Nikki Durkan: Navigating the high seas, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.5
Sea Temp (deg C): 11.1
Air Temp (deg C):  11.4

Meet:  Ensign Nate Gilman NOAA Corps Officer

Qualifications:  Master of Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College, Certificate in Fisheries Management from Oregon State University, Bachelors in Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College

Hails from:  Olympia, Washington

Photo Credit:  NOAA

Ensign Nate Gilman, Photo Credit: NOAA

What are your main responsibilities?  Nate is the ship Navigation Officer and Junior Officer On Deck. He not only drives the ship and carries out all the responsibilities that come with this job, but is also responsible for maintaining the charts on board, setting waypoints and plotting our course (manually on the charts and on the computer).  If an adjustment to our course is necessary, Nate must work with the scientific party on board to replot the transects.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Driving the ship, of course!  

Do you eat fish? **This is roughly how my conversation with Nate went on the subject of fish consumption: I don’t eat bugs. (He is referring to shrimp and lobster) – I thought I loved shrimp cocktail, now I know that I love cocktail sauce and butter, so celery and bread are just fine.

Aspirations?  Nate hopes to be stationed in Antarctica for his land deployment (NOAA Corps Officers usually spend two years at sea and three on land).  Ultimately, he wants to earn his teaching certificate and would be happy teaching P.E., especially if he can use these scooters, drink good coffee, ski, and surf.

Science and Technology Log

I spend much of my time on the bridge where I can learn more about topics related to geography and specifically navigation. This is also where I have easy access to fresh air, whale, bird, and island viewing, and comedic breaks. A personality quality the NOAA Corps officers all seem to share is a great sense of humor and they are all science nerds at heart!

Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Our Executive Officer, LT Carl Rhodes, showed me several pieces of equipment used to navigate and communicate at sea – the sextant, azimuth ring, and Morse code signaling lamp. Because the sextant relies on triangulation using the sun, moon, or stars – none of which we have seen often, the sextant is a beautiful, but not currently used piece of equipment for us on this trip. The majority of our navigation relies on GPS triangulation; however, the officers still need to mark on the charts (their lingo is to “drop a fix on”) our position roughly every 30 minutes just in case we lose GPS connection. Morse code is a universal language still taught in the Navy and NATO (they install infrared lights to avoid detection). Alternatively, on the radio English is King, but many of the captains know English only as a second language. Think you get frustrated on customer service phone calls? The NOAA Corps Officers actually go through simulations in order to prepare them for these types of issues. During one instance, the language barrier could have caused some confusion between LT Carl Rhodes and the ship he was hailing (the man had a thick Indian accent) but both were quite polite to each other, the other captain even expressed thanks for accommodating our maneuvers.  All the Officers attend etiquette classes as part of their training in NOAA Corps and I just read in their handbook that they must be courteous over the radio.

Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) - we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans.

Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) – we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans due to traffic.

Shipping with ships:  80% of our shipping continues to be conducted by sea and many of the ships we encounter here are transporting goods using the great circle routes. These routes are the shortest distance from one point on the earth to another, since the Earth is a spinning sphere, the shortest routes curve north or south toward the poles.  Look at your flight plan the next time you fly and you will understand why a trip from Seattle to Beijing involves a flight near Alaska. Airplanes and ships use great circle routes often and Unimak pass is a heavily trafficked course; however, ships also adjust their plans drastically to avoid foul weather – the risk to the cargo is calculated and often they decide to take alternative paths.

Look at a chart of the Aleutian Islands and you will quickly gain insight into the history of the area. On one chart, you will find islands with names such as Big Koniuji, Paul, Egg, and Chiachi, near Ivanof Bay and Kupreanof Peninsula. The Japanese and Russian influence is quite evident.  NOAA has other ships dedicated to hydrographic (seafloor mapping) surveys. The charts are updated and maintained by NOAA; however, in many cases, the areas in which we are traveling have not been surveyed since the early 1900s. Each chart is divided into sections that indicate when the survey was last completed:

  • A   1990-2009
  • B3 1940 – 1969
  • B4 1900 – 1939

An easy way to remember: When was the area last surveyed? B4 time. I told you they like their puns on the Bridge!

Flathead Sole - How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!

Flathead Sole – How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!

Personal Log

Maintaining fitness while at sea can be a challenge, and I am thankful the ship has a spin bike because trying to do jumping jacks while the boat is rocking all over is quite difficult, I am probably getting a better ab workout from laughing at myself.  Pushups and situps are an unpredictable experience – I either feel like superwoman or a weakling, depending on the tilt of the ship which erratically changes every few seconds.  Ultimately, I am finding creative ways to get my heart pumping – I do my best thinking while exercising!

