High Tech Sensor System Maps Oceans

New technology will allow scientists to take detailed pictures of coastal waters.

The mapping system was unveiled Wednesday at Stennis International Airport. It uses airborne lasers and computers.

The high tech project will benefit both the US Navy and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Naval Oceanographic Office proudly hosted a ceremony celebrating CHARTS. That stands for Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey.

"The absolute high end state of the art best that has ever been built airborne laser bathymetric system", said Dr. Grady Tuell, whose company helped develop the project.

The mapping system is installed aboard an airplane. In the simplest terms, the technology uses lasers to measure and map the ocean floor. The bottom of the plane has an opening for the laser gear and digital camera.

Bob Pope is program manager for the CHARTS project.

"It's a single seat operation. Data is collected onto redundant, removable hard drives that go back to an office for processing when the flight's over with," he explained, while giving a tour of the on board equipment.

Special software converts the laser data into three dimensional pictures of the water bottom or a surveyed coast line.

The military will use the new system for naval warfare. It provides "information superiority".

"The thing is fast, it's efficient. It has a better than one to one collection to processing ratio. It covers huge areas very rapidly. And it gets to some data the Navy really needs nowadays," said Philip Renaud, with the Naval Hydrography Program.

But the system is more than military. The Army Corps of Engineers will use CHARTS for an ongoing coastal mapping operation. It can also measure coastal changes.

"Just think about this capability after Isabell makes landfall and changes our nation's coast line," said the commander of the Naval Oceanography Office.

Though the system isn't cheap, a commercial version costs about three and a half million dollars, scientists and the military say it's more than worth it for the huge amount of information it provides.

Along with the lasers, the system includes a special digital camera. The camera shoots an image each second the airplane is flying.