Barney Peterson: Spreads Like A Ripple, July 1, 2016

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

(Soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13-28, 2016

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2016

Spreads Like a Ripple

“Yep, sounds exciting, but you teach about Pacific Salmon, so how useful is learning about Hammerhead Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico really going to be?” my friend asked.

Her reaction was not unusual. I am a 4th grade teacher with 26 years of experience in the Everett Public Schools in Washington State. I have put some serious thought into using my Teacher At Sea experiences to open eyes and minds to the world around us. I think the possibilities are endless.

My first Teacher at Sea assignment was summer 2006 aboard NOAA ship, RAINIER, on a hydrographic survey mission in the Shumagin Islands, Gulf of Alaska. From this I developed lessons on making contour maps using sticks and a sounding box. I grew my understanding of how weather systems that develop in the Gulf of Alaska influence our weather in Puget Sound. I used that knowledge to help students understand relationships between geography, weather and climate. I learned about birds, mammals and fish in the ocean food chain and inserted that learning into helping students understand the life cycle of the salmon we raise in our classroom.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to share a Teacher in the Air experience with fellow TASA Dana Tomlinson from San Diego, California. We flew with a winter storm research crew from Portland, Oregon; traveling 1800 miles out over the Pacific Ocean and back tracking developing weather systems. We created lessons that helped students understand the importance of using accurate global positioning information to follow low pressure systems as they moved across the ocean toward the west coast of North America. We put together a unit to help them understand how air pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction are measured and how that data is used to understand and predict weather patterns. My students still use those lessons as we participate in the GLOBE program, sending data in every day of the school year.

That was then, and this is now:

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students
Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

At school, I have students use globes and inflatable Earth Balls to track from the Arctic Ocean through every other ocean and back to the Arctic without taking their pointer-fingers off ocean surface. Then they start to get it… the connections: there is really just one big ocean! We learn about the water cycle and I challenge them to explain “where the water comes from.” We learn about food webs and energy flow. Our salmon studies teach them about producers, consumers and decomposers. They get the idea of cycles and systems and how all parts must work together. They learn to consider what happens when one step of a cycle fails or one part of a system is missing. We learn about organisms labeled “indicator species” that help scientists track changes in the health of ecosystems.

True, all of this is presented with a focus on where we live in the Pacific Northwest. But…that is just one place on the edge of our one ocean. Time comes to broaden the view. There are many life cycles depending upon the continual efficient functioning of Earth’s systems. Since there is just one ocean, nothing really happens in isolation. The same kinds of events that disrupt life cycles in one place will certainly disrupt them in another.

In August I will be aboard the NOAA ship, OREGON II, in the Gulf of Mexico. Our mission is to investigate and gather data about Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and Red Snapper. They share an ecosystem and participate in the same food web. They are subject to consequences of the same environmental changes and catastrophes that happen in other parts of our ocean.

Drop a pebble into the water anywhere and ripples spread until they reach the outermost boundaries. We all share one ocean. Where does the ripple stop?

Barney Peterson, August 31, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 31, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
(Weather data is not recorded on the Bridge when the ship is in port)

Question of the Day: Who are the Teachers at Sea?

Personal Log 

The sunset behind St. Augustine.
The sunset behind St. Augustine.

Start to finish, my NOAA Teacher at Sea assignment has been an incredible learning experience.  From the moment at the Seward, Alaska, railroad station when OS Dennis Brooks bounced up to me and asked, “Are you the teacher?” everything has been new, exciting, and memorable.  His mini-travelogue about Resurrection Bay, delivered as we bounced over the mud puddles of the dock area, got me to looking and thinking right away.

Out of the car, up the gangway, and onto the ship I was herded to where my first official greeting was from petite, feisty Ensign Meghan McGovern.  She grabbed my heaviest bag, put up a brief struggle about letting me carry the smaller one, and set off on a whirlwind flight down three decks to my quarters.  Up one level, turn this way, turn that way, off to the stern, open the doors, point out supplies, hear the words, and learn the jargon ….what had I gotten myself into?  What was it going to be like to be a Teacher At Sea?

Well…the REAL teachers at sea were the officers and crew of the NOAA ship RAINIER! -ENS McGovern, Jennings, Eldridge, and Smith who sensed my perplexity and tactfully and adroitly filled in the gaps:  What is this or that?  Why or why not? Who?  What?  When? Where?  Why? -LT Ben Evans, Field Operations Officer, who was always bursting with enthusiasm as he explained the scientific mission of the RAINIER.

-ENS Olivia Hauser, quiet, calm, and friendly who made me feel so at home about everything

-ENS Sam Greenaway who guessed that I didn’t know, explained away the puzzles, and then (with a twinkle in his eye) added just a little extra twist to see if I would fall for it! (About those whales Sam…)

-The Hydrographic Survey Crew: Erin, Shawn, Marta, Nick, and Matt …ask them any question and I got as much time as I needed for answers, explanations, and demonstrations; Nick and Matt who kept me on my toes with open-ended discussions about the purpose and future of education

-Amy and Amanda …just a little less new to the ship than I am, but willing to try to make things clearer and easier whenever they can

-Hydrographer Bonnie Johnston, always happy and friendly and with endless good ideas about how to take some of the science from this trip back to teach in my class

-The Deck and Engine crews…lively, ornery, spicy, and eminently lovable:  -Meghan G. and Leslie who actually taught me how to splice rope! -Jodie and Ben A. who always found a way to make me feel welcome, special, and not at all in the way; Jodie who tried to teach me to steer the survey boat and didn’t laugh when I was a dismal failure -Steve, Jimmy, and Dennis…smiles and teasing and lots of answers to even my dumbest questions; Steve with wildlife books and information and pictures to share anytime -Muzzy, Puppy, Keegan, Kelsen, Mikey, Chris, and Josh…prototypes for John Fogerty’s “Rambunctious Boy,” full of fun and attitude and hard, hard workers who made the running of the ship make sense -Erik who taught me how to put on my survival suit…and didn’t laugh -Joe – my personal guide for the long-awaited tour of the engine room… “What makes it go Joe?” -Carl – the guy who left the Midwest for a life at sea and who shared his enthusiasm for everything marine with a big smile and endless courtesy -Umeko…the new kid on the block, an intern learning the ropes and the rules and really eager to share her knowledge and explore new things…sorry we never saw enough of the stars for you to teach me how a sextant works…

-The Galley crew: Do and Floyd, who just kept smiling and telling me where things go, how to get what I need, and filling me up with way more good food than I needed; Raul who caught more fish with less fuss than anyone I’ve ever met before

-Gary…”right click, no, right click, no right click”…the very patient IT who helped me to figure out the server, email, the internet, and to get these journal entries off to NOAA

-Executive Officer Julia Neander…career NOAA Corps officer, scientist, literary critic, mom, and the person who always tried to make sure things were going right for me…taught me to kayak, went out for hikes, took great pictures, reviewed my journals, took time for good conversations, and made sure I got included in all the memorable things…she even taught me how to butcher a halibut!

-Last, but not least, Captain Guy Noll – quiet, thoughtful, sometimes serious, sometimes not, who shared his knowledge of Alaska and the ocean and history and fishing and who always showed a sense of the importance of his job and his personal commitment to it.

These were the real “Teachers” at sea: the people who helped make each day memorable and worthwhile as they took time to teach me.

Just what did they teach me?  Well, I learned about life aboard a ship, planning and following through on those plans to accomplish big jobs, multi-beam sonar, working with data to make information useable, navigation and the importance of good charts, steering on water in a straight line (or not), the importance of understanding the basic science behind their job so it makes sense to use equipment correctly, the geology of the Aleutian Islands and the Ring of Fire, Alaskan wildlife, and lots more.

At this point, my mind is so full that I probably don’t realize how much I have learned.  I do know that I am coming away from this last three weeks with new ideas and attitudes to share in my classroom and with my teaching colleagues.  I know that I will encourage other teachers to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. I know that my experiences have reinforced my belief that learning by doing helps learners make sense of new experiences and ideas.

