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Small Boat Work – Dangerous Then, Dangerous Today

The ability to conduct inshore hydrographic surveys has always been dependent on small boats and the seamanship of those conducting the surveys. Besides the obvious use of small boats for the acquisition of soundings and their accompanying positions, it was not so long ago t... (read more)

From Longitude by Fowl to Three-Point Sextant Fix

Prior to the development of modern navigation methods and modern charts, the mariner was left to his own devices both in approaching unknown and known coasts. Although Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer invented the nautical chart in the late sixteenth century, his charts and the char... (read more)
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A Casualty of War

In 1899, a new ship was launched at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey, USA. This vessel was a Coast and Geodetic Survey ship designed and constructed for rugged service in the far reaches of Alaska. Although 196 feet long, the ship appeared boxy, almost like... (read more)

Thirty Years of Discovering the Mariana Trench

Thirty Years of Discovering the Mariana Trench On 23 March 1875, HMS Challenger sounded in 4475 fathoms at latitude 11°24N, longitude 143°16E to the southwest of the Mariana Islands and north of the Caroline Islands. Because this great depth was unexpected, the Chall... (read more)
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Pursuing Accuracy

The profession of hydrographer is built upon measurement accuracy. Ever since Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer produced the first true nautical charts in 1584, hydrographers have been working to improve the accuracy of their measurements. For anyone fortunate enough to have reviewed... (read more)
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History Selection

100 Years of Service

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Corps). The law forming the service was signed on 22 May 1917 and overnight made the field officers of the then United States Coast and Geodetic Surve... (read more)

'As it Was'

In 1958 Commander Hunt MBE, RN was about to undertake a survey in HMNZS <i>Lachlan</i> to complete NZ Chart 61, which included part of the rugged West Coast of the South Island much of which then lacked geodetic control stations. The members of the crew of <i&... (read more)

'As it Was'

Gavriil Andreevich Sarychev, scientist, geographer and hydrographer, explored and surveyed parts of the North Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a Vice-Admiral he became the first Russian Navy Hydrographer in 1827. Gavriil Sar... (read more)

World War II Charting: The Pacific War

In late November of 1941, the USS Sumner AG-32 proceeded to Pearl Harbor and joined the United States Pacific Fleet. This ship had begun its career as the USS Bushnell, a submarine tender, but had been ordered to hydrographic duty and renamed in 1937. It was moored at the Su... (read more)

Some Early Observations on Tidal Bores

The 1941 Admiralty Manual of Tides defined a tidal bore or eagre as special tidal phenomena found only in certain estuaries or rivers, characterised by a sudden onrush of water on a rising tide. The word bore comes from the old Norse word 'bara' meaning wave. In general, bor... (read more)

'As it Was'

The late Professor Taylor, a former Registrar General for Scotland, whilst researching the Balfour Collection of documents at the National Library of Scotland, came across a set of early sailing directions for the entire coasts of Scotland. They were written on a dozen fools... (read more)

The Survey of the Philippine Islands

Following the Spanish–American War, the Philippine Islands became a US Protectorate. Consequently, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey commenced providing this vast archipelago with modern nautical charts. An assignment in the Philippines was the great, defining experienc... (read more)

The Neptune Oriental

The article below is reproduced from the Field Engineers Bulletin of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey for December 1936 with minor changes. Lieutenant Earle Deily (1900-1995), the author, was then a veteran of 13 years in the Survey having served on both coasts of the United... (read more)

The Discovery of Long-Distance Sound Transmission in the Ocean

The existence of the SOFAR Channel has been known for many years. In the American geophysicist Maurice Ewing’s authorised biographical memoir The Floor of the Sea, the following passage occurs: “The first time Ewing’s seismic gear was tried at a thousand fa... (read more)

The Longest Line

Mt. Shasta is a huge stratovolcano near the southern end of the Cascade Mountains of western North America. It rises to an elevation of 14,179 feet above sea level and is at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley of California. It is believed to have been named by early R... (read more)
History Selection

The Northern Barrage

Historically, perhaps the naval discipline most related to the work and skills of the hydrographer is naval mine warfare. Successful implementation requires knowledge of the configuration of the bottom in the area to be mined, local tides and currents, and relatively precise... (read more)

Unravelling the Ridge and Rift

Following Maurice Ewing’s first cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, two more were made by the end of the 1940s. The first of these was led by Ewing while the second was led by Bruce Heezen. Although Gunter Dietrich’s paper was referred to in the 1949 paper by Ivan... (read more)

Discovering the True Nature of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: Part I

Prior to the mid-19th century, the floor of the world ocean was virtually a clean slate. Nothing was known of the bottom of the deep sea with the exception of a few sporadic soundings. In the early 1850s, this began to change as Matthew Fontaine Maury obtained use of one sma... (read more)

