Dana Clark: Alaskan Launches, Tides and Bears, Oh My! June 28, 2014

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Clark

Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 23 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Coast of Kodiak Island

Date: June 28, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 51° 12.83′ N, Longitude – 152° 29.54′ W, Sky Condition – 1/8 clouds, Present Weather – clear, Visibility – 10 nautical miles, Wind – 8 knots, Temperature – 21° C

Science and Technology Log

Dana Clark with Primary Antenna
Dana Clark with Ens. Joe Brinkley repairing horizontal control station, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Each day when I participate in hydrographic surveys I always tell the boat that today we need to see a bear. Recently, one launch survey crew saw a bear swimming in the water and it stopped and looked at them before swimming off to the land. This was my ideal situation. So yesterday I participated in a hydrographic survey and the driver got real excited for me when in the middle of a transit, he yelled that he thinks he sees two bears on the shore. As we use binoculars to see them we confirm that we have now seen…two horses! This sighting was by all accounts very interesting to the crew since no one knew that there would be wild horses on an island in Alaska. However, the day’s sightings of wild cows and horses did nothing for this Texan.

Bear chewed solar panels
Bear chewed solar panels, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Today, I did something different. I went with a survey group out in an orange work boat called an Ambar. This boat is different than the launches because it is a jet boat, which means it has an impeller versus an exposed propeller. This way, it can bring us right up to shore.

We had a two-fold purpose, first to repair a horizontal control station, HorCon for short, and then to make tide observations. The HorCon station logs GPS (Global Positioning System) data. The station has a GPS atenna and recording unit, radio modem antenna for remote communications, car batteries to power everything, and solar panels to charge the batteries.The antennas are on a fixed tripod. For this piece of equipment, the higher the better! It allows us to achieve better horizontal and vertical positioning for our multi-beam data. It tracks the satellites overhead, the same as our survey launches do, but since it is in a known position we can use these data to remove any atmospheric interference.

We hike a large cliff and at the top is the HorCon station. As we crest the hill, it is Joe in the lead, then Joy, then me. Joe says stop, there’s a bear on the ridge, and it’s only about 200 feet away! We quickly gather together to look bigger to the bear and it decides to amble away over the ridge. Then, two baby cubs that we hadn’t seen go following behind her! My day is made perfect. When we get to the horizontal control station we find out it wasn’t working because the bear had chewed the solar panels and pulled a cord out of the primary antenna. Check out the huge bite mark in the picture above! Joe repaired the cord, made sure the other solar panels were still connected, and we had the station up and communicating.

Dana Clark Tide Observations
Dana Clark reading water level off the tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska

First mission accomplished then off to do tide observations. Mostly, this consist of sitting on the beach and recording the current water level every six minutes. It was a beautiful sunny day and Japanese Bay, Alaska was the ideal place to be. On shore there is a gauge, tripod and antenna with a wire that attaches to an orifice underwater. There also is a staff in the water with measurements on it. A constant flow rate of air is maintained in the orifice underwater so we can measure the pressure of the water column. More pressure = higher tide. Just think, at higher tide there is more water pushing down on it, hence more pressure. The gauge correlates pressure values with how much tide we are actually seeing. So we take staff observations over two hours and every six minutes we take a minute of readings of how high the water is on the staff. We then download the data from the gauges and compare it to our visual data. It’s important to go out every week to get readings and make sure no bear or storm has bothered it.

Why do tide observations every week? The scientists here often see tide ranges in Alaska from -5 feet to +25 feet. They need to know the correct tidal effects so when they take depth readings with the multi-beam sonar they can adjust those depths to remove tide and chart the soundings at MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water), which is the chart datum. This is because the water level is changing every day with tides and they need to be accurate. This is real important in shallow areas.

Scientist of the Day

Tami Beduhn
Tami Beduhn in Barrow, Alaska, 2012. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fairweather

Today I would like you to meet Tami Beduhn, a Chief Survey Technician for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. She is the head of the whole hydrographic  survey department here on the Fairweather! She is not in NOAA Corps but is a wage mariner, which means she is getting sea time assigned to the Fairweather in order to get her Able Seaman credentials and she is not part of the uniformed services.

