Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 3.82 °C
Wind Speed: 6.1 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb's Cove.  Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.
Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

The launch that I participated in on Tuesday was awesome!  We went to an area called Thumb’s Cove.  I thought the divers must be crazy, because of how cold it was.  When they returned to the boat from their dive, they said the water was much warmer than the air.  The water temperature was around 10.5°C or 51°F while the air temperature was hovering right above freezing.  One diver, Katrina, took an underwater camera with her.  They saw jellyfish, sea urchins, and sea stars.

The ride to and from the cove was quite bouncy, but I enjoyed being part of this mini-adventure!  Later that day, we did what is called DC (Damage Control) familiarization.  Basically, we practiced what do in case of an emergency.  We were given a pipe with holes in it and told to patch it with various objects like wooden wedges.  We also practiced using a pump to pump water off of the ship if she were taking on water.  Safety drills are also routine around here.  It’s nice to know that everyone expects the best, but prepares for the worse.  I feel very safe aboard Rainier.

Seastar from Katrina Poremba from the dive at Thumb's Cove.
Sea star and anemones taken by diver Katrina Poremba at Thumb’s Cove.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area.  We will be working near the red x.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area. We will be working near the red x.

Today, I got a chance to meet with the CO (Commanding Officer), and he explained the navigational charts to me.  Before the ship leaves the port, there must be a navigation plan which shows not only the path the ship will take, but also the estimated time of arrival to various points along the way.  This plan is located on the computer, but also, it must be drawn on a paper chart for backup.

This illustrates again how redundancy, as I discussed in my last blog post, is a very important part of safety on a ship.  Every ship must have up-to-date paper charts on board.  These charts get updated with the information collected from the hydrographic surveys.  The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet which is why Rainier‘s mission of mapping the ocean is so important.  There are many areas in Alaska where the only data on the depth of the water was collected before sonar technology was used.  In fact, some places the data on the charts comes from Captain Cook in the 1700s!  If you look at the chart below the water depth is measured in fathoms.  A fathom is 6 feet deep.  Places that are less than 1 fathom deep have a 05 where the subscript indicates how deep the water is in feet.

TeacheratSea 066
One of the nautical charts that will help Rainier navigate back to its home port in Newport, Oregon. Notice the ocean depth marked in fathoms.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

Today, I also spoke with the AFOO (Acting Field Operations Officer), Adam, about some work that he had been doing on Rainier‘s sister ship NOAA Fairweather.  One project they are working on is connecting hydrographic data to fish distribution and abundance mapping.  Basically, they want to find out if it is possible to use sonar data to predict what types of fish and how many you will find in a particular location

They believe this will work, because the sonar produces a back scatter signature that can give you an idea of the sea floor composition (i.e. what it is made of).  For instance, they could tell you if the sea floor is rocky, silty, or sandy using just sonar, as opposed to, manually taking a bottom sample.  If this hydrographic data is integrated with the data collected by other NOAA ships that use trawl nets to survey the fish in an area, this would allow NOAA to manage fisheries more efficiently.  For example, if you have map that tells you that an area is likely to have fish fry (young fish) of a vulnerable species, then NOAA might consider making this a protected area.

Personal Log

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.
Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

On Tuesday, I had a little extra time in the afternoon, so I decided to ride my bike down to the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Seward.  There were Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus), Puffins (Genus Fratercula), Pacific Salmon (Genus Oncorhynchus) and much more.  I really appreciated that the SeaLife Center focused on both conservation and on organisms that live in this area.  A local high school even had their art students make an exhibit out of trash found on the beach to highlight the major environmental issue of trash that finds its way to the ocean.

Can you think a project we could do that would highlight a main environmental concern in Eastern Tennessee?  I also thought is was really interesting to see the Puffins dive into the water.  The SeaLife Center exhibit explained about how Puffin bones are more dense than non-sea birds.  These higher density bones are an adaptation that helps them dive deeper.

