To mark World Hydrography Day, we sound out one of our Hydrographic Surveyors, Phil Vandenbossche. Dive in to find out what his job involves.
The prosperity of an island nation depends greatly on the extent to which it achieves excellence in hydrography.
Commodore R. Nairn RAN, Hydrographer of Australia, 2010
For Australia, excellence in hydrography is vital. Understanding the shape and structure of our coastal areas and surrounding seafloor provides vital information to ensure safe navigation. It helps us to protect our marine and terrestrial environments, and sustainably manage the resources they contain.
Sailing in to save the day, meet the hydrographic surveyor!
What is hydrography?
Hydrography is an applied science. It deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans, seas, coastal areas, lakes and rivers. It generally uses sound technology, such as echosounders, to measure and map these areas.
Phil points out that while hydrography was traditionally concerned with developing charts for safe navigation of ships, it has a far broader application.
“Hydrography supports many other marine activities, including economic development, fisheries, security and defence, scientific research and environmental protection,” Phil said.
“Our work provides the foundation for all those activities.”
Hydrographic surveyors use state-of-the-art technology. This includes sophisticated acoustic equipment and high accuracy positioning systems. In fact, they were at the forefront of developing the use of GPS (Global Positioning System)/GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). This enabled worldwide high accuracy positioning.
Undoubtedly, these developments were borne from need, as hydrographic surveyors can travel far and wide in their work.
How do you become a hydrographic surveyor?
Most hydrographic surveyors have a degree in hydrography, surveying, geomatics or a relevant subject such as spatial science, marine science or geoscience.
For Phil, his entry into the role flowed from a keen interest in the ocean and the subject of geography during his school years. From there, he studied oceanography, and subsequently marine geophysics and hydrography.
“Working in this field has allowed me to travel extensively around the globe, collaborate with great people and map some amazing areas and features,” Phil said.
Likewise, international initiatives, including the Seabed 2030 project, combine the data we collect in collaborative efforts. This produces updated and more accurate maps of the world’s ocean floor.
Indeed, the list of activities that the hydrographic surveyor supports is long.
Navigation, oil, gas and mineral resource exploration and recovery. Dredging, submarine pipeline and telephone cable installation. Environmental monitoring, aquaculture and oceanographic research. All depend on the hydrographic surveyor for accurate, reliable information.
However, being a hydrographic surveyor doesn’t mean you have to spend your life at sea.
Not just big ships and deep ocean surveys
Hydrographic surveyors map all bodies of water, including coastal environments and lakes. They can work on ships big and small.
Our team also conduct shallow water mapping via our Shallow Survey Facility (SSF) using coastal research vessels such as our RV Linnaeus and RV South Cape. They also work on our partners research vessels such as MV Bluefin (Australian Maritime College) and MV Noctiluca (IMAS).
The SSF works on a wide range of projects with many collaborators and stakeholders. They undertake projects Australia wide.
This work generally involves using portable echosounder units which are attached to these smaller vessels. Recently, in collaboration with research partners, they’ve helped develop novel algorithms to detect kelp while mapping shallow rocky reefs off Tasmania. They’re also working to help advance remote sensing technologies for marine habitat analysis.
“Given the importance of hydrography for all aspects of marine research, this means hydrographic surveyors are in demand across the globe.”
Indeed, there are also many commercial roles for hydrographic surveyors. For example, supporting coastal works, bridge and port construction, dredging and port maintenance operations, cable route and pipeline surveys, and offshore renewable energy projects.