Laura Grimm: How Do We Communicate?, July 12, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Laura Grimm

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 4 – July 22, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Lake Erie

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: July 12, 2022

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42 11.79’ N

Longitude: 080 07.79’ W

Sky Conditions: Few clouds

Visibility: 10+ miles

Wind Speed: 13.9knots

Wind Direction: 245ᵒ E

Lake Temperature: 22.3 ᵒC

Wave Height:  2-4 ft. ***

Dry Bulb:  24.3 C

Wet Bulb:  22.1 C

Relative Humidity: 84 %

(*** As the wave height increases, going up or down stairs is a lot like being on a roller coaster. As the ship moves up on a wave, you feel somewhat weightless. As the ship moves down, the G-forces (gravity) make you feel “heavy”. It is fun – until you run into the wall!)

Science and Technology Log

Standing on the bridge, one hears a lot of radio communication between boats and occasionally the Coast Guard.  The bridge also communicates frequently with the survey technicians via an intercom.  

This made me start to wonder about how the ship communicates in other ways.  Let me tell you, there are many other ways for the ship to communicate other than radio.  One way is via Morse code.   According to Kiddle Encyclopedia, “Morse code is a type of code that is used to send telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses dots and dashes to show the alphabet letters, numbers, punctuation and special characters of a given message. When messages are sent audibly (with sound) by Morse code, dots are short beeps or clicks, and dashes are longer ones.”

Morse code is named after Samuel Morse, who helped invent it. It is not used as much today as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Some people still use Morse code to communicate on amateur radio.  I have a friend who is an amateur radio operator.  He communicates with people all over the world using Morse Code.  (He even signs birthday cards in Code!)  In Girl Scouts, we were encouraged to learn Morse code.  All I remember is the distress code: SOS (. . . – – – . . .). 

International Morse Code chart of letters and numbers

Another way the ship can communicate is with a signal light.  The operator opens and closes louvers in front of the light using the same Morse code dot & dash patterns.

a NOAA Corps Officer closes blinds over a large circular light on a rotating stand
Morse code is still used on ships using lights.

Messages can be relayed via the ship’s horn.  I discussed in a previous post the ship’s alarm signals that indicate a fire or other emergency, man overboard, or abandon ship. However, the ship also has bells and whistles (different types of horns) that can be used for additional communication; these broadcast a message to a wider audience.  There are rules that regulate horn usage in inland and international waters.  These signals can communicate navigation or emergency information – and so much more.

Example: two prolonged blasts followed by one short blast = “I intend to overtake you on your starboard side”

If you are in distress, other ways to communicate include lights; a rocket parachute flare or a hand flare showing a red light; guns or other explosive devises; flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc.); a smoke signal giving off orange-colored smoke; slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side; etc.

Flags are also used to communicate with other ships or people ashore.  They consist of flags and pennants of varying colors, shapes, and markings. The flags have independent meanings; however, when used together they can spell out words and communicate complex messages.  The book International Code of Signals lists literally hundreds of 1-3 flag combinations that mean everything from describing medical conditions of crew members to issues regarding safe maritime travel.  The International Code Signal of distress is indicated by the flags that represent the letter “N” followed by the letter “C”.

two flags representing the letters "N" and "C." The "N" flag is checkered with navy and white squares. the "C" flag has five horizontal stripes: navy, white, red, white, navy.
N C = International Code Signal of Distress
a chart of flags (representing letters) and pennants (representing numerals)
International Flags and Pennants sometimes referred to as the Nautical Alphabet.

Something else you should know about communicating on a ship (or as an airplane pilot), each letter is represented by a word.  A = Alfa, B = Bravo, C = Charlie, D = Delta, etc.  To learn more, see the International Flags and Pennants illustration above.

For the little Dawgs . . . (and older)

Q: Where is Dewey today?  Hint: People on the ship use these to communicate.

Dewey the beanie monkey is tucked into a cubby storing flags and penants (close-up)
I’m not sure where you are, Dewey!  But it looks like you have found a very colorful playground.

A: Dewey is in the signal flag storage area.

