Susy Ellison, So You Want to be a Hydrographer? November 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9 – 26, 2013

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area:  Carbondale, CO
Date:  November 5, 2013 

Weather:  You can go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where the Rainier is and what weather conditions they are experiencing while I am back at school in Glenwood Springs, CO.
GPS Reading: 39o 24,13146 N  107o 12.6711 W
Temp:  -8C
Wind Speed: 0
Barometer: 1026.00 mb
Visibility:  Clear 

Science and Technology Log

How do you become a hydrographer?  After spending 2 ½ weeks aboard the Rainier as a Teacher at Sea, I found that this question had as many answers as the ship had hydrographers.  In fact, if you take time to concatenate the data (obviously, I have become fond of my newest vocabulary word!), you will learn that being a hydrographer is incredibly multi-faceted and is a confluence of ocean-, cartographic-, and computer-based sciences, with some outdoor skills thrown in for good measure. 

Cdr Rick Brennan and some of the hydrographers of the future in Cold Bay, Alaska

Cdr Rick Brennan and some of the hydrographers of the future in Cold Bay, Alaska

The Rainier’s CO, Commander Rick Brennan, finished college with a degree in Civil Engineering.  In 1991, his senior year, he discovered NOAA when a professor suggested he check out the NOAA Corps during a recruiter’s visit to campus. He started as a NOAA Corps member in 1992 and has been involved in hydrographic survey work ever since.  His studies in the NOAA Corps training included coursework on ships, radar, and navigation, and led to his appointment as Commanding Officer (CO) of the NOAA Ship Rude (http://www.moc.noaa.gov/Decomm Ships/ru-index.html). This ship was NOAA’s smallest hydrography vessel at only 90’ long. 

Commander Brennan has seen many changes in hydrography during his career.  First and foremost, has been its evolution as an academic discipline.  The University of New Hampshire, based in Durham, NH, founded the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping in 1999.  Their Joint Hydrographic Center was created through a partnership between the University and NOAA.  (http://ccom.unh.edu/about-ccomjhc, http://www.eos.sr.unh.edu/) Prior to this, hydrography was part of more general courses in oceanography.  Now, you can get a Master’s Degree in Hydrography.

The last 20+ years have also seen significant changes in hydrographic technology, especially in the tools used to map the ocean floor.  Prior to 1994, hydrographic vessels were outfitted with single beam sonar, instead of the multi-beam sonar that is today’s standard.  The single beam only provided bathymetric data at a single position on the seafloor directly below the vessel, while multi-beam sonar can give us high resolution information about the seafloor across a swath of the seafloor stretching several hundred meters to either side of the vessel.  The Rainier, as NOAA’s premier hydrography vessel, was fully outfitted with multi-beam sonar by 1998. Other technological advances have included significant changes in information processing, from the days of paper tape and punch card programming, to the development of  hydrography-specific data analysis programs such as CARIS. 

While data collection capabilities have changed exponentially over the past 20 years, CDR Brennan noted changes in how that data is used.  NOAA has set the industry standard worldwide for collecting hydrographic data.  Departments within NOAA are able to use that data to more than make charts. Fisheries biologists can use the detailed seafloor information in their assessments of ecosystem health and the availability of suitable prey species for all parts of the complex ocean-based food web. Shorelines are dynamic; charting plays a role in establishing baseline data in a changing world. Brennan foresees a future where navigators will view charts using a variety of platforms besides merely lines on paper; this will take educating mariners in how to utilize some of the new electronic tools that are available.

Brennan reflected that, while there have been significant advances in the field of hydrography, there is still much work to do.  NOAA publishes an annual review of its hydrographic survey goals (http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm) .  While this might not sound like the most scintillating of reads, it’s a fascinating look at the enormity of the concept of charting our coastline.  Depending on how you view coastline—is it a smoothed-out line of the coast, does it include all the ins and outs and bays, or does it include all the United States’ navigable coastline extending out 200 nautical miles—one thing is certain, there’s a lot of it.  In Alaska, alone, NOAA has identified 324,465 square nautical miles as Navigationally Significant.  The identified total for all of the United States, including the Caribbean, is 511, 051 square nautical miles.  Alaska is big!  The crew of the Rainier will have plenty of work!

Chief Surveyor Jim Jacobsen at work in the computer lab

Chief Survey Technician Jim Jacobson at work in the computer lab

Chief Survey Technician Jim Jacobson’s favorite area to survey is Southeast Alaska with its varied topography, underwater features, and interesting ports.  He should know, since he’s been a member of the Rainier’s survey crew since 1990.  Jim graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Oceanography—at that time there were no hydrography-specific programs. When he began, a large part of the training consisted of good old, OJT—on the job training, learning new skills as new equipment and techniques became available.  Needless to say, there have been more than a few changes over the past 20+ years.

Jim began his career before GPS was a part of hydrographic survey.  Setting benchmarks to establish sea levels was done using transits and theodolites, triangulating from known points on land to establish location and elevation on shore.  Information was transmitted using microwave towers that were erected on site.  Fast forward to 2013, where GPS is part of everyone’s vocabulary and the ability to know ‘exactly’ where you are is often in the palm of your hand.  The Rainier’s tide gauge stations are set using GPS units that can identify location and elevation to within centimeters.

He also began his career using single beam sonar, instead of today’s multi-beam.  While single beam doesn’t have the pinpoint accuracy that multi-beam sonar might offer, there were a few advantages.  It was a faster way to collect data, since you weren’t collecting as much information with each ‘ping’.  Thus, you could complete more ‘sheets’ (an identified area for mapping) during your time at sea.

Hydrographic survey techniques have changed over time.

Hydrographic survey techniques have changed over time.
http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html

There have been incredible advances in data analysis since Jim started on the Rainier.  Data collected each day has become more complex, requiring more hours of ‘cleaning’ to remove extraneous pings and information.  Hydrographers use increasingly complex computer software to produce charts, often spending up to 5 hours to process one hour’s data.

What’s next?  Jim imagines a future with underwater mapping done by ROVs, remotely operated vehicles, cruising the seafloor to send back terabytes of information.  ROVs are already used in a variety of information-gathering capacities, sending back high-quality video of seafloor conditions, information on water chemistry, or video of marine life from far below the surface.

Here's what hasn't changed--hydrographers work in all sorts of weather and ocean conditions!

Here’s what hasn’t changed–hydrographers work in all sorts of weather and ocean conditions!

Christi Reiser didn’t start out planning to be a hydrographer.  She has, perhaps, the most diverse resume of any of the survey team.  Christi is currently a college student, and will be receiving her BA in Geography from the University of Colorado, Denver at the end of this year.  Her hydrography career began in May, 2012 when she was hired as an intern on the Rainier, earning college credit while working for NOAA.

Christi Reiser

Christi Reiser

Since high school, Christi has earned an Associate’s Degree in Business, was employed as a saddle maker in Austria, and worked for an oil company as a mapping technician.  While all of those pathways gave her something to ponder, it was the GIS part of her mapping job that really ignited the fire that sent her back to college to pursue a degree in Geography with a focus on GIS and a minor in Environmental Science.  To further stoke that fire, Christi worked to design and pursue an internship experience that would allow her to ‘test drive’ a career combining GIS, hydrography, and life on the high seas.  Through a combination of motivation, Google-based searching, a diverse and applicable set of educational and experiential skills, and the courage to make some phone calls and take a few risks, Christi ended up on the Rainier, working as a paid intern. How cool is that?  She earns college credit, gains expertise working with challenging software and data acquisition programs and equipment, charts the uncharted ocean floor, and sees parts of Alaska that aren’t on the usual tourist’s destination list.  One of her projects during her first season on the Rainier was the creation of an online blog describing her work.  You can check it out at http://rainierinternship.blogspot.com/

Through her internship Christi has found that NOAA is one of the most education-oriented organizations she has worked for, constantly providing opportunities to learn new skills and information. She is excited to be working in a GIS-based field and considers it to be one that is ‘never-ending’, since only 4% of the sea floor has been mapped!  After graduation, her next step may be a Master’s Degree in Geography, to add more science research experience to her knowledge base.  After that?  Well, all I can say is that Christi plans to create a new job that “doesn’t even exist”.  Stay tuned.

