Bill Lindquist: Petersburg–Completing the Journey, May 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 19, 2013

Weather at port. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 56.8044° N
Longitude: 132.9419° W
Overcast skies with intermittent rain
Wind from the SW at 6 knots
Air temperature 7.2° C

Log: Petersburg: Completing the journey

No Teacher at Sea journey would be complete without immersing oneself in the people whose lives are dependent on that sea. Such an opportunity presented itself as we made port at Petersburg, the town that was “built on fish” (Little Norway Festival Pageant). We pulled into Petersburg during the annual “Little Norway” cultural festival held over Syttende Mai weekend celebrating the signing of Norway’s constitution. Since 1958, Petersburg has celebrated this powerful conjunction of Norwegian heritage and the vital role of fish and the fishing industry.

Alaska's Little Norway

Alaska’s Little Norway

The Little Norway Pageant

The Little Norway Pageant

 

The Little Norway Pageant

The Little Norway Pageant

Like many small towns, the Little Norway festival gathers the community together for a parade, softball tournament, dunk stand, food booths, walk/run, and pancake breakfast. Unlike other towns, Little Norway is graced with music from the Pickled Herring Band, a herring toss (think water balloon toss with fish), fish barbecue, and wandering Vikings willing to raid any party along their way. The closing song at the festival pageant seems to capture the spirit of Petersburg.

The Pickled Herring Band

The Pickled Herring Band

The Little Norway parade included Vikings

The Little Norway parade included Vikings

Humpback salmon emblazoned into the sidewalk

Humpback salmon emblazoned into the sidewalk

I Love Humpback Salmon

I love humpback salmon
Good ol’ humpback salmon
Caught by the Norkse fisherman,

I like shrimp and shellfish
They sure do make a swell dish
I think the halibut is grand!

I don’t like T-bone steak
Cut from a steer in Texas
But give me fish!
And I don’t give a damn
If I do pay taxes! 

I love humpback salmon
Good ol’ humpback salmon
Caught by the Norke fisherman!

Today’s Petersburg brings together the native Alaskan traditions with the heavy Norwegian influence. A pair of towering totem poles on one end of town capture the history and contributions of the Tlingit hunters and fishermen that roamed these parts since over 2000 years ago. Coming into Petersburg we encountered several icebergs calved from the nearby LeConte Glacier. It was the presence of this clean source of ice that led the Norwegian Pioneer, Peter Buschmann to recognize the potential for the use of this ready supply of ice to pack fish and in 1897 started the Icy Strait Packing Company. He went on to add a sawmill and dock, and the town of Petersburg was launched. By 1920, Petersburg had become a town of 600 people and growing – majority of which shared Peter’s Scandinavian descent.

A strong presence of fisheries

A strong presence of fisheries

Everyone fishes

Everyone fishes

Fishing is and has always been a constant presence throughout Petersburg’s history. At one end of town lies the Fisherman’s Memorial Park committed to the memory of those lives “that have been lost at sea and/or spent much of their lives working directly in the fishing industry” (Plaque at the base of the statue of the fisherman). On the other end is Eagle’s Roost Park highlighting the “outlook point for wives awaiting their husbands return from fishing” (plaque at Eagle’s Roost Park). Centered within are the present day canneries and businesses that keep this unique community vital. A plaque honoring a Petersburg pioneer states, “When he taught us to fish; he taught us to appreciate the rewards of patience. When he taught us to row; he taught us the power of perseverance and hard work.” Seems these words have served this community well.

The memorial of the fisherman

The memorial of the fisherman

One gets a picture of the culture of a place by strolling through its shops. Unlike Ketchikan with its cruise line stocked gift shops, the merchants of Petersburg carve their own personal niches into the culture of the community. I have always enjoyed strolling through hardware and grocery stores. They serve as reflections of the life and values of the surrounding community. The Petersburg True Value hardware store shelves are stocked with the necessities of life for this fishing community. Along with nails, screws, and Weber grills you might find in any hardware store, here are rows and rows of waterproof gloves, bib overalls, jackets, flotation gear, rope of all kinds, snaps, and chains that are needed for the boats on their fishing journeys at sea. Along with the groceries one might expect, the Petersburg IGA stocks supplies of hardy Carhartt mariner clothing, washing machines, recliners, and iPhones. Each gift shop in town is unique, serving as markets for locally crafted goods by area artisans. There isn’t a place in Petersburg for the nondescript big box retailers of larger cities. These merchants stock all the supplies necessary to keep the pulse of the lifeblood of this community going. In so doing, they keep alive what makes this community unique. Not unlike the life I experienced on board the Rainier, Petersburg is an island community that has learned to rely on itself for the safety and well-being of all its members.