Dewey the beanie monkey is tucked into a cubby storing flags and penants (wide view)
Signal flag storage area

The radio call sign of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is WTEA (Whiskey Tango Echo Alfa).  Do you see the flags flying from our mast in the pictures below?  The triangle pennant above the flags that indicate our radio call sign is called our commissioning pennant- indicating a government vessel (NOAA ship) in commission.  The triangles on this pennant symbolize a concept in navigation called triangulation.  According to Wikipedia, “triangulation is the process of determining the location of a point by forming triangles to the point from known points”.  It is a perfect pennant for a hydrographic vessel.

on the tower of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, we can see four rectangular flags (corresponding to the call sign, WTEA) and one skinny commissioning pennant
Radio call signs for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson WTEA (Whiskey Tango Echo Alfa)
four rectangular flags (corresponding to the call sign, WTEA) and one skinny commissioning pennant
Radio Call Sign Flags

Students, I challenge you draw out your name using International Flags.

image of five letter flags in a row
These flags spell out, “GRIMM” (Golf, Romeo, India, Mike, Mike)
image of six letter flags in a row
These flags spell out, “DALTON” (Delta, Alfa, Lima, Tango, Oscar, November)

Click on this link and/or watch the video below for more information about International Flags and Pennants.

International Code of Signal Flags

Ship Joke of the Day 

How do boats say hello to one another?  (They wave!) . . . Or, do they wave their flags?

Personal Log

Speaking of flags, I had very meaningful thing happened today.  I was just hanging out in the bridge.  I like to see how they navigate and steer the ship.  (It is also a great place to bird watch.)  Operations Officer, LT Levano, asked me if I would like to have a flag that flew over the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.  Whenever a flag becomes a bit tattered or torn, they take it down and replace it with a new one.  They usually give the old flag to the Boy Scouts of America for disposal.  This time, however, they gave it to me!  It brought me to tears.  It was a very special moment for me as a Teacher at Sea.

Able Bodied Seaman (AB) Kinnett and ENS Brostowski folded the flag and made the formal presentation.

  • two crewmembers hold an old American flag out by its corners to prepare for folding
  • two crewmembers folding the flag lengthwise
  • one crewmember holds a folded edge while the other folds his side over in right triangles
  • crewmembers folding a flag
  • crewmembers stand holding the old American flag as a folded triangle

Previews of coming attractions:

  • Tonight, is movie night in the lounge.  Word has it that the featured film will be Monty Python and the Holy Grail!  Woo Hoo!  That is one of my favorites! 
  • Also, the Plan of the Day (POD) for tomorrow states that the crew will be deploying and recovering the Fast Rescue Boat (FRB).  Sounds like fun!
  • I will share the results from the first Human-Interest Poll (HIP) of the crew.

Jennifer Petro: Diving into the Deep, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July 10, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 28.4°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1010.20 mb
Humidity: 76%
Wind direction: 103°
Wind speed: 1.5 knots
Water temp: 27.5° C (81.5°F)
Latitude: 32 81.67 N
Longitude: 78 12.95 W

Science and Technology Log

The most integral piece of equipment on board is the ROV.  A Super Phantom S2 to be precise.  The ROV is operated by the team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW).  Dubbed by me as the “ROV Guys”, Lance and Glenn have almost 50 years of combined experience working on and operating ROVs. The Super Phantom S2 is part of UNCW’s Undersea Vehicle Program which currently consists of 2 ROVs and 1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or (AUV).  In the fall they will be adding a third ROV to their fleet.  The ROV set-up is quite impressive and centers around one key component….communication.  The ROV is tethered to the ship by an umbilical.  During each and every dive the ROV operator is in constant contact with the ROV deck.  The umbilical is either payed out over the side or brought back in according to the dive depth and that needs to also be communicated to the wench operator.  The ROV deck is constantly watching the direction and tautness of the umbilical so that it does not get overstretched or goes into the boat’s prop.  All the time the ROV driver is in contact with the bridge.  So, there is a lot of communication and it is integral in every aspect of ROV operations.

Not only are all of the people involved in ROV ops communicating but the ROV and boat are communicating

as well.  The ROV uses an integrated navigation system to provide real-time tracking of the ROV and ship to the ROV operator and the Pisces bridge for navigation.  Ship and ROV positions with ROV depth, heading and altimeter reading are logged for each dive and provided to the scientist in an Excel file. Geo-referenced .tif files can be used as background files to aid in ROV and support vessel navigation.

The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fox the transducer early in the cruise.
The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fix the transducer early in the cruise.

The front of the ROV showing spot lights and camera arrays.
The front of the ROV showing spotlights and camera arrays.

