Dana Clark : Alaska in 3D, June 30, 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 30, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 56° 34.74′ N, Longitude – 154° 02.21′ W, Sky Condition – 1/2 clouds, Present Weather – clear, Visibility – 10+ nautical miles, Wind – 15 knots, Temperature – 10° C

Science and Technology Log

I had a great day yesterday on the launch gathering more hydrographic survey data. We had a pretty, sunny day with calmer waves until the afternoon. Then the wind and waves picked up and we were tossed around a bit. It didn’t help that we had to survey an area called Whirlpool Point that is nicknamed “the washing machine”! Here is an 18 second clip as we entered the washing machine until I had to turn off the camera so I could hold on with both hands. Note that at the beginning, she says she’s stopping logging the data and you’ll see why!  


Dana Clark and CTD
Dana Clark getting ready to deploy the CTD

In this top picture you can see me getting ready to lower the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) into the water. After about 5-7 minutes the CTD is raised and then connected to the launch’s onboard computer which uses special software to download the data from the cast. In the picture below you can see Pat Berube showing me how to connect it to the computer. Once we gather this along with the multi-beam sonar data, the day’s work is saved to a hard drive and turned in to the evening processing crew.

Pat Berube showing Dana Clark CTD connection
Pat Berube showing Dana Clark how to connect the CTD for data download

They take the raw data from the launches hard drive, copy it to the ship’s network, and convert it to a format that is readable by the mapping software. They apply correctors like sound velocity from the CTD, tide, and the vessel’s motion data to correct the multi-beam soundings in processing. Let me show you what some of their digital terrain models (DTM) look like. When you have a DTM of the seafloor, it shows the morphology of the seafloor in a range of colors and shows features like rocky areas, sand waves, and seismic faulting. These are statistical representations of all the multi-beam sonar soundings.

Below you will see two examples of the the seafloor generated by Pat Berube, a NOAA hydrographer, that show a 3D base surface. The first one just has the 3D multi-beam base surface. The second one is the same but it also has a chart draped over it. The chart ends up being the final product with the new soundings shown on it. Look at the bottom left model and you will see a reef in the bottom right, a green trench with rocks in it in the middle and at the top yellow area are sand ripples. The large round black spot in the middle is an island and the smaller black circle to the right of it is a small group of rocks. There is also another trench on the left in blue. The colors are added to see the features better. The numbers on the chart on the right are fathoms, which show the depth. Click on each to bring up a larger high resolution picture.

3D model of the seafloor
3D model of the seafloor, NW of Aiaktalik Island, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Pat Berube and NOAA
3D model of seafloor with chart
3D model of seafloor with chart overlay, NW of Aiaktalik Island,  Alaska. Photo courtesy of Pat Berube and NOAA







In the two pictures below it shows the actual land features of the island that is the black circle in the 3D map above and the rock outcropping that is represented by the small black circle to the right. These pictures show how what we see when surveying transfers to what we see on the charts.

Small island
Small island NW of Aiaktalik Island, Alaska


Rock outcropping
Rock outcropping NW of Aiaktalik Island, Alaska.







Scientist of the Day

Today I would like you to meet Cathleen Barry, a Cartographer for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. Cathleen is someone who makes maps, more specifically, navigational charts. And she fell into this field of work in the most unusual way. She was a recent graduate of California State University, Northridge, with a BS in Earth Science. She has loved maps since she was a child, but little did she know then that she would end up drawing maps for a living! Working as a beginning Cartographer in the Marine Geophysics department on campus, her professor tasked her with making a poster to advertise a NOAA expedition to the Arctic.

Cathleen Barry, NOAA Cartographer
Cathleen Barry, NOAA Cartogropher aboard the Fairweather, 2012. Photo courtesy of Cathleen Barry

The Marine Geophysics department was looking for graduate students to participate in a geophysical cruise to the Bering Sea aboard the NOAA Ship Discoverer, a 100 meter oceanographic research vessel. When the poster was complete she drew ten lines on it for sign-ups, and after thinking about it, she decided to put her name on the first line. They needed a cartographer to map during this trip and a career was born!

This career has sure evolved over the years. When Cathleen started out, cartographers drew with pen and ink on drafting paper and now it’s all computer generated. Her job is to use the bathymetric and features data collected to update America’s nautical charts. Earth’s crust is very dynamic and the seafloor changes all the time! When she retires, maybe around 2020, she will say goodbye to a field she has loved for over 30 years.

