Mike Laird, August 11, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 11, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The survey operations being conducted in the waters around Mitrofania have been closed as we begin our transit that leads to the end of an educational and entertaining 22-day voyage onboard the RAINIER. The RAINIER’s reputation as one of the most productive hydrographic survey platforms in the world can be attributed, in large part, to her officers and crew. The people who serve onboard the RAINIER come with different backgrounds, levels of education, and amounts of experience at sea.  They come for different reasons, plan to stay for different periods of time, and have different expectations of where their service on the RAINIER will lead them.  However, each of them takes pride in doing their job well. Not only does the survey and support work require everyone’s contribution but also the safety of the people and ship demands constant teamwork and cooperation.

During the time I spent on the RAINIER, everyone I interacted with was friendly and attempted to involve us in the day-to-day operations of the ship as much as possible.  I felt like a member of the team, not an outsider, and was encouraged to participate in all aspects of ship life.  All ship personnel made themselves available and patiently answered the multitudes of questions sent their way.  As a result, I have learned a lot (admittedly there is a great deal more to learn) during these three weeks about the science and technology behind hydrographic research and the importance of strong support from the following areas: the officer corps, deck, engineering, electronics, the steward’s department, and ship’s yeoman.  Without their support, the survey crew’s work would not happen.

So as we draw closer to Homer, AK and the end of my journey with the RAINIER, I would like to thank the officers and crew of the RAINIER for inviting me along for the ride!

Now – some miscellaneous stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else in my logs:

  • Fuel capacity of the RAINIER: 112,000 gallons
  • Recreational activities available during off duty hours:
  • Fishing: salmon (king, coho, pink); yelloweye rockfish; black rockfish;  lingcod
  • Sea kayaking
  • Shore exploration if a skiff is available
  • Movies – available most hours
  • Exercise area: free weights, weight machine, rowing machine,
  • stationary bike, and treadmills (2)
  • Computer games in the crew library
  • Cribbage
  • Whale watching
  • Electronic newspaper (New York Times Digest) complete with crossword
  • College degrees held by officers and crew (list is not all inclusive):   Marine science Electronic engineering and technology Biology Geographic biology Electrical engineering Environmental studies Anthropology Physics Zoology Oceanographic engineering Shoreline engineering

Personal Log 

We are scheduled to arrive in Homer around 8:00a.m. tomorrow.  The first liberty vehicles will be available in the afternoon, and I’m planning to head into town to do a little gift shopping. I was not home for my wife’s birthday (although I did send a card, and called to wish her happy birthday from Kodiak during our refueling stop), and I have to find something really good.  Planning to go to Alaska Wild Berry Products shop (I received a helpful hint before leaving home that there is one located “right in Homer”).  I also plan to check out the Pratt Museum, a place called the Blackberry Bog – sounded like an interesting shop, and of course the Salty Dog (the local watering hole).  I only have two more nights on the ship. Have to pack up, clean the room, and vacate the premises before the arrival of the next teacher at sea Saturday afternoon. I’ll spend Saturday night at the Bidarka Inn in Homer before flying out Sunday night.  It’s been great – couldn’t ask for a better experience!

Mike Laird, August 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 8, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 53.3 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.5 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 230˚
Wind Speed: 13kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1027.2 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

Today is probably the last day that I will be out on a launch, because tomorrow we will be running some survey lines using the ship’s sonar.  The launch I am assigned to (RA-2) is going out to collect bottom samples.  Bottom samples are primarily used to sample the ocean floor in areas that have been identified as potential anchor sites.  The information from the samples will be used to determine the locations of “good” anchor sites (sites that will provide a catch for the anchor, so it won’t just slide around).  These good anchor sites will then be included in the nautical information available for the area around Mitrofania.

A tool called a, clamshell sediment sampler, is used to retrieve the floor samples.  The clamshell is a metal tool about a foot-and-a-half long, weighing between ten and twenty pounds. It has a rounded head, really a set of spring-loaded jaws, mounted to a shaft that is seated on a circular metal plate (picture one half of a Q-tip that’s been cut in half with the cardboard shaft glued to an M&M and you’ll get an of what the sampler looks like).  The plate end of the tool is secured to a line and dropped head first over the side of the launch. When the sampler hits the seafloor, a lever activates the metal jaws (which were cocked open prior to the drop), they snap shut, and bingo a bottom sample.  On the launch, the line is threaded through an electronic pulley system and the sample is raised to the surface.  Most of the time this technique works well; however, sometimes the jaws fail to close, or they pinch shut on a rock allowing the sample to stream out on the way to the surface. In these cases, the procedure must be repeated.

