Jessica Schwarz, July 2, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 2, 2006

NOAA ship RAINIER, anchored in Islet Passage.
NOAA ship RAINIER, anchored in Islet Passage.

Personal Log

So I survived the trip across the Gulf with only some minor sea sickness and for the last couple days been having an incredible time with the crew of the RAINIER on Kodiak Island. The island is very green and we’ve been so lucky to have beautiful sunny weather.

The NOAA ship FAIRWEATHER, RAINIER’s sister ship, is in port as well. On Friday there was a Change of Command ceremony brining in a new Commanding Officer for FAIRWEATHER.  I visited the FAIRWEATHER today and it looks almost identical to RAINIER.  Seeing the ships docked side by side is pretty impressive.

Tomorrow I fly home to the Big Island and I just can’t believe how fast the time has flown by. I finally know my way around the ship and now it’s time to leave. I do want to say, as this is my last log, how grateful I am to have had this experience.  I have learned an amazing amount on a variety of different subjects and truly feel myself enriched both personally and professionally.

The crew of the RAINIER has been amazing! I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me aboard the ship and letting me hang with them these last couple weeks.  Everyone has been extremely generous with their time and has taught me an amazing amount!!  I am leaving the RAINIER, having made some great new friendships.  I feel sad to be on my way so soon, but very excited to share all that I’ve learned with my students at WHEA.

Thanks again to everyone at NOAA for providing educators with such a unique opportunity to live and work together with NOAA mariners and scientists!  It’s been great! I’d just like to know, when can I go again?

Mahalo and Aloha!! Jessica Schwarz

Jessica Schwarz, June 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 28, 2006

The ship is underway, heading across the Gulf for Kodiak and to be honest the more I type the queasier my stomach feels so I’m keeping this entry short.

The seas are not rough today, I think they said between 5-7ft. swells, but the rocking of the ship has me feeling sick to my stomach a little bit.  I guess the more time you spend up top of the ship, the worse you might feel.

I went up to see the action in the bridge while we’re underway.  Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) Leslie Abramson let me take the helm for a few minutes.  There are several compasses to watch, basically all at one time, telling you the course you are on as well as your degrees of course change. Since we are in open ocean there were no useful landmarks to point towards to help me stay on course.  It was a very neat experience to be at the helm of the RAINIER.  She is a huge ship and it’s pretty incredible to feel her move with such small turns of the helm.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. I’m not feeling too well and probably should find some motion sickness medication.  I’m eating my words of my last log and caving.  I’ve decided being a zombie beats feeling sick.

Just so ya know 

I threw up my dinner after finishing this log and with the garbage can at my bedside I slept quite well.  So, even after having taken sea sickness medication, I’m still puking…what’s up with that?  I guess there’s just no preventing these things  sometimes.

Jessica Schwarz, June 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 27, 2006

Sonar image of a shipwreck
Sonar image of a shipwreck

Personal Log 

Just when I think I’m getting the hang of things on the ship…. I was working at the computer when I heard myself being paged over the intercom, “TAS dial 128”, “TAS dial 128”. I looked around and didn’t see a phone so I wondered up to the galley. The crew is prepared for the TAS to be confused and lost most of the time I think, so it doesn’t take long after a confused look on your face to get some help.

I was being paged because the CO wondered if I’d like to take a boat ride over to Redoubt Lake where the sockeye salmon are spawning.  I hurried down to my stateroom to grab some warm clothing and made my way to the fantail (stern of the boat) where the skiffs are tied.

Redoubt Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that sits just above sea level on one of the nearby islands. There were several other boats anchored in the bay, one of which had two men fishing for sockeye.  The CO cast a line in as well, but I guess the salmon weren’t biting today.  On our way back, I got to drive the skiff…remember the skiffs go much faster than the survey launches. The one we were riding in today can get up to 45 knots. I didn’t drive it that fast though.

Sonar image of a sunken airplane!
Sonar image of a sunken airplane!

We saw a harbor seal poke its nose out of the water. That was really cool! I’ve seen pictures some of the crew has taken, where they are resting on land. Pretty amazing! When I came back to the ship I headed up to the plotting room where Physical Scientist Shyla Allan showed me some amazing sonar images.  I’ve included a couple in this log for everyone to see. I was very impressed by how detailed the images are!

Later on that evening, I went for another boat ride on one of RAINIER’s skiffs with ENS Megan McGovern, OS Megan Guberski, and ST Erin Campbell.  We headed back over to Redoubt Lake. We spent time watching the salmon jumping.  Pretty incredible! Tomorrow we will be underway and heading across the Gulf to Kodiak Island!  Think good thoughts of calm seas and settled stomachs for me.

ENS Megan McGovern, TAS Jessica Schwarz, and ST Erin Campbell are spending their evening on the skiff to watch the salmon jump in Redoubt Bay in Southeast Alaska.
ENS Megan McGovern, TAS Jessica Schwarz, and ST Erin Campbell are spending their evening on the skiff to watch the salmon jump in Redoubt Bay in Southeast Alaska.

Jessica Schwarz, June 26, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 26, 2006

Rock hunters: SS Corey Muzzey and ENS Sam Greenaway after a productive morning of investigations.  Corey, Sam and Jamie have been very giving of their time and are excellent at explaining data acquisition and processing!
Rock hunters: SS Corey Muzzey and ENS Sam Greenaway after a productive morning of investigations. Corey, Sam and Jamie have been very giving of their time and are excellent at explaining data acquisition and processing!