Personal Log

I have to tell you, typing a blog while my body gently sways from one side to the other is very strange. My abdominal muscles, gluteus maximus, and quadriceps are getting a workout as my muscles tighten to help me to to stay put! I do need the mini workout since the cooks here keep us well fed!

The weather here is so variable. The temperature on my last blog was 21° C and today it was 10° C with cold winds. I was glad I was not out on the launches today and was interested in working with the mapping on the ship until I heard and saw video of what was in the water today. The launches saw a large pod of about 40 orca whales playing about right by their boats! I was so bummed I missed it. Maybe tomorrow?! Then again, tomorrow I will be in a launch that is going to survey a section of the seafloor that has a possible shipwreck in it. Sunken treasure anyone?

Question: Which picture do you like better, the daytime picture of Joe and me on the crest of Cape Kaguyak (note the orange Ambar boat to the left and the white ship Fairweather anchored to the right) or the nighttime picture of the sunset from the flybridge of the Fairweather? You can click on pictures in my blogs to see them full size. Vote in the poll below!

Dana Clark, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska
Dana Clark and ENS Joe Brinkley atop Cape Kaguyak, Alaska
Sunset from the Fairweather
Sunset from the NOAA ship Fairweather, June 28, 2014

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

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

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

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge

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

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

Science and Technology Log


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

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

This is one of the earliest known maps.  It is a clay tablet from Babylonia. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/m/map_of_the_world.aspx
This is one of the earliest known maps. It is a clay tablet from Babylonia.
2peutinger map
Romans used maps to identify villages and towns along the routes of conquering armies.
3paleolithic map
Here’s an early map drawn on stone.

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

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


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

Halley's map included information about global wind patterns.  Pretty important if you're on a sailboat navigating around the world!
Halley’s map included information about global wind patterns. Pretty important if you’re on a sailboat navigating around the world!
The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733
The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface

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

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

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS
A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS


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

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

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area
Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area
A Google Earth image of Cold Bay
A Google Earth image of Cold Bay
Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes.  See how many pass near SW Alaska.
Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes. See how many pass near SW Alaska.

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

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

There still may be some dragons out there!!
There still may be some dragons out there!!

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






 For a great cartographic mystery, check out this book:

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

Personal Log

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

Student Driver!
Student Driver!
driving 2
I might need to fine tune my driving skills before anyone really lets me be a hydrographer. Those white gaps are ‘holidays’–no data was collected. 

Mark Friedman, June 19, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 19, 2008

TAS Friedman holds up a macrocystis algae.
TAS Friedman holds up a macrocystis algae.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Southern winds 10-15, Patchy fog, High of 55 º F.
Seas a slight chop with waves of 3-5 feet.

Science and Technology Log 

The POD reports (Remember from the last log what a POD is?) 
We began this nearly two-day journey Wednesday, June 18 after a short day of surveying. The day before, June 17, I participated in a coastline survey team to check on smaller marine anomalies that could be rocks or dense macrocystis algae (A.K.A. giant kelp in southern California) that often appear as a solid formation from aerial observations and laser surveys done by the Coast Guard. The same macrocystis algae that has fronds (leaves) up to about 18 inches long in California, grows to over three feet up here. Each frond is as large as a tobacco leaf (see photo). My marine biology students back in LA will enjoy the comparison as I am drying some to bring it back. We shall arrive in Kodiak June 20 at 0900, and the crew and guests will disembark to get some land time. Some of us off hiking, others R and R camping, golfing, biking, etc.  We’ll return to the ship to sleep and I depart back for LA June 22.

My Project and Lesson Plan 

The macrocystis laid out on a bench is one meter long
The macrocystis laid out on a bench is one meter long

My task on board the RAINIER has been successfully completed.  It has been to learn as much as I can about hydrography and the charting of nautical maps. I shall be able to share this information with others thru the creation of a lesson plan soon to be available on the Teacher At Sea website.

