Beth Carter, July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  2 nautical miles
Wind direction:  125 degrees
Wind speed:  11 knots
Sea wave height: 0-1 feet
Swell wave height: none
Seawater temperature:  11.7 degrees C
Dry bulb temp: 12.8 degrees C; Wet bulb temp:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1021.0 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8, fog and drizzle

The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor in Alaska.

The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor.

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, I went out on launch #6, which utilizes a sonar system called the “C3D,” that produces interferometric sonar, which is a combination of side scan and multibeam sonar, to produce bathymetry.  Interferometric sonar is the latest technological advance in hydrographic mapping. This is the third technology I’ve been able to observe at work. The RAINIER has two launches that use single beam technology ( June 29 log), three launches that use multibeam technology (June 28 log), and Launch 6 has the side scan sonar.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Erin Campbell, my Tarheel buddy who is a physical scientist from the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA, took the time to explain some of the features and limitations of side scan sonar. The greatest advantage to side scan is that it produces sound waves that can cover a much wider swath of ocean floor, with very good resolution. This means that NOAA can be more fuel-efficient with its launches and cover more floor in less time.  Side scan can form accurate 3-D images of rocks, wrecks, and features of concern and interest on the ocean floor.  Hydrographers say that the side beam enables them to “paint the ocean floor.”

Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.

Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.

The greatest disadvantage to side scan sonar is that it does not actually provide depths associated with those features.  In other words, the hydrographers can look at the side scan images and locate a downed plane accurately on the ocean floor, but not know the exact depth of the plane. Another disadvantage to use of side scan in Alaska is that the extreme angles of slope of the islands and landforms cause the sound waves to create shadows on the resulting data. This means that some features in the shadows are missed.  Side beam sonar is used with great success on the eastern coast of the U.S., where the sea floor is sandy, is more uniform, and has less slope than in Alaska. Therefore, NOAA uses side scan to cover wide areas of territory, and then examines the images collected.  If the technicians see rocks or other potential hindrances to navigation, they send out the multibeam sonar launches to collect more detailed information on the depths.  If the concern is in a really shallow area, they might send out the single beam launches, which can get into shoal areas more easily with less threat of damage to the sonar equipment.

The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch

The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch

Side scan sonar is still evolving as a technology. NOAA provides valuable feedback and information to the makers of this technology, which enables the manufacturers to fine-tune and improve the technology. As I prepare to leave the RAINIER, I am impressed with the depth of knowledge of the Commanding Officer, the survey crew, and officers on the ship. They take very seriously their work, which is to take information gathered utilizing sonar, and to produce the most accurate bathymetric products possible.  The resulting charts and hydrographic maps are critical aids to shipping companies and fishermen, whose lives and safety and economic livelihood depend on the accuracy of the maps. I’ve also learned that NOAA hydrographers are called in to assist after hurricanes.  Erin, for example, was called upon to join a NRT (Navigational Response Team) after Hurricane Katrina.  There were many container ships and other ships waiting in the Gulf of Mexico for the hydrographers to survey the waters in order to locate hazards (debris in the water, wrecks, storm damage) in the water that were blocking the port and docks. NOAA has six such teams that assist when there are oil spills, wrecks, storms, etc.

Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.

Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.

Terms Used

Bathymetry:  the science of measuring ocean depths.  It is the underwater equivalent to altimetry, or measuring altitude of land forms.  Bathymetry is utilized to create DTM’s, or digital terrain models, or three-dimensional models of the ocean floor.

Hydrography: the study and science of ocean mapping.

Questions of the Day: 

  1. What kind of sonar would be best utilized in the search for a tugboat that sank unwitnessed, suspected to be in a deep harbor – vertical beam, multibeam, or sidescan sonar?
  2. To see an example of a chart created with interferometric sonar, take a look at this website.

Personal Log

I want to close out my last log with a few pictures, which definitely communicate the Alaska experience better than my words.  I also want to thank the entire crew of the RAINIER for its kind hospitality, for teaching me so much, and for reminding me what it feels like to not understand something.  I can empathize with my students so much better, as I have been in their shoes now for almost 3 weeks…struggling to understand technologies that were totally unfamiliar to me, feeling frustrated, feeling glimmers of hope when a few concepts dropped into place in my brain. Alaska is incredibly beautiful, incomprehensibly vast…I hope to return someday.

A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!

A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!

A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.

A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.

Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.

Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.  

