NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 5 – 26, 2017
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey
Date: June 24, 2017
Wind: 20 knots
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Barometer: 1016.0 hPa
Air temperature: 13.2C
Cloud cover: 100%
Location: Gulf of Alaska, 58°58.3N, 138° 49.7W
Science and Technology Log
In the last final week of this long three week leg, survey work on Fairweather has been varied. As data collection for this area has drawn to a close, it has been late nights for the sheet managers, who are making sure all of the holidays (the areas of missing data) are collected, crosslines are accomplished in all areas, and that they have what they need to do a complete report of the area.
Earlier this week the ship completed an additional smaller project out in the Alaskan gulf. Fairweather was tasked with collecting hydrographic data on a subsurface mud volcano that has been discovered southwest of Ketchikan near the Queen Charlotte –Fairweather fault system. Sailing during the day to the location, the surveying began late evening. Rather than using the small launches, Fairweather’s sonar was used. The survey area was quite large and the boundary extended to the edge of Canadian waters. Just as with the small launches, casts had to be done to factor in the water’s salinity and temperature in order to get accurate data. The water column profiling measurement device for Fairweather is located on the stern and once launched can be operated electronically, by hydrographers.
Hydrographers were divided into shifts, working two four hour shifts, throughout the 24 hour data acquisition period. From 12am-4am, hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Drew Leonard, and I, check on the quality of data acquisition and monitored the related software. As we sailed over the vent of the volcano hundreds of meters below the surface, the sonar picked up gas releases, probably methane, coming from the vent. This volcano is potentially part of a volcanic field in this area. I am excited to read and learn more about these mud volcanoes on the active fault in this area and to integrate it into my geology class at school. For more information about mud volcanos in this region, visit https://eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska
Life and work on a ship requires the crew here to learn many things, both about the scientific mission and methodology but also about the ship itself and the safety protocols. NOAA provides training for crew in many different forms, some in situ, some electronically, and others during the non field-season in the form of land-based workshops. Here on Fairweather, workbooks are provided to prepare officers and survey techs to help qualify them as Hydrographers-In-Charge (HIC). Individuals work through these books and hand-on trainings to increase their understanding of the mission, the science content, their ability to work with survey systems, launches, field equipment and to serve as backup coxswains on the launches if necessary.
In wrapping up the work in the area west of Prince of Wales Island, one last task was to dismantle the Base Station that the hydrographers had set up at the beginning of the project. The Base Station houses a GPS and receiver that transmits the data to the ship.
Back on the ship, a route was planned by the NOAA Corps officers and charted both electronically and on the paper charts. It was time for Fairweather to say goodbye to this region of Alaska and to begin the journey north.
While June 21 is a date associated with the solstice, it is also World Hydrography Day. In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on oceans and law of the sea, and encouraged entities/nations to work with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The idea is to increase knowledge of and promote safe marine navigation. As a result, World Hydrography Day was formed and is used as a method to increase knowledge and understanding of hydrography to the general public. Currently only about 10% of the world’s oceans and 50% of the coastal waterways have been directly measured. Much of the rest of the world is dependent on estimates from satellite gravity based measurements or has no data. Most people tend not to think about the role hydrography and knowledge of the seafloor plays in our day to day live. While there is the obvious correlation with safe navigation, seafloor knowledge is important for laying cables and pipelines, to develop maritime boundaries and to help make predictions of what tsunamis waves and hurricanes would do. World Hydrography Day 2017 celebrates the 96th anniversary of the IHO. To celebrate this day, other than continuing to acquire data for the project, the crew gathered together to watch a film from 1976 of Fairweather in Alaska conducting hydrography. While much of the technology has changed and the ship retrofitted, there was a lot of familiarity with the ship and with the job being done.
