Hydrographic and Topographic MappingThe fact that there are many regions of the world that remain poorly charted will come as no surprise to most of us.  This is particularly true in the South West Pacific region, where mariners today rely upon navigational charts that were compiled over one hundred years ago, using data that was collected using lead line and sextant.  Without taking anything away from the extraordinary efforts and feats of those pioneering hydrographic surveyors, the work performed all those years ago can no longer be relied upon by mariners navigating the waters of the SW Pacific.

What the IHO is doing

This problem has long been recognised by the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) who for many decades has been developing and managing a Hydrographic Capacity Building Program aimed at increasing the quality and coverage of bathymetry across the globe.  This program has been implemented on a regional basis, and the SW Pacific member states are keen to increase their hydrographic coverage and expertise.

Initiatives from other organisations

In addition to the efforts of the IHO, a number of high value hydrographic projects have been funded by aid organisations such as the Asian Development Bank and Western governments, which have seen bathymetric coverage extended across parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG National Maritime Safety Authority Project) and Tonga (LINZ Pacific Regional Navigation Initiative Project) to name but two.

The national hydrographic offices of the United States, France, UK, New Zealand and Australia regularly fund or deliver hydrographic surveys across the region also, which also contributes to the coverage.

The most cost-effective survey process for the SW Pacific region

The two survey projects mentioned above featured the combined use of Airborne LiDAR Bathymetry (ALB) and vessel mounted multi-beam to deliver a high quality, high resolution seamless dataset to customers.  The combined use of aerial and vessel mounted sensors for bathymetric survey of the coastal zone is particularly cost effective when the water clarity is high and there are extensive areas of shallow water across the survey area.

The problem here is that there are significant differences between ALB and MBES survey, with each requiring a unique set of specialist survey sensors and personnel expertise.  There are very few survey firms who have the in-house expertise to cost effectively undertake both ALB and MBES surveys in parallel.

A new solution to the shortage of experienced multi-sensor survey services

To help solve this shortage of firms who can offer a multi-sensor approach to coastal survey in the SW Pacific, Woolpert and iXblue Sea Operations division, part of the iXblue Group based in France, have formed a strategic partnership to provide aerial mapping services to clients in Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and across the South Pacific. The pairing combines the reputation and regional business development expertise of iXblue, a global marine survey and technology firm, with Woolpert’s internationally renowned aerial topographic lidar, bathymetric lidar and geospatial capabilities.

bathymetric and topographic data

Under this partnership, Woolpert and iXblue will collect, process and deliver airborne digital imagery, topographic lidar and bathymetric lidar operations from helicopter and fixed-wing platforms to provide custom solutions to commercial and government clients.  The iXblue and Woolpert partnership aligns with the growing demand from clients to offer seamless hydrographic and topographic mapping operations. Both companies offer extensive domain knowledge, capability and experience that provides clients with comfort and reliability that their project outcomes will be achieved.

Both iXblue and Woolpert own and operate industry best survey sensors and software in order to stay at the forefront of the industry and to offer clients the highest possible data quality and value for money.

In the case of iXblue, many of the survey sensors and tools used are designed and developed in-house.  The iXblue DriX is one example of how several technologies are being packaged to solve a number of hydrographic survey problems in order to benefit the client.  The recent adoption of unmanned survey vessel technology by iXblue has seen the DriX deployed across the globe on a number of varied survey missions.  Whether it be positioning a jack up oil rig in Azerbaijan, providing subsea positioning to a seabed cable trencher in Mexico or collecting bathymetry in the SW Pacific, the DriX has delivered valuable data to clients at a fraction of the traditional cost.

unmanned survey vessel

Significantly enhanced services and cost reductions

The iXblue-Woolpert partnership has the potential to significantly enhance the bathymetric and topographic coverage of much of the SW Pacific.  The combined use of the latest ALB, terrestrial photogrammetry and MBES sensors by highly experienced hydrographers and the ability to employ DriX as a force multiplier means that vast areas of seafloor and shallow coastal regions can now be surveyed at rates of effort and price points better than previously thought possible.

The opportunity to collect high resolution topographic and hydrographic data in a seamless dataset has never been better.  The value of this data chain to inform on climate change, sea-level rise and coastal inundation modelling has never been higher.  The potential economic benefit of this work is staggering when one considers the recent growth of the cruise line industry in this region alone.  There is no doubt that more survey and greater coverage will generate more visits by the cruising industry and with this will come greater revenue from thousands of passengers.

Partnerships are a growing trend and provide benefits for all

iXblue and Woolpert realised that it makes perfect sense for each company to work together and marry their respective expertise and are excited about the numerous opportunities that the partnership offers.

It is a trend occurring more frequently across the hydrographic industry.  As the world becomes smaller and iconic survey brands such as Reson, Caris, EIVA and ASV change ownership and become owned by larger industry brands, it is clear that the days of small, bespoke firms working alone and independently are numbered.

Clients are time poor and are wanting a one stop shop for their needs.  The iXblue-Woolpert partnership provides this for topographic and bathymetric survey in the SW Pacific.

We look forward to delivering many surveys in this region in the coming decades, so that mariners can safely passage the pristine waters of the Pacific, and Marine Scientists can better understand and help preserve the marine geomorphology and marine ecosystems for future generations.

David Donohue

As Managing Director David's role is to ensure clients' surveys are undertaken with precision and to meet budgets, schedules and relevant survey standards. His particular driving passion is innovation and process improvement.

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