Mark Friedman, June 19, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 19, 2008

TAS Friedman holds up a macrocystis algae.

TAS Friedman holds up a macrocystis algae.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Southern winds 10-15, Patchy fog, High of 55 º F.
Seas a slight chop with waves of 3-5 feet.

Science and Technology Log 

The POD reports (Remember from the last log what a POD is?) 
We began this nearly two-day journey Wednesday, June 18 after a short day of surveying. The day before, June 17, I participated in a coastline survey team to check on smaller marine anomalies that could be rocks or dense macrocystis algae (A.K.A. giant kelp in southern California) that often appear as a solid formation from aerial observations and laser surveys done by the Coast Guard. The same macrocystis algae that has fronds (leaves) up to about 18 inches long in California, grows to over three feet up here. Each frond is as large as a tobacco leaf (see photo). My marine biology students back in LA will enjoy the comparison as I am drying some to bring it back. We shall arrive in Kodiak June 20 at 0900, and the crew and guests will disembark to get some land time. Some of us off hiking, others R and R camping, golfing, biking, etc.  We’ll return to the ship to sleep and I depart back for LA June 22.

My Project and Lesson Plan 

The macrocystis laid out on a bench is one meter long

The macrocystis laid out on a bench is one meter long

My task on board the RAINIER has been successfully completed.  It has been to learn as much as I can about hydrography and the charting of nautical maps. I shall be able to share this information with others thru the creation of a lesson plan soon to be available on the Teacher At Sea website.

The primary purpose of this lesson plan “Marine Careers on Board NOAA Research Vessels” is to make more available a descriptive motivation of potential jobs and careers that NOAA offers. To accomplish this I developed a questionnaire which 25 crew completed, from the ship’s commander to the entry-level wiper or ordinary seaman. Each interviewee was photographed on the job and both documents will soon be posted on multiple websites and made available to teachers and counselors internationally. There are hundreds of jobs available on NOAA ships and land support positions that are rarely publicized. Through this effort I hope to be part of publicizing NOAA job openings available to any youth over 18.

An Unforgettable Journey 

I have been fortunate to be on board this premier NOAA research vessel, RAINIER, for two weeks as an observer and student. It has been an exhilarating experience I shall share with other science teachers individually and at national, state and regional science conferences. The Teacher At Sea program is an exceptional opportunity for teachers to learn and be part of real time scientific research that has concrete and immediate application to understanding the marine environment and the preservation of its character in the face of the human destructive onslaught. I leave a more committed environmental steward, materialist and marine scientist. Please feel free to contact me for any information about the program or materials associated with this experience. Mark Friedman.  Mfriedman@animo.org.

NOAA Ship Rainier

NOAA Ship Rainier

Mark Friedman, June 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 16, 2008

Here I am studying nautical charts as preparation for the Tidal Gauge expedition.

Here I am studying nautical charts as preparation for the Tidal Gauge expedition.

Science and Technology Log 

Each day the RAINIER’s “Ship’s Officer,” in collaboration with the field operations officer and the ship’s commander, issue a “Plan of the Day” also known for short as the POD. (Who knows what marine animals move in groupings called a POD? First one to reply from Los Angeles gets a free Alaskan souvenir!) The POD contains important information such as, for Sunday, June 15, Sunrise was at 0415 (4:15 am), and sunset is at 2139 (9:39 pm!)  It will be a long day! I rise at 6 am to read the POD and find my assignment.

POD Revelations 
The ship’s position is: Anchored, Palisade Is., AK. The POD also has tide levels, U.S. Coast Guard beacons in the area, the weather, and who the officer on duty is. The weather you ask?  How important, especially because many of us are going out on launches and the smaller skiffs for specific assignments. The launch drivers need this especially to make sure all operations are safe. The winds are mild, coming in from the south at 5-10 mph, cloudy with showers, air temperature a balmy 51F with seas of 1-2 foot waves.

The POD has major assignments for anchor watch and officers on duty. Safety is a constant refrain as there are anchor watch positions around the clock to staff the bridge (command center) sending regular weather reports to the Coast Guard and National Weather Service and maintaining a secure and safe environment. The POD also lists all the assignments for the launch vessels being dispatched by the mother ship—no not Battlestar Galactica or the Enterprise, but the RAINIER. Today two vessels will be doing sonar readings around San Christoval Channel and North San Fernando Island. The other two, one of which I will be on, is going to remove a tide gauge and do a recon (reconnaissance) mission for a new tide gauge location.