My assignment from NOAA involved recording my experiences to share on the Teacher at Sea web page. This task has been particularly valuable for helping me to clarify what I was learning and to store ideas for use with my students.  Being a Teacher at Sea has given me a chance to be immersed in applied learning as the student instead of the teacher. I have a refreshed perspective on how it feels to walk into a new classroom with new classmates and an unknown teacher in charge.  When I walk into my classroom to meet my new students in five days I hope that this insight will help me start the year off comfortably, kindly, and meaningfully for that room full of young minds.

I thank NOAA for the opportunity to be part of a unique and wonderful educational experience. Besides learning about the life and science aboard NOAA ship RAINIER, I have a new appreciation for how important it is that I do my job in the classroom well.  Helping develop the curiosity and exploration skills of young learners seems even more critical after spending three weeks with a group of amazing people who are using those skills and attitudes in such a dynamic and impressive way.

To Captain Guy Noll, Executive Officer Julia Neander, and the wonderful officers and crew aboard RAINIER, my heartfelt thanks for all you have done to make my experience so remarkable.  My memories of RAINIER and being Teacher at Sea will bring joy to my life for a long time to come.

Footnote: There are others in the crew of RAINIER, not mentioned specifically, that I just never got the chance to get to know for whatever reason:  Time was short, schedules didn’t mesh, we didn’t move in the same orbits at the same times, the stars didn’t align…  Whatever the reasons, I’m sure the loss is mine because everyone on the ship has been so great. Sorry I missed you guys…next time, OK? 

Barney Peterson, August 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 30, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind :  light airs
Seawater temperature: 10.5°C
Sea level pressure:  1002.2 mb
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Nagai Island cliffs rising steeply from the water
Nagai Island cliffs rising steeply from the water

Science and Technology Log 

The Aleutian Range is a chain of mountains extending 1600 miles west from Mt Spurr, opposite Anchorage on Cook Inlet, to Attu Island at the northern edge of the Pacific Ocean. There is something like 80 active volcanoes in the range which forms the northern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. That would be exciting enough if it was the whole story of the land here, but there is even more.  Earthquake activity in the last 100 years has proven that movement along the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust continues to shape the land. As we sailed out of Seward on Resurrection Bay for a brief stop near the entrance to Prince William Sound, islands rose steeply out of the ocean, covered with thick evergreen trees from shoreline to summit.  The exposed shoreline was mainly cliffs and the beaches were slim and rocky.  The landscape looked like little chunks of the Pacific Northwest that I am used to seeing.

White sand beach and dunes on Nagai Island.
White sand beach and dunes on Nagai Island.

That all changed as we turned west and moved out through the Shelikov Straight on our way to our survey site at Nagai Island. Suddenly the only familiar feature was the color of the rocks! The islands pointed straight up from the water’s edge.  Most cliffs were rocky and broken with folds and bends in the bands of color. Some rocks were cross-hatched with breaks and gouges that showed how hard the sea and the weather have worked to break them down.  The crowns of these islands looked smooth and green with no tall evergreen trees in sight. Just when I had adjusted to seeing cobbled beaches and abrupt cliffs, we discovered a beautiful white sand beach backed by wind-formed dunes and covered with driftwood. At this point the weather cleared, the skies turned blue, and the beach was reflected in clear aquamarine blue waters that reminded me of the Caribbean.

We worked our way around Nagai Island, surveying water depths and noting how the cliffs that rose above the water seemed to plunge downward below the surface at the same angles we saw above it.  When there were rocks on the bottom, they were big, chunks that had broken off from the cliffs above and tumbled out as far as their weight could carry them.  Our bottom surveys showed areas of thick black mud and shell, made from weathering and erosion of the cliffs at the water’s edge.

Olga Island rising abruptly from the sea.
Olga Island rising abruptly from the sea.

Farther out the chain we stopped at Dolgoi Island in the Pavlof Islands group. Here the islands were even more barren looking.  Not even scrub alder shrubs seemed able to survive on the slopes and few flowers bloomed in the thick mat of mosses and heath that covered the crowns of the peaks.  These islands were more rounded at the tops with some softer contours, but just as abrupt as they poked above the sea.  The beaches at Dolgoi and Olga Islands were mostly large boulders covering just a few meters before sea grasses and then thick low brush took over. We sailed east again, back to Mitrofania Island; a place that looks like it hasn’t changed since dinosaurs roamed the earth!  Here the cliffs were abrupt, high, and split by deep cuts.  Every possible surface was covered by bright green brush.  The waters around the island were full of shoals and the cliff bases were laced with caves and cracks. Sudden breaks in the sharp cliffs showed where larger streams have worn away softer rocks to form valleys as they plunged to the sea. These gentler slopes allow pools and drops in the stream that are perfect for spawning salmon and developing juveniles before they head into the ocean. Small bays at the mouths of streams have captured coarse black sand to form narrow beaches.  Beaches that didn’t have the protection of bays were long strips of rounded rock, driftwood, and sea grasses.

TAS Peterson exploring the shoreline of Mitrofania Island by kayak.
TAS Peterson exploring the shoreline of Mitrofania Island by kayak.

So what have I learned about the geologic processes that formed this area?  Well I know that we saw fossils in some of the rocks.  Fossils are not something one would expect to find in volcanic rock. Much of the rock in the exposed cliffs shows thick bands of color in strange folds and twists.  The soil on the islands is not deep and rich.  Excepting for the one white sand beach that we saw, most sand was course and black echoing the color of the rocks around it. I did a little research in the ship’s library to clarify the geology for my own understanding. According to Introductory Geography & Geology of Alaska, a textbook published in 1976 and written by L.M. Anthony and A.T. Tunley, this is the scoop:*

Flanking the igneous cones of the Aleutian Range are uplifted sediments, mostly marine, dating back to Paleozoic time…rich in fossils and petroleum bearing shale….the Aleutian Range area consists of many high and active volcanoes of Cenozoic age that have uplifted adjacent sedimentary rock of relatively older age. 

And as for the soil and vegetation, Anthony and Tunley write: Lithosolic soil is characterized by recent and imperfect weathering…rocky soils with thin, irregular coverings of soil material. Some support only lichens and mosses.  Better-developed lithosols have heath shrubs and dwarf trees growing on them…These soils are also common to fresh moraines, beach sands, windblown dunes, and volcanic ash deposits.  In Alaska, lithosols are found in the Alaska Range, Brooks Range, Coastal Range, and on Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands. Elsewhere they are found in the Andes, Alps, and in the mountains of Asia. 

To me, all of that means that the volcanoes in the Aleutian Range represent relatively young features on the surface that have forced their way up through the older layers of rock. Those older layers can be seen clearly in the folded and bent sides of the island cliffs. Earthquakes continue as the tectonic plates slip over and under each other and the volcanoes that rumble to life along the edges of those active plates release pent-up heat and pressure from deep within the earth.

Credits: Introductory Geography and Geology of Alaska, Anthony, Leo Mark, and Tunley, Arthur “Tom”, Polar Publishing, Anchorage, 1976 

Barney Peterson, August 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 28, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind:  light airs
Seawater temperature: 9.4˚C
Sea level pressure:  1015.8 mb
Cloud cover: partly cloudy

CB Jimmy Kruger modeling the use of the line thrower with the help of AS John Anderson.
CB Jimmy Kruger modeling the use of the line thrower with the help of AS John Anderson.

Science and Technology Log 

This morning provided me an example of some of the training that goes on for the entire crew aboard the RAINIER.  We all assembled in the Crew’s Mess for remarks from the Captain about plans for the next few days, followed by 1.5 hours of training on the use of three different kinds of safety equipment.  We started with a manufacturer’s video and then moved to the fantail for demonstrations.

The first equipment we looked at is the PLT Line Thrower, a device that uses pressurized air to send a projectile attached to a light line up to 250 meters long.  The line is attached to a missile-shaped projectile on one end that is aimed at a target in the water. The business end of the PLT, containing the compressed air cylinder, is braced firmly against the ship to help absorb the strong recoil. The device is pointed toward the target at an angle of about 27˚ and the trigger is depressed, firing the projectile up and out so it will (hopefully) fall past the target, dropping the line where it is easy to reach. Demonstrations showed that firing is the simplest part of the operation.  Retrieving the line by pulling it into neat coils in a bucket is tricky. The line is then rinsed to remove the salt water, hung up to dry thoroughly, and stuffed neatly back into the tube for the next use. Even with the help of a pneumatic line stuffer the process is a bit like putting an earthworm back into its hole.

