Terry Welch, July 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: S/SE 15-20
Precipitation: clearing
Temperature:  High 47 Seas 1-3’

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

Science and Technology Log 

Today, we are in transit to Seward after surveying the Pavlof Island area for the past week.  We cut our surveying down a day due to incoming weather.  The RAINIER made good headway and we stayed ahead of the storm.  The seas never seemed all that bad in the last 12 hours and today we have sun! I spent some time observing what the ensigns (ENS) and crew do on the bridge while underway. There are always 2-4 people on a “watch” and they continually monitor navigation instruments, weather, and look for any possible obstructions like boats out there. A “watch” lasts four hours.

The RAINIER uses two different kinds of radar to track vessels or land around us. The ensigns also observe through binoculars a lot.  When I was at the bridge, there were two larger fishing vessels ahead of us. The radar tracks how far a boat is in nautical miles from us, their speed and direction headed.  Many larger boats and ships carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which allows the exchange of ship data such as identification, position, course and speed, with nearby ships. GPS (Global Positioning System) plays an important role in their navigation also and is tied into theequipment.

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

The ensigns and captain also plan out our routes using maps, compasses, and straight edges.  Plotting our course is done the old fashioned way – paper and pencil. Below is ENS Schultz plotting our course. I spent a little time in the plotting room, where the hydrographic crew cleans up the data that has been collected during the day. I mentioned in an earlier log that the Multibeam SONAR system collects sounds waves, casually called “pings” that are bounced off the ocean floor and are sent back to the system.  How well these transmissions are sent and received depends on several physical factors of the water including water depth, temperature, salinity and conductivity.  I was a little stumped on how all of these factors play a roll in understanding the data and Ian, the Hydrographer Tech, reminded me about Snell’s Law, which describes how waves refract differently through different mediums.  There are a couple of short QuickTime movies on the NOAA education website that show Multibeam sonar at work.  Click here.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

The “casts” we took every few hours with the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument help the software determine the speed of sound by applying Snell’s Law, more or less, and make corrections for the differences in the water layers. It’s interesting to note that the first layer of water may have much less salinity than deeper water due to stream flow into the ocean.  In a column of water:  as the temperature increases, sound speed increases; as the pressure increases, sound speed increases; and as salinity increases, sound speed increases.  For more info on Snell’s Law and sound waves, go here.

Personal Log 

The CTD instrument

The CTD instrument

The sun came out for most of the day today, which enabled me to see the wonderful mountains around here.  We are transiting through the Shelikof Straight just north of Kodiak and south of the Alaska Peninsula.  We should be in Seward in the morning.

Questions of the Day: 

  1.  How do sounds waves travel through water differ from light waves?
  2. What is the speed of light and speed of sound?
  3. Is the speed of sound different in salt water rather than fresh water?

Animals Seen Today: Porpoises along the bow

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

Terry Welch, June 28, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 28, 2008

A self-contained breathing apparatus

A self-contained breathing apparatus

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: West/Southwest/10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle, clearing
Temperature:  High 48
Seas 1-3’

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday, I was able to go out on a launch and continue with the hydrographic survey around Belkofski Point with Ensign (ENS) Tim Smith as the Hydrographer in charge (HIC), Jodie, our Coxswain, and Fernando, a Hydrographer in training.  They use a lot of acronyms here on the ship that I’m learning.  We worked a long day until about 5:30 p.m. since the weather was nice and seas calm. The weather can change quickly in this area, so the survey team tries to work as much as possible when it’s nice out.

Ship Log 

A 10-minute air supply system

A 10-minute air supply system

Captain Don Haines and the crew are very safely conscious and we have already practiced several drills and we have a morning safely meeting before going out on the launches. On the first day out, I was issued a hard hat, survival suit (sometimes called a Mustang suite), life vest or PFD (personal floatation device) and float jacket.  When boarding the launches in the morning, we don the float jacket and hard hat. Once the launches are in the water and we have moved safely away from the Rainier ship, we can switch to our life vests (PFD), which are more comfortable to wear on the small boats.

Drills:  We practiced three drills while in route (or transit) to the Pavlof Islands; man-overboard, abandon ship, and fire. There is a different ship bell ring pattern for each event. When theses drills or event occur, all hands (crew) meet (muster) at a pre-assigned location.  The person in charge at our muster locations marks off if we are there. This system of accountability ensures that all personal is accounted for and safe.

The fire drill was interesting to me since I’m a volunteer fire fighter/EMT on Whidbey Island where I live. They use much of the same equipment as we do to fight fire including bunker gear (fire pants/coat/helmet), SCBA’s (self-contained breathing apparatus) and masks.  One of the crew demonstrated how to put on the SCBA and mask. Another safety air supply device is called an OCENCO EEBD. These 10 minute air supply systems are located all over the ship and would give someone enough clean air to exit the ship if an accident occurred.

Engine Room Tour 

Josh gave me a tour of the engine room and explained the basics of how the ships power is produced and maintained.  From a control room, the ship’s engine controls can be monitored by computer.  Every hour, the crew inspects the engine and support components and ensures that everything is running smoothly.  The area was loud, so we wore protective earplugs and it was also very clean considering all the oil that is used in the system. 

Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine

Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine 

Desalination System: Another interesting aspect of the ship is how the process water.  All fresh or potable water is made from salt water in an apparatus called an “Evaporator”.  Salt water is pumped into the evaporator and heated up to about 175 degrees.  Because it’s under pressure, the water boils at this lower temperature instead of the usual 212 degrees. The heat comes from generators that help create the electricity on the ship.  So, the whole system is very efficient.  Large 8000 gallon storage tanks hold the fresh water afterwards.  The evaporator produces about 500-550 gallons of fresh water per hour, so there is always plenty to use and it tastes good. 

Evaporator

Evaporator

Personal Log 

It was very informative for me to get a tour of the engine room today and learn how the ship’s power is produced.  Josh has the job of an “Oilier” and is only 23 years old.  He had an interest in welding and mechanics and has a high school degree.  Garret is the “First Engineer” and also has a high school degree. Both men enjoy working for NOAA and explained that many men and women learn skills on the job.  They stressed that you don’t need a college degree to work for NOAA, but it helps to have an aptitude for the job they are interested in such as working the engines.

Aleutian Islands

Aleutian Islands

Yesterday, several of us were able to scout out an abandoned settlement near to where the Rainier is anchored after dinner.  It is called “Native Village of Belkosfski”. Originally built for the fur trade in the 1860’s, it later became home to native Americans There were several old wooden structures and one larger cement and brick building that was the school.  Judging from the date on one of the food items in a kitchen, this area was inhabited in the early 1980’s last.  It’s amazing to see that many structures were still standing given the harsh climate around here.  More information can be found here. The teacher who taught there in the 60’s/70’s talks about his life there.

Dust and ash spew from the volcano .

Dust and ash spew from the volcano

Habitat Log 

According to the Global Volcanism Program, Pavlof volcano erupted in August 2007. NOAA’s satellite imagery recorded ash plumes and lava spewing from Pavlof and lahars or mudflows occurred.  The attached pictures are from Global Volcanism’s website, listed on the next page.

Questions of the Day: How do volcanoes shape the southeast strip of Alaska?  How active are they and why are they active?

Animals Seen Today: 

  • One young Grizzly bear
  • Humpback whales
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof

Another map indicating the location of Pavlof

Terry Welch, June 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 27, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: N10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle
Temperature:  High 51
Seas 2-4’

One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.

One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship RAINIER is currently anchored off of Cove Bay, near the Pavlov Islands, just east of the Aleutian Islands. Our mission is to conduct a hydrographic survey around these islands and collect data on what the ocean floor looks like, which will be used to update marine navigational charts. All marine vessels including, commercial, recreational and government vessels use these charts to navigate around the waters safely, so having reliable, updated charts is very important.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.

Using Multi-beam SONAR that is mounted to the bottom of several small skiffs or “launches”, surveyors leave the RAINIER and head out to assigned areas.  From there, they survey the ocean floor in “lines” that traverse back and forth in the assigned area, much like an aerial surveyor would do when mapping an area by airplane.  Sending these small launches out to survey is much more efficient and cost effective since several boats can cover different areas every day. The launches are operated by a Coxswain who follows predetermined lines and the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) sits at a computer and gathers the data from the sonar system.  SONAR uses sound waves that are emitted at regular intervals from the boat and bounce down to the ocean floor and back up. Physical factors such as salinity (saltiness), temperature, and conductivity of the ocean water affect the system, so a special instrument called a CTD is lowered into the water every four hours to gather this data and input it into the system.  How salty is the ocean in this area?  It varies in this area between 14.5 – 14.9%.

A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at Volcano Bay.

A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at
Volcano Bay.

Personal Log 

The day was quite enjoyable and a big learning curve for me.  There are a lot of boat terms that I’m learning along with the hydrographic science we do.  I’m happy to see that there are many women who work on the ship at all levels from basic seamen (ABS – or Able Bodied Seaman), cooks, to NOAA officers who navigate and run the ship. Women appear to make up 25+% of this crew.  All crew have been very helpful and informative. A personal highlight was seeing six Grizzly or brown bears today from our launch boat. A mother and her three cubs hung out on the beach for a while. My camera does not have the best telephoto lens, but you can see a rough picture of them below. It must be a good year for bears seeing that the mother had triplets.  When food is more scarce, bears will have less cubs in a season.

Question of the Day:  Does the ocean salinity (how salty it is) change ocean to ocean and within different depths?

New Terms/phrases:   Coxswain – is the skipper in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. Hydrography – the science of measuring and mapping the ocean floor. Hydrographer – a person who gathers data on ocean floor features. CTD – Instrument which collects physical characteristics in the sea water including conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth.  This data helps correct for the difference in the speed of sound waves.  Sound speeds of sonar vary with depth, temperature and saltiness of the water.   SONAR – Sound Navigation And Ranging – similar to echolocation that marine mammals use.

Animals Seen Today: 

  • Six Grizzly bears (a mother bear, her three cubs on one beach and two other bears near by).
  • Two Bald Eagles
  • Sea otters
  • Halibut