So, the next time you’re talking to your guidance counselor about college plans, or wondering what you might want to be when and if you grow up, consider the field of hydrography.  Where else do you get to wear a life jacket to work?

Field Operations Officer  (FOO)Meghan McGovern  goes over the Plan of the Day

Field Operations Officer (FOO)Meghan McGovern goes over the Plan of the Day.  Where else do you get to wear a life jacket to work?

Personal Log

Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, it’s time to reflect on my Teacher at Sea experience.  I’ve been asked, more than once, “Did it meet my expectations”?  That’s an easy question to answer—the answer is “No, it exceeded my expectations!”  I came away from my time on the high seas with much more than just knowledge of the complexities of seafloor mapping.  As a firm believer in the concept that ‘everything is interesting’, it would be hard to point to any aspect of my trip that wasn’t something fun and interesting to learn!

The science of hydrography is amazing.  Just thinking about mapping something that you can’t actually see is an incredible concept.  I have always been fascinated with maps and the process of creating a map, but I look at those maps a little differently now, going beyond the story the map tells to thinking about how that map was made. The science of mapping has undergone many changes since those first sailors with their lead lines creating maps of harbors and shorelines.  In case you’re still wondering why hydrography and the Rainier’s mission is so important, check out this clip from a PBS special that aired in September–http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/climate-change/july-dec13/arctic_09-17.html

The teamwork, efficiency, and camaraderie on the ship were a common thread uniting each day’s activities.  Each crew member played a role in the success of the ship’s mapping mission. It took everyone from the engine room to the bridge to keep it all ‘shipshape’.  There was really no job too small—everything and everyone had a necessary role. I especially appreciated the fact that every crew member was willing to answer the myriad questions I had;  from specific questions about their job to questions about  how they ended up on the Rainier.

rainbow cb1

Perhaps we should have used some of our sonar capabilities to search for the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow!

At the end of my Teacher at Sea experience I have to conclude that NOAA is one of our country’s best kept secrets.  What other federal agency can bring you such treats as the daily weather report or tide predictions for an entire year, monitor fisheries along our coastal areas, keep track of our changing climate, or survey marine mammals? Of course, you shouldn’t forget all those nautical charts produced by the hydrographers on the Rainier. NOAA’s webpage says it all (http://www.noaa.gov/); from the ocean floor to the top of our atmosphere—and everything in-between. In a world with a rapidly changing climate I can’t think of an agency that is doing more important work.

Many thanks to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing me with this incredible learning experience.

Even the plates have the NOAA logo!!

Even the plates have the NOAA logo!!

Susy Ellison, Aaargh Matey, How’s Your Number Sense? September 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area:  Cold Bay, Alaska
Date:  September 22, 2013   

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge
GPS Location: 55o 15.190’ N   162o 38.035’ W
Temp: 8.6C
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Barometer: 1008.3mb
Visibility: 10 miles

You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing.

If you want a detailed report of weather in our area, check out this link and hover over Cold Bay: http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/index.php?index=bering   

Science and Technology Log

THE FINE ART OF STARING AT A STICK!

Why am I sitting here?  What am I looking at?

Why am I sitting here? What’s out there?

 What would you think if you saw someone bundled in warm clothing, sitting in an office chair on a pier with a pair of binoculars, a watch, and a clipboard?  Are they counting waves? Counting birds?  Keeping track of the clouds or the wind speed?  In my case it was ‘none of the above’; I was watching a measuring stick, taking measurements every 6 minutes over a period of 3 hours.  Why would anyone want to sit in a chair on a pier and stare at a stick for 3 hours?

The answer, of course, is science! Now, this wasn’t just any sort of stick.  This tide staff was attached to an automatic tide gauge that the crew of the Rainier installed during their last visit to Cold Bay in August.  That gauge has been recording tidal data that is used during their hydrographic survey work.  But, as with any automatic data-gathering device, it is critical to field check its accuracy, both in measuring and reporting the data.  The gauge measures the depth of the water column at 6-minute intervals, using the pressure of the water column as a proxy for that depth (deeper water exerts a greater pressure on the subsurface opening of the gauge—for a more in-depth explanation, you can check out my blog from September 13th).  My job was to stare at the staff for a period of 1 minute every 6 minutes, and determine both the highest and lowest height of the water lapping at the markings on the stick.

This might sound easy, but it wasn’t quite so simple.  The wind was howling and the waves were bouncing—it took a little practice to make what I hoped was an accurate estimate of both the high mark and the low.  After each observation period I recorded these numbers on a spreadsheet and then spent the next few minutes watching the birds that were flying and landing on the water.  Then—back to the stick!  The tide was dropping with each observation and the winds died down enough to make it a little easier to read the high and low points on each successive 6 minute interval.  By the 10th observation I had it figured out!

NOAA Corps ENS Clark demonstrates proper form for tide gauge observation.

NOAA Corps ENS Clark demonstrates proper form for tide gauge observation.

Picture trying to read this from far away as the water bounces up and down the staff.

Picture trying to read this from far away as the water bounces up and down the staff.

The data I collected was matched against data from the tide gauge for that same time period.  I was pleased to see that my observations matched those of the gauge.  Apparently, both of ‘us’ are good observers of tidal changes.  Now I have one more skill to add to my resume!!

This graph compares my observations with that of the tide gauge.  What do we observe vs. what does a computer measure?

This graph compares my observations with that of the tide gauge. What do we observe vs. what does a computer measure?

AAARGH, MATEY—HOW’S YOUR NUMBER SENSE?   APPLIED MATH ON THE HIGH SEAS  

It would be hard to find an aspect of life aboard the Rainier that doesn’t involve number sense or math.  This ship’s daily operations run like clockwork; breakfast from 0700-0800, Safety Meeting and deployment of the launches at 0800, lunch from 1130 to 1230, launches return at 1630, dinner from 1700 to 1800, etc.  Pretty simple numbers to deal with, but numbers, nonetheless.

That’s just the start of your applied math tour of the high seas. Maybe you have to figure out how much diesel fuel the ship has onboard.  Since the Rainier uses 20,000-40,000 gallons for each leg of its cruise, it would be pretty horrible to run out before you reached port.  The ship’s tanks can hold around 100,000 gallons of diesel and are usually filled to within 95% of that.  Unlike your car, there’s no fuel gauge on this ship.  So how do you figure out how much fuel is in the tank?  It’s time for some simple, yet essential math. First, you need to know the volume of the fuel tank.   Get out your math books and find that formula.  Then, you take what is called a ‘sounding’—you bang on the tank to determine the level of fuel.  Not too complicated, but certainly a skill that takes some practice.  So, now you know the total volume of the tank as well as the actual height of your fuel; if you figure out the volumes for each and do some subtraction, you can find out what percentage of your total fuel is still in the tank.

