Jill Bartolotta: ROV, CTD, OMG, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 10, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°04.9’ N

Longitude: 079°53.2’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Wind Direction: 241

Visibility: 10

Air Temperature: 26.7° C

Barometric Pressure: 1017.9

Sky: Clear

Science and Technology Log

As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.

CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.

Sidney and CTD
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn assisting with CTD launch. Photo Credit: Charlie Wilkins SST Okeanos Explorer

Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.

Deep water canyon-like feature
Deep water canyon-like feature with cold water and high oxygen levels. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

ROV

ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.

Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE
Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE

Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:

  • Lights to illuminate the dark deep
  • High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
  • An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
  • Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
  • Rock box to hold rock specimens
  • Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
ROV D2 labeled
D2 with some of her specimen collection parts labeled.

My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.

ROV Brain
D2’s “brain” is shown behind the metal bars. The bars are there for extra protection. The panel boxes and tubes are filled with a yellow colored liquid. This liquid is the mineral oil that is used to reduce the pressure the boxes and tubes feel as D2 descends to the ocean floor.

D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.

bathymetry features
Multibeam bathymetry collected on this cruise that shows features which are similar to mound building coral that are known to be in the area. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Mound-Building Coral

Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.

mound-building coral (Credit: NOAA OER)
Large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, stony coral, found at the top of the crest of Richardson Ridge during Dive 07 of the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition. Rubble of this species also appeared to form the mounds found in this region.

Personal Log

We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.

Dorsal fin of a pilot whale
Dorsal fin of a pilot whale

There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.

Did You Know?

You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.

ROV competition
High school ROV competition at The Ohio State University.

References

Mound Building Coral: NOAA, 2010, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/10lophelia/background/biology/biology.html

Pilot Whales: American Cetacean Society, 2018, https://www.acsonline.org/pilot-whale

Lona Hall: Land and Sea, June 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 12, 2019

Time:  1541 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1009’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0031’ W

Wind Speed: 9.0 knots

Wind Direction: N (10 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.78° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Lona in immersion suit
All dressed up (in an immersion suit) and no place to go

Science and Technology Log

You may be wondering what role technology plays in a hydrographic survey.  I have already written about how modern survey operations rely on the use of multibeam sonar.  What I have not described, and am still coming to understand myself, is how complex the processing of sonar data is, involving different types of hardware and software.  

For example, when the sonar transducer sends out a pulse, most of the sound leaves and eventually comes back to the boat at an angle.  When sound or light waves move at an angle from one substance into another, or through a substance with varying density, they bend. You have probably observed this before and not realized it.  A plastic drinking straw in a glass of water will appear broken through the glass. That is because the light waves traveling from the straw to your eye bend as they travel.

Refraction in a glass of water
Refraction in a glass of water

The bending of a wave is called refraction. Sound waves refract, too, and this refraction can cause some issues with our survey data. Thanks to technology, there are ways to solve this problem. The sonar itself uses the sound velocity profile from our CTD casts in real time to adjust the data as we collect it. Later on during post processing, some of the data may need to be corrected again, using the CTD cast profiles most appropriate for that area at that general time. Corrections that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand are simplified with the use of technology.

Another interesting project in which I’ve been privileged to participate this week was setting up a base station at Shark Point in Ugak Bay.  You have most likely heard of the Global Positioning System, and you may know that GPS works by identifying your location on Earth’s surface relative to the known locations of satellites in orbit.  (For a great, kid-friendly explanation of GPS, I encourage students to check out this website.)  But what happens if the satellites aren’t quite where we think they are?  That’s where a base station, or ground station, becomes useful. Base stations, like the temporary one that we installed at Shark Point, are designed to improve the precision of positioning data, including the data used in the ship’s daily survey operations.

power source for the base station
Setting up the power source for the base station

Setting up the Base Station involved several steps.  First, a crew of six people were carried on RA-7, the ship’s small skiff, to the safest sandy area near Shark Point. It was a wet and windy trip over on the boat, but that was only the beginning! Then, we carried the gear we needed, including two tripods, two antennae (one FreeWave antenna to connect with the ship and a Trimble GPS antenna), a few flexible solar panels, two car batteries, a computer, and tools, through the brush and brambles and up as close to the benchmark as we could reasonably get.  A benchmark is a physical marker (in this case, a small bronze disk) installed in a location with a known elevation above mean sea level. For more information about the different kinds of survey markers, click here.

