Meg Stewart: Data Acquisition on a Small Boat: Tips and Tricks, July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 9 knots SE
Barometer: 1005.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 61° F or 15.5° C
Weather: Overcast with fog, no precipitation

Fairweather in fog
The other day while on a survey launch, we came up on the Ship Fairweather as fog was rolling in.


Science and Technology Log

Launch preparation
A launch getting ready to survey. The setup process takes some time and all of the preparation is necessary for accuracy in the data.
Heave, pitch, roll, and yaw describe the movements of a boat (or a plane). An inertial measurement unit reads those discrete movements. Source: wikipedia

In the last post I talked about hydrographic surveying, the software used and the multibeam echosounder on the survey boats (called launches). The software is setup in the cabin by the hydrographer in charge. It takes a good five minutes to get an accurate read from the GPS (global positioning system) receiver. Then it takes time for the IMU (inertial measurement unit) to respond and start to read the boat’s heave, pitch, roll, yaw, and heading values. 

hydrograpers
The hydrographer in charge (standing) is showing the hydrographer in training (seated) how to setup the day’s survey project using the echosounder software.
launch data storage
The four Fairweather launches have the same, high-end technology in their cabins used to collect data from the multibeam echosounder, CTD sensor, a sound speed system, and a positioning and altitude system.

Often, the launch drives in a circle eight in order for the positioning receivers to be “seen” by the satellites, as a  stationary object is more difficult to detect than one that is moving. Setting up the day’s project using the multibeam echosounder software also takes some time but all the steps need to be done properly and to the correct specifications prior to starting the sounder. If not, the locational data will be wildly off and the depths inaccurate.

Another task that must be done from the launch before starting to transect is to test the salinity and water temperature using a CTD probe, which is called a cast. I mentioned this in a previous post. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. In the general area where the launch will survey, the CTD drops slowly to the bottom of the seafloor, collecting data that will be fed into the hydrographic program. Salinity and temperature at different depths will slightly change the rate at which sound travels in water. Again, the CTD process makes the location and depths as accurate as possible and must be done.

Meg casts CTD probe
Casting the CTD probe into the survey location to get conductivity, temperature and depth readings.

Usually, the chief hydrographer sets the defined area to be transected for the day and this is usually a polygon. The launch will sweep with the multibeam echosounder the outside lines and then scan at parallel set distances between the lines, either in a roughly north-south direction or a roughly east-west direction. For this particular hydrographic project, coverage of survey lines can be spaced at about 400 meters apart or greater apart depending on the depth. Recall that the nautical chart of Bristol Bay from the last post showed soundings dotting the area. Solid bathymetric coverage is not always needed on these projects. The Cape Newenham area has proven to have gradually varying depths and is mostly quite flat so free from obvious obstructions like large boulders and sunken ships. 

Once the technology setup is complete in the cabin, the hydrographer shares the map window with the coxswain (the person in charge of steering or navigating the boat). The hydrographer sets the points and the lines so that the coxswain knows where to direct the launch. And by direct, I mean the coxswain uses compass direction and boat speed to get from place to place for the survey. And the hydrographer in charge turns the echosounder on and off when the launch is in position or out of position.

Coxswain
The coxswain navigates the survey line set by the hydrographer in charge.

Because the transects run parallel to each other and are equally spaced apart, the hydrographers call this technique “mowing the lawn,” (see video below) for they are essentially mowing the surface of the ocean while the multibeam echosounder is collecting soundings of the surface of the seafloor.

A video of someone mowing a lawn on a riding lawnmower

A day out on a launch will go from about 8:30am to about 4:30pm but sometimes an hour or so later. If the Alaskan weather is cooperating, the hydrographers want to do as much as they can while out on the launch. Once surveying is complete for the day, the hydrographer in charge has to close up and save the project. Then data get transferred to the larger workstations and shared drive on the Fairweather.

Meg on launch
Every day on the launch, at least on this leg, has been great with perfect weather. And today, the added bonus for me was the phenomenal geology as we surveyed right along the shore.


Personal Log

I’ve taken loads of photos and video while at sea. I have tried to post just those pictures that help explain what I’ve been trying to say in the text. I haven’t posted any video on here as the internet on the ship is very weak. These next photos are a tour of different parts of the NOAA Ship Fairweather.

