Some very interesting features here in Alaska are the rocks and the various shapes and textures that they form as well as the animals that inhabit the environment. Below are some pictures illustrating this.
This was truly an awesome adventure. I cannot wait to share this with my students, family, friends and colleagues.
I wondered how the survey technicians know they are in the right place and they continue to be in the right place while the data is collected. The short answer is satellites or GPS. While this was explained to me, here is the official info regarding known location, as explained by NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory:
“Global Positioning System. GPS was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense to tell us basically three things: where we are, how to get where we want to be, and what time it is right now. This is commonly referred to as “PNT” which stands for positioning, navigation, and timing. GPS is a “dual-use” system in that it has both military and civilian applications. To facilitate the development of civilian applications, the U.S. Government makes the radio signals broadcast by the GPS satellites available to every user free of fees. As a result of this policy, a multi-billion dollar industry has developed to exploit the benefits of GPS for civilian applications. For example, a commercial GPS navigation system in your car tells you where you are on an electronic map that is constantly updated as you move. Computer software in the navigation system tells you the best route to take to get to your destination. Wireless communications between your navigation system and a traffic management system tell you the best route to take to avoid delays or hazards.”
The launches can only collect data when there are a minimum of five satellites receiving and transmitting in orbit above the area that is being surveyed. The use of five satellites lessens the chance that the information may be skewed by a distortion from one of the satellites.
The survey launch collects data from the sonar device that is located in the bottom of the ship; the computers assemble the feedback on board the launch and continually retransmit that data via satellite back to the RAINIER and it is processed during the evening hours. The work runs right through the night, with technicians working to ensure the sonic images are transferred into a coherent chart.
The areas today have not been surveyed in the past eighty years. Obviously the technology has changed markedly since the last survey. To view more about historical surveys click the following NOAA link.
I finally had a chance to pilot the launch and of course it looked far easier to do than when I tried it myself. It seemed like a simple task, to keep the nose, or bow, of the boat on the specific course and while I understood it well enough my attempts were often less than perfect. The sea was clam with negligible wave height. The wind was perceivable but not a large influence. The current was strong but steady and predictable. The route was clearly indicated on the screen in front of me and yet I could not hold the course steady enough (at least not well enough to collect valid data). Perhaps I was being too hard on myself: most annoying was the bow of the boat would head in the direction that I wanted it to but the stern of the boat (reacting to the force of the currents) dragged in a way that caused me to simultaneously both over and under compensate for the action. That coupled with the fact that I had no island or land point of reference made this experience a challenge. With the help of Mr. Foye, I was given some expert coaching that allowed me to get into a zone. I was in a pattern of both over and under steering and each correction brought me further away from where I wished to be. I learned that you develop a feel for this sort of thing and while I tried my best, I knew it would take many days of practice before I developed competency navigating this boat.
As the launch approaches the RAINIER, the person near the bow of the launch has a line ready to throw to the crew on board the ship (same in the stern). The crew on the larger ship needs to hold the launch so it doesn’t bang into the RAINIER. RAINIER then lowers two cables to attach to the launch (one on the bow and one on the stern). The cables are hooked onto large shackles and when all is secured the signal is given to the operator to hoist up the launch. There is only one person signaling to the operator on the ship. If there is ever a problem, naturally anyone can alert the crew of the problem but there is always only one person signaling to ensure safety of all.
Most days start at 6:30 am with breakfast served promptly at 7:00. We then get our protective gear on for our days work on the smaller boats. The gear consist of what is called a “float coat” which is basically a brightly orange colored jacket designed to keep the wearer afloat and warm in the water should they accidentally fall in. We also wear hard hats and when hoisting the launch, a life jacket, and ear protection (the diesel engines are very loud when underway). The boats are located on top of the ship and they are lowered into the water using a series of hoists or cranes depending on the boat and where they are located.
At 8:00 am there is a morning meeting on the fantail of the ship (this is a large area on the back of the vessel). The meeting involves most of the senior officers as well as the crew that will be directly involved in the day’s operation. The commanding officer speaks first, he will give everyone data regarding the weather and his best guess as what to expect out on the water he then turns the meeting over to another officer who will detail the plans that he has worked on more fully with the rest of the crew. Lastly the chief engineer will recount the basics of what boat will launch first and reiterate the constant vigilance regarding safety.
