Bill Lindquist: Processing Data, May 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 13, 2013

Majestic views
Majestic views

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 56° 02.49 N
Longitude: 131° 6.93 W
Overcast skies with a visibility of 5 nautical miles
Wind variable at 1 knot
Air temperature 9.9° C
Sea temperature  7.2° C

Science and Technology Log: Evening Data Processing

I continue to be struck by the vast amounts of data and processing a hydrographic survey crew takes on as they go about their work. I have sat in the ship’s Plotting Lab as we controlled the multibeam sonar equipment, plotted lines for the bridge to follow, and cast out the MVP “fish” to gather sound velocity data of the water column in the immediate survey area – all while corrections for tidal, GPS and the ship’s heave, pitch, and roll data are being made. I spent a day in a launch as we navigated waters too shallow for the ship activating the launch’s data collection system as it traversed back and forth in its prescribed areas.

Last night, I had the opportunity to “help” with the evening processing of data as the launches return to the ship. “Help” is a loose term – my ignorance of the required technical skills situated me at best an observer. My “partners” (people really doing the work) were gracious enough to let me look over their shoulder as they patiently explained the processes they were following. They allowed me to take control of the computer for a bit to have a hand in the cleaning of data. All this despite confounding computer glitches that seemed to bog down the process. As the work that typically would close out well before 10:00 drew on, I excused myself and allowed the technicians to work unimpeded by a guest looking over their shoulder. Attention to that work continued on into the early hours of the morning.

The data is brought from launch to Plotting Lab on an external hard drive. It is transferred to the central computer housing all the raw data. From there, sound velocity data is brought in allowing algorithms in the software to make appropriate adjustments. Accurate GPS, heave, pitch, and roll data adjustments are made. Tide levels as defined by the tidal gauges installed earlier are accounted and corrected for.

After those data are crunched, a map of the surveyed area is brought up. A small rectangle of data approximately 50 meters by 50 meters is selected and viewed in cross-section.  From this vantage point each point measurement is visible as if you were standing on the seafloor.  Erroneous acoustic returns that are not part of the seafloor are quickly identified and can be flagged so they will not contribute to the final measurements.  Once this small section of the seafloor has been examined, another box immediately adjacent to the first one is opened until the entire survey has been examined. Each data set has a defined level of allowance for uncertainties, eg. at a depth of 300 fathoms 25 cm isn’t significant. Using these allowances, the computer will run a Total Propagated Uncertainties (TPU) analysis report to determine if the data falls within acceptable levels. If so, the data can move forward. These data help create a plan for targets to survey the next day.

This is only the beginning of the data processing to collate and clean major inaccuracies. From there it becomes the responsibility of the sheet (prescribed survey area) manager to further clean and analyze all the data within the sheet. Any areas that contain gaps or inconsistencies are examined to see if they can be resolved within prescribed allowances. Those that remain in question are described in the DR (Descriptive Report), reviewed by the Field Operations Office and Commanding Officer/Chief Scientist on board the ship, and finally submitted to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch. In turn, they review all data and reports, make any changes deemed necessary and send it off to update nautical charts.

As this process can take some time, there are procedures in place in the event a DTON (Danger to Navigation) is found. On this survey we identified a rock projection that projected much higher than the current charts – to that extent that had the Rainier went over it would have hit. DTONs are immediately submitted and updates are sent out that all ships navigating these waters would be alert to it.

By the time the Rainier completes the 2013 field season, it will have acquired massive amounts of data that will go on to assure safe navigation of our ocean waters.

Personal Log

Walker Cove off Behm Canal
Walker Cove off Behm Canal
Majestic views
Majestic views

We took a slight detour yesterday into Walker Cove to witness the grandeur of its majestic fjords. Cliffs climbed straight out of the sea on their way to the sky. Waterfalls cascaded back down its side. I took picture after picture – never quite capturing the experience of seeing it first hand. All members of the crew no matter how much time they have spent in these waters came up to gaze at these sights. There are some things on this earth that carry such beauty no matter how many times you have seen them maintain the power to hold your rapt attention. This was one of those sights.

Majestic views
Majestic views
Majestic views
Majestic views

A favorite place to write this blog is in the ship’s galley. In doing so, I have been gifted by a number of people who have stopped, sat down, and talked about their experiences on board a ship at sea. As much as any official orientations could provide, these conversations continue to present me a great way to help capture an understanding of this life at sea. A ship’s galley seems to be the soul of the ship. It is where people gather – to eat, to take a break, to tell stories, to enjoy each other’s presence.

8 Replies to “Bill Lindquist: Processing Data, May 13, 2013”

    1. DR? DTON? TPU? Almost makes HSE’s data-gathering efforts seem simple, eh? But it must be worth every minute to see such breathtaking views of nature.

      1. Well Rachel, thanks for commenting. Turns out we don’t have the market on all the acronyms. I haven’t heard anyone say TPA or RIPA yet. Don’t think they would know what I was talking about.

  1. Yes, those that have committed themselves to this work seem to find great satisfaction in the combination of the majestic locations, collaborative spirit, and the technical aspects of the collection and analysis of critical information for the next navigation charts.

  2. As I read your post, I was struck by a couple of interesting thoughts. I continuously feel a little saddened by the very real reality that no part of our earth has been untravelled. I totally understand the need and the importance for the work that is being done, but I still get a little bummed by that thought.
    Another thought I had while reading your post is how scientists are always so very interested in their work. I love that they worked into the wee hours of the morning, long after you graciously excused yourself (lost interest?).
    In your previous post, I loved that you added pictures of your living quarters. It reminded me of a mixture of a dorm room and of summer camp. There’s something so REAL about roughing it in that way.
    Hope you’re not seasick! Did you get one of those acupressure bracelets?

    1. Hi Emily,
      Thanks for the dialog. These waters are traveled. Some of them quite a bit by sightseeing cruises, etc. There was a small group camping in the bay we were in the past couple of days. I look at these mountaintops and wonder if anyone has ever set foot there. I can’t imagine many.
      No, I didn’t lose interest – and they would have preferred not wee hours of the morning. It was computer difficulty. I bowed out of respect to them. There were tense moments of “Why won’t it work” and they were better off without someone looking over their shoulder that couldn’t help.
      Good description of the state room (living quarters). Dorm rooms have a flat floor and don’t move.
      No issues with seasickness. The seas have been so calm where we are traveling that it is not an issue.
      Take care,

  3. Bill, I am really enjoying reading your blog! It reads like an adventure novel and what’s so cool is that you are starting in it! How wonderful you’re sharing this with so many people. Did you know you and The Rainier made the Hamline homepage?

    Keep writing!

    1. Hi Caroline,

      Thanks for commenting. It has been fun to share the story – particularly as a first person participant.

      Yes, I saw a link from the Hamline homepage to a story. Before I left an intern from PR came over to interview me about the program.

      Miss you all – will look forward to connecting again next week.

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