Helen Haskell: Changing Latitude, July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: July 11, 2017

Weather Data 

Wind:  6mph coming from the south

Visibility: ~62.44 miles (100.48km) (to Mount Taylor on the horizon) but a little hazy

Air temperature: 72°F (22°C) getting to 94°F (34°C) by the afternoon

Cloud: 0%, but hopefully thunderclouds will build later and we will have rain

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Personal Log:  

Latitude.  It is a word I use regularly during the school year. In my 6th and 9th grade science classes, we review latitude as the angular distance north or south of the equator. We pull out maps, of New Mexico, of Antarctica, of our planet, and we explore.  In January of this year, we sponsored two SOCCOM floats (https://soccom.princeton.edu/) and this upcoming school year, we will chart where Sundevil Sam and Sundevil Lion are, as they send data back from the Southern ocean, data that my classes can access online.  Now, after my time on Fairweather, thanks to NOAA’s vast amount of resources, my students will be able to pull up the nautical charts of places I went (http://www.charts.noaa.gov/BookletChart/17408_BookletChart.pdf) and we can integrate even more mapping and bathymetry into our world. In the last five weeks I’ve gone from 35°N to ultimately as far north as 58° and back again, but in so many ways, my latitude has been much greater.

 

Latitude is also defined, in photography, as being the range of exposures photography paper can be given and still achieve a quality image.  So, applying this definition, there is no doubt that my latitude professionally and personally has increased as a result of my experiences on Fairweather this summer.  My exposure to hydrography, my exposure to new careers, my exposure to new places and my exposure to new people and new friends is significant, in some ways quantifiable, and in other ways immeasurable.    As I sit here in my New Mexico home, preparing to teach a desert field ecology class for the University of New Mexico next week, I find that my brain after a while wanders off from reviewing the ecology of desert species, and I begin to wonder where Fairweather is on route to Nome.  I wonder how the landscape has changed from the dense Sitka Spruce, hemlock and alder I got used to seeing from the ship in Southeast Alaska.  As I fill my birdfeeders and watch the goldfinch flock,  I wonder if the crew have seen more albatross species as they have gone north. As I spend a somewhat frivolous Sunday morning driving two hours north to play and cool down in Abiquiu Lake, near where the artist Georgia O’Keefe gained much inspiration, I am reminded of the Gulf of Alaska’s water temperatures, discovered on a wet day when bottom sampling west of Prince of Wales Island, and of the Argillite carvings produced by Haida artists not far from Ketchikan.

 

 

Latitude also refers to freedom in actions and choices.  I feel fortunate to teach at the school that I do, as I have a lot of latitude when it comes to my curriculum and a lot of support in allowing me to apply for opportunities such as Teacher At Sea.  This makes it very easy to incorporate the science of hydrography I have learned this summer into my existing curriculum.  I have latitude in exposing students to my experiences, and hopefully as a result, expanding theirs.  On the 21 days I sailed on Fairweather I was able to make time to review curricula Teachers At Sea have created in the past, and develop new hydrography lessons I hope many of us can use.  I was able to directly ask Fairweather hydrographers for support, and thanks to Sam Candio, I have images of the mud volcano and Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault we surveyed, that I can use in the classroom next month.  I am using data collected by Hollings scholar, Carly LaRoche, in the classroom  -my 6th graders will analyze her maps and the data to see if there are correlations.

 

On the ship, after a few days, I also realized that I was now the student. I’ll admit that it was slightly humbling and when I got over the ‘I’m used to being in charge and doing’ feeling I relished the new position I found myself in.  While I had anticipated learning a lot about the science of hydrography and what it takes to sail and run a large science vessel, I hadn’t thought about the indirect observations I would make, about myself as a student and the consequences of my experiences as a student to my classroom.  I began to examine how I could tweak a lesson here and there to make it more applicable to my students experiences, and how even excellently explained concepts can be confusing initially, and repetition and re-introduction can be essential for some students.  I watched myself be overwhelmed by acronyms in the beginning and get excited 18 days in to the leg when I could remember one without looking it up. I never did quite remember what each of the computer software programs were for, and marveled at my hydrographer colleagues as they navigated HYPAC, HYSWEEP, CARIS, SIS and Charlene (or Sharr-lene at it became affectionately known in honor of one of the NOAA Corps officers).  I learned that I had a bit of a stumbling block when it came to learning what each program did, and it was a reminder to me that these stumbling blocks can be present for my students in the classroom setting too.

