Kathy Virdin, July 23, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Virdin
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 20 – 28, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date:
July 23, 2004

Latitude:55 degrees 43.34’N
Longitude: 159 degrees 10.967’ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind direction: 175 degrees
Wind speed: 8 kts.
Sea wave height: 0-1 ft.
Swell wave height: 0-1 ft.
Sea water temperature: 11.7 C.
Sea level pressure: 1016.2 mb.
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Today we have been in transit to the Shumagin Islands. Two launches were sent out to do Reson (shallow to mid-depth) measurements and one launch did the Elac (mid-depth to deep waters). This area really needs accurate depth measurement, since it’s an area where fishermen come frequently. The information that is received and processed on board the RAINIER is then sent to the Nautical Data Branch of NOAA where it is interpreted and made into the hydrographic sheets with added interpretative data. Then it next goes to a production team who apply it to charts. The next step for the information is to go to the Update Service branch which combines all data and puts it in the final form of nautical charts that is used by the Navy, cargo ships, tanker ships and all mariners (such as fishermen). So the RAINIER plays a vital role in getting critical information to those who use it daily to ensure their safety.

I was able to catch several of the crew for an interview. I interviewed Megan Palmer, who is a survey technician. To prepare for her job, Megan received a degree in geography and received additional training in computer systems, including the complex GIS system. She explained that NOAA is moving toward electronic nautical charts that will allow you to set your scale close or far away on the computer, depending on what you need. Alarms will go off if you get into shallow water. However, there will always be a need for nautical charts and that’s where NOAA excels. Megan enjoys her job as it gives her the opportunity to see Alaska while being on the water, and the chance to look for the unexpected in surveys. Often, she is part of the team that is charting waters that have very few depth soundings. She also enjoys the fact that NOAA tests software to see how well it works and then make recommendations to companies to improve features that the survey technicians need. She notes that there is definitely a need for more survey technicians and that it’s a rewarding and exciting career for any student who loves the ocean and wants to travel.

Personal Log

Today we had the thrill of seeing a whale swimming in the distance while we all tried to take a picture (very difficult since it moves in the water so quickly). We dropped anchor tonight in the Shumagin Is. We’ll stay here several days while the survey launches run lines in different areas. We’ve entered into an area of heavy fog and it was neat to hear the fog horn being sounded every few minutes as we move through the water. I enjoyed looking a computer file of pictures that show all the places the RAINIER has been in Alaska. Beautiful scenery!

Kathy Virdin, July 20, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Virdin
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 20 – 28, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date:
July 20, 2004

Time: 2:20 p.m.
Latitude: 55 degrees 39.4 N
Longitude: 158 degrees 00.3 W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: Northwest
Wind speed: 7 kts
Sea wave height: 0-1 ft.
Swell wave height:2-3 ft.
Sea water temperature:13.3 degrees Celsius
Sea level pressure:1010.1mb.
Cloud cover:3/8 partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Today we reached the point where we would begin our surveys. I watched the survey technicians lower a Seabird (sound velocity profile unit) into the water, then raise it back up and hook it into a computer, where they could download the information. This will give them the salinity (salt content), temperature and pressure of the water. They lowered the Seabird 117 meters down into the water, before retrieval. At the same time, from the hull of the ship, a transducer sound wave emitter is sending sound waves to the bottom and measuring the time it takes for their return. From this information, they will calculate the distance to the floor of the ocean. They use this data from the Seabird to help them make corrections in the sound wave speeds from the transducer. The salinity, temperature and pressure will cause variations in the speed of sound, so they need to correct for this effect to gain an accurate depth measurement.

This information is being processed and viewed by cartographers (map designers) who will take what data the RAINIER gives them to update old maps or develop new maps and charts. These maps are used by fishermen, geologists or anyone who navigates through these Alaskan waters. We are headed for the Shumagin Islands where we will send out launches (smaller boats) to measure depths in places where the Rainier might not otherwise go. I found it interesting to note that environmentalists would also use this information, since they know where certain species of fish are likely to live, and they can decide how best to protect them if they are endangered. We will go back and forth three times in one plotted line to make sure our data is accurate and complete. When we send out a launch in more shallow water, they will use a different sonar device, called a Reson. It emits higher sound waves which will give a more accurate reading. For middle to deep depth measurement, they will use the Elac sonar and a vertical beam echo sounder which goes straight down that can be used for shoreline measurements. Because Alaska has such rough terrain, it’s important to get accurate measurements for those who use her waters.

Personal Log

I am amazed by how specific the data is that the survey technicians collect and how well everyone knows their job. This is truly a finely tuned, professional organization. Everyone has been so kind to answer my many questions even though I’m sure I’ve gotten in their way. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Plot room, where the data is logged into the computers and then interpreted by the technicians. Outside, it’s a beautiful, sunny day, which is the first pretty weather we’ve had. We saw a pod of whales, recognizable by the blow of water coming from their nostrils. I could see them really well through the high-powered binoculars that belong to the ship. I am working on a list of questions that I will use to interview different members of the crew, as well as the scientists so I can take this information back to my students, as they learn what the roles are on a NOAA vessel. Someday, I want my students to be the next generation of scientists that use the knowledge we are gaining today to frame the discoveries they will make in the future.