I feel very comfortable on the water and extremely safe with this crew. This is likely because of the constant checking and rechecking of systems and personnel that continually occurs. The entire crew is mindful that the safety of one depends upon the persistent and sometimes annoyingly extreme attention to detail. Accidents most often happen when people get too lax or over confident, are tired or in a rush. Accidents even happen when none of the situations are present which is why the constant mindfulness is so important.
This is a truly collaborative effort. If one person in the lineup fails to do their job the mission risks failure: someone else has to step in and do the job of the person missing as well as their own. Deck hands ensure that the boat is fueled and has the necessary equipment on board and is in working order. Engineers check the engines and the electrical equipment and the kitchen staff prepare the lunches and snacks to take on board. When the launches are out they are usually deployed for the whole day. Everything must be ready in the launch for the entire day otherwise the mission risks failure.
Our job on most days is to get on the launch and survey the area that the larger ship could not safely operate in. The larger ship the RAINIER takes up far too much draft (the water the hull displaces when the boat is underway). This does not mean that the RAINIER is simply sitting idly by while the launches do the work. The ship also runs back and forth patterns in the area and it too collects data. The larger and smaller launches are always on the lookout for any hazards to navigation, other boats or any marine life-like a whale and make sure that collisions do not occur.
Once we arrive at the survey area we need to prepare the CTD cast. CTD is a device that measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, and salinity of the water about to be surveyed. This establishes a baseline for the work in the area. If a survey is going longer than four hours a new baseline must be established. This test establishes a sound profile that shows exactly how the fast the sonar beams travel in the water under the specific conditions at the time. This information is critical to maintain accurate and credible data. The procedure is simple, first, the CTD is attached to a rope turned on and warmed up, next the device is lowered in the water and data is collected. It is then lowered to the bottom of the sea and more data is collected. Once the CTD is brought back from the ocean, the information is then uploaded to a computer on board and a new baseline is established. This information is then embedded into the sonar data collected for the day’s survey. All information collected is held against this baseline to ensure the delivery of clean, accurate information for the new charts.
The best part of this trip is that I traveled with another teacher who teaches Science in Oregon. TAS Redlinger is a wonderful lady who shared with me all of the photos she took while she was out too. Often we would spend time sharing what we had done the during the day and what was in store the following day.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 17 – August 1, 2007
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Region: Alaska Date: July 17, 2007
Weather Data from the bridge
Temperature: 56 degrees
Wave height: negligible
Cloud: Cloudy and Fog
Visibility: ¼ mile or less
Science and Technology log
This morning the ship navigating in water that is very tricky, we were in a very narrow area and the crew had to make sure that not only we got through safely and other vessels did not run into us. Because the fog was so thick, horns, bells and radar are all in use. The technology is not enough one watch at the bow of the ship used to ensure we hit nothing and nothing hit us. There are also folks in the bridge monitoring the situation.
The watch stands at the bow of the boat and if he looks for anything amiss he will notify the bridge via a low tech device (a tube with a lid on it is connected to the bridge and in the area he is standing) he lifts up the tube and can speak directly to the bridge. The bridge is the command center where many of the officers and most of the navigation and communication are located. This is where the ship is steered and managed.
I am in awe the way the entire crew goes about their daily business. Back East, we go off to work our jobs for an eight hour day and then return home afterward. The men and women of the RAINIER don’t get this luxury. They live aboard this ship and have to work at building and maintaining the community. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.
There is work that must be preformed twenty four hours a day seven days a week. If there is a fire onboard help will be called but it may take hours or days for help to arrive. Emergencies must be taken care of by the people on board the ship. Safety is a major concern, and to that end the officers and crew work together to make sure that everyone onboard understand their job in the event of an emergency. Training is constant here. There is a good mixture between folks that have less than one year experience aboard ship and others that have almost thirty. The more experienced people on board teach the less experienced how to do things safely and efficiently.
Gender bias does not appear to exist in the positions that individuals hold. Women work both as deck hands right up to the second in command of the entire ship. It is striking that both women and men hold positions in both the officer corps as well as throughout the operations of the vessel. Much of the equipment that is aboard this ship weighs several tons. When the ship is underway, (in operation) there are additional considerations that make this environment much different from being on land. The ocean movement causes the ship to react and each reaction has a term. The ship moves in many ways, the three main ones are pitch, roll and heave. Pitch is when the ship moves from Forward to Aft (front to back). Roll is when the ship moves from port to starboard (left to right or vice versa). Heave is when the ship moves in an up and down motion. This does not even begin to take into account the effects of tide, wind, drift or other ships or obstacles that are at play when underway.