CB Kruger demonstrating fire suppression foam on the fantail of the RAINIER.
CB Kruger demonstrating fire suppression foam on the fantail of the RAINIER.

On RAINIER the PLT is stored mounted on the wall in the Chief’s mess.  There are four bright orange projectile tips, the loaded line tube, and the compressed air cylinder.  Each cylinder contains enough air for about four shots before it needs to be refilled at the compressor. Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger also demonstrated use of the foam fire suppression equipment.  Hooked into the ship’s fire hose system, an extra line siphons a solution to mix with the water and form a thick layer of foam when sprayed out through the high-pressure nozzle. This foam would be used on fires such as burning liquids. CB Kruger demonstrated using a solution made with dishwashing detergent.  The actual firefighting foam is made with non-toxic chemicals with high surface tension so very thick foam is produced.  Cleanup involves a thorough wash down of the area to dilute the foam and clean the surfaces it covered. When the foam was used to fight a fire at sea, the water from the wash-down is captured and stored in the bilges and removed into tanks for treatment when the ship reaches port.  Only in the case of a dire emergency would it be release into the ocean.

CME Brian Smith showing the three types of de-watering pumps.
CME Brian Smith showing the three types of de-watering pumps.

There are a number of possible causes for areas being flooded on a ship, but all of them need the same response:  stop the flooding and “de-water” the space.  Chief Marine Engineer Brian Smith demonstrated three types of de-watering pumps and discussed the specific uses of each one. First was the big diesel pump, capable of pumping 250 gallons per minute (about 14,000 gallons per hour).  It is only used where the pump engine can be outside so exhaust fumes are dispersed easily.  The pump itself is immersed as deeply as necessary in the water and has a check valve to prevent backflow if the engine is suddenly stopped. This pump would be used for large-scale work on a major problem. Next, CME Smith showed us the 440 Volt electric pump, capable of clearing about 200 gallons per minute (12,000 gallons per hour) and designed for use inside.  The ship has several special electrical outlets for using this pump.  It is designed for use in compartments flooded by leaks or firefighting.  He emphasized the need to wear protective rubber (electrical) gloves, rubber boots, and have the pump sitting on a rubber mat.  This pump is very efficient and very quiet.

Intern Umeko Foster watching spawning salmon on Mitrofania Island.
Intern Umeko Foster watching spawning salmon on Mitrofania Island.

The final pumps that CME Smith demonstrated were 5 horsepower gasoline engines, much like those used for lawn mowers, and operated the same way.  With a choke and a recoil pull-rope starter, they seemed comfortably familiar compared to the higher-tech larger pumps.  These little pumps are stored in two different places on the ship, should be used outside in well ventilated spaces, and are capable of moving about 100 to 150 gallons of water per minute.  At one time the crew of RAINIER took one of the pumps to help out a fishing boat that was taking on water and needed assistance.  These little pumps are the most portable of the three types and the simplest to use. Throughout all of these equipment demonstrations, crew members were invited to try things out and there was practice time after the talks ended.  Safety was always very strongly emphasized.

Both CB Kruger and CME Smith gave very clear information about where safety equipment is stored and how to clean it up and put it away ready for the next use. All Officers and crew were required to attend this briefing excepting for those on watch on the Bridge.

I finally got a clear look at the top of Mt Veniaminof.
I finally got a clear look at the top of Mt Veniaminof.

Personal Log 

We are anchored near Mitrofania Island in a beautiful little bay.  The land angles sharply up from the ocean into tall, rugged cliffs covered by bright green brush.  It looks, as the Captain says, “…like the Land of the Lost.”   The crew hopes to have time to do some fishing here for an hour or so because this has been a good place to catch salmon in the past. I hope to get a chance to go out in the kayak again. This place begs to be explored!

(Six hours later) I spent a couple of hours out in the kayak this afternoon with Umeko Foster, the intern from Cal Maritime.  We paddled over to a small bay where a stream comes into the salt water and found eagles and seals feeding on salmon heading upstream to spawn.  The seals became more interested in watching us than in fishing.  We got out and hiked around to watch the salmon, the eagles flew off, and the seals kept peeking at us from the water just off shore. The beach was littered with salmon carcasses.  There were some rusting iron eyebolts in two large boulders on the shore that led us to believe that there may have been a fish trap anchored here at some time in the past. The weather has been beautiful, clear and calm, and I keep hoping to get a look at the top of the large volcano to the north on the Alaska Peninsula.  So far the top has been covered with clouds moving in from the Bering Sea to the northeast.

Question of the Day 

What is a shield volcano and how is it different from other types of volcanoes?

Barney Peterson, August 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 27, 2006

Intern Umeko Foster exploring the coastline of Cushing Bay on Mitrofania Island.
Intern Umeko Foster exploring the coastline of Cushing Bay on Mitrofania Island.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ nm
Wind :  light airs
Seawater temperature: 11.1˚C
Sea level pressure:1017.0 mb
Cloud cover: partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

The personnel aboard the RAINIER are from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations. They come from the southern states, America’s Heartland, cowboy country, the east coast, and the Pacific Northwest.  Many now call Seattle, RAINIER’s homeport, their home.  What follows are brief profiles with some officers and crew members that I spent time with on the ship.

AS Leslie Abrahamson and I talked while she was splicing lines (working on ropes to keep the ends from fraying or unraveling).  That is a fairly specialized skill and Leslie had ample time to practice while working for several years on Tall Ships. She was a teacher for over 5 years working with high school aged youths, in programs including  widely respected Outward Bound. Following graduation from high school in Long Island, New York, Leslie attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California to study theater arts. At the end of her 3rd year she went to Shanghai and spent six months discovering the joys of outdoor life: hiking, camping, and trekking.  Meeting new people and having new experiences helped form her into an adventurous, self-reliant young woman.  She returned, finished college, got into SCUBA diving and boats, and began working on dive and whale watching boats. After working 24/7 with high school students in expeditionary learning projects, Leslie was ready for a change. She was hired as an Able Bodied Seaman working for NOAA.  Leslie has been accepted for graduate school and is considering an advanced degree in marine affairs and coastal zone management, but the training opportunities through NOAA are really attractive to her right now. She is enjoying working in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Survey Technician Matt Boles (right) locating tide gauge markers on Olga Island.
Survey Technician Matt Boles (right) locating tide gauge markers on Olga Island.

Umeko Foster is a second-year intern aboard RAINIER from California Maritime Academy. Raised in southern California, Umeko is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of working aboard ships, either with NOAA or in merchant shipping. She spent this summer and last learning first-hand about living and working aboard an ocean-going vessel.  Umeko has worked in a variety of jobs aboard RAINIER. I most often found her standing watch on the bridge, or working on deck duties around the ship. She has worked on the hydrography survey launches, but hasn’t acquired specialized knowledge of the highly technical equipment used in surveying.  Her background at the Maritime Academy will qualify her as a 3rd Mate for work on ships.

Survey Technician Matt Boles comes from Tennessee.  With an Associate degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) he joined NOAA 18 months ago to gain some practical experience in that field before committing to a 4 year study program. One of the things that influenced his decision was his experience in an internship he did in 2004: the teamwork and positive attitudes of the crew he worked with made him want to become a part of the organization.  Matt feels that being in Alaska, far from his family has helped him to become more aware of possibilities and to develop a new set of values about environmental stewardship. His internship aboard the fisheries ship was his first ocean experience and gave him an appreciation for a new part of the world.

TAS Peterson with Lt. Ben Evans atop Olga Island.
TAS Peterson with Lt. Ben Evans atop Olga Island.

He has fine-tuned his goals toward a degree in aerospace science so he will be able to use his skills in remote sensing surveying in other applications such as aerial survey work.  He is strongly motivated toward helping people learn more about the world we live in and how to live in it wisely, hopefully avoiding future tragedies like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Matt, who got married just three months ago, says the hardest parts of his life at sea are being away from family for long periods of time and the lack of physical activity space aboard ships. As a musician (bass guitar player), outdoor enthusiast, and with a strong interest in aviation, Matt likes to spend his free time actively.  There isn’t much room to hike on the ship.