The festival comes to a conclusion with the annual fish barbecue held at Sandy Beach park. The event centers on all the grilled salmon, black cod and rockfish you can eat – hot off the wood fired barbecue pit. To a Minnesotan so far from the sea, this much seafood all in one spot grilled to perfection was truly a great way to being to a close my time in Petersburg.

The fish barbecue

The fish barbecue

 

Fish on the grill

Fish on the grill

 

Rainier crew enjoying a fish dinner

Rainier crew enjoying a fish dinner

Tomorrow I fly out on what I was told was the milk run, leaving Petersburg for a 34 mile flight to Wrangell, then 83 miles to Ketchikan, on to Seattle, then finally home to Minneapolis/Saint Paul. I leave behind the life and work of the Rainier, the majestic views of the Alaskan landscape, and a glimpse into the quaint Norwegian community that was built on fish. I take with me the memories and stories of my little slice of life at sea, and all insight gained from the deep cognitive stretching obtained at the hands of the mariners, survey technicians, and NOAA Corps on board the Rainier. A special thank you to NOAA and the members of the Rainier community for making this powerful Teacher at Sea adventure possible.

Addendum: Monday, May 20

I met Rob Thomason, the Petersburg school superintendent, at the fish barbecue and was invited to the school for a tour and visit. This morning I took him up on his invitation and was treated to a two-hour tour of Stedman Elementary, Mitkof Middle, and Petersburg High School. The Petersburg schools’ match the charm and close knit community atmosphere of the town itself. During that time I was witness to many of the things that make this school special. Earlier that morning, a high school class had boarded a boat for a trip to a nearby glacier to conduct field studies. Between the schools was a boat the high school shop class had manufactured. Students in an elementary class were making fish prints – painting a fish and pressing a white t-shirt onto its surface. I naively made the comment, “That looks like a real fish.” He smiled and nodded. In the back schoolyard was the construction of a new greenhouse for the schoolyard gardens. We stopped in a culinary arts class and were treated to a plate of freshly made sushi rolls. Both buses are parked in a single garage. Class sizes are in the upper teens/lower 20s. Everywhere I looked, students were engaged in their learning. The taxi driver bringing me to the airport had just picked his kids up at the school. Without hesitation, he shared his opinion that the Petersburg schools were the best in the country. With district NCLB passing rates in the high 80s, perhaps Petersburg Public Schools are on to something – low class sizes, authentic learning experiences, strong community support, stable faculty and staff, and a positive, nurturing learning environment committed to all students. Thanks for the visit.

The Petersburg bus garage. One bus goes north, one south

The Petersburg bus garage. One bus goes north, one south

Bill Lindquist: What Did You Learn? May 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 15, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 56° 03.43 N
Longitude: 131° 6.8 W
Overcast skies with a visibility of 8 nautical miles
Wind variable at 1 knot
Air temperature 10° C
Sea temperature  7.8° C

Log: What did you learn?

I am often asked some variation of the question, “So, what have you learned?” The short answer is “it depends”. The nature of the response lapses into a definition of learning and just what learning entails. If it means gaining sufficient proficiency at a task to independently take it on, I’m not sure I “learned” anything. If rather, learning were to include sufficient exposure to new ideas to be able to have an appreciation for a world previously unexplored; or the ability to carry on a conversation about the work being done on board a hydrographic survey vessel; or the ability to transfer new ideas to the world as I knew it two weeks ago… then I’d have to say I “learned” a tremendous amount.

As my leg of the Rainier’s 2013 fieldwork season begins to wrap up, I find myself reflecting on this learning. Captured below is a list of some of the key learnings I will carry away with me.

  • Leadership. NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s uniformed services. There is a clear command structure on board and everyone on board knows just what it is. Proper clearance must be had before anything goes forward. To accomplish the detail of this work acquiring terabytes of data while keeping all crew members’ safety as top priority requires effective leadership. It has been a pleasure to witness the leadership on board the Rainier effectively finding that delicate balance between maintaining a clear hand on the big ideas of the work and allowing those under them do that work they are charged with and responsible for. Trust is a construct that travels both ways. The crew trusts the leadership to lead, and the leadership trusts the crew to do their work.

