Glen Rice, NOAA Corps Officer
Team Lead, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping
The intent of the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) work being done at CCOM/JHC is to make the best possible use of all data being collected for hydrographic purposes under the “map once, use many times” rubric. Glen Rice, a UNH graduate and now lieutenant with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, is the point man in that effort.
As team lead for the IOCM center, Rice’s current work is focused on backscatter data, which provides basic information about the geology of the seafloor, collected by multibeam sonar. Specifically, Rice has been working to improve the backscatter workflow for NOAA hydrographic vessels—from acquisition, to processing, and archival of data.
“Backscatter continues to be the low-hanging fruit for us to gather because it’s data from a source, a hydrographic ship, that’s already out there collecting,” says Rice.
According to Rice, in the short term, the most obvious customers for these data are user groups trying to create habitat maps because many layers go into defining such maps, e.g., bottom type, depth, temperature, and currents.
But beginning with the acquisition of the data, Rice says problems arise because the sonars used in the hydrographic world are not optimized for collecting backscatter.
“There are a number of technical issues that must be addressed during the acquisition phase to improve backscatter quality. That’s mostly where I’ve been focusing my effort—trying to help the hydrographic ships collect good backscatter and come up with a workflow.” He adds, “Obviously they’re already collecting bathymetry for the charts, and so a combination of backscatter and bathymetry is what creates a useful product for people who are doing habitat mapping.”
The next step in improving the workflow involves processing the data, and Rice notes that substantial progress in further developing the software, which was developed at CCOM, into commercial quality code was made when two of CCOM’s industrial partners rewrote their versions of GeoCoder.
“Having these improved, more dependable, commercial implementations has been a big step forward, and we’re hoping it will lead to big strides in terms of processing time, which was really slow before.”
With progress in both the acquisition and processing of data, the next area of improvement is the archiving of that information and, according to Rice, part of that process is figuring out what specific products are needed for end users so they can be made accessible via NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center where all bathymetry is archived.
Says Rice, “So we’ve been trying to make inroads into making the data more available to people who want to use it and demonstrating its value.” According to Rice, Megan Greenaway, a NOAA physical scientist who was formerly stationed at JHC, works on this data management side of things at NOAA headquarters.
From Shore to Ship to Shore
Lt. Rice came to the IOCM from the NOAA Ship Fairweather, a hydrographic vessel largely dedicated to surveying the coasts of Alaska. But while Rice earned a degree in physics from UNH, he had plenty of ship time prior to the Fairweather because of dual minors in oceanography and ocean engineering and an early desire to be “operationally minded.”
Says Rice, “UNH provided me with the opportunity to get some field experience and to really see what it takes to collect data in the field, and that was extremely valuable. For example, as a junior, I was invited aboard a physical oceanography cruise and spent a few weeks aboard the R/V Endeavor deploying buoys and doing CTD casts.”
During his undergraduate career, Rice also spent a semester at Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts with the six-week sailing portion of that experience piquing his interest in ocean science and tall ships. As a result, he spent his remaining summers while in school working at the UNH Coastal Marine Laboratory and on tall ships in Bar Harbor, Maine. After graduating in 1999, Rice eventually returned to UNH to work on the Open Ocean Aquaculture Project as a project engineer and obtained his 100-Ton Master Mariners license, basic scuba certification, and a master’s degree in ocean engineering.
His work at UNH primarily involved managing the logistics of deploying, operating, and maintaining large moorings, fish cages, and buoys for feeding fish in 52 meters of water some 10 kilometers offshore.
“Working on the UNH Open Ocean Aquaculture Project was both science- and operationally oriented and I wanted to continue to walk that line. It was the operational science, meaning making the science work in a real-world setting, that I found most stimulating.”
At CCOM, Rice has continued to “walk that line” and, indeed, has seen the IOCM work applied rapidly to the real-world setting.
Despite the fact that, to date, Congress has not provided extra funds for the IOCM effort, JHC co-director Andy Armstrong committed the Center to reprocessing 100 square nautical miles of multibeam data. Rice reports that not only was this achieved but that an unknown rocky shoal “danger to navigation” was detected from fisheries multibeam data, which normally doesn’t measure depths, and was added to the chart within a month.
Says Rice, “That’s pretty exciting for us because we had just come up with a good workflow for processing the data and were able to find this rocky hazard and get it onto the chart so quickly.”
Getting Diverse Data on the Charts, Defining the Uncertainty
In addition to the “map once, use many times” focus of the IOCM, an additional emphasis is to use data for charting that is collected for other purposes, such as from the USGS or National Marine Fisheries.
“There are other sources of data for the charts that we don’t have to go out and collect—free soundings, if you will, that you can put on the chart. For example, we’ve taken some water column data collected by fisheries sonars, particularly the systems that CCOM’s Tom Weber has worked with, and reprocessed that data for charting use.”
Rice notes that while the IOCM work to date has been able to define a workflow for the data coming off the fisheries sonars to create survey-quality soundings, meeting those accuracies is challenging “and we’ve jumped through a number of hoops to make these data from a fisheries sonar on one of the NOAA ships meet charting standards.”
He adds, “You have to be able to define the uncertainty associated with that data—to know where that piece of the bottom is to within a level of uncertainty—to meet the charting standard. That’s what’s required by the Office of Coast Survey, and that’s what CCOM/JHC is trying to achieve.”
He says that because the Center has one of the few programs where NOAA Corps officers are frequently assigned to gain a master's degree, this has created a unique and solid partnership. “Several officers from NOAA Office of Coast Survey have been through this program, and I think they have a different approach to our work as a result.”
Rice maintains that he tries to keep a “careful balance” between time at sea and time at home but notes, “Being at sea, in the field, is where it’s at. That’s where the work gets done, that’s where you gain perspective on what the data really means and what it takes to acquire it.”
– David Sims