Beth Carter, July 9, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 9, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  6 miles
Wind direction:  135 degrees
Wind speed:  9 knots
Sea wave height: 0-1 feet
Swell wave height: none
Seawater Temperature:  12.2 degrees C
Dry Bulb: 11.1 degrees C  Wet Bulb:  11.1 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1022.1 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8, fog & drizzle
Depth: 22.6 fathoms

This is a view of strands of kelp as seen from the launch.  Kelp appears as brown masses in thick beds.

This is a view of strands of kelp as seen from the launch. Kelp appears as brown masses in thick beds.

Science and Technology Log: 

Bull kelp…just amazing stuff.  Today I want to focus upon bull kelp and its role in the Alaskan coastal ecosystem, and its impact on hydrographers and fishermen. First of all…it is a fast-growing type of brown algae that can grow in strands from 40-65 feet long. It grows close into shore and anchors itself to rock surfaces by a root-like growth called a holdfast.  The scientific name is nereocystis leutkeana. Bull kelp has leaves called blades that grow outward from the main stem, but its most distinguishing feature is its long (2-3 feet) “bullwhip” stalks that have air bladders on their ends that can be 4” in diameter…rather like a stiff rope with a hollow onion on the end. Bull kelp can live for eight years, and reproduces via spores. Rocky substrates just off the coasts and islands of Alaska provide perfect places for the kelps’ holdfasts, and large kelp beds form in and around the islands of southeastern Alaska where the RAINIER is sailing.

In a closer view, bull kelp has some very stiff “bullwhip” like strands with air bladders on its ends.  The air bladders are hollow, and look like onions or bulbs.

Bull kelp has some very stiff “bullwhip” strands with hollow air bladders on the end that look like onions or bulbs.

Bull kelp provides food and protective cover for all types of fish, invertebrates, birds and marine mammals.  Kelp beds are literally teeming with life.  Kelp waves and moves with the currents and tides. Sea otters are the most visible of the animals who depend on kelp.  They feed off the sea urchins and other invertebrates that live at the bases of the kelp. Sea urchins feed upon the holdfasts that anchor the kelp, so the sea otters keep the urchins in check in a healthy kelp bed. The otters can be seen bobbing in the kelp, lying on their backs enjoying snacks of sea urchins, clams, etc. Commander Guy Noll of the RAINIER says that kelp is a natural navigational aid in Alaska and Pacific coastal waters. If you are in a boat of any kind and you see kelp strands on the surface of the water, stay clear. Hydrographers are not particularly fond of kelp.  On the one hand, the presence of kelp indicates a rocky bottom, which is one of the features that chartmakers want to indicate on their maps.  But.RAINIER’s launches try to stay out of kelp beds, as the kelp can become caught on the sonar transducers, which are suspended from the hulls of the boats. Kelp can also be a “heads up” that there may be a hidden rocky feature that is a danger to navigation.  The launches are very careful around kelp.

The sound waves that hydrographers use for charting can also be distorted by kelp, as it is very dense in its coverage. Also, the whips and floating blade “bladders are hollow, so the echoes do not reach the underlying rocky ground. NOAA sometimes has to send divers down to get a least depth in kelpy areas, and diving in kelp is difficult because of entanglement issues. Fishermen give kelp beds a wide berth to avoid fouling their nets and equipment in the heavy, leafy, stalky bull kelp. However, they will sometimes try to trawl near kelp beds, as the kelp provides excellent cover for salmon and other fish as they hide from orcas and other predators.

Small leaves, or blades of bull kelp washed into shore add decorations to the black pebble beaches.

Small leaves, or blades of bull kelp washed into shore add decorations to the black pebble beaches.

Personal Log 

I became fascinated by kelp last week as I kayaked through some island passages that were thick with kelp. As you look into the water, you see dozens, hundreds of small snails on the blades of the kelp…I think they were black turban snails.  I tasted some of the kelp and found it, predictably…salty!  It was also chewy and gummy and difficult to swallow. Perhaps there are wonderful ways to prepare kelp to eat, but out of the water as a snack – not for me. From the launches, it is fun to see the sea otters’ heads pop up in and near the kelp beds. They manage to get their heads and shoulders out of the water…they must be standing on the kelp to get such a clear look at us! Several of the moms we saw had babies hitching rides on their bellies, or perhaps nursing. They are unbelievably cute and quick, and I am too slow to get good photographs of them.

Correction! 

Early in the trip, I wrote about the GPS, Global Positioning Satellites, and stated that there are 11 in geosynchronous orbits above the earth.  I looked up GPS on the NOAA website and found that there are 24 satellites, so I stand corrected!