Base station installers
Base station installers: damp, but not discouraged

Next we laid out a tarp, set up the antennae on their tripods, and hooked them up to their temporary power source.  After ensuring that both antennae could communicate, one with the ship and the other with the satellites, we met back up with the boat to return to the ship.  The base station that we set up will be retrieved in about a week, once it has served its purpose.


Career Focus – Commanding Officer (CO), NOAA Corps

CO Ben Evans at dinner
CO Ben Evans enjoying dinner with the other NOAA Corps officers

Meet Ben Evans.  As the Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Rainier, he is the leader, responsible for everything that takes place on board the ship as well as on the survey launches. Evans’ first responsibility is to the safety of the ship and its crew, ensuring that people are taking the appropriate steps to reduce the risks associated with working at sea.  He also spends a good deal of his time teaching younger members of the crew, strategizing with the other officers the technical details of the mission, and interpreting survey data for presentation to the regional office.

Evans grew up in upstate New York on Lake Ontario.  He knew that he wanted to work with water, but was unsure of what direction that might take him.  At Williams College he majored in Physics and then continued his education at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, completing their 3-year Engineering Degree Program.  While at WHOI, he learned about the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, and decided to apply.  After four months of training, he received his first assignment as a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Rude surveying the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.  Nearly two decades later, he is the Commanding Officer of his own ship in the fleet.

When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Evans smiled to himself and took a moment to reply.  He then described the fulfillment that comes with knowing that he is a small piece of an extensive, ongoing project–a hydrographic tradition that began back in 1807 with the United States Survey of the Coast.  He enjoys working with the young crew members of the ship, sharing in their successes and watching them grow so that together they may carry that tradition on into the future.

Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer
Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer, tracks our location on the chart


Personal Log

For my last post, I would like to talk about some of the amazing marine life that I have seen on this trip.  Seals, sea lions, and sea otters have shown themselves, sometimes in surprising places like the shipyard back in Seward.  Humpback whales escorted us almost daily on the way to and from our small boat survey near Ugak Bay. One day, bald eagles held a meeting on the beach of Ugak Island, four of them standing in a circle on the sand, as two others flew overhead, perhaps flying out for coffee.  Even the kelp, as dull as it might seem to some of my readers, undulated mysteriously at the surface of the water, reminding me of alien trees in a science fiction story.

Shark Point
Looking out over Shark Point from the base station

Stepping up onto dry land beneath Shark Point, we were dreading (yet also hoping for) an encounter with the great Kodiak brown bear. Instead of bears, we saw a surprising number of spring flowers, dotting the slopes in clumps of blue, purple, and pink. I am sensitive to the smells of a new place, and the heady aroma of green things mixed with the salty ocean spray made our cold, wet trek a pleasure for me.  


Word of the Day

Davit – a crane-like device used to move boats and other equipment on a ship


Speaking of Refraction…

Rainbow
Rainbows are caused by the refraction of light through the lower atmosphere

Thank you to NOAA Ship Rainier, the Teacher at Sea Program, and all of the other people who made this adventure possible.  This was an experience that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to share it with my students back in Georgia!

Betsy Petrick: Hurry Up and Shape Up to Ship Out, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 13, 2019

Introduction

In just two weeks I will be shipping out of Gulfport, Mississippi on the University of Southern Mississippi Research Vessel Point Sur.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will actually be a student again, learning all I can about ocean archaeology and deep-sea microbial biomes. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to learn what it is like to live and work at sea! In particular, I am looking forward to seeing how archaeologists work at sea.  My undergraduate degree was in archaeology and I worked in the desert of New Mexico and southern Colorado where we mapped with pencil and paper, and took samples with a shovel. Ocean archaeology will require more sophisticated technology and a different approach!  

Let me give you a little background about myself.  My husband and I live in a tiny town called Husum on the White Salmon River in Washington State. My family enjoys outdoor activities including rafting and kayaking. This year my daughter is working as a raft guide on the White Salmon. I know when the commercial raft trips are passing by because I can hear the tourists scream as their boats go over Husum Falls!   My son is studying Engineering in college and is spending this summer in Spain learning Spanish and surfing. Unfortunately for my husband, summer is the busy time for construction. As a general contractor, he will be working hard.

