Today’s blog is all about post processing, or “cleaning up” the data and being on night shift. It is a balmy, sliver moon night at port here, in Kodiak. We have come a long way in the last two weeks, during which survey crews have been working hard to finalize a Cold Bay report from last season before they devote themselves entirely to North Kodiak Island. I am in the plot room with Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Smith who is on Bridge Duty from midnight until 4 a.m. with Anthony Wright, Able Seaman.
People work around the clock on Rainier whether it be bridge watch, processing data, or in the engine room. One thing that makes the night shift a little easier is that there is no shortage of daylight hours in Alaska: within two months, there will be less than an hour of complete darkness at night.
In previous blogs, I described how the team plans a survey, collects and processes data. In this blog, I will explain what we do with the data once it has been processed in the field. Tonight, Lieutenant Dan Smith is reviewing data collected in Sheet 5, of the Cold Bay region on the South Alaskan Peninsula. In September, 2013, the team surveyed this large, shallow and therefore difficult to survey area. The weather also made surveying difficult. Despite the challenges, the team finished collecting data for Sheet 5 and are now processing all the data they collected.
While I find editing to be one of the most challenging steps in the writing process, it is also the most rewarding. Through the editing process, particularly if you have a team, work becomes polished, reliable and usable. The Rainier crew reviews their work for accuracy as a team and while Sheet 5 belongs to Brandy Geiger, every crew member has played a part in making the Sheet 5 Final Report a reality, almost. On the left screen, Lieutenant Smith is looking at one line of data. Each color represents a boat, and each dot represents the data from one boat, and each dot represents a depth measurement computed by the sonar. The right screen shows which areas of the map he has already reviewed in green and the areas he still needs to review in magenta.
While the plot room is calm today in Kodiak, there have been times when work conditions are challenging, at best.
The crew continues on, despite the weather, so long as work conditions are safe.
Several days ago, Lieutenant Smith taught me the difference between a sonar ping that truly measured depth, and other dots that were not true representations of the ocean floor. Once you get an eye for it, you kill the noise quickly. In addition, when Lieutenant Smith finds a notable rise in the ocean floor he will “designate as a sounding.” Soundings are those black numbers on a nautical chart that tell you how deep the water is.
If the line has dots that rise up in a natural way, the computer program recognizes that these pings didn’t go as far down as the others and makes a rise in the ocean floor indicated with the blue line. It is the hydrographer’s job to review the computer processed data. One of the differences between a map and a nautical chart is the high level of precision and review to ensure that a nautical chart is accurate.
Now let’s kill some noise on this calm May evening.
In this image of a shipwreck on the ocean floor most sonar pings reached the ocean floor or the shipwreck and bounced soundings back to the survey boat. Look carefully, however, and you see white dots, representing pings that did not make it down to the ocean floor. Many things can cause these false soundings. In this case, I predict that the pings bounced back off of a school of fish. Here, the surveyor kills the “noise” or white pings by circling them with the mouse on his computer. It wouldn’t be natural for the ocean floor or other feature to float unconnected to the ocean floor, and thus, we know those dots are “noise” and not measurements of the ocean floor.
Lieutenant Smith estimates that at least half of his survey time is spent in the plot room planning or processing data. The window of time the team has in the field to collect data is limited by weather and other conditions, so they must work fast. Afterward, they spend long, but rewarding hours analyzing the data they have collected to ensure its accuracy and to provide synthesized information to put into a nautical chart that is easy to use and dependable. Lieutenant Smith believes that in many scientific careers, as much time or more time is spent planning, processing and analyzing data than is spent collecting data.
As we post process our data, I too, begin post processing this amazing adventure. I am hesitant to leave: I have learned so much in these two short weeks, I want to stay and keep learning. But at NOAA we all have many duties, and my collateral, wait–my primary duty is to my students and so, I must return to the classroom. I will leave many fond memories and a camera, floating somewhere in Driver Bay, behind me. I will take with me all that I have learned about the complexity of the ocean planet we live on and share my thirst to know more back to the classroom where we can continue our work. I will miss the places I’ve seen and the people I met but look forward to the road or channel of discovery that awaits me and my students.
Did You Know? The Sunflower Sea Star is the largest and fastest moving sea star travelling up to one meter per minute.
Below are a few photo favorites of my time at sea.
The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.
In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features. Step 1 is to determine where we are.
In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.
Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is. Think “bath” water and metry “measure.” When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.
As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.
Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor. Here is a screen shot of the data we collected. It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!
Here I am, gathering pings.
Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water. Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides. The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.
The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area. On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install. This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.
You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data. Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.
Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart. The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.
Installing Tide Gauge Stations
Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is. The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure. The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water. The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data. This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis. Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.