The primary purpose of this lesson plan “Marine Careers on Board NOAA Research Vessels” is to make more available a descriptive motivation of potential jobs and careers that NOAA offers. To accomplish this I developed a questionnaire which 25 crew completed, from the ship’s commander to the entry-level wiper or ordinary seaman. Each interviewee was photographed on the job and both documents will soon be posted on multiple websites and made available to teachers and counselors internationally. There are hundreds of jobs available on NOAA ships and land support positions that are rarely publicized. Through this effort I hope to be part of publicizing NOAA job openings available to any youth over 18.

An Unforgettable Journey 

I have been fortunate to be on board this premier NOAA research vessel, RAINIER, for two weeks as an observer and student. It has been an exhilarating experience I shall share with other science teachers individually and at national, state and regional science conferences. The Teacher At Sea program is an exceptional opportunity for teachers to learn and be part of real time scientific research that has concrete and immediate application to understanding the marine environment and the preservation of its character in the face of the human destructive onslaught. I leave a more committed environmental steward, materialist and marine scientist. Please feel free to contact me for any information about the program or materials associated with this experience. Mark Friedman.  Mfriedman@animo.org.

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

Mark Friedman, June 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 16, 2008

Here I am studying nautical charts as preparation for the Tidal Gauge expedition.
Here I am studying nautical charts as preparation for the Tidal Gauge expedition.

Science and Technology Log 

Each day the RAINIER’s “Ship’s Officer,” in collaboration with the field operations officer and the ship’s commander, issue a “Plan of the Day” also known for short as the POD. (Who knows what marine animals move in groupings called a POD? First one to reply from Los Angeles gets a free Alaskan souvenir!) The POD contains important information such as, for Sunday, June 15, Sunrise was at 0415 (4:15 am), and sunset is at 2139 (9:39 pm!)  It will be a long day! I rise at 6 am to read the POD and find my assignment.

POD Revelations 
The ship’s position is: Anchored, Palisade Is., AK. The POD also has tide levels, U.S. Coast Guard beacons in the area, the weather, and who the officer on duty is. The weather you ask?  How important, especially because many of us are going out on launches and the smaller skiffs for specific assignments. The launch drivers need this especially to make sure all operations are safe. The winds are mild, coming in from the south at 5-10 mph, cloudy with showers, air temperature a balmy 51F with seas of 1-2 foot waves.

The POD has major assignments for anchor watch and officers on duty. Safety is a constant refrain as there are anchor watch positions around the clock to staff the bridge (command center) sending regular weather reports to the Coast Guard and National Weather Service and maintaining a secure and safe environment. The POD also lists all the assignments for the launch vessels being dispatched by the mother ship—no not Battlestar Galactica or the Enterprise, but the RAINIER. Today two vessels will be doing sonar readings around San Christoval Channel and North San Fernando Island. The other two, one of which I will be on, is going to remove a tide gauge and do a recon (reconnaissance) mission for a new tide gauge location.

The Journey Begins 

Here I am learning to withstand the cold in my Arctic survival suit.
Here I am learning to withstand the cold in my Arctic survival suit.

7 am- We are all up for a hearty breakfast, made by three talented chefs (especially in the omelet, soup and dessert department).

7:30am- I struggle into my arctic survival suit and boots in preparation for a “wet landing.”  I feel like Sylvia Earle in her “Jim Suit” as I waddle like a penguin to the stern of the ship to board a skiff for an hour journey up narrowing channels and over rapids to reach our destination. (I have put on all layers of clothing that I brought with me from Los Angeles, preparing for frigid temperatures and lots of wind and mist en route.)

8:30 am- With a spraying salt mist and a wind chill factor making the temperature about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we race up the labyrinth of islands and channels to our destination. A deer and her fawn stare blindly at us on our port side, a humpback whale breaches on our starboard. We even glimpse a couple of sea otters playing/rafting in the kelp.

On Location 
9:30 am- We have reached the tide (marine), or water level, gauge. Our assignment is to remove it after ensuring calibrations have been correct. The tide is coming in and the shore is covered with algae, mini-white barnacles, a sprinkle of clams, a species limpets and small purple mussel beds which are thriving.

A NOAA tidal gauge benchmark
A NOAA tidal gauge benchmark

What is a tide gauge and why are they important? 
Water level gauges are instruments to measure water surface elevation over long and short durations of time.  They have been used for centuries by mariners to improve their knowledge on the depth of water and apply this information to the chart. This information can aide in the calculation of tidal currents, the ebb and flow of water as the tides change. More modern gauges need a power supply to relay information via satellite to appropriate organizations interested in this data.

