Kaci Heins: Shoreline Verification and Auroras, September 27-29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaci Heins
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 17 — October 7, 2011

Heading Back to the Rainier After Shoreline Verification

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast/Drizzle/Rain
Visibility: 2 Nautical Miles
Wind: 15 knots
Dry Bulb: 8.2 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1001.1 millibars
Latitude: 55.42 degrees North
Longitude: -133.45 degrees West

Science and Technology

Waterfall on Shore

When we are out on a launch acquiring data there are so many beautiful shorelines to see.  From far away they look inviting, but in reality there are usually numerous boat hazards lurking below or on the shoreline.  I have written a lot about the hydrographic survey aspect of this mission and how it is important to ships so that they can navigate safely.

However, when we are out on a survey launch the first priority is safety of the crew, the boat, and the technology.  This means that we normally do not go anywhere that is shallower than about eight meters.   Consequently, this leaves areas near the shore that is not surveyed and leaves holes in the chart data.  This is where shoreline verification comes in using single beam sonar.  However, since the launch with the single beam is not operational at this time we have been using the multibeam instead.  The Marine Chart Division (MCD) gives the Rainier specific items that need to be identified because they are considered Dangers to Navigation,  or they need to be noted that they do not exist.  The MCD compiles a priority list of features that come from numerous sources such as cruise ships, aircraft pilots, and other boats that have noted that there may be a danger to navigation in a certain area.  Many of these charts have not been updated since they were created in the early 1900’s or never charted at all!

Before we leave the Sheet Manager and the Field Operations Officer (FOO) come up with a plan for what shoreline they want to verify for the day.  A plan must be made because there is a small window to acquire the information needed to satisfy the requests of the Marine Chart Division.  The shoreline verifications must be done at Mean Low or Low Water.  This means that it has to be done when the average low tide of each day comes around, which has been in the early morning and afternoon for us.

Shoreline 4 Meter Curve

Using the launches we head up to what is called the four meter curve.  This curve is the limit to where we can go during meal low or low water.  If we get any shallower or move closer to the shore then we will put everyone and everything in danger on the boat.  We bring with us  a camera to document the features, a clinometer, which allows us to document headings and angles, a laser range finder, charts that they can draw and note features on, and their computer software.   Once we get underway and arrive to our first rock that we have to document, the officers make sure they maintain good communication with the coxswain, or boat driver.  We make sure we circle everything in a counterclockwise motion so that he can see everything off to his starboard, or right side as we move.  We can see the rock become exposed as the waves move over it, but the tricky part is getting as close to it as possible without hitting it.  This is so we can get a precise location as possible for the chart.  Our coxswain was very experienced so we were able to get right next to it for photos, the heading, and to drop a target, or the location, in the software.

Notes Documenting Various Features

The rest of our shoreline verification was a lot less intense as we confirmed that there was a lot of kelp around the rocks, the shoreline, and specific rocks were in the correct place.  LT Gonsalves, the Hydrographer-in-Charge (HIC),  showed me how he draws some of the features on his chart and makes notes about whether the features are there or not.  I took photos and noted the photo numbers for the chart, as well as the range and height of various features.  Shoreline verification is very important for nautical charts so that ships and their passengers know exactly where dangers to navigation lie.  It takes 120 days from the final sounding for all the data to get submitted to the Hydrographic Survey Division.  From there the information gets looked over by numerous agencies until about 2 years later the updated chart is available.  This is quite a long time to wait for changes in dangers to navigation.  To be safe, the chart stays the same even if there is not a dangerous rock lurking around at mean low or low water.  It is best to just avoid the area and err on the side of caution.  There is still a lot of work to be done in Alaska that will take many, many years to complete.  However, it is thanks to hydrographic ships like the Rainier and its crew that get the job done.

Personal Log

NASA SOHO Image of Solar Wind and the Magnetic Field

Tonight was very special because we could actually see an aurora, or the northern lights,  in the night sky.  An aurora is a natural light display in the arctic and antarctic, which is caused by the collision of charged particles in the upper atmosphere.  Auroras start way back about 93 million miles (or 1 astronomical unit– AU) at the sun.  When the sun is active, usually due to coronal mass ejections, it releases energetic  particles into space with the very hot solar wind.  These particles travel very quickly over those 93 million miles until they reach the Earth’s magnetic field.   Most of these energetic particles are deflected around the Earth, but some get trapped in the magnetic field and are moved along towards the polar regions until they strike the atmosphere.  We knew there were possibilities to see an aurora while we were anchored, but usually it has been cloudy at night so we couldn’t see the stars.  However, on the 27th Officer Manda came through saying he had seen the lights.  Low and behold there was a green glow in the sky behind some clouds and a couple of times some of the energized particles made bands across the sky.  If there hadn’t been so many clouds I think it would have been even more spectacular, but I was so glad I did get to see them.  Very quickly, more clouds moved in and it was just a green glow on the horizon.  I also was able to see the milky way in all its glory and the brightest shooting star I have ever seen.  These amazing photos of the aurora were taken by Ensign Manda and I am very grateful he was willing to share.