There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world. The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia. These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.
The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle). During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.
Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks
Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches. Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.
Why Bench Mark?
There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.
The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land. The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge. The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly. As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.” We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s reference frame. Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed. After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!
Installing the Benchmark
Today, our beach party broke into two groups. We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline. We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete. A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more. We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification. If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.
As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.
To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water. Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team. The dive team secured a sensor below the water. The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days. During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.
After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick. One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal. They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height! Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.
Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours. Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to. If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements. I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do. If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.
As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island. I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.
Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.
Spotlight on a Scientist
Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II. The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.
During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits. He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.” He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks. For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.” Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart. His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.
Today was a special day for me for many reasons. It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever. Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking. I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me. In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently. All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.
Much like the the lab reports we do in class, hydrographers have a tremendous amount of work to do prior to going into the field. As we make the transit from Rainier’s home port of Newport to our charting location of Kodiak Island, hydrographers are working long hours in the plotting room planning their season’s work. Today’s log is about a software program called CARIS that hydrographers use to plan their project and guide data collection through the season. This morning, Ensign Micki Ream planned her season’s work in the Plot Room on CARIS. This afternoon, she walked out the plot room door and onto the bridge where she navigated Rainier through the narrow Blackney Passage of the Inside Passage. Prior to taking over the bridge, I watched as Ensign Ream as she plotted her project area for the season. She has been assigned Cape Uganik, an area of North Kodiak Island in the vicinity of Raspberry Island. The area was chosen to survey due to boat traffic and because the last survey completed was in 1908 by lead line. Here you can see the original survey report and an image of how data was collect at that time (1908 Survey of Ensign Ream’s Survey Area). Ensign Micki Ream explained that the charts were called “sheets,” because originally, they were sheets of paper, sent out with the surveyor into the field. While we still call them sheets, they are now in electronic form, just like the sheet below representing one of two project areas ENS Ream will most likely work on this summer.
Why make polygons instead of sending several launches out to your work area and tell them to start on opposite ends and meet in the middle? The polygons are a way for hydrographers to break a large amount of work into manageable tasks. Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, explains “polygons are designed based upon the depth of the water, the time it will take to complete, and the oceanographic condition, particularly speed of sound through water. Areas that are suspected to have a higher variability in sound speed will get smaller polygons to manage errors from sound speed.”
Also, imagine sending several launch boats out into a large area to work without telling them where to go. Polygons provide a plan for several boats to work safely in an area without running into each other. It allows areas to be assigned to people based upon their skills. The coxswains, boat drivers, with a lot of experience and skill, will take the near shore polygons, and the newer coxswains will take less hazardous, deeper water.
Another reason to break your sheet into polygons is to maintain team moral. By breaking a large task into small assignments people feel a sense of accomplishment. As she divided her large polygon into 30 smaller polygons, Ensign Micki Ream kept in mind many variables. First, she considers the depth of the water. The sonar produces a swath of data as the survey vessel proceeds along its course. As the water gets deeper, the swath gets wider, so you can make a bigger polygon in deeper water. As she drew her polygons, she followed contour lines as much as possible while keeping lines straight. The more like a quadrilateral a polygon is, the easier it is for a boat to cover the area, just like mowing a rectangular lawn. In her polygons, she cut out areas that are blue (shallow), rocky areas and kelp beds, because those areas are hazardous to boats. While the hydrographer in charge and coxswain (boat driver), should use best practices and not survey these areas by boat, sometimes they rely on the polygon assignment.
Once she has drawn up her plan, Ensign Micki Ream roughly measures the average length and width of her polygons and puts that data into a Polygon Time Log form that a co-worker created on Rainier last season. The form also takes into account the depth and gives an estimate of time it will take to complete the polygon. This Time Log is just one of the many pieces of technology or equipment that crew invents to make their lives and jobs easier.
The fun part of this process is naming your polygons so that hydrographers in the field can report back to you their progress. Traditional alphabetical and numerical labels are often used, but Ensign Micki Ream is naming some of her polygons after ’90s rock bands this year. Once the polygon is named, the sheet manager, Ensign Ream, develops a boat sheet for a hydrographer in charge (HIC): this is their assignment for the day. Typically, they send out three to four people on a launch, including the HIC, coxswain and an extra hand. There are always new people aboard Rainier, so there are often other people in the launch being trained. There are enough immersion suits for 4 people but ideally there are three people to help with launching the boat and completing the day’s work. Communication between the HIC and coxswain is essential to get data for ocean depths in all areas of their polygon as they determine the direction to collect data in their work area. Now, at least, the hydrographer and coxswain know where to start and stop, and are confident that their sheet manager has done her best to send them into a safe area to collect the data needed to make new charts.