AS Leslie Abrahamson splicing lines aboard NOAA ship RAINIER.
AS Leslie Abrahamson splicing lines aboard NOAA ship RAINIER.

Personal Log 

I got a really good workout today. I went ashore on Olga Island with Field Operations Officer Ben Evans and Survey Technician Matt Boles.  Our job was to locate and document five brass survey monuments for positioning a temporary tide gauge on the Island next season. I served as photographer and we all scrambled around on the rocks looking for the brass plates fixed onto the rocks.

When we finished documenting locations we took a few minutes to climb to the top of the island for the view. ST Boles and I went straight up through the brush at about a 50˚angle and met Lt Evans on top.  He had found a better slope and walked right up. There was a pair of Bald Eagles circling and calling above the summit and the view was wonderful. After taking pictures we headed back down. Who would have ever thought I would be climbing like this in rubber boots?

You have to love these “XtraTuf’s!”

Barney Peterson, August 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 25, 2006

Blue Mussels at the water line on Nagai Island.
Blue Mussels at the water line on Nagai Island.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind direction:  177˚ true
Wind speed:  20 kts
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Seawater temperature: 8.9˚ C
Sea level pressure: 1007.2 mb
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Many of the islands off the Alaska Peninsula rise straight up out of the sea, looking barren and lonely. This is not the case, however, if you train your eyes to see. True, there are no human inhabitants, and few land mammals, but the shores and the water around them teem with life.

If you are fortunate enough to spend time in a kayak along the shoreline of the islands you will see some of the near-shore marine creatures.  The bases of the cliffs on Nagai Island were covered by bands of Blue Mussels right at the tide line. On rare occasions, when the waves are small and the wind is calm, you can spot Leather Stars on the rocks with the barnacles, Dunce Cap Limpets, and a variety of winkles.

Gulls on the rocks at Nagai Island.
Gulls on the rocks at Nagai Island.

The cliffs of the islands provide nesting spots for shaggy-looking Tufted Puffins and their sleeker looking relatives, Horned Puffins.  These funny little birds have very dense bones compared to others that spend most of their time in the air.  They spend much of their lives in or on the water (they dive in and “fly” underwater…using their wings to swim after fish.) The heavy, stubby Puffins look awkward as they struggle to fly off the water, and on land they sometimes dive off rocks and cliffs to help launch themselves into the air. They spend much of their lives at sea, returning to land only for nesting and breeding. Other common birds on the cliffs and rocky shores are Double-crested Cormorants (snooty looking as they sit on the rocks with their beaks pointed straight up in the air), gulls of several types, Sooty Shearwaters, and Black Oystercatchers. When you spot a large group of birds diving and swooping at the water it is a pretty good signal that there is a “bait ball” of herring or other small fish near the surface and the birds are feeding on them while the fishing is easy.

Bald Eagles soaring over Olga Island.
Bald Eagles soaring over Olga Island.

If you are lucky enough to get ashore for a hike through the thick brush you will probably discover Water Pipits and Northern Waterthrush flitting from branch to branch, watching you curiously.  There are the seeds of grasses and lots of berries for them to eat along with the many small creatures from the water’s edge. High on the cliffs of some islands we spotted Bald Eagles riding the thermal air currents. The only land mammal that I saw on any of the islands where we worked was an Arctic Ground Squirrel slipping into the grass above the beach. It was about 14 inches long and golden-brown.  There are lots of grasses, roots, and berries for them to eat. They live in burrows in the thick mats of roots and shallow soil that cover large areas of the islands.  At first it seemed strange that there were no larger mammals to see, but we were a long way from the mainland and the only way animals can get to the islands is by swimming.  Bears, moose, foxes, sheep, goats and other larger animals have no reason to swim that far for a place to live.

Two Sea Otters looking at the ship curiously.
Two Sea Otters looking at the ship curiously.

Sea Otters live mostly in the water.  Their bodies are much better designed for life in the sea than on land. With their webbed feet and thick fur they are clever fishers, strong swimmers, and comical to watch.  We often saw otters near the shoreline, floating on their backs among the kelp beds. They are very curious and would sometimes slowly move closer to give us a good looking-over before diving and finding a more private place to do their eating. By watching the water near the shoreline carefully, we sometimes spotted sea lions or seals. There has been a marked decrease in the number of sea lions seen in the last few years, but there are still some in these waters.  Both seals and sea lions eat fish and like to find places to feed on salmon as they head inshore to spawn.  They are curious just like the otters and sometimes get fairly close to the ships, survey boats, or kayaks to see what humans are doing.

Seals peeking at TAS Peterson near Mitrofania Island.
Seals peeking at TAS Peterson near Mitrofania Island.

It was always a treat when someone spotted whales. This area is home to several kinds and, while fairly easy to spot, they are very hard to photograph. On our first night out we saw misty gray plumes above the water and spotted Sei Whales as they surfaced and dove. Two days later we watched Humpbacked Whales feeding among the diving birds near Nagai Island where we were surveying. Seeing those groups of birds is a signal to watch for whales feeding too. Another time we saw the dorsal fins of Orcas off in the distance, but they never got close enough to try for pictures. The crew on our ship took advantage of every opportunity to go fishing.  An announcement would come over the PA system, “Fishing to commence in 5 minutes and continue for 15 minutes” and we would know we were right over a really good spot. Every fisherman who wasn’t on duty at that moment would quickly get a line over the side. Those of us who aren’t fishermen would be on hand to help land the monsters they hoped to catch!  At the end of the prescribed time another announcement would signal lines in and the excitement would be over until the next time.  (There were opportunities to fish on several evenings when we were anchored for a day or two of survey work in the same area.  During the daytime, it is all business and the only fish I spotted were Moon Jellyfish in the water beside the ship.)

A large halibut caught by Lt. Ben Evans.
A large halibut caught by Lt. Ben Evans.

These waters are particularly good for halibut and I saw folks catch all sizes. They prefer fish about 30 to 40 pounds for the best eating, but love to hook a big one, 100 pounds or more, for the thrill of bringing it in.  I helped ENS Evans land an 80 plus pound halibut, and it was a lot of work! I also got to help with filleting and freezing the fish, and that is a job too, but the taste of fresh halibut is worth it! We saw lots of other fish too. On our first night out we anchored in a small bay where the Pink salmon were jumping all around us. Two days later our survey boat was surrounded by Pink salmon and one of the crew caught one that evening. This is right at the start of the fall spawning time for the Pinks and the end of the Coho season, so there were plenty of fish around. When the fishermen had their lines down deep after halibut, they also caught Yelloweye Rockfish, Sea Bass, and Ling Cod. All of these are good eating so, if they are large enough to keep, they get cleaned and used. Most of the fishermen vacuum-pack their fish to take home, but we ate quite a bit of fresh fish too. Two other sea creatures that were caught while I have been aboard were a 4.5 foot Spiny Dogfish shark and a Big Skate. I saw one Kelp Greenling when we took a look at the bottom with a remote underwater camera.  Every once in a while I would see a silver flash dangling from the beaks of gulls or puffins or jumping from the water as a school of herring swam past.

Although living and working aboard the RAINIER doesn’t leave lots of time for bird watching, whale watching, or fishing, everyone finds ways to make those activities parts of their everyday routine as often as possible.  Their ability to spot the wildlife, and their eagerness to share it with me, has helped to make my time on the RAINIER an even better experience.

Tim Van Dyke with a Yelloweye Rockfish he caught on his birthday!
Tim Van Dyke with a Yelloweye Rockfish he caught on his birthday!

Barney Peterson, August 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 24, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  8 nm
Wind direction:  300˚ true
Wind speed:  15 kts (gusts to 50 kts)
Sea wave height: 2 ft
Seawater temperature: 9.4˚C
Sea level pressure:  1003.5 mb
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Seaman Surveyor Erik Davis signals “Stop” with a closed fist while boat RA-3 is being lowered to the water.
Seaman Surveyor Erik Davis signals “Stop” with a closed fist while boat RA-3 is being lowered to the water.