Science and Technology Log 

So I hope everyone remembers what RAINIER’s Captain, Guy Noll, told me last week before I went out on a launch: “We hit rocks so that you don’t have to.”  When I first heard him say this, I kind of laughed, figuring it was somewhat of an exaggeration, he was only kidding with me. I found out this morning he actually wasn’t.

An added component to running lines and collecting sonar data is doing nearshore feature investigation. If you are involved in feature investigation, your job is to either prove or disprove whether or not a feature (rock, ledge, islet, wreck, etc.) actually exists in the position it’s been historically claimed to be.  When I say “historically” I mean some of these features were last charted based on data collected in the 1940s or earlier.  Therefore, NOAA needs to update the data used in developing their charts and resurvey various areas with updated technology.

For the last several years, NOAA has been augmenting its ship-based sonar surveys with airborne bathymetric LIDAR (LIght Detection and Ranging) data. LIDAR uses high powered laser pulses (invented in 1962!) transmitted from aircraft.  The laser sweeps back and forth across the earth’s surface, and the reflections are detected by a receiver. Much like sonar, the distance to the ground can be inferred from the amount of time required for the light to travel from the airplane, to the earth, and back.  If the position and altitude of the airplane are measured very accurately, the height and shape of features on the earth’s surface can be determined.

ENS Jamie Wasser, monitoring the Echosounder onboard RA1 during investigative surveys.
ENS Jamie Wasser, monitoring the Echosounder onboard RA1 during investigative surveys.

NASA and the U.S. Navy were among the first to use airborne LIDAR.  Later, with the involvement of NOAA, Airborne Oceanographic LIDAR was developed for use in the marine environment.  After continued progress in development and technology, Airborne Hydrographic LIDAR (AHL) was invented. AHL uses a wavelength of light which penetrates the water rather than reflecting off the surface, allowing for measurement of water depths in addition to land topography.  Keep in mind that although ALH was first developed in the mid 80s it was not practical for utilization on the Alaska Peninsula until the 90s. Although an exciting new addition to NOAA’s hydrographic survey “toolbox”, LIDAR is not able to run nearly as deep as sonar. In shallow water close to shore, however, it can reduce the need for inefficient and potentially unsafe small boat operations.  Both LIDAR and sonar are used to assist in determining what features are navigationally significant to those at sea and essentially what features will end up being charted.

RAINIER receives a list of questionable sea features based on information collected from LIDAR, past hydrographic data, and in some cases reports made by mariners.  Based on this collection of data, they are asked by the Pacific Hydrography Branch (the folks in Seattle who compile RAINIER’s data for addition to the charts) to investigate certain features (i.e. rock, ledge, islet etc.) that cannot be resolved with certainty based on the LIDAR or other.

After finishing investigations, TAS Jessica Schwarz is getting a feel for steering a jet-propelled boat!
After finishing investigations, TAS Jessica Schwarz is getting a feel for steering a jet-propelled boat!

So, today, ENS Sam Greenaway, ENS Jamie Wasser, Seamen Surveyor (SS) Corey Muzzey, and I went out looking for rocks☺. That doesn’t sound nearly scientific enough does it? There’s a lot involved in looking for rocks actually, and it’s not nearly as easy as it might sound. For me, as someone new to hydrographic surveying, my big question was, “Okay, and then what happens when we find one?” What’s this whole, “hitting rocks so you don’t have to” idea? Do we really hit the rocks? I rode today in launch RA1 to do investigations.  RA1 is unique because it is a jet propelled boat. This means it does not use a rudder and propeller, like you would expect to find on most power boats. Instead, RA1 is propelled (and steered) using water that is sucked in through a grill in the hull of the boat, accelerated by an impeller driven by a diesel engine, and expelled out a nozzle in the boat’s transom. Changing the direction of the discharge nozzle is what steers the boat. This allows RA1 to go into much shallower water. In fact it only needs 1 foot of water to stay afloat and move around.  Also, don’t be fooled by me saying “jet propelled”.  That might give someone the impression these boats are extremely fast.  RA1 is actually quite slow, with a cruising speed of 12 kts, which I figure was good for the crew while I was at the helm.

There are different ways of investigating features and doing a disproval (determining if a feature is there or not).  One is to use RA1’s single-beam sonar.  This is different from multi-beam sonar (like what I’ve discussed before) because instead of sending out between 140-250 pings of sound over an area of between 120°-150° from the boat, single-beam sonar sends only one ping directly beneath the hull to the ocean floor.  While single-beam sonar is running, the echosounder printer draws an outline of the sea floor features. Check out the picture of ENS Jamie Wasser with the echosounder to get an idea of what it might look like.

If you’re wondering why they aren’t using multi-beam instead, it’s because they’re in shallow water, extremely close to rocks, and it would be much too easy to knock off the multi-beam transducer attached to the hull.  Multi-beam sonars cost around $300,000 so it wouldn’t be very cost effective for NOAA to lose or damage one.  The single-beam sonar is imbedded in the hull and won’t be knocked off if the boat does happen to hit a rock.

Not all survey boats were running item investigations today. In fact today three survey boats were launched, two launches were running main scheme lines with multi-beam sonar (what I’ve participated in on past days) and one, the launch I was involved with today, was running investigations.

In order to do this, the launches need to get extremely close to shore and extremely close to these “hypothesized” features, often times physically nosing the boat up to them to check the positions (remember, “we hit rocks so you don’t have to”).  Depending on the sea conditions, this can be a very difficult process.