Since Ensign Ream’s polygon plan is an estimate, the time to complete each polygon may be longer or shorter than estimated. Variables such as the constantly changing depth of the ocean, weather, experience and equipment of the crew collecting data, and a myriad of other variables, known and unknown, make scheduling and completing surveys a constantly moving target. There are two guarantees however: flexibility is required to work on the crew and ultimately winter will force a pause to Rainier’s work.
Spotlight on a Scientist
Although I have been on Rainier for only several days, I am blown away by the incredible skills crew members acquire in short amounts of time. Ensign Micki Ream is the perfect example: In January, 2013, she joined the NOAA Corps which provides operational support for NOAA’s scientific missions. During a six month officer training, she was trained in the basics of navigation. On June 2, 2013, she joined Rainier crew. In February, 2014 NOAA sent her to a one month Basic Hydrography School where she learned hydrography principles and how to use various software programs. Throughout her short time at NOAA, she has had significant and varied on the job training with scientific, managerial and navigational work.The rest of her skills are on the job training with an end goal of Officer of the Deck (similar to a mate in commercial sailing) and Hydrographer in Charge.
Ensign Micki Ream does have a background in science which she is putting to use every day. Originally from Seattle, she started her career with NOAA in June, 2009, after obtaining a Marine Biology degree at Stanford University. Her first position was with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Program, which provided her with an internship and scholarship to acquire a Master’s Degree, also from Stanford, in Communicating Ocean Science. Just a little over one year after coming to NOAA Corps, she is a hydrographer in training and safely navigating a very impressive ship as part of a bridge team, including highly skilled navigational experts such as Ensign J.C. Clark and Commander Brennan. Where else could you get training, experience and on the job support in so many diverse areas but with NOAA Hydro?
The food is absolutely amazing on board. Tonight’s dinner options were roast prime beef, cut to order, au jus, creamy smoked salmon casserole, farro vegetable casserole, baked potatoes with fixings, asparagus and several different kinds of cake and fruit. In the evenings, snacks are also available. My biggest challenge has been to pace myself with the the quantity of food I eat, particularly since taking long hikes after dinner is not an option. I feel very well cared for aboard Rainier.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier April 21 – May 2, 2014
Project: North Coast of Kodiak Island
Weather Data from the Bridge at 15:20
Wind: 11 knots
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Depth in fathoms: 66.1
Temperature: 9.8˚ Celsius
Latitude: N 48˚13.15 Longitude: W 123˚21.04
Science and Technology Log
My first log will be mostly about setting sail and the breadth of skills which each crew member is required to possess when working in hydrography, which is the science of surveying and charting bodies of water or seafloor mapping. Later, I hope to zoom in on the crew, scientists, and tools they use. Meetings….a time to get together with co-workers and catch up, and get a little work done. Not at NOAA: at 8:00 a.m. on April 21, Lieutenant Commander Holly Jablonski, Executive Officer called a meeting to let junior officers know the ship would be sailing at 12 p.m. Originally scheduled to depart on March 28, Rainier could not leave unless positions of highly qualified crew were filled, and difficult to replace parts were found and installed. Potentially hazardous ocean conditions would have delayed the departure another day so Officers were pleased the ship would depart. Members of the Junior Officer team proceeded to list off work they must complete to have the ship ready to sail in the next two hours, equipment to deliver, test and secure, and inspections to complete. Not a word was wasted. Within five minutes the meeting ended and each officer quickly returned to their many collateral duties. Ensign Katrina Poremba gave me a tour of the ship as we updated emergency billets, critical information that informs crew of their responsibilities during drills and actual emergencies. Before long, we were underway. Families of crew members wished them farewell, fair winds and following seas. As the ship pulled away, I entered the bridge, where Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, and others were sailing the ship out of Newport Bay.
On the bridge, officers eyed a crabbing boat in “The Jaws,” the jetties at the entrance to Yaquina Bay, and mentioned that it did not appear to be making progress. With twelve foot swells, at 13 second intervals, the bar is a bit rough and it seems to me to be a risky place for a boat to turn around, but this is what the crabber did. Maybe it was too rough for them today, but now we had to pass them in a narrow passage with shifting depths. Lieutenant Junior Grade Bart Buesseler mentioned that Rainier’s hull is 16 feet deep and that a 2.5 million dollar piece of multi-beam sonar equipment sits at its lowest point of the hull. This is some of the best mapping equipment in the world. On the bridge, about seven officers and helmsmen maneuvered the ship around the crab boat in the narrow passage. An alarm sounded, signaling a low depth warning. I wondered about the wisdom of placing such expensive equipment in such a vulnerable position. Later I learned that the sonar equipment is protected by a steel shell called a gondola, but also that the equipment must be placed at this deepest location of the hull to maximize smooth sonar transmission and reception. Like the sonar equipment, I feel protected in the capable hands of Rainier crew. As each alarm sounded, several of the six officers moved to a variety of locations on the bridge to collect data about all variables, water depth, the distance to the crab boat, angle and speed of travel, swell and breaking waves. The crabber passed us uneventfully, and within seconds, we had breaking 12 foot waves on both sides. Avoiding hazards as we passed safely though the bar reminded me why accurate nautical charts, based upon reliable data, are necessary tools for all vessels. Gathering the data to create accurate charts is Rainier’s project this season.