My degrees of latitude have changed significantly in the last two months since I found out, in the dusty remote gas station parking lot in southern Utah, that I would be going to be on a NOAA hydrography ship in Alaska.  The longer I have been home, the more I have realized what an incredible opportunity I was given by NOAA Teacher at Sea.  Life changing may sound ‘hokey’ but I think that is a good succinct summary.  I now have a profound understanding of the time consuming and often hard work needed to create nautical charts.  I have a new understanding of what it is like for the crew of Fairweather, and many other vessels, to spend weeks, and in their case, months, away from family and friends; I have a healthy respect and comparisons to make and share about the ecology and geology of Alaska.  I have new friends and new ideas.  And now, as a teacher, the real work begins in synthesizing this experience.

This weekend I spoke with my friend Jillian Worssam, a TAS alumna and incredible science teacher in Flagstaff, AZ, who has founded a program Scientists in the Classroom. Her work, ideas and community engagement are inspirational, and while I was on the ship, I shot her an email as I knew I wanted to make sure I did not lose ground, I did not want to lose momentum once I returned to ‘normal life’.  As a teacher, things pile up as the school year progresses, and I am profoundly aware that it’s so easy, when things ‘get crazy’ to fall back on what’s been done before. While that is not always a bad thing, it is a constant challenge to integrating new experiences  and new learning from professional development such as Teacher At Sea.  As a teacher, I have also learned, that while my brain is good, when I ‘beg, borrow and steal’ other people’s’ knowledge and ideas, my classroom becomes stronger and my students’ degrees of latitude increase.  My new NOAA contacts, both on the ships and on land, should have a heads up that this is only the beginning.

IMG_1876

Waiting for the temperature to drop to 50F so I can wear my Fairweather hoodie again…

 

Sian Proctor: A Ship & Seashells! July 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 3, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:   57° 47′ 24″ N
Longitude: 152° 24′ 26″ W
Time: 1000
Sky: Broken Clouds
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 068
Wind Speed:  5 knots
Sea Wave Height:   <1 foot swell
Barometric Pressure:  1013.3 millibars
Sea Water Temperature:   9.0° C
Air Temperature:   9.8° C

IMG_2307

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, Alaska

Science and Technology Log

Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels. It was commissioned in 2005 and its home port is Kodiak, Alaska. The ship was named after the Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson who was an activist for improving the fishing industry. He passed away in 1995. The purpose of Oscar Dyson is to collect data on marine life and ecosystems primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Most of the research has been focused on the management of Alaska pollock, which is the largest fishery by volume in the United States. The ship houses a crew of up to 24, which includes NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck hands, survey technicians, stewards, and electronic technicians along with up to 15 scientists. They all work together to make daily operations on the Oscar Dyson a success.

The 208 ft. long Oscar Dyson runs on 4 super charged diesel engines. The engines are designed to produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity a day. The alternating current is converted into direct current in order to power the two propulsion motors. Oscar Dyson’s engine room is fully automated and will add or remove diesel generators based on load demand. Oscar Dyson has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious my accommodations are on Oscar Dyson. I am in a 4-person room but have only 1 roommate. Her name is Alex Padilla. She is an ocean engineering graduate student from University of New Hampshire interested in  studying the acoustics of bubbles. Our room has bunk beds on both sides of the room, a desk, multiple storage lockers, a toilet & shower, and a large wall mounted TV with movies and Direct TV.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just down the passageway from my stateroom is a crew lounge where we can gather and watch movies. There is a mess deck (cafeteria) that serves three meals a day and is open 24/7 for soup, salad, and snacks. Oscar Dyson has a variety of labs that I will cover in future blogs. I was fortunate to have 3 days on the ship before our departure and have become somewhat familiar with the layout of the ship.

Click here for more specification on the Oscar Dyson: NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Specification

Personal Log

I got to go on a field trip to Fossil Beach before leaving Kodiak and here is a short video about my experience.

To dive deeper into the fossils and geologic history of that region you can click this link for Allison and Marincovich Jr’s geologic survey paper: A Late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene Molluscan Fauna From Sitkinak Island, Alaska

Click this link for more information on concretions.

Did You Know?

The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and Fish and Fisheries in 1971, making up the first conservation agency for the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was started in 1970 as an agency within the department of Commerce. Today NOAA has many branches that focus on weather, climate, ocean & coasts, fisheries, satellites, marine & aviation, etc. You can learn more about the history of NOAA and the various branches by clicking this link: NOAA.gov

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing

Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Helen Haskell: Mud Volcano, Morale and Moving On, June 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: June 24, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  20 knots

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  1016.0 hPa

Air temperature: 13.2C

Cloud cover: 100%

Location: Gulf of Alaska, 58°58.3N, 138° 49.7W

 

Science and Technology Log

In the last final week of this long three week leg, survey work on Fairweather has been varied. As data collection for this area has drawn to a close, it has been late nights for the sheet managers, who are making sure all of the holidays (the areas of missing data) are collected, crosslines are accomplished in all areas, and that they have what they need to do a complete report of the area.