    NOAA Rainier Commander Brennan

    CDR Rick Brennan, Commanding Officer, NOAA Ship Rainier

  • Pedagogy of the ship. A significant activity on this ship is focused on teaching.  In part due to a frequent turn around in human resource, in part to the technical features within all aspects of the ship, in part to a commitment to help all crew members advance their skill level and qualifications, and in part because that is simply a part of what they do as members of the Rainier community. I watched as a new crewmember was mentored one-on-one by more senior members in how to manage the anchor, operate the davits, launch the boats, etc. I watched as another crewmember gained skills to qualify as a coxswain – that critical role of assuming responsibility for all maritime aspects of a launch working away from the ship. The NOAA Corps officers are continually being mentored to direct all functions of the ship – dropping and raising the anchor – working with the helm to control the speed and direction of the ship – managing control central for all away parties – etc. The survey techs go back and forth with each other on how to better handle some aspect of data collection or processing. The day begins with a morning meeting to clarify the objectives for the day and review safety concerns. Throughout the day, people come together for collaborative problem solving. The pedagogy I witnessed was one of hands-on; specific, instant, clear and direct feedback; one-on-one; calm; and patient. The community on board is committed to one another. The more skill the individual is able to gain, the smoother sailing for the whole ship.

    The pedagogy of the ship

    The pedagogy of the ship

  • Science is messy. The Rainier is noted as one of the premier hydrographic vessels afloat. Coming in, I carried the misconception that that meant all would proceed according to carefully articulated plans. Turns out variables such as tide, heave, roll, pitch, salinity, temperature, GPS, waves, weather, software, hardware, expertise, knowledge, skill, and all variants of the human condition all work together to create a dynamic environment that necessitates continually fine tuning, tweaking, and responding. The past several days we have been wrestling with the tide gauge not reading what was expected potentially jeopardizing the week’s data. Seems the gauge reads 5 cm off the expected. – we are currently on the way to seek a resolution. What is truly remarkable is that despite all the issues that arise, this project will be successful. The people involved embody the persistence and fortitude to hang in there until everything fits within the prescribed limits of accuracy. We will continue to survey every square meter in the Behm Canal project area, assemble terabytes of data, and confidently submit a Descriptive Report to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch. Meanwhile the Rainier and its crew will be off to begin another project after leaving Petersburg and I head home to finish off the semester and get grades submitted.

    Hydrography at work

    Hydrography at work

  • The ocean is important. I have also carried a misconception that the ocean is so far away from the prairies and woods of Minnesota that it lacked in importance to our lives. I have come to realize the increasing importance of thinking globally with global considerations directly including the ocean that wraps 75% of our planet. Our climate is directly influenced by the impact of the sea. Our economy is dependent on the commercial vessels that carry goods to their destinations. The safety of those vessels are reliant on accurate navigational charts. The waters off Alaska rely on NOAA’s Ships Rainier and Fairweather to conduct hydrographic surveys of the ocean bottom for the creation of those charts.
    Understanding of the ocean are critical to all. Photo Photo source: http://www.noaa.gov/features/resources/

    An understanding of the ocean is critical to all.
    Photo source: http://www.noaa.gov/features/resources/

  • Appreciation of beauty. No matter how common this landscape has become to the mariners on board, how advanced their level of experience, their station on the ship, the amount of salt coursing through the blood, etc., etc., all take time to stop and gaze at the grandeur of Walker Cove, Wrangell Narrows, Punchbowl Cove, spouting of whales, play of the porpoises, sunset, sunrise, misty clouds, etc. etc. It is a majestic world, one that can quickly take away your breath, bring everything to a standstill – to simply gaze. “How would you like this for your office?” the CO had asked me. There is little question it beats the “window” overlooking the BWCAW I made for myself in my otherwise windowless office. Mine has beauty, but lacks life. The loss of this majestic backdrop will dearly be missed.

    Can you ever tire of this?

    Can you ever tire of this?

  • Propellers. The ship’s engine runs at a steady rpm. The speed of the ship is governed by the pitch of the propellers. Thank you Bernoulli.
  • Sea language. There is language that exists on board that I have slowly come to know. A holiday is missing data. A “head” is a toilet. A Cox’n (coxswain) is in charge of the boat and a Bo’sun (boatswain) is in charge of the ship’s equipment and crew. People in charge are Chief – Chief of Engineering, Chief Boatswain, Chief Steward, Chief Hydrographer – they are all called “Chief”. FOO (Field Operations Officer), XO (Executive Officer) and CO (Commanding Officer) are titles. Right now the Rainier even has FOO 1 and FOO 2; XO1 and XO2. The repeat of “Very well” means “Yes, I heard you” and “Aye” – agreed.  We eat at 1700 hours instead of 5:00. You might say “Happy hydro” to someone heading out to survey. The list goes on.

    Davits ready to welcome the launches back to the ship.

    Davits ready to welcome the launches back to the ship.

