NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge:
GPS location: 54°52.288’N, 159°55.055’W
Sky condition: Overcast (OVC) with Fog (FG)
Visibility: Less than 2 nautical miles (nm)
Wind: 120 degrees true, 13 knots (kt)
Sea level pressure: 1009.7 millibar (mb)
Sea wave height: 1 foot (ft)
Swell waves: 180 degrees true, 3 ft
Water temperature: 9.4°C
Air temperature: 12.2°C
Science and Technology Log
From the moment I stepped on to the NOAA Ship Rainier in port at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak three days ago, it was apparent to me that this ship functions in order to acquire information. Hours upon hours of teamwork, dedication, money, and precise planning go in to making sure this ship gets to the right spot, functions properly, and has the correct instrumentation to collect the data. My goal for this post is to share with you all of the science that goes into making sure that this ship is able to perform the overall mission of doing hydrographic surveys.
First perhaps I should give a brief background of what a hydrographic survey is and why they are done. The NOAA Ship Rainier uses sonar in order to collect information about the ocean floor. Each time the ship, or any of the survey launches (smaller boats), use this sonar, they are surveying the area for hydrographic information.
This information is then processed and used to create nautical charts which NOAA produces for navigational purposes. These nautical charts contain information on ocean floor depth, but they also give detailed information on areas that may be hazardous to those navigating the waters in that area. I will stop there for now on the hydrographic surveys because the surveys have only just begun today on the ship. The ship has been in transit the past two days, meaning that we have been moving from port to our survey area. Little did I know how much science it takes to even get the ship to the survey area where the hydrographic surveys can begin.
If you are one of my students reading this blog, you may know how I say that science is everywhere. One of my students even asked me this past year, “Mrs. Sard, are you like ALWAYS thinking about science?” Well it turns out that science IS everywhere on this ship. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with several different crew members in my first few days, and they’ve been eager to explain the many functions of the ship and the crew. What is important to understand is that there are several departments that all must work together in order to allow the ship to function properly. Here is a brief breakdown of each department and what their main tasks are:
Wardroom – These are mostly members of the NOAA Corps which is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Besides managing and operating the ship, these dedicated workers also function as scientists and engineers.
Survey – These are the scientists that are mostly in charge of the hydrographic data. They collect, process, and manage the information that is collected during the surveys.
Engineers – These people have the important task of keeping the ship in functioning order. They do things like maintain the engine room and respond to any mechanical type issues.
Electronics Technician (ET) – This crew is in charge of the technology on board the ship. They ensure that things like the computers, internet, and phones are all up in working condition.
Steward – This department is tasked with the job of feeding the crew members. (They do a great job, and I think I might actually gain weight while out a sea because I cannot say no to the delicious food they prepare!)
Deck – The deck crew members are responsible for things like driving the small launches, maintaining the ship’s equipment, and so on.
Visitors – These would be people, like me, who are only on board the ship temporarily. They have a specific purpose that usually falls within one of the other departments.
Navigating the Ship
Now that you are aware of the overall goal of the ship, and you are familiar with the departments, let me discuss the science that is needed to get the ship where we need to go. It was an overwhelming and exciting feeling to be on the bridge of the ship while we were getting underway. The Officer On Deck (OOD) was giving orders to both the helmsman, who marked his orders down on a marker board, and the “lee helm” or engine controls operated by ENS Poremba. The third mate was acting as the navigator and had precisely mapped out the route for safely and efficiently departing the Coast Guard base.
The Commanding Officer (CO) was overseeing all that was happening, along with several other officers. I was in awe of how smoothly everything came together, and how efficiently the people worked together as a team. LT Gonsalves eloquently said that the ship is like a “floating city” and that all of the pieces must come together in order for it to function.
As I awoke yesterday, after our first night out at sea, I could hear the fog horn coming from the bridge. I decided to go and observe again to see how things were functioning out at open sea. ENS Wall showed me how to do a GPS fix to make sure that we are following the plans laid out for navigation.
These are taken about every fifteen minutes. He used the current chart that was laid out as well as electronic GPS measurements and plotted them on the chart with a compass. He then marked the latitude and longitude with the time to show that we were on course at that moment.
The OOD, John Kidd, went on to explain a bit more about the navigation of the ship including the gyroscope. Simply put, a gyroscope is an instrument used for measuring and maintaining orientation while out at sea, but it’s not as simple as it looks. I noticed a sign that read “Gyro Error” and so I asked. John went on to tell me that the gyro error is the difference between true north and what the gyro thinks is north. The difference between true north and magnetic north is the combination of “variation” which is a function of local magnetic fields, and “deviation” which is the effect the magnetic fields aboard the boat have on the compass. The steel ship itself and all of the electricity on board have some crazy magnetic fields that interfere.
Finally, I went up to the bridge this morning to quickly get the weather data that I needed for my blog. What I thought would be a quick visit turned into a 30 minute conversation with the crew. It was remarkable to see all of the data that is collected each hour dealing with the weather. The conning officer is required to take the data once each hour and enter it into the computer. They don’t simply look out and take a rough estimate of the weather. It is a detailed process that takes a variety of instrumentation in order to get the quantified weather data that is needed. All of the weather data is then sent off to NOAA’s National Weather Service and is used to refine the local at-sea weather forecasts.
I couldn’t help but smile at all of the science and math that was taking place in order to have safe navigation through the sea. So much science goes in to making sure that the officers have accurate data in order to navigate the ship. This is one of my goals as a TAS: I want to show my students how many different opportunities they have, and the possible fields of science that NOAA has to offer.
When I arrived in Kodiak on Saturday, Avery Marvin, the previous Teacher at Sea (TAS) was still on board for one night. She took me on a tour of the ship, and gave me the low down on how everything functions. Avery and I decided that before departing on Monday, we would take the day on Sunday to explore the island of Kodiak. I couldn’t believe all of the wildlife I saw including the various creatures of the tide pools, bald eagles, sea otters, salmon, and so much more.
I have been so impressed by the functionality of the ship. Every inch of space is used, and the people on board truly understand what it means to work as a team. Yesterday we had our safety drills including Fire/Emergency and Abandon Ship. When the different alarms sounded, I was required to quickly get to my muster station where I was checked in and accounted for to the CO. I also was asked to try on my immersion suit. In all of the excitement, I wasn’t able to get a picture, but it was an experience to practice these drills.
I believe my body is starting to get accustomed to the constant movement of the ship. While sleeping in my rack (bed) at night, I can feel it as the ship sways back and forth. At times the waves are large, but for the most part it feels as though I’m being rocked to sleep.
Please post comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or information that you would like me to blog about. I’m looking forward to sharing more information on my experience with you next time!
Did You Know…
Each ship has it’s own call sign. These signs are displayed on the ship by flags that each represent one letter in the alphabet, and they are international symbols that are used. The call sign for the NOAA Ship Rainier is WTEF.
To ensure clearness when reading off these letters, the military alphabet is used. For example, if you were reading the call sign for the Rainier it would read Whiskey Tango Echo Foxtrot instead of just WTEF.