NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
May 28 – June 7, 2017
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 5, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: ≥ 1 Nautical Mile
Wind Direction: 090°E
Wind Speed: 20 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1008.3 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 13.3°C
Air Temperature: 12.1°C
Science and Technology Log
3… 2… 1… deploy the drifting buoy! The NOAA Office of Climate Observation established the Adopt a Drifter Program in 2004 for K-16 teachers. The program’s mission is “to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world and engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science.” By adopting a drifter I am provided the unique opportunity of infusing ocean observing system data into my library media curriculum. A drifter, or drifting buoy, is a floating ocean buoy that collects data on the ocean’s surface. They tend to last approximately 400 days in the water. Drifters allow scientists to track ocean currents, changes in temperature, salinity, and other important components of the ocean’s surface as they float freely and transmit information.
The buoy is equipped with a thermistor, a drogue and a transmitter so that it can send out daily surface water temperatures and its position to an Argos satellite while it is being moved by surface currents pulling on the drogue. Soon I will receive the WMO number of my drifting buoy to access data online from the drifter. My students and I will receive a drifter tracking chart to plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves freely in the surface ocean currents. Students will be able to make connections between the data accessed online and other maps showing currents, winds, and surface conditions.
How to Deploy a Drifter:
- Remove the plastic covering (shrink-wrapped) from the buoy on the ship.
- Record the five-digit ID number of the drifter inscribed on the surface float.
- A magnet is then removed from the buoy, which starts a transmitter (located in the upper dome) to allow data from the buoy to be sent to a satellite and then to a ground-based station so we can retrieve the data.
- Throw the unpacked drifter from the lowest possible deck of the ship into the sea. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents.
- Record the date, time, and location of the deployment as well as the five-digit ID.
GoPro footage of the drifter’s deployment
My drifter buoy was launched at 8:01 PM (20:01) on June 3rd, 2017. Its official position is 43 degrees 32.9 minutes North, 067 degrees 40.5 minutes West.
The WMO # associated with my drifter is 44907. To track the buoy and view data, please visit the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center website. There, you will find instructions on how to access data via the NOAA Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC) webpage or Quality Control Tools Buoy Location and Trajectory website. My students will have full access to our drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date) in near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the Global Drifter Program. Students can access, retrieve, and plot various subsets of data as a time series for specified time periods for any drifting buoy and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year). My students are going to be thrilled when learn they get to be active participants in NOAA’s oceanography research.
Below is a 2-minute video from NOAA’s National Ocean Service to learn more about drifting buoys.
Deploying my drifting buoy in 360-degress
Understanding where you are on the grid is essential when navigating a ship of any size. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter houses a major operation with 30 personnel on board. The safety of each individual is a primary concern for Commanding Officer, Lindsay Kurelja. She knows all there it is to know about navigating a marine vessel. Early mariners heavily relied on the stars and landmarks to determine their position in the sea. While celestial and terrestrial navigation techniques are still effective and used often by contemporary sailors, modern ships have GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it lets us know where we are and where we are going anywhere on Earth. GPS is quickly becoming an integrative part of our society. It is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations.
Commanding Officer Kurelja and her crew use a GPS receiver to chart Gordon Gunter’s position in the ocean. The ship receives signals from 10 satellites that are in lower orbit. Once the ship’s receiver calculates its distance from four or more satellites, it knows exactly where we are.
Within seconds, from thousands of miles up in space, our location can be determined with incredible precision, often within a few yards of your actual location. [Source — NOAA] The satellites’ signals give NOAA officers the ship’s positioning. Then, using a nautical chart of the area in which we are cruising, the Navigation bridge team plots the latitude position and the longitude position to determine the ship’s exact location.
Since my expedition began you might have wondered, “How is he even sending these blog posts from so far out at sea?” That is a legitimate question. One I had been asking myself. So, I went to Tony VanCampen, Gordon Gunter’s Chief Electronics Technician for the answer. You may have guessed it; the answer has something to do with Earth’s satellites. Providing internet on ships is different than on land because, well, there is no land. We are surrounded by water; there are no towers or cables.
On the deck of the ship is a fixed installation antenna that provides broadband capability. It looks like a mini water tower. The antenna sends signals about the ship’s positioning to a geostationary satellite. A geostationary satellite is placed directly over the equator and revolves in the same direction the earth rotates (west to east). The ship’s computers use the connection made between the antenna and the satellite to transfer data which the satellite in turn sends to a ground site in Holmdel, New Jersey. The site in New Jersey connects the ship to the Internet.
Chief Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen not only understands, installs, maintains, and repairs all the technology on board Gordon Gunter, he is an expert on all things nautical. Tony has been an asset to my Teacher at Sea experience. He takes the time to not only explain how equipment works, but he shows me where things are and then demonstrates their capabilities. Aboard Gordon Gunter, Tony runs all of the mission electronics, navigational electronics, and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Tony has been working at sea since 1986 when he joined the NAVY and reported on board the USS Berkeley. He took a short break from work at sea when he became a physical security specialist for the NAVY at a weapons station. Tony has held several roles in the NAVY and with NOAA, all have given him a wealth of knowledge about ship operations. He is dedicated to the needs of the crew, scientists, and as of late, one Teacher at Sea. I owe Tony a debt of gratitude for his assistance and kindness.
