Yaara Crane: My Morning on a Survey Launch, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013

survey boat on TJ
The survey boat is moving from its cradle on the deck of the TJ.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 

Latitude: 38.84°N
Longitude: 75.04°W

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed: 8.35 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 21.29°C
Air Temperature:  22.80°C
Relative Humidity: 82.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1011.36mb

hydro survey boat
The survey launch on its way
Todd and Yaara
I am talking with the HIC about the notations on the nautical chart for our survey grounds.

Science and Technology Log

As promised, today’s post is going to be about the Hydrographic Survey Launches. The Thomas Jefferson has two of these boats that are generally launched by 8:00am and return to the ship at 5:30pm. On Tuesday, my official role was Hydrographer in Training. I joined HIC Todd and Coxn Junior for a day of surveying on boat 3102. After a morning of seasickness, they returned me to the TJ around 11:30 to recuperate. However, I was still able to experience a little of what they do every day and the hilarious camaraderie between the two!

In general, the survey launches do the same work as the Thomas Jefferson, just on a smaller scale. The TJ can only drive on lines with a minimum depth of 30 feet, but the survey launches can go to a minimum depth of 12 feet which allows them to get much closer to shoals and the coast. Every morning, the launch survey teams have a meeting with the FOO and XO in the survey room to discuss logistics and safety. My boat was headed out to survey grounds on a new sheet near Cape May, New Jersey. Specifically, we were driving lines in the Prissy Wicks Shoal. This particular region has highly variable depths and created quite a challenge for the HIC and Coxn for two reasons: you cannot navigate in straight lines over shoals, and the shoals constantly change so you must drive slowly in case an area is shallower than charted.

HIC Todd
Todd is at his workstation in the cabin.

Todd has been a HIC for both the Rainier and the Thomas Jefferson. In this position, he was worked with many Teachers at Sea, and gave me lots of great resources to bring back to school. The HIC sits inside the cabin and makes sure that all of the equipment is working together and logging the correct data. Just like on the ship, he has an MBES, HYPACK, and POS-MV to help him do his job. However, unlike the ship, he does not have an MVP, and must launch a CTD every four hours to measure the sound velocity profile in the water column. Measuring the sound velocity profile is an important part of correcting the MBES data for improved accuracy. Remember, the equipment is very sensitive to changes in the water because the farther the sound waves travel, the more they are affected by changes in the density of the medium through which they travel.

Junior is doing his best to keep us on the line

Junior’s job as Coxn is to work with the HIC to safely navigate the boat on the survey lines. The Coxn has a monitor controlled by the HIC to help him see the current chart and line. Junior gave me the opportunity to try driving, and I barely lasted 15 seconds before I was off the line! Tuesday was particularly complex because we were in a highly trafficked waterway, shoals appeared out of nowhere, and there was a very strong current around the cape. When another boat appears in the line, the Coxn must bring his boat to a standstill while staying on the line so that data collection does not have to stop. If the survey line goes over an area that is particularly shallow, a decision needs to be made about how to get around the shoal without hitting the bottom. A lot of good-natured yelling happens between the Coxn and HIC so that they can hear each other and be in constant communication.

Once the survey launch has returned to the main ship, the data is downloaded onto a server from which the hydrographers can move the data into CARIS. Eventually all of that data will be turned into a new nautical chart to help marine vessels maneuver through the waters.

survey lines
What looks like highlighting is the multi-beam data from the survey launches. The colors get warmer (red) as the depth gets shallower

Today’s Acronyms and Abbreviations (some old, some new)

HIC – Hydrographer in Charge

Coxn – Coxswain

FOO – Field Operations Officer

XO – Executive Officer

MBES – Multi-Beam Echo Sounder

MVP – Moving Vessel Profiler

HYPACK – Surprise, not an acronym! This is just the name of the software.

POSMV – Positioning Orientation System Marine Vessel

SSS – Side Scan Sonar

CTD – Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

CARIS – Computer-Aided Resource Information System. This software allows scientists to process the data that comes from HYPACK. Hypack collects data one line at a time, while CARIS allows you to combine the lines into a new nautical chart.

Prissy Wicks
The chart of Prissy Wicks Shoal shows the extreme changes in depths in a very small area.

Personal Log

Well, my bout of seasickness started about half an hour into my time on the survey launch. I started off in the cabin with the HIC, and the swells in the water got to me immediately. I spent the rest of the time on the deck with the Coxn trying to keep my eyes on the horizon. Through it all, I still managed to get a glimpse of some dolphins playing in the swells and saw many different types of boats and ships sailing around. When I was returned to the ship, I immediately felt better. However, the medical officer took precautionary measures and measured my blood pressure (totally normal, as usual for me) and prescribed 1.5 Liters of water before bed for the night. I took a nice long nap, and woke up in time for a delicious vegetable casserole for dinner. I am feeling back to 100% today, and hope to stay awake tonight. The TJ runs 24 hour operations, so I will pop by the bridge and survey rooms to see what it looks like after dark.

emergency signal
This sign is placed in each room as a reminder of what to do in case of emergencies.

Did You Know?

While at sea, it is required to perform at least one safety drill a week. Today, we had a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.

abandon ship suit
As part of my safety orientation, I had to put on the survival suit. I think I need a smaller size…
My assigned muster locations for emergencies.


3 Replies to “Yaara Crane: My Morning on a Survey Launch, June 26, 2013”

  1. Hi Yaara – we saw you guys pass by while i was on the Gordon Gunter! Hope you’re having a great time and the weather’s good! Sue Cullumber, TAS

  2. I think we need to replace the safety fire drill vests at our school with those suits…very fashionable colors! Plus, they can double as hazmat suits, in the case of senior pranks.

    On a more serious note, have you talked to the HIC /et al about if they have become familiar enough with variant changes in shapes of the ocean floor, or general wave patterns, etc. to predict general changes to the sea floor surfaces, due to erosion/deposition? (I’m guessing the general unpredictability of inclement weather prevents patterns in the changes in depth from showing up, but I’d though I’d ask)

    1. Hi Jim! I have been busily trying to get a good answer to your question, and have decided that it would be a great research topic for some seniors next year. As it stands, certain areas have much greater variation than others due to factors such as the current and the tides. In some areas, you can collect data one week, and see the sand waves shift by the next week. Larger obstructions, which are of more concern, tend to move less. However, part of the job of hydro ships is to collect data and prove or disprove the motion of various obstructions. On a final note, NOAA does make its hydrographic data accessible, and there are various scientists around the country who use that data to try to answer just the kind of questions that you asked.

      Thanks for reading! I hope to bring you back some great resources for your classroom.

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