She’s here because she wants to be on this ship doing the work she does and her CO, CDR Zezula, sure is glad she’s here. He says, “Tami is technically outstanding, incredibly dedicated, and has a strong work ethic. She is the bedrock of the science, especially with a lot of new people this year, and I rely on her leadership to guide and mentor as well as maintain the high quality Fairweather is known for.”

As the chief survey technician, she manages the survey department and is responsible for quality assurance and control of hydrographic data aboard the ship. The highlight of her job is training the new recruits. Tami believes the key to a good hydrographer is having a good attitude, good computer and math skills, and a willingness to learn. And they must enjoy teamwork since living on a ship is like having a family that works together. Tami graduated from North Carolina State University with a BS in Marine Science and a Concentration in Geology and came straight to NOAA. Here’s a woman who’s at the forefront of her field, all at the age of 27 years old!

Personal Log

What a great day I had today! I saw a bear with her two cubs, two orcas, and three bald eagles! Here is a poor quality shot of the bear with her cubs below her and a little to the left. Below that is a bald eagle. The third picture  is me on top of the hill after fixing the HorCon station. You can click on any picture in my blogs to see it full size. And after checking out the pictures, make sure to vote in the poll below. The weather is perfect and I even got a little sunburned today. Life is good being a hydrographer in Alaska in the summertime!

Brown bear and her cubs
Brown bear and her cubs, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska


Cape Kaguyak
Bald Eagle, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska
Dana Clark Cape Kaguyak, Alaska
Dana Clark on top of Cape Kaguyak, Alaska


Question: What is this? Plant or animal? Answer in the poll below.

Japanese Bay, Alaska

Tara Fogleman, June 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Fogleman
Onboard NOAA Ship John N. Cobb
June 1 – 14, 2007

Mission: Alaskan Harbor Seal Pupping Phenology and Site Monitoring
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 1, 2007

The boat set sail today as we headed for our first haulout sites.  Because this first day was a traveling day, where no sampling would be conducted, I had a chance to explore the JOHN N. COBB, speak with the crew, and become better acquainted with life at sea.

Our Boat, the JOHN N. COBB— 

The JOHN N. COBB is the oldest vessel and the only wooden ship in NOAA’s research fleet. She was built in 1950 and named after John Nathan Cobb, the first dean of the University of Washington School of Fisheries.  The boat is 93 feet long, has a beam of 26 feet, and a draft of 12 feet. The JOHN N. COBB typically cruises at speeds of around 10 knots, propelled by a 325 hp diesel engine. She has a crew of 8 and can carry up to 4 scientists.

The JOHN N. COBB spends most of her time in the waters of southeast Alaska, supporting the research of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The ship can collect fish and crustacean specimens using a trawl and longline, or sample fish larvae, eggs, and plankton using plankton nets and surface or midwater larval nets.  Marine mammal studies, such as the one that I will be part of, are conducted aboard or by the use of smaller boats stored on the JOHN N. COBB.

Daily Life on the JOHN N. COBB— 

Life on board the JOHN N. COBB is exciting but intimate—the entire crew and scientists must work together to keep the ship clean and in working order so that the scientific research can be done. As mentioned earlier, the ship has several crew members, and each of the crew has important responsibilities that are integral to the proper working of the ship.

  • The Commanding Officer—Our Commanding Officer, Chad, has authority over all other crew members and ship personnel.  He drives the ship on alternating 6-hour shifts and is responsible for medical care in the event that anyone were to get hurt.
  • The Executive Officer—Dan is the Executive Officer (also referred to as the XO) for the JOHN N. COBB on this cruise.  He is the direct representative of the Commanding Officer, and is therefore responsible for executing the policies and orders issued by the Commanding Officer.  He also drives the ship for 6-hour shifts, alternating with the Commanding Officer.
  • The Chief Marine Engineer—Del, or “Chief”, serves as our Chief Marine Engineer.  Because his main responsibilities are to oversee the Engineering Department and fix any problems with the mechanical or electrical systems on the ship, he is usually down below in the engine room.
  • The Chief Steward—Bill, our Chief Steward, is in charge of the galley, or kitchen, of the ship. He provides the crew and scientists with three meals everyday, all cooked on a diesel stove. Because the galley on the JOHN N. COBB is very small, it is very important that those onboard the ship are clean and respect the requests made by the Chief Steward.
Bill, the Chief Steward of the JOHN N. COBB, cooks a delicious dinner for the crew.
Bill, the Chief Steward of the JOHN N. COBB, cooks a delicious dinner for the crew.

