NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 25th-July 6th, 2018
Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska
Date: June 26th, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge:
- Latitude: 58o 11.3’ N
- Longitude: 134o 23.2’ W
- Wind Speed: 6 knots
- Wind Direction: East
- Visibility: 7 nautical miles
- Air Temperature: 12.5o C
- Current Sky Conditions: 99% Cloud over made up of mainly stratus clouds, with a consistent drizzle
Science and Technology Log
I joined the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Juneau where it has been undergoing upgrades to its propulsion control. Due to these upgrades, yesterday and today the ship has been conducting sea trials to learn how the new upgrades work, train their crew on them and to make sure everything is calibrated accurately before we head out to sea and continue on the ship’s mission.
NOAA Ship Fairweather is a 231 foot long hydrographic (hydro meaning “water”, graphic meaning “drawing”) survey ship which helps map the sea floor and update nautical maps using sonar. A communications specialist contracting for NOAA, Gina Digiantonio, said it best (I will paraphrase her here): Would you jump into a body of water not knowing how deep it was? Or would you want to know you weren’t going to get hurt? This is the same thing ships and vessels have to plan for; will they run aground, hit rocks, is it safe enough for them to get through? By knowing the depth of the sea floor, mariners can avoid dangerous and expensive accidents to both their vessels and the environment.
This research is done not only with NOAA Ship Fairweather, but with the help of 4 smaller boats, or launches, on board. Each launch is equipped with its own sonar equipment which when all in use, help get large areas of the sea floor mapped at once. Below you can watch one of these 8 ton launches being lowered into the Juneau harbor.
This work is incredibly important. Some nautical charts in the area date back to before the 1900’s with lesser bottom coverage and some areas in use are not mapped at all. With the forecast of complete loss of summer sea ice by 2050 in the Northwestern Alaska area, and with that the increase in commercial vessel traffic; the need for accurate maps to ensure safety of all vessels and the surrounding environment is important work.
Since I am a visitor on the NOAA Ship Fairweather; I, along with a few other visitors and new employees, took part in a safety orientation in case of emergencies. We learned where life vests and life boats are located, where to go in case of an emergency and what calls are used to notify those on the ship, as well as the procedures associated with each situation. Additionally, we had to practice getting into an immersion suit in case we had to abandon ship. These are full body wet suits which are waterproof and help prevent hypothermia. Mine was a bit big, so I was given a smaller one. You can see me modeling a larger one here:
I got to Juneau a day before the ship was set to start sea trials so I was able to visit Mendenhall Glacier which is about 12 miles outside of Juneau with two other visitors of NOAA Ship Fairweather. As many glaciers are retreating around the globe, I felt lucky to go visit this one!
The 13 mile glacier stops at the Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years. Evidence of the glaciers movement is seen on the rocks, as they are polished from where miles of heavy ice has slid over them, over time. This glacier has been retreating for the last 500 years and in doing so it has made new ecosystems around Juneau. These ecosystems include: a wetland for migrating birds, Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through (pictured below). The glacier’s retreat is noticeable from pictures taken over time at the visitor center.