Questions of the Day

1. What do you think would be the environmental impact of an oil spill on or near the rocky coasts of Alaska?  

2. What effects would it have on kelp beds? If you want a real life example of what could and has happened, “Google” the story of the Exxon Valdez, which created a huge oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989.

* Note: Commander Guy Noll explained that the RAINIER was one of the responding vessels after the Valdez oil spill. RAINIER did the hydrographic work needed by the Navy ships that did the cleanup. At that time, the world’s focus turned upon Prince William Sound, and as the RAINIER did the surveying, they discovered many chart errors. They spent a great deal of time surveying the area, and provided more accurate charts for the cruise ships and tourists that became interested in the beautiful area in and around Prince William Sound.

This sea otter mom and baby are floating near a kelp bed. This photograph is courtesy of Ensign Tim Smith, an excellent officer and photographer on the RAINIER.

Sea otter mom and baby are floating near a kelp bed. Photograph courtesy of Ensign Tim Smith.

Beth Carter, July 4, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 4, 2007

Weather from the Bridge
Visibility:  10 miles
Wind Direction:  080
Wind Speed:  3 knots
Sea wave height: 0-1 feet
Swell wave height: none
Seawater temp: 12.2 degrees C
Dry bulb temp: 12.2 degrees C; Wet bulb temp:  11.1 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1012.2 mb
Cloud Cover: Partly cloudy, 5/8
Fathoms:  18.3

Survey technicians Shawn Gendron and Matt Boles are retrieving the “grab” from sampling the bottom.

Survey technicians Shawn Gendron and Matt Boles are retrieving the “grab” from sampling the bottom.

Science and Technology Log

On July 2, I went on launch #2 to observe the process of bottom sampling.  I would like to write in simpler language so that perhaps my first graders can read this and understand what we did. Our boat driver today Corey Muzzey, and the two surveyors were Matt Boles and Shawn Gendron. Their job today was to take samples of the sea floor. To do that, they use a special brass “claw” that is weighted down by a lead weight. They drop the claw down on a very long rope, and when it hits the bottom, a spring snaps the claw shut, and it grabs whatever is on the bottom. Then, they pull the rope and claw back up with a special winch and pulley, and look at what they got.

Sometimes, the claw picked up seaweed and mud.  Sometimes, the claw grabbed pebbles, coarse sand, fine sand, or gravel. A few times, it didn’t pick up anything, because the claw landed on solid rock. The boat driver had a special chart that he looked at to find the 19 places where they were supposed to drop the claw. Some of the spots were over 300 feet deep! They were taking these samples for two reasons: 1) The RAINIER is checking for new, safe places for anchoring for boats that use this area.  2) It is important to know what the sea bottom is like because different kinds of animals live on different types of bottom. Note that sound waves bounce off sand and rock and pebbles in very different ways. For example, sound waves that hit mud return to the boat softly. Sound waves that hit rock bounce back with more “force”, and the surveyors can tell the difference!

Matt is holding a mixture of mud and shells that came out of the grab.

Matt is holding a mixture of mud and shells that came out of the grab.

The RAINIER’s small boats, or launches, use the sound waves much as bats use them to locate obstacles when they fly. Dolphins also send out high-pitched sounds to “echolocate” their food or enemies or boats. The RAINIER uses sound waves to create maps of the sea floor. They do this by sending out sound waves, or sonar, from the bottoms of the launches.  Then they watch and record carefully how the sound waves bounce back.  They turn those recordings into maps of the ocean floor.  So, the bottom samples help them to label the maps and charts for fishermen and boaters.  They write labels on the charts like “RKY” for “rocky” areas, and “S” for sand, “SH” for shells, etc.

Personal Log 

Today we had some crazy weather. First it was sunny and calm, then windy, cloudy, rainy, and then calm again.  We saw several whales feeding near us. We also saw a small rocky island that had 30-40 Steller sea lions…the males were huge! They have just had their pups, but we couldn’t get close enough to them to see the pups.  It was a bit rough out today, and so when I tried to shut a door, I banged my shin on a door frame.  I bled so much my whole sock was bloody!  I was glad the boat had a great first aid kit.   

Questions

  1. When I saw the “claw” (look at the picture), I thought of two things…one is a piece of construction equipment, and one is a game that you can usually find at a video arcade or place like “Jungle Rapids” in Wilmington, N.C.  Can you imagine what I am thinking of?
  2. Why does it matter to a fisherman how deep the water is where he is fishing, or what kind of bottom there is below him?
A colony of Steller sea lions lies on jagged rocks in the Arriaga Passage.

A colony of Steller sea lions lies on jagged rocks in the Arriaga Passage.

