My first day onboard was spent following around 2nd Engineer Will Osborn. Will is an officer in the Merchant Marines, and a NOAA Augmentation Pool Engineer assigned to the Oregon II. He invited me to follow him around and learn how the engineers prepare the ship for sea. One of the duties of the engineers is to check the liquid levels of each of the tanks prior to sailing. They do this by performing soundings, where they use a weighted measuring tape and a conversion chart to determine the number of gallons in each of the tanks.
2nd Engineer Will Osborne performing a sounding on deck
Performing a sounding on the dirty oil tank
The engineering team then prepared the ship to sail by disconnecting shore power and turning on the engines aboard ship. I got to flip the switch that disconnects the ship from shore power. I followed the engineering team as they disconnected the very large cable that the ship uses to draw power from shore. I then got to follow 2nd Engineer Will as he turned on the engines aboard ship.
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald turning off the shore power in the engine room
Once we set sail, the science team met and discussed how longline surveys would work. I am on the day shift, which is from noon to midnight. We got the rest of the day, after onboard training and group meetings, to get used to our new sleep schedule. Because I was on the day shift, I stayed up and got to watch an amazing sunset over the Gulf.
Our second day out, we set our first two longlines. The first one was set before shift change, so the night shift crew bated the hooks and set the line. My shift brought the line in, and mostly got back unbaited hooks. We got a few small Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks on the line, and used those to go over internal and external features that differentiated the various species we might find.
After the lines were in, it was time for safety drills. These included the abandon ship drill, which required us to put on a submersion suit, which is affectionately referred to as a Gumby suit. You can see why below. It was as hard to get into as it looks, but it will keep you warm and afloat if you end up in the water after you abandon ship.
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald in the Gumby Suit
I have learned a few rules of the boat on my first days at sea. First, always watch your head. The stairwells sometimes have short spaces, and you have to make sure not to hit them on your way up. Second, always keep a hand free for the boat. It is imperative at sea that you always have a hand free, in case the boat rocks and you need to catch yourself. Third, mealtimes are sacred. There are 31 people aboard the boat, with seating for 12 in the galley. In order for everyone to get a chance to sit down and eat, you can’t socialize in the galley.
Did You Know?
In order for the crew to have freshwater to drink, the Oregon II uses a reverse osmosis machine. They create 1000-1200 gallons of drinkable water per day, running the ocean water through the reverse osmosis generator at a pressure of 950 psi.
Quote of the Day
And when there are enough outsiders together in one place, a mystic osmosis takes place and you’re inside.
View of the Oscar Dyson on our last morning in Dutch Harbor, AK
Weather Data from Norfolk, VA
Latitude: 36.8508° N
Longitude: 76.2859° W
Tide Heights: 2.76 ft & 3.35 ft
Wind Speed: 19 km/h
Wind Direction: NE
Air Temperature: 28°C, 82°F
Barometric Pressure: 1028.1 mb
“If you’re awake at 6:00 a.m., you’ll get to see the Oculus as I prepare it to glide around in the Bering Sea!” With this promise from Dr. Chris Bassett, I made sure I was ready at the appointed time on our last day on the ship.
Dr. Chris Bassett preparing the Oculus.
The launching of the Oculus was not on Chris’ schedule for that day beforehand; our expedition was ending earlier than expected. That setback, however, did not diminish the drive to pursue science. The resilience and perseverance of the science team to readjust was apparent. Through the mist of disappointment, the scientists continued to do as much as possible to continue our mission of the pollock survey.
Science and Technology Log
Developed at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in partnership with the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and the University of Washington Seaglider Fabrication Lab, the Oculus is an ocean glider which samples abiotic factors in the ocean such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen at different depths.
Inner component of the Oculus which regulates buoyancy.
After setting the Oculus upright, Chris connected it via the Internet to a computer operated by a scientist at the University of Washington. This scientist is going to be sending coordinates to the Oculus and guiding it at various depths in the Bering Sea. Chris explained that the Oculus has the ability to adjust its buoyancy quickly and is able to carry out a more reliable survey than other gliders. Through the data remotely sent by the Oculus, scientists can gather a more accurate picture of ocean dynamics such as water column layers and ocean mixing.
Unfortunately, I was not able to observe the launch of the Oculus as I had to leave for the airport.
View from dock in Dutch Harbor, AK.
The week I spent on the ship was a whirlwind of experiences. I was just hitting my stride being completely awake for my 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. work shift and efficiently measuring the length of the pollock in each trawl.
Pollock and jellyfish in trawl.
At the end of the last trawl, I held a pollock, out of its element of water. Its dense, streamlined body shimmered with iridescence. One eye stared, unfocused on the strange surroundings. I too would be out of my element were it not for the 208.6 ft. boat on which I was standing. Being on the boat was a constant reminder that my species is alien to this ocean habitat and that to explore it, we have to use technology such as the Oculus, underwater cameras, and acoustic technology as well as physical trawls. Together, these different means of exploring combine information so that we can evaluate our interactions with the ocean and its inhabitants.
