John Schneider, August 4-6, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: FISHPAC
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 4-6, 2009

That’s 11:00 – PM!  Almost sunset

That’s 11:00 – PM! Almost sunset

Position
Bering Sea, AK

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Nice
Barometer: Steady (falling slightly on the 6th after we were already close enough to Dutch to not feel the unsettled weather.)
Wind: light and variable
Temperature: 8.6º C
Sea State: < 3 feet

Personal Note 

For about half an hour after the photo above, I just sat on E-Deck and watched the sun set. As I write this and look at the picture, I’m sadly realizing that this incredible month is rapidly drawing to a close. While I miss my sons and dog, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I wish it could continue.

Science and Technology Log 

Sunset on the Bering Sea

Sunset on the Bering Sea

While we were anchored up behind Hagemeister Island near Hagemeister Strait, I learned this island is named after Captain Leonty Andrianovich Gagemeister, a Russian Naval Commander in the early 1800’s. The island is undeveloped and has no permanent residents. It would have been fantastic to take a launch over to it, but there was a lot of work to be done on board the Fairweather. At 1400 hrs on the 4th, Dr. McConnaughey gave a one-hour briefing on the FISHPAC and EFH work his team has been working on. The briefing was voluntary, but as you can see, almost everyone on board was there.

The crew listens to Dr. McConnaughey’s presentation about the FISHPAC research.

The crew listens to Dr. McConnaughey’s presentation about the FISHPAC research.

Actually, Dr. McConnaughey could have finished in an hour, but the crew had so many questions – really good questions – that the ensuing discussions lasted another hour. Even afterwards, conversations at dinner were reflective of the seminar.  Once again, the collegial atmosphere on board the Fairweather was evident.  It was great to listen to and watch the physical scientists going back and forth with the biology folks in interpreting each others’ results and parameters. At 1000 hours on the 5th, we weighed anchor and got under way.  It took a few hours to get back to where we had ceased survey and sampling operations two days earlier and we picked right up where we left off. The weather was quite nice and we got the remaining samples done in just a couple of hours.

Electronics Technician Mike Hilton

Electronics Technician Mike Hilton

When we had finished that part of the work, there was enough time left on the mission to resurvey some anomalies that had been observed several years ago. The Fairweather had documented several “mud volcanoes” or “mud plumes” in Bristol Bay and the CO wanted to verify their presence. In order to do so, Launch 1018 was deployed for several hours to try to find the anomalies with the Multi-Beam sounder on board, knowing, however, that bottom structures like this are sometimes transient in nature. They were looking for a 3 meter high “cone-shaped” mound, but instead found a depression about two meters deep.  Perhaps the previous party had misinterpreted the side-scan data.  This is the type of ambiguity that calls for continued surveying, research and the development of new technologies.

E.T. Phone Home 
This leg has been a real busy one for Electronics Technician Mike Hilton. When we first arrived in Dutch prior to the leg, he had to go up into the satellite dome and reconfigure some of the internal settings in order to get internet and satellite access for the ship.  We had actually lost that capacity during the rough night on the last day of the Shumagin leg. When we first lost internet (all the computers aboard are connected to a LAN) and folks were a little impatient, there was an announcement on board something like this, “Attention on the Fairweather, for those of you suffering acute internet withdrawal symptoms, the ET recommends you lay to the lounge and take out a couple of books and read them!”  Without Mike, the ship would be severely handicapped.

Andy in the control room

Andy in the control room

Motorin’ 
During my time on the Fairweather, I was privileged to be given an under way tour of the engine room by Andy Medina (you remember Andy – with that big halibut!)  Fairweather’s main propulsion plant is a pair of General Motors Electro Motive Division 12-567 CLR engines. I realize this sounds long winded, but what the model designation indicates is that the engine (remember, we have 2 mains– port and starboard) has 12 cylinders each of which is 567 cubic inches in size. In comparison, a 2009 Mustang has an option for a 282 cubic inch V-8. That means that EACH of Fairweather’s cylinders is about double the size of the whole engine in a new Mustang! Further translation – Fairweather’s main engines have the equivalent of 48 Mustangs of engines!!! They are HUGE!  By the way, the Electro Motive Division is the division of GM that makes engines for Locomotives! 