  • Food. So many had asked, “What will you eat at sea?” with images of canned rations or space food in mind. This community eats well – steak tonight, ribs last night It’s hard to picture going back to my lunchtime staple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Hard work. Being a mariner is hard work. The labor, confines of the ship, and separation from family bring challenge and sacrifice.
  • Salty dawgs. I have a new appreciation of what “salty” means as it applies to the mariner community. Living and working together for extended periods, at times in harsh conditions, and at others with lapses into long contemplative stretches, the conversation and actions aboard the ship, is for lack of any better definition, “salty” indeed.
  • Sharing the salt. While perhaps not quite certain of the role a Teacher at Sea visitor plays within this tight-knit community, all members on board have graciously taken the time to share with me their work – work of which they are deeply invested – and of their life at sea with the salt that flows within their blood.

Tomorrow we arrive in Petersburg, Alaska. I will post again of my experience of the “Little Norway” cultural festival going full steam during our time there. Then it is a departure for home and return to my office at Hamline University. Until then it remains, “Happy hydro.”

Bill Lindquist: Processing Data, May 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 13, 2013

Majestic views

Majestic views

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 56° 02.49 N
Longitude: 131° 6.93 W
Overcast skies with a visibility of 5 nautical miles
Wind variable at 1 knot
Air temperature 9.9° C
Sea temperature  7.2° C

Science and Technology Log: Evening Data Processing

I continue to be struck by the vast amounts of data and processing a hydrographic survey crew takes on as they go about their work. I have sat in the ship’s Plotting Lab as we controlled the multibeam sonar equipment, plotted lines for the bridge to follow, and cast out the MVP “fish” to gather sound velocity data of the water column in the immediate survey area – all while corrections for tidal, GPS and the ship’s heave, pitch, and roll data are being made. I spent a day in a launch as we navigated waters too shallow for the ship activating the launch’s data collection system as it traversed back and forth in its prescribed areas.

Last night, I had the opportunity to “help” with the evening processing of data as the launches return to the ship. “Help” is a loose term – my ignorance of the required technical skills situated me at best an observer. My “partners” (people really doing the work) were gracious enough to let me look over their shoulder as they patiently explained the processes they were following. They allowed me to take control of the computer for a bit to have a hand in the cleaning of data. All this despite confounding computer glitches that seemed to bog down the process. As the work that typically would close out well before 10:00 drew on, I excused myself and allowed the technicians to work unimpeded by a guest looking over their shoulder. Attention to that work continued on into the early hours of the morning.

The data is brought from launch to Plotting Lab on an external hard drive. It is transferred to the central computer housing all the raw data. From there, sound velocity data is brought in allowing algorithms in the software to make appropriate adjustments. Accurate GPS, heave, pitch, and roll data adjustments are made. Tide levels as defined by the tidal gauges installed earlier are accounted and corrected for.

After those data are crunched, a map of the surveyed area is brought up. A small rectangle of data approximately 50 meters by 50 meters is selected and viewed in cross-section.  From this vantage point each point measurement is visible as if you were standing on the seafloor.  Erroneous acoustic returns that are not part of the seafloor are quickly identified and can be flagged so they will not contribute to the final measurements.  Once this small section of the seafloor has been examined, another box immediately adjacent to the first one is opened until the entire survey has been examined. Each data set has a defined level of allowance for uncertainties, eg. at a depth of 300 fathoms 25 cm isn’t significant. Using these allowances, the computer will run a Total Propagated Uncertainties (TPU) analysis report to determine if the data falls within acceptable levels. If so, the data can move forward. These data help create a plan for targets to survey the next day.

This is only the beginning of the data processing to collate and clean major inaccuracies. From there it becomes the responsibility of the sheet (prescribed survey area) manager to further clean and analyze all the data within the sheet. Any areas that contain gaps or inconsistencies are examined to see if they can be resolved within prescribed allowances. Those that remain in question are described in the DR (Descriptive Report), reviewed by the Field Operations Office and Commanding Officer/Chief Scientist on board the ship, and finally submitted to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch. In turn, they review all data and reports, make any changes deemed necessary and send it off to update nautical charts.

As this process can take some time, there are procedures in place in the event a DTON (Danger to Navigation) is found. On this survey we identified a rock projection that projected much higher than the current charts – to that extent that had the Rainier went over it would have hit. DTONs are immediately submitted and updates are sent out that all ships navigating these waters would be alert to it.

By the time the Rainier completes the 2013 field season, it will have acquired massive amounts of data that will go on to assure safe navigation of our ocean waters.

Personal Log

Walker Cove off Behm Canal

Walker Cove off Behm Canal

Majestic views

Majestic views

We took a slight detour yesterday into Walker Cove to witness the grandeur of its majestic fjords. Cliffs climbed straight out of the sea on their way to the sky. Waterfalls cascaded back down its side. I took picture after picture – never quite capturing the experience of seeing it first hand. All members of the crew no matter how much time they have spent in these waters came up to gaze at these sights. There are some things on this earth that carry such beauty no matter how many times you have seen them maintain the power to hold your rapt attention. This was one of those sights.