Beth Carter, July 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 1, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility:  4 miles
Wind direction:  calm
Wind speed:  calm
Sea wave height: none
Swell water height: none…flat, flat, flat
Seawater temperature:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1016.6 mb
Dry bulb temperature: 12.2 degrees C; Wet bulb temperature:  11.7 degrees C
Cloud cover: Fog, cloudy, 8/8
Depth: 18 fathoms,
New anchorage: near Sonora Island, part of Maurelle Island group

This is a single beam transducer on the hull of launch #1. The small blue oval on the hull is a “fish finder” or depth sounder.

This is a single beam transducer. The small blue oval on the hull is a “fish finder” or depth sounder.

Science and Technology Log

On Friday, I went out on the RA-1 boat with Coxswain Leslie Abramson, Seaman Surveyor Corey Muzzey, and Survey Tech Marta Krynytzky. The #1 boat is a jet boat, which operates like a jet ski…it has a nozzle that shoots water out, and it only draws one foot of water. The RAINIER likes to use the #1 boat in very shallow water, as it is able to get into shallow places without running aground. #1 is also has a single beam sonar, which means it is sending out “pings” in a single direction directly underneath the boat. Thursday night, Marta drew a grid of lines for the RA-1 to survey.  The FOO (Field Operations Officer) asked her to develop a tight grid, with the lines being only 5 meters apart. If you have driven a boat, you know that this means that as you go up and down the parallel lines, your turning ratio is quite tight, and there will be wake and bubbles formed.  The problem with this is that bubbles throw off the single beam sonar, and it “scrambles” the feedback from the sea floor. 

This is the Echosounder machine that records the data from the single beam transducer.

This is the Echosounder machine that records the data from the single beam transducer.

We were operating in Warm Chuck Inlet, which has some freshwater creeks feeding it.  Marta taught me to do a little part of the recording on the Echosounder machine, which is called doing “paper control.”  She tracked our progress on her computer, and when we were over an area that needed to be mapped, she would say, “Start recording,” and I would hit a button that started the paper moving. The machine creates a line graph similar to that a seismograph might create during an earthquake, or in a medical scenario, it is similar to that of an EKG that graphs the activity of your heartbeat.  When we ran through our own bubbles, it created dense gray shaded areas that obscured the data. We had to slow down, and change our course several times to allow for which way the tide was flowing so that tidal movements would carry our bubbles away from the next line we wanted to drive.

The single beam technology is rather outdated, and NOAA prefers to use the multibeam, as it creates real-time, 3-D pictures of the ocean floor. However, the multibeam transducers are very expensive, and very vulnerable to damage caused by running aground, and so the RAINIER uses both technologies to get as much information as possible without damaging or destroying the multibeams. After we returned to the ship, the RAINIER weighed anchor and moved to a new anchorage near Sonora Island in the Maurelle Islands group.

This is a sample of the paper “picture” of the bottom recorded by Launch #1.

This is a sample of the paper “picture” of the bottom

Personal Log 

Friday was an interesting day, as most of the time, I was helping Marta with the recording. I goofed up a few times, as you have to stay so focused and attend to detail constantly. The survey techs have my true admiration…they go out day after day in cool to cold weather, rain or fog or drizzle, and collect intensely detailed data.  There are no days off on the ship, really.  Actually, everyone on the RAINIER is amazing with his/her ability to focus and stay on-task and get jobs done…from the cooks (who are great!) to the deck crew to the officers to the engineers. Last night (Saturday), Raul Quiros was fishing and caught a small shark…maybe 2 feet long. He cut him off the line, and had a bit of trouble picking him up to release him. The shark was gasping, so I tentatively grabbed his belly and threw him over the side.   Then, a few of us saw some whales playing off the starboard side of the ship.  I ran and got my videocam…finally!  I actually got some footage of a whale!  He was rolled over on his back, and slapping the water with both fins, over and over and over.  It was amazing.  Some people say whales breach and do these “slaps” to remove barnacles, but it looked to me as though he was just having fun!

Question of the Day 

  1. Go to the website and click on the “movie” on multibeam surveying.  What do you think would happen if the boat passed over a whale or a sunken ship?  What would NOAA do with information on sunken ships if they discovered some?
  2. For my first graders:  Look at a picture of a humpback whale and a jet plane.  Can you see any ways that they are alike? Also, try that website in #1…the movie is definitely something you will understand!