Back on the launch, the sampler’s jaws are pried open and the contents are examined, and finally a record (including notations on the floor sample contents, latitude and longitude, and water depth) is created for the site. Once this is completed, the sampler is rinsed out, the boat moves to the next location, and the process is repeated.  Our team worked twenty-one sample sites and found some (not much) variety in our samples (shells only; shells and gravel; shells and silt; shells, silt and gravel; mud and gravel; and rock – determined after two casts returned with a closed, empty sampler).

Personal Log 

Today an unusual event – a bear sighting! The launch was moving to a new cast location when the coxswain, Carl, spotted three dots moving along a distant shoreline.  A closer look with the binoculars confirmed that the dots were bears (a sow and her two cubs).  The trio jogged along the shore as the cubs darted in and out of the surf frolicking and generally having a good time.  We eventually got too close and momma decided to head inland to the safety of the thick undergrowth.  Very cool!

Mike Laird, August 7, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 7, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

While running echo soundings on the launch one day, the topic of conversation turned to sailing superstitions.  Since that time, I have informally talked with several crewmembers about superstitions they have heard of or that they personally believe in.  Here is what I have discovered so far.

The most widely believed superstition is that it is bad luck for a ship to leave port and set sail on a Friday. No one I talked to knew the origin of this belief, but everyone I talked to thought it best to stay in port an extra day or two and not tempt fate.  One of the ensigns had even heard a tale of a non-believer trying to prove the superstition was a bunch of bunk. He began construction of a ship on Friday, christened the ship on a Friday, put the ship under the command of a Captain Friday, and began the maiden voyage on a Friday.  The ship was never heard from again, believe it or not!  In any case, most sailors will not happily set sail from port on a Friday.

Another common superstition, observed by most, is that one should not whistle.  I heard a couple of explanations for this. One version is that whistling is not allowed on the bridge, because it will “whistle up an ill wind.”  One coxswain, who has been around the sea and ships, including steamships, for many years, gave a different rational for the whistling ban. On steamships, a whistling noise was an indicator that there was steam escaping from one of the ship’s steam pipes – often a dangerous situation.  Whatever the reason, whistling is discouraged on the ship.  As one ensign said, “I don’t whistle, because it is annoying.”

Having a woman, minister (or other religious figure on board) was at one time considered to be bad luck. None of the people I talked to felt strongly about either of those.

Apparently, having bananas onboard is supposed to be bad luck for racing vessels and fishing boats – no one knew why.

Finally, one ensign who grew up in France shared that it is not good to say the word “rabbit” onboard. Instead, one should say “long ears.”  However, having mice—stuffed, carved, etc.—will keep the real thing away.

An interesting topic!  Remember to avoid sailing from port on Friday and to refrain from whistling while you work – and life should be good!

Personal Log 

Gorgeous weather again today – scattered clouds and lots of sunshine!  This afternoon we changed anchorage locations, moving from Sosbee Bay on the southern side of the island back to Cushing Bay on the northern side. During the transit we saw a sailboat off in the distance.  Haven’t seen much traffic while we’ve been here – two fishing boats motored by, and while on the southern side we saw three tugs pulling barges out in the gulf.  Mitrofania is a pretty peaceful and secluded spot.

Mike Laird, August 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 4, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 50.8 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.0 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Light Airs
Wind Speed: Light Airs
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.0 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

The day begins early with launches leaving at 7:00.  The reason for the early start is that two launches (RA1 and RA2) are doing shoreline work.  Shoreline work must be done at lower low tide (in an area in which there are diurnal tides – two flooding periods and two ebbing periods – the lower low tide is the lower of the two ebbing periods), and on this day, the tidal window for this tide period is from 7:10 to 12:30.  The work along the ocean/land transition is done when the water level is at its lowest point so there is increased confidence that all features are observed and accounted for.

I have been assigned to launch RA2 and will have an opportunity for the first time to observe exactly how the shoreline surveys are conducted.  The work entails confirming existing map data from three sources: 1) the cartographic features file which is composed of data collected from aerial surveys (the photographs are used to create a map on which the shoreline and off shore features are shown); 2) LIDAR – a relatively new technology in which an aerial survey is conducted using lasers; and 3) existing nautical charts.

Confirming the data entails running the shoreline and comparing the actual shoreline and buffer (the water in a zone of between thirty and fifty meters just offshore) to what appears on the map.  A feature confirmation requires a visual observation of the feature.  As features are observed, a notation is hand written on a hard copy of the map.  Later, the notations will be input into the ship’s computer.

