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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)

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)
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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)

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 accuracy of measurement. 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 revie... (read more)
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History Selection

What's in a Name? Part 1 'Owen'

In the summer of 1953 two British surveying ships were lying in No 2 basin in Chatham Dockyard. Owen had recently returned (with me as a watch-keeper) after a busy two-year commission working in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The brand new Vidal was completing... (read more)

Alaska – The Wild Coast

At the turn of the century, the West Coast fleet of the Coast and Geodetic Survey was comprised of a mélange of ships, some of which were not retired until they were nearly 40 years old . The largest of these ships was the 163-foot barkentine-rigged steamer Carlile P.... (read more)

'As it was'

With uniting of German Nations into the 'Kaiserreich' in 1871 marine affairs became a dominant factor in foreign policy. Already in 1861 the Prussian Naval Ministry had established a Hydrographic Bureau in Berlin for surveying and charting the sea. This was transferred to Ha... (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 Drifters

“Although the Currents of the Ocean form a most important part of hydrography, yet it is only since the introduction of chronometers, and of celestial observations for the longitude at sea, (that is, not much more than forty years ago,) that a competent idea of their [... (read more)

The Making of an Earth Measurer

In the April 2009 issue of Hydrointernational, Carl Aslakson was mentioned as having devised a method of determining the velocity of light by using Shoran (short-range navigation). This article traces Aslakson’s professional career from his beginnings as “a farm... (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)

Some Early German Contributions to Oceanography

The names Augustus Petermann, Victor Hensen, Carl Chun, Fritz Spiess, Alfred Merz, and Gunter Dietrich are hardly household names. Even today their names are little known in the geographic, oceanographic, and hydrographic communities which they served so well. They were all... (read more)

'As it Was'

<i>The New England Coasting Pilot</i> was the first folio of sea charts of the coast of North America. The work of an English naval officer, they covered the coastal waters from New York to Cape Breton. Cyprian Southack, son of a naval officer, was born in London... (read more)

As it Was

Two famous scientists, Charles Darwin (1809-82) and John Murray (1841-1914) differed greatly as to how tropical atolls had assumed their unique structure: a shallow lagoon surrounded by a narrow strip of low land. In the early 1950s an opportunity arose to use marine seismic... (read more)
History Selection

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)

William Pope McArthur – A Life Cut Short

Lieutenant Pope McArthur was appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy in 1832 and followed a fairly conventional career path for the first few years of his career. He served in the Seminole Wars and in 1838 was shot in both legs, with one lead ball remaining in... (read more)

George Belknap and the Thomson Sounding Machine

Prior to the year 1874, the Pacific Ocean was a blank slate with regard to the nature and depths of its seafloor. A few sporadic soundings had been attempted in the 1850s and Alexander Dallas Bache, Superintendent of the US Coast Survey, had derived an average depth for the... (read more)

Pioneer Surveyor

George Davidson, whose name is indelibly connected with the survey of the West Coast of the United States, spent most of the sixty-one years between 1850 and 1911 in service to the citizens of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. He was born in Nottingham, England, on... (read more)

Charting the Data

Radio-acoustic-ranging (RAR) navigation, developed within the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, was the very first survey-quality navigation system that did not need to see fixed, known objects on land for inshore piloting navigation or astronomical bodies for celestial navigati... (read more)

‘As it ­Was’

Gerhard Mercator, Flemish geographer of German extraction, during his long life (1512-1594) became the greatest cartographer of the Renaissance. The projection upon which he based his World Map of 1569 is still used for sea charts today. Mercator's father Herbert Kremer was... (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)

System Without Fixed Points

Radio-acoustic-ranging (RAR) navigation, developed within the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS), was the very first survey-quality navigation system that did not need to see fixed, known objects on land for inshore piloting navigation or astronomical bodies for celesti... (read more)

By the Old Hydrographer

A number of largely British settlements had been established in New Zealand by the early 1840s,where natural harbours had been found. The general Admiralty chart of New Zealand, published in 1836 and resulting chiefly from Captain Cook's surveys became inadequate for the nav... (read more)

'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)
History Selection

Surveying the Florida Reef

The Florida Reef became a menace to shipping in the 1500s when the Spanish discovered that the safest way home for their New World gold and silver was north through the Florida Straits. With the Cay Sal and Bahama banks to starboard, the reef, arcing along the Florida Keys,... (read more)

A Lucky Ship – A Lucky Man

On 3 December 1941, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) Ship Explorer was conducting operations northeast of Midway Island in the central Pacific Ocean. Approximately 800 miles to the north a great fleet of Japanese warships was steaming to the east making preparatio... (read more)

As it Was

"Land in sight", a cry soon to be followed by "Clew up the main", to reduce speed. It is 1606 as the Dutch ship Duyfken makes first recorded landfall in Australia. But this is not simply landfall: Duyfken, under the command of Willem Janszoon, charts the... (read more)

Challenger: the Life of a Survey Ship

With this publication, the author – George Stephen Ritchie, founder and first editor of this column – marked himself as a noted maritime historian and, particularly, a historian of the art and science of hydrographic surveying. Admiral, then Captain Ritchie had b... (read more)

'As it Was'

Matthew Fontaine Maury is probably the best known of all hydrographers, and the most celebrated both in his homeland, the United States of America, and in Europe. He served for 18 years as Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington during which time... (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)

Past Practitioners

Despite bitter experiences in earlier conflicts, it was not until the French Revolutionary War was in full swing that Britain established a very small ‘Hydrographical Office’ to organise the provision of charts and publications to the Royal Navy. As more ships continued to b... (read more)

Collision at Sea

On 20 June 1860, the iron-hulled United States Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker was proceeding to New York City, its home port. The ship, under the command of Navy Lieutenant John Julius Guthrie, was returning from a successful season surveying in the Gulf of Mexico whe... (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)

As it Was

I was in command of the British surveying ship HMS Challenger in 1951 during a world voyage, with geophysicists Tom Gaskell and John Swallow onboard, to measure by seismic methods the thickness of the various sediments on the floor of the three great oceans. (See ‘As It Was’... (read more)