That’s me next to the port main engine

That’s me next to the port main engine

Fairweather also has two generators, each putting out 330 kilowatts of electricity and an additional diesel engine just for the bow thruster. Also, four more small diesels on the launches and a few outboards for the skiff and we have a pretty complex engineering need.  Not only do they keep the engines running, but they are responsible for heating and cooling, waste water and sewage treatment (there’s a treatment system on board) and making fresh water. To keep all this running smoothly – as our mission is dependent on them all running flawlessly – two engineers stand each watch in a “4 and 8” rotation meaning they work for 4 hours and are off for 8 and we sail with a minimum of 8 members in the engineering department. (This is the standard watch schedule for officers and survey techs also.) There needs to be a member of the engineering department in the control room at all times while we are under way.

When I arrived in the control room for Andy to give me my tour, we could not leave because the other engineer on watch was on a short break and he was not permitted to leave the control room.  After we chatted for 3 or 4 minutes, Mitchell came down and we went through the engine department.  It took about half an hour and my eyes glazed over after only the first few minutes!  There is SO MUCH stuff going on in there that it’s amazing the guys can keep track of it all.

Personal Log 

As we headed back towards Dutch Harbor, I was again treated to a “whale show.”  I wish there had been someone on E-Deck with me to take pictures because although I had both my still and video cameras, I could only use one at a time.  In any event, I shot almost an hour of video and hope I got some good footage.  I think I may have even gotten a breach!  If so I’ll post it on my blog or perhaps NOAA will allow me one extra post as an “epilogue.”

I may be smiling on the outside . . .

I may be smiling on the outside . . .

John Schneider, August 2-3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: FISHPAC
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 2-3, 2009

Position
Bristol Bay, AK

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Low pressure
Barometer: falling rapidly afternoon of the 3rd (as low as 994 mB)
Wind: building through the 3rd to 45 kts
Low Temperature: 8.6º C
Sea State: 10-15 feet afternoon of the 3rd 

I was wondering when . . . It’s now!!!

I was wondering when . . . It’s now!!!

Science and Technology Log 

One of the aspects of hydrographic surveying and research out of sight of land for extended periods of time is that the days and nights blur into an uninterrupted continuum.  At breakfast today, LT Andrews said, “It’s Tuesday.” I said, “Is it?” and he responded that “It’s always Tuesday at sea.”  I asked “Why not Wednesday, at least then it’s ‘hump day’ to the weekend?”  He answered that sometimes it seems you’re never closer to anything.  It was a fun exchange, but as the FISHPAC leg continues, I am realizing that the idea is spot-on accurate.  Coupling the “sameness” of the days, with the fact that the ship is on 24-hour operations, it’s easy to get confused!

SeaBoss on the deck. In the background, the wave tops are being blown off the waves!

SeaBoss on the deck. In the background, the wave tops are being blown off the waves!

We’re using SeaBoss to grab samples every three to five hours and I’m learning about some of the relationships between bottoms and infauna.  Significant, however, is the fact that almost regardless of sea state, SeaBoss gets deployed. I say “almost” for a reason. Legs 9 and 10 of the FISHPAC survey (as shown on a previous log) are in a North Easterly direction. Two days ago we received a weather update anticipating a strong low pressure system approaching.  As we went through the day of the 3rd, the barometer was falling rapidly, the wind ramped up continuously and seas grew to 10-15 feet. By early afternoon it became impossible to deploy SeaBoss safely and the CO ordered us to suspend operations and head for Hagemeister Island in order to anchor behind it.

Notice to the right of the SeaBoss – that’s a wave breaking onto the fantail!

Notice to the right of the SeaBoss – that’s a wave breaking onto the fantail!