In addition to noting known features, features not currently shown are recorded on the map along with their location and depth.  In some cases, features shown on the map cannot be located. In these situations, a notation is made and a reason (too much kelp, water to deep, etc) is given. This signals the sheet manager that further investigation is required. If the water in the area is safe (the original boat conducting the survey is equipped with a single beam sonar system and will determine the water depth and then scan the area running in a star pattern searching for obstructions), one of the launches equipped with a multibeam echo sounding system will be sent in to do a 100% floor scan to confirm the feature.  If the area is not safe, a dive team will be sent in to do the confirmation.  Shoreline work is a bit more dynamic than the deepwater work – the crew must constantly be aware of what is happening with the surf as rocks can suddenly appear!

Personal Log 

The food onboard the RAINIER is quite tasty with a wide range of options available at every meal.  Starting off the day with breakfast (served 0700-0730), the most important meal of the day, choices include: eggs to order, fried, scrambled, poached, or boiled; omelets: cheese, minced ham, or vegetarian; french toast; hot cakes; waffles; fresh fruit: cantaloupe, pineapple, honeydew melon, mango; some type of meat: ham, bacon, sausage, Spam; cold cereal, coffee, tea, juice, milk.

Selections for today’s lunch (served from 1200-1230) were: Entrées: homemade gumbo soup, grilled fillet of catfish/tartar sauce, hot roast beef sandwich, mushroom and cheese quesadillas. Side Dishes: diced brown potatoes, steamed rice, steamed fresh cauliflower.  Dessert: chilled jello/whip cream. Drinks: water, juice, milk, lemonade or grape flavored drink, coffee.

Today’s dinner (served from 1700-1730) is a fantail (kind of like the ship’s back porch) cookout. Salads: pasta, potato, and another salad I’m note sure what it was; Entrees: BBQ – steaks, ribs and sausage, fried chicken; Side dishes: egg rolls, french fries, and pot stickers; Drinks: water and assorted juices. A real feast!

Mike Laird, August 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 3, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Deck Crew for a Day – Part II 

Previously in this log (see Day 10: Tuesday, August 2) I left you having just assisted the deck crew (of which I am a member for a day) in getting the survey launches prepped, lowered to the water, and cast off for their day of echo sounding.  All that done, and the day is just beginning.

As it turns out, the deck crew is currently running through some training exercises for some of its newer members – a perfect opportunity for me to learn a lot of new and interesting things. However before the training begins, the junior deck hands have daily cleaning responsibilities (bathrooms, trash, mopping floors, etc.) that must be taken care of. Somehow I luck out and avoid latrine duty, and Erick Davis, my mentor for the day, takes me to the bow of the ship where I am instructed on the operation of the forward cranes. These cranes are used primarily for lifting and moving the gangways (the walkways between the ship and the pier when the ship is in port) and to load stores and cargo onto the ship.

After an introduction to the crane and the hand signals used to communicate between the operator and the deck chief, I have a chance to operate the crane for a few minutes.  By this time, the rest of the group has rejoined us and the focus turns to proper mooring and anchoring techniques.

Members of the deck crew are responsible for getting the mooring lines ashore as the ship is arriving in port and retrieving and storing the lines when the ship is putting out to sea.  The RAINIER most often uses four lines (each line is assigned a number) when mooring: a bowline (line #1), an aft leading spring line (line #2), a for leading spring line (line #3), and a stern line (line #4). The sequence in which these lines are cast ashore is intended to increase the ease of docking the ship and is dependant on the docking situation.

In a routine mooring the lines will be cast in the following order: 1) aft leading spring line, 2) stern line, 3) bowline, and 4) for leading stern line.  There are aids both mechanical (capstans) and fixed on the deck (chucks and bits) that help as crew members release and take in line as the ship is being positioned alongside the pier or preparing to leave port.  These aids have taken the place of hand cranking and reduce the amount of physical effort required to manipulate mooring lines that can get quite heavy when dealing with extensive lengths (especially when wet) of line.

In addition to mooring, the deck crew is highly involved in anchoring the ship.  Once a location (chosen by the commanding officer or in some instances the officer of the deck) has been chosen to anchor, the crew prepares to drop anchor.  The flow of the anchor chain when releasing and retracting the anchor is controlled by a piece of equipment called the anchor windlass. When setting anchor, the windlass must allow chain to flow smoothly as it follows the anchor to the seafloor.

