NEW CASTLE, N.H. – A state-of-the-art ship that maps the ocean floor is making New Castle its home port.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ferdinand R. Hassler is the newest of four ships in NOAA’s fleet dedicated exclusively to hydrographic surveys.

The 124-foot vessel and its crew of 14 will make the Isle of Shoals its first priority. Commander Benjamin Evans says the last mapping off the Shoals was done before 1930 using lead lines — well before sonar and other technologies were developed. Its first project area, expected to keep the ship busy until November, encompasses Hampton Harbor north to Cape Nettick, Maine.

The double-hulled vessel, which Evans said is incredibly stable even in rough seas, uses side scan and multi-beam sonar technologies. It also can deploy unmanned submersibles to conduct more general oceanographic surveys. Its command center is a sea of flat-screen computer monitors.

The ship arrived in New Castle this month after a shakedown cruise that included updating surveys of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay following Superstorm Sandy and the remnants of Hurricane Irene. The crew will begin its first 10-day northern New England mission Monday.

Evans said missions will be prioritized based on the age of existing data, ship traffic and the likelihood that storms and other conditions may have changed conditions on the seafloor. Another priority, he said, will be mapping the approach to New York harbor from northern New Jersey to check for hurricane-related changes.

Retired NOAA Capt. Andy Armstrong, co-director of the NOAA/University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center, said the Hassler is the first NOAA ship to make New Hampshire its home port.


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