We arrived there at 2000 hours (8 pm) and anchored. I took about a 10 minute video of the waves and the ship getting tossed around. I’ll try to post it when I get home next week. In the early 1800’s, Sir Francis Beaufort devised a scale to estimate wind speed based on the appearance of the ocean’s surface.  It is a scale from 1-12 that correlates the appearance of the ocean surface with wind speed.  It is called, appropriately enough, the Beaufort Scale and we experienced a solid 7 on the scale.

Personal Log 

Commissioned mariners

Commissioned mariners

Exhausting but exhilarating! Anyone who takes the majesty and power of the sea for granted should undergo a thorough psychological exam! The officers on the Fairweather are commissioned mariners.  In order to join the NOAA Corps of officers, one needs to be less than 42 years old and a college graduate. It is preferred that the undergraduate major be in the  physical sciences, math, engineering or computer science. These are exceptionally qualified uniformed servicemen and women of the United States.  A career with NOAA as an officer is rewarding and in service to the nation. It is a career I will certainly discuss with my future students.

Something to Think About 

Just about everybody has heard of Latitude and Longitude, but what do they mean and how are they measured?

John Schneider, August 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: FISHPAC
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 1, 2009

Position
Bristol Bay, AK

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: nice all 3 days
Barometer: steady
Wind: light and variable
Temperature: low  7.0º C
Sea State: < 3-4 feet

This is the bottom sample after it has come straight from the water and into the collection bin.

This is the bottom sample after it has come straight from the water and into the collection bin.

Science and Technology Log 

We have made about 30 stops along the tracklines for bottom samples as described in a prior log. When the SeaBoss comes to the surface, the scientists check to see if it grabbed an adequate sample.  Sometimes it will strike the bottom at a bad angle, land on a rock, release prematurely or catch a big piece between the halves of the grabber and lose the sample on the way up.  But on the 90% of deployments that are successful, the sample is emptied into a large bin and taken to the sifting table.  It is washed with salt water and the critters within the sample are collected.

The bottom sample has been moved from the collection bin into a sifter box.

The bottom sample has been moved from the collection bin into a sifter box.

It looks pretty gross when you pull it up and the scientists estimate how full the sampler was, how deep it went into the bottom and describe the color and texture of the sediment.  All of these criteria go into the evaluation of the bottom. This is the sample in the sifter box.  The screen at the bottom has a 1 millimeter mesh which allows anything less than 1 mm to be washed through and overboard. It can take anywhere from 2-6 minutes to screen out the sample depending on the sediment grain size.

After it has been sifted out, the bottom sample reveals all the things it was hiding.

After it has been sifted out, the bottom sample reveals all the things it was hiding.

This is a screened sample from a relatively shallow grab (probably <150 feet.) One of the interesting things that Dr. McConnaughey and his team have determined is that the wave energy in the Bering Sea in the winter extends down to almost 250 feet!  This wave action carries away the finer sediments which leaves a coarser bottom.  The coarse bottom has interstitial spaces that allow for animals to burrow and survive.  The “cashew-looking” critters are members of the Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea (Sea Cucumbers). They represented a significant portion of several of our samples.

By establishing this correlation between sediment and animals present, and integrating that with gut analyses done on other ships catching target species at other times and cross-referencing that information with hydrographic survey information, it may be possible in the future to be able to predict what species will inhabit what areas.  This type of data is absolutely essential to maintain a sustainable yield in the fishery and avoid depletion of the resource. It is environmental stewardship at the highest level.

Personal Log 

Starboard breezeway in the dark

Starboard breezeway in the dark

I’ve been very fortunate in my life that this is my third time out to sea for more than just a day or so. The first time was almost 30 years ago in grad school in California (about 2 weeks), the second time in January of 1991 going from SC to the US Virgin Islands (a week) and not these legs with the Fairweather.  One of the things I had forgotten was how dark it gets at sea at night.  Even though dawn this leg is about 0615 and sunset is around 2300, we have been conducting 24-hour ops for most of the time.  So we’ll be deploying the SeaBoss at all hours.  I took one of these pictures with a flash and then turned the flash off and took the second.  No explanation necessary. IT’S REAL DARK!  SCARY DARK! As you can see, there’s plenty of light on the fantail to work, but outside our little orb of light, it’s real dark!