Science and Technology Log 

One very important aspect of working on the RAINIER is communication.  To get the job done everyone needs to communicate clearly and effectively.  This extends into every part of working and living on the ship. Communication is by voice, flags, and hand signals. People talk face-to-face, by radio, bells, Public Address system, posted notices, and by email.  For every form of communication there are certain “right” ways to participate.

Voice communication is much more formal on the bridge where orders and responses have to do with running the ship. When a command is given by the Conning Officer or the Officer of the Deck, it is repeated by the person to whom it was given followed by the response, “aye.” That person then repeats the command again to indicate it has been accomplished, and the person who gave the order acknowledges that by saying “Very well.” Since there are often at least two people carrying out different commands on the bridge at the same time, it is very important that this procedure is followed so the person in charge knows that orders have been heard and followed.

When members of the Deck, Engine, Survey, or Galley crews address the NOAA Corps officers and department heads on the ship, they call them by rank and name, or just by rank. The Commanding Officer is always addressed as “Captain” or “CO,” and the Executive Officer is always addressed as “XO” or by rank and last name.  Department heads should be addressed as “Chief.”  This formality helps avoid confusion in following the chain of command, the organization that keeps the ship running smoothly.

Flags are used as signals to people off the ship about what is going on.  At anchor a Union Jack is flown on the bow from the jack staff.  A black “anchor ball” is raised on the forward bow stay (line), and the Stars and Stripes flies from the aft mast.  The ship’s commission pennant always flies from the forward mast.  When the ship is refueling, a red flag is flown from the forward mast on the port side.  When the ship is under way, a smaller-sized Stars and Stripes and the NOAA service flag are flown.  Our nation’s flag is always flown from the aft mast and the service flag is on the forward mast.  Other special flags are flown when certain VIPs come on board and are taken down when they leave.

TAS Peterson in her survival suit during an Abandon Ship drill. The wind was gusting up to 30 knots so we reported to our indoor donning stations.
TAS Peterson (right) in her survival suit during an Abandon Ship drill. The wind was gusting up to 30 knots so we reported to our indoor donning stations.

The ship’s radios are used for important voice communication.  The protocol is for the speaker to give the call sign (code) for the person to whom they are speaking, followed by their own identifying call sign. Communication via radio is very direct, in as clear language as possible, and never uses the civilian law-enforcement 10-code language.  To indicate that a person has received and will comply with a message, the response is “Roger.” These radio communications are very important on the RAINIER during the day when survey boats are working away from the ship on hydrographic surveying.  It is important for the boats and the ship to stay in touch for both safety and efficiency.

When survey boats are being lowered or raised to the ship or when the anchor is being raised crew members reinforce voice communication with specific hand signals as well. When launches (survey boats) are being raised and lowered a closed fist means “Stop!”  The index finger on a closed hand pointing up or down shows the direction for winches to move the boat. Different signals are used for operating the cranes on the bow and stern of the ship, using the thumbs, and different motions of the hands with either the index finger, or the first two fingers extended. It is important for all crewmembers to understand the signals and watch for them because machinery is sometimes noisy, making it hard to clearly hear voice commands.

It is very important for everyone on the ship to learn the bell signals that are used.  They are to alert the officers and crew to emergencies and they demand immediate responses.  Upon coming aboard the ship, each person is given a safety briefing and assigned emergency muster stations for response during drills and emergencies.  When the alarm bell rings (or the ship’s whistle sounds) 7 short and 1 long, followed by the announcement “Prepare to Abandon Ship” on the PA system, all personnel report immediately to their Abandon Ship stations wearing a jacket, long pants and a hat, and carrying their survival suit and whatever specific supplies have been put on the personal assignment.  At least once each cruise there is a drill when everyone dons their survival suits and checks whistles, zippers and lights to be sure they are working.

The Fire/Emergency signal is a continuous sounding of the ship’s bell (or whistle) for at least 10 seconds, followed by an announcement about the specific emergency.  All personnel must immediately report to their muster stations wearing their floatation (Mustang) coats.  The person in charge at a muster station accounts for each person and reports that all are or are not accounted for.  The radio is used to dispatch particular crews to their assigned Fire/Emergency responsibilities.  Dismissal is by 3 short whistle blasts or bells followed by the announcement “Secure from fire/emergency.”

Three long bells or whistle blasts followed by the announcement “Man Overboard, port/starboard side!” is the signal for all personnel to report to Man Overboard muster stations immediately.  This enables roll to be taken to identify who is missing and emergency recover procedures to be initiated. All of these signals, whether for drills or actual emergencies, are taken very seriously. Everyone practices the drills at least once per week so that the ship’s personnel can respond immediately with the least possible confusion.

The other two forms of communication used on the ship are posted notices and email messages.  Each person on the ship has an email account with a NOAA address.  The CO regularly posts bulletins of general interest such as the weather forecast, general orders, or information from fleet headquarters on policy and procedures.  Officers and crew use the email for interpersonal communications and it is also available for limited personal use. There are notices posted regularly on the ship’s bulletin boards that all personnel are responsible for reading. These include the Plan of the Day (POD: work schedule and assignments) and more general schedules such as hours the store and the dispensary are open. The menus for meals are posted in the mess and the movies being shown are listed each evening.

Each of these forms of communication is very important to the people aboard the RAINIER. It is impressive to see how well they work.  Nobody mumbles or takes shortcuts. I have not heard anyone answer “uhn-hunh” or “uhnt-unh” nor have I seen anyone respond to another person with headshakes or shrugs.

Personal Log 

Today the weather was windy and wet as a low pressure system passed over us.  The storm actually started last night and got pretty rough.  We were anchored in a sheltered bay so we didn’t get the worst of the winds.  Even so, there were gusts up to almost 60 knots. I woke up several times hearing the anchor chain rub loudly against the hull as the wind spun the ship around. The movement of the ship was pleasant to sleep to.

This seemed like a great morning to catch a nap as I had been up really late last night cleaning fish. I had just settled in to sleep when the Fire/Emergency bell sounded.  (At first I thought recess was over!) I jumped off my bunk, grabbed my coat and hat, and was half-way outside when they announced we should disregard the bell, there was no emergency.  About an hour later, the bell rang again and it was an F/E drill for real so I grabbed my Mustang coat and sped to my muster station on the fantail.  We were outside in the very fresh air for about 20 minutes while they accounted for all personnel and completed the steps of drill.

Just after lunch there was an Abandon Ship drill and we were told to report to our “indoor donning” areas to put on survival suits and check that all parts worked properly.  I struggled into my “Gumby” suit, stretched on my fleece hat, blew on my signaling whistle and flipped my strobe light on and off.  Everything worked fine.  Those suits are very warm when you are inside and I was really happy to take it off and repack it into its carrying bag.

Question of the Day 

What is the temperature of the water in degrees Fahrenheit in the Gulf of Alaska if the daily log reports it at 9.4˚Celsius?

Barney Peterson, August 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 22, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction:  light airs*
Wind speed:  light airs*
Seawater temperature: 11.1˚C
Sea level pressure: 1012.0
Cloud cover: cloudy

* “light airs” means there is little or no wind

A lead weight is fastened to the end of the bottom sampler.
A lead weight is fastened to the end of the bottom sampler.

Science and Technology Log 

The major reason for the hydrographic surveys that NOAA is doing is to produce very accurate charts so vessels can navigate safely in U.S. waters.  To add to the usefulness of the water depth information, survey teams also take bottom samples at selected locations.  The results of these samples allow mariners to know where they are most likely to find good bottom so their anchors will hold firmly when dropped.

Bottom sampling is much lower tech than the hydrographic surveys. It involves the computer only to record the information that is gathered.  Actual samples are taken by lowering a sampling device on a nylon rope.

The device works like a clamshell with two bowl-shaped halves that are attached and hinged at the top and scoop together and then hold the sample as it is retrieved from the bottom.  The halves are pried apart and set with a spring-loaded trigger that sticks down to the level of the edge of the open halves. When the sampler hits bottom, pressure against the trigger by the bottom surface makes the sides snap shut, hopefully scooping a sample of the bottom as they come together. To be sure that the sampler goes right to the bottom and is not dragged away from the target area by currents, there is a lead weight fastened to it just below where the rope is attached.