The ROV can go to a depth of approximately 305 meters (1000 ft).  Our deepest dive on this cruise is 200 meters (650 ft) which is 20 atm of pressure! What does that mean? At sea level, the weight of all the air above you creates one “atmosphere” (atm) of pressure equivalent to 14.7 pounds pressing on each square inch.  In the ocean, the pressure increases very rapidly with depth because water is much denser than air. For every 33 feet  (10 meters) of depth, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere.  So at 20 atmospheres there is a lot of pressure pushing down on all sides. It is the increase in pressure that makes it difficult to do manned deep water dives and one of the reasons why the use of ROVs is so important.

As an experiment we sent styrofoam cups that we had decorated in a bag along with the ROV down to a depth of 170 meters 550 ft.  The cups shrink due to the increased pressure of the water.  The deeper you go the more they will shrink.

Styrofoams cups.  Before and after being sent down with the ROV.
Styrofoams cups. Before and after being sent down with the ROV.

Data collection:  Data is collected during each dive by the means of video recording and still camera photos.  Each camera is in a special pressure rated, water proof housing.  There is special attention given to the 7 target species (5 of which we have recorded this cruise) as well as any new or interesting species that we have seen.  This data is analyzed back in the lab.  So far we have approximately 64 hours of video and 2400 still photos.  Needless to say reviewing the data is time-consuming but a very important aspect in confirming what we see during the actual cruise.

Still photos taken with the ROVs Nikon CoolPics camera.

Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phatom ROV.
Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phantom ROV.

Dive 2246 064 08 56 40
Hogfish

Dive 2246 046 08 41 58

Driving the ROV is much like playing a video game, only you have many more screens you have to monitor.  I did get an opportunity to drive it over sand!  According to Lance it takes about 20 hours of training to learn to drive effectively drive the ROV.  There are no simulations, all of the drive time is hands-on and in the water.

Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.
Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.

IMG_9043

Personal Log

While I was in the Acoustics Lab speaking with the folks that do the multibeam mapping, I looked down at the probes that they use and a single word jumped out at me: “Sippican”.  I know this word from my childhood.  We used to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Al in Marion, Massachusetts which sits on Sippican Harbor off of Buzzards Bay.  Sure enough the probes are made by Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc. located in Marion, MA.  This struck me as so apropos.  My Uncle Al was a marine biologist and started a research lab in Falmouth, MA.  I would go to the lab with him and count flounder larvae for hours on end.  He was very instrumental in developing my love for marine science and I was overjoyed to have a connection, albeit small, to a man whose work I admired very much.

Sue Zupko: 11 Belts and Suspenders

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to St. Lucie, FL
Date: June 7, 2011
Time: 10:00 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 27.3°N 79.6°W
Present weather: 4/8 Alto cumulus
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 082°
Wind Speed: 4 kts
Surfacel Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 100° true
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 27.1°
Barometric Pressure: 1014.5mb
Water Depth: 80m
Salinity: 36.56 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 27.2/24

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

The first ROV we used on the Pisces for our Extreme Corals 2011 expedition is a custom designed craft called The Arc.  The crew, led by Dr. John Butler at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, has been developing The Arc since 2007 and launched it in January of 2011.  The Arc is ideal for monitoring fisheries, improving species identification, and developing new methods of studying fisheries.  It can withstand pressures and dive to 1000 meters (actually it dives to 600 meters since that is how long the tether is).  When on land, it weights 264 kg (580 pounds).  It has a rectangular prism shape with a length of 190 cm (75 in), width of 117 cm (46 in), and a height of 84 cm (33 in).  Just for fun, do this math quiz.

 The pilot sits on the ship and tells The Arc what to do.  It’s like playing a video game.  The pilot and his navigator coordinate movements, watching the computer screen with the ship’s and The Arc’s positions clearly showing.  The navigator is in constant communication with the officers on the bridge of the Pisces using a walkie-talkie to relay messages and information between the ship’s pilot and the ROV’s pilot.  The bridge also has a navigation screen to monitor the position of the ship relative to the ROV.  The fishermen on the deck running the winch also have  walkie-talkies so they can be told when to adjust the length of the cable to the ROV.  Communication is very important.

Front of ROV with headlights peering down.  Lots of black tubing and a yellow rectagle.
Front of ROV

The ROV is pretty neat.  It has headlights similar to robots from old Sci-Fi movies so it appears creature-like, but without the spindly legs.  Bright lights are needed because that’s about the only light that is available at great depths.  There are four LED lights with 2600 lumens each.  A 100 watt incandescent light bulb in your lamp has about 1750 lumens.  How many lumens total does the ROV produce?  Again, doing the math it would be 2600×4=10,400 lumens for the ROV.  This is roughly twice as much as your four lightbulbs at home.   Looking at the pictures from the bottom of the sea where it is normally dark and the tiny amount of light reaching the bottom makes everything look dark blue or black (see my earlier post on light in the ocean) we can see the colors almost as they would appear in a tidal pool.