One of my most valuable take-aways from this experience is my broadened perspective on those who choose to serve our country in the military and the varied personalities they can have.  Most of the individuals on board the ship year round have experience in the military and I have now met individuals from NOAA Corps, Coast Guard, Airforce, Army, Marines, and the U.S. Publice Health Service.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to meet them!

Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.

Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.

Did you know?  Saildrones are likely the next big step for conducting research at sea.  These 19 foot crafts are autonomous and have already proved capable of sailing from California to Hawaii.  Check out this article to learn more:  The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around The World 

Heidi Wigman: The Trigonometry of Navigation, May 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heidi Wigman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 27 – June 10, 2015


Mission: Reef Fish Surveys on the U.S. Continental Shelf
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico (29°30.456’N  87°47.246’W)
Date: May 29, 2015

Weather: 80°, wind SE @ 8-13 knots , 95% precipitation, waves 2-3 @ 3 sec.

Science and Technology Log

During my time aboard the Pisces, I wanted to focus on the use of mathematics in the day-to-day shipboard operations, and during science ops.  I have been lucky to find math everywhere – even down to the amount of pressure it takes to open a water-safe door (which is a lot).  As the officers navigate the Pisces through the Gulf of Mexico, special attention needs to be on the vast number on oil rigs in the area, as well as getting the scientists to the designated drop points.  As a course is charted through the water, environmental effects (current and wind) can alter its final outcome.  Basically, this is where trigonometry comes in to play – a real-life application, and answer, to the notorious “when am I ever going to use this?”

Suppose that the Pisces is traveling at a cruising speed of 15 m/sec, due East, to get to the spot of deployment for a camera rig.  The ocean current is traveling in a Southern direction at 10 m/sec.  These values are the “component vectors” that, when added, are going to give a resultant vector, and will have both magnitude and direction.  If you think of the two forces acting upon each other as the legs of a right triangle, and the resultant vector as the hypotenuse, then using the Pythagorean Theorem will allow you to compute the resultant velocity.  Use a trig function (invTAN) to find the angle at which the Pisces needs to travel to get to its drop point. 

Personal Log

Time goes by slowly at sea – and that’s a good thing for me! I miss my family and friends, but this is an experience that I am enjoying each minute of. Thanks Pisces crew for being awesome!

Coming next . . . Bandit Reels, CTDs and AUVs – oh my!

am shift (0400-0800) plotting our course

AM watch (0400-0800) plotting our course

DSC_1027

Pisces cruising the Gulf of Mexico

navigation tools of the trade

Navigation tools of the trade

Louise Todd, From the Bridge, September 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots

Science and Technology Log:

This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II.  Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate, and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!

The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots.  It was built in 1967.  It has two engines although usually only one engine is used.  The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf.  The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line.  My stateroom is below the water line!  Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.

The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation.  There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles.  These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys.  When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination.  The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms,  as they develop.

Radar Screen

The radar screen is on the far right

Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.

The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car.  ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes.  Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.

Charts

Navigation charts

When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line.  It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship.  While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed.  Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed.  The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back.  The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in.  The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back.  The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge.  A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!

Personal Log:

I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge!  Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus.  Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station.  We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.

The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake.  We’ve had nice weather too!  A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.

Did you Know?

The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth.  There are A, B and C stations.  A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms.  B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms.  C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms.  One fathom is equal to 6 feet.  A fathometer is used to measure the depth.

Fathometer

The fathometer is the screen on the left

Kaci Heins: Shoreline Verification and Auroras, September 27-29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaci Heins
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 17 — October 7, 2011

Heading Back to the Rainier After Shoreline Verification

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Thursday, September 29, 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast/Drizzle/Rain
Visibility: 2 Nautical Miles
Wind: 15 knots
Temperature
Dry Bulb: 8.2 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1001.1 millibars
Latitude: 55.42 degrees North
Longitude: -133.45 degrees West

Science and Technology

Waterfall on Shore

When we are out on a launch acquiring data there are so many beautiful shorelines to see.  From far away they look inviting, but in reality there are usually numerous boat hazards lurking below or on the shoreline.  I have written a lot about the hydrographic survey aspect of this mission and how it is important to ships so that they can navigate safely.

