Richard Coburn, July 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 17 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 18, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 325 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Seawater Temperature 13.9 degrees Celsius
Sea level Pressure: 10009.2 millibars
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology log

Most days start at 6:30 am with breakfast served promptly at 7:00.  We then get our protective gear on for our days work on the smaller boats.  The gear consist of what is called a “float coat” which is basically a brightly orange colored jacket designed to keep the wearer afloat and warm in the water should they accidentally fall in.  We also wear hard hats and when hoisting the launch, a life jacket, and ear protection (the diesel engines are very loud when underway).  The boats are located on top of the ship and they are lowered into the water using a series of hoists or cranes depending on the boat and where they are located.

The CTD, ready to go down to the depths
The CTD, ready to go down to the depths

At 8:00 am there is a morning meeting on the fantail of the ship (this is a large area on the back of the vessel).  The meeting involves most of the senior officers as well as the crew that will be directly involved in the day’s operation.  The commanding officer speaks first, he will give everyone data regarding the weather and his best guess as what to expect out on the water he then turns the meeting over to another officer who will detail the plans that he has worked on more fully with the rest of the crew.  Lastly the chief engineer will recount the basics of what boat will launch first and reiterate the constant vigilance regarding safety.

I feel very comfortable on the water and extremely safe with this crew.  This is likely because of the constant checking and rechecking of systems and personnel that continually occurs.  The entire crew is mindful that the safety of one depends upon the persistent and sometimes annoyingly extreme attention to detail.  Accidents most often happen when people get too lax or over confident, are tired or in a rush.  Accidents even happen when none of the situations are present which is why the constant mindfulness is so important.

This is a truly collaborative effort.  If one person in the lineup fails to do their job the mission risks failure: someone else has to step in and do the job of the person missing as well as their own.    Deck hands ensure that the boat is fueled and has the necessary equipment on board and is in working order.  Engineers check the engines and the electrical equipment and the kitchen staff prepare the lunches and snacks to take on board.  When the launches are out they are usually deployed for the whole day.  Everything must be ready in the launch for the entire day otherwise the mission risks failure.

Andy (an intern from Penn State) monitors the computer screens to ensure that the data collected is valid and usable.  This picture is from the interior of the launch.
Andy (an intern from Penn State) monitors the computer screens to ensure that the data collected is valid and usable. This picture is from the interior of the launch.

Our job on most days is to get on the launch and survey the area that the larger ship could not safely operate in.   The larger ship the RAINIER takes up far too much draft (the water the hull displaces when the boat is underway).  This does not mean that the RAINIER is simply sitting idly by while the launches do the work.  The ship also runs back and forth patterns in the area and it too collects data.  The larger and smaller launches are always on the lookout for any hazards to navigation, other boats or any marine life-like a whale and make sure that collisions do not occur.

TAS Redlinger underway for the morning survey
TAS Redlinger underway for the morning survey

Once we arrive at the survey area we need to prepare the CTD cast.  CTD is a device that measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, and salinity of the water about to be surveyed.  This establishes a baseline for the work in the area.  If a survey is going longer than four hours a new baseline must be established.  This test establishes a sound profile that shows exactly how the fast the sonar beams travel in the water under the specific conditions at the time.  This information is critical to maintain accurate and credible data.  The procedure is simple, first, the CTD is attached to a rope turned on and warmed up, next the device is lowered in the water and data is collected.  It is then lowered to the bottom of the sea and more data is collected.  Once the CTD is brought back from the ocean, the information is then uploaded to a computer on board and a new baseline is established.  This information is then embedded into the sonar data collected for the day’s survey.  All information collected is held against this baseline to ensure the delivery of clean, accurate information for the new charts.

Tide marker on the left of boat, me facing coxswain and biologist.  We stopped to check out the tide monitoring equipment today.
Tide marker on the left of boat, me facing coxswain and biologist. We stopped to check out the tide monitoring equipment today.

The best part of this trip is that I traveled with another teacher who teaches Science in Oregon.  TAS Redlinger is a wonderful lady who shared with me all of the photos she took while she was out too.  Often we would spend time sharing what we had done the during the day and what was in store the following day.