  • view of the bridge 1
  • view of the bridge 2
  • view of the bridge 3
  • barometer

The above slide show gives an idea of what the bridge is like. The ship is steered from the bridge. All the navigational instruments and weather devices, among other tools, are found on the bridge.

emergency billet
These emergency billets are for me, TAS Stewart, Meg, and it’s posted on my door. For each emergency situation, Fire, Abandon Ship, or Man Overboard, there is a bell sound and the location on the ship where I am to muster. Life at sea is all about being ready for anything.
mess
This is the mess (where we eat. And eat. And eat!) The food is fantastic but I’ve gained some pounds for sure.
Ice cream spot
Maybe this is why. Sometimes the Ice Cream Spot looks like this. Ha!
The galley
The galley
Laundry
Laundry machines available and detergent is supplied. No need to bring all your clothes. Also, sheets and towels are supplied.
Stairs
Stairs are called ladders on a ship. Makes sense to me – they’re often pretty steep. You must always hold a rail.
The Lounge
The Lounge
DVD collection
DVD collection of over 500 films
Lounge full of people
Yes, so this is the lounge and there can be meetings in here, training, movies, games, puzzles, quiet space, etc.
DVD in stateroom
Or, you can pop a DVD into a player in the Lounge, go back to your stateroom and watch. Or fall asleep. This is the original Blade Runner (which I never saw) and which I didn’t care for.
Finer things
The good folks of Ship Fairweather like to have a nice time every now and again, so they set up evenings, about once a leg, to have Finer Things. People come by, bring fine cheeses, fine chocolates, fine almonds, fine fig jelly, and fine maple sugar candy from Rhinebeck, NY, and have a fine time. And a disco ball.


Did You Know?

Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) technology that is so important for accurate hydrographic survey mapping was developed by the U.S. military. IMUs were used in the development of guided missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (and now drones), battlefield reconnaissance, and target practice.

Quote of the Day

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Grace Hopper

Tom Savage: Surveying the Coastline of Point Hope, Alaska, August 12, 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 12, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Dry bulb 8   Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology

Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor?  As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857.  The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.

This data was compiled by NOAA using 10 different sources. For further information as how this data was compiled visit https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/mar14/alaska-sea-ice.html. 

The light grey indicates  0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift.  The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack.  The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857

Ice Concentration August 1957

Ice Concentration August 1957

Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts.  Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.

As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important.  Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore.  In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing).  In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.

 

Safety Briefing

Safety Briefing by LT Manda – photo by Tom Savage

 

Deploying a launch boat

Deploying a launch boat – photo by Tom Savage

The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.

deploying CTD

TAS Tom Savage deploying the conductivity, temperature and density probe ~ photo by Megan Shapiro

The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.

Coxswain

Coxswain Zucker – photo by Tom Savage

The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.

 

 

 

 

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected.  The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting.  Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!

 

Personal Log

I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities.  Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July!  For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?

Question of the day.  Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above?      Data table below……    Answer in the next blog

What is the relative humidity?

What is the relative humidity?

 

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom

Sandra Camp: What’s the Most Adorable Fish? June 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015


Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: June 19, 2015

Weather Data: partly cloudy, isolated showers, visibility > 7 NM (nautical miles), winds NE 10-15 KT (knots), seas SE 4-6 ft., air temperature 86° F, water temperature 79° F


Science and Technology Log

So how exactly do marine biologists conduct fish surveys under water? If you are a student in my class, you know that science cannot be conducted all random and willy-nilly. There has to be a standardized procedure in which different variables are controlled in order to ensure the data you collect is meaningful. Some of the variables that are controlled during scientific dives are location, depth, and time.

dive site map

This map shows the survey sites around the island of Hawaii. – photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Location: In order to ensure that scientists get an accurate overview of the health of an island’s reefs, sites from around the entire perimeter of the island are chosen. It would not tell scientists very much if they decided to survey, say, only the eastern side of an island, or only two different sites on the island. As an example, here is a map of the areas that will be visited around the island of Hawaii. On this map, daily survey areas around the island are indicated by red rectangles, as seen on the inset map. The larger map shows each individual dive site in one of those areas. Which area is shown on the large map? Each site is given an identifying number and a code for depth.

Depth: Again, scientists would not get a very accurate picture of the health of the coral reefs if they only conducted dives at the same depth. A variety of diving depths are chosen, and these depths are recorded as shallow, moderate, or deep:

shallow: up to 20 ft

moderate: 21-55 ft

deep: 56-80 ft.

Can you tell me how shallow, moderate, and deep are coded on the map above?