The windlass has a three-tiered system used to hold the chain in place while the ship is in transit and when anchored. First, there is a huge drum brake (much like those found on cars, but much larger); there is also a large metal latch, called the “devil’s claw” that fits through, grabs, and holds onto a chain link; finally the “cat’s paw” is a metal arm that lays on top of the chain pinching it down to prevent movement.  Each of these must be disengaged to allow release of chain. As the chain is being released, the deck chief signals to the bridge how much chain has been let out.  The chain length is measured in units called shots. Each shot is ninety feet (the RAINIER carries twelve shots of chain for each of its two anchors – 1080feet of chain per anchor) and is indicated by a section of painted chain four or five links long.

Once the anchor hits bottom, additional chain (called scope) is released to allow for fluctuations in water level caused by the tide and wave action.  The additional chain also provides additional weight to help secure the ship.  The amount of scope depends on the conditions and judgment of the officer in charge, but a general rule is to let out a total chain length of one third (distance to the bottom) plus two thirds (length of scope).  For example, if the anchor hits bottom at 27 fathoms (a fathom is six feet; 27 fathoms equals 162 feet) three hundred twenty-four more feet (or about three and one half shots) of chain would be released for scope.

Having completed the tutorial on anchoring, we turned to another aspect of the life of a deck crewmember — the operation of the small boats (launches and skiffs) on board ship.  The remainder of the afternoon is spent practicing the operation and maneuvering of a skiff. The group I am with practices basic operations: starting, stopping, smooth acceleration and deceleration, and moving in a straight line while in reverse.

Having demonstrated these skills, we go to man overboard rescue situations and practice moving the skiff into proper rescue position alongside the victim (without running them over).

Then it’s on to anchoring the skiff: choosing an acceptable location and orientation, releasing the anchor and proper amount of scope, and making sure the anchor is set to keep the skiff safely and securely positioned.

The last maneuver we practice is beach landings: choosing a location onshore that will allow personnel and equipment to move from the boat to land safely and efficiently, properly orienting the skiff for beach approach, and finally the smooth, spot-on landing.

Finally, it’s back to the RAINIER to await the return of the launches, so they can be raised by the davits back into their storage hangars.  Thus ends my day with the deck crew.

Personal Log 

While on a skiff doing shoreline work, I saw some sea lions yesterday.  Until we came along, they were peacefully napping on a rock outcrop enjoying the late morning sunshine. Our arrival caused a ruckus with a great amount of bellowing, grunting, and tussling among themselves.  Ensign Briana Welton was telling us about an article she read saying that human intrusion into breeding sea lion communities causes the sea lions stress and has interfered with their reproductive habits causing a population decline in some areas.  Our presence certainly caused this bunch a bit of stress if their behavior was any indication. They were fun to watch (make sure to be up wind – they have a terrible stench), but I hope we did not overly stress them.

Mike Laird, August 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 2, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Deck Crew for a Day – Part I 

One evening late last week, I checked the Plan of the Day (POD) — a schedule listing the following day’s launch assignments and ship movements.  I found that I was scheduled for an on-ship day. Teacher at Sea participants onboard the RAINIER generally follow a routine alternating between fieldwork out in the launches and days onboard the ship.  The on-ship days are intended to give us time to interview crewmembers, research areas of interest, and prepare logs detailing our experiences and learning.

So when I saw that I would be onboard the following day, I made arrangements with Jim Kruger the Deck Chief to be a member of the deck crew for a day.  While anchored in the work area, the deck crew’s typical day begins with the responsibility of getting all launches scheduled for fieldwork prepared and deployed.  For each boat going out this entails:

  • removal of the tie-downs securing the launch in its berth
  • lowering the launch (done with a piece of equipment called a gravity davit – a system of pulleys, cables, and hooks operated by a motor)
  • securing the launch for the safe loading of:
      1. personnel,
      2. equipment: the CTD sensor used in taking a cast of the water column (see log for Day 3, Wednesday, July 27) and personal gear,
      3. and – maybe most important – the food and drinks prepared by the galley for lunch and snacks
  • releasing the launch from the hooks (one on the bow – “For clear!” and one on the stern – “Aft clear!”) used to raise and lower it with the gravity davit
  • starting the boat’s motor
  • and finally, releasing the launch’s bow and stern lines, so the coxswain can  radio in and declare, “We are away!”

The deck crew must work as a team to ensure that all of this happens safely, quickly, and efficiently.  It is pretty impressive to see four to five launches mobilized and away from the ship in less than thirty minutes!  On my first day (actually my only day) on the job, I was given the job of manning the stern line.  Of course I had a “real” deck crewmember by my side giving me instructions and pointers and ready to step in if things reached a crisis point.

