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Project Watershed Central New York

Dedicated to facilitating water resource education in Central New York


Hydrography is the measurement of physical characteristics of waters and marginal land. In the generalized usage, "hydrography" pertains to measurement and description of any waters. With that usage oceanography and limnology are subsets of hydrography. In specialized usage the term applies to those measurements and descriptions of navigable waters necessary for safe navigation of vessels. The specialized term is now more commonly seen in application, probably as a result of the emergence of the subsets as major fields of science.

Large scale hydrography is usually undertaken by national or international organizations that sponsor data collection through precise surveys and the publication of charts and descriptive material for navigational purposes. The science of oceanography is, in part, an outgrowth of classical hydrography. In many respects the data are interchangeable, but marine hydrographic data will be particularly directed toward marine navigation and safety of that navigation.

Hydrographic measurements will include the tidal, current and wave information of physical oceanography. They will include bottom measurements, but with particular emphasis on those marine geological features that pose a hazard to navigation such as rocks, shoals, reefs and other features that obstruct ship passage. Unlike oceanography, hydrography will include shore features, natural and manmade, that aid in navigation. A Hydrographic survey will therefore include accurate positions and representations of hills, mountains and even lights and towers that will aid in fixing a ship's position as well as the aspects of the sea and seabed.

Hydrography, partly for reasons of safety, tends to be more traditional in outlook and has conventions that are not entirely "scientific" in some views. For example, hydrographic charts will usually tend to over represent least depths and ignore the actual submarine topography that will be portrayed on bathymetric charts. The former are the mariner's tools to avoid accident. The later are best representations of the actual seabed, as in a topographic map, for scientific and other purposes.

A hydrographic survey differs from a bathymetric survey in some important respects, particularly in a bias toward least depths, due to the safety requirements of the former and geomorphology descriptive requirements of the latter. As just one important example the echosoundings will be conducted under settings biased toward least depths while in bathymetric surveys they will be set for best description of the submarine topographical features that may include sound velocity and slope corrections that are more accurate but eliminate the safety bias.

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