Petrick family rafting
The whole family rafting the Deschutes River in Oregon, hmmm… quite a few years ago, but we still love it!

During the regular school year, I teach fourth grade math and science at the local intermediate school.  One of our biggest science units each year is to raise salmon in the classroom and learn about the salmon life cycle, adaptations and the importance of protecting salmon habitat.  In addition, this year we tackled a big project around plastic pollution in the oceans and how we can make a difference in our own community through education and action. My students are rightfully indignant about the condition of our oceans, and I have also become an ocean advocate since initiating this project.

Student salmon drawings
Kids made scientific drawings of salmon, and then painted and stuffed them. They swam around the classroom ceiling all year!

Scientists on the Point Sur have several goals. First of all, they will map two shipwrecks that have never been explored.  Both are wooden-hulled historic shipwrecks that were identified during geophysical surveys related to oil and gas exploration.  Archaeologists hope to determine how old the ships are, what their purpose was, and their nationality, to determine if they are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).   A third shipwreck we will visit is a steel-hulled, former luxury steam yacht that sank in 1944. It was previously mapped and some experiments were left there in 2014 which we will recover.

In addition to mapping, we will take samples of the sediments around the ships to see how shipwrecks shape the microbial environment.  The Gulf of Mexico is a perfect place for this work because it is rich in shipwrecks. Shipwrecks create unique reef habitats that are attractive to organisms both large and small. I wonder what kinds of sea life we will discover living around the shipwrecks we visit?

The first question my students asked me was if I was going to scuba dive. While that would be exciting, it’s not allowed for Teachers at Sea! To gather information about the shipwrecks, we will deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Odysseus (Pelagic Research Services, Inc.) . Odysseus will have a camera, a manipulator arm to gather samples, a tray to carry all the sampling gear and SONAR and lights. I think I will be content to watch its progress on the ship’s video screens.

School is almost out, and my fourth graders are chomping at the bit to get out if the classroom and begin their own summer adventures, but I hope they will follow my blog and keep me company while I am on board ship!    Am I feeling a little intimidated? Absolutely! But also very excited to have the opportunity to participate in what is sure to be a great adventure.

Lona Hall: Rockin’ at the NALL on Ugak, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 10, 2019

Time:  1932 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1359’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0488’ W

Wind Speed: 17.2 knots

Wind Direction: N (353 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.13° Celsius

Water Temperature: 9.44° Celsius

Lona on a launch vessel
Sitting in the sun on a launch, Rainier in the background


Science and Technology Log

For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here).  Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey.  First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.  

Point Cloud
Point Cloud: Each dot represents a lidar “ping”, indicating the presence of features above the waterline

Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart.  The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island.  The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions.  An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.

Amanda and Audrey
Amanda and Audrey discussing the locations of rocks along the shoreline

I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself.  In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations.  At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students.  No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.


Career Focus – Marine Engineer

Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997.  A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school.  The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.

Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer

Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength.  The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations.  They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.

Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job.  Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world.  He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box.  As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.


Personal Log

In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway.  I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home.  How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!

Ugak Bay
Ugak Bay (Can you spot the whale?)


Word of the Day

bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship

Q & A

Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?

Yes!  NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.

What did you eat for dinner?

This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.

(:

Jill Bartolotta: Sounds of the Deep, June 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 5, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°01.5’ N

Longitude: 079°16.0’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 128

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 27.7°C

Barometric Pressure: 1021.3

Sky: few

Science and Technology Log

What is sonar?