The stern line actually serves two purposes: 1) to make sure the launch does not swing back and forth too much while it is being lowered into the water, and 2) to work with the bowline to hold the boat securely alongside the RAINIER until it is ready to cast off. It takes quick, nimble hands (along with a few pointers on useful techniques from my partner and the Captain) to quickly release and secure the lines to the cleats along the ship’s railing. It is also encouraged that one perform these tasks without getting hands and fingers caught or getting the line all tangled up.  I preformed my duties as a rookie would and successfully helped get all the launches on their way!  It seems like we have done a lot already this morning it must be getting late.  What?  It’s only 8:27!

To be continued.

Personal Log 

Hey all you sun junkies out there! Alaska in the summer is the place to be!  We are currently enjoying almost seventeen hours of sunlight a day – sunrise 6:43 and sunset

10:38. This provides a lot of time for outdoor activities – we were out fishing at 10:30 last night. Finally had to turn the deck lights on at about 11:30, so we could finish cleaning our fish. Of course, all this fun in the sun depends on cooperation from the weather. Heavy clouds, fog and rain – not uncommon in our current location – tend to put a damper on the sunshine.  So we’ll live large and enjoy every moment we have for as long as it lasts!

Mike Laird, August 1, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 1, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

Operating the RAINIER in port—as she transits from site to site, and as she lies at anchor acting as home base for the survey operations—requires that each of the ship’s “departments” functions efficiently with a small margin for error.  When things do go wrong, they must be handled using the resources available on the ship so that operations continue with as little down time as possible.  Perhaps the greatest resource onboard the RAINIER is her personnel.  Situations, like those listed below, continually arise and require those involved to demonstrate patience, innovation, problem solving abilities and determination:

  • A cable getting caught in one of the pulleys on a gravity davit just after it has been used to lower a survey launch at 8:00 to begin its day of echo sounding. The cable must be replaced and the davit operational by the time the launch returns at 16:30.
  • A crack in the hull of a launch (welded and “fixed” while the RAINIER was in port for three days in Kodiak) is allowing water into the launch at the rate of about a gallon an hour. The engineering people use some magic red goop to temporarily stop the leak until a permanent solution can be devised.
  • Electronic equipment is very temperamental (cables jiggle loose during transits through rough seas, components can overheat, software glitches rear their heads, etc.) and continually requires TLC to keep it happy and functioning.
  • Established, recognized Differential Global Positioning Systems (latitude and longitude data) and primary control stations (tide data) may not provide data that meets required specifications (because of their distance from the work area, topographic features, etc) necessitating the installation of temporary DGPS and tide station sites.

As a crew member, you never know what is going to come up and must always be willing and prepared to meet unforeseen challenges!

Personal Log 

Last night, after a day of recording data on one of the survey launches, six of us had a chance to take one of the skiffs and go do a little fishing.  Our primary target was halibut.  We motored out to a site scouted earlier in the day during our survey ops, dropped our lines and began jigging right on the bottom.  It wasn’t long before I felt a tugging on my line, began reeling in, and pulled up a baby halibut (or “but” as my companions more versed in these matters call them).  Not wanting to be accused as a cradle robber, I released it. I dropped my line again and after a few minutes of jigging, felt the tug, and reeled in a larger halibut (maybe a 15 pounder – I know technically still a baby).  I released it also, because my companions assure me, “It’s still early you’ll get a bigger one.” I didn’t – of course. However, I did have success (a silver salmon, and four sea cod – I kept these). I also hooked a pea cod, an Irish Lord and two other small halibut – I didn’t keep these. Fun times!

Mike Laird, July 31, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 31, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER’s crew of forty-nine (men (40) and women (9)) is divided into six work groups:

I) Officers and junior officers:  Responsible for overall ship operations including: navigation, horizontal and vertical control, damage control (ship safety), medical services, field  operations, etc.

II) Survey operations: Responsibilities include: data collection and analysis

III) Deck operations:  Responsibilities include: launch and de-launch of small boats (launches and skiffs), operation of the small boats, manning equipment and lines used during anchoring and mooring of the ship, maintenance (cleaning, rust removal, painting) and operation of the deck and deck equipment (cranes, gravity davits, hydraulic davit, the anchor windlass), etc.

IV) Engineering operations: Responsibilities include: maintenance and operation of the ships electrical and mechanical systems

V) Yeoman and Electronics: Yeoman – responsibilities similar to those of a business manager  (personnel, payroll, ship’s budget, etc.).  This position is slowly being  eliminated from the ships in NOAA’s fleet.

Electronics – responsible for the maintenance and operation of the electronic equipment onboard ship (computers, radios, GPS units, etc).

VI) Steward: Responsibilities include: operation of the galley, preparing three meals a day for the crew, preparing snacks for the morning and afternoon breaks, and preparing a picnic lunch and drinks to send with the three to four launch crews who are sent out on survey assignments.