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center
Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

I officially moved into the ship today.  Prior to that, I was staying at a hotel while they were finishing up repairs.  We are expected to get underway on Friday afternoon.  I am staying in the princess suite!  It is nice and cozy.  I have all of the essentials.  I have a desk, bunk beds, 2 closets, and one bathroom (head).

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward Alaska
Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward, Alaska
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed "The Princess Suite."
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed “The Princess Suite.”


Did You Know? 

Junior Officers get homework assignments just like you.  At the navigation briefing today, the CO (Commanding Officer) told the Junior Officers what that they needed to review several documents before going through the inside passage (a particularly tricky area to navigate).  He is expecting them to lead different parts of the next navigation briefing, but he isn’t going to tell them which part they are leading until right before. Therefore, it is important that they know it all!  It’s a little like a pop quiz and presentation in one.

Word of the Day

Bathymetry – the study of the “beds” or “floors” of bodies of water.

9 Replies to “Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 2014”

  1. We are impressed with your ability to listen to everything that the crew has told you!

    We are thinking of projects that we could do to highlight environmental issues in East TN. First we have to pick an issue! We are considering: endangered species, pollution, and troubles caused by dams on our rivers.

    We might be interested in building a model dam to learn more about how they affect the ecosystem around them.

    We’d like to study how many endangered species have been killed since they were first protected. We wonder if hunters kill endangered species, accidentally or purposefully. We could bring attention to this issue by hosting a trivia game where we ask people how much they know about endangered species and then tell them the correct answers!

    We love you!

    Bon Voyage,
    1st Period

    1. The key to remembering what they tell me is to take notes. 😉 I carry around a little notebook with me when I talk to people. I like your project ideas!

  2. Do you have a roommate to sleep in the other bunk? Will you get to go swimming in that “warm” water?

    To answer your question about the project, we have two ideas.

    1)We could gather lichen from different areas to highlight the amount of smog in the air in the Tennessee Valley. Lichen are a very good indicator of air pollution.

    2) We could raise awareness of black bears in the Smoky Mountains becoming dependent on humans due to food being left out at campsite. To do this, we would build a life-sized black bear out of camping food like hotdogs, marshmallows, and chips.

    3) Overpopulation of deer is a problem. We could build a display that shows what could happen over time if deer aren’t killed.

    Your “Favorite” Class
    3rd Period

    1. I don’t have a roommate, and I will NOT go swimming! I am sure I would get hypothermia if I wasn’t wearing a dry suit, and I don’t have a dry suit, so swimming is off the table.

      Your bear idea is making me hungry just thinking about it! Great ideas!

  3. Do you have a roommate?
    How long does it take to map the seafloor in the area with the red X on the map?
    Do fish interfere with the sonar beams? Do you correct the data for fish interference?

    We could do a project to highlight the effect of invasive species in East TN. We’ll make a poster that shows a tree with a face whose branches spell out “Life” and kudzu is strangling the “life” out of the tree. This would represent the pushing out of native species by invasive species which can be detrimental to an ecosystem.

    4th Period

    1. 1) I don’t have a roommate.
      2) That is a great question! The long answer is it is complicated. The time it takes varies depending on a number of factors. Obviously, weather can play a factor. Number of holidays (see my October 10th blog) can play a role. Also, ocean depth can play a factor. You generally go slower over deeper areas so you get more pings back (higher resolution), but if it is all deep and flat, Rainier can handle more of the whole area which will be faster than if smaller boats have to go out and do certain areas. They have a spreadsheet that takes into account many of these factors and gives you an estimated time to complete an area. The short answer if you are referring to all of the area marked with the B4 near the red x would be 1 to 2 months.
      3) Schools of fish can show up on the sonar, but they don’t mess up the data. You don’t have to correct for fish the way you do for tides.

    1. Sure! I could hang it in my room, or we could hang it in a common area of the school if we get approval.

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