We might all be better at determining volume and percent if we had images of a fuel tank on the dashboards of our cars instead of a linear gauge reading ‘E’ to ‘F’! What about drinking water?  The Rainier uses a distillation system to create fresh water from seawater.  There are tanks down in the engine room where seawater is heated to the boiling point.  There’s a little more math and science in this process—the pressure in the distillation tank is lowered, to lower the boiling point (if you’ve ever camped at a high elevation you might notice that water boils at a lower temperature—your tea might not be quite as hot when it’s boiling) so the water doesn’t have to be heated quite so much to get it to boil.  This steam is captured in the upper portion of the distiller and cooled using cold seawater that flows through pipes.  The condensation from cooling is captured, filtered to remove any impurities, and distributed as fresh water to all onboard.  The ship uses around 2500 gallons of water each day.

Here's where all our fresh water is produced.  This distiller takes in seawater and, through boiling and condensation, produces fresh water.

Here’s where all our fresh water is produced. This distiller takes in seawater and, through boiling and condensation, produces fresh water.

If you’re running the galley it’s essential to calculate how much food you’ll need for each leg of the trip.  No one wants to do without their morning eggs if your multiplication is off and you ‘forget’ to buy a few dozen.  Taking a recipe that is designed to feed 8 people and ‘upsizing’ it for 48 people takes a bit of mathematical manipulation.  Just planning a menu for a three-week journey takes some mathematical thinking as you visualize the weeks, days, meals, and individual ingredients needed for those meals.  You have to factor in a few variables; which foods have the longest shelf life, when do you have to switch from fresh to frozen or to canned foods, how much food does the ‘average’ person eat, and what about all those people with food allergies or preferences?  While this might not sound quite as earth-shattering as using a detailed computer program to concatenate multiple data files, this is math that counts—especially when you’re feeding a boatload of hungry crew.

This is a glimpse of some of the supplies stored on the ship.

This is a glimpse of some of the supplies stored on the ship.

Don't forget to buy enough fruit and vegies!

Don’t forget to buy enough fruit and vegies!

Hmmm, what's in the freezer?

Hmmm, what’s in the freezer?

So now it’s time to consider the math used to pilot the ship.  Think about degrees in a compass bearing and the need to do some rapid mental math as you’re steering a 231-foot ship through some very tight spaces.  Quick—take a course of 340o, now look ahead and get ready to change your bearing to 28oRainier’s draft (how deep it sits in the water) is around 16’.  Will the channel be deep enough?  What if you’re traveling in a supertanker, one that might be over 400’ in diameter and have a draft up to 80’ deep?  If your ship is that big, you need to scale up on your mental math calculations as you’re searching out appropriate harbors and routes! What about tying up the ship when we’re in harbor? Did you remember to learn something about vectors before you stopped taking math classes?

When we were at port in Cold Bay, the winds were expected to increase in strength and to shift so that they would be coming out of the west.  Since the pier was oriented perpendicular to the predicted wind direction, our Chief Bo’ sun, Jim Kruger had to do some mental calculations of the angles needed to secure the ship to the pier and keep it from bouncing too much.  He doubled and even tripled some of the lines, taking into account how the winds might move the ship as well as the strength of each line.  It takes some stout lines to hold this ship; each 300 ft. line is 1” in diameter and has a tensile (breaking) strength of 164,000 lbs.    Vector angles were equally important as we pulled away from the pier in a 50-knot wind.  Just pulling up our gangway with a crane required some careful mental calculations of where to place lines to steady it as it rose through the air and was lifted onboard. If your mental math and visualization skills were wrong, you might be rewarded with a wildly swinging piece of metal.

Double (and triple) up the lines holding the ship to the pier.  Make sure the angles are right.

Double (and triple) up the lines holding the ship to the pier. Make sure the angles are right.

Hang tight to the gangway as it swings onboard.  Make sure you're holding it at the correct angle to compensate for the wind.

Hang tight to the gangway as it swings onboard. Make sure you’re holding it at the correct angle to compensate for the wind.

Strong winds--this digital anemometer records current wind speed in knots as well as the highest gust.

Strong winds–this digital anemometer records current wind speed in knots as well as the highest gust.

How about all that hydrographic data collection; there’s plenty of opportunity there for some pretty extreme mathematical calculations.  You might even wish you had taken a class in calculus—or a few classes!  But there are also plenty of times that some basic number sense and arithmetic come in mighty handy.  As I sat on the pier watching the tide gauge, one of the tasks I had to do was to calculate the average between high and low water marks on the tide staff.  Not such hard math, but it’s a good skill to be able to do averages in your head while your hands are getting cold and the wind is howling.  The tide gauge calculations were referenced to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This has been our world standard since 1972, and is referenced to the 0o meridian at Greenwich, England.  It is precisely measured using an atomic clock.  You might also hear it referred to as Zulu Time.  Even airplanes use this time designation.  This way, there is no ambiguity about whether you are in daylight savings or standard time, or your time zone.  When measuring tides or collecting information about water chemistry using the CTD, or calculating the launch’s daily gyrations, it is important to reference everything to the same time standard.  Since the Rainier is on RST (Rainier Standard Time), the calculation gets even more important because we are in the Alaska time zone, but have set our clocks back one more hour to give us more daylight working hours).

What's your time zone?  GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time.  It is also the UTC time standard we use.

What’s your time zone? GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time. It is also the UTC time standard we use.

Just in case your brain hasn’t been addled by all this talk of mathematics, there’s one more concept that might come in handy here on the high seas—a sine wave.  Huh?  Sine waves are a mathematical curve describing smooth repetitive oscillations.  Like…tides, sonar pulses, sunrise/sunset observations, or the music booming out of your iPod.

Tide charts show a predictable, repeatable sine wave pattern.

Tide charts show a predictable, repeatable sine wave pattern.

I even use math to calculate how long I should run on the elliptical trainer down in the ship’s exercise space.  If I set the resistance to 8, and use a cross training setting, it takes around 35 minutes to ‘run’ the equivalent of one slice of cake!

Here's some of the exercise equipment on the ship.

Here’s some of the exercise equipment on the ship.

35 minutes or one slice of pie--whichever comes first!

35 minutes or one slice of pie–whichever comes first!

Just in case you haven’t gotten the message—math is good.  Number sense is critical—even if you want to run off to sea!

Personal Log

IT’S A FIELD TRIP!!

The entire Cold Bay School fits into this truck!

The entire Cold Bay School fits into this truck!

I love a field trip.  There’s nothing like loading up in the bus and taking off in search of the great unknown.  While we were parked at the Cold Bay pier, we had a visit from the Cold Bay School.  The 8 students, plus their teacher and a classroom aide, came to check out the Rainier.  CO Rick Brennan gave them a tour, starting at the bridge, and ending with lunch in the wardroom.  Along the way, they learned about ships and ship life, NOAA, and the science of hydrography. Lunch was a real hit, since the kids all bring their own lunches to school.  Who wouldn’t like halibut tacos with all the fixings from the galley, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich handmade by Commander Rick Brennan with a fresh cookie for dessert?

Cold Bay students check out some of the ship's BIG tools.

Cold Bay students check out some of the ship’s BIG tools.

I tagged along on the tour to talk with some of the kids and their teacher and to compare notes about schools.  While I always think of my school as small, with only 150 students, the school in Cold Bay is really small.  There are 8 students and they represent grades 1 through 7.  While the school is small, each student uses an iPad to access a wide variety of educational resources. It’s even better when that technology-based learning is supplemented by some hands-on field trip-based learning.  This was their second field trip of the week; they had spent a day with a wildlife biologist helping install a motion-sensitive camera in the Izembek Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/izembek/index.htm).