I was able to work with the deck crew the other day, and I’ll share the experience in a future log!

Personal Log 

Today I did a lot of housekeeping kind of stuff.  I was getting pretty low on clean clothes, so I went down and used the ship’s laundry – three washing machines and three driers.  The only difficulty is trying to find open machines.  Either I hit it on a busy day or 49 crewmembers and four guests keep the machines busy.  I also caught up on my logs and did some background reading on tides and tidal datum.  Think I will try a little fishing tonight – still haven’t managed to pull one over the ship’s side.  Last night Jon, one of the crew, somehow caught a skate (looks like a ray).  He hooked it in one of the fins. We pulled it up took a look at it and then released it back over the side.  Very interesting!

Mike Laird, July 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 30, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus

Science and Technology Log 

I would like to add some clarifying information to my log entry, Mike Laird, July 29, 2005.  In that entry, I discussed setting up two horizontal control-data collection stations, and in reading the entry, it appears that the purpose for both stations is to support the “fly-away” Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS).  This is not accurate.  Only the station we established on the point will be used to determine the exact location of the DGPS.

The purpose of the other station is to verify the accuracy of the existing benchmark at that site, so a tidal datum (“…a base elevation used as a reference from which to reckon heights or depths”) can be established for the tide station located there.  I mentioned in the previous log that the horizontal control team is responsible for establishing accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for each sounding taken by the RAINIER and the launches. In addition, the soundings are taken throughout the day at different stages of the tide, which means that water depth will vary.

It is the responsibility of the vertical control team to provide precise tide data for corrections that have to be applied to the soundings so that they meet NOAA’s Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) guideline (ensures minimum water depth is charted).  Mean Lower Low Water means that an average is taken of the tide level at the lower of the two ebb periods in a semi-diurnal (two flood periods and two ebb periods every day) tidal day. The National Water Level Observation maintains primary control stations in many locations around the United States. These stations determine a tidal datum based on the average of observations over a nineteen-year period.

In many survey areas, the tidal datum received from a primary control station can be used to make the necessary corrections to the soundings.  However, the nearest station to the RAINIER’s current work area is located in Sand Point – a significant distance away.  Therefore, the vertical control team established the tertiary tidal station (one in operation for at least thirty consecutive days but less than a year) here in Cushing Bay, so that data more indicative of the local conditions can be collected and compared to the primary datum.  During this analysis, a decision will be made about any adjustments that need to be made to the primary datum before it is used to make corrections to the survey soundings.

Personal Log 

Our good fortune continues to hold – the weather is incredible.  Sun is shining brightly, temperature in the low 70’s.  We had been hearing whispers since lunch of a beach party tonight. The rumors were confirmed by an announcement following dinner that a skiff would be ferrying people to the shore and back from 18:30 until 23:30.  It was a time for the crew and guests to relax and hang out, enjoy a big driftwood bonfire, do a little beachcombing (the captain found a large whalebone – rib maybe), have some sodas and listen to a little music.  A lot of fun!

Mike Laird, July 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 29, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 53.36 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Light Airs
Wind Speed: Light Airs
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered;
Lower-level: cumulus, stratocumulus
Mid-level: altostratus

Science and Technology Log 

Today I am on a team that is going ashore to set up two horizontal control-data collection stations. The horizontal control team is responsible for establishing accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for the location of the survey soundings. The RAINIER uses a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) to acquire precise readings for every collected depth sounding. The remote location of the Mitrofania Island work area has introduced an infrequently encountered challenge for the horizontal control team.  The two Coast Guard operated DGPS Beacon Stations that are closest to the work area (one on Kodiak Island and one in Cold Bay) are too far away (we are on the outer fringe of their transmitting capability) for the signal to reach the launches in some of the more isolated, shielded areas. As a result, we are out setting up the horizontal control data collection stations.

The first station is set up over an existing benchmark and will record data transmitted directly from a GPS satellite.  The receiver will record readings for six hours, shut down for twenty-four hours, and resume recording for a final six-hour time period. Finished with the first station, we travel across the bay to a point that extends out into the ocean. We will set up the second horizontal control data collection station at this location. However, there is not an existing benchmark, so we must establish one.  First, we drive three-foot sections of metal rod into the ground (normally benchmarks are fixed in rock but there is none at this site).  We sink two sections and decide that is enough to hold the benchmark in place for the two months that it will be in use (for a permanent benchmark the rod is driven until it can go no further).  The brass cap is then stamped with a name (SPIT) and date (2005) and affixed to the top of the rod.  We are now able to set up the second station. The receiver will follow the same collection pattern: collecting signals for six hours, resting for twenty-four hours, and collecting for another six hours.