Majestic views

Majestic views

Majestic views

Majestic views

A favorite place to write this blog is in the ship’s galley. In doing so, I have been gifted by a number of people who have stopped, sat down, and talked about their experiences on board a ship at sea. As much as any official orientations could provide, these conversations continue to present me a great way to help capture an understanding of this life at sea. A ship’s galley seems to be the soul of the ship. It is where people gather – to eat, to take a break, to tell stories, to enjoy each other’s presence.

Bill Lindquist: Emergency Drills & A Foggy Anchor, May 11, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 11, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)

Overcast skies with a visibility of 2 nautical miles
Wind from the south at 10 knots
Air temperature 10.2° C
Sea temperature  7.2° C

The NOAA Ship Rainier in the fog

The NOAA Ship Rainier in the fog

An interesting rock jutting out of the ocean

An interesting rock jutting out of the ocean

Science and Technology Log: Ship Emergency Drills

Maritime vessels like the NOAA Ship Rainier continually prepare themselves for dealing quickly and effectively for any emergency at sea. During our transit to the southern end of Behm Canal, we conducted two emergency drills. Each of these drills served to prepare the Rainier crew for quick response to a state of emergency.

One drill involved the loss of bridge control to steer the ship. A ship floundering at sea presents a real danger to its own crew as well as any vessel near by. The drill involved two situations. If the electronic connection between the bridge and the steerage center of the ship was lost, the engineers make a physical bypass and engage a steering wheel immediately above the rudders. With hydraulic power and telephone support from the bridge, this steering wheel was able to successfully negotiate the required 15° turn in each direction. In the event there is a loss of hydraulic steering support, the ship’s rudders have to be turned manually requiring two people to physically crank the change in rudders – a challenging task. I was able to step in to work one end of the crank – yes, it was hard work.

In an emergency the ship can be steered by this wheel directly above the rudders.

In an emergency the ship can be steered by this wheel directly above the rudders.

In the event hydraulic pressure is lost, the ship can still be controlled by hand cranking the rudders.

In the event hydraulic pressure is lost, the ship can still be controlled by hand cranking the rudders.

The other drill I was able to view was launching the emergency boat used in man overboard situations. There is a specially designed and dedicated for rescue operations. Under the direction of the Chief Boatswain (in charge of all deck operations), the crew practiced dropping the cables serving as a railing, and lowered the boat with the davit (crane unit that lowers boats off the ship), in preparation for getting on board, and powering up. The goal for this is to happen within several minutes. In the event of a real emergency, every passing minute is critical.

The Chief Boatswain going over emergency procedures for getting the emergency boat deployed.

The Chief Boatswain going over emergency procedures for getting the emergency boat deployed.

Deploying the emergency boat.

Deploying the emergency boat.

Related note – in the event the ship were to sink, 10 life rafts in protected cases are positioned around the ship ready to deploy. They are held closed by a latch designed to release as soon as it is immersed in the water. As the case opens, the raft self inflates and rises to the surface. Each raft is capable of carrying up to 25 people. I am again reminded of the lack of an instant 911 response and the necessity that everyone on board is fully prepared to act quickly on behalf of everyone on board. Such as it is with a life at sea.

When immersed in water the valve is set to open and allow the enclosed raft to self inflate and rise to the surface.

When immersed in water the valve is set to open and allow the enclosed raft to self inflate and rise to the surface.

Life rafts will automatically inflate in the event of an emergency

Life rafts will automatically inflate in the event of an emergency

Personal Log – The Clouds Roll In

I have been told countless times the weather we experienced on my first week at sea was not the norm – in fact far from the norm. We were blessed with sunshine and calm seas throughout. Today it came to an end. A heavy bank of clouds with persistent light rain filled the once clear skies. This is the weather people are accustomed to in SE Alaska.

A cloudy entrance to Punchbowl Cove

A cloudy entrance to Punchbowl Cove

Punchbowl Cove off Behm Canal

Punchbowl Cove off Behm Canal

We spent the day in our customary back and forth survey route. Rain gear was the norm for everyone on deck. At the end of the day, our CO (commanding officer) directed us to Punchbowl Cove as a well protected area with ample locations to set anchor. Gliding into the cove was an ethereal experience. The northern shore of the cove rose majestically into graceful curtains of clouds. Clouds separated into layers dancing across the slope providing sprinkled glimpses of the background of the mountains. Cascades of water tumbled from the heights on their way to the sea. The cloudy turn in the weather allowed this magical layer of mystique and fancy that wouldn’t have been present with the sunshine we had earlier.  Perhaps at sea there is no such thing as inclement weather, each day bringing forth its own majesty.