Future hydrographers head back to school.

Future hydrographers head back to school.

SAFETY FIRST

Where I live, in Colorado, we occasionally get snow days, when the roads are too dangerous to transport children to school.  Here at sea, we don’t worry too much about snow, but wind can create hazardous working conditions.  Yesterday we had what I would call a ‘Wind Day’; none of the survey launches went out.  The winds were gusting up to 50 knots, and were fairly steady at 30 knots.  That’s windy.  The surface of the bay was a froth of water, waves, and whitecaps.  Even the Black-legged Kittiwakes were having trouble flying!

Whitecaps all across the bay.  Definitely NOT a day to survey the sea floor.

Whitecaps all across the bay. Definitely NOT a day to survey the sea floor.

Certainly not the sort of day where you want to send out teams of hydrographers in 28 foot long launches.  While safety is paramount, data quality also suffers in such ‘bouncy’ seas.  As the launch bounces from side to side or from front to back, the sonar sends its pings far afield.  It becomes difficult or impossible to drive straight, overlapping lines as you ‘mow the lawn’ through your polygon (Wait, there’s another math term!) , and turning the craft requires timing and skill as you move through the rolling seas.  As the Rainier nears the end of its time at sea and in Cold Bay, each day becomes critical to achieve its charting goals—but there’s plenty of work to do on board on a day like this.  

   

Susy Ellison, From Dragons to Data – Mapping Our World, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 18, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge

You can also go the NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing.

GPS coordinates: 55o  12.442’ N  162o 41.735’ W
Temp:  9.6C
Wind Speed:  20.3 kts
Barometer: 994.01mb
Visibility:  grey skies, foggy

Science and Technology Log

WHERE ARE WE? HOW DO WE KNOW?

As we float about all day collecting gigabytes of data to turn into charts, there’s ample time to reflect on the art and science of cartography, or map making.  To me, maps are an elegant means for transforming the 3-dimensional landscape around us into a 2-dimensional story of our world using lines and points, geometric shapes, numbers, and a variety of colors and shadings.  It’s science, technology, engineering, math, and, as always, a bit of magic! It’s quite amazing to think about the changes in mapmaking and our expectations for information from the first hand-drawn lines on small pieces of clay or in the dirt to the concatenated gigabytes of today.

Consider some of the earliest maps that have been found.  Archaeologists have unearthed clay tablets in Babylonia that date back to 600 BC.  These hand-sized clay tablets were simple line representations of local geography.  Roman maps from around 350BC were utilized to provide information to conquering armies.  Where were they heading; which villages were going to be conquered today?

This is one of the earliest known maps.  It is a clay tablet from Babylonia. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/m/map_of_the_world.aspx

This is one of the earliest known maps. It is a clay tablet from Babylonia.

2peutinger map

Romans used maps to identify villages and towns along the routes of conquering armies.
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?group=pre-1600

3paleolithic map

Here’s an early map drawn on stone.

The earliest maps were, both literally and figuratively, flat;  they were a 2 dimensional image of a world that was believed to be flat.  That changed in 240 BC when Eratosthenes, who believed the earth to be a sphere, calculated earth’s diameter by comparing the length of noontime shadows at distant sites.  No advanced computing power was used for this calculation!  Once geographers and cartographers were united in their use of a spherical representation of the earth, the next challenge was how to project that spherical surface onto a flat page.  Ptolemy, sometime around 100 AD figured this out.  He went a step further, assigning grid coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the maps to use as identifiers.  His latitude lines, rather than expressed as degrees from the equator, were categorized by the length of the longest day—not such a bad proxy for degrees north and south and certainly an obvious change as you head north or south.  Longitude, instead of referencing the Greenwich Meridian as 0o, was set at 0 at the westernmost point that he knew.  Much of his work was not used until it was rediscovered by monks poring through manuscripts in the 1300s.  One monk was able to use the coordinates in these manuscripts to create graphic representations (maps!) of Ptolemy’s concepts.  These were printed in 1477 as a map collection known as Geographia.  It is almost mind-boggling to consider the efforts that went into this volume from its initial intellectual conception, to its rediscovery, to using some of the first printing presses to make multiple copies that were used to plan and guide some of our most amazing voyages of discovery.  Ptolemy’s concepts were further refined when Gerardus Mercator  invented a cylindrical projection representing globe on a map’s flat surface.  Each refinement both changed and enhanced our view of the planet.

Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg

Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg

 THERE MAY BE DRAGONS

Sailors set forth with maps using these concepts for many years, seeking out new lands and new wealth for the countries they represented.  As they returned with new discoveries of continents, cultures, and meteorological conditions, they were able to replace some of the ‘dragons’ on maps with real information and add new layers of information on top of the positions of continents and oceans—an early sort of GIS (geographic information systems) process!  In 1686, Edmond Halley created a map that incorporated the prevailing winds atop a geographical map of the world.  A new layer of information that told a critical story.  For a sailor navigating using the wind, the story this map told was incredibly useful.   Further layers were placed on the surface geography as Johann Friedrich von Carpenter created the first geological map in 1778.  This map included information about what was under the surface, including soils and minerals.

Halley's map included information about global wind patterns.  Pretty important if you're on a sailboat navigating around the world!

Halley’s map included information about global wind patterns. Pretty important if you’re on a sailboat navigating around the world!

The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733

The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733

To me, perhaps one of the fundamental changes in how we represented the earth came in 1782, when the first topographic map was created.  Marcellin du Carla-Boniface added still more layers of information to our ‘flat’ surface, including contour lines that were like slices of the landscape whose spacing indicated the slope of the feature.  Suddenly, we were going from a 3-dimensional world, to a 2-dimensional image, and back to a system of symbols to represent that third dimension.  More data, more layers, more information on that one sheet held in your hand, and a more detailed ‘story’ of the landscape.  Each cartographical and technological advance has enabled us to put more information, with increasing accuracy, upon our maps.  Go one step further with this and click on Google Earth.  A 3-dimensional view on a 2-dimensional screen of 3-dimensional data. Go one more step as you use your smartphone to display a 2-dimensional image taken from a 3-dimensional Google Earth view, made using layers of information applied to a flat map image.  It’s a bit more sophisticated than the original flat clay tablet—but it basically ‘tells’ you how to get from here to there. While the complexity of our world has not actually increased, the stories we are telling about our planet have increased exponentially, as has our ability for combining datum from a variety of sources into one, tidy little package.

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS

THERE MAY BE DATA!

With each new technique and layer of information our ability to tell detailed stories with maps has improved.  We can add data to our maps using colors—just look at a modern colorful weather map in USA Today if you want to see an example of this.  Early cartographers used colors and shading to depict disease outbreaks or population numbers.  Here on the Rainier, we use color variations to show relative depth as we survey the ocean floor. The final charts have lines to denote depth changes, just as lines on a land-based topographic map show changes in elevation.

So, you might be asking yourself at this point, ‘How does a history of mapping relate to mapping the coastline in SW Alaska?’ Why are we currently anchored out here near Cold Bay, Alaska?  NOAA had its beginnings in 1807 when the first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast, was established.  Since then, NOAA’s mission has broadened to include the following “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.”  We are here as part of that mission, working through their National Ocean Service.   You might not realize it, but almost every imported item you buy spent some part of its life on a ship.  While Alaska’s coastline may seem a trifle remote, if you check out a map you might notice that it’s almost a straight shot from some of the ports in Asia to the west coast of the US.

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area

A Google Earth image of Cold Bay

A Google Earth image of Cold Bay

Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes.  See how many pass near SW Alaska.

Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes. See how many pass near SW Alaska.

The Alaska Maritime Ferry also passes through these coastal areas on its way to towns and villages.  While these areas are, indeed, remote, they are united by a common coastline.  The Rainier, in over 40 years of ‘pinging’ its way northward each season from Washington and Oregon, has mapped this coastline.  That, to me, is an amazing feat!

Think of where we’ve come in our ability to tell stories about our landscape and how the intersection of all those stories has played a part in creating the world in which we live.  I, for one, still delight in the most simple of maps, drawn on a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin, showing someone how to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’.  Those maps are personal, and include the layers of information that I think are important (turn left at this house, turn right at that hill, go 2 miles, etc) and that tell the story I want to tell.  We now have the ability to add endless layers to our mapping stories, concatenating ever more data to tell an amazingly precise version.  In spite of this sophistication I hope there’s still a few dragons left out there!

There still may be some dragons out there!!

There still may be some dragons out there!!

If you want to know more, here’s some of the websites I looked at while researching this information:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/#1

http://www.noaa.gov/

http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/

http://specialprojects.nos.noaa.gov/welcome.html

http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?page=introduction

 For a great cartographic mystery, check out this book:

The Island of Lost Maps;  A True Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey

Personal Log

Today’s blog blends the scientific with the personal.  Maps are both of these things; a way to categorize and document our planet in a methodical, reasoned, repeatable, and scientific manner, and a way to personalize our planet to tell a story that we want to tell.  Cool stuff to think about as we drive back and forth across our little polygon here in Cold Bay.  It puts our work into perspective and creates both a sense of its importance and its relevance to describing a piece of our planet.  Hmmmm, in my next lifetime maybe I should be a hydrographer……

Student Driver!

Student Driver!

driving 2

I might need to fine tune my driving skills before anyone really lets me be a hydrographer. Those white gaps are ‘holidays’–no data was collected. 

Susy Ellison, A Hydrographic Wonderland, September 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 13, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge
You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing
GPS Reading:  55o 15.037’ N  162o 38.025’ W
Temp: 10.44C
Wind Speed: 9.8 kts
Barometer: 1021.21 mb
Visibility:  foggy on shore

Science and Technology Log

Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland.  Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated.  Think about it.  If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane.  You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?).  Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it.   Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day.  If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion.  OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes?  Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it.  It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind).

How do you know what's down there?

How do you know what’s down there?

Challenge number one—how do you measure something you can’t see or touch with your own hands?  Long ago, sailors solved that obstacle by using a lead line; literally, a line with a lead weight attached to the end.  They would drop the weighted line over the side of their ship to measure the depth.  These soundings would be repeated to get enough data to provide a view of the bottom.  This information was added to their maps along with estimates of the horizontal aspects (shoreline features and distance from the shoreline) to create reasonably good charts that kept them off most of the underwater obstacles. A simple solution to a complex problem.  No electricity required, no advanced degrees in computer science needed, no calculus-based physics necessary.  Fast- forward to 2013 and the world of complex calculations made possible by a variety of computer-based algorithmic calculations (i.e. some darn fancy computing power that does the math for you). The NOAA Ship Rainier’s hydrographers use sound as their lead line, traveling in small boats known as launches that are equipped with multibeam sonar that send a series of sound ‘pings’ to the ocean floor and measures the time between sending and receiving the ping back after its trip to the bottom.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  If it were all that simple I wouldn’t be typing this in a room on the Rainier filled with 20 computer monitors, 10 hard drives, and all sorts of other humming and whirring electronic devices.  Not only that, each launch is equipped with its own impressive array of computer hardware.

One of the launches is lowered from the ship.

One of the launches is lowered from the ship.

So far on our survey days 2 launches have been sent out to cover identified transects.  Their onboard crew includes a coxswain (boat driver), as well as 2-3 survey technicians and assistants. Each launch is assigned a polygon to survey for the day.

EVERY PING YOU TAKE…

Once they arrive at their assigned area, it’s time to ‘mow the lawn’—traverse back and forth systematically collecting data from one edge of your assigned polygon to the other until the entire area has been surveyed. Just in case you haven’t realized it yet, although that sounds pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Is the area shallow or deep?  Depth affects how much area each traverse can cover; the sonar spreads out as it goes downward sending it’s little pings scampering to the ocean floor. Visualize an inverted ‘V’ of pings racing away from the sonar towards the sea floor. If it’s deep, the pings travel further before being bounced back upwards.  This means that the width of each row the sonar cuts as it “mows the lawn” is wider in deeper water, and narrower in shallow.  Shallower areas require more passes with the launch, since each pass covers a more limited area than it might if the water were deeper.  As the launch motors back and forth ‘mowing the lawn’, the sonar  signature is recorded and displayed on monitors in the cabin area and in front of the driver.  Ideally, each lap overlaps the previous one by 25-50%, so that good coverage is ensured.  This requires a steady hand and expert driving skills as you motor along either over or parallel to ocean swells.  All you video gamers out there, take note–add boat driving to the repertoire of skills you might need if you want to find a job that incorporates video gaming with science!

sonar screen

One of the monitors displays the sonar. The green line is the seafloor. This image shows that the deeper the sea, the wider the swath that is covered with each pass of the launch.

Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch.  It's an art to 'mow' in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the coean's surface.

Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch. It’s an art to ‘mow’ in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the ocean’s surface.

Here’s a small list of some of the variables that need to be considered when using sonar to calculate depth; the chemistry of the water column through which you are measuring, the variability of the water column’s depth at specific times of day, the general depth (is it shallow or deep), and the movement of the measuring device itself.  So many variables!!

Starla Robinson and Randy Shingeldecker monitor our progress on the launch's computer monitors.

Starla Robinson and Randy Shingledecker set up the program that will enable them to monitor our progress

HOW FAST DOES SOUND TRAVEL?

When you’re basing your charts on how sound travels through the water column, you need to look at the specific characteristics of that water.  In a ‘perfect world’, sound travels at 1500m/second through water.  In our real world, that speed is affected by salinity (the concentration of salts), temperature, and depth (water pressure).  The survey crew uses a CTD meter to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The CTD meter is deployed multiple times during the day to obtain data on these parameters.  It is attached to a line on the rear of the launch, dropped into the water just below the surface for 2 minutes, and then lowered to near the ocean floor to collect data.  After retrieval, it’s hooked to the computer on the launch to download the data that was collected.  That data is stored in its own file to use when the data is reviewed in the evening back on board the Rainier.  This is one of the variables that will be applied to the sonar data file—how fast was the sound moving through the water?  Without this information to provide a baseline the sonar data would not be accurate.

ctd deploy 1

Randy Shingledecker gets ready to send the CTD over the side. It’s clipped into a stout line and a reel for lowering it.

ctd retrieval 1

The CTD is lowered to just above the seafloor to collect data on Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. This data will be applied to our sonar data to obtain an accurate sound speed for this area.


 

 

 

ROCKING AND ROLLING…

When you’re out on the ocean in a boat, the most obvious variable is the instability of the surface, itself.  This is called ‘attitude’.  Attitude includes changes to the boat’s orientation fore and aft (pitch), side-to-side (roll), and up and down (heave) as it is gently, and not-so-gently rocked by ocean swells and waves.  This means that the sonar is not always where you think it is in relation to the seafloor.  This is like trying to accurately measure the height of something while you, the measurer, are on a surface that is constantly moving in 3 different directions. Good luck.  Luckily for this crew of hydrographers, each boat is equipped with a little yellow box whose technical name is the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that I call the heave-o-meter, as we bob up and down on this might ocean.  This little box contains 3 gyroscopic sensors that record all those forward and backward pitches, sideways rolls, as well as the bobbing up and down motions that the boat does while the sonar is pinging away.  This information is recorded in the launch’s computer system and is applied to the sonar data during analysis back at the Rainier.

