Linda Kurtz: Navigating Fair Winds and Following Seas – Fairweather Edition, August 13, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/13/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 12th
Latitude & Longitude: 43 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W
Windspeed: 19mph
Geographic Area:  Northwest Pacific Ocean
Cruise Speed:  12 knots
Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius
Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit


Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean.  The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us!  Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important?  We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important.  On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area.  The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.  More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post.  For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.


Science Word of the day:  NAVIGATION

The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined: the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

synonyms: helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”


Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th

As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe?  Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.”  So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be.  First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!

On the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat.  These are not to be confused with the CO or Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school (if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals of course.) 

 1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck.   The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales!  The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed. 

2nd in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck.  The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the course for the ship.

The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman.  The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD.  Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.)  The helmsman has another duty as lookout.  The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.

Kevin Tennyson
Officer of the Deck (OOD): Kevin Tennyson
Calderon and Ostermyer
Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) Jeff Calderon and Helmsman Terry Ostermyer


There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions.  This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!

Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?

Radar is a system that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is moving. 

Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds.   Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area.  On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.

RADAR
RADAR showing other watercraft and objects that could come into contact with Fairweather, for safe NAVIGATION.
Close up of RADAR
Close up of RADAR screen showing blue lines (indicative of speed) trailing other detected objects

While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes.  A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement.  This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading. 

Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.

To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.

radio
Communication is essential for safe navigation.

Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only.  Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles.  So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.


Weather Tools:

It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too!  As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station!  What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?

Weather Data
Data from the bridge on Day 2
Weather Data Time Series
Weather Data Time Series
weather data updates
Weather data updates – the ship can NAVIGATE to avoid dangerous weather


With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)

The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below).  Now the crew must plot a course to cover the area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping.  The bridge and the hydrographic survey team collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and timing of turns. 

See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!

Cascadia Margin chart
Cascadia Margin: 1st Region the Fairweather is mapping
mapping progress
Progress mapping – navigation the survey area – colored lines indicate where the ship has been


Personal Log

It’s been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure!  There is so much to take in and share with my students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the country!  Today, we went from sunny skies and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas!  The ship is definitely moving today!  I keep thinking about STEM activities to secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship!  For safety, the entire crew is tying up any loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM challenges to simulate this for sure! 


Did You Know?

When steering a ship, an unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30! 


Question of the Day: 

How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?


New Terms/Phrases:

Thermosalinigraph:  Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.

Challenge yourself: see if you can learn and apply the terms below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!

ECDIS:  Electronic chart display information system

Longitude and Latitude

True North

Magnetic North


Animals Seen Today:

Dall’s Porpoise

Humpback Whale

Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA?  All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same.  Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission.   Learn more here:  https://www.noaa.gov/education

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