The Bering Sea Survey

1939 marked the beginning of a concerted programme to chart the Bering Sea area. The surveys in this area that were conducted prior to United States entry into the Second World War marked some of the last that were done in frontier areas prior to the advent of the era before... (read more)

Life and Death of a Survey Ship

Great ships seem to develop a personality and sometimes even seem to be conscious beings with a life of their own. Such was the Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer Carlile P. Patterson, a ship that spent over fifty years plying the waters of Alaska. Her keel was laid in 1883,... (read more)

As it Was

In 1955 exploitable areas of ironwood were discovered near the North West River, in the south of former Netherlands New Guinea. Transport by coastal vessel became a problem when the ship encountered difficulties in avoiding mud-banks in the river entrance. The Governor of Ne... (read more)

Mountains in the Sea

One can hardly discuss the configuration of the deep ocean bed without eventually using the term ‘seamount’. Today, the existence of tens of thousands if not over 100,000 seamounts is taken for granted. But in the not so distant past, their existence was unknown... (read more)

The Dutch Way of Measuring Depths

Once upon a time there was no satnav, multibeam sonar or a computer to handle a survey system. Hydrographic surveying was done ‘by hand’ with instruments long forgotten, instruments which boasted accuracy which would nowadays make your hair stand on end. Which in... (read more)

As it Was

Olaus Magnus, a Swedish Catholic priest, had for some years been employed collecting funds for the Church in the far north. During his extensive travels he made copious notes and sketches concerning the inhabitants and their way of life, the flora and fauna and even the deni... (read more)

Resuming New-Zealand Charting After World War II

After World War II, ship owners pressured the New Zealand Government to resume charting of coastal waters by the Royal Navy. Ships were now larger and most charts were a hundred years old. The Government approached Britain, which declined but kindly offered assistance to set... (read more)
History Selection

'As it Was'

In 2004 the Provincial Government of the Åland Islands in Finland celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the destruction of Bomarsund, the great, Russian fortress built during the occupation of 1808 to 1854. Much of the credit for this rests with a British naval hydrographic su... (read more)

Hydrographers in the Liberation of the Philippines’ Charted Waters

Following the capture of Morotai in the Dutch East Indies, the stage was set for the invasion of the Philippine Islands. The liberation of the Philippines was a blur of manoeuvre with General Douglas MacArthur sending prongs almost simultaneously north, south and west from O... (read more)

New York Harbour

The greatest of the Coast Survey mid-nineteenth century harbour studies was that of New York Harbour. In 1855, the Commissioners on Harbor Encroachments of New York requested that new hydrographic surveys of New York Harbour be conducted. The first surveys had been conducted... (read more)

First Developments of Electronic Navigation Systems

Before and during the Second World War, there were several developments in electronics that changed the course of hydrographic history. These aircraft bombing systems were what ultimately led from the medium-frequency systems to super-high-frequency navigation systems t... (read more)

'As it Was'

Sir Robert Dudley was born in 1574 but his birth was kept secret from Queen Elizabeth, for she would have been enraged had she heard that her favourite courtier, the Earl of Leicester, had fathered a child by her goddaughter and maid-of-honour Lady Sheffield. Robert graduate... (read more)

As it Was

Soon after the first Directing Committee of the International Hydrographic Bureau arrived in Monaco in 1921 the Directors began to receive reports from a number of newly enrolled Member States which, turning from their wartime attempts to locate submarines and underwater obs... (read more)

Gold, Glory, and — HYDRO!

This month marks the 555th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry of Portugal, known as the Navigator, on 13 November 1460. Henry had set in motion a series of events that led to a new understanding of the earth, the discovery of the Americas, and on a darker note, the Afr... (read more)

The Amphibious Engineers in World War II

On 21 March 1942, General Douglas MacArthur had just escaped from conquering Japanese forces that had overrun the Philippine Islands. In a speech that day he vowed “… I shall return.” A major part of that return involved the formation of Engineer Special B... (read more)

Locating Cagayan Sulu

A glance at a map of the Philippine Islands shows that the Sulu Sea is nearly an enclosed body of water: the Sulu Archipelago on the southeast; Palawan to the northwest; the main body of the Philippine Islands to the northeast; and Borneo on the southwest. Far in the souther... (read more)

Ernst Knorr and Shaping the Hydrographic Surveying Profession

Ernst Peter Rudolphus Knorr was born in the city of Thorn in West Prussia in 1819. He emigrated to the United States and made his way to Washington where he became associated with the Navy. Starting as a civilian clerk he rose over the years to be the senior draughtsman in t... (read more)