This yellow box is the IMU.  It's internal gyros capture information about the boat's pitch, roll, and heave.

This yellow box is the IMU. It’s internal gyros capture information about the boat’s pitch, roll, and heave.

TIME AND TIDE…

Now that you’ve gotten your launch to the correct polygon (using GPS data to pinpoint your location), taken CTD readings to create a sound transmission profile for your transect area, and started up the heave-o-meter to account for rocking and rolling on the high seas, it’s time to start collecting data.  Wait—there’s still another variable to think about, one that changes twice daily and affects the height of the water column.  You also have to factor in changes in the depth of the water due to tidal changes. (for an in-depth look at how tides work, check out this link: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/tides/tides01_intro.html).  At high tide, there’s a greater likelihood that subsurface obstacles will be covered sufficiently.  At low tide, however, it’s pretty important to know where the shallow spots and rocks might lurk.  NOAA’s hydrographers are charting ocean depths referenced to mean lower low water, so that mariners can avoid those low-water dangers.

You might be asking yourself, who keeps track of all that tide data and, not only that, how do we know what the tide highs and lows will be in an area where there are no other tide gauges?   NOAA has tide gauges along many coastal areas.  You can go online to http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/and find out predicted tide heights and times for any of these locations.  While we are working here in Cold Bay, we are using a tide gauge in nearby King Cove, as well as a tide gauge that the Rainier’s crew installed earlier this summer.  More data is better.

Here's the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.

Here’s the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.

What do you do if you’re surveying in an area that doesn’t have existing tide gauges?  In that case, you have to make your own gauge that is referenced to a non-moving point of known elevation (like a rock).  For a detailed description of how these gauges are set, check out NOAA TAS blogs from some of the teachers who preceded me on the Rainier. On Wednesday, I helped dismantle a tide gauge on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands that had been set up earlier this season (check out TAS Avery Martin’s July 12th posting), but had ceased to report reliable data.  Our mission on Wednesday was to find out if the station had merely stopped reporting data or if it had stopped collecting data entirely. 

Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.

Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.

When we arrived at Bird Island we found out exactly why the gauge had stopped sending data—its battery bank had fallen from one rocky ledge to another, ripping apart the connections and breaking one of the plastic battery boxes in the process.  That took a lot of force—perhaps a wave or some crazy gust of wind tore the 3 batteries from their mooring.  Since each battery weighs over 25lbs, that means that something moved over 75lbs of batteries.  Ideally, the station uses solar panels to keep the batteries charged.  The batteries power up the station so that data can be sent to a satellite. Data is also stored on site in a data logger, but without power that data logger won’t work.

This is the data logger for the tide gauge.  It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.

This is the data logger for the tide gauge. It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.

We retrieved all the equipment and will be able to download whatever data had been recorded before the system broke. The automated tide gauge is, basically, a narrow diameter air-filled tube that is underwater and set at a fixed depth with a narrow opening pointed downward to the seafloor. The pressure required to balance the air in the tube is equal to the pressure of the water column directly above the opening.  The tide gauge measures this pressure and converts it to depth.  Pressure/depth changes are recorded every six minutes—or ten times each hour. As it turns out, the damaged battery bank was only one of the problems with this station.  Problem number two was discovered by the dive team that retrieved the underwater portion of the gauge; the hose had been severed in two locations. In this case, something had caused the tube to break, so it was no longer connected to the data logger.  That must have been some storm!

ENC Carrier inspects the battery bank that inow s on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed!

ENS Carrier inspects the battery bank that rests on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed weeks ago!

The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.

The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.

The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.

The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.

The dive crew gets ready to jump in

The dive crew gets ready to jump in

Brrr, it's chilly work diving in arctic waters.  The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose

Brrr, it’s chilly work diving in arctic waters. The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose

While there, we set to work checking on benchmarks that had been set earlier in the season.  We used a transit and survey rods (oversized rulers) to measure the relative heights of a series of benchmarks to ensure accuracy. There are 5 benchmarks along the beach.  Each one was surveyed as a reference to the primary benchmark nearest the gauging station.  Multiple measurements help ensure greater accuracy.

I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.

I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.

 

I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb--perpendicular to the benchmark.  No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!

I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb–perpendicular to the benchmark. No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!

We also were tasked with checking the primary benchmark’s horizontal location.  While this had been carefully measured when it was set back in July, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t moved.  It might seem a crazy concept to think that a benchmark cemented into a seemingly immovable piece of rock could move, but we are in a region that experiences seismic events on an almost daily basis.  (You can check out seismic activity at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/) NOAA Corps Officer ENS Bill Carrier set up a GPS station at the benchmark to collect 4 hour’s data on its position, a process called HORCON (horizontal control).  Unfortunately, the winds were in charge of how much data we were able to collect that day, and blew down the station after only 3 hours! [image of station down]  Sometimes the best laid plans …..

A gust of wind blew the recording station down.

A gust of wind blew the recording station down.

 

DATA, DATA, and MORE DATA

While data collection is important, it’s what you do with the data that really gets complicated.  Data management is essential when working with so many files and so many variables. Before each launch returns to the Rainier, the day’s data is saved onto a portable hard drive.  Immediately after being hauled back up onto the ship, the data is handed off to the ‘Night Processing Team’ and hustled off to the Plotting Room (computer HQ) to be uploaded into a computer.  This is where the magic happens and an advanced degree in computer science or GIS (geographic information systems) can come in handy.  I have neither of those qualifications, but I know how to read a screen, click a mouse, and follow directions.  So, on Friday evening I was ushered into the ranks of ‘night processor’.

When each launch returns to the ship, their day's data is saved onto a hard drive.  This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.

When each launch returns to the ship, their day’s data is saved onto a hard drive. This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.

First, data is downloaded into the main computer.  Each launch’s files are called raw data files and are recorded in the launch’s acquisition logs.  Once the data is on the computer, it is important to set up what I call a ‘file tree’; the series of files that increase in specificity.  This is analogous to having an accurate list of what files live within each drawer and section of your file cabinet. These files are color-coded according to the operations manual protocols to minimize the chance of misfiling or the data.  They are definitely more organized than the files on my laptop—I might change my lackadaisical filing ways after this trip!

Once the data are placed in their folders, the fun begins.  Remember, you have files for multiple variables;  sonar, CTD casts, the IMU Heave-o-meter, and tide data.  Not only that, you have, with any luck, performed multiple casts of your CTD meter to obtain accurate data about the conditions affecting sound wave transmission within your polygon.  Now you get to do something I have never done before (and use a vocabulary word I never knew existed and one that I might try to spell in a future Scrabble game); you concatenate your CTD data.  Basically, you put the data from all your CTD casts together into one, neat little file.  Luckily, the computer program that is used does this for you.  Next, you direct the program to add all the variables to your sonar files; the concatenated CTD data, tide data, and IMU data.

 

Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.

Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and NOAA Corpsman ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.