A tide gauge consists of a number of instruments including, foremost, a measured, calibrated staff that is securely mounted into rocks to give a visual baseline of water levels. It is connected to benchmarks by using a survey instrument called a level, which optically measures height differences on a survey rod, which I held during the operations. Benchmarks used by NOAA, and previously by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, are brass survey discs (see photo right) that are imbedded into bedrock and stamped with a code that correlates in NOAA data banks to date of installation, project, location number, etc. Five of them are traditionally imbedded at various locations in the vicinity of the staff. They are leveled between each other and the staff, establishing a mathematical correlation. Gauge measurements are all related to the benchmarks, which hold the permanent datum for the tide station.

The Underwater Component 

NOAA divers retrieve a submerged tidal gauge
NOAA divers retrieve a submerged tidal gauge

Another component of the gauge is an orifice (brass pipe with an open end) that is placed where it is continually submerged.  It is connected to an electronic readout instrument via strong plastic tubing that is filled with nitrogen. As the gas comes under more or less pressure, based on the pressure exerted by the quantity of water pressing down upon it (water pressure), it registers the height of water levels. (Similar to how air pressure is registered by a barometer, a little remembered instrument but critical to meteorological forecast and studies).The information on depth is thus recorded and electronically transmitted out of the area thru solar powered equipment. In addition to water levels for meteorological (weather) purposes, over time these tidal gauges, when coordinated with others and register actual sea level rise which is now occurring more rapidly due to glacial melting from global warming. They have also been used to register tectonic plate movements. We disassembled the land equipment after completing our benchmark surveys. Later we scouted for a new location further south for a new tidal gauge and benchmark installation site. Then the divers went into action (see above photos). Their job was to retrieve the submerged gauge and piping for future use. In the process they took a video of part of the undersea flora and fauna.

Back on the Ship 

All equipment is secured, checked and prepared for the next installation site. The gauge team tomorrow will secure benchmarks for the establishment of a new tide gauge station.  (Guess what? At the installation site they found a 1927 benchmark still intact and functional!!)

A sun star, a type of sea star, was observed during the tidal gauge dive.
A sun star, a type of sea star, was observed during the tidal gauge dive. 

Mark Friedman, June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.

Science and Technology Log 

This is a NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) ship based out of the U.S. Northwest. This ship is primarily dedicated to the construction and updating of marine navigational charts that are of importance to marine commerce, navigation and general recreation. To do this they use SONAR waves emitted from the bottom of the launch boats. (Underwater sound waves travel at 1500 meters per second, four times as fast as sound in air.) Data obtained by the ships surveyors are sent to marine map makers (cartographers) in Seattle and also NOAA’S base in Silver Spring, Maryland where they are processed and constructed and made available to the public in paper or digital format.

June 8 

Arrived Juneau Alaska. Greeted at the airport by the ship’s XO (Executive Officer).  Onboard I was issued a bunk (or a rack as mariners call it) and given a ship tour.  Once settled I visited the town, including a significant museum of history, artifacts and anthropology of the indigenous peoples and early European settlers. Juneau is a stopping off point for many of the Northwest cruise ships cruising the inside passage.

June 9 

Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK
Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK

Safety instructions: multiple videos on asbestos, personal safety, fire emergencies. Drill practice: Abandon ship, Man overboard. Survival suit issued along with multiple style life vests, hardhat. Underway from Juneau 1600 for destinations near Sitka to begin depth soundings for marine navigational chart additions and corrections. All is well. Bright outside and it’s nearly 9pm Wednesday night.  Sunset is at 10pm and sunrise at 3:15am. It is a long day by our usual Los Angeles standards. The water is 41 degrees (so you don’t want to fall in or risk hypothermia (rapid loss of base body temperature (Who can guess the temperature of hypothermia?) which rapidly sets in) and the air a cool and misty 51 degrees.

Green conifers line the banks and small islands proliferate in the inner passage here just south of Sitka. The inside passage was made by a combination of glaciers, volcanic and plate tectonic action (subduction of North American and Pacific plates). The tide differential from high to low can be extreme…nearing 30 feet in the Juneau harbor!  Spruce and pine trees abound, and snow-capped mountains on either side of us rise up majestically as we move along at about 12 knots (nautical speed terminology, or about 15 mph). The spruce are afflicted by the same type of exponential pine beetle growth that is devastating California and Southwest evergreens. No drought up here so scientists have no hypothesis yet as to the cause.