Beth Carter, June 29, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 29, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  8 miles
Wind Direction:  Light
Wind Speed:  Aires
Sea Wave Height:  None
Swell Wave Height:  None
Seawater Temperature: 12.8 C
Dry bulb Temperature: 13.3 C, Wet Bulb Temperature:  12.2 C
Sea level Pressure:  1009.4 mb
Cloud Cover: Cloudy, light rain, 8/8
Depth: 31 fathoms

ENS Meghan McGovern and Elishau Dotson are recovering the CTD.  After recovery, Elishau connects the CTD to her computer and downloads the readings on temperature, conductivity (a function of salinity), and depth. NOAA uses Wilson’s Equation of Sound Velocity to convert the CTD information to something usable in the software

ENS Meghan McGovern and Elishau Dotson are recovering the CTD. After recovery, Elishau downloads the readings on temperature, conductivity (a function of salinity), and depth. NOAA uses Wilson’s Equation of Sound Velocity to convert the CTD information to something usable in the software

Personal Log (Just have to tell you about the whale first!) 

On Thursday, Aug. 28, I went out on the #4 launch from the RAINIER.  When the hydrographic team goes out, they go out for the whole day…8:15 until 4:30 p.m.  It was sunny and clear, our first sunny day! I went out with ENS Meghan McGovern, Elishau Dotson, Assistant Survey Tech, and our pilot, Jodie Edmond, Able Bodied Seaman – an all female boat crew! First, I have to focus on the wildlife that we saw – it was totally incredible!  We saw several sea otters floating on their backs, whiskery and cute!  We saw a doe leading her two fawns on the shore of an island. Eagles soared overhead all throughout the day, and one dove to catch a fish (missed), but later, he grabbed one in his talons.  We got a quick glimpse of a mother harbor porpoise and her calf feeding near the shore.

The highlight of the day, though, was seeing a humpback whale breaching near the boat – to say that I was totally enthralled is not adequate.  I don’t think the dictionary has any words that truly fit! First, I saw a silver/gray shape under the water near the stern, and thought it was a stingray, a common sight on the East Coast. Then, I heard a gasp/blow as the whale surfaced to breathe. The sound was like the “grunt” that Monica Seles makes as she serves up a tennis ball, only lower and longer.   We saw the whale surface a few more times, and then his great leap.  I was trying to videotape, and of course, I missed it.  But it will stay in my memory forever, if not on a memory card.

Science and Technology Log 

This is the multi-beam transducer mounted on the hull of the #4 launch of the RAINIER.  It can produce a broad band of sounds to “ping” off the bottom of the sea, and provide the data to create a 3-D picture of the ocean floor under and near the boat.

This is the multi-beam transducer on the hull of the #4 launch. It can produce a broad band of sounds to “ping” off the seafloor and provide the data to create a 3-D picture.

Now, to focus upon the hydrographic mission!  Before beginning the surveying, the crew lowers a CTD to the sea floor to collect a reading on the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth of the water. The way that the sonar “pings” travel through water is affected by all three factors.  The higher the percentage of salinity, the greater is the ability of the water to conduct sound waves. Higher temperatures also increase sound conductivity in water, and deeper water also conducts sound waves better than shallow water. For example, if the launch is surveying the sea floor in an area near where a freshwater creek is flowing in, the conductivity of the water would decrease; therefore, the survey tech crew that does the night processing of the data would be able to correct the resulting data taking into account the lower conductivity. Number 4 launch has a multibeam sonar transducer mounted on the hull. The transducer produces a broad band of sound “pings” that bounce off the sea floor and return to the launch to be recorded by a sophisticated computer with four screens. The operator of the sonar equipment can see a digital display of the depth, and a real-time three-dimensional picture of the sea floor beneath and around the launch. The boat driver is constantly aware of the depth, so as not to run the launch aground on rock formations. 

Elishau is monitoring the real-time data streaming in from the transducer as Jodie drives the “lines” to create pictures of the ocean floor.

Elishau is monitoring the real-time data streaming in from the transducer as Jodie drives the “lines” to create pictures of the ocean floor.

The driver steers the boat along a pre-set grid of lines that are programmed into the ship’s computer the night before.  Jodie said it is rather like “mowing the grass,” on the surface of the water. You “mow” the water in neat rows until you’ve mowed over every line on the chart established by the hydrographers. After all the lines were run, we returned to the ship, and then, other hydrographic scientists began to run a correction program on the data we gathered. In this way, they clean out errors that are caused by extraneous noises, kelp, echoes, and other obstacles. In the afternoon, we were “snagged” by a gigantic clump of kelp that got wrapped around the transducer. There was so much kelp, the launch could not maneuver effectively.  ENS McGovern stabbed the kelp with a boat hook, and Jodie reversed the engines until we shook the kelp loose.  Learn more about seafloor mapping here.

