NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Woody Island Channel, Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 19, 2014
Temperature: 14°C (~57°F), Mostly Sunny
Science & Technology Log
Plans have changed quite a bit since I first found out I would be joining the Rainier on the next leg of their mission. Instead of heading to Cold Bay as originally planned for today, several highly skilled crew members are preparing to join the Fairweather, the Rainier’s sister ship, and help get her back to Seattle, Washington, as she is done for the field season. Those crew members helping out will return to Kodiak and the Rainier next week, in time to head out and survey around the other side of Kodiak Island. Until their return, the Rainier is staying “alongside”, (or docked) at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak (the largest Coast Guard Base in the United States).
While we are alongside, however, there is plenty of work to be done! Some survey technicians are busy processing and analyzing data from past projects and surveys, while other techs are planning and preparing a survey around the Woody Island Channel, slightly Northeast of where we are currently docked. The Woody Island Channel is an important one to get surveyed, as most of the maritime traffic (traffic on the water) coming into Kodiak, goes through the Woody Island Channel.
We will begin that survey work tomorrow, taking out several Launch boats (Survey Launches that are about 30 feet long, are carried aboard the Rainier and able to be deployed for survey missions) to begin gathering sounding data from the ocean floor in that area. While the survey technicians make their plans and preparations, I found myself thinking about the big picture: Why is NOAA here? Why do we need scientists mapping the ocean floor?
To be honest, I had never heard of Hydrography before I applied for the NOAA Teacher as Sea program. Hydrography is the science of mapping the ocean floor. I feel that I should have been aware of this, however, because Hydrography work affects all of our lives, even if we don’t live anywhere near the ocean (like those of us that live in Arkansas! Here is how:
- NOAA is responsible for producing nautical charts for all of our waters, including the territories. This is approximately 3.4 million square (nautical) miles of underwater territory and 95,000 linear (nautical) miles of shoreline.
- Looking globally, only 5% of the oceans have been mapped with modern Sonar techniques. About half of the area that is charted, is from Lead Line Soundings (some dating back to the 1800’s). And then there are places like the Arctic, that have never been mapped.
- Today, commerce drives the use of our oceanic highways. More than ¾ of all goods and supplies in the United States are shipped and delivered across our oceans. More than ½ our domestic oil comes by ship as well. And, the grain that we export to countries around the world, goes by ship!
Without accurate survey information, these commercial ships, as well as any fishing or recreational vessels, cannot safely navigate (find their way) through different ocean routes. Running into an unexpected feature (underwater landform, rocks, an old wreck (shipwreck), or other obstructions) can be very dangerous and costly to any ship. Without updated nautical charts (maps), boats, ships, and vessels of any size face many unknown hazards as they try to navigate safely (often with goods we need) to their destination. The Woody Island Channel that we will be surveying this week, is just three days in Kodiak, I have seen two freight ships, a Coast Guard Vessel near 300 feet long, and many small fishing vessels travel through this passage.
So the Big Picture?
THIS… is dangerous for people, and affects global commerce, import, exports, etc. THIS is what hydrographers don’t want to happen:
The first several days in Alaska have been amazing. While we are alongside in Kodiak, I have been able to do some exploring after work each day! I have walked along the beach and hiked up into the mountains.
Alaska is beautiful – so majestic! I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some beautiful weather, in the high 50s, and sunny most days! This is rather unusual, they tell me- it is usually starting to cool down and get very rainy this time of year. I told them I must have brought the warm weather with me from Arkansas! I am going to try and enjoy it while it lasts, as I am sure I will not luck out to spend three weeks in the sunshine!
For My Students
Check out this graph of the wildlife I have seen thus far! I am only tracking wildlife that I have seen UP CLOSE (within 20 feet – except for the bear – it would be dangerous to get that close to a bear)!
Oh kids, I am also wondering if you can tell me:
1. What is the difference between SQUARE miles and LINEAR miles?
2. What kind of tools do you think Hydrographers (or Hydrographic Surveyors) need to survey and map the ocean floor?