Nautical charts around America’s third largest city will soon get an update

By LCDR Charles Wisotzkey
NOAA Navigation Manager for the Great Lakes Region

Above: OPR-Y395-KR-20 assigned project area

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A NOAA-contracted survey project in southern Lake Michigan, including waters around Chicago, has begun. The project area (NOAA Survey Project OPR-Y395-KR-20) covers approximately 290 square nautical miles and includes the approaches into the Burns, Calumet, Chicago, and Indiana Harbors (see below). These four harbors together support the trade of approximately 38 million metric tons of goods annually. In addition, the Chicago harbors and the many marinas in the area support one of the busiest recreational boating communities on the Great Lakes.

The contractor is using multiple survey platforms on the survey, pictured below.

This survey will provide updated bathymetry across the assigned project areas. The survey may be a combination of full coverage multibeam echosounder (MBES) and/or side scan sonar (SSS) with concurrent MBES data, depending on water column conditions. Backscatter data for all MBES data will be collected. 

All data products resulting from this project will be made available for public use via National Centers for Environmental Information Bathymetry Data Viewer, the United States Interagency Elevation Inventory (USIEI), and eventually as part of Lakebed 2030.

As with much of the Great Lakes, the majority of the project area has not been surveyed since the 1940s. In fact, about 95% of the Great Lakes have not been surveyed to modern standards. 

This project follows another major NOAA contract survey that took place in the Straits of Mackinac in northern Lake Michigan-Huron in 2019. The two surveys together represent an effort by the Office of Coast Survey to improve the quality of charts on the Great Lakes. More large-scale survey projects in the region are planned for the coming years. 

Questions related to this project may be directed to the regional Navigation Manager (LCDR Charles Wisotzkey, NOAA, at 

General questions or comments about anything related to Coast Survey services may be directed via email (listed above) or submitted through the OCS ASSIST web app.

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