NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 15-16, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Woody Island Channel
Clouds: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 10 miles
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 15.8 dry bulb
Temperature: 12.9 wet bulb
Science and Technology Log
From a teacher’s standpoint, the best thing about being on a ship is seeing the real world applications for all of the basic science process skills that I teach. Skills like making accurate observations, collecting data precisely, and communicating clearly are second nature in a career with NOAA.
One of the things that impressed upon me as we left the port at Kodiak and began the journey to the Shumagin Islands was the need for each person on board to know just what to do at the necessary time. The need to be in the “right place” at the “right time” is shown again and again. For example, each person has a bunk card that describes where to be when different types of alarms sound. When one of the three alarms sounds, each person on the ship has a specific job and place to report. Whether it is an abandon ship, man overboard, or fire alarm, each person must be in their place to be accounted for and to do their job to help regain control of the situation. For someone still learning where all of the decks are located, this was a small challenge!
Another point that stood out to me was the importance of accurate observations. I often try to impress upon my students the importance of making observations in a precise scientific manner, but here on the ship I noticed real world applications of this skill in action especially on the bridge. Everywhere on the ship, but especially on the bridge, accuracy of observations is a must. Weather is checked every hour. This weather is periodically sent into a weather service. Accurate observations are necessary so that weather can be predicated and charted and the necessary changes can be made in plans for missions and travel.
Also, the ship’s course is charted on a map. Although computers are used for much of the navigation, the location on a paper map is charted as well. In fact, the whole goal of the mission is to attain more accurate charts of the ocean floor. The NOAA film, ‘The Surveyors,’ discusses the historical roots of hydrographic surveying. The film promotes the idea that NOAA was formed since so many ships were being lost at sea. As I watched the film, I realized the just how NOAA is an essential part of the battle against lost ships. After beginning my surveying training on the computer, I found out that 95% of all US foreign trade enters or leaves by ship. To make the job even more complicated, surveying the ocean floor is an ongoing task since changes occur in the ocean floor constantly. Thinking about this made me look forward to the surveying work in the Shumagins even more since the data collected by NOAA could save someone’s life.
Yesterday, while still in port at Kodiak, I went on a hike to the top of Barometer Hill. I think the name “Hill” is misleading since at the summit it is approximately 2500 feet above ground level. As I looked up at the mountain, I was in awe of its height and the purity of the surrounding terrain. Most of the hikes I’ve been on show signs of civilization throughout the hike, from garbage to power lines over the trail, but not here in Alaska!
I was not to be disappointed. About halfway up to the summit, a brown bear approached our group. Another hiker and I were nearing the top of a rise. Upon glancing behind, we noticed a bear peeking out from below the rise we had just climbed. We made some noises and it went down the mountain, leaving tracks in the snow patches. We were able to watch its progress down the mountain and through the brush at the base…the brush we had just walked through to get to the trail!
As we continued hiking to the top, much of the terrain was steep, treacherous, and rocky, but the views at the summit were extraordinary and gave a 360 degree vantage point of the surrounding land and water. Looking around at the surrounding geography, I was able to see just how special Alaska is from a naturalist’s standpoint.
Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home
You can collect weather data using the same tool used on the bridge of the Fairweather. Create a wet and dry thermometer system by wrapping the bulb of one thermometer in wet paper towels and keeping one thermometer uncovered. Compare the temperatures over a period of time and make a line graph. What trends do you see on the graph? Which temperature tends to be lower? What can you infer from this about the way your body feels when you’re in wet clothes compared to the way your body feels when you’re in dry clothes?
After further investigating the wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures here on the ship, I found that the book National Weather Service Observing Handbook No. 1 printed by NOAA in 2004 gave me a better understanding of how this all fits together scientifically by stating, “The wet bulb thermometer works on the principle that water evaporating from the muslin wicking [paper towel] absorbs heat from the thermometer bulb and mercury. When the air is dry, containing little moisture, evaporation will be rapid. If the air is very moist, evaporation from the muslin [paper towel] will be slight.” (p. S-93). To me this makes sense since evaporation, biologically as precipitation, helps to cool your body. The graph below provides a more in depth look into the connection between dry bulb temperatures, wet bulb temperatures, and relative humidity.