The Journey Begins 

Here I am learning to withstand the cold in my Arctic survival suit.

Here I am learning to withstand the cold in my Arctic survival suit.

7 am- We are all up for a hearty breakfast, made by three talented chefs (especially in the omelet, soup and dessert department).

7:30am- I struggle into my arctic survival suit and boots in preparation for a “wet landing.”  I feel like Sylvia Earle in her “Jim Suit” as I waddle like a penguin to the stern of the ship to board a skiff for an hour journey up narrowing channels and over rapids to reach our destination. (I have put on all layers of clothing that I brought with me from Los Angeles, preparing for frigid temperatures and lots of wind and mist en route.)

8:30 am- With a spraying salt mist and a wind chill factor making the temperature about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we race up the labyrinth of islands and channels to our destination. A deer and her fawn stare blindly at us on our port side, a humpback whale breaches on our starboard. We even glimpse a couple of sea otters playing/rafting in the kelp.

On Location 
9:30 am- We have reached the tide (marine), or water level, gauge. Our assignment is to remove it after ensuring calibrations have been correct. The tide is coming in and the shore is covered with algae, mini-white barnacles, a sprinkle of clams, a species limpets and small purple mussel beds which are thriving.

A NOAA tidal gauge benchmark

A NOAA tidal gauge benchmark

What is a tide gauge and why are they important? 
Water level gauges are instruments to measure water surface elevation over long and short durations of time.  They have been used for centuries by mariners to improve their knowledge on the depth of water and apply this information to the chart. This information can aide in the calculation of tidal currents, the ebb and flow of water as the tides change. More modern gauges need a power supply to relay information via satellite to appropriate organizations interested in this data.

A tide gauge consists of a number of instruments including, foremost, a measured, calibrated staff that is securely mounted into rocks to give a visual baseline of water levels. It is connected to benchmarks by using a survey instrument called a level, which optically measures height differences on a survey rod, which I held during the operations. Benchmarks used by NOAA, and previously by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, are brass survey discs (see photo right) that are imbedded into bedrock and stamped with a code that correlates in NOAA data banks to date of installation, project, location number, etc. Five of them are traditionally imbedded at various locations in the vicinity of the staff. They are leveled between each other and the staff, establishing a mathematical correlation. Gauge measurements are all related to the benchmarks, which hold the permanent datum for the tide station.

The Underwater Component 

NOAA divers retrieve a submerged tidal gauge

NOAA divers retrieve a submerged tidal gauge

Another component of the gauge is an orifice (brass pipe with an open end) that is placed where it is continually submerged.  It is connected to an electronic readout instrument via strong plastic tubing that is filled with nitrogen. As the gas comes under more or less pressure, based on the pressure exerted by the quantity of water pressing down upon it (water pressure), it registers the height of water levels. (Similar to how air pressure is registered by a barometer, a little remembered instrument but critical to meteorological forecast and studies).The information on depth is thus recorded and electronically transmitted out of the area thru solar powered equipment. In addition to water levels for meteorological (weather) purposes, over time these tidal gauges, when coordinated with others and register actual sea level rise which is now occurring more rapidly due to glacial melting from global warming. They have also been used to register tectonic plate movements. We disassembled the land equipment after completing our benchmark surveys. Later we scouted for a new location further south for a new tidal gauge and benchmark installation site. Then the divers went into action (see above photos). Their job was to retrieve the submerged gauge and piping for future use. In the process they took a video of part of the undersea flora and fauna.

Back on the Ship 

All equipment is secured, checked and prepared for the next installation site. The gauge team tomorrow will secure benchmarks for the establishment of a new tide gauge station.  (Guess what? At the installation site they found a 1927 benchmark still intact and functional!!)

A sun star, a type of sea star, was observed during the tidal gauge dive.

A sun star, a type of sea star, was observed during the tidal gauge dive. 

Mark Friedman, June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.

Science and Technology Log 

This is a NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) ship based out of the U.S. Northwest. This ship is primarily dedicated to the construction and updating of marine navigational charts that are of importance to marine commerce, navigation and general recreation. To do this they use SONAR waves emitted from the bottom of the launch boats. (Underwater sound waves travel at 1500 meters per second, four times as fast as sound in air.) Data obtained by the ships surveyors are sent to marine map makers (cartographers) in Seattle and also NOAA’S base in Silver Spring, Maryland where they are processed and constructed and made available to the public in paper or digital format.