Weston Renoud and Adam Argento deploying the MVP fish.

Renoud and Argento deploying the MVP fish.

Questions for You to Investigate 

The conversion formula for changing ºC to ºF is really quite simple.   ºF = 1.8 (ºC) + 32. For example, 10ºC would be converted thus: ºF = 1.8 (10 ºC) + 32 → 18 + 32 → 50ºF

By the way, 10ºC is a warm day here!

Something to Think About 

This line is laid out in a figure 8. Why would this be a good way to have a line arranged if it has to be paid out gradually rather than in a coil?

The next couple days should be interesting. CO says we have some weather coming!

schneider_log16dd

John Schneider, July 27-29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: FISHPAC
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 27-29, 2009

Position
In transit to Bristol Bay, AK

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: highly variable in the Bering Sea
Barometer: falling on the second day
Wind: Ranging from light and variable to 35 kts
Low Temperature: 7.0º C
Sea State: initially <1-2 feet up to 8 feet on the evening of the 29th

The sheet above shows legs 5-10 of FISHPAC in the Bering Sea, AK

The sheet above shows legs 5-10 of FISHPAC in the Bering Sea, AK

What Is FISHPAC? 

The Magnusen-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Management Act includes the broad designation of “Essential Fish Habitat” (EFH) as including myriad parameters which are to be considered for all life stages of the managed species. Included in them are bottom type, epifauna and infauna, grain size, and organic debris. Additionally, studies are to span the life cycles of those species.  There is an enormous amount of historical data relating to commercial fisheries catches, but the data have not been assembled as a whole and screened for accuracy.  Additionally, there has been virtually no search for correlations within the data. Dr. Bob McConnaughey is engaged in seeking correlations between bottom characteristics, managed species and sorting through extant records in the search for utilizing sonar data to anticipate species presence in the Bering Sea.  The phrase I’ve heard is “using bottom characteristics as proxy for prey identification.” Earlier cruise results can be viewed here.  It would take a long time to describe all that they do at the Alaska Fisheries Service Center, so what I highly recommend is that you spend a while at their site.

Science and Technology Log 

SeaBoss on deck

SeaBoss on deck

In addition to searching for correlations between trawl catch data and bottom characteristics, Dr. McConnaughey and his team are trying to determine if sound data (Multi-beam Echo Sounders and Side Scan Sonar) can be used in anticipating what species will likely be present in a given area. There are 69 managed commercial species in Alaska alone, which represent an enormous proportion of the commercial US catch, and if technology and research can be gained here, it can conceivably be applied elsewhere.  The Alaskan fisheries have also not been subjected to as much commercial fishing as, say, the coast of New England due to the remote, harsh and generally newly populated area which is Alaska. Commercial fishing here is, for the most part, less than 50 years old compared to the hundreds of years off the East Coast.

SeaBoss being deployed. It is suspended from the J-Frame and swung outboard. Tending the SeaBoss can be hazardous so crew members are tethered to the deck.

SeaBoss being deployed. It is suspended from the J-Frame and swung outboard. Tending the SeaBoss can be hazardous so crew members are tethered to the deck.

Alaska has over 45,000 miles of coastline, contains 70% of the United States continental shelf, and 28% of the Exclusive Economic Zone (a 200 mile legal designation) yet much of that area has never been properly surveyed. With the prospect of a warming climate and potential northerly relocation of commercially viable species, it is essential to document as much of this area as possible before long-term damage may be inflicted on it. In order to evaluate the EFH parameters, one of the tools the FISHPAC team uses to gather bottom samples is an apparatus called the SeaBoss (Sea Bed Observation System.)