Aurora and Shooting Star Courtesy of Ensign Manda
Aurora in Alaska Courtesy of Ensign Manda

Click HERE for a link to a neat animation of how an aurora is formed.

Student Questions Answered

Animals Spotted!

Seal On a Rock We Were Documenting

Seals – species unknown









Question of the Day

20 Replies to “Kaci Heins: Shoreline Verification and Auroras, September 27-29, 2011”

  1. Dear Mrs.Heins, I hope that you are having a fun time on your ship! We like seeing all that you have been doing! I miss you,and hope you like NPA!

    1. Hi Gabriella! I am having a great time and learning so much! I’m glad you are enjoying the blog and sent me a message. I miss you all too so tell everyone I said hi!

      1. Dear Mrs.Heins,I got the letter that you sent back to me!I hope that you are having the best time ever!I wish that you were still at the Peak School but I know that you probably like it at NPA too!I hope that you have found alot of data with lots more to find!I am doing great in math this year I have 14 objectives which is a B for the first quarter!Once again me and my family love looking at your blog and your website!

      2. Hi Gabriella!
        I’m so glad you are doing well in math! We have been using so much math out here so make sure you keep at it! It is an amazing skill to have! I’m glad you all are following along with the blog! It is nice to hear from you.

  2. HI! I think that it would be awesome to see the northern lights! Could you please say hi to the otters for us. My mom really likes otters! I really like otters also! I think otters are really cute. What colors were the northern lights? I miss you very much.I think you would be a very nice teacher to have.

    Selma M

    1. Hi Selma,
      The Northern lights are so amazing! It is such a beautiful phenomenon that I was glad I could experience. The lights are mainly green, but the long exposure cameras some of the crew have used catch a red glow as well. The otters are EVERYWHERE and so cute! I think you would be a wonderful student to have Selma! Have a great week at school!

  3. It is cool that you could see an aurora! That would be awesome! I hope you are having a good time on the ship
    Nicholas Hall

  4. hi Mrs. Heins
    my mom wanted to ask a couple of questions:

    How cold is it and whats the weather like? What is the time zone there and is it the same as Flagstaff?

    1. Hi Ellie,
      Its usually in the 40’s and 50’s but no snow yet. However, you can see snow on some of the surrounding mountains. We are just one hour behind Flagstaff so when it is 6pm there it is 5pm here.

  5. HI Mrs. Heins this is Ryan how many seals were there and what has been your favorite thing you have done?

    1. Hi Ryan,
      There were only four seals and my favorite thing that I have done so far is getting to go out on the launches to collect data!

  6. Dear Mrs. Heins,
    It looks like you are having a great time at sea. Flagstaff is about to have some really bad weather in the next couple of days, snow and bad wind. It makes it hard to run cross country when they are always having to cancel the meets. It has been raining since Saturday and it is getting really cold. It is going to get down to 29 degress. I was wondering when you posted the temperature you wrote Temperature Wet Bulb and Dry Bulb. What does this mean? I just wanted to let you know that I ran in my second Meet with NPA’s Cross Country team and came in 1st place! It was really exciting…Hope you are excited to get back home soon. Sincerely, Davis Boggess

    Davis Boggess

    1. Hi Davis!
      Congratulations!! I hope the weather gets better so you can keep winning! The reason they have a wet and dry bulb to determine the state of humid air. Wet bulb temperature is the lowest temperature that can be reached by the evaporation of water only. It actually has cloth wrapped around the bottom of it called a “sock”. The bottom of the sock is in a small container of water so it wicks the water up around the bulb. It is similar to the temperature that you feel when your skin is wet and is exposed to moving air. Unlike the dry bulb temperature, wet bulb temperature is an indication of the amount of moisture in the air. I cant wait to see you all next week!

  7. Hi Mrs. Heins.
    Can you tell me if you have seen any ship wrecks on the ocean floor up in that part of the ocean using the sonar scans? Do treasure hunters use this now to search for ocean ship wrecks?

  8. From Hannah Penado:
    If there are northern lights and an aurora, is there any similar light effect at the south pole?

  9. Hi Ms. Heins, I would like to use your beautiful picture (IMG_8774) for one of my websites. I would like to know if that could be possible (if you give me permission for it). I am an inventor and the picture will be use for a webpage related to Thermal Energy Conversion. I like the picture because it is so natural, and the warm colors and brightness of the sunset on the cold sea water. Of course, I would like to indicate the source of your picture.


    Gaspar Paya

    1. Hi Gaspar,

      I am the manager of the Teacher at Sea blog. You are more than welcome to use the photo. Please credit the Photo to NOAA in the caption. Thanks.

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