NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (S 222)

NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (S 222) is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hydrographic survey vessel in service since 2003.

NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (S 222), sometime between 2003 and 2011.
United States
Name: USNS Littlehales (T-AGS-52)
Builder: Halter Marine, Inc., Moss Point, Mississippi
Laid down: October 25, 1989
Launched: February 14, 1991
Completed: January 10, 1992 (delivered to U.S. Navy)
Identification: IMO number: 8892033
Fate: Transferred to NOAA, March 3, 2003
Notes: Served in U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command as USNS Littlehales (T-AGS-52), 1992-2003
United States
Name: NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (S 222)
Namesake: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third President of the United States (1801-1809), who authorized the Survey of the Coast, the earliest ancestor organization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in 1807
Owner: NOAA
Operator: NOAA
Acquired: March 3, 2003
Commissioned: July 8, 2003
Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia
Status: Active in NOAA Atlantic Fleet
General characteristics
Type: Hydrographic survey vessel
Tonnage: 1,466 tons (gross)
Displacement: 2,000 tons (loaded)
Length: 208.0 ft (63.4 m)
Beam: 45.0 ft (13.7 m)
Draft: 14.0 ft (4.3 m)
Installed power:
Propulsion: One General Motors EMD12-645F7B turbocharged 900-rpm diesel engine, one Detroit Diesel 6V92N crusing diesel, one screw
  • 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) (max)
  • 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) (sustained)
  • 4–6 knots (7.4–11.1 km/h; 4.6–6.9 mph) on cruising diesel
Range: 19,200 nautical miles (35,600 km; 22,100 mi)
Endurance: 45 days
Boats & landing
craft carried:
Two 29.0 ft (8.8 m) survey launches, one 23.75 ft (7.24 m) (Zodiac) rigid-hulled inflatable boat
Complement: 19 crew, 4 licensed engineers, 8 NOAA Corps commissioned officer, and up to 11 scientists
Notes: 1,200 kilowatts electrical power

Construction, U.S. Navy career, and acquisition

Thomas Jefferson was laid down as the United States Navy hydrographic survey vessel USNS Littlehales (T-AGS-52) on October 25, 1989, by Halter Marine, Inc., at Moss Point, Mississippi. Launched on February 14, 1991, she was delivered to the Navy on January 10, 1992. She served in non-commissioned status in the Military Sealift Command and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on February 27, 2003.[1]

Littlehales was transferred to NOAA on March 3, 2003. She was commissioned into the NOAA Atlantic Fleet as NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (S 222) on July 8, 2003 at Norfolk, Virginia, as a replacement for the NOAA survey ship NOAAS Whiting (S 329). Thomas Jefferson's home port is Norfolk.

Characteristics and capabilities

Thomas Jefferson is designed to collect hydrographic data from depths of between 10 meters (33 feet) and 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). She has 700 square feet (65 m2) of laboratory space and 2,300 square feet (214 m2) of scientific storage space. She carries Global Positioning System and Loran-C receivers and a computerized data-collection system. She has a roll stabilization tank and a collision avoidance system.

Thomas Jefferson has 1,500 square feet (139 m2) of deck working space. Her deck equipment features two winches; two fixed, telescopic, 7-ton-capacity cranes; and a C-frame.

Thomas Jefferson is equipped with an intermediate depth multibeam swath survey system. The vessel carries two aluminum survey launches equipped with multibeam swath and single-beam echo sounders and a hydrographic data acquisition system. There is an additional rigid-hulled inflatable boat which serves as a fast rescue boat.

Among the scientific equipment are conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensors, three side-scan sonar units, and sediment sampling equipment.

The ship has a total of 36 bunk spaces. Capacity for 22 people to eat at time can be found in the mess rooms.