Questions of the Day

Later that night, Martha Hertzog, Physical Scientist, looks at the data from the #4 launch, and applies a correction program to the data to eliminate errors.  The night processors often work until 11:00 p.m. in order to process the day’s data collections from the 3-4 launches that were out that day.

Later that night, Martha Hertzog, Physical Scientist, looks at the data and applies a correction to eliminate errors. The night processors often work until 11:00 p.m. in order to process the day’s data collections.

These questions are particularly for Ms. Southgate’s oceanography students at Hoggard High School in Wilmington, N.C. (and any other curious people!)

  1. I’m learning that salinity affects conductivity of sound waves. Why does a high concentration of salt in water make sound travel faster? Does electricity travel faster or slower through fresh and salt water? Why?
  2. As we drove different lines yesterday, we took three different CTD readings?  Why do you think the hydrographers felt we should collect data three times?
  3. The islands here are very craggy and steep, and made up largely of granite and limestone rock.  Much of the sea floor is also rock.  Why is the coast of Alaska so vastly different to America’s Eastern coast?
  4. The islands here drop very sharply off into deep water.  For example, just 3-4 meters from shore, the depth can drop to 20 meters.  Why is this common here? How much is 20 meters measured in feet?  In fathoms?

Beth Carter, June 27, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 27, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  6 miles
Wind direction:  034 degrees
Wind speed:  5 mph
Sea Wave Height:  none
Swell Wave Height:  none
Seawater temperature:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1017.2 mb
Dry Bulb Temperature: 12.2
Wet Bulb Temp:  11.7
Cloud cover, type: 8/8, stratus and cumulus
Depths: 31 fathoms

Researchers are kneeling in a sitka spruce forest as they check the computer that is collects and records tidal data on a small island in Nossuk Bay, Alaska.

Researchers are kneeling in a Sitka spruce forest as they check the computer that is collects and records tidal data on a small island in Nossuk Bay, Alaska.

Science and Technology Log 

On Tuesday afternoon, June 26, I went out with a crew of researchers to check the equipment that collects tidal data for Esquibel Bay. There are six main pieces of equipment used to collect this data: 1) a cylinder of nitrogen, 2) a hose attached to the nitrogen cylinder that emits small bubbles of nitrogen into the water, 3) a computer that collects and records data, 4) a solar collector to power the computer’s battery, 5) a  transmitter that sends the data to a satellite, and 6) the tide staff (an actual wooden staff in the water), and GPS benchmarks. The staff is set and readings taken so that the vertical measurements of the staff are linked to the benchmarks. The gage, which is officially a “tertiary” gage, is set up concurrent with a “primary” gage that has been acquiring data for over one epoch (19 years or more). Sitka, Alaska, is the site of NOAA’s primary gage, which has similar tidal characteristics to the area that we are working now. Thus, only an amplitude and phase differential must be applied to the Sitka gage to get a water level for this area.  Without the staff readings, there would be no way to tie the “bubbler” level to the ground surrounding the gage site, and thus no way to recover the actual local vertical datum (water level) relative to the gage in Sitka.

The nitrogen cylinder slowly leaks bubbles through the hose, which are released into the water. When the tide is high, there is more water and pressure above the hose which makes it more difficult for the bubbles to escape the hose. When the tide is low, there is less water above the hose, and therefore less pressure, which makes it easier for the bubbles to escape. Readings are recorded digitally every six minutes, averaged every six seconds. Staff-to-gage measurements are also recorded every six minutes whenever the site is visited, and 3 hours’ worth are recorded at  installation and removal, so that the vertical measurements of the station  are effectively “tied” to the measurements at the primary water level station at Sitka. (Good Working Question: Download data from both  stations and compare the two – are there differences? Next, compare Sitka and Ketchikan and Kodiak – are there bigger differences?).

ENS Meghan McGovern, Junior Officer of RAINIER, and Shawn Gendron, survey technician, position the tripod which will hold the transmitter to collect the GPS information needed by the RAINIER.

ENS Meghan McGovern, Junior Officer of RAINIER, and Shawn Gendron, survey technician, position the tripod which will hold the transmitter to collect the GPS information needed by the RAINIER.