There are hoist and davits that swing equipment overhead that could easily crush or kill a person or hopelessly destroy valuable equipment. Safety precautions are rigorously followed and training is in an ongoing evolution. Simply put, if the entire crew did not keep a constant vigilance not only for themselves but for their shipmates and guests, disaster could strike at any time. There is a pervasive attitude aboard the RAINIER involves everyone watching out for each other.
Women play an important role on board the ship. They fill all sorts of positions that may not be considered traditional by some standards. Many of the officers on board are women and even lots of the able bodied seamen are women.
On the bow of the launch, an able bodied seaman must first throw the line to a tender on board and then get hold of a lowering hook to attach the hook to the launch to hoist back on board the ship. This all takes place in Open Ocean while the ship and launch are underway and the boats are reacting to the elements.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 16 – August 1, 2007
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Region: Alaska Date: July 16, 2007
Weather Data from the bridge
Temperature: 56 degrees
Wave height: negligible
Cloud: Cloudy and Fog
Visibility: ¼ mile or less
The commute from Hartford, Connecticut to Juneau, Alaska was very long. I began my journey by saying good bye to my wife and three young daughters; they understood for the next three weeks, I was starting an awesome adventure. The plane took off from Bradley international airport at 12:10 p.m. and we headed to Detroit Michigan. Laid over in Detroit for an hour and then transferred to another flight to Seattle, Washington. In Seattle I transferred to an entirely different airline to arrive in Ketchikan, Alaska from there we flew to Juneau, the time in Alaska was 1:35 am very dark yet comfortably warm. My travel plans were quite clear but a bit complicated. I boarded a flight to Detroit, then to Seattle, next to Ketchikan, Alaska and finally Juneau, Alaska.
The first thing I learned was that while the tickets indicate the gate to arrive in, and where to board the next plane, these are only best guesses, often changes happen at airports so flexibility and vigilance is critical. Airports handle all sorts of air traffic with myriad of travel conditions. If one flight is delayed it impacts others and causes shifts in the gates. The gate often changes so it is wise to check the ticket (which was printed hours earlier) to ensure it still has valid information on it. Changes happen and it is better to be safe by checking (at the individual airport gate) rather than wait in the wrong area and miss a flight.
In Seattle, I discovered the information on the ticket was inaccurate I had to move via subway to the new gate. The plane then was delayed due to weather conditions in Ketchikan; we boarded an hour and a half later than scheduled. We touched down in Juneau at 12:05am but I was still operating on east coast time (it is four hours later on the east coast). Obviously I was very tired. When we arrived many of the passengers were surprised to discover that their luggage had not been placed on the plane. I was among those without luggage. Should this happen to you, I recommend the following.
First, do not panic, while I was getting upset, I had to keep my emotions in check. There is much the clerk can do to help me but I first must provide the details, if I expressed my frustration and dissatisfaction with them (I noticed other passengers doing this) it would only make matters worse. They collected my information and I headed to the motel. I was trying to problem solve my situation by imaging different scenarios in the event that my luggage was not found. One of my major concerns was could I find size fourteen boots in Juneau, Alaska on a Sunday afternoon.
Eureka! My luggage was found and within a few hours it was delivered to me at the hotel intact. Now on to the ship! The ship is very large and stable. Here is a link to show you some of the particulars of the RAINER.
Science and Technology Log
The RAINER has a cruising Speed of 12.5 knots
Range is 5898 Nautical miles
Fuel capacity is 107,000 gallons
Fuel type #2 Diesel
Fuel consumption 120 gallons per hour
I have been given a tour of the engine room by my roommate Chris Zacharias; he works as an oiler in the engine room.
Chris works maintaining the equipment on the smaller launches as well as working primarily in the engine room but he has responsibilities located all around the ship. Interestingly enough this is normal procedure for the entire crew. While on land we have individual who specialize in only one thing. Out on the open ocean it is not uncommon for the folks to do many different tasks; in fact everyone has to develop an intuition and recognition of the inter-dependence of the entire community. Chris was kind enough to show me the engine room. He did so with an obvious pride, he has pride in his work and he demonstrates this pride with his enthusiasm for his work aboard the RAINIER.
The first thing that struck me was how clean the engine room was. Everything was stowed away and neat. The apparent care and planning as well as tremendous attention to detail was evident every where I looked. All the surfaces are painted and clearly marked. Even the piping has tags on them. All the valves are labeled for easy recognition. There is no visible grease or grime anywhere. Click the following link to get more info about the engine room.