I had to get up at 4am yesterday (even earlier than my usual 5am school day rise) for a wild ride thru close straits (aptly named Peril) (must get there at high tide so there is enough clearance beneath and currents are not as dangerous with increased volume of water) entering Sitka for our first series of data collection, cartography of inside passage.

The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER
The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER

RAINIER to the Rescue 

There is an important heavy emphasis on safety and special cold water survival suits and vests, have been issued to all crew members, followed by instruction donning them and knowing out stations to report to for such rises as “fire onboard” and “man overboard.” We have already had an abandon ship drill. Yesterday after I joined three boats of marine surveyors which go out to surrounding areas in 29 foot launches to begin data collection thru the use of sonar, the RAINIER saved two fisherpeople whose boat had taken on water and was rapidly sinking. RAINIER heard their MAYDAY and was within 2 miles so they sent a rapid launch to the scene and got there even before the Coast Guard. Fortunately the fisherpeople had on their survival suits so they were not in too much shock when they were rescued. It brought home to me the importance of these survival suits that are like insulated neoprene wetsuits that are watertight. I’m always wearing some type of floatation vest while on deck or in the launch, colored bright orange for easy sighting when bobbing up and down in choppy seas.

Personal Log 

I saw some favorites yesterday too…but not too close. Sea otters and whales but too far away to identify. The most common up here now are the humpbacks. The gray whales that have migrated up from Baja California, the ones that can bee seen off the California coast are already further north feasting on that yummy krill, a marine crustacean key to the food web). And the ship’s cuisine—fine and more than plentiful prepared by multiple professional chefs…lots of healthy food and Tapatio, my newfound hot sauce delight thanks to my Mexicano and Latino students.

Fortunately there is a gym so I hopefully won’t come back TOO much heavier. Crew and staff of about 50…mostly young, lots of women for a big change from my last extended marine experience six years ago on the R/V New Horizon out of Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.

Vocabulary and Marine Terminology Hydrography- the science of measuring, describing and mapping the sea bottom, mudflats and the positions of stationary objects (seamounts, shipwrecks, etc.) Cartographer-makes nautical charts for the aid of moving ships on the ocean Echosounder-high resolution instrument to record depths of ocean bottom using SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging – similar to some marine mammals use of echolocation). Also a side-scan sonar can be used and is on the RAINIER. CTD-Instrument to collect and register conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth. Deployed by ship launches in each surveyed area to obtain data and make calculations on sound speeds of sonar under various conditions (deeper, warmer and saltier water increases the speed of sound waves due to density) Sound speed- Sound travels at a speed of 1500 meters/second faster than thru air that is 380 meters per second. (This enables whales to communicate over hundreds of m8iles of water)

Get Your Hands Wet 


Ginger Redlinger, July 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ginger Redlinger
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 15 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Baranof Island, Alaska
Date: July 18, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 325°
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 – 2 feet
Seawater Temperature: 13.9° C
Sea level Pressure: 1009.2 millibars (mb)
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Today’s Mariner word: Fiddly (Pronounced Fid-lee) the fiddly is the room above the engine compartment.

Survey Techs Hertzog & Boles prepare to measure sound velocity with CTD.
Survey Techs Hertzog & Boles prepare to measure sound velocity with CTD.

Wow – what a day. At 0800 hours we were briefed on our day’s work plan.  I was joining an experienced pilot (Coxswain) and two survey technicians on a research boat to take sound velocity readings in an area off the coast of Baranof Island.  First, we had the launch the boats from the ship.  The experience boat crew and I watched as the ship’s deck hands lowered the boats from their racks by crane to the side of the ship at a level that allowed us to climb aboard. (A few feet above water level).  The deck hands held the boat in position from above by crane, and on the sides to keep it from rocking back and forth and bouncing against the ship. Additional hands held ropes attached to the hooks and cables that we were going to release fore and aft hooks once the boat was in the water. Of course, the boat pilot needed to get the engine running right when the boat hit the water to keep it in the correct position against the side of the ship.  Launching while underway is challenging, and must be done correctly in order to ensure everyone’s safety. The boat’s personnel released the hooks and the deck personnel winched the hooks back to the starting positions.  Deck hands on ship held the boat in position with ropes fore and aft.  Once everything on the boat was checked and running the aft line was called in, then the bowline, and we were underway.  This was another example of the amazing teamwork I have witnessed everyday on this ship.