Personal Log 

Today was an excellent day. It was beautiful and sunny all day. We stopped the launch and had lunch in one of the little bays. On our way home, SS Corey Muzzey let me drive.  The jet drive boats drive much differently than the boats with rudders and propellers. The helm didn’t feel nearly as touchy and seemed more forgiving of my exaggerated turns of the wheel ☺. We saw several humpbacks out there today…around the time whales started showing up near the boat was when I lost interest in driving.

The landscape here is so incredible.  I keep trying to take digital pictures of it and am always disappointed by what little justice the pictures serve. Tonight is a crew beach party. Everyone on the ship who wants to go can get a ride to a nearby beach to spend some time on land for a change. I’m looking forward to it!

Soon we’ll be crossing the Gulf. I’ve been hearing some horror stories about this crossing, not just from the crew, but also from some of the people I met while I was in Sitka before I came onboard RAINIER.  I’m actually looking forward to being on the open ocean. We’ve spent a lot of time anchored and well protected in the bay.  Crossing the Gulf will be a new experience.  I’m excited!

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

Sonar technology wasn’t utilized for hydrographic purposes until the 1940s.  Before this, how did surveyors chart the sea floor? Remember, hydrographic surveying and the development of nautical charts, dates all the way back to 1807 with Thomas Jefferson.  So, how did they do it back then?  Let me know what think!

Jessica Schwarz, June 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 25, 2006

From the bridge, ENS Olivia Hauser radios to survey launches RA4 and RA5 to let them know RAINIER is underway.
From the bridge, ENS Olivia Hauser radios to survey launches RA4 and RA5 to let them know RAINIER is underway.

Science and Technology Log 

Today the RAINIER moved yet again. At around 2:00 this afternoon, while I was working away in the plotting room we lifted anchor and got underway.

I learned today the anchor lengths are measured in units called “shots”, with 90 feet in one shot. As the anchor was being lifted, you could hear Boatswain Group Leader (BGL) Steve Foye calling out shot lengths over the radio.  This was to let the crew in the bridge know how much anchor chain was left before the ship was no longer be secured to ground. ENS Meghan McGovern mentioned that the anchor chain is generally let out 5-7 times the depth of the water, leaving plenty of slack for the ship to rotate on anchor.

Two survey boats were still in the field when RAINIER got underway today. I think it’s pretty amazing they can load the boats onto the ship while we’re moving!  According to the crew it’s easier to load them while we’re moving then when we’re at anchor.  ENS Olivia Hauser radioed the launches to let them know to get ready for pickup. We’re now anchored in Kanga Bay again and the weather has been beautiful!

RAINIER deck crew looking over the side of the ship to watch the anchor as it is being lifted out of the water.   Communication from the deck to the bridge on the location of the anchor relative to the ship’s position is important to prevent damage of the ship’s hull.
RAINIER deck crew looking over the side of the ship to watch the anchor as it is being lifted out of the water. Communication from the deck to the bridge on the location of the anchor relative to the ship’s position is important to prevent damage of the ship’s hull.

Tonight I had the opportunity to chat with some of the NOAA Commissioned Officers on the bridge, ENS Megan McGovern, ENS Nate Eldridge, and ENS Sam Greenaway. I wondered how they got involved in NOAA Corps in the first place. All three of them received a Bachelors of Science prior to applying to NOAA Corps. One of the minimum requirements to apply for the Corps is a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering, or mathematics.  Once admitted, the officers head to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in New York for NOAA Basic Officer Training Class, a rigorous three-month training period. Upon completion of BOTC, the NOAA Corps officers are placed on NOAA vessels sailing throughout the world.  They commit to a 2-2.5 year tour aboard the ship to which they are assigned.

The officers, always in uniform, are responsible for running the ship, and are also hydrographic surveyors onboard RAINIER. They work on a rotating schedule, including anchor watch, survey launch, and cleaning and processing data. It seems to me that they’re always working. Then again, that’s how it seems with all the crew working onboard the RAINIER.  Check out the NOAA Corps web site if you’re interested.

NOAA Commissioned Officers: ENS Nate Eldridge, ENS Meghan McGovern, and ENS Sam Greenaway.
NOAA Commissioned Officers: ENS Nate Eldridge, ENS Meghan McGovern, and ENS Sam Greenaway.

Personal Log 

It’s Sunday today! Physical Scientist Shyla Allen asked me today what I would typically be doing on a Sunday. I told her, I’d be at the beach, going for a swim or snorkel!  It’s funny how different my Sundays are in Alaska on RAINIER.  It doesn’t really feel like a Sunday because everyone is still hard at work.  Today I wrote my log, responded to e-mail, and visited with crew.  Pretty fabulous Sunday, really.  Not too much activity, at least not for me anyways, which is just how I prefer to spend Sunday.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

This question comes from the Navigation Officer onboard RAINIER, ENS Sam Greenaway.

If there are 6ft in 1 fathom, in 15 fathoms of water, how many shots of anchor chain would be let out when the anchor just touches the ocean floor?

Also, in 15 fathoms of water, how much additional chain would typically be let out to provide slack for the RAINIER to swing on anchor?

Jessica Schwarz, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 24, 2006

The Plot Room onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.  After data is collected from the survey boats, it is cleaned and processed by night processors in this room.
The Plot Room onboard NOAA ship RAINIER. After data is collected from the survey boats, it is cleaned and processed by night processors in this room.

Personal Log 

I spent another day of hydrographic surveying today! We started at 8:00am by launching boats RA4 and RA5. I was on RA5 today.