SeaBoss on the way up--it can be seen as deep as about 5 to 10 meters

SeaBoss on the way up–it can be seen as deep as about 5 to 10 meters

SeaBoss allows the team to gather a 0.1m2 bottom sample, descending and forward looking video and still pictures taken just before it hits the bottom. SeaBoss gets deployed twice at each site.  The first sample is brought up and dumped into a sieve with a 1mm grid size.  It is then gently hosed off with seawater to clear away the inorganic materials and large particles.  The remaining biomass is put into containers with formalin solution for 2 days and then put into an alcohol solution to prevent decay.  Those samples will be quantified back in the lab in the Seattle area. With the second sample from roughly the same bottom area, samples are taken of the bottom material itself from the surface and from a couple of centimeters below the surface.  These, too, will be quantitatively evaluated back in the lab for grain sizes present and the proportions of those grain sizes in the sample. For background information on the SeaBoss, go here.

Jim Bush in the bosun’s chair.  Rick Ferguson (l) and Chief Bosun Ron Walker assisting.

Jim Bush in the bosun’s chair. Rick Ferguson (l) and Chief Bosun Ron Walker assisting.

Personal Log 

Before we left Dutch Harbor, we took on fuel (about ¼ of a load – only 22,000 gallons!) We took on ship’s stores (food.) 100+ gallons milk, 25 cases produce, a couple hundred pounds of meat (beef, chicken, pork, lamb,) scores of loaves of bread, and numerous cases of ice cream as well as other things.  It took several hours to stow it all away.  We also took on about 10 pallets of scientific gear for the FISHPAC team.  One of the more interesting scenes was watching AB Jim Bush rigging the A-Frame for deploying some of the equipment off of the fantail.

Questions for You to Investigate 

Check out the web sites I listed, there’s some really cool stuff on them.

New Terms/Phrases 

Biomass – organic matter created by living things epifauna – living animals on the surface of the bottom infauna – living animals in the bottom quantitatively – using numerical values

 

John Schneider, July 21-26, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Juvenile bald eagle preening

Juvenile bald eagle preening

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 21-26, 2009

Position
In port, Dutch Harbor, AK

Personal Log 

The days we spent in Dutch Harbor were a combination of 8-hour work days and evenings spent in town at either the Harbor View Sports Bar and Grill or the Grand Aleutian Hotel.  The crew and survey techs put in full days, then go out for a couple of hours using the liberty van.  Everyone’s usually back aboard by midnight or so (the van stops running at 2300, but the town’s only about a 20 minute walk.)  In Dutch and Unalaska, there are houses of worship, museums, a Safeway, a clinic (which I got to visit / after stepping on a nail), a community indoor pool and a post office. There are also a couple of ship supply places that have excellent quality gear at a minimum markup considering how far away we are.

schneider_log14bFor me, there were four events that were particularly of note.  First, before now I had only ever seen one bald eagle in the lower 48 and a half dozen or so in Kodiak.  In Dutch, they are all over.  These birds get to be about 3 feet tall and the talons on the juvenile pictured are about an inch long!  I took well nigh 100 pictures and had trouble selecting which ones to include.  They are stunning animals.

Second, I knew that Dutch Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese in WWII as part of the diversionary action prior to the Battle of Midway.  What I never realized was WHY they would bomb a remote, nothing, minor outpost and attack and occupy Attu and Kiska farther out in the Aleutians. The answer lies in spheroid geometry!  (OK all you math phobes, this is a cool one that’s not too hard to grasp.) Simply put, the shortest distance between any two points on a sphere (the Earth) is the distance along the surface created by a plane created by three points: the two points in question and the center of the sphere.  In other words, it cuts the planet in half!  (The red line in the illustration.)

Great circle rout from Tokyo to Seattle

Great circle route from Tokyo to Seattle

Spheroid geometry (diagram courtesy USNA)

Spheroid geometry (diagram courtesy USNA)

On the diagram above, the red line is the great circle route from Tokyo to Seattle.  As you can see it passes right through the Aleutians.  The battle in the Aleutians is sometimes referred to as the “Thousand Mile War” and is largely unknown, However, the Aleutian Islands are the “back door” to attacking North America.  That’s why, after the bombing of Dutch Harbor six months after Pearl Harbor, the United States made a concerted effort to fortify the Aleutians and take back Attu and Kiska. By the way, the landings on Attu and Kiska were the first landings on American soil by an enemy since the War of 1812!  There are reinforced concrete bunkers and Quonset huts all over the Dutch Harbor area and the fortifications atop Mount Ballyhoo are among the most well-preserved and extensively built in the United States.  The fact that our military – both men and women – were stationed in such an inhospitable frontier should be taught to all of our students.