This looks and sounds simple, and usually it works every time.  However some kinds of materials scoop and hold more easily than others.  On some casts the sampler may not descend straight down so the trigger doesn’t strike hard enough to spring the sides closed.  Other times the bottom surface may just not scoop: rock size may be too large or the surface may be too hard.

Analyzing the bottom sample.
Analyzing the bottom sample.

After the operator thinks the sampler has struck bottom and sprung shut, it is raised, either by pulling up the line hand-over-hand, or by hooking the line into an electric winch.  As the sampler reaches the side of the survey boat, the operator grabs it and brings it on deck to hold it over a bucket while it is emptied.  Ideally, as the sampler is opened its contents rest firmly in the two halves. Sometimes the bottom material is runny mud or sand and gushes out through the operator’s hands as they open the sampler.  The sampler is always opened slowly to get the best results possible.

Once the bottom sample is visible, it is evaluated according to a rating sheet and characterized by description. Examples might be: “green sticky mud,” or “coarse black sand and broken shell.”  There is a chart that describes the texture of each particle type to help surveyors characterize them as uniformly as possible.  For example, “pebbles” means specifically very small rocks (less than 5 mm) that have been smoothed by the action of water and sand. Later, these characterizations are “cleaned up” into more exact terms and coded into the information on the survey sheets for each particular area.  As with depth measurements, each sample site is identified very accurately by GPS coordinates so that it will appear in exactly the right location on navigation charts.

Personal Log 

This evening the XO and I got a ride on the skiff (small, light boat) over to the shoreline south of our anchorage. It was a “wet” landing…meaning we jumped out into the water and waded ashore because the beach had such a gentle slope that the boat couldn’t get in any closer.

Crowberry, Fireweed, and Lupine grow abundantly at Mist Harbor.
Crowberry, Fireweed, and Lupine grow abundantly at Mist
Harbor.

We left our life jackets by a log on the narrow, rock beach and climbed up a steep bank about 20 feet to a field of beautiful wildflowers.  The whole area was covered with a heather-like plant called Crowberry that had lots of dark, purplish-blue berries.  Sticking up through that were blooming spikes of Fireweed and Lupine.  Mixed with those were the bright green of ferns, bright red bunchberries, and a shrub like our salal that I couldn’t find a name for.

Hiking across this “field” was much more difficult than it looked.  The ground beneath the thick vegetation was full of lumps and channels.  Root masses of the plants were raised a foot or more

from the rest of the surface so we had to pick our way carefully to avoid plunging into holes.  The ground felt soft and spongy, but it was not slippery.  We hiked across the narrow neck between our bay and Mist Harbor on the other side of the island.

Mist Harbor consists of a very sheltered body of water, protected from the open sea by a think finger of steep, rocky beach that almost totally walls it off.  There is a lot of seaweed and rocks are covered by barnacles and mussels.  Right above the rocky beaches there is very thick grass about 3 ••• to 4 feet tall that is very hard to get through. In many places the grass covers piles of old fishing nets, drift logs, ropes, floats, and other trash that has washed ashore over the years.

We hiked around the perimeter of the harbor as far as we could. There was an orange float out in the center that is supposed to be for a research project by the Fish and Wildlife Service out of Homer, Alaska.  On the southwest side of the bay we found Salmonberries growing on the cliff.  A little careful climbing earned us both a good handful to feast on. Yum!  These salmon berries have a little different leaf than the ones I know back home and the ripe berries are dark red instead of orange.  The flavor was the same.

As it started to get late, we hiked back and radioed to the ship for our skiff to come back and get us. On the way back across the land we spotted a small land mammal, probably a Pika.  It was the first land mammal I have seen in these islands because they are so far from the mainland that most creatures would not deliberately swim to get to them.  They look like they should be populated by bears, foxes, and goats, but actually they are havens for many kinds of birds.

Question of the Day 

What is the state flower for Alaska?

Barney Peterson, August 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 21, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction:  light airs*
Wind speed:  light airs*
Seawater temperature: 11.1˚C
Sea level pressure: 1012.0
Cloud cover: cloudy

* “light airs” means there is little or no wind

Science and Technology Log 

I have now been out on the survey boats twice and am scheduled to go out again this afternoon. Each survey boat is set up a little differently and some work better in shallower depths than others. They use the same basic systems to create profiles of the ocean bottom.  The survey technicians and NOAA Corps officers have been great at explaining how their equipment works. On the hull (bottom) of each survey boat is a transducer, a device that sends and receives pulses of sound waves. As the sound waves strike the seabed they bounce back to the receiver. Those that come back soonest are those that bounce off objects closest to the sonar device.

However, as the sound waves are transmitted straight down into the water, they spread out from the transducer in a cone shape.  This means that waves on the outer edges of the cone normally travel farther before returning than do the ones that go straight down.  The waves that come back to the receiver first show the tops of objects that are closer to the boat. This works fine for objects straight down, but remember, the waves that are on the outside of the cone travel a little farther and take a little longer to reach things.  That means that they may strike against the tops of higher objects, but they will still take a little longer to return than echoes from objects of the same height that are directly under the receiver.

This is where the sophisticated software comes into translating the echoes that the transducer receives. When the survey boats begin work, and every four to six hours after that, the crew uses a device called a CTD to read the temperature and conductivity of the water all the way to the seabed under the boat.  Both temperature and chemical make-up of the water affect how fast sound waves can travel through it.  Knowing how fast the sound waves can be expected to travel helps the receiver understand whether echoes are  coming back from the tops of rocks (or fish, whales, shipwrecks, etc.), from straight down under the boat, or from the edges of the cone.

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 4.16.45 PM

There are other considerations to analyzing the echoes too.  It is important to have information on the height of the waves and the swell of the water at the time readings are being made.  (Remember the sound waves are sent out from the bottom of the boat and the boat is floating on the top of the water.) This way the echo patterns analysis can take into account whether the boat is leaning a little to the right or left as it goes up or down with the swell of the water.  That lean affects the angle at which the beam is aimed to the seabed from the bottom of the boat.  The level of the sea surface changes with the tides, so the software also figures in the lowest level that probably will occur due to changes of tide. This is all linked to the time that surveys are made, (because tides change with the time of day, month, and year) the date and the exact geographical position for each bit of information is very important.  This depends upon satellite and GPS technology.

The transducers send out pings faster or slower (pulse rate) and with a stronger or weaker signal, depending upon how deep the water is in the main area of the survey.  The power is set higher for deeper water.  The cone of the beam spreads out wider in deeper water so the resolution, or focus, is not as great.  This is acceptable because objects that are hazards to navigation are generally sticking up from the bottom in shallower water.  (Something sticking up 2 meters from the bottom in water 50 meters deep would still be 48 meters below the surface at its highest point.  That same object in 10 meter water would only allow 8 meters of clearance for ships on the surface.)

There are many other considerations to using the sonar information for making good charts. Every day I have the opportunity to ask a few more questions and learn a little more about this technology.

Personal Log 

This evening I got to go out in a kayak with the XO.  We paddled away from the ship and followed the shoreline north around the island until we entered the next bay.  The waves were small, but sometimes there was a pretty good gust of wind so I really had to pay attention as I was getting used to the feel of the little boat.  About 100 yards from the ship a sudden gust caught my hat and took it off into the water.  We were not able to recover it. On the cliffs above the second bay we spotted Bald Eagles and gulls of several kinds.  One of the eagles was really concerned about what we were doing and either circled over us or sat on the high bluff and watched us the whole time we were in the area.  Its mate flew back and forth through the area calling to it as it watched us.

We were hoping to see a waterfall that we had heard came down the side into this bay, but we never did sight it. The shoreline was beautiful with steep rock walls or narrow rocky beaches and mountains rising right up from the edge.  The hillsides look like they would be smooth and easy to walk on, but the vegetation is actually thick, deep, brush and provides very uneven footing.

Our return to ship was much faster than the trip out because the wind was at our back and pushing us all the way.

Question of the Day 

How were most of the islands in the Aleutian Chain formed?

