NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29, 2013-August 15, 2013
Weather Data from Newport, OR:
GPS location: 44°38’12.63” N, 124°3’12.46”W
Sky condition: OVC
Air temperature: 10.6°C
Science and Technology Log
During my final days aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier, I began to understand the big picture of all that goes in to hydrographic survey. While we were transiting from the Shumagin Islands back to the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, the scientists invited me to sit in on a survey review meeting. During the meeting I listened as the Commanding Officer (CO), the Chief Survey Technician, the Field Operations Officer (FOO), the sheet manager, and others went over the Descriptive Report for a project that had been completed on a previous leg in Behm Canal. It was interesting to listen to the conversation and actually understand what these researchers were talking about! I felt as though it was appropriate for me to attend this meeting on my final day on the ship, as this truly is the last step for the scientists on board before the chart and attached data are sent off the ship to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch where the data is further processed in order to ensure accuracy of the data. As I have now participated in most parts of the survey process, allow me to show you a step-by-step explanation of hydrographic survey from start to finish.
Step One: Getting to the Survey Location
It takes a dedicated and skilled team to safely navigate the ship to the correct survey location. It is also important that the FOO conducts a survey meeting to review the plan of the leg with the research crew. When I sat in on this survey meeting at the start of the leg the crew discussed what has been accomplished to date, which sheets we would be focusing on during this leg, and any technical issues that needed to be reviewed with the team.
Step Two: Setting up Vertical and Horizontal Control Stations
Before data can be collected, it is necessary to have a reference of where the data is being collected. As I discussed in a previous post, tidal gauges are set-up prior to survey in order to guarantee accurate water depths. The NOAA Ship Rainier is currently setting up a tidal gauge near Cold Bay, Alaska so that they may begin working in their upcoming survey location. You can track the Rainier at http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/
Step Three: Running Shoreline Verification
Before the launches (small boats) are able to get data close to the shore, it is important for the skiff to visually check the shoreline to make sure that there are no major hazards to navigation. The shoreline crew is responsible for marking any dangers, and getting close enough to shore to decide where the sheet limits should be set. These sheet limits dictate how close the shoreline and rock formations are that the launches need to survey.
Step Four: Data Collection on Ship and Launches
This is the time when the hydrographers and ship crew can begin “coloring in the lines” by filling in designated polygons with sonar data. The hydrographers are in charge of determining where the ship or launch needs to be driven in order to gather the required data using navigation software on the ship called HYPACK. They are also responsible for taking Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) measurements in order to apply accurate sound speed profiles to the data. The deck department and the NOAA Corps officers are responsible for following the plan laid out by the hydrographers in order to navigate the ship to gather data. This takes attention to detail, because if the ship goes off course, data is missed for a certain area creating a “holiday”, or a gap in the data. If a holiday is created it means that the crew has to go back and get the missing data later. Nobody likes a holiday as it costs time and money to fix. While data is being collected, the hydrographers are in charge of keeping an acquisition log that is a detailed record of everything that is taking place during a specific survey. The team uses a program called Seafloor Information Systems (SIS) in order to collect the sonar data on the ship. On the launches, HYPACK serves a dual function as the navigation software and the sonar software.
Step Five: Processing and Cleaning the Data
This was one of the most interesting parts of the process as you begin to see the data come to life. The “lines” of data that are collected using the Konsberg sonar unit are brought over to a program called CARIS. Certain correctors such as sound velocity and the predicted tides are added to the data in CARIS as well. While each processing step is being completed, the hydrographer is responsible for making notes in the acquisition log.
Next it is important to “clean” the data. This is done by moving carefully over each line of data to filter out any noise that shouldn’t be there. When the data has been cleaned it can then be added to the project file for the sheet manager. This way the hydrographer that is in charge of that specific sheet of data can see what progress has been made and what steps are still required for the work to be completed.
Step Six: Writing the Descriptive Report (DR) and Conducting a Survey Review
The Descriptive Report (DR) seems to be the most tedious part of the process. This is the report that is included with the sheet when it is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for review and further processing. It thoroughly explains things like the area surveyed, how data was acquired, and results and recommendations. After a DR is thought to be complete, the ship conducts an internal review. This is what I got to sit in on during my last day on the ship. After it has met the expectations of the Chief Survey Technician, the FOO, and the CO, the project can then be sent off the ship to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch before being sent on to the Marine Chart Division (MCD) where the charts are finalized.
Like I said in my previous blog post, the scientific process is not easy. These scientists and crew work tirelessly to ensure that they are producing quality work that can be utilized for safe navigation. I appreciate their efforts, and I want to thank them for their long hours and their attention to detail.
I find myself unable to fully express my gratitude to the crew of the Rainier for my time with them. They allowed me to ask endless questions, they welcomed me into their close-knit community, and they provided me with an experience of a lifetime. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity, and I wanted to be sure to offer my appreciation.
It has been over a week since I’ve been back in Newport, Oregon, and I’ve had a great time reliving my Teacher at Sea (TAS) experience with family, friends, coworkers, and students. While we were transiting from the Shumigans, Christie Reiser, a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician on board gave me an awesome video that she had made with several crew members. The video gives a tour of the Rainier, and I thought it would be a nice to share it on my blog as a way to show people where I spent my 18 days at sea.
Here is the link for the video that Christie made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=59OqG9tB1RU
Just Another Day at the Office
In this section I usually do a detailed interview with one crew member. As this is my last blog post, I wanted to be sure to include all of the other interviews that I had while on the ship. For each of these interviews I have included a snapshot of the conversation that I had with each person. While I wasn’t able to interview everyone on board, I can say for a fact that each person I met had a unique story. I was particularly fascinated by the various pathways that people have taken in order to become part of the Rainier crew. Enjoy!
Did You Know…
The NOAA Teacher at Sea community has created a Did You Know website. Click on the following link to check out an assortment of things you might not have known: http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/dyk/#box23_text
Thank you for following my blog and for sharing this experience with me. Thanks again to the crew of the Rainier for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve learned so much from this experience, and I plan to take the knowledge I’ve gained and pass it along to my students, friends, and community members.
Best wishes to the crew of the Rainier, good luck with the rest of your field season, and happy hydro!
TAS Katie Sard