After navigating us through the bar, several officers left and Starla Robinson, a senior survey technician joined us on the bridge to make sure we were collecting new information about the ocean depth as we travel north.
Rainier has a Multibeam Sonar System and a Rolls-Royce Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) 200 sound speed acquisition system used to collect large amounts of data and make high resolution maps of the ocean floor. The sonar equipment gathered information represented on two screens on the bridge and multiple screens in the plot room, sending down pings through the water that bounce back up. Based upon the time it takes for the sound to return to the ship, the equipment measures the ocean depth. As a senior survey technician, it is Starla’s duty to coordinate between Field Operations Officer Quintero, “FOO,” and the crew on the bridge to follow a track line measuring ocean depth. She invited me into the plot room where many large computer screens display rainbow colored images of the ocean floor. There were divots in the rainbow image which Starla explains could be thermal vents, and blue dots, which could be schools of fish. Another unexplained change in the ocean floor caught her attention. She market that spot on the chart with a caption, “look later.” She said with a smile it might be a shipwreck that she planned on checking out that evening.
As we travel north on the map, the yellow swaths indicate areas already surveyed. Rainier’s current survey data is represented in black. This surveying is much like mowing the lawn, you want to travel in a track that matches the edge of a previous route and does not overlap significantly. All surveyors and officers spent time focusing on the collection of this data until the afternoon of our second day of travel, when we entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the route is heavily traveled and well surveyed making additional data collection unnecessary.
In the past, ocean depth was measured with a lead line dropped into the water until it hit bottom.
Now, scientists use sonar or sound pings reflecting off the ocean floor, to measure depth much more efficiently. Several years ago, the Rainier crew surveyed an area of the Columbia River Bar in 1 ½ months might have taken 50 years worth of work under the old, lead line methodology. In addition, with the sonar method, scientists see the ocean floor in much greater detail, which no longer appears like dots, but instead comes back in a three dimensional image.
The track line survey on our route north is ancillary to the crew’s primary mission: to collect hydrographic data around Kodiak Island. This map shows where the crew will work this year, collecting depth measurements and reviewing data for accuracy.
I will be telling you more about sheet assignments and the review process later. Then survey technicians and officers file a report which becomes part of a new nautical chart, including areas identified as dangers to navigation.
Every conversation on board seems to include math and science. Johnny Brewer, a junior engineer who helps keep the ship moving forward, spoke of the need for everyone on board to have a good understanding of Algebra and Trigonometry, for anything from mixing paint to ship stability. A half hour later, on the bridge, the officers are discussing trigonometric formulas relevant to the length of anchor line. Many crew spoke of the training, testing and sea days NOAA provides so that crew members continue to develop a broad range of skills and move forward in their careers whether they are Stewards, Engineers, Survey Technicians or Officers. It is clear that math, science, technology and cross training for everyone play an important role in the daily lives of this NOAA crew.
Several crew spoke of the transit as an opportunity for some down time. Yet seeing how the crew multitasks constantly, all day and night, I wonder what the day will look like when we begin our hydro work in Alaska. Okay, maybe there is a little down time: here is a shot of me, Engineer Patrick Price and Starla Robinson, surveying by kayak the nooks and crannies of Canoe Island in the San Juan Islands. DID YOU KNOW? Newer ships hold effluent but because Rainier is a relatively older ship, it has a marine sanitation device (MSD) that separates sodium and chloride, making a chlorine solution from our waste, and sanitizing the effluent for discharge. To learn more about what happens in the MSD, here is a fun chemistry experiment you can try: http://integratedscienceathome.blogspot.com/2011/04/splitting-saltwater.html .
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier April 6 – April 18, 2014
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island Date: March 28, 2014
My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek running past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier. I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!
In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters. Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality. They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.
Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent! I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.
NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on. And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world! NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.” Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts. These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat. Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra
Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?
Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.
I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season. It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!
In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.
Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!