Sena Norton, July 8, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 8, 2004

Location: Sonar Patch cruise, SE of Devils Bay on AK peninsula
Latitude: 55 46.163 N
Longitude: 158 03.557 W
Visibility: < 1 nm
Direction: 229 degrees
Wind Speed: 16 kt
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Swell wave height: 1.2 ft
Seawater temperature: 8.9 deg C
Sea level pressure: 1021.1 mb
Cloud Cover: n/a fog
Weather: Fair and foggy, 8.9 deg C dry / 9.4 deg C wet

Plan of Day: 1.5 days of sonar readings in patch with lines of 2.5 hours each. Launch #5 boat for survey north of ship around a possible rock pinnacle.

Science and Technology Log

Sonar Systems on board RAINIER: How they work.

What is Sonar?

In its most basic sonar are sound waves that are produced and then bounced back off of an object and recorded. Since the speed of sound is a known figure, the amount of time it takes for the sound wave to return to the transmitter/receiver gives a collectable image of that object. The deeper objects are the longer the sound wave takes to bounce back. Two types of sonar are single beam and multi-beam. Single beam is able to give high detail to an object but only shows a narrow swath, while multi-beam has a large footprint and can show a larger over all area. There are limits to the depth sonar can go because of the density of the water column. If the water is very dense the sound waves are slowed down and do not transmit the correct timing, therefore the image will be distorted. All images created must be analyzed after the density, temperature and salinity of the water column is taken into consideration.

Sonar is a very powerful sound wave and it can be dangerous, although it is at a frequency that humans or marine mammals cannot hear. If a diver were scanned they would be susceptible to a high-level concussive power. The emitter itself requires a large volume of power and if a human were to be near it during an emission it would do a great deal of damage. Think of the concussion from a bomb or firework, sonar is many, many more times as powerful.

RAINIER’s Sonar:

The ship is equipped with a deep sonar transmitter; it is attached to the hull and is used for scanning deep water where resolution is not a large issue. The boat “mows the lawn” in a patch of ocean. Each pass is numbered and the data collected. The lines are about 2 hours at 7-8 knots long. For more detailed work or a smaller area the ship will use one of its 6 launches that are also equipped with various sonar transmitters. These small boats will conduct and similar pattern of lines and collect the data right on board. The data is then transferred to the computers on board to go through technician cleaning and final analysis.

Sonar Types:
Single-beam – one beam sent and received.

Multi-beam – up to 240 beams per 180 degrees sent and received. As depth increases the foot print widens.

Analysis of data:

When the soundings are collected they are run through a Carris computer program where the technicians can manually scan each line. There are techs assigned to each “sheet” or area. Each line is cleaned, meaning outliers are removed or other “noise” is deleted. Once the data is clean a complete 3-D image of the patch can be looked at with all the data points represented. Once an entire area has been scanned objects become very clear, as if you were looking at them. From outlines of sunken ships from the side to large monolithic rocks protruding from the ocean floor, the detail and accuracy of the image is amazing. Once there is enough data the sounds can be turned into color-coded overlays that fit right on top of the fathom charts, so as to give a 3-D view of what those fathom readings represent. Red and orange or shallow and the colors move through yellow, green and finally blues, which are the deepest readings. Mountain ridges, lava floes, old wrecks, valleys and monoliths all come to life on the chart.

Personal Log

Steve Foye gave me a quick training with another new member of the crew on the job of Lookout on the flying bridge last night. He reviewed the 32-point compass and the difference between saying North relative to the ship verses trying to figure out the “real” compass coordinate. He explained you could use directions (NW or SE) or give the coordinates (90 or 270). Dead ahead would be 000, north relative to the ship or 360, all are correct for locating something directly off the bow of the ship.

Question of the Day:

When is the ship required to sound foghorn and place lookouts on the Bow/Flying Bridge?

When the visibility gets below 1 nm the ship is required to blow the foghorn or ring a bell every 2 minutes. A lookout is placed on the flying bridge during hours of darkness or low visibility. They move to the bow when the foghorn is turned on so they do not damage their ears.


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