At the end of the collection period, the data from the sensors will be uploaded to an onboard computer and transmitted to the National Geodetic Survey in Washington D.C. where corrections to account for error introduced by things such as the atmosphere are applied. The corrected data, returned to the ship, will establish very accurately (within cm) the latitude and longitude for the site.  One final correction is made to the data before the site can be used. This error source is the satellite itself and comes from the satellite’s perceived position (where it thinks it is in the sky) as compared to its actual position.  The precise location is monitored by the United States Air Force.  Final corrections using this information will provide pinpoint accuracy (within mm) of the benchmark’s location. A temporary, or “fly-away”, DGPS station can now be placed at this benchmark and transmit signals easily received by the launches.

Personal Log 

Yet another beautiful day! Once on shore the mosquitoes were terrible – swarming in clouds around our heads.  A little bug dope, the warm sun, and cool breeze soon took care of this problem.  A great day to be out working!

Mike Laird, July 28, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 28, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus

Science and Technology Log 

Another beautiful day in the Gulf of Alaska – partially cloudy with lots of sun!  Today I remained aboard the RAINIER and had an opportunity to talk with Ensign Olivia Hauser about the map sheets.  The sheets are prepared to guide the launches on their echo sounding runs. The whole area to be mapped on this leg of the mission is subdivided into zones called sheets.  At the beginning of the workday, each launch is assigned a sheet for the crew to follow for that day. However prior to distribution to the launch crews, the sheets must be developed.

Each sheet (there are six sheets for our current assignment) is the responsibility of a single sheet manager who takes care of the initial preparation of the sheet, sheet revisions, and the beginning phases of data analysis.  In developing the sheet, the manager attempts to achieve 100% coverage of the seafloor.  This means that the manager attempts to determine the optimum distance between the lines the launch will follow during its sounding runs. In areas like the waters around Mitrofania where there is little or no existing data, the first run of a sheet is a best guess plot.  In essence, the launches are conducting reconnaissance runs.

The data collected during these runs, may reveal some error in the initial line plots.  One problem is called a “holiday” which is a gap between the lines (unsounded seafloor).  This happens when the lines are spaced too far apart for the depth of the water (the water is shallower than expected), and the footprint scanned becomes too narrow leaving a gap between it and the footprint of the neighboring line(s).  A second type of problem is excessive noise in the scan results. In reconnaissance work, this is often the result of a greater than expected water depth in a launch not equipped to handle soundings at that depth. When these types of errors are identified, the sheet manager will revise the sheet plotting a new set of lines to be run. If necessary, a different launch (one with appropriate echo sounding equipment) will be assigned to run the new lines.  Once a complete set of good lines is established for a sheet and seafloor data for the entire sheet is collected, initial analysis begins. Computer programs take cast data (conductivity, pressure, and temperature), tide information, GPS readings (corrected for error), data accounting for the pitch and roll of the launch and process the soundings.  The result is a first look at the bottom!  Subtle changes in shading reveal changes in floor depth and other bottom features. The soundings run by the RA5 launch so far have indicated a mostly flat floor with a few rock outcroppings and small ridges.

Personal Log 

The day was fantastic warm and sunny!  One of the crew caught a halibut, which the galley cooked–a special treat for dinner tonight!

Mike Laird, July 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 26, 2005

Watching the monitors
Watching the monitors

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°53.3̍ N
Longitude: 158˚58.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 235˚
Wind Speed: 6 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.1˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 7/8 covered, Cumulonimbus

Science and Technology Log 

Operations for the day begin at 8:00 with crews of four launches assembling on the fantail for a pre-launch briefing giving final details of the day’s assignments and a review of safety procedures. Each launch crew is composed of three members: an Officer in Charge (OIC) who has overall responsibility of the launch, a coxswain who is responsible for the physical operation of the launch, and a survey crew member who assists in data collection in the assigned survey area.  Some crews carry a fourth member who is frequently a Teacher at Sea or other visitor on the ship.

Once the briefing is completed, each crew assembles in their launch-loading zone and boards the launch as it is lowered into the water.  I have been assigned to launch RA5 (RAINIER launch 5) and will be working with Ensign Mike Stevenson (the OIC), Carl Verplank the (coxswain), and Greg King (the survey technician).  Our assignment is to work in conjunction with launch RA3 to collect seafloor data in Mitrofania Bay, an area to the northwest of the RAINIER’s anchor location.  The area has been designated as Sheet AW.  The area around Mitrofania Island has been divided into several sheet areas.  Each sheet is composed of a map of the area overlaid by a set of parallel lines or tracks that the launch or ship will follow as it is recording data.  During the two weeks we are working in the region, data will be collected for as many of those sheets as possible.