IMG_0399

Some of the Fairweather crew getting ready to launch small boats for the last data acquisition.

Earlier this week the ship completed an additional smaller project out in the Alaskan gulf. Fairweather was tasked with collecting hydrographic data on a subsurface mud volcano that has been discovered southwest of Ketchikan near the Queen Charlotte –Fairweather fault system.  Sailing during the day to the location, the surveying began late evening.  Rather than using the small launches, Fairweather’s sonar was used.  The survey area was quite large and the boundary extended to the edge of Canadian waters. Just as with the small launches, casts had to be done to factor in the water’s salinity and temperature in order to get accurate data. The water column profiling measurement device for Fairweather is located on the stern and once launched can be operated electronically, by hydrographers.

 

Hydrographers were divided into shifts, working two four hour shifts, throughout the 24 hour data acquisition period.  From 12am-4am, hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Drew Leonard, and I, check on the quality of data acquisition and monitored the related software.  As we sailed over the vent of the volcano hundreds of meters below the surface, the sonar picked up gas releases, probably methane, coming from the vent.  This volcano is potentially part of a volcanic field in this area.  I am excited to read and learn more about these mud volcanoes on the active fault in this area and to integrate it into my geology class at school.  For more information about mud volcanos in this region, visit https://eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska

IMG_0317

Drew Leonard and Hannah Marshburn observe the sonar at work

IMG_0327

The mud volcano (within the elevated red area; the white triangle is our ship

IMG_0349

Possible methane plumes ‘caught’ by the sonar

Life and work on a ship requires the crew here to learn many things, both about the scientific mission and methodology but also about the ship itself and the safety protocols. NOAA provides training for crew in many different forms, some in situ, some electronically, and others during the non field-season in the form of  land-based workshops. Here on Fairweather, workbooks are provided to prepare officers and survey techs to help qualify them as Hydrographers-In-Charge (HIC).  Individuals work through these books and hand-on trainings to increase their understanding of the mission, the science content, their ability to work with survey systems, launches, field equipment and to serve as backup coxswains on the launches if necessary.

IMG_1577

The work

In wrapping up the work in the area west of Prince of Wales Island, one last task was to dismantle the Base Station that the hydrographers had set up at the beginning of the project. The Base Station houses a GPS and receiver that transmits the data to the ship.  

 

Back on the ship, a route was planned by the NOAA Corps officers  and charted both electronically and on the paper charts.  It was time for Fairweather to say goodbye to this region of Alaska and to begin the journey north.

IMG_1576

ENS Linda Junge plots the route to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond on the chart

While June 21 is a date associated with the solstice, it is also World Hydrography Day.  In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on oceans and law of the sea, and encouraged entities/nations to work with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The idea is to increase knowledge of and promote safe marine navigation.  As a result, World Hydrography Day was formed and is used as a method to increase knowledge and understanding of hydrography to the general public. Currently only about 10% of the world’s oceans and 50% of the coastal waterways have been directly measured. Much of the rest of the world is dependent on estimates from satellite gravity based measurements or has no data.  Most people tend not to think about the role hydrography and knowledge of the seafloor plays in our day to day live. While there is the obvious correlation with safe navigation, seafloor knowledge is important for laying cables and pipelines, to develop maritime boundaries and to help make predictions of what tsunamis waves and hurricanes would do.  World Hydrography Day 2017 celebrates the 96th anniversary of the IHO.  To celebrate this day, other than continuing to acquire data for the project, the crew gathered together to watch a film from 1976 of Fairweather in Alaska conducting hydrography. While much of the technology has changed and the ship retrofitted, there was a lot of familiarity with the ship and with the job being done.  

Personal Log

Being on a ship for weeks at a time, working everyday can take its toll.  Over the last couple of days I can see in the faces of the survey crew that, just like the end of a school year, while there still a lot to do before ‘the end’ and people are tired, they are looking forward to a change of pace with their upcoming time in port. The ship is scheduled to be in Kodiak for over a week, allowing for mid-season repairs to be completed. Meanwhile the hydrographers will continue to work on data from this leg and look ahead to the upcoming ones; the deck crew will continue the multitude of tasks that always need to be done; the engineers will continue to fix, clean and monitor the launches, the engines and the myriad of equipment on the ship.  The NOAA Corps officers will continue their rotation of duties. The stewards will continue to provide food for everyone.  It’s the field season. Everyone is still busy, but there will be off-duty time on land and opportunities to explore the area.

