NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog

Tom Savage: What Other Scientific Data is Collected Besides Ocean Floor Mapping? August 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018


Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  55   44 N
Longitude – 165  23.04  W
Air temperature: 8 C
Dry bulb   8 C
Wet bulb  8 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 9 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1008.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 1 feet

Sunrise: 7:10 am
Sunset: 11:01 pm


Science and Technology 

There are other data being collected besides ocean floor mapping using the Bottom sampler.  Ocean floor samples are collected at many positions along the track line.

This is quite a gizmo, at the end is a metal scoop that collects soil samples once it hits the ocean floor. On both sides of the pole near my right hand, there is two underwater lights that is activated prior to deployment and a GoPro placed in a waterproof compartment.  The camera is operated from a wireless connection and the remote control device  is attached by Velcro to your wrist, just like a watch.  The device weighs around 35 pounds.

Bottom Sampler

Bottom Sampler – photo by Megan Shapiro

Once the sample is retracted and emptied on the deck, the size of the aggregate is measured using a scale and recorded. Why is this information useful ?  This data will be used used by mariners when assessing the best place to deploy an anchor. An ocean bottom containing a muddy composition is preferred as it helps to keep in place both the anchor and chain. Below is a sample we retrieved off of Point Hope, Alaska.   Using the bottom sample below, what are your thoughts, is this an ideal located to drop anchor?

Ocean Sample Scale

Bottom sample compared to Ocean Sample Scale ~ photo by Tom


Dropping an anchor for a ship is not a 5 minute job.  I recall fishing with my cousin in his small boat when I was in elementary school; we would arrive at an ideal location to catch lake bass and toss our anchor overboard. It was nothing fancy, a large plastic bucket filled with sand.  With the rope attached, we lowered the bucket “anchor” tie it off with some slack and for the most part it kept us from moving.  Anchoring a large 1,500 ton ship requires around 30 minutes to secure and the ocean depth would determine the amount of chain to use.  The anchor weighs 3,000 lbs and 400 – 700 feet of chain is deployed; this depends on the ocean depth. This brings the total weight of anchor and chain to around 48,000 pounds.  The anchor itself does not secure the ship, it is the combined weight of the chain and anchor.  After the chain is deployed, officers monitor the ships movement to ensure the anchor is not dragging using ECDIS, which uses a GPS feed that tracks the ship’s movement. Interesting fact, the Fairweather can hold 100,000 gallons of fuel, for ship stability purposes the fuel supply never gets below 40,000 gallons.

Personal Log

During the past few days, the sea has been a bit rough, but I love it especially at night, falling asleep is so much easier. It looks like Wednesday, I will be deploying the drifter buoy, stay tuned there will be an entire blog dedicated to it, including how to login and track its movement!. So far on this cruise I have not been able to view the constellations at night, the big obstacle is the fog.  Remember, the sun sets at around 11:30 pm and because of our latitude, it does not get very dark at night.  The other big issue has been the weather the past few days, mostly overcast and fog. As we transit to Kodiak Island, the weather forecast does not mention much about the sun, though we are in Alaska on the water!

Something else interesting to note; recall a few blogs ago I discussed relative humidity as a comfort gauge? It is the dew point temperature that meteorologist use for predicting rainfall, if the dew point temperature is 75 and the air temp is 76 F near the surface rain is almost guaranteed. Cruising in the Unga Strait within the Aleutian Islands today, the cloud deck is roughly currently at 1,000 feet. It is at that location where the dew point and air temperature match and cloud formation begins. This is what we call the LCL, lifting condensation level.

Last night I was talked into played the bass guitar for the first time, playing with the band on board.  They brought me up to par quickly, it was fun! I left the singing to the professionals, our deck hand Kyle and the XO (Executive Officer) Mike!

Until next time, happy sailing !


Heather O’Connell: Soil Samples, Surveying and Sumdum Glacier, June 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska

Date: 6/17/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C

Science and Technology Log

I was part of the crew launched on RA-3 where I learned to turn towards a man overboard in order to ensure that the stern of the ship turns away from them. Communicating via the radio was another highlight where I was certain to follow the proper protocol.

RA- 3 Launch with Multi-beam sonar

RA- 3 Launch with Multi-beam sonar

Next, we moved onto deploying the C.T.D., conductivity, temperature and depth device to determine the sound profile of the water. The winch is a pulley system off the back of the launches that casts the C.T.D. and functions similar to a crab pot winch with an addition of a pressure bar to alleviate the weight of the thirty pound C.T.D.

Deploying the C.T.D.

Able Bodied Seaman Tyler Medley and Junior Officer Michelle Levano deploying the C.T.D.

After passing an iceberg with a seal, we began collecting soil samples with a device called a grab sampler. This was connected to the winch and went down about three hundred and thirty feet to collect a bottom sample. The first sample consisted of small shells of mostly barnacles, along with some medium grained sand and large silt submerged in solution.  The second sample was pristine clay with a slight green color created from the physical erosion of the surrounding rocks of the mountains. Soil sample data is collected and included in the data report because it can affect the sound speed of water. It can also provide useful information about the types of organisms that could live in this ecosystem, along with the types of resources available in this area.

Grab Sampler

Grab Sampler

Next, we connected with RA-6 and had a crew transfer so that I could learn how hydrographic surveying actually works. Newly certified H.I.C., hydrographer in charge, Audrey Jerauld was kind enough to share her knowledge of conducting surveying within Tracy’s Arm. Since Rainier surveyed most of the channel, RA-6 was simply collecting near shore data using the multi-beam sonar. The I.M.U., inertial measuring unit, (not to be confused with the Hawaiian imu which is an underground cooking pit) accurately records the pitch, roll, heave and yaw of the boat. This allows GPS receivers to function even when a satellite is not available. I learned that this is important since when surveying next to a steep cliff,when the satellite cannot reach the small launch, this provides an alternate, accurate means of placement. It determines a D.R., or dead reckoning based on the I.M.U. accelerators and creates a plot of where it thinks the launch is. 

deploying C.T.D.

Junior Officer ENS Collin Walker and H.S.T Audrey Jerauld deploying C.T.D.

Personal Log

The sun was shining yesterday afternoon and I loved soaking up the Vitamin D offered by the sun’s rays while practicing yoga on the flying bridge. When Junior Officer Ian Robbins invited me to go kayaking, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to explore Holkham Bay on a kayak with more maneuverability. I descended into the kayak via a rope ladder off the ship and paddled about three miles through a kelp forest to the nearby Sandy Island. Here, there were endless barnacles, urchins, starfish and kelp to explore near the shore in this inter tidal ecosystem. After pulling the kayaks up to shore and exploring land, I had the realization that with each step I was crushing more living organisms than I cared to consider. The rocks and shells soon turned to rye grass and marshland with some larger rocks.

Sunflower Star

Sunflower Star, Photo Credit: Ian Robbins

Seastar in Intertidal Zone

Seastar in Intertidal Zone

We eventually pulled the kayaks to the other side of the island and kayaked our way next to a blue iceberg. Seeing concentric circles and the intricate pattern of the frozen water crystals was a spectacular sight. Kayaking around such a beautiful natural phenomenon that has been in existence much before I have, was again, a humbling experience.

Iceberg off Sandy Island

Iceberg off Sandy Island

Paddling back to the ship with Sumdum glacier to the right and passing through a narrow channel that lead to the beautiful golden glow of the sun about to set proved to be a perfect ending to an exciting day. Feeling amazed at the sight in every direction made me once again feel extreme gratitude for this exceptional opportunity to be around such vast beauty.

Holkham Bay Sunset

Holkham Bay Sunset

Did You Know?

Mooring line, or the rope used to tie a ship to the dock, is often made of spectra. This synthetic polymer, spectra, doesn’t stretch and is extremely strong, so much so that it can bend metal if enough tension is put on it. It is three times stronger than polyester.

Kristin Joivell, June 30, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 29-30, 2009

This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.

This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.

Weather Data From the Bridge:   
Position: North of Big Koniuji Island
Clouds: mostly clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: calm Waves: 0 feet
Temperature: 12.0 dry bulb
Temperature: 10.0 wet bulb
Barometer: 1023.2

Science and Technology Log 

Since the ship is operating in waters that there is not much information about, verifying current charted information is important.  Before launches are sent into a new area to collect data, shoreline verification is an operation that must be completed.  First, existing charts and new pictures of the coastline taken from a plane are used to determine a rough estimate of the shoreline.  Then, the shoreline verification team is sent into the area in a small boat.  The boat’s course is determined based on a buffer zone of the mean high water line on shore so that it can avoid any known, previously charted hazards. The boat travels a set path just outside of this buffer zone while logging information about bottom depths and looking for dangers to navigation.

Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation.  The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.

Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation. The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.

Sometimes hazards are found that are not charted on existing maps.  So, the team must identify these hazards and log their specific locations. An advanced GPS device is used along with a compass to determine the location of the hazard from the boat. The hazards are logged on a computer to record their positions.  Then, that information is used to both warn the other survey boats from the Fairweather working in the area, and to update new editions of the charts. Sometimes hazards that are currently charted are found in a different location. Once in a while, charted hazards are not even there at all!  All of this new information about hazards is also added to the new editions of charts. It’s somewhat terrifying to think that current charts sometimes have mistakes on them that could affect travelers so negatively. Checking what is on the bottom of the ocean is also important information.  To anchor a ship, some materials are more desirable than others. For example, hard rock is not as desirable as mud or sand because the anchor will just drag along hard rock and not catch as well. So, bottom sampling is another important operation that must be completed so that ships can anchor safely and properly.

Retrieving the bottom sampler.  It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside.  Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.

Retrieving the bottom sampler. It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside. Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.

To take a bottom sample, a scoop is deployed from a small boat or the ship.  The scoop has an automatic trigger that closes it when it hits the bottom of the ocean.  Then, you pull the bottom sampling device back up to the boat or ship and open the scoop. Observations about gathered materials are made on the computer.  There are all kinds of designations to specify the nature of the materials gathered.  Many of the samples we gathered were fine sand, but some included medium gravel, soft coral, and broken shells.  A few samples even included sea stars and a sponge!

The most difficult part about bottom sampling is that you have to pull the line up from the ocean floor with the bottom sampler attached.  The bottom sampler is a heavy, metal object so, pulling up all the line and the sampler from over 100 feet below gives you a workout.  Rotating positions on the boat helped especially since there were four of us on board.  That way, everyone’s arms had a chance to rest through three turns until it was your next turn to haul up the line and bottom sampler. I liked bottom sampling a lot because it was a surprise every time the sample was brought back up the boat. Also, it gave me a chance to look at some of the creatures that live in the ocean in Alaska. Seeing the sea stars and the sponge were the highlights of the day.

Personal Log 

This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.

This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.

Free time is a priceless commodity on the ship.  Everyone works to complete many tasks each day. Sometimes unexpected events occur that interfere with regular schedules. The Plan of the Day even has a disclaimer on it that states: “Tasks are subject to change at any time.  And they will.” So, when a person has free time and isn’t catching up on sleep, choosing an activity is difficult. Movies are shown each night and the computers are internet capable, but sometimes it’s good to get out on deck or off the ship instead of sitting in a room on board.

One of the things you can do on the ship in your free time is go fishing. You need an Alaska fishing license to do this, so I like to watch the licensed fishermen on board and examine their fish before they are released back into the ocean.  It’s interesting to see how many different kinds of fish are caught on the ship. In just the past few days, people have caught halibut, flounder, and cod.  Someone even recently caught a red octopus eating a baby crab!  Unfortunately, I missed that catch by about 10 minutes.  Comparing the freshwater fish that I know to these saltwater fish is a great free time activity.

Panning for gold on Herendeen Island.  The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.

Panning for gold on Herendeen Island. The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.

Another free time activity that is popular is going ashore to hike and explore. We sometimes even have the opportunity to build a fire on the shoreline. There is a lot of driftwood available, but the lack of garbage on the beaches never stops surprising me.  There are none of the common waste materials that you find commonly on the beaches in the Northeastern United States. However, there are some plastic materials like bottles and bags.  One plastic bottle found even had Korean fishermen use plastic fishing floats, but the glass ones are much older and looked for to use for decorations. The crew suggested that I look for them, but I didn’t find any at all.

Panning for gold is also something that can be done while ashore.  I assisted a fellow crew member on the quest for gold, but we were unsuccessful.  The rocks in the area have mica in them, so the streams are full of glittery chips.  These looked to me like gold, and I thought we had struck it rich, but I was wrong.  Standing in the cold stream and searching for gold nuggets is something that I will definitely remember for a long time.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 

You can explore the types of water organisms in your area like a NOAA crew member.  If you are planning on fishing, make sure you have the correct fishing license for your area.  Rivers are great places to start because you don’t need a boat to fish on them; you can just fish from the riverbank. Also, if you don’t want to fish, you can examine the macroinvertebrates that live under rocks. In the rivers and streams in Central Pennsylvania where I’m from, you can find mayfly and stonefly nymphs, caddisfly larvae, and water pennies in abundance.  The Pennsylvania Fish Commission has lots of great materials available to help with identification of organisms.  Looking at water from lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds under a microscope is also an interesting experience. You can learn a lot about the health of your area’s watershed by examining the organisms in the water.

Mark McKay, June 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark McKay
Onboard Research Vessel Knorr
June 10 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 17, 2009

Great Weather on the Bering Sea

Great Weather on the Bering Sea

Science Log

During the night the Knorr turned south westward to start it’s collecting along the CN (Cape Newenhan) line. We had skirted the edge of Bristol Bay before heading back out to into the Bering Sea. The expedition is following a plan that lets it stop at locations they have stopped at in previous years. This allows the scientists to compare data from multiple years so they can get a more accurate picture of what’s happening in the Bering Sea.

When I got up this morning I had to double check to make sure we were still on the Bering Sea and not something more temperate. The sky has been clear and the air temperature has been a “balmy” 45º F. May be I’m getting used to the weather but I had to take my jacket off to stay comfortable. The weather change quickly up here and may be totally different, and more severe later today. Best to be prepared for anything! So far the trip has been surprisingly pleasant. The one thing I’m not used to is the fact that the sun is always up. At 10 o’clock at night I step outside and it’s just like noon back at home.

Looking for critters in the core sample

Looking for critters in the core sample

Today is going pretty much like previous days. Everybody knows their job and goes about it in a efficient manner, meaning don’t get in the way, you are likely to get bowled over. They sent down the Multicore Apparatus again this morning. Hit a pretty sandy bottom but this time they had an unexpected hitchhiker. One of the cores came up with a Echiuran worm. Interesting creature. It has the consistency of a full water balloon, and is similar to the “innkeeper worms” which are common back home in California. Makes is living eating detritus in sediments that it pushes to its mouth with its proboscis (snout). Some types of Echiurans feed by making a “net” of mucus that captures detritus in the water. They then pull in the mucus and eat the captured detritus.

The zooplankton people are having fun with their collecting with one exception. Apparently the waters we have been sailing are fairly heavily populated with Jellyfish. The “Jelly’s” apparently gum up the collection bottles making collection little more difficult. I was watching as they tried to clean them out of their nets and it is a sticky mess. More on that later. For now, dinner! The food on the Knorr is great by the way.

Echiuran Worm

Echiuran Worm

Jillian Worssam, July 2, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Onboard U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Healy
July 1 – 30, 2008

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 2, 2008

Science Log

I am not sure if today is the first day, or yesterday, or was it last March when I had my PolarTREC training, but either way a new component of my Bering Sea Research started today.  I have met the boat; she is a grad old dame, with an amazing crew, and now 49 new scientists completing about seven different Bering Sea experiments.

This is the Healy, my home for the next 30 days, and so large I can not get the entire vessel into the picture.

This is the Healy, my home for the next 30 days, and so large I can not get the entire vessel into the picture.

We have not had our briefing, tomorrow 10:00, and all the parties will meet and greet.  For today though I explored the ship over 400 feet of floating science, and assisted those scientists who could use my untrained skills.

This is Chris Moser, we have set up the multi-corer and it is ready to take a bite of Bering Sea Shelf Sediment.

This is Chris Moser, we have set up the multi-corer and it is ready to take a bite of Bering Sea Shelf Sediment.

Chris Moser is one of those scientists, and gratefully put me to work on the multi-corer a sediment sampler.  I was fascinated and for over an hour plagued him with question after question.  I know a lot more now, and can’t wait to work with the \team in collecting not only the sediment samples but then seeing what information they collect and how this information is used.

Here is today's photo challenge, what is this item, and what do you think it is used for?

Here is today’s photo challenge, what is this item, and what do you think it is used for?

Quote of the Day:  If you understand,  things are just as they are:  if you do not nderstand, things are just as they are.    {Zen Verse}

FOR MY STUDENTS:  How much do you think it costs to operate the Healy for one minute of use?