I took a motion sickness pill the night before because the seas have been pretty rough lately and some of the technicians have gotten sea sick. I had no idea how I would feel so I took one just to be safe and let me just say…I am never taking one again. I felt like a zombie woman the entire day. I haven’t gotten sea sick yet and I think I’m going to take my chances next time the opportunity arises.  I’m sure the medicine has different effects on different people, but for me, I felt like my head was floating a foot above my body the entire day. We’re going to be crossing the Gulf next week and rumor has it that can be a rough leg so I might eat my words and cave by taking the medicine. In that case, it will make for an uneventful log. After a day of surveying we came back to the ship, had dinner, and then I was off in a skiff to shore to spend some time in the hot springs.  WOW! This was amazing.  When I was packing for my trip I remember thinking it was pointless to pack my swimsuit, but I did anyways…because ya never know! Turns out, I needed it for my visit to the springs.

Survey launch RA5 working in Kanga Bay in Southeast Alaska. The cruising speed of RA5 is up to 25 knots, but while on the survey line logging data, the boat can go no more than 8 kts.
Survey launch RA5 working in Kanga Bay in Southeast Alaska. The cruising speed of RA5 is up to 25 knots, but while on the survey line logging data, the boat can go no more than 8 kts.

Tucked away in the forest on one of the surrounding islands encircling the bay are beautiful hot springs that people can come to enjoy.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service built several small cabins that enclose a big round brown tub, similar to what you’d see in old country western movies.  White pipes buried underground are hooked up to the natural spring water and pumped into the tubs.  The cabin has a huge window so you can view Hot Springs Bay from the tub.  It was like a rustic Alaskan spa experience!  After spending some time in the tub, Survey Tech Erin Campbell and I went up into the forest a little ways where we found a natural hot spring surrounded by hemlock trees.  The bottom of the hot spring was pretty muddy and crunchy from what I am assuming (and hoping) to be twigs and leaf litter.  I couldn’t help but wonder what other little organisms were having an Alaskan spa experience along with me.  I came out a little muddy, but very relaxed!

These are the kinds of amazing experiences the crew of the RAINIER gets to enjoy while traveling onboard the ship. They are visiting places that most people will never get a chance to visit in their entire life.  There are fishing poles, kayaks, surf boards, and all kinds of other equipment onboard that the crew can use!  I think that’s awesome.  Everyone is working so hard during the day; it’s nice to see they have some options for things to do on their down time.

I have to say, I have been so impressed with everyone onboard the RAINIER.  This is a group of adults who live together, work together, and then play together…all in very close quarters. Everyone is very well rounded and kind.  They are truly professionals at sea. I really am appreciating the competency and maturity of everyone onboard the RAINIER. There is a common understanding that although you have high expectations placed on you to get the job done, there is also an understanding that everyone is always learning and it’s okay to make mistakes here and there.

I think that is extremely important to support the crew’s confidence and comfort level in performing their duties while onboard.  I’m just so impressed with the level of support and encouragement of one another.  This is not something always observed onboard a boat or ship. I think it says a lot about the high quality of the crew onboard the RAINIER. I feel lucky to be a part of it for my time at sea in Alaska.

Next log, I’ll explain more about how the hydrographic data is processed after it’s been collected on the launches.  For now, I am off to see how things are going in the bridge, which I have decided is my favorite place on the RAINIER…well, the bridge and the galley, where the coffee is always flowing.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

What is a hot spring?  How are they formed and where does the hot water come from?  Isn’t water in Alaska supposed to be cold? Also, just out of curiosity, what kinds of things might live in a hot spring?

Check out this United States Geological Survey website to learn more about the ecosystem and climate history in Alaska.

8th graders, think about plate tectonic movement.  How would plates shifting apply to what you read on this website?

Jessica Schwarz, June 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 23, 2006

Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman, checking gages in Central Engine Room Control.
Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman, checking gages in Central Engine Room Control.

Crew Interview Day! 

Today was another excellent day onboard the mighty RAINIER.  I awoke and made my way to the galley for an English muffin and some coffee before I made it to Central Engine Room Control to chat with Third Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman.  Before Kelly made her way down to talk with me, Engineering Electronics Technician (EET) Joe Gallo took me beyond the center console and into the engine room.  I was able to see for myself the machinery that is powering the ship.  I checked out the main engines, the generators, the boiler, the evaporators, and all kinds of other noisy machines.  After my tour I sat down to find out what got Kelly into being an engineer in the first place. Kelly started out as a young girl with aspirations of becoming a naval pilot. This was interesting news to me because I didn’t realize the Navy had pilots in the first place.  I thought the Navy aircraft carriers were carriers for Air Force planes.  In actuality, the Air Force is only land based, and all Navy carriers support naval aircraft.

Photo of the port main engine. The starboard main engine is not shown but looks exactly the same and is directly across from the port engine.
Photo of the port main engine. The starboard main engine is not shown but looks exactly the same and is directly across from the port engine.

As she grew up she changed her mind, deciding to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Marine Engineering Systems Design from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY.  Along with a BS, Kelly also received a minor in nuclear engineering.

The United States Merchant Marine Academy (known simply as “Kings Point”) is one of the five federal military training academies.  It is the only academy that allows its graduates to be hired as civilians with the expectation of completing their military service requirements.  Kelly is completing her requirements by working for the Navy Reserve. Kelly has traveled all over the world on various ships.  Before she even finished college she was onboard US Naval Ship LARAMIE during the time the United Nations decided to go into Kosovo.  LARAMIE was a Navy support ship that replenished the battle ships with fuel, food, and other consumables.  She mentioned these ships are the only military ships that will employ civilians and they follow the battle fleet for the sole purpose of providing support and supplies to the vessels.