Sonar is the use of sound to describe the marine environment. Sonar can be compared to satellites that use light to provide information about Earth, but instead of light, sound is used. It is used to develop nautical charts, detect hazards under the water, find shipwrecks, learn about characteristics of the water column such as biomass, and map the ocean floor. There are two types of sonar, active and passive. Active sonar is sonar that sends out its own sound wave. The sonar sends a sound wave (ping) out into the water and then waits for the sound to return. The return sound signal is called an echo. By assessing the time, angle, and strength of the return sound wave or echo one can learn many details about the marine environment. Passive sonar does not actively send out a sound ping, but rather listens for the sound from other objects or organisms in the water. These objects may be other vessels and these organisms may be whales or marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Sound waves move through the water at different speeds. These speeds are known as frequencies and the unit of measurement for sound is a hertz (Hz). Lower frequencies (example 18 kHz) are able to go farther down because they move slower and have more power behind them. It is like when a car goes down your street, pumping the bass (always seems to happen when I am trying to sleep) and you can hear it for a long time. That is because it is a low frequency and has longer wave lengths. Higher frequencies (example 200 kHz) move faster, but have less power. The sound waves should reach the bottom, an object, or biomass in the water column, but there may be no return or echo. High frequency sound waves are closer together. High frequencies give you a good image of what is happening near the surface of the water column and low frequencies give you a good idea of what is happening near, on, or under the ocean floor.

Type of Sonar on Okeanos Explorer

There are many types of sonar and other equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer for use during mapping operations. All have different capabilities and purposes. Together they provide a complete sound image of what is happening below us.

Kongsberg EM302 Multibeam Sonar

Multibeam sonar sends sound out into the water in a fan pattern below the hull (bottom) of the ship. It is able to map broad areas of the water column and seafloor from depths of 10 meters to 7,000 meters. Only the deepest trenches are out of its reach. It is the most appropriate sonar system to map seafloor features such as canyons and seamounts. The fan like beam it emits is 3-5.5x the water depth with a max swath range of 8 km. However, when you get to its depths below 5,000 meters the quality of the sound return is poor so scientists keep the swath range narrower to provide a higher quality of data return. The widest swath area scientists can use while maintaining quality is a depth of 3,300-5,000 meters. The user interface uses a color gradient to show you seafloor features (red=shallow and purple=deep).

Swath ranges for the multibeam sona
Swath ranges for the multibeam sonar at various depths. The y-axis shows the water depth in meters and the x-axis shows the swath width in meters. Photo credit: SST Charlie Wilkins, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Multibeam Sonar information
Some of the information that is collected using the multibeam sonar with labels describing their purpose. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Backscatter

Backscatter uses the same pings from the multibeam. People use backscatter to model or predict physical or biological properties and composition of the sea floor. The coloring typically is in grayscale. A stronger echo looks brighter in the image. A weaker echo looks darker in the image. It gives you a birds-eye view of seafloor characteristics such as substrate density and seafloor features.

Backscatter and Bathymetry
Top image is backscatter showing you a birds-eye view of the ocean floor. The bottom image shows you what it looks like when backscatter is overlaid over the bathymetry layer. You are able to see intensity of the sound return, but floor features are more noticeable. Photo credit: NOAA OER

XBT

An Expendable Bathy-Thermograph (XBT) provides you with information on the temperature gradients within the water. When the temperature profile is applied to a salinity profile (taken from World Ocean Atlas) you are able to determine sound velocity or the rate at which the sound waves can travel through the water. When sound moves through water it does not move in a straight line. Its path is affected by density which is determined by water type (freshwater or saltwater) and temperature. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater and cold water is denser than warm water. The XBT information accounts for sound refraction (bending) through various water densities. When near shore XBTs are launched more frequently because the freshwater inputs from land alter density of the water and temperatures in the water column are more varied. XBTs are launched less frequently when farther from shore since freshwater inputs are reduced or nonexistent and the water column temperature is more stable. However, ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (affecting us on this cruise) can affect density as well. The Gulf Stream brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and along the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, one must also take into account which ocean currents are present in the region when determining the launch schedule of XBTs.

Loading the XBT Launcher
Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins and Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe, loading the XBT launcher. XBTs are launched off the stern of the ship.
XBT Capture
Sound speed or velocity is determined by the density of the water, which is determined by temperature and salinity. Focus on the blue line in each graph. The first graph takes the information from the temperature and salinity graphs to determine sound speed. If we look at the first graph, we see that sound speed slows with depth. Sound speed slows because according to the second graph the temperature is colder making the water denser, thus affecting sound speed. Salinity does not vary much according to the third graph so its effect on density is most likely limited. Photo credit: NOAA OER

Simrad EK60 and EK80 Split-beam Sonar

Split-beam sonar sends out sound in single beam of sound (not a fan like the multibeam). Each transducer sends out its own frequency (example 18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 KHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz). Some frequencies are run at the same time during mapping operations. Mapping operations typically do not use the 38 kHz frequency since it interferes with the multibeam sonar. Data collected with the use of the EK60 or EK80 provides information about the water column such as gaseous seeps, schools of fish, and other types of dense organism communities such as zooplankton. If you remember my “did you know” from the second blog, I discussed how sonar can be used to show the vertical diurnal migration of organisms. Well the EK60 or EK80 is the equipment that allows us to see these biological water column communities and their movements.