Being on a ship for weeks at a time, working everyday can take its toll. Over the last couple of days I can see in the faces of the survey crew that, just like the end of a school year, while there still a lot to do before ‘the end’ and people are tired, they are looking forward to a change of pace with their upcoming time in port. The ship is scheduled to be in Kodiak for over a week, allowing for mid-season repairs to be completed. Meanwhile the hydrographers will continue to work on data from this leg and look ahead to the upcoming ones; the deck crew will continue the multitude of tasks that always need to be done; the engineers will continue to fix, clean and monitor the launches, the engines and the myriad of equipment on the ship. The NOAA Corps officers will continue their rotation of duties. The stewards will continue to provide food for everyone. It’s the field season. Everyone is still busy, but there will be off-duty time on land and opportunities to explore the area.
One important concept that is apparent on Fairweather is keeping an eye on everyone’s welfare and well being. Part of the XO’s (Executive Officer) role is to help with morale of all the crew, and to this end, the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) group is key in regular small events. When the ship is in port, optional excursions are arranged and transportation is available to and from the town during evenings and weekend hours. On Sunday evenings, Sundae Sunday happens at 7pm where people come together to have ice cream; The Finer Things Club happens once per leg, and foods such as cheese and crackers, olives and chocolate are served; on World Hydrography Day, the MWR group arranged a ‘holiday hunt’ on the ship with prizes, and ‘hydrography/Fairweather charades’ was played that evening after we had watched the 1976 Fairweather film. Each evening the Fairweather ship’s store opens and folk can purchase their favorite soda or chocolate bar, or in my case, a Fairweather hoodie.
It will take three days approximately to get to Kodiak. Rather than going directly across the Gulf of Alaska from Southeast Alaska, Fairweather moved north through Tlevak Strait, which includes a rather narrow section of water with islands and rocks close on both sides. Having had several weeks of cloud and rain, we were graced with clear blue skies and a warm evening as we headed north. Whales swam in the distance and small islands covered in vegetation rose vertically out of the water. On route we were able to stop for several hours in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. Here the crew were able to explore on land for a while, hike to hot springs and a lake, and take in some more of the beauty of Alaska. It was an incredible blue sky morning (only the third so far this summer according to the locals) , snow was on the peaks around us and bald eagles sat in the nearby trees.
Morale and wellness also come in the form of good food. During my time here on I have been fed excellent food three times a day by the stewards, Ava Speights, Ace Burke, Tyrone Baker and Rory Bacon. The other day I was able to sit down with Ava, acting Chief Steward, and ask her about her job and how the food is planned and prepared for. She was busy making a menu for the upcoming legs of Fairweather and ordering food that would be shipped to Kodiak, and later on, shipped to Nome. She discussed how the budget works and the lead time needed to get produce and supplies to these northern regions.
As my time on Fairweather is coming to an end, I realize that each day contains new normals, and that, after over three weeks here, there will be several transitions to go through such as being back on land and not on a rolling ship, not having food made for me and dishes washed for me, and leaving cloudy cool 50°F weather and cloudy skies to heat waves in New Mexico. I am taking back with me a large amount of new knowledge and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom and school. I am also taking back life-changing memories and hopefully long term connections with people from Fairweather and a desire to come back to Alaska. I know that once I get back to New Mexico more questions will come forth and the Fairweather crew should be prepared to be hearing from me as I figure out how best to use the science in the classroom and in my community. It’s a little bittersweet leaving, knowing that the crew have four months or more of the field season, and that by the time they head back to dry dock for the winter, that we will be over halfway through the first semester of the next school year. I am really thankful to everyone on board for teaching me so much and making this an incredible adventure for me.
Word of the day: Turnover: Part of the nature of ship life, I have discovered is that crew come and go. The NOAA Corps officers have an approximate two year stint on a ship before a three year rotation on land. Deck crew, stewards and engineers are often on ships for multiple seasons, but can apply to move locations and transfer to other ships. ‘Augmenters’ are crew from all departments who come on to ships for one or two legs at a time to fill in when a ship is short-staffed or someone has taken vacation. At the end of each leg, people leave the ship and new people join the ship. The only certain thing here is that there is and always will be staffing changes.
Fact of the day: On our journey north of Tlevak Strait, Fairweather was using fuel at the rate of 0.15mpg. We’ve seen a couple of much larger cruise ships recently and an even larger container ship. Estimate their fuel consumption!
What is this?:
Acronym of the day:
MWR group – Morale, Welfare and Recreation group