While onboard Kelly was getting hands-on training as an engineer.  Students at Kings Point are required to have at least one year of hands-on training on a ship before graduating. While she was getting her training she was traveling to Japan, Australia, Spain, Alaska, Hawaii…and plenty of other places (I just can’t remember them all…there were so many).

Ordinary Seamen (OS) Megan Guberski fully suited in her turnout gear onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.
Ordinary Seamen (OS) Megan Guberski fully suited in her turnout gear onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.

Now Kelly is an employee of the Maritime Engineers Beneficiary Association, which is the largest maritime union for engineers.  She was originally placed on NOAA ship RAINIER to work for 45 days beginning in April 2006, but after arrival, due to her level of experience as an engineer she was offered to stay onboard until August 2006.

I was just so impressed talking with Kelly.  She’s traveled all over the world working as an engineer on many different kinds of ships.  I really appreciated the time she took to explain how all the machines work to power the RAINIER!!  She is obviously doing what she enjoys and life at sea comes very natural to her.  After talking with Kelly, I spent some time responding to e-mails and chatting with the crew. Today is Friday, so in my normal routine that means…DAYS OFF!!!  Not for the crew of RAINIER…their schedule continues to rotate regardless of what day of the week it is. Ordinary Seaman (OS) Megan Guberski put it simply, saying “yeah, every day is a Tuesday.” They are working so hard out here…all the time.  I think when we come into port I’ll get to see what it’s like for the crew to get a break.  That’ll be nice.

OS Megan Guberski showed me a little bit of what it’s like to work on maintaining the quality of the ship. She spends her days cleaning, painting, scraping, scrubbing, fixing, etc and gets to use really cool power tools (she mentioned that’s why she enjoys her job so much).  When she had a little time, I asked Megan if she would put on her fire suit for a picture, or as it is supposed to be called, “turnout gear.” Turnout gear is the protective gear Megan has to wear to fight a fire onboard.

She went through Coast Guard Advanced Fire Fighting Training and is now one of five people responsible for putting out a fire onboard! I noticed the suit during our fire drill earlier in the week and I SO badly wanted to get pictures, but knew it probably wasn’t the best time.  I was still trying to figure out where I was supposed to go in case of a fire. As I mentioned earlier…I get lost easily so stopping for photos during a fire drill would be a bad idea.

Anyway, it’s supposed to take them around a minute to get the suit on.  That seems impossible to me because there are a lot of things Megan had to put on. The turnout gear was even more difficult to get into than the Gumby suit and that took some serious effort.

Megan, as well as all the crew on the RAINIER, has been excellent at taking time to explain how things work on the ship. She has been on the RAINIER for about a year and a half now and is working her way up to be an AB, Able-Bodied Seamen.  By September 3rd of this year she will have enough days at sea to qualify as an AB onboard. Megan is very ambitious and has already completed all the training necessary to qualify as an AB.  She will need to take a Coast Guard test before she will earn the title, but she said she’s not concerned about that. It’s just a matter of getting in her sea time.

It’s been so nice to have the opportunity to learn about the different job opportunities onboard a NOAA ship. Many of the positions require little to no training prior to employment and therefore training is provided onboard the vessel.  I think that’s awesome!

Showing off her air tank, OS Megan Guberski is dressed to fight a fire!
Showing off her air tank, OS Megan Guberski is dressed to fight a fire!

Personal Log 

Tonight I had halibut for dinner. The CO caught a 15-lb halibut off the stern of the ship and we all were able to enjoy!  There are hot springs on shore and rumor has it we’ll be visiting them soon. I’m looking forward to that.

I’m getting more used to the noises of the ship and am sleeping soundly.  My bunk is surprisingly cushy and very comfortable.  It wasn’t exactly easy getting out of it this morning.

I saw a sea otter today!!!  He was swimming on his back. We don’t have otters in Hawaii so I’m having my first otter encounters here in Alaska.  I guess some of the crew saw whales this morning as well, but I missed it!

Life is good out here on the RAINIER!  A little rainy today, but good!

This is cool…check it out! 

Go to NOAA’s website.

Jessica Schwarz, June 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 22, 2006

Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman at the center console in the engine room onboard the RAINIER.  Kelly fired up the engines to get the ship underway this morning!
Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman at the center console in the engine room onboard the RAINIER. Kelly fired up the engines to get the ship underway this morning!

Science and Technology Log 

This morning the RAINIER changed locations from Kanga Bay to Hot Springs Bay. I had an opportunity to go down in the Central Engine Room Control (CERC) and see how the engines are fired up to get the ship moving again.  Kelly Baughman, the ship’s Third Assistant Engineer (3AE), took some time to explain what I was observing down there before she got the engines going. Being in the engine room was really cool.  I was completely surrounded by buttons to push and knobs to turn and although very tempting, I didn’t touch any of them. The RAINIER has two main engines to motor her, one on the port (left) side of the ship and one on the starboard (right) side of the ship.  There are two generators that put out a total of 400 kilowatts of electrical power to the ship.  An additional smaller emergency generator is also a part of the ship, but it puts out significantly less energy than the two main generators.

On the bridge, Vessel Assistant, Kelson Baird is logging the ships position from four points on the radar screen.  The position of the points is recorded every half hour to monitor the effectiveness of the anchor.
On the bridge, Vessel Assistant, Kelson Baird is logging the ship’s position from four points on the radar screen. The position of the points is recorded every half hour to monitor the effectiveness of the anchor.