There are also other crew members that are responsible for duties such as relieving the Chief Engineer, keeping the boat clean, and driving the skiffs stored on the JOHN N. COBB during scientific operations.  The crew members and scientists sleep in various locations on the boat—though some have it better than others! Most of the crew members, with the exception of the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, sleep in one large room at the front of the boat. Their room includes bunks, drawers and storage space for their clothing, a small sink, and a couple of benches that also serve as storage units.  Because there is always someone sleeping aboard the ship, curtains can be pulled across each bunk to block light and provide privacy. The scientists are housed in staterooms located just behind the galley, and these rooms provide more space to allow the scientists to work.  Each stateroom has two bunks, a small desk, a sink, and a couple of storage units for clothes and other personal belongings. The bathrooms, or heads, are located in the hallway and are shared by all on board, and there is one community shower for all crew and scientists to use. All of our meals are served in the galley at specific times of the day.  Bill, the Chief Steward, rings a bell when a meal is served, and we each take a designated seat at the table. Meals are served family-style, where the dishes are placed on the table and we serve ourselves. The crew generally consists of some big guys, and so there’s a lot of eating at each meal!  At the end of the meal, we clear our plates, thank the Steward, and head off to do our daily work.

However, life on the JOHN N. COBB isn’t always just about work—the crew enjoy their time off by fishing when the boat is anchored, reading magazines, watching movies, or playing games such as cribbage or solitaire.  There is even a treadmill and rowing machine for those crew members that want to fit a workout into their busy schedule.  Often, the scientists are busy with entering their data and preparing for the next day’s operations. Because there are always some crew members who are sleeping on the boat, it is important that noise is kept to a minimum at all times.

Safety First: Preparing for Emergencies at Sea— 

Tara Fogleman, a NOAA Teacher-at-Sea participant, hangs out in her bottom bunk aboard the JOHN N. COBB.
Tara Fogleman hangs out in her bottom bunk.

It is standard practice for the crew and scientists to perform safety drills during the first 24 hours at sea, and this cruise was no exception.  After lunch, we practiced the “Abandon Ship” drill and the “Fire” drill.  During the “Abandon Ship” drill, everyone aboard was required to report to a life raft and bring (and put on) their survival suit, gloves, and hat. The survival suit is a bright orange outfit intended to cover nearly your entire body (excluding the face), provide insulation from the cold water, and provide floatation. It also has several safety features, including a strobe light and whistle.  During the “Fire” drill, everyone aboard the ship plays a crucial role—many of the crew don protective fire gear and prepare the fire hose, while others assist as needed.  Because everyone plays a role in these emergency situations, it is important that the scientists become familiar with their responsibilities before performing the drills.

Dolphins and Humpbacks and Bears, Oh My!— 

Alaska is beautiful—rugged mountains topped with snow, extensive spruce forests, and dark-blue water that can be so calm in the bays that it appears we’re on a lake.  There were two exciting finds on the way out of Gastineau Channel—we saw the spray of a humpback whale off in the distance (though I can’t truly say I’ve seen a humpback yet) and I saw a group of Dall’s porpoises riding the waves at the bow of the boat.  The Dall’s porpoises are very different from the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that I commonly see off the coast of Georgia—they are black and white in color (like an orca), they have a smaller dorsal fin, and they are nearly 8 feet in length—but their behavior is similar, as they travel in groups and enjoy riding the waves.  We also spotted two brown bears, most likely a mother and her cub, and several bald eagles while we were anchored in a bay.  Bald eagles are fairly common here, and they are easy to spot because their bright, white heads easily stand out among the dark green of the spruce trees and the grayish-black color of the rocks.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin traveling to haulout sites at low tide (which falls in the morning, between 8 AM and 10 AM) to count harbor seals and their pups.  So with that in mind, I’m off to bed—we have a busy morning tomorrow and I need my rest!

This photo of two brown bears was captured by Chief Scientist Dave Withrow as the JOHN N. COBB anchored in Gut Bay, Alaska.
This photo of two brown bears was captured by Chief Scientist Dave Withrow as the JOHN N. COBB anchored in Gut Bay, Alaska.