Barney Peterson, August 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 20, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction:  295˚ (true)
Wind speed:  10 Kts
Sea wave height: (not recorded)
Sea wave direction: (not recorded)
Seawater temperature: 9.4 ˚C
Sea level pressure:  1004.5 mb
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy
Temperature  Dry: 15.6˚C Wet:  13.3˚C

CDR Guy Noll on the bridge of NOAA ship RAINIER.
CDR Guy Noll on the bridge of NOAA ship RAINIER.

Science and Technology Log 

It is extremely important for the officers and crew to understand how their ship works.  By understanding what happens when the engines are given a particular setting, or the rudder is moved a certain amount, those running the ship can move, steer, and stop with quite a lot of precision. The RAINIER is 231 feet long, 42 feet at its widest (beam) and displaces 1800 tons. If you think about the football games you may have seen, you can imagine what it looks like when a very large player is running down the field and tries to stop quickly:  his feet may freeze on the spot, but the force of his own moving weight keeps his body going for a ways. It is the pressure of his feet on the solid ground that helps him stop at all. Trying to stop the ship is like that, except that water is not solid and so provides less resistance to movement.  With nothing solid for the ship to push against it takes a while to lose speed and momentum.

Turning works much the same way.  Once the rudder is moved, the ship may begin to change direction, but its weight is still aimed the way it was originally going so there are no crisp rightangle turns. The officers on the bridge have to plan ahead so they begin their turn early and cut their speed when necessary to end up in the right spot at the right time. Out on the open ocean this is not often a big issue…there is lots of room to maneuver and turns are often just gentle bends in the line of travel.  Here, where we are working in the islands of the Alaskan Peninsula, distances between land masses are smaller, rocks and shoals are more common, and the depth sometimes changes quite a lot due to the way the land has been formed.  It becomes very important to be able to plan ahead and move carefully around obstacles while still keeping the ship safely in deep water.  Learning how carefully we have to steer helps me to understand how important the hydrographic mapping we are doing is.  We are helping to develop very accurate charts showing water depths to make navigation safer.

Personal Log 

I am really enjoying my time aboard the RAINIER.  Every morning seems to bring a new adventure. The weather has been remarkable, especially since higher winds and rougher seas have been forecast several times.  We have had three days of beautiful sunrises.  Two of those days had sunshine all day as well. Yesterday it got windy and there were showers and last night winds rose to 30 knots. Today it was sunny again with broken clouds and fairly light winds.  The crew says this is unusually good weather for this place at this time of year.  I am going to enjoy it while we have it.

Question of the Day 

What does it mean when I say that the ship has a displacement of 1800 tons?

Barney Peterson, August 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 19, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8 n.m.
Wind direction:  240° C
Wind speed:  8 knts
Seawater temperature: 10° C
Sea level pressure:  1012.3 mb
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Friday I got to spend time on the bridge while the ship was moved from one anchorage to another less than a mile away.  The reason for the move was to anchor in a more protected spot as the forecast is for higher seas and stronger winds.  When weather readings are taken and data is sent, the ship also receives a forecast to help the captain plan for the safety of his vessel and crew. To know where to anchor the captain must understanding the geology and topography of the islands where we are working as well as knowing about the surface of the earth under the water.

Our first anchorage was chosen because the water was moderately deep and there was room for the ship to turn on the anchor chain as the wind and tides moved us.  The second anchorage was chosen because the prediction was for winds from the southwest.  We moved deeper into a bay surrounded by mountains between one and two thousand feet tall.  There was protection from the predicted winds and room for the ship to maneuver.

This diagram show the cone-shaped pattern that the chain will move in as the ship swings around at anchor.
The cone-shaped pattern that the chain will move in as the ship swings around at anchor.

We weighed anchor from our first anchorage. LT Evans took down the flags and the anchor ball (showing the anchor is down) was lowered. With one man working the winch and another carefully watching the anchor chain, the raising process was begun on a command from the bridge. Ensigns McGovern and Greenway were on duty along with Able Seaman Leslie Abramson.  Captain Noll was there to observe and I was invited up to watch by Executive Officer Julia Neander. The anchor was raised slowly and the chain fed into a locker under the deck in the bow of the ship. We gathered speed and moved to our new anchorage with Ensigns McGovern and Greenway using the ship’s radar to move us according to a predetermined route.

As we approached the new spot, the speed was cut, and finally the engines were reversed to stop us in just the right place.  While we were moving all personnel on the bridge watched attentively, sometimes with binoculars, for any indications of problems.  There was a large kelp bed to the starboard side of the anchorage, an indication of shallow water and rocks on the bottom.  This was something we needed to miss.

Finally the command was given to drop the anchor.  Ensign McGovern ordered that they release five “shots” of chain, thinking that this would reach bottom if the depth in this area was what they thought it would be. The survey boats had not covered this area, so charts did not show depths. A shot of chain is equal to 90 feet. At five shots the anchor had not yet settled on the bottom so McGovern ordered an additional five shots.  When eleven shots were out, we began moving the ship slowly with the engines to try and set the anchor. This would be apparent when the bow observer could see heavy tension on the chain and those aboard the ship should have felt a slight tug….we didn’t.

After trying several time, the captain determined that the anchor was not on a good surface and was dragging. This could be very dangerous if the wind rose as predicted because the bay we are in is fairly narrow and there would not have been much time to take action to keep the ship a safe distance from the shoreline.  The order was given to raise the anchor again.

As the chain came up we could smell the foul mud from the bottom.  Bits of mud and slime were caught in the links and had to be washed off with a hose and nozzle so the chain locker wouldn’t be dirty and smell awful.  The captain brought me a sample of the stuff…heavy gray-green-black clay with bits of shell and plants in it. (The smell reminded me of pulling my boots out of the middle of a swamp…rotting stuff!  I was happy to toss the mud overboard and wash off my hands.)

The captain picked another spot a few ship-lengths from this one and the ship was moved slowly.  Then anchor was lowered again with more than eleven shots of chain being released before the anchor settled on the bottom.  This time, as we gently powered up the engines the man on the bow called out “Light tension….Medium….Heavy and holding.”  At that point even I felt the slight dip that signaled that the anchor had set.

There is always someone on the bridge on watch, 24 hours a day.  If the anchor were to drag tonight, the watch would call the captain, waking him if necessary.  They would make a decision about what to do to keep the ship and crew safe.

Of course, once the anchor was down, the person in charge on the bridge had to calculate the distance the ship would move as it swung on the anchor with a chain eleven shots long.  There is a chart for this. The pattern is an inverted cone with the anchor being at the point and the bow of the ship at the circumference of the base of the cone.  (In real life the chain droops a bit from its own weight so the lines aren’t totally straight.)  It is important to calculate this carefully and to know that the water all the way around the cone is deep enough that the ship can swing without danger of striking any underwater objects such as rocks or sunken ships.

Question of the day: If the anchor chain is eleven shots long, how far is the ship above the ocean floor when the chain is extended straight up?

Barney Peterson, August 18, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 18, 2006

wet and dry bulb thermometer
Wet and dry bulb thermometer

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind direction:  220˚
Wind speed:  light 0 – 2 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1’
Seawater temperature: 9.4 ˚C
Sea level pressure:  1017 mb
Cloud cover: cloudy (8/8)

Science and Technology Log 

Wednesday I spent time on the bridge, observing what happens when the ship is traveling at sea. My classes at James Monroe Elementary have participated in the GLOBE program, acquiring and sending weather data daily to be used to form a picture of conditions around the world.  It was particularly interesting to me to learn that the crew of NOAA ships take much the same readings hourly and report them every 4 – 6 hours to the National Weather Service to help develop the predictions that help us all guide our day to day lives.  I was especially impressed that the readings I saw were made using traditional instruments, not an automated electronic weather device.

One of the people in the pilot house logs weather every hour on the hour. There is an outside station on the starboard wall of the pilot house.  This gives a temperature reading and allows them to calculate relative humidity.  That is the difference between how much moisture is in the air, and how much total moisture the air is capable of holding.  It may be expressed as a percentage, or decimal number. For hourly reporting, the relative humidity is not recorded and it is calculated automatically by when the “Big Weather” is submitted to National Weather Service.  Both temperature of the air and sea water are read in ˚Fahrenheit and converted to ˚Celsius for reporting.

An anemometer  measures wind speed.
An anemometer measures wind speed.