With enough time after anchor, several groups went out by kayak and boat. I enjoyed the opportunity to go with a small group to explore the shoreline. It felt good to get out and walk around and see the sea from the viewpoint of land. We arrived at low tide giving us room to walk about short of the cedars, spruce, and fir that blanketed the forest floor. To the mariner, kelp is so common it is hardly noticed. To a Minnesotan far removed from the sea, the kelp and barnacles covering the exposed rocks in the tidal flats held a level of fascination.

Punchbowl Cove shoreline

Punchbowl Cove shoreline

This cross-section of the earth has an unparalleled majesty and beauty. What a privilege to witness it so close.

Bill Lindquist: The Small Boats, May 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 10, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 55° 47.29’ N; Longitude 130° 58.27’ W

Broken skies with a visibility of 10+ nautical miles
Wind from the west at 15 knots
Air temperature 12.6° C
Sea temperature  8.9° C

Science and Technology Log: The Small Boats

Yesterday the ship captured most of the ocean basin using its multibeam sonar equipment located on the bottom of the ship. Today we set out in smaller launches that could take us to the sections of the ocean the big ship couldn’t. Three teams were deployed, each containing a coxswain (person who has the skills to handle the boat), senior hydrology technician (in charge of the survey work to be done), and several others to help – one boat of which was gracious enough to take along a rookie “Teacher of the Sea” to experience first hand the work involved.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Trying out driving the boat is a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

Trying out driving the boat in a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

We all met on the fantail (rear deck) of the ship at 6:30 AM to go over the work that lays ahead. From there the launches were lowered off the ship, we entered, were released, and off we went. While still in the early morning low tide we examined the shoreline to verify the existence or non-existence of rocks in question from the last survey. We conducted our surveys throughout the rest of the day in areas not able to be accessed by the larger ship. Each launch is also equipped with multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the boat (image) and a plotting computer on board. As with the ship, the computer measures and controls for location (GPS); heave, pitch, and roll; and the temperature and salinity of the water column below our boat.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The work is similar, yet has a different feel. Unlike the automated features on the ship, a control panel allows the surveyor to hand tune variables that will help assure the best measurements. We can control the strength of the sound waves leaving the boat, the frequency of pings, wave length, and the degree of sweep that will be collected. Doing so allows us to maintain sufficient strength to capture tbe bottom, but not so overpowering that we lose the finer details such as the makeup of the bottom. Each boat sets a path back and forth at a speed of 7-10 knots in the sections assigned by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). This is repeated until each section is covered. This takes a concerted and collaborative effort between the coxswain and technicians. When surveying from the ship, the Moving Vessel Profiler’s fish can be cast by the push of a button at the computer in the Plotting lab. Not so on the launch. After bringing the boat to a stop, we lift over the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instrument. We allow it to drop to the bottom before we turn on the winch to reel it back in. It is lifted out and attached to a cable connected to the computer where the data is downloaded.

The CTD sensor unit

The CTD sensor unit

Deploying the CTD

Deploying the CTD

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

Before we get back to the ship, we download the day’s data to an external hard drive and hand it off to another crew that begins the job of cleaning the data to be pieced together with all the other sections of data. We end with one complete picture of the project area.

Life at sea

There are 46 people living and working on board the ship. The launches go out with a smaller group of 4. Spending all day on a small boat with three other people necessitates attention to clear communication channels. The waves continually keep the boat in motion providing a challenge to manipulate the mouse and detail on the computer screen. In between there are many moments of quiet allowing for conversation and banter. It is in those moments you get to know one another better and forge strong relationships. This close community is evident among the crew on board. Such is the allure of sea life.

Sunny days

In anticipation of a trip to SE Alaska, I did a bit of research on what kind of weather to expect. Ketchikan is in a rain forest and noted for being the rainiest city in the United States with an average rainfall of 160 inches a year.  Since my arrival, I have enjoyed sunshine and calm seas. People have assured me how unusual this is and to expect a change. The forecast for tomorrow suggest the change will arrive. Seems to experience life at sea without a bout of inclement weather would not allow full appreciation of the grandeur we have had. I will take them both expecting there will be equal beauty in the rain and clouds.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

Bill Lindquist: Mapping the Ocean, May 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 9, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)

Clear skies with a visibility of 10+ nautical miles
Light variable wind
Sea wave height – O
Air temperature 17.3° C
Water temperature 7.2° C

It's hard to get enough of this majestic view.

It’s hard to get enough of this majestic view.