IMG_1561 (1)

The Finer Things Club for this leg: (L, clockwise) with LT Manda, ENS Junge, Coxswain/deck crew Nick Granazio, XO Gonsalves, Hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Steve Eykelhoff

One important concept that is apparent on Fairweather is keeping an eye on everyone’s welfare and well being.  Part of the XO’s (Executive Officer) role is to help with morale of all the crew, and to this end, the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) group is key in regular small events.  When the ship is in port, optional excursions are arranged and transportation is available to and from the town during evenings and weekend hours. On Sunday evenings, Sundae Sunday happens at 7pm where people come together to have ice cream; The Finer Things Club happens once per leg, and foods such as cheese and crackers, olives and chocolate are served; on World Hydrography Day, the MWR group arranged a ‘holiday hunt’ on the ship with prizes, and ‘hydrography/Fairweather charades’ was played that evening after we had watched the 1976 Fairweather film. Each evening the Fairweather ship’s store opens and folk can purchase their favorite soda or chocolate bar, or in my case, a Fairweather hoodie.

 

It will take three days approximately to get to Kodiak. Rather than going directly across the Gulf of Alaska from Southeast Alaska, Fairweather moved north through Tlevak Strait, which includes a rather narrow section of water with islands and rocks close on both sides.  Having had several weeks of cloud and rain, we were graced with clear blue skies and a warm evening as we headed north. Whales swam in the distance and small islands covered in vegetation rose vertically out of the water. On route we were able to stop for several hours in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. Here the crew were able to explore on land for a while, hike to hot springs and a lake, and take in some more of the beauty of Alaska.  It was an incredible blue sky morning (only the third so far this summer according to the locals) , snow was on the peaks around us and bald eagles sat in the nearby trees.  

 

IMG_1618 (1)

Morale and wellness also come in the form of good food. During my time here on I have been fed excellent food three times a day by the stewards, Ava Speights, Ace Burke, Tyrone Baker and Rory Bacon.  The other day I was able to sit down with Ava, acting Chief Steward, and ask her about her job and how the food is planned and prepared for. She was busy making a menu for the upcoming legs of Fairweather and ordering food that would be shipped to Kodiak, and later on, shipped to Nome.    She discussed how the budget works and the lead time needed to get produce and supplies to these northern regions.   

As my time on Fairweather is coming to an end, I realize that each day contains new normals, and that, after over three weeks here, there will be several transitions to go through such as being back on land and not on a rolling ship, not having food made for me and dishes washed for me, and leaving cloudy cool 50°F weather and cloudy skies to heat waves in New Mexico.   I am taking back with me a large amount of new knowledge and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom and school.  I am also taking back life-changing memories and hopefully long term connections with people from Fairweather and a desire to come back to Alaska.  I know that once I get back to New Mexico more questions will come forth and the Fairweather crew should be prepared to be hearing from me as I figure out how best to use the science in the classroom and in my community.  It’s a little bittersweet leaving, knowing that the crew have four months or more of the field season, and that by the time they head back to dry dock for the winter, that we will be over halfway through the first semester of the next school year.  I am really thankful to everyone on board for teaching me so much and making this an incredible adventure for me.  

 

Word of the day: Turnover:  Part of the nature of ship life,  I have discovered is that crew come and go. The NOAA Corps officers have an approximate two year stint on a ship before a three year rotation on land.  Deck crew, stewards and engineers are often on ships for multiple seasons, but can apply to move locations and transfer to other ships.  ‘Augmenters’ are crew from all departments who come on to ships for one or two legs at a time to fill in when a ship is short-staffed or someone has taken vacation.  At the end of each leg, people leave the ship and new people join the ship.  The only certain thing here is that there is and always will be staffing changes.  

Fact of the day:  On our journey north of Tlevak Strait, Fairweather was using fuel at the rate of 0.15mpg.   We’ve seen a couple of much larger cruise ships recently and an even larger container ship. Estimate their fuel consumption!

What is this?:

IMG_0330 2

Acronym of the day:

MWR group – Morale, Welfare and Recreation group

Helen Haskell: Bottom Sampling! June 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 17, 2017

Weather Data (on day of bottom sampling –June 14th)

Wind:  27 knots from the west (110° true)

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Barometer:  1005.3 hPa

Air temperature: 9.4°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

 

Science and Technology Log 

IMG_2004

Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, TAS Helen Haskell, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.