The view of the horizon from the deck of the Oscar Dyson.
At times, the ocean had a disorienting effect. When on the deck, I looked out from all directions and saw nothing but ocean capped by a dome of stratus clouds. Under this lid of heavy clouds, the sun gave no clue to discern our direction or time of day.
Karla Martinez, Junior Unlicensed Engineer, on duty on the Oscar Dyson.
With her philosophy of focusing on the positive, Karla Martinez enjoys her time on and off duty on the Oscar Dyson. As a Junior Engineer, Karla is responsible for ship upkeep and repairs. On our last day of the trip, I spoke to her as she changed air filters in all of the staterooms. Karla began working as a NOAA Junior Engineer three years ago after seven years in the U.S. Navy. Since working for NOAA, she has traveled extensively and makes sure she visits each place the Oscar Dyson docks. Karla is on the ship for at least 7-8 months of the year, and she makes the ship feel like home by getting to know people.
Karla Martinez, Tourist, off duty in field of flowers, Unalaska, AK.
For young people who are interested in a career like Karla’s, she advises asking many questions and studying technology as much as possible. In high school, students should take the ASVAP test before entering the military. Once admitted to the military, students should get trained. Karla states that students should talk to their counselors and find out all they can.
Location: 56o20.5N 166o07.1W (We are currently ~ 170 miles due east of the Alaskan Peninsular National Wildlife Refuge!)
Weather from the bridge: 51o F, Wind 8-10 knots from 285o, high thin clouds, seas 2-3 ft (1 hour after I wrote this we were socked in with fog, which is fairly common for this part of Alaska during this time of year.)
Science and Technology Log:
Fairweather was commissioned in 1968 and has 2 engines. The engines are pretty ridiculously big. They are diesel combustion engines and run similarly to a diesel tractor engine.
Karla Martinez standing next to one of the engines for scale. She is an oiler, and currently the only female member of the engineering crew. Go Karla!!
She was built with Controllable Pitch Propellers. This technology is fascinating!! It allows for very fine control of the ship’s motion.
An image of a CPP propeller with blades in two different positions to show the axis of movement. Image courtesy of Schottel website.
The CPP technology works by turning each of the propeller blades on its individual axis. In this way, the propellers never have to change the direction of spin, but instead the spin continues the same direction but the ship can come to a stop and then reverse direction. This differs from the fixed propeller system that is on the small launches. The Fairweather’s propeller blades are about 3 feet each in size for a total propeller diameter of 7 feet.
She also has a bow thruster which can be used in certain circumstances. The bow thruster enables the bow to move from side to side while the stern of the ship is static. It is essentially a propeller mounted into a tunnel/hole in the bow giving thrust perpendicular to the typical direction of travel. For a large ship like Fairweather, this is especially helpful when moving in and out of docking locations.
The next two technologies are of particular interest for my environmental science classes. Because the ship is often at sea for extended periods, it is necessary to make fresh water from the salt water. Typically Fairweather will take on ~16,000 gallons of water in port, but evaporators will be used to generate supplemental freshwater when it is needed.
This is the seawater intake for one of the evaporators.
The evaporators on Fairweather are flash (plate) evaporators and they can generate around 160 gallons of water per hour when operating optimally. The evaporators are running a distillation process by evaporating the water using heat from the boilers at a low pressure and then separating the freshwater from the brine (highly saline water). Because of the constant removal of salt from the water, the evaporators need to be cleaned often for best use.
This is one of the flash evaporators. Inside the pressure is lowered and the temperature runs at about 170 degrees F. While this is below the normal boiling point of water, the water will still vaporize and condense due to the low pressure
The brine is then discharged and the freshwater is added to the supply tanks. When leaving the tanks, it is pumped to higher pressure and further treated through filters and with UV light to kill off any bacteria that may have made it through. That water is stored in a hydropneumatic tank at high pressure so that water can be delivered to all parts of the ship without the need for continuously running pumps.
People eat and drink and then they pee and poop. They also like to shower and brush their teeth and wash their hands. They also need water to drink and cook with and to make coffee and tea. Obviously there is also a lot of gray water (sinks and showers) and black water (toilets) that is produced on a ship of this size carrying ~40 people. So what is done with all of it? Well, blackwater goes through the MSD (marine sanitation device) before it is discharged outside of 3 nautical miles from land. MSDs are standard on all ships and work similarly to land based sewage treatment on a much smaller scale. Gray water can be acceptably discharged as is in most places, but must be stored within NDZs or No Discharge Zones.
Guidelines for discharge
Other necessary technologies on the ship are the refrigeration system, the boilers and the generators. But I won’t go into all of those processes. It’s just amazing to me that there are so many things that must be accounted for on a ship if it will be at sea for multiple days!