Time: After divers descend to their survey sites, they take a benthic photograph so they can later confirm what type of reef habitat it is. Then they count the fish they see in their location for a certain amount of time. It would not be a “fair” count if one diver counted fish for 10 minutes, while another one counted fish for 20 minutes. For this particular research cruise, pairs of divers (you never dive alone) go under water, stand in one spot, and count the fish they see in a 15 meters diameter cylinder for 30 minutes. The Random Sea Survey graphic here shows how these surveys are conducted. This type of survey is called a Stationary Point Count Survey.

DiverMethod

How a Stationary Point Count Survey is conducted – photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Form Fail

I was on the boat called Metal Shark. Woops!

Every day, each boat completes a Dive and Navigation Information Form. On this form, the boat crew notes the date and number for each site visited. GPS is used to record the latitude and longitude of the site. Ryan, one of the coxswains, taught me how to use the GPS to identify and record latitude and longitude for dive sites. In addition, after the dive is complete, divers complete some information about the site, such as what kind of benthic (floor) cover it has. Here is a picture of a properly completed form, not to be confused with my team’s form, which was a FAIL today (But it was the divers’ section that was not complete, not mine!). Kevin Lino, the scientist being interviewed in today’s blog, completed this excellent example. He is in charge of this whole operation, so his form should be perfect, shouldn’t it?

Dive Nav Sheet

This is an example of the correct way to fill out a Dive & Navigation Form – photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries


Interview with a Scientist

Kevin Lino is a Marine Ecosystems Research Coordinator for NOAA’s CRED (Coral Research Ecosystem Division), and the Project Leader for this cruise, the Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey. He is the man running the show here, and I can vouch that he is very capable and very good at his job.

Kevin Lino

Kevin Lino in his native habitat -photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

What are your primary responsibilities? Coordinating operations and logistics for field efforts, primarily conducting reef fish diver surveys. I do pre-planning, documentation, paperwork, certification of divers, surveys, post cruise activities, plus act as dive master and boat instructor.

What do you love most about your job? Fish! I’m a fish nerd, and have been since I was a kid. I was obsessed with sharks as a kid, and loved what Shark Week used to be: real information, not dramatized. Tiko and the Shark was a movie I loved as a kid. I grew up fishing and spending time on boats. Growing up, I had a goal to dive with every species of shark on Earth. I have so far dived with 38. Most of the rest are deep-water sharks, and I would need a submarine to see them.

Hawaiian Morwong

Hawaiian morwong: check out its cute little lips! -photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Do you have a favorite fish? Yes! My favorite fish is the Hawaiian Morwong because it is ADORABLE. My favorite shark is the Mako shark. It is like a miniature Great White shark. It is the fastest shark in the ocean. It has perfect aerodynamics because it is built for speed. It hunts the fastest fish in the ocean: the sailfish.

What kind of education do you need to have this job? I studied biology as an undergrad. I took summer classes in ocean environments and elective courses in marine biology. In college, I also took diving courses.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in your line of work? Study science and math, get in the water, volunteer and help out at places like the Marine Mammal Center, beach/ocean clean ups, and meet other biologists.


Personal Log

Driving the HI-2

Coxswain Sandra Camp

Today during small boat operations, our coxswain, Rich (possibly the nicest person I have ever met), let me drive the boat HI-2. There is a lot to maneuvering a boat through swells and protectively around divers. Rich makes it look easy, but it isn’t! I am hoping that before I leave, they will let me try talking on the radio and hook or unhook one of the small boats as they are launched.


Did You Know?

Hawaiian Morwong 2

Hawaiian Morwong -photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

The Hawaiian Morwong, that adorable little fish, has very strong pectoral fins that they use to prop themselves up on the bottom of the sea floor. They eat by pressing their thick, fleshy lips to the bottom, sucking in sand and detritus, and then filtering out small invertebrates.

 


Sandra Camp: A Day in the Life of a Marine Biologist, June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015


Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: June 17, 2015

Weather Data: mostly cloudy, showers, visibility > 7 NM (nautical miles), winds east 10-15 KT (knots), air temperature 80° F, water temperature 80° F


Science and Technology Log

Days at sea begin early for the scientists aboard the Hi’ialakai. There are push-ups on the bow at 0630 (not mandatory), followed by breakfast at 0700. After breakfast, everyone meets outside on the deck at 0730 for a meeting about the day’s diving. Safety procedures are always reviewed during this meeting.