If you have ever taken a look at a nautical map, other than just depths listed on it, there will be symbols and definitions that provide information to help with safety and knowledge of the area.  For example, asterix-like symbols represent rocks, and a branch-like symbol represents kelp. Also written on the maps is information about the seafloor and what it is composed of, such as gravel, sand, or bedrock.  Here in southeast Alaska, off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, much of the data that is currently on the charts was collected over 100 years ago.  Fairweather’s mission is to collect new information to allow these charts to be updated, and this includes information on the seafloor too.

The other day I was tasked with joining a survey crew to conduct bottom sampling.  The assigned bottom sample locations are provided by the Operations branch at headquarters. The sheet managers adapt the locations if they think there are better locations that will provide information for anchoring or to help characterize different regions in the area.  With less than glassy water conditions on a windy and rainy day, the boats were launched and we moved to our first sample area.

IMG_0252

A bottom sampler

The technology behind sampling is a little more antiquated than other parts of the research I’ve seen. It involves hooking up a self-closing scoop like device to a rope, and lowering it in to the water until it hits the seafloor.  Ideally, the trigger is released when it hits the seafloor and it closes. With closed scoops, the bottom sampler is winched up, ideally full of whatever material is located on the seafloor in that immediate location.  There were three different styles of these bottom samplers and we quickly had a firm favorite that seemed to work the best.  Easing the boat in the swell to the location, the coxswains, Dennis and Denek, would keep the boat in position so we did not tangle the rope in the motor.  We could tell from the rope going slack when the bottom sampler had hit the sea floor, and a mechanical winch made the return journey easy.

 

Dumping the contents in to a bucket we were able to see the diversity of the seafloor in just a few samples.  Occasionally rocks or shells would get stuck in the mechanism and we’d have to repeat the procedure, but overall we had tremendous success.

IMG_1863

Carly, Denek, the coxswain and me getting some respite from the rain

There are international protocols to follow in collecting bottom samples. These allow for communication and consistency of data on navigational charts.  In general, the main medium of the sample is described, such as sand, mud or pebbles, and an adjective used to describe it, such as broken, sticky or soft. Color is also assigned to the sample as well as appropriate size of the grains (fine, medium or coarse).  Symbols are used for all this data: For example, ‘the sample is mostly fine brown sand with mud and a little bit of broken shell’ would be written fne br S M brk Sh.  Protocols indicate that if sampling is attempted three times in one location and it doesn’t work then ‘unknown’ is documented in that location.

IMG_1926

Success in our sampling

At each of the sampling locations, we marked the spot on the chart and took latitude and longitude coordinates. We also documented additional observations we had about the sample, including findings that were not included as data choices. For example, in our second sampling site we found what we thought initially were mammal hairs.   Several sites later we struck ‘gold’ again, finding what appeared to be more hairs in a mud matrix. Upon reflection and discussion, it’s possible they are more likely decomposing kelp fibers.  It would be interesting to have the samples analyzed to identify what these fibers/hairs come from.   We also found whole clamshells as well as having a sample that only contained water. Our thoughts with the water only samples were that perhaps we were hitting bedrock rather than failing on obtaining any kind of sediments.  We also observed that in the more sheltered bays, the samples were very odiferous dark mud. In both of these occasions, the landscape surrounding the bay was heavily logged, and it would be interesting to see if there were correlations between the logging and the dark sediments, perhaps containing higher levels of carbon material washed in from terrestrial sources. In one of these areas, documentation from 100 years ago suggested that at that time, the seafloor was gravel.

 

Personal Log

The bottom-sampling day was challenging day weather wise, both for the coxswains and the science crew, but very rewarding.  Due to the rough seas it wasn’t a good day to collect sonar data, and on days like this, other parts of the total data collection are put in to place.  Part of our work that day was to also do crosslines (sonar data verification) but the water conditions were too hazardous in certain directions of travel, and so it was decided that we should focus on bottom samples.   To be frank, this was my favorite day as a Teacher At Sea so far. Truth be told, I was reminded that I quite enjoy sticking my hand in a bucket of mystery ‘goop’ and trying to figure out what it is composed of.  The diversity of samples was completely surprising and finding hair samples, twice, completely intriguing.  It was great also to observe upcoming OPS officer, LT Damian Manda at work logging the data, and realize again, the role technological knowledge plays a role in the success of this research. And, thank you to Coxswain Dennis Brooks for taking most of the photos for this blog entry.

 

IMG_2047

Me and Carly at the end of the day

 

Word of the day:

Hollings Scholarship Program: this NOAA program provides undergraduate students with a ten week internship at a NOAA facility and academic assistance, as well as an orientation and symposium. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship

Fact of the day:

Backscatter is the intensity of acoustic energy received by the sonar after interacting with the seafloor. Backscatter data can be used to help determine the surface of the seafloor.  In softer areas, perhaps a surface of mud, returns a weaker signal, but a harder surface, such as bedrock returns a stronger signal.  Hollings scholar Carly LaRoche from American University is on the boat for several legs this summer and is collecting and analyzing backscatter data in the area. Bottom sampling of the area is allowing Carly to compare the backscatter data with the sediments collected to see if there are correlations.