Having reached the target area, a “cast” must be taken before the actual scanning of the bottom can begin.  The purpose of the cast is to gather information about the behavior of the water column we are working in.  The waters’ conductivity, temperature, and pressure will all affect the velocity of sound traveling through the column, and will be factored into the processing of the collected data.  The cast is conducted by lowering a CTD sensor, called a SEACAT, to the floor of the ocean.  When the cylinder is raised back to the surface, the data is uploaded to the launch computers and we are ready to go.  Launch RA5 is equipped with a Reson SeaBat 8101, a hull mounted extended echo sounder system.  This system is used to record seafloor information in water depths not exceeding approximately 110 meters.  This sonar system is a multi-beam system using 101 beams.  Each beam is composed of pings emitted from the sounder.  One beam drops vertically below the launch and fifty beams each fan out to the port and starboard sides.

To help picture this, imagine a set of right triangles below the launch.  Each triangle originates with the junction of the vertical beam and seafloor where two opposed right angles are formed.  The hypotenuse of each triangle is one of the fifty beams to the left or right of the vertical beam, and the seafloor forms the base of the triangle. Collectively the bases are referred to as the footprint (area covered by the sounding).  This footprint increases in size as the depth of the water increases.  As the size of the footprint grows, additional “noise” or interference is introduced into the sound wave pattern in those beams further from center.  This less accurate data will usually be eliminated during data analysis.

We spend the day transiting the lines designated on our sheet as the sonar feeds seafloor data to the launch computers.  At the end of the day, the launch nested safely back on the RAINIER, the data is downloaded from the launch to the ship.  Now begins the next phase analysis and “cleaning” of the raw data.  However, that is for another day!

Note: This is my understanding of the information I received.  If there are errors or inaccuracies,  I apologize.

Personal Log 

We have been very fortunate so far – the weather has been great since we arrived in Mitrofania. Partially cloudy but lots of sun!  The salmon (pinks and silvers) are constantly rolling and jumping. I tried my hand at a little salmon fishing yesterday with mixed results.  I hooked two! Key word there hooked. I didn’t land them – both shook the hook. Pretty lame, but I’ll get them next time!  Other crew members have tried some halibut fishing, but so for have only brought up what they call Irish Lords (“An ugly, junk fish.”) The fish is unique – a tan, brown and black with bulging eyes and poisonous spines that apparently cause pain and discomfort if you are cut or poked.

Mike Laird, July 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 25, 2005

Mike Laird, Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird, Teacher at Sea

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus

Science and Technology Log 

My name is Mike Laird, and I am a 5th and 6th grade Science and Math teacher from Flagstaff, AZ. I am onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER participating in a three-week hydrographic research cruise. The primary objective of the scientists and crew of the RAINIER is to gather data that can be used to create accurate maps of the ocean floor and coastline. I joined the team in Kodiak, AK.

We put to sea Monday afternoon after completing repairs on one of the six survey launches carried by the RAINIER.  Our destination is Mitrofania Island, a small island southwest of Kodiak. This location has been selected for data collection, because there is little information available on current nautical charts.  Our route took us through Shelikof Strait (between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island).

We then tracked south between the Semidi Islands and Chirikof Island.  As we transited this track, the RAINIER used its onboard sonar to gather ocean depth information for this location. As other NOAA hydrographic ships follow this course, they will also gather data. Over time and using all the data collected by the various ships, an accurate nautical map of this area will be constructed.

Having completed this pass, we headed northwest toward Mitrofania.  We sailed around the southern tip of the island and head for Cushing Bay, where we anchored for the initial phases of the data collection work.  As we neared Cushing Bay, a small work team was deployed in one of the ship’s skiffs to check a temporary (in place for thirty days or less) tide station. The station must be checked to insure that it is operating correctly and transmitting accurate information back to the RAINIER.  Data from the temporary tide station will be compared to data from the nearest official Coast Guard Tide Station and accurate tidal information for the area around Mitrofania Island can be derived.  Accurate tidal information is critical, since it is used in the processing of the collected data.  In addition to checking the tide station, the work crew will attempt to locate a spot on the shore to install a temporary GPS system.  The closest land-based GPS systems are a distance away and could introduce error of up to three meters in the collected data.  The successful installation of a closer, more reliable GPS would help increase the reliability of the data the team collects.

The end of the day has come.  We are anchored in Cushing Bay, and I eagerly await tomorrow’s arrival as I will be joining the launch 5 survey team.