Assuming all goes well and you have merged all your files, it’s time to ‘clean’ your data and review it to make sure there are no obvious holes or holidays in the data that was collected.  Holidays can occur if the launch was bouncing too much from side to side during data collection and show up as a blank spot in the data because the sonar was out of the water and not pinging off the bottom.  You can identify these holidays during the data collection process [holiday signature], but sometimes there are smaller holidays that show up once the data is merged and on your computer screen.  There can also be miscellaneous errant pings caused by debris in the water column.  Cleaning involves systematically searching each line of your surveyed polygon to identify and delete those ‘bad’ pings.  Kind of like photoshopping away the parts of a digital image that you don’t want in the final image.  You work methodically in a grid pattern from left to right and top to bottom to ensure that you are covering the whole file.  It sounds easy, but to a non-PC person such as myself all that right click, left click, center click stuff was a bit boggling.  The program is amazingly complex and, rumor has it, a little bit ‘buggy’ at times.

Multiple screens, multiple tasks.  I am learning the art of 'cleaning' the data--getting rid of extraneous pings.

Multiple screens, multiple tasks. I am learning the art of ‘cleaning’ the data–getting rid of extraneous pings.


After all this, guess what?!  You still don’t have a chart.  It takes almost 2 years to go from data collection to chart publication.  There’s endless amounts of data compilation, reports to be written, and quality control analysis to be completed before the final report and charts are issued.

Personal Log

So far I have spent two nights on the ship ‘in transit’, moving between ports. The other nights have been spent anchored offshore. While the first night at sea was a little bouncy, the second was, in my opinion, the wildest roller coaster ride I have ever taken.  Imagine being pulled to the top of a high roller coaster, and released to fly down to the bottom while you are lying flat in your bed.  That’s what it felt like as we motored from the Shumagin Islands to an anchorage in Cold Bay.  An endless series of up, up, ups, followed by a wild ride down, down, down. Luckily all the drawers and doors have latches that keep them from flying open—although I had a jacket hanging on a hook that seemed to hit the latch on one closet door and actually knock it open—after this happened a couple of times I gave up and put the coat on the floor and firmly shut the door.  My bathroom trash can ended up in the shower stall.  At one point I heard a loud thump in the dark—and realized my survival suit in its orange bag had fallen from the top bunk to the floor—glad I wasn’t in its way! It was time to just hang on and try not to roll out of bed.

If your chair isn't tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!

If your chair isn’t tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!

tiedown1

Strap the printer tightly to a table!

tiedown2

Don’t forget to secure the trashcans!

We finally stopped rocking and rolling around 3 in the morning.  I thought maybe I was just a bit sensitive to the rocking motion, but was comforted to find out the everyone agreed that it had been a wild night.  In fact, one of the potential ‘hazards’ for our work on Thursday was ‘lack of sleep’.

FOO Meghan Mcgovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD).  Today's identified hazards included 'Lack of Sleep'.

FOO LT Meghan McGovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD). Today’s identified hazards included ‘Lack of Sleep’.

 

After almost a week aboard the Rainier I have been impressed with the teamwork, precision, and overall efficiency which overlays all operations. This crew can get a launch loaded, lowered, and underway in less time than it sometimes takes me to record my morning attendance at school!  This is no simple feat (the boat, not the attendance!).  It reminds me of a buzzing beehive filled with activity and focused on a single task; data collection. Each day begins on the fantail (the rear of the boat) at 0800 with the FOO (Field Operations Officer) reviewing the POD (Plan of the Day) and a summary of the day’s goals, work assignments, weather, and potential hazards, prior to sending out the survey crews.

The Boatswain (bo’sun) directs the next part of this tightly choreographed activity, as the launches are lowered by their davits (small cranes), while lines and hooks are handled with an eye to safety and efficiency.  Within 5 minutes the two launches have been lowered, loaded with crew and supplies, and are on the water, buzzing away from the hive like bees to perform their daily waggle dance as they move back and forth collecting hydrographic data.

At 1630 they return to the hive, filled with the sweet nectar of hydrographic data.  Launches are lifted back onto the ship and the data is whisked off to the computer room for downloading. 5 Minutes later a survey team debrief is held to review work accomplished that day and any problems that may have come up so that plans can be made for the next day’s work.  This crew is organized!!

The NOAA Ship Rainier

The NOAA Ship Rainier

 

 

 

Susy Ellison: There’s a Volcano Outside My Window, September 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 10, 2013

Weather:
Partly cloudy
GPS Coordinates   540 49.627’  N ,   159o 46.421’  W
Temp. 10.3C
Wind Speed 10-14 kts
Barometer 1008.49 mb

Science and Technology Log

You never know what you might see first thing in the morning! When I awoke and looked out my porthole I saw this in the distance.

The volcano has been active for the past few months, but I saw no smoke today.  You can check out volcanic activity at  http://www.avo.alaska.edu/activity/Veniaminof.php

The volcano has been active for the past few months, but I saw no smoke today. You can check out volcanic activity at http://www.avo.alaska.edu/activity/Veniaminof.php

 

We  are scheduled to leave Kodiak at 1000 Hrs, RST

We are scheduled to leave Kodiak at 1000 Hrs, RST


We cast off yesterday morning at 1000 hrs, RST—Rainier Ship Time.  Although we are still in the Alaska Daylight Savings time zone, our time on the ship has been adjusted backwards 1 hour to give us more daylight during ‘working hours’.  Since the ship is its own floating universe, time that is referenced to a specific time zone is not as important as time that is referenced to our day and the work that needs to be completed.  Einstein would be pleased to see that time is, indeed, relative here aboard the Rainier!

There is science involved just to leave port and set forth on this cruise.  There’s data to be collected, such as a weather forecast—and decisions to be made based on that data.  Today’s weather report called for rain and high winds.  That data input resulted in a travel plan including taking a more protected route north of Kodiak Island instead of heading out to more open water right away.  We didn’t reach the wide-open spaces until evening, and I was lulled to sleep by the endless rocking and rolling of the boat.

We need to take out the trash before we leave.

We needed to take out the trash before we left.

Heading into the Shelikof Strait

Heading into the Shelikof Strait

Science can also include the protocols needed to keep everyone on board safe and healthy during a cruise.  With that in mind, I spent part of the day learning about the ship and the safety routines we need to follow.  Ensign Wall gave me my survival suit, aka Gumby Suit and showed me how to don that lifesaving apparel.  The suit is a foam-filled drysuit, providing insulation and floatation in one handy, non-form-fitting package.  They are, apparently, one size fits none, but when it’s a matter of survival, I doubt that style counts for too many points!

Each person aboard is assigned stations to report to in case of fire or in case it becomes necessary to abandon ship.  I found out that I go to the Boat Shop near the stern in case of fire, and that I head to Station 1 near the bridge.  We had a fire drill in the afternoon, followed by an abandon ship drill.  Much like fire drills at school, it’s a good time to practice and figure out the best way to get to where you need to go.  Since I’m still learning my way around the ship, it was especially important to figure out where I needed to go and how to get there.

Where do I go?

Where do I go?

Trying on my Gumby suit

Trying on my Gumby suit

Then there’s the ‘real’ science—the science of hydrography and the point of this entire venture.  The NOAA Ship Rainier has been tasked with charting (creating maps) of the Shumagin Islands and Cold Bay areas. It’s amazing to think that there are still some parts of our coastline that haven’t been charted.  I spent much of this afternoon talking with the scientists who are making these maps and came away with the overwhelming sense that this is, indeed, a complicated and multi-faceted process. I’ll be writing separate journals on all the science that goes into creating these detailed maps of the ocean floor.  If you just can’t wait and need to know more right now, check out the blogs from previous TAS teachers on the Ship Rainier.

Personal Log

Much of my first day at sea was spent getting used to being aboard a large floating object on a rather bumpy sea.   Our day was spent in transit, from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, around 28 hours away.

My very first rainbow at sea!

My very first rainbow at sea!

