Saturday, May 1, 2010

Eye on the Environment: Bathymetric Analysis of the Chester

By: Capt. Zach Hall ‘13

As a bathymetric analyst in Washington College’s GIS Lab, I have the exciting job of heading up the premier bathymetric analysis of the Chester River and surrounding Chesapeake Bay area. Bathymetry deals with the depth of a body of water. Its application is mostly seen in the form of a nautical chart used for navigation on the water. Maritime navigation is tricky and needs to be monitored very closely. Unlike navigating a vehicle on the land, seafaring vessels face constraints by their draft or how low they sit in the water. With these constraints it is vital for mariners to have an accurate and up to date understanding of the changes in the depth of water. My projects deal with the depth of the Chester River and the surrounding bay area. What was once a laborious process using a line with a weight on the end to measure how deep the water is, this data can now be acquired by a depth-finder and logged into an onboard chart plotter every second using an Autonomous Remote Global Underwater Surveillance (Argus). Washington College has partnered with Service Engineering, who developed Argus, to help field test the new device. Using this technology we can get accurate and up-to-date soundings of the river. The data is then compared to the soundings that have been taken of the Chester River by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) many years ago. We are working to re-measure and update the current set of bathymetric data on the Chester and use it to analyze the changes in the riverbed and to map potentially new navigational hazards. The fuel behind our work here on the Chester River is the relatively low boat traffic, which in turn leads to a diminished need for an updated sounding of the area by the government. We hope that as our data accumulates we can ultimately work with government organizations such as NOAA and make the Chester River the most up-to-date and best mapped river in the US.