Water column information
Water column information collected with the EK60 or EK80 split beam sonar. If you look at the first row you can see, in the image to the left, the blue dots are at the top and in the second image the blue dots are moving back down into the water column as the sun rises. The process of organisms’ movement in the water column at night to feed is known as vertical diurnal migration. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Knudsen 3260 Sub-bottom Profiler

The purpose of using a sub-bottom profiler is to learn more about the layers (up to 80 meters) below the ocean floor. It works in conjunction with the sonar mapping the ocean floor to provide more information about the bottom substrate, such as sediment type and topography features. Sub-bottom data is used by geologists to better understand the top layers of the ocean floor. A very low frequency is used (3.5 kHz) because it needs to penetrate the ocean sediment. It will give you a cross section of the sea floor so floor features can be detected.

Cross section of the ocean seafloor
Cross section of the ocean seafloor shows you substrate characteristics. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Telepresence

Telepresence aboard the ship allows the science team to get mapping products and raw data to land on a daily basis. The science team can also live feed data collection to shore in real time. By allowing a land based shore team to see the data in real time you are adding another system of checks and balances. It is one more set of eyes to make sure the data being collected looks correct and there are no issues. It also allows a more collaborative approach to mapping, since you are able to involve a worldwide audience in the mission. Public viewers can tune in as well.  Support for the technology needed to allow telepresence capabilities comes in partnership with the Global Foundation of Ocean Exploration (GFOE). With GFOE’s help, the protocols, high-speed satellite networks, Internet services, web and social media interfaces, and many other tools are accessible when out to sea. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER) provides the experts needed to develop, maintain, and operate the telepresence systems while at sea, but also at shore through the Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) and the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.

Live interaction
Live interaction with Okeanos Explorer, Inner Space Center at URI/GSO, and a group of high school students. Photo credit: NOAA OER

All in all, the equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer is impressive in its abilities to provide the science team with a high quality and accurate depiction of the ocean floor and water column. The science team aboard is able to interpret the data, clean out unwanted data points, store massive data files on computers, and send it back to land daily, all while rocking away at sea. Very impressive and very cool!

Personal Log

I learned all about memes today. Apparently they are very popular on the ship. So popular, we are even in the middle of a meme contest. For those of you unfamiliar to memes like I was, a meme is a funny picture with a clever caption that makes you laugh or relates to something in your life. After my tutorial in meme making, we had a great time out on the bow of the ship playing corn hole and hanging out. The night was beautiful. The humidity subsided and there was a great breeze. After the sun set, I watched the stars come out and then went inside to learn more about the mapping process. I am starting to get a better understanding of what the science team is doing. You know the how and the why of it all. After I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I made my nightly venture out onto the bow to look from some bioluminescence, the glittering of zooplankton in the night. A magical site. I will leave you wondering how the ocean glitters until one of my future blogs when I describe the process of bioluminescence.

Corn hole
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn (left) and General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron (right) playing corn hole on the bow at sunset.

Did You Know?

The SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) channel occurs in the world’s oceans between depths of 800 to 1000 meters in the water column. Because of the density and pressure around this channel, sound waves travel for an extended distance. It is thought that fin whales travel to this channel to communicate with other fin whales many kilometers away.

Lona Hall: The Comforts of Life at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 8, 2019

Time:  1630 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.2124’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0648’ W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: N (354 degrees)

Air Temperature: 9.24° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

teacher at sea lona hall On the flying bridge with the "Big Eyes"

On the flying bridge at the “Big Eyes”

Let’s talk charts.  A chart is a map that shows specific details of the shoreline and the seafloor, including depth (usually in fathoms) and notable features.  Click here to view the chart of the area, “Chiniak Bay to Dangerous Cape.”  Can you find Saltery Cove, where we are currently anchored? How about Cape Greville and Sequel Point?  The latter are located at the northern and southern ends of the area that we surveyed with the launch last Wednesday afternoon.