What is this?

IMG_0270

(Answer from previous blog: part of the vertical struts of an old pier at a former salmon canning factory.)

Acronym of the day: Used in bottom sampling

NATSUR:  Nature of surface  -example: mud, gravel, coral

NATQUA: Qualifying terms for NATSUR -example: sticky, soft, calcareous

Helen Haskell: From Raw Data to Processed Data, June 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 16, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  3 knots from the east (272° true)

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9 °C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to assume that once the small boat surveys are conducted and data from the larger sonar equipment on Fairweather is also acquired, that the hydrographers’ work is done and the data can be used to create navigational charts. As I have learned, pretty quickly, there are many parameters that affect the raw data, and many checks and balances that need to be conducted before the data can be used to create a chart. There are also a significant amount of hurdles that the crew of Fairweather deals with in order to get to their end goal of having valid, accurate data.  Some of the parameters that affect the data include tides, salinity of the water, temperature of the water, and the density of the data.

Tides:

Tides play a huge role in data accuracy.  But how do tides work and how do they influence navigational chart making? Tides on our planet are the effect on water due to forces exerted by the moon and the sun.  The mass and the distance from the Earth to these celestial bodies play significant roles in tidal forces. While the sun has a much greater mass than the moon, the moon is much closer to the Earth and it is distance that plays a more critical role.  Gravity is the major force responsible for creating tides. The gravitational pull of the moon moves the water towards the moon and creates a ‘bulge’. There is a corresponding bulge on the other side of the Earth at the same time from inertia, the counterbalance to gravity.  The moon travels in an elliptical orbit around the planet and the Earth travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun. As a result, the positions of the moon to the Earth and the Earth to the sun change and as a result, tide height changes.   The tides also work on a lunar day, the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth, which is 24 hours and 50 minutes. So high tide is not at the same time in one area each solar day (Earth’s 24 hour day). There are three basic tidal patterns on our planet.  Here is southeast Alaska, the tides generally are what is called ‘semi-diurnal’, meaning that there are two high tides a day and two low tides a day of about the same height. Other areas of the world may have ‘mixed semi-diurnal’ tides, where there are differences in height between the two high and two low tides, or ‘diurnal’ tides, meaning there is only one high and one low tide in a lunar day.   The shape of shorelines, local wind and weather patterns and the distance of an area from the equator also affect the tide levels.  How does this affect the hydrographers’ data? If data is being collected about water depth, obviously tide levels need to be factored in.  Hydrographers factor this in when collecting the raw data, using predicted tide tables.  However, later on they receive verified tide tables from NOAA and the new tables will be applied to the data.

IMG_0211

The tide times of the day

Sound Speed Profiles:

Traveling down through the water column from the surface to the seafloor, several factors can change, sometimes significantly.  These factors include temperature, pressure and salinity.  These variables affect the accuracy of the sonar readings of the MBES (Multibeam Echo Sounders), so have to be factored in to account with the raw data analysis.  What complicates matters further is that these factors can vary from location to location, and so one set of readings of salinity, for example, is not be valid for the whole dataset.  Many fresh water streams end up in the waters off the islands of southeast Alaska.  While this introduction of freshwater has effects on the community of organisms that live there, it also has impacts on the hydrographers’ data.  To support accurate data collection the hydrographers conduct sound speed casts in each polygon they visit before they use the MBES.  The data is downloaded on to computers on the boat and factored in to the data acquisition.  The casts are also re-applied in post processing, typically on a nearest distance basis so that multiple casts in an area can be used.  In the picture below, the CTD cast is the device that measures conductivity (for salinity), temperature and depth.  It is suspended in the water for several minutes to calibrate and then lowered down through the water column to collect data. It is then retrieved and the data is downloaded in to the computers on board.

 

 

Data Density:

Hydrographers also need to make sure that they are collecting enough sonar data, something referred to as data density.  There are minimum amounts of data that need to be collected per square meter, dependent on the depth of the sea floor in any given area.  Having a minimum requirement of sonar data allows any submerged features to be identified and not missed. For example, at 0-20 meters, there need to be a minimum of five ‘pings’ per square meter.  The deeper the sea floor, the more the beam will scatter and the ‘pings’ will be further apart, so the minimum of five pings occupy a greater surface area.  Hydrographers need to make sure that the majority of their data meets the data density requirements.

