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Charting a Course into the Digital Era: Guidance for NOAA's Nautical Charting Mission EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The nautical chart represents the culmination of a process that begins with hydrographic surveys at sea and ends with dissemination of a paper chart to users. The chart captures one snapshot of water depth, shorelines, aids and hazards to navigation, and similar information needed for safe navigation. Some of the data elements change slowly enough that infrequent resurveys and periodic reissue of the charts meet mariners' needs. Other elements require frequent corrections to maintain currency; and some vital navigational information, such as the state of tides and currents, is so dynamic that, like weather, frequent reports and forecasts are the only reasonable representation of reality. The primary purpose of nautical charts is to help ensure safe navigation. Since navigation safety is as important to other maritime nations as it is to the United States, the practice of charting is internationally coordinated and regulated. Nautical charts are an underpinning of a wide range of enterprises: commercial transport, naval operations, the commercial fishing industry, recreational boating and fishing, and nonnavigation uses such as coastal land development, research, conservation, and coastal zone planning. The Coast and Geodetic Survey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Ocean Service is exclusively mandated to produce the nautical charts for U.S. waters. The nation's needs for these products and services have been well met by NOAA and its predecessors since the early 1800s. However, at the present time, the nation's charting system is severely stressed. NOAA produces and maintains nearly 1,000 nautical chart editions, over 400 bathymetric charts, nine coast pilots, and numerous miscellaneous supporting publications. About 1.4 million charts are printed and sold each year. Nearly 40 percent of these are provided to the U.S. military; the rest are used mainly by the commercial shipping and fisheries industries and by recreational boaters. There is a growing backlog of requests for surveys, both for new areas that have never been charted and to update existing charts. Electronic chart products, which use a digital data base to display a chart directly on a computer screen, are becoming increasingly useful and affordable. Their primary limitation is that they are not legally admissible to satisfy internationally mandated chart carriage regulations. About 30 percent of NOAA's hydrographic data are now in digital form; the percentage of digital data will grow, as new data are entered and retained digitally. Such data bases serve as the source of electronic charts, which are integral to advanced ship navigation and piloting systems. In the near future it is likely that professional mariners will rely on electronic navigational information systems, providing that legal requirements to carry paper charts are modified to allow the use of a certified electronic chart system in place of paper charts. At
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Charting a Course into the Digital Era: Guidance for NOAA's Nautical Charting Mission the same time, many small-craft operators—particularly recreational boaters—will continue to depend on traditional paper products. A nontraditional category of users of nautical information is emerging in the community that seeks information about coastal areas for purposes of environmental assessment, management, regulation, and planning for development. These users seek access to the nautical information data base as part of a larger marine geographic information system. The needs of these different user communities do not necessarily represent divergent requirements, because the digital data required to support electronic navigation will provide the basis for more frequent updates of paper charts. As the requirement for navigational information expands and evolves, the process of creating nautical charts, like so many other traditional and essential government functions, is undergoing a technological revolution. The availability of the Global Positioning System provides both the surveyor and the navigator with accurate real-time position. Multibeam fathometers, side-scan sonars, and airborne lasers enhance both the accuracy and the rate of survey capability. Digital storage and display systems enable the development of a wide range of new electronic chart-based products. As a result of expanding needs for information for use in the management of coastal and marine areas, as well as for use in navigation, NOAA's nautical charting mission is evolving from that of producing a one-product finished paper chart series to that of creating and maintaining a digital data base from which many products, analyses, and services will flow to customers. Map and chart information has traditionally been provided in the form of paper products. The expanded use of computers and electronic display systems is changing the concept of data management and product information, thus creating a demand for digital data. The data base will allow automated production of maps, introduction of new graphic products, and design of map products at scales with features specifically suited to the user's needs. NOAA is thus faced with the need to satisfy an increasingly diverse user community and to adapt to rapid changes in technologies associated with its nautical charting mission. Both of these challenges come during a period of severe budget constraints on federal agencies, a situation that is likely to Continue in the foreseeable future. In adjusting to these changes, NOAA must necessarily establish priorities and make choices regarding the allocation of its limited resources among the three basic tasks that go into producing nautical charts and information products: collection and certification of survey data; processing and maintenance of a nationally certified nautical information data base; and production and distribution of certified data, charts, and other products. In the course of its investigation the committee concluded that the key to successfully responding to these challenges is for NOAA to focus its nautical charting program activities on the tasks associated with building and managing the nautical information data base and to seek partnerships with the private sector and other federal and state agencies in fulfilling the other components of the nautical charting mission: collection of survey data and product dissemination. Specific conclusions and recommendations following from the examination of these issues are presented in Chapter 8. They are intended to assist NOAA in making wise choices in the transition to the digital era in nautical information. Some of the recommendations can
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Charting a Course into the Digital Era: Guidance for NOAA's Nautical Charting Mission be undertaken immediately. In some cases, legislation will be required to modify existing regulations to enable NOAA to obtain benefits from new arrangements. Such legislation has precedents in other agencies. Implementation of the strategies recommended in this report will require innovation and openness to change on the part of NOAA's management. Existing institutional arrangements, regulations, and processes may not be adequate in the future when the task to be completed has evolved into a new form and new technological capabilities make old approaches obsolete.
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Charting a Course into the Digital Era: Guidance for NOAA's Nautical Charting Mission This page in the original is blank.
Representative terms from entire chapter: