NOAA 2003-R815
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NOAA News Releases 2003
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A former Navy ship, the USNS Littlehales, officially enters the NOAA fleet today as Thomas Jefferson, in a ceremony combining the commissioning of the ship with its change of command of NOAA Corps officers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Commerce Department.

“The commissioning of this ship is the latest step in our efforts to modernize the NOAA fleet,” said retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Thomas Jefferson is the sixth naval ship that NOAA has acquired over the past few years. By working with the Navy, we’ve been able to maximize the use of national assets while decreasing the average age of the NOAA fleet.”

Unlike the five T-AGOS ships that required conversion for research, Thomas Jefferson is a hydrographic survey ship that needs no major structural conversion to conduct its NOAA mission. The former Naval ships are about 10 to 15 years old and are replacing NOAA ships that are 30 to 40 years old. Lautenbacher said that new ships will help the agency to better carry out and support its programs.

Lautenbacher stated that the effort to upgrade NOAA vessels received strong support from Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson, the oceanographer of the Navy, and Rear Admiral Thomas Donaldson, commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. He said, “They were instrumental in having the ship transferred to NOAA when it became apparent that the Navy would not continue to use it.”

Lautenbacher also cited Vice Admiral David Brewer of the Military Sealift Command, who turned the ship over to NOAA in topnotch working condition. “The former Littlehales is an especially welcome asset for NOAA, as it performed the same basic type of mission for the Navy as it will for NOAA as the Thomas Jefferson.”

Thomas Jefferson, named for the president who established the Survey of the Coast in 1807, will conduct hydrographic surveys of the sea floor along the eastern seaboard with multibeam and side-scan sonar systems to determine water depths and locate underwater obstructions and other dangers to navigation. The survey data will be used to update nautical charts of the nation’s busiest sea lanes. Chart accuracy is critical for the safe navigation of large commercial vessels such as petroleum tankers, car carriers, container ships, and liquified natural gas carriers that ply these waters. Thomas Jefferson replaces the 39-year-old NOAA ship Whiting, which was decommissioned in May.

“The commissioning of a new ship is always a special occasion for NOAA, because the NOAA fleet is the backbone that supports the agency’s seagoing data-collection efforts,” said Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields, NOAA, director of NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations (NMAO) and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. “Thomas Jefferson will continue the survey work of Whiting with more modern capabilities and greater cost efficiency, and will provide much better habitability for those living on board.”

Formerly, Littlehales conducted hydrographic surveys for the Navy in foreign waters that were not adequately charted for support of wartime missions. The Secretary of the Navy transferred the 10-year-old vessel to the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere on March 3.

Though not officially part of the NOAA fleet until today, the ship began conducting surveys of the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay in mid-April. Commanding officer Cmdr. Steven Barnum, NOAA Corps, and his officers and crew of Whiting transferred to Littlehales when the ship began operations. Today’s ceremony also marks the ship’s change of command to Lt. Cmdr. Don Haines, NOAA Corps, who served on Whiting and Littlehales as executive officer.

The NOAA fleet of research and survey ships and aircraft is operated, managed, and maintained by NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, and includes civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps – the nation’s seventh and smallest uniformed service. NOAA Corps officers, all scientists or engineers, provide NOAA with an important blend of operational, management and technical skills that support the agency’s environmental programs at sea, in the air and ashore. For more information, please visit our Web site at

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