NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 9 – 20, 2018
Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and Vicinity
Date: July 13, 2018 at 8:50am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.690′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 15 knots SW, gusts up to 25 knots
Barometer: 761.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 14.4° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 15° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
As you may or may not know, NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is a branch of the Chamber of Commerce and gets funded by the federal government to undergo many important tasks. Their mission is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” (http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency) NOAA Ship Fairweather’s role in that mission is to measure and understand changes in the sea floor to allow for safe navigation in our world’s oceans and seas.
Many different career specialties are required to keep the ship running smoothly. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps operates ships, conducts dive operations, and manages the hydrographic research projects assigned to the ship. They make up one of the seven uniformed services of the United States: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Airforce, Coast Guard, NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and Public Health Service. All NOAA Corps members have a bachelors degree or higher in a STEM field; some of the degrees earned by Corps members on NOAA Ship Fairweather are marine biology, environmental science, wildlife ecology, chemistry, physics, and math.
The Survey Department is comprised of scientists who exclusively focus on the hydrographic mission. They operate and monitor instruments, collect and process data, and deploy and recover survey equipment. Data collection sometimes takes place on the ship and sometimes on small boats. They have to be proficient with advanced hydrographic software and with combining multiple sources of data into one. I have even seen members of the Survey Team conducting dive operations, so being dive-certified is very useful for the job. The Survey team makes nautical charts used by many different industries worldwide.
The Deck Crew consists of Able-Bodied Seamen (ABs) and General Vessel Assistants (GVAs). ABs and GVAs must be knowledgeable and capable of completing many types of work. They perform general maintenance, infrastructure repair, sanitation, and upkeep of the ship. They also assist in emergency operations and the launch and recovery of small boats. Another department is the Steward Team who cook our food, clean the mess (dining area) and galley (kitchen), and wash dishes in the scullery (dish room). They often work 12 hour days, and their work is needed 7 days a week. So far, they have planned nothing but delicious meals for us all to enjoy (especially the desserts!).
Engineers keep the ship functioning well by inspecting, maintaining, and repairing all of the ship systems (water, sewage, power, heating, etc.). They must be familiar with a vast array of equipment in order to do their job well! We also have one medical professional, a Physician’s Assistant, who works in the sick bay to treat anyone who may be ill or injured and assist with emergency operations. Visitors frequent the ship as well. Currently, there is a meteorologist from the National Weather Service and an intern from Loyola University Chicago on board. Specialists may come aboard for a few days or a whole trip depending on what kind of work they are doing. As you can see, working aboard a ship is not limited to ocean-related careers. You can find positions for many different interests, and all of these people get to work in an environment that most others don’t get to experience!
In my previous blog, I promised to include a picture of a nautical chart developed by the multibeam echosounder (MBES) on NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats. The photo below shows progress on a survey that began in April 2018. As you can see by the colored boxes that not all of the surveying is yet complete. NOAA Ship Fairweather has experienced a fairly difficult season with some mechanical setbacks, but they use every minute possible when underway, sometimes working 24 hours per day in designated shifts to finish a job. Every team on this ship does a great job working together and adjusting to the unexpected!
The numbers around the chart show depth in fathoms from previous surveys (the survey is in meters). Before echosounding technology was developed, surveys were often completed using lead lines. Lead lines are exactly what they sound like; there is a long rope with a block of lead attached to the end. It is slowly lowered through the water column until it hits the sea floor. The line is then pulled back up and the water depth is measured. This form of surveying gives mariners some idea of what the sea floor looks like, but you can see that current technology allows for a fuller coverage map of the area. This is helpful because fishing and transportation ships need to know what obstacles they may encounter below the surface of the water while traveling.
Our ship is very close to Nome’s town center, and there are a few interesting things to do and see! Nome is the ending point of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race. You can find photos all over town of previous competitors in addition to standing under the arc of the finish line in the middle of town. There is a museum in town, the Carrie McLain Museum, that showcases the beautiful history of Nome and has over 15,000 artifacts.
It’s also very easy to access some beautiful hiking. I hiked Anvil Mountain yesterday with a couple other friends on the ship. During our hike, we encountered two separate herd of Muskox. They are large, gentle creatures that call the Arctic regions their home. You can learn more information on this National Geographic website. We made sure to keep a safe distance away because both herds had young, and we did not want them to feel threatened in our presence.
After a few extra days in Nome, I am happy to announce that we began our 22 hour journey to Point Hope at 10:00 this morning! The survey work will start once we reach our final destination. If all goes well, we will cross the Arctic Circle tonight. There is a history in the Navy of awarding sailors unofficial certificates for crossing navigation lines at sea. For example, sailors earn the “Shellback” when they cross the Equator by boat. When we cross the Arctic Circle, many of us onboard will earn the “Blue Nose”. You can see other unofficial certificates that are offered around the globe on this Navy website.
Did You Know?
In January of 1925, the Nome hospital realized their treatment serum for the deadly diptheria infection was expired, and the winter weather was too harsh to send a replacement via plane. People began to get infected, and they were in a state of emergency! If treatment didn’t arrive soon, the entire town could acquire the disease. Luckily, over twenty sled dog mushers volunteered to take part in a relay on the Iditarod Trail, spanning over 650 miles of wilderness. The final sled dog team was led by 3-year old Balto, a siberian husky. Does this story sound familiar? In 1995, a cartoon movie was made and given the name “Balto” in honor of the brave, rookie sled dog who led his team into Nome on February 2, 1925 to save the town!
Question of the Day
How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land? (For example: the “scullery” = “dish washer”).
Hint: reread the “Science and Technology” section of this blog for a few answers! Feel free to leave your answer as a comment!
Answer to Last Question of the Day:
If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area?
- The time must be divided in half to find the time it took for the sound to travel one way:
0.08 seconds x 0.5 = 0.04 seconds
- Plug your known values into the equation: distance = rate x time
rate = 1,504 m/s time = 0.04 seconds
distance = (1,504 m/s) x (0.04 seconds)
distance = 60.16 meters deep