Victoria Obenchain: Robots in the Arctic, July 5, 2018


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 61o 04.7’ N
  • Longitude: 167o 53.5’ W
  • Wind Speed: 4 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, southwest
  • Visibility: 150 feet
  • Air Temperature: 9.8o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center have partnered up to test out an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), a programmable robotic survey boat. In two weeks, they will be deploying the ASV in the Arctic, in the Point Hope vicinity, where NOAA Ship Fairweather has been tasked to map the ocean.

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There are many benefits to using the ASV for ocean mapping. First, it is able to survey in shallower waters than the launch boats, especially along coastlines. This data will be helpful to those who work on predicting storm surges and flooding for coastal communities. Second, the ASV can survey in potentially dangerous areas the launches would not be able to gain access to, such as in rocky areas or areas where there may be sandbars, that data will be helpful for smaller boats who use the area. Third, it can provide additional survey capacity in conjunction with the launches. For example, 4 launch boats could be sent out and an ASV to get an area surveyed, cutting down on the time required to accomplish missions. And lastly, if trained personnel are not available to drive or survey in a launch, this gives an additional option to the crew to accomplish the survey.

While those benefits are the goal of using ASV’s in the future, this summer’s mission with the ASV is to allow people to get acquainted with the robot, work out issues with software and the robot itself, and see how effective this tool is. The crew will practice deploying and recovering the robot. While robots can make jobs easier and possibly even safer for humans, until it is tested, you are never sure if they will actually be helpful. Robots in general tend to be finicky, have no sense of danger, and are not be able to work when waves are too high. Additionally, sometimes how we presume something will work in theory plays out differently in practice. I see this in my classroom all the time when the first and fourth graders are working with their robots and inventions, so trial and error is important, especially with a new tool. However, with any luck, this will serve as an excellent resource for the future of ocean hydrography.

How do you keep spirits high in Alaska, on a research vessel?

The crew on NOAA Ship Fairweather seems to have the right idea when it comes to keeping moral high. As I have said before, living and working in the same smallish space can have it challenges. Yet this ship has been doing scientific hydrographic research for 50 years, and has people on board who love their job and this small community. So how do they do it? I have learned a few of their ways.

They are a super welcoming community. They accept each other, and the different perspectives people bring to the job, and make each other feel appreciated. This welcoming attitude plays well for those who visit, as well.

They have Carrie, a chef who makes three delicious meals a day with her fellow stewards. She uses quality foods, remembers everyone’s likes and dislikes, and cheerfully greets everyone as the come into the mess line. Everyone on board looks forward to meals and especially her desserts! From cookies, carrot cake, puddings to even cheese cake; she is keeping everyone a bit spoiled- especially me!

They have a gym on board. There are machines, weights, group challenges and goal setting going on. Working out helps people have an outlet for their stress and any pent up energy. Also, it can help you feel better after having a bit too much dessert one night!

There is a ship store, which stocks essentials, candy, people’s favorite sodas, and some ship memorabilia. And let’s be honest, sometimes you need a Diet Coke, M&M’s, or a Zip Fizz to help you get 41,000% of your daily B12! All profits go into the staff’s moral fund. This can get used for the staff to have extra snacks, excursions and community evenings on the boat.

They have a Moral, Wellness and Recreation committee (MWR). This group of 5 individuals plan and put on community events some evenings while at sea, excursions while in port and support other community gathering events.

General community gatherings take place regularly. While I have been on board, there have been movie and TV show nights where people gather in the lounge and watch together. A board game evening where those interested gathered to battle each other at Settlers of Catan. A Rock Band evening where even I found myself singing and playing guitar with officers, visitors and the CO and XO of the ship.

There is a Finer Things Club where people listen to classical music, light fake candles, share candies, cheeses and other items not on the ships menu with one another. And just have some nice, classy relaxation time with one another.

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They have access to a huge collection of movies; both old and brand new. This creates much excitement and joy for many. In addition to that, there is an extensive board game collection, model planes that can be built and puzzles for those who prefer quieter evenings.

They celebrate holiday and maritime events in a big way! The MWR club decorates the ships common areas for such events, and works overtime to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. From drawing decorative hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, carving pumpkins for Halloween and making red white and blue rag tapestries for Independence Day; even though they are at sea, they are not missing out!

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Everyone helps out when one department needs it. This helps create unity among the staff and for everyone to get to know each other better. Those in Survey help out the Deck Department for docking and launching, and if someone gets sick or a department is low in personnel, they sign up to help out that department.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the ship, so I will be posting one more blog when I return home. My experience has been so enlightening about NOAA, hydrography, Alaska, and life on a ship! I can not wait to share this with all of you, my students!  For those of you still reading along this summer, this is the path we have taken from Juneau to Nome, AK. I unfortunately will not be continuing on with NOAA Ship Fairweather as they venture farther north, but am so impressed with their dedication and skill in making our coastlines safe for both the mariners in the area and the environment.

 

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Our route to Nome, AK.

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