When we arrived at our survey area the technicians used a CTD to take an initial reading of the speed of sound at the surface of the water, then lowered it again to take the same reading at a much lower depth. (If you remember the last journal entry, this is the same process used to correct for the speed on sound on the RAINIER.) The readings are entered into the boat’s computer prior to taking any readings. While we took readings along our survey lines I asked the survey crew a question, “what about large mammals, won’t they interfere with the sonar readings?  The answer was “yes, if a whale is below us it would appear as a shadow on the computer screen. Algal blooms and kelp beds can also affect the quality of the readings.”

Survey Tech Boles monitoring the data recorded by the ELAC transducer
Survey Tech Boles monitoring the data recorded by the ELAC transducer

We tracked back and forth across our survey area. The direction and length of each survey line was determined the day before, and provide to the boat’s survey technicians.  No whales, algal blooms, or kelp beds today. Part of NOAA’s mission is to provide useful information to commercial navigators, and that includes fishermen.  We were very careful to adjust our movement across survey lines to avoid interfering with the fishing vessels. During our time on the boat I asked the crew questions about their background, the Coxswain (person who pilots the boat and ensures our safety) has been at sea for over 30 years. He is amazing.  He taught me how to pilot the board correctly.  My first try was not very successful. The second time I was much better.  I guess you could say that he is a good teacher, and a good seaman.

The two survey technicians on board track and record data. They have different backgrounds, but bring important skills to the task of gathering and reading data. The first, a young woman, has a degree in geology and works as a cartographer for the United States Geologic Service.  She is working on this boat this summer. The other is a young man from Tennessee who received his certificate in Geographic Information Systems. I have to admit, without the man who piloted the boat and kept it on a narrow track of water fighting swells, currents, and avoiding fishing boats – the rest of us wouldn’t have been able to take readings. Everyone has something critically important to do.

Coxswain Foye keeping the boat on the correct lines to record data.
Coxswain Foye keeping the boat on the correct lines to
record data.

How did we get the data from the boat to the on-ship computers? The data is cabled in from the boat to the plotting room where all the cartography hardware and software is located. (One way is to plug in a cable and download!) The database contains recent and historical charts made of waters that NOAA surveys. The FOO (remember, Field Operations Officer) showed me a chart created in 1924 of the same area. The technology used back then was lead lines and sextants. They would start by moving to a location, and then drop a lead line until it hit the bottom, counting the fathoms from surface to seafloor.  After recording it, they pulled up the lead line, and then traveled along as straight a path as possible, recorded latitude and longitude, and took another reading.  I didn’t count all the readings taken in this fashion on the old map, but there were well over one hundred readings in the small section we were surveying, and the old map covered a region much greater – the entire coastline and out to sea in the area we are working.  The FOO then did an amazing thing by overlaying the new map readings over the old map – it was amazing how accurate the old map still is!

You can find out more about early navigation and see maps made a long time ago here.

Coast & Geodetic Survey

Soundings (depth readings)

For information about prior work done in this area visit the NOAA photo library.

The need for accurate navigation information is as important now as it was back then.  Personal and commercial craft need to know where it is safe and where it is dangerous.  The FOO and I talked about how nice it would be someday to have a holographic representation of an area you are navigating (whether it is sea, lake, or river) that would allow you to see the bottom of the sea, the coastline, and the cloud layers.  Maybe future mariners, oceanographers, and technicians can make that available for everyone.

Questions of the Day 

Topic 1: There are additional corrections that the survey team includes in the analysis of the tracking data. Besides velocity of sound readings, what other data about the water in an area would be important to take into account? Hint: The moon has something to do with it.

Topic 2: Where can you earn a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), or a degree is Geology or Oceanography in the Northwest?  Where else can you learn about GIS?  Where can you learn the skills you need to work with the engineering crew, deck crew, or the Officer Corp in NOAA?

Topic 3: Can you name the earliest cartographer of this area, and when he did his work? Who else has surveyed this area?