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New Competence Standards For Growing Survey Needs

By Andrew A. Armstrong
NOAA-University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center

Increasing demands for the use of U.S. coastal waters and for the management of marine resources have expanded the application of hydrographic services and products well beyond their traditional roles in navigation safety and the offshore oil industry. Hydrographic surveyors are called upon to prepare deliverables supporting emergent requirements such as wind and tidal energy production, marine habitat mapping, coastal erosion monitoring, environmental mapping and marine archaeology. Field operations are conducted at scales from detailed infrastructure inspection survey to continental shelf mapping.

Meanwhile, equipment and software are becoming more capable and sophisticated. Hydrographic systems are composed of complex sensors incorporating a high level of technology and software. Today's hydrographers must be competent in acquiring data from a wide variety of acoustic, lidar and imaging systems deployed from surface vessels, underwater vehicles, airborne platforms and satellites, and must understand the integration of primary and ancillary sensors in those systems and the coastal and ocean environments in which they operate. The increasing amount of data collected must be processed and analyzed using advanced numerical methods and integrated into marine geospatial data management systems for further analysis and product creation.

The international Category A (professional) and Category B (base) competency standards for hydrographic surveyors—standards to be delivered in education and training programs—are under review by the International Board on Standards of Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers (IBSC) with regard to these expanded expectations and the evolving approaches to delivery of education and training. The IBSC is jointly chartered by the International Federation of Surveyors, the International Hydrographic Organization and the International Cartographic Association, and comprises hydrographic and cartographic practitioners and educators from government, industry and academia.

Hydrographic education has traditionally been provided by universities and government training schools. Recently, commercial organizations have begun to offer comprehensive hydrographic training. All these institutions are being challenged to deliver in an increasingly competitive environment. Individuals are pressured to balance work and personal life, and employers to maintain productivity. The challenge is to provide adequate technical foundations and appropriate practical exercises without removing individuals from their work environment for extended periods. Expanded connectivity and the introduction of e-learning methods, online courses, webinars and the like, have naturally attracted the attention of hydrographic agencies, companies and their staff, as well as individuals seeking new technical skills, and it is not surprising that attempts are being made to harness these technologies to meet the education and training requirements outlined above. These forms of delivery are appealing and seemingly cost-effective, but their ability to deliver both the theoretical and the hands-on demands of comprehensive hydrographic education and training has yet to be proven.

Technology in the field increasingly requires better-qualified professionals, technicians and operators, but not every individual needs to have the same range or depth of competencies. The new standards, like the previous, will maintain two levels of competency. Unlike the previous version, which envisioned a progression in development from the base level to the professional level, the new standards are likely to be configured for separate paths to the technician/operator level and the professional level, beginning with different educational prerequisites. The new standards will continue to apply to training and education, and will include provisions for recognition of regional schemes for certifying individuals.

These new international standards will have important implications for institutions offering training and education, for hydrographers and their employers, and for programs like the ACSM-THSOA Certified Hydrographer Program. Input from the hydrographic community will be critical as the standards are developed during the coming year.

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