NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date: September 10, 2013
GPS Coordinates 540 49.627’ N , 159o 46.421’ W
Wind Speed 10-14 kts
Barometer 1008.49 mb
Science and Technology Log
You never know what you might see first thing in the morning! When I awoke and looked out my porthole I saw this in the distance.
We cast off yesterday morning at 1000 hrs, RST—Rainier Ship Time. Although we are still in the Alaska Daylight Savings time zone, our time on the ship has been adjusted backwards 1 hour to give us more daylight during ‘working hours’. Since the ship is its own floating universe, time that is referenced to a specific time zone is not as important as time that is referenced to our day and the work that needs to be completed. Einstein would be pleased to see that time is, indeed, relative here aboard the Rainier!
There is science involved just to leave port and set forth on this cruise. There’s data to be collected, such as a weather forecast—and decisions to be made based on that data. Today’s weather report called for rain and high winds. That data input resulted in a travel plan including taking a more protected route north of Kodiak Island instead of heading out to more open water right away. We didn’t reach the wide-open spaces until evening, and I was lulled to sleep by the endless rocking and rolling of the boat.
Science can also include the protocols needed to keep everyone on board safe and healthy during a cruise. With that in mind, I spent part of the day learning about the ship and the safety routines we need to follow. Ensign Wall gave me my survival suit, aka Gumby Suit and showed me how to don that lifesaving apparel. The suit is a foam-filled drysuit, providing insulation and floatation in one handy, non-form-fitting package. They are, apparently, one size fits none, but when it’s a matter of survival, I doubt that style counts for too many points!
Each person aboard is assigned stations to report to in case of fire or in case it becomes necessary to abandon ship. I found out that I go to the Boat Shop near the stern in case of fire, and that I head to Station 1 near the bridge. We had a fire drill in the afternoon, followed by an abandon ship drill. Much like fire drills at school, it’s a good time to practice and figure out the best way to get to where you need to go. Since I’m still learning my way around the ship, it was especially important to figure out where I needed to go and how to get there.
Then there’s the ‘real’ science—the science of hydrography and the point of this entire venture. The NOAA Ship Rainier has been tasked with charting (creating maps) of the Shumagin Islands and Cold Bay areas. It’s amazing to think that there are still some parts of our coastline that haven’t been charted. I spent much of this afternoon talking with the scientists who are making these maps and came away with the overwhelming sense that this is, indeed, a complicated and multi-faceted process. I’ll be writing separate journals on all the science that goes into creating these detailed maps of the ocean floor. If you just can’t wait and need to know more right now, check out the blogs from previous TAS teachers on the Ship Rainier.
Much of my first day at sea was spent getting used to being aboard a large floating object on a rather bumpy sea. Our day was spent in transit, from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, around 28 hours away.
There’s a lot to learn about life on board the Rainier. Most important has been orienting myself and figuring out where everything is located. Decks are labeled from ‘A’, the lowest, to ‘G’, the uppermost deck area. My quarters are on the ‘E’ deck. The Galley, where food is prepared and served, is on the ‘D’ deck below me, and the Bridge (steering and control of the ship) is above me on the ‘F’ deck.
I have my own room—kind of luxurious living! There’s a bunk, the head (bathroom), a couple of closets, drawers, and even a small fold-down desk area so that I can write my journals. Every drawer latches tightly to minimize the chance of unidentified flying objects if we hit some rough weather.
I took a short tour of some of the more esoteric parts of the ship, including a visit to the cofferdam, whose access was through a hatch and down a ladder hidden in one of the heads (bathrooms). This is sort of like accessing the crawl space under your house through a small tunnel in your bathroom. While we speculated on just what purpose this area served (storage, poor planning in designing the hull and layout, a random skinny place to hang out?), it turns out that it is a watertight compartment that separates the contact between liquids that might be in the bow area and those in the stern area of the ship.
There was also an escape hatch that was incredibly heavy to lift—but I am sure you could lift it if your life depended on it! I don’t plan on having to test this thing out!!