Quonset hut on Mt Ballyhoo

Quonset hut on Mt Ballyhoo

Personally, I am thankful to one of my professors, Jack Lutz, who was stationed on Adak, 350+ miles West of Dutch Harbor.  Freedom isn’t free and we are very lucky.  So, this information about great circles should lend a bit of insight to the questions I posed earlier about the D.E.W. Line (used for radar protection in the event of Soviet missile launch over the North Pole) and why we encountered ships sailing from North America to Asia while passing through Unimak Pass (It’s right in the middle of the great circle route!)

 Gun emplacement overlooking the entrance to Dutch Harbor

Gun emplacement overlooking the entrance to Dutch Harbor

On our last day in Dutch, the CO and 5 others including myself went to the old cemetery in Unalaska. Buried there is Karl Mueller of the U.S. Ship Surveyor. He was one of the earliest Americans to work on surveying the Aleutians and was drowned in 1938 when his survey launch hit a previously uncharted reef. For more information on the NOAA personnel lost in the line of duty, go here. It’s important that we know our history in order to appreciate our present and look forward to the future.  

Grave marker of Karl Mueller.  The Fairweather crew maintains the grave and established a benchmark on the marker.

Grave marker of Karl Mueller. The Fairweather crew maintains the grave and established a benchmark on the marker.

The last notable event in Dutch was the combined “wetting down” and Sunday Brunch for the new officers. As I pointed out on one of my first logs, CO Doug Baird was promoted to Captain and Mark Andrews was promoted to Lieutenant JG.  LTjg Andrews generously invited me to the wetdown and brunch which was attended by the entire crew. The wetdown was at the Grand Aleutian on Saturday night and Sunday brunch was there also. These two events were really something special and the camaraderie was great to experience.  Thank you, sirs.

Crab legs, lox, salmon, biscuits w/ crab gravy, kippers (Plate #2 with dessert yet to come!)

Crab legs, lox, salmon, biscuits w/ crab gravy,
kippers (Plate #2 with dessert yet to come!)

John Schneider, July 18-20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 18-20, 2009

Position
Shumagin Islands, in transit to Dutch Harbor

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System:
(July 18th) Low system approaching from the South
(July 19th) Fog, gusty wind in the morning, clear afternoon, but getting windier; Wind: southwesterly at 4-6 kts; Sea State: 1-2 feet

Weather System:  Projected for the July 20-21 overnight
Barometer: falling rapidly (a warning sign of unsettled weather) Wind: sustained at 30-40 kts, gusting to 55 kts (This would qualify as a “gale”)
Sea State: Predicted wave height next 24-36 hrs – 18 feet!

Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!

Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!

Science and Technology Log 

On the 18th and 19th, the launches went out (including me on the 19th) to clean up some holidays and get more near-shore data.  When we got back on the 19th, we found out that a major low pressure system was building to the south and expected to be in our area within a day and a half.  A major low system can reach out a couple of hundred miles and the CO decided that we would leave the Shumagins about 18 hours earlier than originally planned.  I discussed this with him (he is remarkably approachable) and he reiterates to me what I had already believed: his responsibilities are in three priorities – 1. His crew.  2. His ship.  3. The mission. Our research in the Shumagins does not represent life-or-death, it represents the continuing quest for knowledge and the expansion of our understanding of the Earth.  I’m sure you’ve realized it already, but Captain Baird and his officers have earned my highest regard.

We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.

We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.

On board the Fairweather is a phenomenal array of electronics.  Our positioning equipment is able to determine our position with just a couple of meters and when we are on a course it can tell if the course error is as little as a decimeter! Operating in Alaska, where fog is a way of life, RADAR (Radio Direction And Ranging) is an absolute must, and we have redundant systems in the event one breaks down. Probably the coolest thing about the radar is the use of ARPA technology. ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) is a system that not only identifies other vessels on the water, but diagrams their projected course and speed vectors on the screen. It does this from as far as 64 miles away!