Kelly also explained how the bow thruster works on the ship.  It basically looks like a fan and helps to maneuver the ship from the bow.  There are several other things that are monitored at the center console, but we weren’t able to get to all of them.  Kelly said tomorrow morning will be a better time to go over some of the other things in the engine room since we’ll be anchored in the bay. After visiting with Kelly, I had a nice afternoon talking with crew and soaking up ship life. I made my way up to the bridge where General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Kelson Baird was monitoring weather data. He was excellent at explaining all the different instruments used in collecting weather data onboard the ship. Every hour, on the hour, Kelson recorded weather information.  He started by logging the ship’s position (latitude/longitude).  Next he recorded an overall weather condition such as cloudy, rainy, drizzle etc. Today was cloudy and rainy. Kelson then stepped outside the bridge and looked to see what point of land was the furthest he could clearly see from the ship.  Once he found his point of land he came back inside the bridge and used the radar screen to determine a distance in nautical miles that point of land was from the ship.  This gave Kelson a visibility reading. Other information Kelson recorded was wind speed in knots, using the ship’s anemometer, as well as wind direction.  Wind direction (measuring from the direction the wind is coming from) can be measured using a gyrocompass, which is an electronic compass measuring to true north.

Dry bulb and wet bulb used to record air temperature from the RAINIER.
Dry bulb and wet bulb used to record air temperature from the RAINIER.

If the ship were underway he would have also had to record wave height, swell wave height, and sea wave height. Kelson said this would be done by a very scientific method called “eye balling it”…or as I like to say, EBI. Another measurement taken while at anchor was water temperature, which, by the way, was 49° F while I was in the bridge this afternoon.  Just as a quick side note: crew of the RAINIER surf in this water and are very excited to surf in the break off of Kodiak Island when we arrive in port.  I think they are crazy, but I’d love to watch them! The last weather measurements Kelson recorded were air temperature and atmospheric pressure. Two air temperature measurements are taken: one from what is called a wet bulb and one from a dry bulb.  Then he recorded sea level (atmospheric) pressure measured by a barometer.

Kelson went on to explain about “Big Weather”, which is an ongoing data collection project where weather information is sent every six hours via satellite to be used by NOAA’s National Weather Service.  Pretty amazing all the work that is being done on the RAINIER!

Personal Log 

I am seriously impressed by how well I am being fed on the ship.  Each meal I have several hot meal options to choose from and there is always a vegetarian option for those who do not eat meat.  The soup has been excellent!  There’s a full salad bar directly next to a freezer fully stocked with Haagen-Dazs ice cream!  I think that’s pretty good.  Coffee is available all day long as well which makes me very, very happy.  I won’t indulge on hydrographic survey days. We’ve already talked about that…

Calling All Middle Schoolers–We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

Third Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman explained to me today that the ship can carry up to 16,800 gallons of freshwater. She went on to say that on average the ship’s crew uses anywhere between 1,500-2,000 gallons per day.

If the RAINIER were to be at sea for 21 days without coming into port to replenish its fresh water supply, how many days would it take for the ship to run out of fresh water?

How would the ship be able to produce more fresh water without having to go into port?

Jessica Schwarz, June 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 21, 2006

Getting ready to lower the CTD, Conductive Temperature and Depth tool.
Getting ready to lower the CTD, Conductive Temperature and Depth tool.

Science, Technology and a Little History…Log 

I am very proud to say I was onboard RAINIER (the world’s most productive coastal hydrographic survey ship), as well as a part of an eleven hour day of surveying, on the first annual World Hydrography Day! Yep, that’s right.  According to a message sent by NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., (a retired Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy), the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/60/30 in November of 2005 to acknowledge the International Hydrographic Organization’s role in advancing global navigation safety and protection to those at sea, making today World Hydrography Day!

I like the way Commander Guy Noll put it:  “We hit rocks so that you don’t have to”.  That gave me a new found appreciation for the work the crew is doing on the RAINIER.  I must admit this was not exactly a reassuring thought just before I was heading out for a full day of hydrographic surveying. But hey, it’s World Hydrography Day…I needed to celebrate appropriately.

I didn’t realize the real history and purpose of hydrography until talking with Ensign Sam Greenaway and Junior Survey Technician Tonya Watson on the survey launch today.  Hydrographic surveying in the United States actually dates back to 1807 when Thomas Jefferson established the “Survey of the Coast” to produce nautical charts for US coastal waters. The Survey of the Coast evolved in the current NOAA Office of Coast Survey (OCS). OCS is the oldest scientific agency in the federal government, and was established primarily to encourage commerce.  Jefferson was looking to support a growing economy in a safe and efficient manner.

Having her hand at the wheel, TAS Jessica Schwarz steers launch boat, RA4 during a productive day of hydrographic surveying.
Having her hand at the wheel, Jessica Schwarz steers launch boat, RA4 during hydrographic surveying.

According to Peter J. Guthorn, author of United States Coastal Charts. 1783-1861, the production and distribution of charts was delayed until 1843, with the first publication of the New York Harbor chart. This was due to the War of 1812, political disagreements (imagine that) and a lack of trained hydrographers.  Before the publication of government charts, there were private publications adapted from British and French charts with updates from local shipmasters and pilots familiar with the coasts of North America.