Out to Sea (Saturday, June 3)
As I entered the dry lab this morning to report for duty, there was a lot of exciting chatter going on. I presumed a whale had been seen nearby or an unusual fish was caught in one of the bongo nets. While either of these situations would generate excitement, the lab’s enthusiasm was on the drifting buoy that was to be deployed today. I love how the scientists and volunteers get overwhelmed with joy for all things “science”. I had strong feelings after learning the news, as well. My emotions steered more toward worry than elation because I was the one to deploy the buoy! What if I deployed the drifting buoy incorrectly? What if it gets sucked under the ship? What if a whale eats it? Questions like these kept running through my mind all afternoon. Luckily, time spent rinsing bongo nets and preserving plankton samples kept my mind off the matter. But a voice in the back of my brain kept repeating, “What if…”
I finally laid my worries to rest. At sunset I deployed the drifting buoy without incident! The entire event was extremely special. My buoy is now floating atop the waves of the Gulf of Maine and soon to other parts of the sea. Yes, it will be all alone on the surface, but underneath and above will be a plethora of wildlife. Even when no one is there to witness it, ocean life carries on. For my students and me, we do not have to be with the drifting buoy physically to experience its journey. The transmitting equipment will give us the opportunity to go on the same adventure as the buoy while learning new things along the way.
A New Week (Sunday, June 4)
It has been one week, seven days since I first arrived on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Like the virga (an observable streak of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporates or before reaching the surface) we experienced this morning, my time aboard the ship is fleeting, too. As the days dwindle until we disembark, I find myself attempting to soak in as much of the experience as I can. Suddenly, I am looking at the horizon a little longer; I pay closer attention to the sounds made by the ship; and I pause to think about how each sample will tell us more about the Earth’s mysterious oceans. Yes, a week has passed, but now it is the first day of a new week. With two days and a “wakeup” remaining, I intend to embrace each moment to its fullest.
Just Another Manic Monday (Monday, June 5)
No matter the day or time, NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter runs like clockwork. Today, however, the ship seemed to be buzzing with a different kind of energy. NOAA Corps Officers and the crew have been moving around the ship with an ever greater sense of purpose. Believe me, there is never an idle hand aboard Gordon Gunter. One major factor that heavily influences the ship’s operations is the weather. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine. Gale warnings mean maritime locations are expected to experience winds of Gale Force on the Beaufort scale.
Tonight’s weather forecast are winds reaching 20-30 Knots with seas building to 4 to 6 feet. Tuesday’s forecast is even grimmer: winds between 25-35 Knots and waves reaching 7-12 feet. [Source — National Weather Service] Even though the weather forecast is ominous, I fear not! Having witnessed the professionalism and expertise of every crew member on board the ship, I have full confidence in Gordon Gunter.
Chief Scientist and the Commanding Officer adjusted our course due to the imminent weather. We passed through the Cape Cod Canal, an artificial waterway in the state of Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels and people often just sit and watch ships and boats transiting the waterway. It was indeed a joyous occasion seeing land on the starboard and port sides of the ship. The passage provided many more sites to see compared to the open ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise through the Cape Cod Canal, but inside me was the desire to one day return to the deep, blue sea.
As you can tell, this blog post’s theme revolves around positioning and tracking. So, I decided to ask the seabird and marine mammal observers about the technology and methods they use to identify the positioning of animals out on the open ocean. Our wildlife observers, Glen and Nicholas, have a military-grade cased computer they keep with them on the flying bridge while looking for signs of birds and whales. The GPS keeps track of the ship’s position every five minutes so that a log of their course exists for reference later. When Glen or Nicholas identify a bird or marine mammal, they enter the data into the computer system which records the time and their exact GPS position. To know how many meters out an animal is, observers use a range finder.
This pencil has been carefully designed according to their location above sea level which is 13.7 meters from the ship’s flying bridge where the observers keep a sharp lookout. The observers place the top of the pencil on the horizon to get accurate distances. If the bird falls between each carved line on the pencil, they know approximately how many meters away the animal is. Wildlife observers’ rule of thumb for tracking animals is called a strip transect. Strip transects are where observers define a strip of a certain width, and count all creatures within that strip. Glen and Nicholas input data on any animal they see that is within 300 meters of the ship. Providing as much information as possible about the positioning of each observed living thing helps researchers understand what is happening and where.
[Source — Marine Insight]
- RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging): It is used to determine the distance and direction of the ship from land, other ships, or any floating object out at sea.
- Gyro Compass: It is used for finding true direction. It is used to find correct North Position, which is also the earth’s rotational axis.
- Auto Pilot: It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical system and is used to control the ship’s steering system from a remote location (Navigation Bridge).
- Echo Sounder: This instrument is used to measure the depth of the water below the ship’s bottom using sound waves.
- Speed & Distance Log Device: The device is used to measure the speed and the distance traveled by a ship from a set point.
- Automatic Radar Plotting Aid: The radar displays the position of the ships in the vicinity and selects the course for the vessel by avoiding any kind of collision.
- GPS Receiver: A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is a display system used to show the ship’s location with the help of Global positioning satellite in the earth’s orbit.
- Record of Navigation Activities: All the navigational activities must be recorded and kept on board for ready reference. This is a mandatory and the most important log book.
Did You Know?
GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 12,550 miles. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day. The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged so that users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet. [Source — NOAA]