The filleted tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach

The tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach

By looking at the screen, you can see the lines of other ships relative to your own and navigate accordingly. Furthermore, the system includes ECDIS, which is an Electronic Chart Display and Information System that identifies other ships as to their name, size, destination, and cargo!  So when you see on the radar that you are in a situation where you will be passing near to another vessel, you can call them on the radio by name! This technology is essential, especially going through Unimak Pass.  Unimak Pass is about 15 miles wide and is a critical point in commercial shipping traffic between the Americas and Asia. As we were transiting Unimak Pass, We were passed by an 800 foot long container ship that was en route to Yokohama, Japan and going the other way was a 750 foot ship going to Panama.  This is a critical area due to what is called “Great Circle” navigation.  I’ll address this point when in Dutch Harbor next week.

Eat your hearts out!

Eat your hearts out!

Personal Log 

Last night, after the beach party, Andy Medina (who has been on board for almost 200 days this year) was fishing off the fantail and caught a nice halibut. The crew who hail from Alaska all have fishing permits and when the day is done, if we’re anchored they get to use their free time for fishing.  They even got a freezer to keep their filets in.  Earlier in the cruise, we actually had halibut tacos made with about the freshest Alaskan halibut you can find (less than 12 hours from catch to lunch!)  Of course, with me being a bio guy, I asked for two things: 1 – to keep and freeze the head (I For the last night of the leg before making port in Dutch Harbor  (home of the World’s Deadliest Catch boats) the stewards, Cathy Brandts, Joe Lefstein and Mike Smith really outdid themselves.  I sure hope you can read the menu board, but if you can’t, dinner was Grilled NY Strip Steak and Steamed Crab legs with Butter! 

We went through about 10 trays like this!!!

We went through about 10 trays like this!!!

After dinner, everybody secured as much equipment as possible in the labs, galley and cabins as possible in anticipation of the run ahead of the weather into Dutch Harbor.  We ran through the night and got to Unimak pass in the middle of the day on the 20th. About half way through the pass was an unusual announcement, “Attention on the Fairweather, there are a lot of whales feeding off to starboard!” It’s the only time whales were announced and it was worth the announcement.  For about 2 to 3 miles, we were surrounded by literally MILLIONS of seabirds and a score or more of whales.  Comments from everybody were that they had never seen anything like it. I kept thinking of the old Hitchcock film The Birds and the scenes in Moby Dick where Ahab says to “watch the birds.” We were all agog at the sight.

Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!

Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!

With the collective 200-300 years of at-sea experience, no one had ever seen anything like it. After 2.5 weeks that seems like 2.5 days, we approach Dutch Harbor and are secured to the pier by 1700 hours. Tonight we’ll head into town, but if not for the news in the next paragraph, this would be the worst time of the trip, however . . .

The Best news of the trip: I’ve requested and been approved to stay on board the Fairweather for the next leg! WOO-HOO!!!  It’s called FISHPAC and deals with integrating bottom characteristics to commercially viable fish populations!  I’m going to the Bering Sea!!!

Questions for You to Investigate 

  1. When did the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collide?  Where?  In what conditions?
  2. What was the D.E.W. Line in the Cold War?
  3. Why did the Japanese want bases in the Aleutians in WWII?
  4. Why did we pass a ship going from North America to Yokohama well over 1000 miles north of both ends of the trip?
  5. What are Great Circles?

Did You Know? 

That almost 10% of all commercial fishing catch in the United States comes through Unalaska and Dutch Harbor?

Approaching Dutch Harbor

Approaching Dutch Harbor

John Schneider, July 16-17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 16-17, 2009

Position
Shumagin Islands

Morning safety briefing

Morning safety briefing

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Light fog, clearing through the day
Wind: light and variable
Sea State: <2 feet

Science and Technology Log 

This morning, I went up to the boat deck and took a shot of the FOO in the morning safety briefing on the fantail. Afterwards, while the launches were conducting near-shore and off-shore surveys, the Fairweather ran cross track lines where we had completed a large open-water polygon. Once the large offshore polygons are surveyed by the Fairweather, the ship runs several transects at a 90º angle across the original survey lines. This is to corroborate prior data. When the survey crew finally completes their data analysis, they have checked and re-checked the data a minimum of 4 times before the report leaves the ship. Then, the information goes to NOAA’s charting offices and is reviewed multiple times again before being incorporated and published on charts and in the Coast Pilots.