Crossline Acquisition:

After much of the initial raw data has been collected, and many of the polygons ‘filled in’, the hydrographers will also conduct crossline surveys. In these surveys they will drive the small boat at an angle across the tracklines of the original polygon surveys. The goal here is basically quality control. The new crossline data will be checked against the original MBES data to make sure that consistent results are be acquired. CTD casts have to be re-done for the crossline surveys and different boats may be used so that a different MBES is used, to again, assure quality control.  At least 4% of the original data needs to be covered by these crossline surveys.

Shoreline verification:

Low tides are taken advantage of by the hydrographers. If the research is being conducted in an area where the low tide times correlate with the small boat survey times, then a vessel mounted LIDAR system will be used to acquire measurements of the shoreline.  Accurate height readings can be extracted from this data of different rocks that could prove hazardous to navigation.  Notes are made about particular hazards and photos are taken of them.  Data on man-made objects are also often acquired. Below are pictures produced by the laser technology, and the object in real life. (for more on LIDAT: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Processing:

Each evening once the launches (the small boats) return, the data from that day has to be ‘cleaned’. This involves a hydrographer taking an initial look at the raw data and seeing if there were any places in the data acquisition that are erroneous.  None of the data collected is deleted but places where the sonar did not register properly will become more apparent.  This process is called night processing as it happens after the survey day. After night processing, the sheet managers will take a look at remaining areas that need to be surveyed and make a plan for the following day.  By 6 a.m. the next day, the Chief Scientist will review the priorities made by the managers and let the HIC (Hydrographer In Charge) know what the plan in for their survey boat that day.

IMG_0281

Night Processing

Personal Log 

Throughout the Science and Technology log in this blog post, I keep referring to technology and computer programs.  What stands out to me more and more each day is the role that technology plays in acquiring accurate data.  It is an essential component of this project in so many ways, and is a constant challenge for all of the crew of Fairweather.  Daily on Fairweather, at mealtimes, in the post survey meetings, or on the survey boats themselves, there is discussion about the technology.  Many different programs are required to collect and verify the data and ‘hiccups’ (or headaches) with making this technology work seamlessly in this aquatic environment are a regular occurrence. I am in awe of the hydrographers’ abilities, not only in knowing how to use all the different programs, but also to problem solve significant issues that come up, seemingly on a regular basis.  Staff turnover and annual updates in software and new equipment on the ship also factor significantly in to technology being constantly in the foreground.  It often eats in to a large amount of an individual’s day as they figure out how to make programs work in less than forgiving circumstances.  Tied to all of this is the fact that there is a colossal amount of data being collected, stored and analyzed each field season.  This data needs to be ‘filed’ in ways that allow it to be found, and so the tremendous ‘filing system’ also needs to be learned and used by everyone.

 

 

Word of the day:   Fathom

Fathom is a nautical unit of measurement, and is the equivalent of 6 feet.  It is used in measuring depth.

Fact of the day:

Prince of Wales Island, west of which this research leg is being conducted is the fourth largest island in the United States. 4,000 people live on the island, that is 2,577sq mi.

What is this? 

fullsizeoutput_178

(Previous post: a zoomed in photo of ‘otter trash’ (Clam shell)

Acronym of the day:  

LIDAR: Light Detecting and Ranging

 

Helen Haskell: Watching the Wildlife, June 15, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: June 15, 2017

Weather Data:

Wind: 3 knots from the west

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer: 997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location:

54°54.4’N 132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log:

While Fairweather is a hydrographic research ship, responsible for collecting data for navigational charts, one of the side reports the survey crew makes is a Marine Mammal Observation Log. When a marine mammal is spotted on a survey, its location is noted, the species is identified if possible and notes about the numbers, behavior and any other observations are documented. Along with documenting sightings of these animals, the coxswains also follow protocols for minimizing disturbance and impact to these creatures.

Since joining this leg of the hydrographic research, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangilae) have been the most numerous whale species seen. These whales that spend the summer in South-east Alaska winter mainly in Hawaii. Mating happens during the winter and the calves are born 11 months later. The calves stay with their mother for about 11 months after they are born. Individuals can grow up to 60 feet in length and live 50 years. These large grey whales have numerous barnacles that attach to their skin and filter feed as the whale travels. It is thought that the whales find shallower rocky areas to swim alongside in order to rub off the barnacles. It was in some of the shallower survey areas that I first saw humpbacks.

 

Harbor seals have fast become one of my favorites during my time here in Alaska. Growing to about six feet in length, the harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, have a diet of shellfish, crustaceans and fish and appear to be non-migratory, staying here year round. They are grey in color and can weigh up to 250 lbs as a mature male. Data seems to suggest that in some areas of their range in Alaska, the populations are declining but in other areas, seem stable. As the seals give birth in the summer, we’ve been fortunate enough to see seal pups too on this leg of the research.

