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Utility Navigation

Marine Operations


NOAA Ship Rainier is a hydrographic survey vessel that maps the ocean to aid maritime commerce, improve coastal resilience, and understand the marine environment. Rainier’s officers, technicians, and scientists log the data that NOAA cartographers use to create and update the nation’s nautical charts with ever-increasing data richness and precision.

In addition to supporting marine navigation, data acquired by hydrographic survey vessel supports marine ecosystem studies and fisheries habitat mapping. Scientists also use Rainier’s data to study the geologic processes that are changing the shape of the seafloor, and to improve inundation models for areas vulnerable to tsunamis.

The ship’s side scan sonar collects imagery of the sea floor, which can identify obstructions or wrecks that could be navigational hazards, and identify characteristics of interest to biologists and geologists. The sonar emits sounds waves in a swath, which generates a detailed image of objects on the sea floor.

To obtain accurate depth measurements (within 10 centimeters), the ship uses multibeam echo sounders. The bathymetric data can be converted into three-dimensional models to provide extremely accurate depths and detailed images of the sea floor and objects.

The 231-ft. Rainier currently has five aluminum launches that use shallow-water multibeam echo sounders for surveying. They also conduct diving projects, and shore support operations such as installation and removal of tide gauges. The ship and launches are equipped with data acquisition and processing computers, differential global positioning systems, positioning and altitude systems, and an assortment of bottom samplers, tide gauges, land survey equipment, and sound velocimeters.

Commissioned in 1968, NOAA Ship Rainier is named after Mount Rainier, an active volcano ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level. Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape. It is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S., spawning six major rivers. A sister ship to NOAA Ship FairweatherRainier is homeported at the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific in Newport, Oregon, and primarily operates in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

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Reviewed: November 23, 2015. Contact us with page issues.

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