Science and Technology Log: Mapping the Ocean

The work we do on board the Rainier is all centered on the task of gathering data of the ocean bottom – shoreline to shoreline. These data are used to update the nautical charts (maps) used by sailors. The project we have been working on is a section of Behm Canal in SE Alaska.

Nautical map of Behm Canal

Nautical map of Behm Canal

Hydrographic data on parts of this stretch of water haven’t been updated for over 100 years. The tools and methods utilized have changed significantly during that time. Hydrographers of 1900 lowered a rope tied to a lead weight to the ocean bottom. Measurements were taken on the length of rope. The area we were surveying ranges from 150 to over 300 fathoms (one fathom = 6 feet) deep – that is a lot of rope. At each measure, they sighted a bearing to two or more locations on shore to locate where on the chart they could mark the depth. It’s surprising how closely their data matches what we found with the use of sophisticated modern techniques.

So how is it done? A good activity in the classroom is to make a sounding box with an ocean floor shaped on the bottom of the box. The top is covered and marked with a grid. Skewer sticks can be inserted at the grid corners, pulled out, measured, and transferred to another grid. A map is made. If only it were as easy. Simply put, modern hydrographers ping sound waves (sonar) from the bottom of the ship. The sound waves travel through the water to the ocean bottom and bounce back. We know how fast sound travels so measurements of time can be made and the distance calculated – just like the skewer sticks. If only it were as easy!

See the following website for information on hydrographic survey techniques. http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html

My learning curve has been high as I have tried to understand all the moving variables that need to be taken into account before an accurate map can be made.

Here’s what I am beginning to understand:

  • Starts with referencing benchmarks – both vertical and horizontal (see blog, May 7) to gain a standard of tidal variation (high and low tide can vary by as much as 20 feet) and GPS location.
  • A measurement is made from the ship’s deck to the water surface. The twin sonar beams are located on the bottom of the ship. We know how far it is from the bottom of the ship to the deck – subtracting the deck to the water line gives the distance below the surface the sonar equipment is found at the time of measurement.
  • The chart is marked off in rectangles. A line is marked for the ship to follow. Traveling at 10 knots, the multibeam equipment located on the bottom of the ship pings sound waves and measures how long they take to return from the bottom. A broad swath of ocean bottom can be measured at the same time. These data are transferred to a computer in the plotting lab where the computer archives it and generates visual images as they come in.
  • The speed of sound varies in different water conditions, including temperature and salinity. Making it more complicated, temperature and salinity varies by depth in the water column beneath the ship. To capture these variables, we cast out a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) behind the ship while we travel along. The MVP looks like a small torpedo and is affectionately referred to as the fish. Attached is a sensor that reads temperature, conductivity (a measure for salinity), and depth. These data are transferred along a cable bound within the attached line to a computer on board the ship. “Casting” the fish means letting the line out until the fish approaches the bottom of the ocean – or 500 meters of line – whichever comes first. At that point the fish is retrieved. The data acquired as the fish makes its journey is transferred to the Plotting Lab computer.

    The sensor on the "fish" captures temperature, conductivity, and depth data on the water column beneath the ship.

    The sensor on the “fish” captures temperature, conductivity, and depth data on the water column beneath the ship.

  • As the ship moves along the ocean surface it is subjected to constant movement. It pitches up and down from front to back (pitch), rolls side to side (roll), and rises up and down with the ocean swells (heave). As the survey data is collected, heave, roll, and pitch data is captured to allow for adjustments in the sonar data. All of this varies further with the tide level. All these data are captured and fed into the Plotting Lab computer.

    Data from the ship's multibeam sonar comes to the Platting Lab

    Data from the ship’s multibeam sonar comes to the Plotting Lab

  • The ship travels its projected line, turns around and comes back on another.
  • Small boats with similar beams are dispatched to capture the same measurements closer to the shoreline where it is too shallow for the ship (for tomorrow).
  • This continues until the full ocean bottom in our project area is captured.
  • Finally all these data sets are brought together and stored.
  • During the off season, the data sets are utilized to generate the finished nautical charts ending a long, sophisticated process.

Personal Log: Life on the sea

I have to admit the living spaces on board a working ship are a bit tight. My “state room” measures approximately 10’ x 12’ and is shared with a roommate.  In that space are our bunk beds, a sink, desk, and locker closets. I can’t sit up in bed without hitting my head on the bunk above. Shared between two rooms is a bathroom that is only 4’ x 8’ with a head (mariner’s term for a toilet) and shower. All this space rests on a floor that drops with the curve of the ship approximately 10” from one end to the other. The hallways in the ship are narrow and the stairways steep. Everything is bolted or tied to the floor or table to keep them from being tossed about in choppy waters.

While tight, I have yet to hear anyone wish for more. Perhaps the salt that runs in their mariner blood provides the sustenance they need to thrive in these close quarters at sea.