Linda Armwood, April 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Armwood
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 25 – May 5, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: April 30, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 160 °
Wind speed:  5 kt
Sea wave height:<1 ft.
Swell wave height: 0 ft.
Seawater temp: 7.3
Sea level pressure: 1017.4 mb
Present weather: Mostly cloudy
Temperature:  °C~ 7.0dry/5.0wet

Arriaga Passage, AK

Arriaga Passage, AK

Science and Technology Log 

During the morning I spent a considerable amount of time in the pilot house on the bridge. It was imperative that I review the instrumentation and their functions as they relate to the ship’s navigation. Among  the navigation instruments are the Global Positioning System Navigator which shows the latitude, longitude, speed over ground and course over ground; the Gyro Digital Repeater which copies from the master compass which provides the true heading; the fathometer which is the echosounder from the bottom of the ocean that listens for how long it takes for sound to come back to the top; the magnetic compass which is the standard compass backup for the gyro; the two-bands Auto Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA) which can be used to get location and pertinent information of nearby vessels; the rudder angle indicator; the steering stand which has two steering positions of either hand or automatic; and the Machinery Alarm and Control System (MACS) which has multiple functions to include main engine monitoring, water intake, and electrical steering to name a few.

The afternoon was devoted to collecting several bottom samples in the Arriaga Passage which is a channel situated north of Noyes Island.  The samples were collected with a specially-designed backpack which contains a GPS and Differential GPS (DGPS) antenna and a laptop with appropriate software.  An open metal clamshell scoop which is attached to at least 300 feet of line is used by the surveyor to place in the water.  The line is loosened so that the scoop is able to reach the floor of the water without hindrance.  Once the line has stopped, the surveyor (or two) reels the line back up to the boat where the mouth of the scoop is opened to identify its contents.  The contents are then recorded on the laptop. This data is stored for later analysis of the ocean floor.

Personal Log 

The bottom samples assignment was a good workout! It was hard to return the starfish to its home, but an unoccupied clamshell will serve as a suitable souvenir.

Question of the Day 

Environmental Science Students 

In cooperative groups, create a graphic organizer that identifies and illustrates marine bottom-dwelling organisms.  Be certain to isolate similar characteristics of organisms.

Geospatial Semester Students 

Explain the disadvantage of absolute reliance on a magnetic compass for navigation.

Mrs. Armwood

Mike Laird, August 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 8, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 53.3 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.5 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 230˚
Wind Speed: 13kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1027.2 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

Today is probably the last day that I will be out on a launch, because tomorrow we will be running some survey lines using the ship’s sonar.  The launch I am assigned to (RA-2) is going out to collect bottom samples.  Bottom samples are primarily used to sample the ocean floor in areas that have been identified as potential anchor sites.  The information from the samples will be used to determine the locations of “good” anchor sites (sites that will provide a catch for the anchor, so it won’t just slide around).  These good anchor sites will then be included in the nautical information available for the area around Mitrofania.

A tool called a, clamshell sediment sampler, is used to retrieve the floor samples.  The clamshell is a metal tool about a foot-and-a-half long, weighing between ten and twenty pounds. It has a rounded head, really a set of spring-loaded jaws, mounted to a shaft that is seated on a circular metal plate (picture one half of a Q-tip that’s been cut in half with the cardboard shaft glued to an M&M and you’ll get an of what the sampler looks like).  The plate end of the tool is secured to a line and dropped head first over the side of the launch. When the sampler hits the seafloor, a lever activates the metal jaws (which were cocked open prior to the drop), they snap shut, and bingo a bottom sample.  On the launch, the line is threaded through an electronic pulley system and the sample is raised to the surface.  Most of the time this technique works well; however, sometimes the jaws fail to close, or they pinch shut on a rock allowing the sample to stream out on the way to the surface. In these cases, the procedure must be repeated.

Back on the launch, the sampler’s jaws are pried open and the contents are examined, and finally a record (including notations on the floor sample contents, latitude and longitude, and water depth) is created for the site. Once this is completed, the sampler is rinsed out, the boat moves to the next location, and the process is repeated.  Our team worked twenty-one sample sites and found some (not much) variety in our samples (shells only; shells and gravel; shells and silt; shells, silt and gravel; mud and gravel; and rock – determined after two casts returned with a closed, empty sampler).

Personal Log 

Today an unusual event – a bear sighting! The launch was moving to a new cast location when the coxswain, Carl, spotted three dots moving along a distant shoreline.  A closer look with the binoculars confirmed that the dots were bears (a sow and her two cubs).  The trio jogged along the shore as the cubs darted in and out of the surf frolicking and generally having a good time.  We eventually got too close and momma decided to head inland to the safety of the thick undergrowth.  Very cool!