Leyf Peirce, July 11, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date:
July 11, 2004

Time: 21:00
Latitude: N 55°17.27
Longitude: W 160°32.16
Visibility: 4 nm
Wind direction: 095
Wind speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 foot
Swell wave height: —
Sea water temperature: 10.6 °C
Sea level pressure: 1017.0 mb
Air temperature: 12.8 °C
Cloud cover: 4/8

Science and Technology Log

Today was my second day aboard a launch boat. With SS Foye, ST Taylor, and ENS Samuelson, we continued to follow lines to chart the ocean floor just south of Egg Island. Today we were on launch boat 5, and luckily everything was working great! We were working with the Reson 8101 again. It should be noted that in previous journal entries I have been misnaming some of the equipment used. Today, I finally got the nomenclature correct. Here are the basics:

  1. ELAC multibeam system is used for deep water, with best resolution over 30 meters
  2. There are two shallow water mulitbeam (SWMB) systems:
    1. Reson 8125 is used with a higher frequency and has better resolution in depths of 0 – 30 meters
    2. Reson 8101 is used for “middle depths” of 0 –120 meters (mostly 30 –120 meters)

I also learned a lot more about how to use the software aboard the ship while we are taking data. For the Reson 8125 and Reson 8101, there are three computers aboard the ship that can talk to each other. Two are located in the cabin and one is located on the deck. One computer in the cabin is used primarily to navigate; the old charts are downloaded onto this computer and the lines on which we need to steer the boat (the lines for mowing the lawn) are superimposed on this chart. This computer is not only hooked up to the computer that gathers data, but is also connected to a computer that is mounted on the console so the captain can see where he or she needs to go. The navigational computer in the cabin is also directly hooked up to the other computer in the cabin. This second cabin computer is connected to the actual multibeam echo scanner system that is mounted to the hull of the ship. When instructed to do so, the second cabin computer can record the data from this system. One of the researchers uses the navigational computer to tell the second computer when to start and stop recording the data. Because the second computer is hooked up to the multibeam system, it also is used to control the parameters of this system, including filters, range, frequency of “pings”, and power. There are several different screens within the program used to control all of this, including a profile screen, which actually shows the profile of the ocean floor, a pitch/roll/heave screen to record that the POS/MV (the positioning device also hooked up to this computer that integrates with the data correcting for the gyration of the ship and it’s position), and a control screen. There are several other screens which can be displayed on this computer, however these listed here are the most important to monitor while gathering data. The power of the multibeam system can be monitored and altered according to depth and profile of the floor; if you want the device to “listen to the pings better”, you increase the power, and however, this also decreases resolution. You would want to do this in greater depths. You can also manually control the depth filter for the data. In order to do this, you change the range of the depths the multibeam system is looking for. This in turn changes the width of the footprint left by the data and thus the resolution. By doing this as you gather data, you are eliminating possible outlying points before ever having them recorded and you are allowing for better resolution at shallower depths. This makes the data processing and cleansing easier, yet it requires constant attention and anticipation while gathering data.

While this technology works relatively well in the field, it is still very expensive and time consuming. A possible design project for my students would be to analyze the existing system and brainstorm ideas for improvement. This would even include researching other systems used internationally.

Personal Log

Today was yet another beautiful day once the fog lifted by mid morning. I am still enchanted by the concept of conducting research on a boat all day—it seems like a job I would love to pursue! Not only are you contributing to society, but you get to see wonderful sights—today we saw a bald eagle, lots of puffin, and two sea lions! I cannot help but laugh at the puffin, though. They eat so much and have such little wings and huge hearts that they try with all their might to fly, but they only become air born with the nudge of a wave. And even then they only maintain an altitude of about 6 inches before they crash into another wave. They are both very amusing and very inspiring. I keep thinking that they are thinking “I think I can, I think I can, Never give up!” With so many sights and things going on both on and off the research vessel, I was not at all disappointed when we were radioed that we were going to spend an extra hour collecting data because the weather was so good (slightly chilly, but the sun was out). When we returned I learned how to download the data to the computers aboard the RAINIER, and then I saw the beginning steps for processing this data. I can’t wait to learn more tomorrow!

Question of the Day: A design problem: a gyrocompass is used to determine bearing and relies on electricity (it has an internal electromagnet). The gyrocompass on the bridge looks like this:

Peirce 7-11-04 gyrocompass

Notice that the angles visible here are 70 ° and 90 °, a difference of 20 °. However, this 20 ° difference is spread over what is actually about 100 °. How, then, does the gyrocompass span the full 360 °?