If you look carefully, you will see many symbols along the shoreline.  An asterisk represents a rock awash that may only be visible when the water recedes at low tide.  A series of dots represents sandy shore, while small scallop shapes and circles denote breakers and stones, respectively.  The small, filled in triangles on land show where there are cliffs or steep slopes. The symbol that looks like a stick with small branches represents kelp.  Kelp is considered a possible hazard, since it can get wrapped around the propeller of a boat.

Now move your gaze to the ocean.  The numbers that you see are depth soundings, measured in fathoms.  Recall that one fathom equals 6 feet. This means that where you see a sounding of 9 fathoms, the water is actually 54 feet deep (relative to the mean lower low water datum).  If you are looking at the area near Cape Greville, all of the soundings that you see on the chart were taken between 1900 and 1939, before the invention of multibeam sonar. There was a magnitude 9.2 earthquake on March 27, 1964 that changed the depths and shapes of the landforms.  Finally, you should not discount the effects of weathering and erosion by wave action on this area.  The dynamic nature of it all makes the work that NOAA is doing all the more important for the safety of anyone at sea.

Career Focus – Steward

With so many people and so much work being done every day, how do you ensure good morale among the crew? You make sure that they are well fed!  That’s where the Stewards Department comes in to play. I met with Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward, to learn how she and her staff take care of all of the people on the ship.  

Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward

Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward

The Stewards Department is like a sweet grandmother, spoiling her grandbabies by providing good food and other comforts to the entire Rainier family.  Stewards plan and prepare the meals, supply appropriate linens and bedding, and maintain a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of a potentially stressful work environment. Stewards work long hours in close quarters and, as Kimrie says, provide the “customer service” of the ship. Kimrie herself has worked on ships for many years.  She started out as a mess person for Chevron Shipping when her daughter left home for college. As part of the NOAA Relief Pool, Kimrie has worked on ten of NOAA’s ships, filling positions on a temporary basis until permanent employees can be found. It is clear that she has a deep understanding of the emotional needs of a ship’s crew, and she enjoys the camaraderie and cooperation that develop in this unique work environment.

Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew

Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew

This evening for dinner, I had baked salmon, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a salad, and an amazing berry pie.  Everything was prepared fresh, and I felt quite satisfied afterwards. Thank you, stewards!

Personal Log

I would like to take some time to write about the ship. Rainier is a hydrographic survey vessel. (For more information about what that means, see my last post!)  Constructed in Jacksonville Florida, and then later commissioned in 1968, Rainier is one of the longest-serving ships in NOAA’s fleet.  It is named after Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain in western Washington state.  Students might remember that this mountain is located near a continent-ocean convergent plate boundary between the North American and Juan de Fuca plates, where subduction has lead to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. Our ship’s home port is located in Newport, Oregon. Originally, however, the home port was in Seattle, Washington, and so it was christened after the iconic Mount Rainier.

NOAA Ship Rainier is 231 feet long from bow to stern.  There are six different levels, or decks, identified by the letters A-F moving upwards from the bottom of the ship.  Each deck is broken into numbered sections, or rooms.

inboard profile

Diagram of the ship, side view

To communicate a particular location, you might refer to the deck letter and section number.  You might also use the following vocabulary:

Port – the left side of the ship

Starboard – the right side of the ship

Fore – forward of the beam

Aft – behind the beam

Stern – the back end of the ship

Bow – the front end of the ship

D-Deck

Overhead diagram of the “D” Deck

My room is located on the E deck, one level below the bridge.  On the D deck we enjoy delicious, cafeteria-style meals in the mess, and we can work, read, relax, or watch movies in the lounge.  The steering takes place on the Bridge, the command center of the ship. I will highlight the bridge in a future post. Other common areas include the Plotting Room, the Holodeck, the Boat Deck, Flying Deck, and Fantail.  There is also a laundry room and even a gym! Although it can be a bit confusing at first, the ship’s layout makes sense and allows for efficiency without sacrificing the crew’s comfort.