Morning Meeting

Morning meeting at 0730 in the fantail

Afterwards, the divers suit up, get their gear together, and get ready to board small boats, which will take them to the day’s scheduled diving sites. The way the small boats are lowered into the water with their passengers and gear from the larger ship is nothing less than a carefully orchestrated ballet of synchronized movement, line management, and communication.  The chief boatswain (“bosun” for short), the senior crewman of the deck department, is in charge of this process.  You can see him in the first photo, operating the crane.  Anyone on deck during this time must wear a hardhat for safety purposes.  You would not want to get hit in the head with moving cranes, hooks, or cables!

First, the small boats are lifted from the upper deck with a crane and lowered over the side of the ship.

Then, gear and passengers are loaded onto the boat, and it is carefully lowered into the water. Lines are released. and the boat drives away.

After that, the coxswain, the driver of the boat, takes the divers to the first survey site of the day. As we learn in class, a very important part of any scientist’s job is to gather evidence and data. Three to four groups of divers in separate small boats will gather data from 5-7 different sites each per day. After this project is complete, scientists will have gathered data from hundreds of different sites around the main Hawaiian islands.  At each site, they do fish counts and benthic (sea floor) analysis. They estimate the amount of coral present on the sea floor, and then list fish by their species and quantity. Each diver takes a clipboard with a waterproof piece of paper attached to it on which they record their data. They also carry waterproof cameras with them, as well as a small extra tank of oxygen called a RAS (Redundant Air System) that they can use in case their tank runs out of air.

After data is recorded for several different sites, the small boats return to the ship no later 1700, which makes for a very long day out on the water. Dinner is from 1700-1800, and afterwards, scientist divers head to the dry lab, where all the computer equipment is located, to enter the data they gathered on fish during their surveys.


Scientist Interview

While we were out at diving sites today, I had the opportunity to interview Jonatha Giddens, one of the divers on the boat. Jonatha is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has an undergraduate degree in coral reef fish ecology, and she is currently studying the effects of an introduced grouper (a species of fish that is not native to Hawaii) on the local marine ecosystem for her Ph.D.

Jonatha Giddens

Jonatha warming up after a dive

What are your primary responsibilities? Being part of the fish team, scuba diving, doing fish surveys, and entering the data collected during the day into computer systems at night.

What do you love most about your job? Being on the water!

What kind of education do you need to have this job? An undergraduate degree in marine biology

Do you have any advice for young people interested in your line of work? Get involved with research as early as possible. Find out what kind of research is going on in your area, and volunteer. Do summer internships at places that are farther away. You learn so much just by jumping into it.

Jonatha followed her passion and learned all she could about it. Now she has won an award from ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) for her work in conservation ecology. ARCS is a foundation organized and run entirely by women to encourage female leadership in STEM careers. Go Jonatha!


Personal Log

Ninja Snorkeler

Don’t mess with this snorkeler!

I can sometimes go snorkeling while the divers are completing surveys, as long as I stay far enough away from them that I do not interfere with their work (they do no want me to scare the fish away).  I have to wear a knife strapped to my leg while snorkeling, in case I become tangled in fishing net or line (or in case there is a shark!).  Again, it is all about safety on the Hi’ialakai.


Did You Know?

The underwater apparatus held by Raymond Boland in the above photo is a stereo camera. It is composed of two separate cameras encased in waterproof housing. When a diver uses it to photograph a fish, two simultaneous pictures are taken of the fish. NOAA scientists calibrate the images using computers to get an accurate measure of the length of fish.


New Terms

chief boatswain – the person in charge of the deck department

coxswain – a person who steers a ship’s boat and is usually in charge of its crew.

benthic – relating to, or occurring on, the bottom of a body of water

Paige Teamey: November 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 1, 2011

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, between Montauk, L.I. and Block Island
Date: November 7, 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge

Early Morning Sunrise

Clouds: 2/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: SE 21 knots
Temperature 14.0° Celsius
Dry Bulb: 14.1 ° Celsius
Wet Bulb: 12.0 ° Celsius
Barometer: 1024.2 millibars
Latitude: 41°08’232″ ° North
Longitude: 072°04’78″ ° West

Current Celestial View of NYC:

Current Moon Phase:

Current Seasonal Position (make sure to click on “show earth profile):

http://www.astroviewer.com/ http://www.die.net/moon/ http://esminfo.prenhall.com/

OR

http://www.learner.org/

Science and Technology Log

Monday started with my alarm beckoning my eyes to open at 4:15am.  I found my right pointer finger hitting snooze not once, but twice, only to finally move myself from the medium of a dreamlike state to a stand-up position at 4:36.  I made it to the galley for breakfast and a safety brief for the 3102 launch.