Check out NOAA’s link for more information on the work NOAA is doing. I find the history very interesting.  It’s really given me a sense of the global importance of the surveys conducted and the charts being produced.  I’m excited to be a part of it for these two weeks.  It’s only taken 200 years to come up with World Hydrography Day. I think the recognition is very well deserved and obviously overdue!

As for my time spent on the launch today:  Well, we left at 8:00 in the morning.  Within minutes the survey team onboard, ENS Sam Greenaway and JST Tonya Watson, were getting to work.  The first thing they did was use the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth instrument to determine the variation of temperature, salinity, and density in the water.  This helps determine the speed and path of the sonar energy through the water. A CTD measurement is taken once every four hours for each survey period.

After the CTD measurements were taken, they began running lines and logging sonar data. Today we were focusing on holiday lines. Holiday lines are basically holes in the data or areas where previous surveys may have missed collecting information.  From my understanding, there is a sonar transducer on the bottom of the survey boat. The Reson 8125 that I mentioned in my previous log (remember 120° of coverage using 240 individual beams) is mounted on survey boat RA4. RA4 is the launch I was on today (World Hydrography Day).

While the boat is moving at a speed of no greater than 8 knots along the charted line, this transducer is sending out multi-beam sonar to the ocean floor.  Steering the launch to remain on the line is not easy. Deck Utilityman (DU) Ken Keys, the coxswain of the boat for today, let me give it a shot.  I was steering more on a zigzagged line rather than a straight one. It was actually kind of stressful because the accuracy of the sonar data is affected by how well the person steering stays on the line.

While cruising down the line, data is continuously collected on the amount of time it takes the sonar to echo back from the ocean floor to the transducer.  I was able to view rocks on the ocean floor from the display on the computer screen.  As you can imagine, in shallower water this information came in handy to the driver of the boat, which ultimately was helpful to all of us onboard •

Personal Log 

I am having an incredible time on the RAINIER! Last night I was able to go for a run on the treadmill they have onboard.  I along with Survey Technician, Erin Campbell decided to call the workout area Club RAINIER.  It basically consists of three machines, a rowing machine and free weights, down in what looks to me like a storage space.  I was very excited to hear about the equipment onboard!  I think it’s impressive they have it available.

Something interesting that is NOT available to the RAINIER crew is a bathroom on the survey launch boats. Hmmm?  Needless to say, on days I am out on a launch I’m taking it really easy on the coffee and any other beverages throughout the survey.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

These questions come from one of the Junior Survey Technicians onboard the RAINIER, Tanya Watson.

What do you suppose the effect of high frequency sonar, such as the sonar NOAA uses in their hydrography surveys, has on the marine mammals living in the sea?  Do you suspect there to be a difference between the effects of low frequency sonar vs. high frequency sonar?  Let me know what you think!

Jessica Schwarz, June 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 20, 2006

The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER.  RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!
The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER. RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!

Science and Technology Log 

Today I awoke for my first day in Kanga Bay. The bay was absolutely beautiful this morning, looking perfectly still and glassy. The Captain, CDR Guy Noll, said it’s not normally this clear.  I was absolutely awe-struck by the scenery!  The first thing I did was head to the fantail for muster with the crew involved in launching the hydrographic survey boats off the ship.  The fantail is the area outside in the very back of the ship. Muster was led by the Captain and FOO, Field Operations Officer. They informed the crew of potential weather changes for the day’s mission that may affect the survey boats.  It was incredible to watch the boats being launched from the ship.  A large crane lifted each boat up and over the side of the ship and into the ocean.  After the survey boats were launched two additional skiffs were launched as rescue boats, in case of an emergency.  The first skiff lowered weighs up to 3,000 lbs, with the second skiff lowered, weighing 2,400 lbs. The Captain said the rescue skiff can travel up to a speed of 45 knots (nautical mile/hour).

The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER.  The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.
The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER. The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.

Today survey boats RA4 and RA5 were launched from the ship.  RA stands for the RAINIER. Ben, the ships FOO, explained to me the difference between the two survey boats being launched. RA4 is a Reson 8125. It uses a multi-beam sonar system that covers an area of 120° using 240 individual beams to collect sonar data.  This gives the RA4 the ability to collect very high resolution data.  RA5 is a Reson 8101, and is more of an all purpose survey boat Ben mentioned.  He said this boat does not have the high resolution capabilities that the RA4 has because it has around 150° of coverage using only 101 individual beams to collect sonar data.  Tomorrow I will be going out on a survey and will have a much better understanding of how the data is actually collected and processed. While the survey boats were out today, I was spending my time on the NOAA ship getting administrative things taken care of. Once most of that was finished I made my way to the bridge to ask a few questions about the navigating process. Olivia, the Officer on Duty, or OOD was very helpful in answering some of my questions and then once she needed to leave the bridge, Jonathon one of the ship’s Abs, explained how to get a radar fix.

As I mentioned in my last log, the ship’s course is already plotted prior to departure by the Navigation Officer. He plotted the course on a chart of the Sitka area on down to the Islet Passage and Kanga Bay where the ship is anchored now. Jonathon was on the bridge today collecting radar data to be sure the ship wasn’t shifting too much, constantly confirming that the anchor is effectively keeping the ship in place.  A reading is taken every 30 minutes.  You would never know it while being on board, or at least I didn’t notice, but the ship had rotated 300° on the anchor and then swung back again.

Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill.  “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!
Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill. “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!

