Philip Hertzog, August 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 3, 2005

The launch, at work
The launch, at work

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I had been assigned to stay on the RAINIER today so we slept in an extra hour. However, as I returned from breakfast, Lt. Evans asked me to take his place on R8 skiff and go out to the HorCon station.  I quickly said yes, grabbed my gear, and jumped on board R8 within 5 minutes.

HorCon stands for Horizontal Control where we broadcast global position satellite (GPS) signal corrections to help the mapping launches accurately locate their positions.  In essence, the radio signals allow the launches to control their horizontal position so they have correct latitude and longitude readings. In past log entries I referred to the HorCon station as the transmitter station.  HorCon stations are also called flyaway stations when set up on temporary basis.

Ensigns Andrew Halbach and Olivia Hauser led our mission with assistance from Matt Foss. Jonathon Anderson drove the skiff under the watchful eye of his trainer, Able Seaman Erick Davis.  AB Davis has been on the RAINIER for one year and prior to that served in Iraq with the Army Reserve.  AB Davis also served on other NOAA ships for two years before going to Iraq.

Uploading data
Uploading data

As we left the protected waters of Fish Ranch Bay, the skiff bucks and slams hard into waves as we enter the open waters between the southwest Alaskan peninsula and Mitrofania Island. The HorCon site now lies 8 miles from the RAINIER.  We held on tight to the hand rails of the skiff while salt water splashed onto our faces and soaked our orange, bulky float jackets. Once in a while our feet lifted off from the deck of the skiff as we crested a wave and then slammed our feet down hard when the boat dropped into a trough. Everyone on the skiff had smiles on their faces as we raced toward our destination. As I noted in yesterday’s log, the HorCon station’s computer crashed and the batteries drained their electrical charge.  Upon arriving at the station, we hauled the computer and six large, 12 volt deep cycle batteries up to the transmitter.  We timed our unloading of the skiff to avoid sea swells washing up the beach and soaking our feet.

Ensign Halbach and Matt Foss went to work installing the new batteries and computer, while Ensign Hauser and I hopped into the skiff and traveled over to the tide gauge station a mile away.  As mentioned in previous logs, the tide station provides vertical control (up and down) so the launch crews can correct the sonar for the rise and fall of the tides and make the nautical charts to show water depth from mean lower low water.

The tide station works by sending pressurized nitrogen gas through a tube that goes from a sensor into the water at a set location. As the tide rises and falls, the ocean water presses against the nitrogen gas in the tube and the computer sensor uses this information to measure sea level height.  The computer then transmits the sea level height to a satellite which routes the information to the main mapping office in Washington, D.C.

Ensign Hauser set up the tide station three weeks ago and it now needed a new nitrogen bottle. I carried the heavy, three-foot long metal bottle off the skiff and up a short steep slope. We hooked up the new nitrogen tank and Ensign Hauser operated a computer to make sure the station works correctly.  In the mean time, Jonathon practices his skiff landings with advice from AB Davis.

We returned to the HorCon station and joined Ensign Halbach and Technician Matt Foss.  They changed out the batteries and plugged in the reprogrammed computer.  The computer indicated that it was transmitting data, but Ensign Halbach saw only binary (zeros and ones) code on the screen instead of latitude and longitude readings.  A radio check with the launches determined they can pick up our transmission, but Ensign Halbach may need to make another trip out to the HorCon station to ensure the problem has been fixed.

We loaded up the old batteries and jumped into the skiff for a wild eight-mile ride back to the RAINIER and arrived with plenty of time before supper.

Personal Log 

After a late night of fishing, I found the “salt water bath” during our skiff crossing to Mitrofania Island refreshing and invigorating. I never felt tired for the rest of the day.  I enjoyed working with Ensign Hauser who patiently showed me how the tide gauge station computer logs data. I also got my work out by carrying the heavy batteries and nitrogen bottle.

The salt water bath left me with an interesting problem. Salt crystals flaked off my hair and face onto my clothes.  It looked like I had a major case of dandruff. My next stop after finishing this log entry is to hit the shower and get rid of the saline grime.

Hopefully the HorCon station’s problems were fixed and no more major work will be needed. In science, you run into these problems in the field and it can prove frustrating.  However, problem solving is part of the challenge of working out in remote locations.  In my classroom and Tacoma Public Schools, we try to teach students important problem solving skills.  No matter how much students memorize, it all boils down to using knowledge to creatively trouble shoot problems.

Question of the Day 

Here is a problem for my Electronics students.  The HorCon station runs off six, 12 volt batteries. The 12 volt batteries are recharged with a set of five solar panels.  Should you set up the batteries in series, in parallel or a combination of both? Should you set up the solar panels in series, parallel, or combination of both?  Write out a schematic for your design and explain your thinking.

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