Safety Brief. Mapping locations and surveys to be accomplished along Fisher Island.

Today I will be joining COXSWAIN Tom Bascom and HIC  Matt Vanhoy to perform near-shore surveying on sections that have both holidays and missed information.  Holidays do not mean we will be scanning for Santa’s missing sleigh, or find Columbus’s ship Santa Maria run aground, but rather areas that have been previously surveyed and unfortunately recorded absolutely no information.  Holidays occur sometimes due to rough seas, oxygen, as well as possible rocky ocean floors.

After Tom, Matt, and I were lowered in the 3102 by the davit and help of the TJ crew, we went to Fisher Island and began the slow mowing movements of surveying.  The ride to Fisher Island was incredibly bumpy and the entire deck was wet from the swells pushing up at the bow.  Currently there are winds upwards of 16 knots and a chill in the air.  Vanhoy is below deck in the surveying room and Bascom is manning the boat.  Me, well, I am observing for now and loving the chaotic changing seas.  After about 2 hours on deck with Tom I went below to the survey room… that lasted about 20 minutes.  I became really sea sick and returned to deck with Tom.  Matt told me that he often gets sea sick while surveying on the launches and will come up to the stern, puke, and continue on through the day (wow).  When you are on a launch the motions of the ocean are magnified and you can feel the movements much more so than on the ship.

Polygons and

While we were passing by the massive houses located on Fisher Island, Tom commented that unless there is love inside the homes, they are like the numerous clam shells we find already emptied and eaten by fish and gulls.  He said that peace and happiness is not a large house, but the land that surrounds the home.  Tom has been on the open waters for the past 30 years and has found solace in simplicity.  He is a determined individual who presses on and is concerned with following protocol and ensuring the safety of those around him.

After lunch we finished our survey sections and still had 3 hours before needing to return so went around the area and collected bottom samples.  Bottom samples (BS) is probably the most fun thing I have been able to help with on the ship.  We used a  device called the Van Veen Grab system and lowered it into the water. When we thought the Sampler was in contact with the ocean floor we pulled a few times up and down on the line and then hoisted the grabber to the deck.

The bottom samples are taken for the fisheries division as well as for ships that are interested in areas that they will be able to anchor in.  For the most part we pulled samples of course sand and broken clam shells (I hope this is no reflection of Fisher Island).  The further away from the shore line we went the more courser the sand became as well the more rocks we sampled.  Most of the rocks were metamorphic and consisted of marble and a little quartzite.  This surprised me given the location.  I though most of the rocks would be sedimentary based on the surrounding topography and surface features.

I appreciate Tom and Matt taking the time to review and connect me into each process.  Tom taught me how to drive the launch… that was really FUN.  With all of the monitors it was hard to discern between reality and a glamorous video game.  Radar showed me where I was going, and a survey map outlined the areas I was trying to move to in order to take the next bottom sample.  Watching everything at once is not easy to do because you also have to pay attention to the waters.  The shoals (shallow waters) often have “pots” which are lobster traps placed everywhere.  The pots have a cage on the bottom of the ocean floor and a huge buoy at the surface so you can locate them and steer clear of them.

Upon returning to the ship, I watched yet another amazing sunset and Matt take the survey data from the ship and upload it on the ship’s network while Tom and ENS Norman hosed down the salt from the deck and prepped the 3102 for a new day.

ENS Norman Hosing down 3101 after surveying Fisher Island for the day.

Kaci Heins: Surveying and Processing, September 30 – October 3, 2011

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

Mrs. Heins Taking a CTD Cast


Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast 7/8
Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles
Wind: 21 knots
Temperature
Dry Bulb: 12.0 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 997.0 millibars
Latitude: 55.23 degrees North
Longitude: -133.22 degrees West

Science and Technology Log

Watching The Sonar

I was able to go out on another launch boat Sunday to collect survey data.  It was a beautiful day with amazing scenery to make it by far the best office I have ever been too.  Despite the fact that the ship is usually “off the grid” in many ways, the location of their work environment, or office, in Alaska is visually stunning no matter where you turn.  Keeping your eyes off the cedar trees and focused on the sonar in a launch can be challenging at times!  However, when there is a specific job to be done that involves time and money, then the scenery can wait until the job is finished.  During Sunday’s launch survey we had to clean up some “Holidays” and acquire some cross line data.