Wind speed is read from an anemometer mounted on the ship’s mast.  This reading is a bit trickier if we are under way. When the ship is moving, the ship’s speed is subtracted from the anemometer reading to give a corrected wind speed.  (Otherwise, the reading is like what you would get running while holding a pinwheel in front of you…much faster air movement than what is actually happening.) There is a wind vane mounted on the front of the ship and also an electronic gauge for reading wind direction.

The barometer (at left) is used for reading air pressure. It is located on the back wall of the pilot house and always gets a gentle tap before a reading is taken. This measurement is important because trends up or down in air pressure give clues to developing weather systems.  The pressure is recorded in milibars.  The ship’s barometer is shown at left. Some measurements involve using experience and personal judgment as well as instruments.  These are the ones for wave height, swell height, cloud cover amount, cloud height, and visibility. The accuracy of these readings depends upon the experience and care of the person making them.  The sea wave and swell can be estimated by careful observation, which seems to become second nature to the crew because they are exposed to them all the time.  They are recorded in feet.  The direction of the swell is always shown as the direction in which the swell is going. It can be measured using a device mounted on the deck outside the pilot house.

A barometer reads air pressure.
A barometer reads air pressure.

Cloud cover is measured in eighths.  The observer divides the sky, calculates by observation how many eighths of the sky are covered by clouds, and reports that fraction. Likewise, a person must be a careful observer to note the kind of clouds they are seeing and where they mostly appear in the sky. There is a cloud chart available that shows pictures of cloud types and tells the altitudes at which they are commonly formed.  This is a great help. (The cloud chart is shown at the right.) When there are low clouds, and there is land nearby, the observer can check the elevation of a point of land and judge the elevation of the lowest clouds as they appear against that point. Another measurement that may sometimes have to be an experienced estimate is visibility.  Again, if land is visible, the observer tells how far away she/he can clearly see according to landmarks and the distances on charts or the ship’s radar screens.  It is a lot harder to make this judgment when the ship is at sea, with no landmarks to help.  That is when experience is especially important.  One aid in this case is that the known distance to the horizon, due to the curvature of the earth, is eight nautical miles.  That means that if the observer can see clear to the horizon, visibility is at least 8nm.

This day I watched Able Bodied Seaman (AB) Jodi Edmond take weather readings and report “Big Weather” to the National Weather Service using the internet.

A cloud chart on the NOAA’s National Weather Service Web site.
A cloud chart on the NOAA’s National Weather Service Web site.

Personal Log 

I am running about a day behind writing and submitting my logs.  There is so much to do and see that I forget to spend enough time writing.  I am using the personal journals that my students gave me at the end of the school year to record my impressions and thoughts every evening.  Those act as memory-joggers when I sit down at the computer to do my formal writing.

Everyone aboard the RAINIER is very friendly and helpful.  I am still making a few wrongs turns or selecting the wrong stairs to get to where I need to go. The officers and crew are great about pointing me in the right direction and giving me clues to help me remember how to find where I need to be when.

Every afternoon the orders for the next day are posted in several spots throughout the ship.  These list the survey boats that will be going out, and their crews and assignments.  The list also tells about responsibilities on board ship…both for the officers and the crew.  These are called the Plan of the Day (POD) and are important for everyone to read when they are posted.

Question of the Day 

How is wind direction normally reported: do we tell the direction from which the wind comes, or the direction toward which it is blowing?

Barney Peterson, August 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 16, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 234˚
Wind speed: 0 – 3 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Seawater temperature: 11.7˚C
Sea level pressure: 1011.8 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8 Height: 2000 -3000’ Type: Stratus

My first view of the NOAA ship RAINIER at the dock in Seward, AK.
My first view of the NOAA ship RAINIER at the dock in Seward, AK.

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday I spent time in the Plot Room learning about the technology used to survey the surface of the earth underneath the ocean (bathymetry).  For each survey the computers must  have accurate, real-time information about the behavior of the ship on the sea surface (pitch, roll, speed) because all of this can affect the accuracy of sonar readings.  The sonar (sound waves) is beamed from the bottom of the survey vessel and spreads out in a cone shape to the undersea surface. Bottom features that stick up closer to the sea surface reflect sonar waves and return echoes sooner so they show up as more shallow spots.  Echoes from deeper places take longer to return, showing that the bottom is farther away at those places.

The data from each day’s survey is downloaded into computers in the Plot Room.  Survey technicians review the data line by line to be sure it all fits together and to “clean up” any information that is questionable.  They use information about the temperature and conductivity of the water where the survey was taken to understand how fast the sonar waves should be expected to travel. (This information is critical for accuracy and is collected every 4 to 6 hours by a device called the CTD.  The CTD is lowered from the ship and takes readings at specified depths on its way down through the water.)

Ensign Megan McGovern and crew partner in full firefighting bunker gear for our first Fire/Emergency Drill.
Ensign Megan McGovern and crew partner in full firefighting bunker gear for our first Fire/Emergency Drill.

When survey work is in deep water, it is done from the ship using equipment that can cover a wider area in less detail.  The launches are used for shallow water work where it is more important to navigation to have finer detail information on water depths and underwater features of the earth surface. Bonnie Johnston, a survey technician, spent about an hour explaining how the system works and showing me how they clean up data before it is sent off for the next stage of review, on its way to becoming part of a navigational chart.  Computers used have two screens so survey technicians can see a whole survey line of data and look closely at information on tiny spots at the same time without losing their place on the big screen.  This helps to judge whether changes of depth are accurate according to trends on the sea bottom, or spikes that show an error in the echoes received by the sonar. The software also allows them to see data as 2-D, 3-D, color models, and to layer information to give more complete pictures.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to begin our actual survey work in the Shumagin Islands.  In between making new surveys the technicians are kept very busy working with the data they have on hand. There are many steps to go through to insure accuracy before data is ready to use for charts.

This is the 4.5 foot dogfish shark caught by a crewmember.  This shark has no teeth even though it looked ferocious.  released it after taking pictures.
This is the 4.5 foot dogfish shark caught by a crewmember. This shark has no teeth even though it looked ferocious. released it after taking pictures.

Personal Log 

My first two days aboard the RAINIER have been a swirl of new faces and places.  The only name I knew for sure before I arrived was Lt. Ben Evans who had exchanged email with me about the gear I would need. I was met at the Seward RR station by and welcomed onto the ship by Ensign Megan McGovern.  She gave me a quick tour of the ship, including where to put my gear. I felt like a mouse in a maze: up and down steps, around blind corners, and through doorways. It has been much easier so far to find my way than I thought it would be.  Reading books that use nautical terms has helped give me a background to understand port, starboard, fore, aft, head, galley, bridge, fantail, and flying bridge. Now I just need to remember where they all are.

Monday was taken up with a safety briefing, checking out equipment such as my flotation coat, personal flotation device (life jacket) for use in survey boats, hard hat, and immersion suit.  I spent several hours reading Standing Orders that all persons aboard must read before being allowed to stay. I talked with the medical officer, and discovered where to eat and the times meals are served. Tuesday we had a Fire/Emergency Drill at about 1030 (10:30 am) for which I reported as fast as I could to my assigned station on the fantail.  We were checked off on a list and some crew members practiced with fire fighting equipment.

Just as we finished that drill, the Executive Officer called an Abandon Ship Drill.  Everyone rushed to quarters to get immersion suits, hats and any assigned emergency gear before reporting to muster stations.  Again we were checked off and all accounted for before anyone could return to what they were doing before. These drills are an important part of shipboard life. They are required once a week and always within 24 hours of the ship sailing from port.

I am sleeping and eating well.  The food is like camp and so are the bunk beds.  So far I have seen lots of salmon: the stream in Seward was full of migrating Coho (silvers); the sea at Twin Bays was alive with jumping Pinks. Monday night one crew member, fishing from the fantail while we were anchored, caught and released a 4.5’ dogfish (shark).  The next day someone caught an 8 lb. silver.  There are sea lions, otters, gulls, eagles, puffins and dolphins to watch. I hate to close my eyes to sleep because I know I will miss seeing something wonderful.

Question of the Day 

What is the speed of sound through air?  Does sound travel faster or slower through water?