Word of the Day

athwart – at right angles to fore and aft; across the centerline of the ship

Lona Hall: Launchin’ and Lunchin’ Near Kodiak Island, June 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019


Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 6, 2019

Time:  2000 hours

Location: Underway to Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°39.2266’ N
Longitude: 152°07.5163’ W
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Direction: NW (300 degrees)
Air Temperature: 11.37° Celsius
Water Temperature: 8.3° Celsius


Science and Technology Log

Lona on launch RA-5
Yours truly, happy on RA-5

Today I went out on a launch for the first time.  The plan was to survey an area offshore and then move nearshore at low tide, with the water at its lowest level on the beach of Kodiak Island.  Survey Techs, Carl Stedman and Christina Brooks, showed me the software applications used to communicate with the coxswain and collect data. To choose the best frequency for our multibeam pulse, we needed to know the approximate depth of the area being surveyed.  If the water is deeper, you must use lower frequency sound waves, since higher frequency waves tend to attenuate, or weaken, as they travel. We chose a frequency of 300 kilohertz for a 60 meter depth. Periodically, the survey techs must cast a probe into the water.  The Sea-bird SeaCAT CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) measures the characteristics of the water, creating a sound velocity profile. This profile can tell us how quickly we should expect sound waves to travel through the water based upon the water’s temperature, salinity, and pressure.

Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Carl Stedman deploying the probe
Carl Stedman deploying the probe

Using the sound velocity profile allows the computer’s Seafloor Information System (SIS) to correct for changes in water density as data is being collected.  Once the profile was transmitted to SIS, we were ready to begin logging data.

Imagine that you are mowing your lawn.  To maximize efficiency you most likely will choose to mow back and forth in relatively straight paths, overlapping each new row with the previous row.  This is similar to how the offshore survey is carried out. As the boat travels at a speed of about 7 knots, the Kongsberg EM2040 multibeam sonar transducer sends out and receives pulses, which together create a swath.  The more shallow the water, the wider the base of the swath.

Close up of chart
Close up of chart, showing depth gradient by color

After lunch we changed to a nearshore area closer to Kodiak Island between Sequel Point and Cape Greville. It was important to wait for low tide before approaching the shore to avoid being stuck inshore as the tide is going out.  Even so, our coxswain was very careful to follow the edges of the last swaths logged. Since the swath area extends beyond the port and starboard sides of the boat, we could collect data from previously uncharted areas without driving directly above them.  In this way we found many rocks, invisible to the naked eye, that could have seriously damaged an unlucky fisherman!


Career Focus – Able Seaman

Our coxswain driving the boat today was Allan Quintana.  

Allan, aka "Q", driving the boat
Allan, aka “Q”, driving the boat

As an Able Seaman, Allan is part of the Deck Department, which functions primarily to keep track of the ship, manage the lines and anchoring, and deploy and drive the launches.  Allan started out working for the Navy and later transitioned to NOAA. A Miami native, he told me how he loves working at sea, in spite of the long stretches of time away from his friends and family back home.


Personal Log

If you have never been on a boat before, it is a unique experience. Attempts have been made by poets, explorers, scientists, naturalists, and others throughout history to capture the feeling of being at sea.  Although I’ve read many of their descriptions and tried to imagine myself in their shoes, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.

Standing on the bow of the anchored ship, looking out at the water, my body leaning to and fro, rising and falling, I am a sentient fishing bobber, continuously rocking but not really going anywhere.  My head feels somehow both heavy and light, and if I stand there long enough, I just might fall asleep under the spell of kinetic hypnosis. The motion of the launch is different. A smaller boat with far less mass is bullied by the swells. For a new crew member like me, it’s easy to be caught off guard and knocked over, unless you have a good grip. I stand alert, feet apart, one hand clasping a rail, as the more experienced crew move about, casually completing various tasks. I wonder how long it would take to become accustomed to the boat’s rising and falling.  Would my body gradually learn to anticipate the back and forth rocking? Would I eventually not feel any movement at all?

View over the bow
A ship with a view


Word of the Day

draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull of a boat, a.k.a. the draught

The draft of NOAA Ship Rainier is 17 feet.