For some reason, the transmitter is not emitting signals that can be read by the satellite, and therefore by the scientists at NOAA headquarters. This is why the skiff took several technicians over to check the equipment to see if it is still functioning and recording properly. They downloaded the water level data to send to headquarters via email while also setting up GPS equipment so that an ellipsoidal (GPSrelative) height can also be linked to the orthometric (gravitational) elevation determined through water level measurement, and will return to the ship and process the GPS data. The tides are important to hydrographic surveying, because obviously, the water is deeper at high tide than at low tide. The goal is to collect accurate information on tides, and then combine that with the data collected by the launches, in order to get accurate depth information.  The tide-corrected depths on the chart they want to show are relative to the mean low low water, which is the average of the lowest of daily tides taken over the last 19 years. On the Atlantic Ocean, tides are semi-diurnal. This means that there are two high tides and two low tides per 24 hours. But, on the Northeastern Pacific, tides are mixed.  See here for more details.

Today, (Wed. June 27), the crew returned to the small island to check on the HorCon station, which stands for Horizontal Controls.  The RAINIER established this water level station in April of 2007, and set into place 5 benchmarks which are tied into the international framework of benchmarks that make it possible to utilize GPS, or Global Positioning Satellites to determine one’s exact location. RAINIER’s researchers placed a receiver antenna on top of a tripod, which was positioned exactly above the center of the metal disc benchmark cemented into a rock.  The antenna receives from some of the 11 Global Positioning System satellites that orbit the earth and constantly change their relative positions. For a final position to be accurate, at least four satellites must be recorded in two different sessions of more than six hours duration separated by at least one day. They connected the cables, turned on the GPS receiver and then waited for the satellite constellation (also known as the ephemeris) to be downloaded so that all available satellites could be tracked. The first satellite was tracked around 1 hour later, and then we left the island, as the equipment was to be left in place for at least 6 hours.  When we returned 6 hours later, 8 satellites had made contact, and the recordings were noted and will be taken for evaluation onboard the ship.

Anna-Liza Villard-Howe, the Navigation Officer of the RAINIER, explained to me that the GPS measurements of benchmarks are being conducted in order to get as precise a determination of sea level as is possible, so that all the hydrographic information collected by the RAINIER can be referenced to the ellipsoid. Sea level has changed in Alaska in the recent past due to glacial rebound, which means that as the glaciers recede, the land is actually rising. Also, many large earthquakes have occurred in Alaska in the last century, which also changed the shape of some landforms and affected sea level readings. Online Sea Floor Mapping Activity Targets Kids (CED, OCS). In celebration of World Hydrography Day, NOAA’s Ocean Service  Communications and Education Division, in cooperation with NOAA’s Office  of Coast Survey, launched a new educational offering — Sea Floor Mapping —  on the National Ocean Service Education Web site. It is designed for students at the 3rd – 5th grade level, and the media-rich activity teaches young people about mapping the seafloor and why it is important.  This activity also conveys information about NOAA’s missions of discovery and service. The Sea Floor Mapping Activity is available online here.

Questions of the Day 

  1. Why are tides in the Pacific and Atlantic different?  What are the factors that affect tidal changes?
  2. Look up a tidal chart for the inlet or beach nearest to your home.  How far apart are the high and low tides?
  3. Who (which country or countries/which agencies) is responsible for the maintenance of the 11 Global Positioning Satellites that are now orbiting the earth?  If a satellite fails, would it be replaced?  By what agency?

Personal Log 

While on the tiny island, one of the officers carried a shotgun…in case we met a bear!  I’m pleased to say we didn’t encounter a bear, but did discover animal scat, and two eagle feathers. One was a tail feather – beautifully white – and we didn’t collect the feathers because it is illegal to collect eagle feathers.  We also saw 7-8 harbor seals on a rock outcropping. We tried to sneak up on them to get good photographs, but they bobbed and rocked and slipped into the water before we got very close. Also, on the island I was surprised to find many clumps of saltwort, which Eastern coast students (and my first grade class!) should recognize from the mud flat near the salt marsh.  It tastes….salty! No surprise there.

On Wednesday, there were so many white gnats that we sent the skiff back to the ship for bug repellant. They were like No-See-Ems, only we could See Em and Feel Em!  We built a small, smoky fire, which made things somewhat better.   The highlight of the day for me was kayaking after dinner with the XO (Executive Officer) of the ship, and Ian Colvert, an assistant survey technician.  We saw a rainbow and paddled through a misty rain, then sunshine…a beautiful evening.

Beth Carter, June 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 26, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction:  132 degrees, from the Southeast
Wind Speed:  6 knots
Sea Wave Height:  0-1 feet
Swell Wave Height – no swell
Seawater Temperature: 11.7 degrees Celsius
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8 millibars
Cloud Cover & Type: 7/8 coverage, mixed cumulus and stratus
Air temperature:  Dry Bulb: 15 degrees C,  Wet Bulb:  10 degrees C
At anchor, water depth: 32 fathoms

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Beth Carter, prepares to set sail on NOAA Ship RIANIER.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Beth Carter, prepares to set sail on NOAA Ship RAINIER.

