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NEWS | Jan. 7, 2022

Naval Oceanography Staff embark USNS Pathfinder

By : LT Bobby Dixon, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography

Sailors and staff from Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NAVMETOCCOM) and Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) embarked on USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60), an oceanographic survey ship for an operational familiarization transit, Jan. 4-7.
Launched in 1993, Pathfinder is a 330-foot vessel with approximately 30 crew members and room for 25 surveyors. The ship is designed to gather underwater data in either coastal or deep ocean waters, a capability that provides both economy and flexibility. This dual capability directly supports Navy’s increased emphasis on shallow water or littoral (near-shore) warfare.
“The ship is unique in that it provides the U.S. Navy a platform to conduct oceanographic surveys anywhere in the world,” said A.J. Gillotte, Master, USNS Pathfinder. “Working alongside Naval Oceanography and their survey teams is a true pleasure for the crew and I as we know what they do is critical to our understanding of the depths of the oceans.”
Pathfinder is operated for the Oceanographer of the Navy by civilian mariners contracted through Military Sealift Command. Surveyors and technicians from NAVOCEANO collect oceanographic and environmental data while aboard the ship for NAVMETOCCOM. The ship has been conducting survey support since 1995, sailing through every ocean on earth.
“Our time on board USNS Pathfinder was rewarding, as we got to see firsthand how the whole survey process starts for Naval Oceanography,” said Capt. Timothy Knapp, Maritime Operations Center Director, NAVMETOCCOM. “Our Sailors and Civilians had the opportunity to launch an Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) and performed a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) cast from the USNS Pathfinder while underway in the western Atlantic.”
An XBT is an environmentally safe, small probe deployed over the side of a ship. As it falls through the water, it measures temperature. Small wires transmit the temperature data back to the ship where it is recorded. Because the probe falls through the water at a known rate, the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time of launch. This creates a temperature profile of the water that can then be used to generate the Sound Velocity Profile (SVP) of the water column.  The SVP is an essential part of understanding undersea battlespace and warfare.
A CTD’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity,  data directly related to salinity (salt content). Unlike an XBT, which only measures temperature, a CTD can generate salinity, density, and sound velocity profiles without the need of other instruments. 
The SVPs are used by sonar systems to collect high-quality accurate data in the water column. The CTD package can also contain optical sensors including a transmissometer, a fluorimeter, and a turbidity meter.
During the transit from Norfolk, VA to Charleston, SC, the team conducted safety training, abandon ship procedures, and qualified on various survey instruments and systems.
In addition, survey ships are called upon for special situations, such as locating missing aircraft that have crashed or charting wrecks that may be dangerous to navigation. These ships are ambassadors for the U.S., visiting more foreign ports than any other U.S. Navy ships. The ship also works with foreign oceanographic survey ships, creating goodwill by helping to train their crews.
Pathfinder is one of six U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ships operated by Military Sealift Command sailing in support of Naval Oceanography’s mission. Equipped with the latest and greatest survey technologies, the ship can provide survey teams the ability to conduct multi-discipline to conduct multi-faceted surveys to provide oceanographic, hydrographic, bathymetric, geophysical and acoustic products and services to DOD customers worldwide.
Military Sealift Command reports to the Commander, U.S. Transportation Command for defense transportation matters, to the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command for Navy-unique matters and to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition for procurement policy and oversight matters.
Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command directs and oversees more than 2,500 globally-distributed military and civilian personnel who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist Fleet and Joint Commanders in all warfare areas to make better decisions faster than the adversary.

Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command | 1100 Balch Blvd. | Stennis Space Center, Mississippi 39529