ROV hanging from a cable being lowered into the water.

The ROV has many instruments to measure data and take photographs of what it “sees.”  It has a  CTD ( measures Conductivity, from which we calculate salinity,  Temperature, and Depth) as well as an oxygen sensor.  The best part is the laser beam system which measures things like a ruler.  With the help of the high definition camera, we were able to see the fish and invertebrates we were studying.  Using the laser beams, we could not only measure their size, but how far away they were.

Crab on sandy bottom with 4 red laser beam lights and one green
Cancer borealis

Note the red dots parallel to each other.  The top two red ones are always 20 cm apart and in this picture the two on the bottom are 40 cm apart.  The green light helps measure the distance to the crab.  Apparently this crab is about 20 cm across.  The lasers are fabulous for helping to keep things in perspective.

Yellow hose with some pink covering
ROV Tether

Dave Murfin, one of the ROV crew, was commenting to me about this picture after reading my blog.  He said the pink stuff was the foam jacket used for floatation cut off from an old ROV cable, and he thought it looked ugly.  However, given a new perspective of it, he thinks it looks cool.  The pink foam helps protect the tether on deck and if it scrapes across rocks on the ocean floor.  These ROV engineers added the large floats for the last 40 meters of the tether to keep it off the bottom and avoid becoming tangled in the coral and rocky habitats we are studying.

Spool with yellow tether
Spool of ROV tether

The tether for The Arc is wrapped on a spool for easy retrieval and transport.  It is 610 meters long and has three fiber optic cables in the center surrounded by insulation.  Around that are copper wires to conduct power from the ship, which is why they need a cable.  If it ran on a battery, like a submarine, it could be on the bottom alone and the scientists would have to wait for it to return to see what data was stored inside.  By using a tether, the scientists have much more control and can move the ship to study something of interest.  Although technology is rapidly advancing, it is not quite possible yet to create a vehicle which would do everything the scientists need.  Therefore, we continue to use the tether with the ROVs.

So, what do belts and suspenders have to do with the ROV?  Well, there is an old saying that you don’t rely on just one thing; you always have a backup.  If the belt on your pants doesn’t work, you have the suspenders to hold them up.  The Arc is a new system.  It is the belt and the system with 700+ dives to its credit is the spare (suspenders), just in case.   Technology.  It can be fabulous, but very frustrating when it gives you problems.  As a teacher, I have to plan for technology to be down as well.  I can’t have my whole lesson plan revolving around technology.  What if the internet is down that day?  Well, the students could get pretty wild without a back up plan.  As my mom used to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  What if the basket dropped?  You are out of luck.

As I mentioned before in my blog, these men and women are dedicated professionals.  They have lots of experience with this equipment and know the unexpected can happen.  If you forecast about the unexpected, you can be prepared.  I have always known that duct tape is a useful tool.  Bungee cords are useful.  Redundant cables, nuts, bolts, and spare parts are all on board.  Having the spare ROV was just good planning and good sense.  We have still been able to work our mission with some modifications.  Bravo to this bunch for continuing to make things happen despite the unexpected happening.  Because of them, we have some wonderful video and photographs to see what is happening on the coral reefs we have been studying.

Scott searching for cables in a box
Scott Mau searches for necessary cables

And the answer to the poll at the beginning of this post is…less than 2 knots.  They really prefer currents less than 0.5 knots.  This week we’ve launched in currents which were 3.5 knots.  Sometimes it caused problems, sometimes not.  Here are some pictures from the bottom.

Purple sponge which looks like a jaw opening from the bottom.
Purple barrel sponge

Pinkish purple sea fan on bottom
Sea Fan Octocoral

Sea floor with white whiplike strands
Black coral "forest", Stichopathes

Everyone keeps asking me if I have driven the ROV.  I asked the ROV crew about it and they all just smiled.  Although it looks like a video game, the ROV is not a toy and not to be given to a novice to control.  Considering I can’t get down the stream on Wii Fit without crashing into the side of the stream, they sure don’t want me at the helm of this incredible piece of technology.  With the ROV, there is no opportunity for a second chance if you crash and burn.  Therefore, I’ll leave the driving to them.

Men watching computer screens in control room piloting the ROV
Teamwork. Kevin is piloting the ROV with the help of John and Dave.