However, when we are out on a survey launch the first priority is safety of the crew, the boat, and the technology.  This means that we normally do not go anywhere that is shallower than about eight meters.   Consequently, this leaves areas near the shore that is not surveyed and leaves holes in the chart data.  This is where shoreline verification comes in using single beam sonar.  However, since the launch with the single beam is not operational at this time we have been using the multibeam instead.  The Marine Chart Division (MCD) gives the Rainier specific items that need to be identified because they are considered Dangers to Navigation,  or they need to be noted that they do not exist.  The MCD compiles a priority list of features that come from numerous sources such as cruise ships, aircraft pilots, and other boats that have noted that there may be a danger to navigation in a certain area.  Many of these charts have not been updated since they were created in the early 1900’s or never charted at all!

Before we leave the Sheet Manager and the Field Operations Officer (FOO) come up with a plan for what shoreline they want to verify for the day.  A plan must be made because there is a small window to acquire the information needed to satisfy the requests of the Marine Chart Division.  The shoreline verifications must be done at Mean Low or Low Water.  This means that it has to be done when the average low tide of each day comes around, which has been in the early morning and afternoon for us.

Shoreline 4 Meter Curve

Using the launches we head up to what is called the four meter curve.  This curve is the limit to where we can go during meal low or low water.  If we get any shallower or move closer to the shore then we will put everyone and everything in danger on the boat.  We bring with us  a camera to document the features, a clinometer, which allows us to document headings and angles, a laser range finder, charts that they can draw and note features on, and their computer software.   Once we get underway and arrive to our first rock that we have to document, the officers make sure they maintain good communication with the coxswain, or boat driver.  We make sure we circle everything in a counterclockwise motion so that he can see everything off to his starboard, or right side as we move.  We can see the rock become exposed as the waves move over it, but the tricky part is getting as close to it as possible without hitting it.  This is so we can get a precise location as possible for the chart.  Our coxswain was very experienced so we were able to get right next to it for photos, the heading, and to drop a target, or the location, in the software.

Notes Documenting Various Features

The rest of our shoreline verification was a lot less intense as we confirmed that there was a lot of kelp around the rocks, the shoreline, and specific rocks were in the correct place.  LT Gonsalves, the Hydrographer-in-Charge (HIC),  showed me how he draws some of the features on his chart and makes notes about whether the features are there or not.  I took photos and noted the photo numbers for the chart, as well as the range and height of various features.  Shoreline verification is very important for nautical charts so that ships and their passengers know exactly where dangers to navigation lie.  It takes 120 days from the final sounding for all the data to get submitted to the Hydrographic Survey Division.  From there the information gets looked over by numerous agencies until about 2 years later the updated chart is available.  This is quite a long time to wait for changes in dangers to navigation.  To be safe, the chart stays the same even if there is not a dangerous rock lurking around at mean low or low water.  It is best to just avoid the area and err on the side of caution.  There is still a lot of work to be done in Alaska that will take many, many years to complete.  However, it is thanks to hydrographic ships like the Rainier and its crew that get the job done.

Personal Log

NASA SOHO Image of Solar Wind and the Magnetic Field

Tonight was very special because we could actually see an aurora, or the northern lights,  in the night sky.  An aurora is a natural light display in the arctic and antarctic, which is caused by the collision of charged particles in the upper atmosphere.  Auroras start way back about 93 million miles (or 1 astronomical unit– AU) at the sun.  When the sun is active, usually due to coronal mass ejections, it releases energetic  particles into space with the very hot solar wind.  These particles travel very quickly over those 93 million miles until they reach the Earth’s magnetic field.   Most of these energetic particles are deflected around the Earth, but some get trapped in the magnetic field and are moved along towards the polar regions until they strike the atmosphere.  We knew there were possibilities to see an aurora while we were anchored, but usually it has been cloudy at night so we couldn’t see the stars.  However, on the 27th Officer Manda came through saying he had seen the lights.  Low and behold there was a green glow in the sky behind some clouds and a couple of times some of the energized particles made bands across the sky.  If there hadn’t been so many clouds I think it would have been even more spectacular, but I was so glad I did get to see them.  Very quickly, more clouds moved in and it was just a green glow on the horizon.  I also was able to see the milky way in all its glory and the brightest shooting star I have ever seen.  These amazing photos of the aurora were taken by Ensign Manda and I am very grateful he was willing to share.

Aurora and Shooting Star Courtesy of Ensign Manda

Aurora in Alaska Courtesy of Ensign Manda

Click HERE for a link to a neat animation of how an aurora is formed.

Student Questions Answered

Animals Spotted!

Seal On a Rock We Were Documenting

Seals – species unknown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question of the Day