhD, Senior Application Engineer at FarSounder, notes that “yachts often operate in locations that are outside the standard, commercial shipping routes and can offer access to scientific observations which may otherwise not be made. It would be a shame to waste such opportunities, especially when they can be achieved with no significant cost while the vessel operates normally. We’re proud that our customers are able to contribute in this way.”

Through participation in crowdsourcing activities, the yachting industry has an opportunity to provide unique and valuable contributions to the global community and expand the limits of our understanding of our world. FarSounder is proud to do their part in connecting their yacht customers with the Seabed 2030 project. Keeping the oceans safe is a mutual goal for all and they are pleased to have the partnership in place to provide Seabed 2030 with bathymetric data.