Operational history

As the Littlehales, the ship conducted hydrographic surveys in foreign waters that were not charted adequately for support of wartime missions.[2]

In April 2003, after her transfer from the Navy to NOAA but before being commissioned into the NOAA fleet, the ship conducted surveys of the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay.[2]

In 2004, Thomas Jefferson deployed her survey launches to participate in a United States Geological Survey of the sedimentary characteristics of Great Round Shoal at the far eastern edge of Nantucket Sound.[3]

Thomas Jefferson got underway from Norfolk in 2005 for the United States Gulf Coast, where she played an active role in the response to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita by surveying port areas for obstructions. She surveyed the approaches to the Pascagoula and Gulfport, Mississippi, ship channels, and repaired the tide gauge at Pascagoula. She then conducted post-Rita surveys of the approaches to Galveston, Houston, and Port Arthur, Texas.[4]

In 2006, Thomas Jefferson, in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island and the Institute for International Maritime Research, conducted a ten-day marine archaeological survey in a 74-square nautical mile (254-square kilometer) area off the coast of the Virginia-North Carolina border, employing side-scan sonar, a multibeam echosounder and a magnetometer in the hope of discovering the wreck of a ship that sank in the area in the early 17th century, the existence of which had been suggested in 1983 when fishermen hauled up a 400-year-old cannon in the area. The team identified approximately 200 targets in all, with 20 to 50 having the most promise of being the remains of a wooden ship from that period. It also documented numerous previously unknown dangers to navigation, including three unidentified shipwrecks.[5]

In the autumn of 2006, Thomas Jefferson conducted hydrographic survey operations in New York Harbor, deploying her two survey launches to update the nautical charts for the area. Most of the project area was previously surveyed prior to 1982 and parts had not been surveyed since 1927. The work was challenging for the launches because of the busy shipping traffic in the harbor and currents from the Hudson River, East River, and Atlantic Ocean. Thomas Jefferson's survey resulted in the discovery of many unknown and forgotten small wrecks in Rockaway Inlet.[6]

On 6 April 2010, Thomas Jefferson departed Norfolk bound for the Gulf of Mexico to conduct a five-month-long effort to map the seafloor, searching for hazards to navigation.[7] On 26 May 2010, Thomas Jefferson was underway on a mission to deploy United States Navy ocean monitoring instruments near the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[8]

On 21 June 2013, Thomas Jefferson held a wreath-tossing ceremony on the 153rd anniversary of the sinking of the United States Coast Survey steamer USCS Robert J. Walker, which had sunk after a collision on 21 June 1860 in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey. It was the first commemoration ever held for the 20 men lost in the sinking, the largest loss of life in a single incident in the history of NOAA and its ancestor agencies. Lacking exact locating data for the wreck, Thomas Jefferson held the ceremony in the general area where Robert J. Walker had sunk. Later in the day, Thomas Jefferson used multibeam sonar and sidescan sonar to identify with 80 percent certainty the exact location and identity of Robert J. Walker's wreck for the first time. NOAA divers confirmed the wreck's identity on 23 June 2013.[9]


  1. United States Navy. "Littlehales (AGS 52)". Naval Vessel Register. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
  2. NOAA Public Affairs (July 8, 2003). "Former Naval Ship Littlehales Becomes NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in Ceremony Combining Commissioning with Change of Command". NOAA News Releases 2003. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
  3. Lawrence J. Poppe; et al. (2007). "Methods". Sea-Floor Character and Sedimentary Processes of Great Round Shoal Channel, Offshore Massachusetts. United States Geological Survey, Woods Hole Science Center. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  4. "NOAA's Aircraft, Ships and Personnel Continue to Provide Post-Hurricane Assistance". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. c. 2005. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  5. "Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Capes Wrecks". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Coast Survey. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  6. "Thomas Jefferson New York Harbor Wrecks". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Coast Survey. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  7. "Norfolk, Va.-based NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson to Map Ocean Floor in Gulf of Mexico". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. April 6, 2010. Retrieved April 7, 2010.
  8. "NOAA, Navy Partner to Monitor Ocean Conditions Near Spill Area". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. May 26, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  9. U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker


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