 

The Northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, has perhaps been the most numerous marine mammal so far on this trip. Appearing small next to the seals and whales, upon reading more about them, I learned that they not small creatures, as they measure up to five feet in length and weigh up to 100 lbs. Feasting on a diet of invertebrates, such as clams and sea urchins, the sea otters are often spotted floating on their backs and are often associated with kelp beds. The otter fur trade began in the 1700’s and by 1900 populations were on the brink of extinction. Legislation has allowed the populations to rebound in most areas in the last 100 years, and they are seen regularly by survey crews and from the bridge.

 

Another species I saw here, up a small shallow cove, was the river otter, Lutra Canadensis. Five heads popped up in front of me and then bobbed under. Seconds later the otters were up on land running in to the trees. Seemingly fast and sleek, they were not acting like sea otters. It was not any behavior we had observed before. A little bit of research confirmed our suspicions that these were indeed river otters. Sea otters rarely come out on land, and when they do, do not move swiftly, having more flipper-like back legs, making land movement more arduous. River otters are smaller than sea otters weighing up to 35lbs and are 40-60 inches in length.

IMG_0109

While obviously not a marine mammal, the bald eagle is pretty much a guaranteed daily sight as the surveys are being done. A friend referred to the bald eagle as an Alaskan pigeon, and while I have not experienced as many bird species or numbers of birds here as I thought I would, the eagle has been one of the main species sighted. With an estimated population of 30,000 in Alaska, more numerous here than any other state, that hasn’t always been the case. With bounties on them at the turn of the 20th century, and population reductions due to pesticides and habitat loss, especially in the lower 48 states, the bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, was put on the Endangered Species List in 1967. Measures put in place both locally and nationally have been so successful that in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List.

 

Another species I have seen regularly but not up at close range, is the Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus. These small, almost 10 inch long marine birds are in breeding plumage right now and, although they have been hard to see, due to distance and poor light conditions in the rain, are beautiful shades of brown and cinnamon. They build nests here in southeast Alaska in the mossy branches of old growth conifer trees or on the ground.

IMG_0346

A little blurry but here are the Marbled Murrelets

 

Personal log

While it’s easy to get sidetracked with the mammals and birds here, there is a host of other species here that play significant roles in the food web. Kelp has been one of the organisms that I’ve seen a lot while doing the small boat surveys, and on our first completely sunny day, I got the chance to get up close and personal with the kelp from the vantage point of a kayak. The Fairweather has several kayaks that on occasion the crew uses to explore the local area. Together with NOAA Corps Junior Officer ENS Peter Siegenthaler and Hollings scholar Carly Laroche, we filed a Small Boat Plan with the bridge, stating where we were going and our anticipated return time, picked up radios, and carried the kayaks down from the top deck. It’s a little tricky to get a small kayak in the water from a large ship, but with the help of a small boat, we launched and paddled, in almost glassy water, over towards the shoreline.

FullSizeRender (1)

Me in one of the kayaks

Being even closer to the water in a shallow keel-less boat, allowed us to paddle through those kelp forests, pick up the otter-opened clamshells and explore the intertidal community much more easily. We were also able get close to some of the terrestrial species, the Sitka spruce and the other trees species growing vertically out of often steep slopes, right down to the high tide mark. We paddled along these inter-tidal edges listening to hermit thrush sing from the trees up the hillsides as we debated how logging companies actually cuts trees on such steep slopes. It was a glorious day, a rare sunny, calm day in the early summer of southeast Alaska, and perfect for paddling. This area is filled with small islands and coves, waiting to be explored, especially at low tide, when more inter-tidal life is exposed. My fingers are crossed that the weather and water conditions will allow for more explorations by kayak before I have to leave Fairweather in Kodiak.

 

 

 

Fact of the day: KELP

There are three species of kelp found here in southeast Alaska: bull kelp, ribbon kelp and sugar kelp. Kelp is an algae, not a plant, although it does photosynthesize. It is an essential part of the ecosystem here and many species are dependent on it.

Word of the day: Baleen

Humpbacks are a baleen whale, meaning that they have these plates, up to 600, make out of a substance called keratin in their mouths that act as filters in feeding. The keratin is referred to as baleen and is similar to our fingernails. In an earlier blog posting I held up a piece of baleen in an art store in Ketchikan. Below is a picture of baskets woven out of strips of baleen.

IMG_0122

What is this?

(Previous post: The picture is of the sonar equipment on the bottom of the small boats).

IMG_0147