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Meet Jennifer Coppola


Nautical Cartographer, Land Information New Zealand.

Job description: 

The major part of my job involves using depth data to create nautical charts of the ocean floor. In the old days, depths were collected by dropping a rope with a lead weight over the side of the boat and measuring the length of rope needed for the weight to hit the ocean floor.These days, data are collected on ships with special instruments that send out a “ping”, then timing how long it takes for the sound to leave the instrument, bounce off the sea bottom, and return back to the instrument. From the data, I draw depth contours (similar to land contours on topographic, or land, maps), soundings (or depths), and rocks and wrecks, etc. so that sailors can ensure they keep safe as they make their journey across the ocean. 

Work background: 

My first job after I graduated from university was to work in a lab, where I tested soil and water for various things, such as petroleum and heavy metals. I then became interested in surveying, and went back to school to get my Masters. After that, I worked doing oceanography for a few years, where I ran computer models to predict wave and tides for groups wanting to construct piers and wharves, and went out on field trips to put out oceanographic instruments to collect data.  Before coming to LINZ, I also worked at GeoNet (GNS Science) for a couple of years, where I analyzed earthquakes.

Favourite part of job: 

I really enjoy the mix of analytical and artistic – we need to be able to take a complicated set of data, identify the important information, and show it in a clear and attractive way for the mariner.

Least favourite part of job: 

Meetings! (Unless snacks are served).

What I am working on now: 

Every two weeks, we create a booklet of notices (called “Notice to Mariners”) which contains important information that we need to pass on to the mariner for them to correct their charts. This information includes new rocks or wrecks that have been discovered, or shallow depths, or a change to a navigation light. I am working on a notice that includes changes to depths in Kaipara Harbour at the moment.

A quick story about a job well done: 

Before Christmas, I completed two charts in the Bay of Islands. This included brand new electronic charts, which the mariner can load into their navigation system and watch as their vessels travel across the chart. The harbour master was very happy because the Bay of Islands is really busy with cruise ships and it was good to give them as up-to-date information as possible.

A (humorous) story about a job that went badly and what you learned: 

I did two hydrographic surveys in the North Sea, off the coast of Scotland, which were around 1 month-long in duration. One time, I arrived at the airport, but my luggage had not. Since we were sailing from port that evening, I had to leave it behind. Luckily, I had a change of clothes in my carry-on bag, and I wore a pair of XXXL coveralls when I had to wash my clothes, until a supply boat was able to bring my bag out to me. I learned the importance of taking as much as I can in my carry-on bag, because you never know when your suitcase is going take the scenic route to your destination!


I have a Bachelor of Science in Maths and Biology, and a Masters of Engineering in Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering (sounds fancy, eh?)

Interests outside work: 

Outside of work, I like to grow vegetables, bicycle, tramp/camp, and take French lessons.

Jennifer Coppola is a nautical cartographer with Land Information New Zealand. Image: J Coppola collection.