Science and Technology Log

At 8:00 this morning, our CO (Commanding Officer) held a safety and mission briefing on the fantail of the ship.  The fantail is the back open area of the ship. The RAINIER’s main mission is to conduct hydrographic mapping surveys from its six small launches that are carried aboard the RAINIER. Each launch has equipment that transmits sound waves that are directed toward the floor of the bay, or area to be mapped.  The sound waves bounce back to a special receiver on the launch, and the depth data is recorded on the launch.  These depths are plotted as dots, and so later in the evening, the technicians basically “connect the dots” to form a picture of the ocean floor in the area that was surveyed that day. When the RAINIER finishes this 3-week leg of its mission, all of this data will be given to the NOAA Office of Coast Survey, Pacific Hydrographic Branch, in Seattle, WA.  They take the data and create digital terrain models, or DTM’s, which are color-coded maps of the sea floor.  The maps look very cool…the deepest waters are shown to be dark blue, lighter blues show shallower water, and hazards and rocks and sand bars are shown in various shades of green, yellow, red and orange. The resulting DTM’s represent the most probable bathymetry of the area. The maps are so detailed you can see the outlines of sunken ships and large rocks on the bottoms of the bays. The information from our leg will be compiled for chart 17404, and for smaller scale charts. If you are interested in seeing maps that show the areas we are charting, try this website.

Crew of the NOAA Ship RAINIER prepare to deploy a launch.

Crew of the NOAA Ship RAINIER prepare to deploy a launch.

Creating these maps is important because current maps of the waterways in Alaska are outdated – some of them very outdated.  Yesterday, the CO showed me some sections of map that were created as long ago as 1834-1899, with more of the maps being created between 1900-1939, or 1940-1969. It is interesting that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) is using sonar in much the same way that whales and dolphins and bats use sound waves for echolocation so that they can determine locations of the sea floor, obstacles, or other animals.

I asked about the current debate over the Navy’s use of sonar, and the belief that its sonar is interfering with the whales/dolphins’ abilities to use their sonar. Vincent Welton, our Electronics Technician, explained to me that NOAA uses a higher frequency, less amplified type of sound waves that will not confuse the marine mammals.  The Navy sometimes uses a very low frequency sonar to detect submarines. Today, two of the launches are out doing the hydrographic mapping.  Later in the day, two divers will go out to check the bottom of the hull, and I will go out on a small skiff to watch some of the technicians gather some data on tides. It appears that some of the equipment to measure tides is working erratically, so we will go check that out. 

Personal Log

I enjoyed watching the crew deploying the four skiffs and launches that are going out for today’s work. Everyone has to wear hard hats and float coats to stay safe when out on the fantail. The best part of the morning was when Steve Foye, the Boatswain Group Leader, pointed out to me that a humpback whale was swimming near the ship.  I saw the whale spout several times, and twice, he seemed he rolled on his side, as I saw a fin pop up. Then, his fluke appeared above the water, and he slapped the water and disappeared.  Steve told me he was “diving down to check out the groceries…he knows which aisle to shop on.” He also said he’d be down a long time, as he’d taken a big breath and was going to going to be eating until he needs to come back up to breathe.  If you are a CFCI student (or any student!) and have a question for me, please E-mail this address: teacheratsea.rainier@noaa.gov. I’d love to hear from you, and promise to try to respond in my logs.

Terms Used Today

  1. Fathom:  1 fathom equals 6 feet
  2. Sea level pressure:  Barometric, or air pressure.  When air pressure is high as it is today (over 1000 millibars or mb) it indicates that the weather is sunny or overcast, with little threat of rain.  When the pressure drops, it often means a storm or rain is on the way.  The eye of a hurricane can have a barometric pressure reading as low as 875 mb.
  3. Cloud cover: expressed in terms of portions of the sky covered out of 8 parts (whole coverage)
  4. Wind direction:  indicates which direction the wind is blowing FROM.  0 degrees is North, 90 degrees is East, 180 degrees is South, and 270 degrees is West.

Questions of the Day

  1. Why is it important to have updated maps of waterways in Alaska, or anywhere? Who needs to use these maps?  Why?
  2. Before this sonar technology was developed, how were depth maps created?
  3. We are anchored today.  How deep is the water under the ship? (1 fathom equals 6 feet, and the water is 32 fathoms deep now)