June 8 

Arrived Juneau Alaska. Greeted at the airport by the ship’s XO (Executive Officer).  Onboard I was issued a bunk (or a rack as mariners call it) and given a ship tour.  Once settled I visited the town, including a significant museum of history, artifacts and anthropology of the indigenous peoples and early European settlers. Juneau is a stopping off point for many of the Northwest cruise ships cruising the inside passage.

June 9 

Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK

Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK

Safety instructions: multiple videos on asbestos, personal safety, fire emergencies. Drill practice: Abandon ship, Man overboard. Survival suit issued along with multiple style life vests, hardhat. Underway from Juneau 1600 for destinations near Sitka to begin depth soundings for marine navigational chart additions and corrections. All is well. Bright outside and it’s nearly 9pm Wednesday night.  Sunset is at 10pm and sunrise at 3:15am. It is a long day by our usual Los Angeles standards. The water is 41 degrees (so you don’t want to fall in or risk hypothermia (rapid loss of base body temperature (Who can guess the temperature of hypothermia?) which rapidly sets in) and the air a cool and misty 51 degrees.

Green conifers line the banks and small islands proliferate in the inner passage here just south of Sitka. The inside passage was made by a combination of glaciers, volcanic and plate tectonic action (subduction of North American and Pacific plates). The tide differential from high to low can be extreme…nearing 30 feet in the Juneau harbor!  Spruce and pine trees abound, and snow-capped mountains on either side of us rise up majestically as we move along at about 12 knots (nautical speed terminology, or about 15 mph). The spruce are afflicted by the same type of exponential pine beetle growth that is devastating California and Southwest evergreens. No drought up here so scientists have no hypothesis yet as to the cause.

I had to get up at 4am yesterday (even earlier than my usual 5am school day rise) for a wild ride thru close straits (aptly named Peril) (must get there at high tide so there is enough clearance beneath and currents are not as dangerous with increased volume of water) entering Sitka for our first series of data collection, cartography of inside passage.

The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER

The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER

RAINIER to the Rescue 

There is an important heavy emphasis on safety and special cold water survival suits and vests, have been issued to all crew members, followed by instruction donning them and knowing out stations to report to for such rises as “fire onboard” and “man overboard.” We have already had an abandon ship drill. Yesterday after I joined three boats of marine surveyors which go out to surrounding areas in 29 foot launches to begin data collection thru the use of sonar, the RAINIER saved two fisherpeople whose boat had taken on water and was rapidly sinking. RAINIER heard their MAYDAY and was within 2 miles so they sent a rapid launch to the scene and got there even before the Coast Guard. Fortunately the fisherpeople had on their survival suits so they were not in too much shock when they were rescued. It brought home to me the importance of these survival suits that are like insulated neoprene wetsuits that are watertight. I’m always wearing some type of floatation vest while on deck or in the launch, colored bright orange for easy sighting when bobbing up and down in choppy seas.

Personal Log 

I saw some favorites yesterday too…but not too close. Sea otters and whales but too far away to identify. The most common up here now are the humpbacks. The gray whales that have migrated up from Baja California, the ones that can bee seen off the California coast are already further north feasting on that yummy krill, a marine crustacean key to the food web). And the ship’s cuisine—fine and more than plentiful prepared by multiple professional chefs…lots of healthy food and Tapatio, my newfound hot sauce delight thanks to my Mexicano and Latino students.

Fortunately there is a gym so I hopefully won’t come back TOO much heavier. Crew and staff of about 50…mostly young, lots of women for a big change from my last extended marine experience six years ago on the R/V New Horizon out of Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.

Vocabulary and Marine Terminology Hydrography- the science of measuring, describing and mapping the sea bottom, mudflats and the positions of stationary objects (seamounts, shipwrecks, etc.) Cartographer-makes nautical charts for the aid of moving ships on the ocean Echosounder-high resolution instrument to record depths of ocean bottom using SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging – similar to some marine mammals use of echolocation). Also a side-scan sonar can be used and is on the RAINIER. CTD-Instrument to collect and register conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth. Deployed by ship launches in each surveyed area to obtain data and make calculations on sound speeds of sonar under various conditions (deeper, warmer and saltier water increases the speed of sound waves due to density) Sound speed- Sound travels at a speed of 1500 meters/second faster than thru air that is 380 meters per second. (This enables whales to communicate over hundreds of m8iles of water)

Get Your Hands Wet 

To learn HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN HYDROGRAPHIC PROJECT, go to this NOAA website.