Personal Log 

Perhaps the three most frightening prospects on board a ship at sea are:

  1. Fire
  2. Abandoning a sinking vessel
  3. Man Overboard 
Going up the ladder blindfolded

Going up the ladder blindfolded

This afternoon, we ran drills addressing the first two situations.  In the first drill, we simulated a shipboard fire with thick smoke.  Rather than filling the ship with smoke, the crew paired up and practiced escaping from their cabins blindfolded.  Each person took a turn being the eyes so their partner didn’t get injured, but could not give directions. My path was relatively easy: Left out of my cabin, right along the wall, up the ladder, right to the next wall, right again, pass the door to the scullery, go over a coaming and left out to the weather deck. I did fine, and my partner, Engineer Joe Kelly, also did. On the other hand, Andrew Clos, one of the survey techs, made one wrong turn and wandered into the mess. Once he got there, well, on board ship folks tend to enjoy a good laugh – either at their own expense or someone else’s.  Once Andrew got into the mess, other crew members put chairs in his way, opened cabinet doors, blocked the ability for him to go backwards!

Andrew cornered in the mess!

Andrew cornered in the mess!

Oh, they were merciless!  Finally, someone led him out and we all shared a good laugh.  The XO was, however, quick to point out that Andrew had crawled during the drill – one of the few who had done so.  Remember what they teach even in pre-school, if there’s smoke, the smoke rises, so crawl to safety. So I guess the point was well-made. The abandon ship drill is very simple in concept, but with 45-50 people hustling through passageways with life jackets and Gumby suits (not wearing them, but just carrying them) it can be chaotic. Nonetheless, within less than 4 minutes, every crew member was at their abandon ship stations.

“Ensign Forney” at his station in Plot

“Ensign Forney” at his station in Plot

The best aspect of the drills was the seriousness of the personnel. We all realize, even the crewmen who have been to sea for decades, that life on the sea is held by a thin thread and frivolity belongs in its place. While the launches were operating, Survey Tech Tami Beduhn (with help!) put a chicken suit on the CPR mannequin that we have on board and set it up in Ensign Matt Forney’s station in the plot room.  They even put his ball cap on it!

Ensign Matt Forney (left) and the CO at the bonfire. It would get real big!

Ensign Matt Forney (left) and the CO at the bonfire.

Speaking of Frivolity

Being more than halfway through the leg and getting work done at a really good pace – through crew efforts and cooperation from the weather – the CO (currently Jim Bush who has relieved CAPT Baird while he is on leave for a short while) approved a “beach party” to be held on one of the accessible beaches (Flying Eagle Harbor – 55º10’ N, 159º30’W) of Big Koniuji Island, the second largest island in the Shumagins. The ship arrived in the “harbor” a few hours before the launches returned and anchored. While the launches were conducting survey ops, the stewards (chefs) and the deck crew repeatedly took the skiff (a small utility boat) and set up a HUGE meal on the beach. As you can see, the bonfire was ready to go – collected from the ample supply of driftwood. We even had a Beachparty Internal Temperance Control Honcho – kind of a 2009 version of Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the late 1800’s!  After a while on the ship, it was cool to get ashore. A couple of the crew hiked to the summit of the mountain.

Vocabulary 

  • Scullery – the area of the galley (kitchen) where used dishes are rinsed and put into the dishwasher
  • Coaming – a raised door sill at a hatch to keep water from flowing inside
The ship waiting offshore

The ship waiting offshore

It doesn’t get any better than this!

It doesn’t get any better than this!

Yup! We went swimming!  That’s me with my arms up. Water was about 43º.

Yup! We went swimming! That’s me with my arms up. Water was about 43º.