Jonathon showed me how to get what you call a radar fix.  A radar fix is basically used to find the exact position of the ship. I observed Olivia, one of the officers doing this in the bridge while we were underway yesterday. Although the officers do their best to remain on the plotted course line, there are other factors that will cause the boat to get off the line. Current is one of them. Readings of three points of land, the bearing as well as the range, are taken from the radar screen.  Points of land are simply points from the land that are distinctive enough to use to plot the position of the ship using the chart.  Once the three points are taken with the bearings (angle to the point) and range (distance to the point) recorded, they are brought over to the chart where a tool called a divider is used so plot the three angles. The point at which those three angles intersect is the exact position of the ship. This can then be compared to the line already plotted to mark the ship’s course.  The crew will then have an idea of the ships cross track error.  Cross track error is how far the ship is off the plotted course line.  Whew.

Personal Log 

I have been asking a million questions, picking the brains of the crew. Everyone has been so giving of their time to explain things to me on the ship! Things can be complicated on the RAINIER.  There is just so much to learn!!  Something that was particularly fun about today was the abandon ship drill. This was only something I would consider fun because I got to put on my immersion suit (or Gumby suit, as I heard it called today).  The immersion suit would be used to keep warm in the water if we all needed to abandon ship.  I had fun trying it on. The XO had to help me get it on; these things are not that easy to get into.  I tried really hard to make the gloves of the suit shake for a picture, but it wasn’t easy!  I grabbed extra blankets for a warmer nights sleep tonight.  The ship can feel drafty in my stateroom.  I’m looking forward to a long day of surveying!!! I’m so excited to share!

Calling All Middle Schoolers–We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

These questions come straight from the RAINIER’s Captain:

What is a nautical mile?  How is it different from a mile on land? How would I convert a nautical mile into miles/hour?

Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.
Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.

Jessica Schwarz, June 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 19, 2006

NOAA hydrographic ship, RAINIER, preparing for departure from Sitka, Alaska
NOAA hydrographic ship, RAINIER, preparing for departure from Sitka, Alaska

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER departed Sitka, Alaska this evening, officially making me a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  While preparing to leave the dock, I spent my time on the flying bridge, located directly above the bridge, to get a good view of all the activity involved in getting the ship off the dock. I was very impressed with the amount of work it takes to get a 231 foot ship underway. The spring line, which basically looks like an enormous rope (3 inches thick), was used to change the pivot point of the vessel, making it easier to maneuver the ship away from the dock without any kind of serious impact.  Larry, the Electric Technician on board, pointed out the importance of standing back away from the line as the pressure on the line is very tense and has been known to snap.  Needless to say, I kept a safe distance from the lines, but was still able to hear the sound of the lines tightening as the RAINIER pulled away from the dock.  Yikes.

Once underway and traveling out of the channel, I went into the Bridge with the ship’s Executive Officer, CDR Julia Neander, or as she is addressed on the ship, the XO.  She explained some of the activity I was observing from the Officers in the bridge.  Alaska is an amazing place to visit and the mountains outside made the view from the bridge spectacular.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz’s journey onboard the RAINIER begins here!
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz’s journey onboard the RAINIER begins here!

On the bridge, officers are very focused on their assigned task. The AB, or Able-Bodied Seaman, Jodi was behind the helm and steering the ship.  Jodi received course commands from the acting Conning Officer, Nate.  By calling out helm directions to Jodi, Nate was making sure the ship was on, or as close to, the course charted.  The ship’s Navigational Officer, Sam, had the ship’s route already charted prior to departure and the chart was clearly displayed on the port side of the bridge. This chart is used to track the ship’s exact position while underway. Officers in the bridge are constantly navigating to be sure the ship is staying on course. While underway, a fix, composed of three bearings and/or ranges (distances), is taken every 15 minutes and recorded.  I want to learn more about this entire process.

As for who is working onboard the RAINIER, NOAA Corps is one of seven uniform services within the United States. Each officer on board is in uniform.  The view of the uniformed officers in the bridge behind the navigational equipment working to get us underway was very impressive. There is a very strict protocol and all the officers time is accounted for on a rotating schedule. With the vessel’s commissioned officers, deck crew, engineers, stewards, and survey technicians I have really begun to get a feel for how hard everyone works to keep the ship running smoothly to complete successful missions.

As a side story, while heading South outside of Sitka, our course was somewhat interrupted by a marine mammal all my students in Hawaii should be very familiar with.  The XO spotted a humpback whale just to the starboard, or right, side of the boat. I think it must have been around 100 ft away. Within a matter of minutes, the humpback was directly in front of the ship.  We thought it dove down into the ocean, but as the vessel continued to move forward, it surfaced again, this time only 5-10 feet from the hull of the RAINIER.  The officers had to call for an immediate change in direction.  It was a very exciting and unexpected encounter. I was so surprised the whale remained within a few feet of the ship.  I like to think it was trying to say hello to me, since we both have made the long journey to Alaska from Hawaiian waters.

We are now anchored in Kanga Bay just south of Sitka within the Islet Passage.  Tomorrow two survey boats will launch to get started on collecting the hydrographic data. I will not be participating in surveys tomorrow because I need to get oriented to the RAINIER. There is an incredible amount to learn starting with how to find my way to and from my sleeping quarters from any point on the ship without asking for help.  You might be surprised how difficult that is.  Luckily everyone onboard is very kind and helpful! I suggested they put some sort of transmitter on me in case I show up missing for a while.

I am so excited to be onboard! I am at the beginning of my adventure with the RAINIER and feel I have already learned a lot.  I look forward to sharing my experiences with everyone! WHEA crew…I am counting on hearing from you!!!