While my shipmates will call the Rainier home for the duration of the research season, I will be on board for only two weeks before I return to the comforts of my own home and spacious bed.  I have to respect these hardy folk for who they are and all they do.

A cozy state room at sea

A cozy state room at sea

A cozy state room at sea - looking toward the door.

A cozy state room at sea – looking toward the door.

The shared "head" offers the comforts of home.

The shared “head” offers the comforts of home.

A porthole window offers a majestic view.

A porthole window offers a majestic view.

Bill Lindquist: Setting Benchmarks, May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 7, 2013

Weather on Board
15 C
Wind at 7 knots
Clear skies

Science and Technology Log: Setting Benchmarks

Morning briefing

Morning briefing

To conduct accurate surveys of the ocean bottom, clear reference points must first be established. Today, I joined a shore team to permanently set official benchmarks into the rock. Yesterday a team located two existing benchmarks in Burroughs Bay, including one put in place in 1891. A hole had been chiseled into the rock followed by a circle around it and an “X” crossing through the hole from one side of the circle to the other. Above the letters B and M (benchmark) were carved in the rock. Weathering and plant growth provided a challenge. There is something intriguing in the transcendence of time, updating work that was performed over a century ago.

Installing a vertical staff to reference visual measurement with electronic

Installing a vertical staff to reference visual measurement with electronic

To establish a vertical standard, three new brass benchmarks were cemented into rock with the intention of lasting into the next century. All five benchmarks were precisely located to reference elevation to local tidal data acquired through an electronic tidal gauge installed to capture 30 days of high and low tide data. A diving team anchored one end of a line underwater well beyond the reach of low tide. The other end rose on land high enough to be protected from high tide. These tidal data will be referenced to a visual measurement taken every six minutes for three hours from a vertical staff we installed.

A benchmark in the bedrock

A benchmark in the bedrock

Setting benchmarks

Setting benchmarks

Establishing clear elevation references

Establishing clear elevation references

Tomorrow a team will install a horizontal control (horcon). A marker was affixed on an island that would collect location data from Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). GPS data is close, but lacks precision. The variance in GPS data will be referenced to the precise location of the horcon to establish an accurate and stable benchmark for all the survey data we will be making.

This preparation and collection of vertical and horizontal benchmarks all come together to provide referential data utilized in the precise creation of updated nautical charts.

Personal Log: Life at Sea (continued)

I had the good fortune to join the Rainier community on the first leg of the 2013 field season and experience early preparation drills and equipment training. En route from Ketchikan to Behm Canal, ship wide emergency drills were conducted to ensure everyone is fully prepared for a quick response to any situation that might arise. The fire drills I am familiar with is limited to getting all kids safely out of the school building, doing a head count to assure all are accounted for, waiting for the all clear, and bringing them back in. A call is made to the fire dept to respond if necessary.

At sea, the fire department is the community on board the ship. Should an emergency arise, lives depend on the preparedness of every individual on board. Our fire drill was an authentic drill. A fire alarm signaled the bridge there was a fire in the laundry room. The bridge quickly alerted all hands on deck. Everyone reported to pre-assigned stations, head counts were made and reported in. The fire response team got the necessary equipment out and evacuated the smoke (the smoke was real). There was no fire department to call. Our lives depended on our own actions.

Another alarm alerted everyone to a catastrophic problem necessitating a call to abandon ship. All hands quickly grabbed their emergency flotation suits readily available in their state rooms and reported to pre-assigned stations where a head count was made. These suits, specially designed to keep us afloat and dry, were quickly donned. This was one we never had to practice in school.

Potentially dangerous work in remote locations necessitates carefully scripted and practiced safety habits. Teams go out in small boats to conduct any necessary work on shore and survey areas too shallow for the ship. All these teams must remain in radio contact and make hourly reports to the ship’s bridge assuring all are individuals are safely accounted for. Should anything happen, there are Rainier crew members that have received specialized medical training preparing them to respond to medical issues occurring on board.

At sea, lives of all on board are in the hands and actions of all on board. Preparedness is key. I am thankful for that commitment.

Spectacular view

Spectacular view

Did you know?

The speed of the ship is not controlled by changing the speed of the engine. The ship’s engines are most efficient when they can maintain a steady speed (revolutions per minute). Instead, the ship’s speed is changed by altering the pitch of the screws (propellers). As the screw turns in the water a difference in pressure from the front to back is created. This pressure difference creates thrust. The more inclined the blades of the screw are, the faster the ship will travel. There are times during the survey when the ship must come to a full stop. Even then, the propeller shafts continue to spin but rotate in a flat plane resulting in no thrust.