NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 3 – 14, 2019
Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: June 3, 2019
Local Time: 1100 hours
Location: Alongside, JAG Shipyard, Seward, AK
Weather from the Bridge:
Latitude: 60°05.1022’ N
Longitude: 149°21.2954’ W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE (114 degrees)
Air Temperature: 12.12° Celsius
Science and Technology Log
While at port in Seward, it has already been my pleasure to meet some of the people that make up the team of NOAA Ship Rainier. My mission so far has been to learn about the different capacities in which individuals serve on board the ship and how each person’s distinct responsibilities combine together to create a single, well-oiled machine.
The five main departments represented are the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the Hydrographic Survey Technician team, the Engineering team, the Deck department, and the Stewards. There are also a few visitors (like me) who are here to observe, ask questions, and participate in daily operations, as possible.
Career Focus – Hydrographic Survey Technician
Today I spent some time with Survey Technician, Amanda Finn. Amanda is one of nine Survey Techs aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.
What is hydrography?
According to the NOAA website, hydrography is the “science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.” Essentially, hydrographers create and improve maps of the ocean floor, both deep at sea and along the shoreline. The maps, or charts, allow for safer navigation and travel at sea and are therefore very important.
(Click here to see the chart for Resurrection Bay, where the ship is currently docked.)
What does a Hydrographic Survey Technician do?
Technicians like Amanda are in charge of preparing systems for collecting hydrographic data, actually collecting and processing the data, monitoring it for quality, and then writing reports about their findings. They work part of the time on the ship as well as on the smaller launch boats.
What kind of data do Survey Techs use?
Both the main ship and the small launches are equipped with multibeam sonar systems. SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging. This fascinating technology uses sound waves to “see” whatever exists below the water. Instead of sending out one sound wave at a time, the multibeam sonar sends out a fan-shaped collection, or swath, of sound waves below and to the sides of the boat’s hull. When the sound waves hit something solid, like a rock, a sunken ship, or simply the sea floor, they bounce back. The speed and strength at which the sound waves return tell the technicians the depth and hardness of what lies beneath the ocean surface at a given location.
It is possible to be overwhelmed in a good way. That has been my experience so far traveling from my home in Georgia to Alaska. The ship is currently docked at the Seward shipyard in Resurrection Bay. When you hear the word “shipyard”, you might not expect much in the way of scenery, but in this case you would be absolutely wrong! All around us we can see the bright white peaks of the Kenai Mountains. Yesterday I stood in one place for a while watching a sea otter to my left and a bald eagle to my right. Local fishermen were not as enchanted as I was, but rather were focused on the task at hand: pulling in their bounties of enormous fish!
I am similarly impressed with the order and organization aboard the ship. With over fifty people who need to sleep, eat, and get things done each and every day, it might seem like an impossible task to organize it all. By regular coordination between the departments, as well as the oversight and planning of the ship’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, everything flows smoothly.
I think that it is worth noting here how the level of organization that it takes to run a ship like NOAA Ship Rainier should not be taken for granted. Every individual must do their part in order to ensure the productivity, efficiency, and safety of everyone else. As a teacher, we often discuss how teamwork is one of life’s most important skills. What a terrific real-world example this has turned out to be!
Did you know?
Seward is located on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska. The name Kenai (key-nye) comes from the English word (Kenaitze) for the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina tribe. The name of this tribe translates to “people along the Kahtnu river.” Click here for more information about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
Word of the Day
fathom: a unit of length equal to 6 feet, commonly used to measure the depth of water