View Of the Data Acquired For the Ship On The Bridge

The word “Holiday” might lead to some confusion about what you might think we are doing when you read that word.  Holiday =vacation right?  In this case it is when there is a gap, or missing information, in the survey data that is acquired.  This poses a problem for the survey technicians because this leaves holes in the data that they must use for their final charts.  Holidays can be caused by the boat or ship being off the planned line, unexpected shoaling (or where the water gets shallow) so the swath width decreases, or a slope angling away from the transducer so that a return path for the sound wave is not possible.  The speed, direction, weather, swells, rocking of the boat, and the launches making wider turns than anticipated. It is easy to see where holidays occur as we are surveying because amidst the rainbow of color there will be a white pixel or square showing that data is missing.  When we are finished surveying or “painting” an area, we communicate with the coxswain where we need to go back and survey over the missing data or holidays.  If there are holidays or data is missing from the survey, then the survey technicians must explain why the data is missing in their final Descriptive Report.  This document covers everything that was done during the project from how the area was chosen to survey, what data was collected, what data wasn’t collected and why.  This is where holidays are explained, which could be due to lack of time or safety concerns.

Ship Hydrographic Survey

This launch was a little different because we were cleaning up holidays from the Rainiers’ multibeam.  Not only do the smaller survey boats collect sea floor surface data, but the Rainier has its own expensive multibeam sonar as well.  The ships sonar is called a Kongsberg EM 710 and was made in Norway.  Having the Rainier fitted with a multibeam sonar allows the ship to acquire data in deeper water and allows for a wider swath coverage.  The lines that are surveyed on the ocean floor are also much longer than those in a launch.  This means that instead of taking around 5-10 minutes to acquire a line of data, it can take around 30 minutes or more with the ship.  This is great data because again, the ship can cover more area and in deeper water. We also took the ships previous data and ran cross lines over it.  The importance of running a cross line over previous survey data helps to confirm or deny that the data acquired is good data.  However, there is a catch to running a cross line.  To confirm the data they have to use a different system than what was used before, the cross line has to be conducted on a different day, and it has to be during a different tide.  All of this is done to know for sure that the data is acquired has as few errors as possible before the projects are finished.

Rainier Multibeam Sonar

Personal Log

Each day when the scientists go out and survey the ocean floor they acquire tens of gigabytes of information!  The big question is what is next after they have acquired it all?  When they are on the launch they have a small external hard drive that holds 500 gigabytes to a terabyte of information plugged into their computer.  At the end of the day all their information and files are downloaded to this hard drive and placed in a water tight container in case it happens to get dropped.  Keeping the newly acquired data safe and secure is of the utmost importance.  Losing data and having to re-survey areas due to a human error costs tens of thousands of dollars, so everything must get backed up and saved constantly.  This is where I have noticed that computer skills and file management are so important in this area of research.

Once we get off of the boats the data is brought upstairs to what is called the plot room.  This is where all the survey technicians computers are set up for them to work on their projects.  The technicians that are in charge of downloading all the data and compiling all the files together is called night processing.  There are numerous software programs (tides, CTD casts, POS, TPU, Hypack,) and data from these programs that all have to be combined so that the technicians can produce a finished product for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch (part of Hydrographic Surveys Division), who then process the data some more before submitting to Marine Charting Division to make the final chart. The main software program that combines all the different data is called Caris and comes out of Canada.  Once all of the data has been merged together it allows the technicians start cleaning up their data and produce a graphic plan for the launches to follow the next day.  Every movement on the keyboard or with the mouse is very important with surveying because everything is done digitally.  Numerous new files are created each day in a special way so that anyone that reads the name will know which ship it came from, the day, and the year.  File management and computer skills are key to keeping the flow of work consistent and correct each day.

Hydrographic Survey Data In Caris

We have also had numerous fire drills while on the ship.  This is very important so that everyone knows where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.  They had me help out with the fire fighters and the hose this time.  I learned how to brace the fire fighter so that the force from the hose doesn’t knock them over.  I never knew that would be an issue with fire fighting until this drill.  I learn so many new things on this ship every day!

Fire Drill Practice

Student Questions Answered


Kingfisher

Animals Spotted

Kingfisher

Sea Otters

Question of the Day

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