There’s a lot to learn about life on board the Rainier.  Most important has been orienting myself and figuring out where everything is located.  Decks are labeled from ‘A’, the lowest, to ‘G’, the uppermost deck area. My quarters are on the ‘E’ deck.  The Galley, where food is prepared and served, is on the ‘D’ deck below me, and the Bridge (steering and control of the ship) is above me on the ‘F’ deck.

I have my own room—kind of luxurious living!  There’s a bunk, the head (bathroom), a couple of closets, drawers, and even a small fold-down desk area so that I can write my journals.  Every drawer latches tightly to minimize the chance of unidentified flying objects if we hit some rough weather.

Home, sweet home.

Home, sweet home.

I took a short tour of some of the more esoteric parts of the ship, including a visit to the cofferdam, whose access was through a hatch and down a ladder hidden in one of the heads (bathrooms).  This is sort of like accessing the crawl space under your house through a small tunnel in your bathroom.  While we speculated on just what purpose this area served (storage, poor planning in designing the hull and layout, a random skinny place to hang out?), it turns out that it is a watertight compartment that separates the contact between liquids that might be in the bow area and those in the stern area of the ship.

Starla Robinson leads us down the hatch into the cofferdam

Starla Robinson leads us down the hatch into the cofferdam

Lt. Quintero in the cofferdam.

Lt. Quintero in the cofferdam.

There was also an escape hatch that was incredibly heavy to lift—but I am sure you could lift it if your life depended on it!  I don’t plan on having to test this thing out!!

Just in case you need to get out in a hurry!

Just in case you need to get out in a hurry! 

Susy Ellison: How Long Does it Take to Get to Kodiak, Alaska? September 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 7, 2013

Weather:
Partly cloudy at the Anchorage Airport
Lat 61.217 N, Lon 149.900 W
Temp 56F

Personal Log

Although Mapquest says ‘you can’t get there from here’, when queried about routes from Carbondale, CO to Kodiak, AK, I am sitting in the Anchorage Airport and well on my way to meeting up with the NOAA Ship Rainier.  While it’s easy to make a list of exactly how I’m getting to Kodiak (drive to Vail, CO, shuttle van to Denver, fly from Denver to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Kodiak), it’s a little more complicated to actually describe my journey to Kodiak and the Rainier.

 

Sitting in Vail waiting for the shuttle van to Denver.

Sitting in Vail waiting for the shuttle van to Denver.

I’m not sure that the journey only started when I packed my large, orange duffel bag and threw it in the car.  That bag, currently either in the underbelly of a plane or sitting in a stack somewhere in the bowels of the airport, is filled with the clothing and personal supplies I’ll need for the next 3 weeks.  Topping the list of clothing is a pair of Xtratuffs–rubber boots to keep my feet dry on the ship and when we’re on shore.  Speaking of dry, I have 2 sets of raingear; a gore-tex parka and pants for those mostly wet days, and pvc-coated nylon parka and pants for the truly wet days.  Rumor has it that it could be a bit rainy in the Shumagin Island area.  I have long underwear to keep me warm, a wool hat to keep my head toasty, and the usual assortment of jeans and t-shirts for time ‘indoors’ on the ship.

Sometimes I think this journey started while planning 3 weeks of lesson plans for my students. My mind was already on the ship as I was creating those plans and trying to link my students’ activities with some of what I will be learning during my cruise.  I created an independent study plan for students who wanted to earn science credit by following along with my blogs and reading the blogs of other teachers.  All that planning gave me ample time to think about the journey that lay ahead, and to, perhaps, already start the journey while I was sitting at my desk.

This journey to Kodiak and the Shumagin Islands certainly has some foundation in my endless perusal of the Teacher at Sea blogs this summer.  I was an avid reader of blogs from teachers aboard the Rainier, but also took time to read journals from teachers in other oceans and locations.  Since I’ve never been on a ship this was a great way to start my trip a little bit ‘early’.

Did this journey begin way back when I applied for the Teacher at Sea program?  After all, part of the application process involved envisioning how I would use this experience in my classroom.  I had been following other teacher’s cruises for many years, so it was great to have to visualize myself on a ship and what I could learn from such an experience.

But, when I really think about this journey, it might actually have started long ago, when I was a child.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that was, to put it mildly, firmly rooted in science and looking at the world as one giant science experiment.  I was taught to ‘think like a scientist’, observing the world around me and asking questions (and searching for answers) about our planet.

It comes down to a question of scale.  Is it really just a journey of 3000+ miles from Carbondale to Kodiak, or is it the sum total of days, months, or even years?  Either way, I can’t wait for this part of the journey to end and my life on the ship to begin!

Susy Ellison: Dreaming of the Cool North, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  July 22, 2013

In September I will be heading north for 3 weeks as a NOAA Teacher at Sea (TAS).  Right now it’s over 90F outside and I am happily visualizing wearing layers of fleece and waterproof raingear on the deck of the NOAA Ship Rainier assisting with hydrographic survey work along the South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands.

How am I preparing for my experience?  First and foremost, it’s important to actually practice blogging and communicating using the TAS website.  Since this is the platform that will enable me to communicate with my coworkers, students, and all of you out there in the blogosphere, it’s important to learn how to manipulate all the nuances of electronic communication.  Second, I need to learn about the work I will be involved in during my TAS cruise.  Third, since I will be gone during the school year, I need to design lessons and unit plans that will enable students and staff at school to follow along during my experience.  Finally, since it’s still summer vacation, I need to make sure that I get out there!!

A visit to Niagara Falls

I am Susy Ellison, a teacher at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, CO.  Yampah is a public, alternative high school serving students from 4 school districts.  Our students come to us for a variety of reasons, although most are united in their search for a high school experience that helps them identify and pursue their passions while providing information in a relevant, hands-on manner.  I am the sole science teacher for our school, responsible for teaching earth, life, and physical science classes, as well as taking students outdoors for weeklong trips in the nearby mountains and deserts. My passion is environmental literacy, creating connections between people and their planet.  My students will tell you that, no matter what class they are taking, they learn about the planet and how their actions matter.

If you’ve been a good follower of the TAS blogs, you will already know that there have been 4 teachers cruising along on the Rainier (2 of them are on the ship right now).  I have been following their blogs to learn about the science and daily life aboard the ship.  It is exciting to know that there are still places that need to be mapped. I am looking forward to gaining firsthand knowledge of the mapping technology that is used. The one thing that I have noticed is always mentioned in their blogs, besides the science, is the fact that no one is malnourished onboard the ship!

In the coming weeks I will be designing lesson and unit plans for my science classes so that they will be able to follow along while I am at sea. Since Yampah takes an integrated approach to education, I am also creating lessons that our math, language arts, and social studies teachers will be using to add a little hydrographic science to their classes.  The lessons will revolve around the theme of ‘Mapping Our World’, which just happens to be this year’s theme for Earth Science Week.

Finally, my preparations include having an action-packed summer vacation.  I am lucky enough to live in western Colorado, close to mountains, rivers, and deserts.  I have spent part of the summer floating rivers in Utah and Idaho with my husband and friends.  Now, as the waters ebb, I am heading to the mountains for some altitude-adjustment and hiking.  The wildflowers are lovely, and the high-elevation hiking helps me beat the heat (and stay in shape!).

My husband in the dory he built.

My husband in the dory he built.

Floating in my kayak on the Green River

Floating in my kayak on the Green River

I have a wonderful 'backyard'!

I have a wonderful ‘backyard’!

Stay tuned as my cruise approaches for more of my preparations and, perhaps, some glimpses of the lessons I will be preparing for my students.