Crew of the Day! Engineering
If you’re going to get pictures of the engineering crew, you have to find the rare times when lots of them are together… you can find a good group at mealtimes or when the ship is being docked and they all need to be on the boat deck! L-R: Sean, Kyle, John, Mick and Ray
L-R Sean, Connor, John, Mick, Alex, Eddie… and even with all my stealth, I’m still missing a couple from the group pictures!
The Engineering crew on this ship is a highly eclectic bunch! They are also a REALLY difficult group to get together for pictures. They have about a 40 year span in age and include folks from all over the world with a great diversity of backgrounds. There are several levels within the engineering crew. The entry level position is termed a wiper, next is an oiler, and then engineering utility, and junior engineer. These positions are unlicensed, analogous to enlisted positions in the military. The licensed positions are 3rd Engineer, 2nd Engineer, 1st Engineer and Chief Engineer. There are five licensed engineers on board right now and another six in the department who are oilers and junior engineers.
Anything that is mechanized, motorized, has an electric cable going to it, or needs to be oiled or lubed, those things all fall under the watchful eye of the Engineering crew. One of the young 3rd Engineers, Connor (nicknamed Titan because he really is giant) also describes them overseeing “Hotel Services” – plumbing, lighting, heating & cooling. The crew keeps a 24 hour watch whenever the ship is underway, and can take over aft steering if something were to fail with the bridge steering. They are also on watch whenever the small launches are being deployed or replaced to their cradles. If the bow thruster is being used, a crew member will also watch to see that it engages properly for use.
The well-being of the ship is in the hands of the Engineers and therefore the Chief Engineer reports directly to the Commanding Officer (where all other department heads report to the Executive Officer). The CO and the Chief Engineer really share the task of running the ship, but ultimate responsibility lies with the CO.
The food! OH MY GOODNESS!!! The food on Fairweather has been terrific. There are two amazing cooks here currently. Tyrone, who is the Chief Cook, has been with Fairweather for 5 years. Prior to that, he cooked for the Navy. Kathy is the Chief Steward (which means she is in charge of the kitchen and develops the daily menus) and has been with NOAA ships cooking in some capacity for almost 20 years! You’ll learn more about her in my next blog… The Interview Issue!
So, here’s a sampling of what’s been on the menu since I’ve been here: Prime Rib, Lobster, Argentinian flap steak with Chimichurri, Halibut with some crazy good pesto type sauce… I am going to leave the ship about 10 pounds heavier than when I got here. So, this is not what you always get on NOAA ships, but this particular pairing of Kathy and Tyrone makes some serious magic!!
Dana Clark and ENS Joe Brinkley aboard a skiff returning to the Fairweather after tide observations
Today is my last full day on the Fairweather and tomorrow I will be departing when we dock in Seward, Alaska. I could not have asked for a better final day! But first, yesterday I went out on a launch to survey a near shore polygon. Let me explain. A project is the survey area that the Fairweather is tasked with, in this case, Sitkinak Strait. The project is then broken down into sheets which are areas to cover each day. The sheets are divided into areas called polygons and each day, the launches will be tasked with surveying specific polygons. Yesterday, our polygon was very close to shore. This was difficult because the rocks and vegetation could be hazards. The surveyor in charge, Pat, had to be in constant communication with our launch driver Rick so that they could maneuver safely as we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the area. Since we were so close to shore I kept a steady scan of the landscape for bears. I did this not because we were too close and in danger from a bear, but just because I wanted to see one. We accomplished our task and finished our polygons and did not see a bear, but we did see a brown fox walking along the black sand beach!
Bald Eagle, Japanese Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska
Now, for today. I did tide observations in Japanese Bay and as we were setting up I snapped this picture of a bald eagle in flight with prey in its claws, possibly some kind of rodent since it appears to have a tail! (Click on the picture to see it better) We took tide observations which were interesting today for three reasons. First, the tide level was totally different than it was last week when I took measurements. If you look at the two pictures below, one from June 28th and the other from today, July 2nd, you can see how much lower the tide is. Look at how close to the staff I was today and how far away last week. The water actually went lower than the tide staff today! Earth Science is so interesting.
Dana Clark reading water level off tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska, June 28, 2014
Dana Clark reading water level off tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska. July 2, 2014
Now, the second and third reason I found tide observations so cool today did not have anything to do with the tides. It was all about the animals. And no, it did not involve a bear. Second reason it was interesting was the bald eagle in the picture above. I just love how I was able to capture it with its wings spread so majestically. It has a nest in the tree that it was flying into. Since it was carrying lunch in its claws, I thought maybe it was taking food to the nest to feed baby eagles. What do you think? Now, third reason tide observations in Japanese Bay were so cool today was because of swimming deer! I know I should have led with that but I knew it would be pretty awesome to put a swimming deer video into the middle of my blog. The video is a little jumpy because I was fighting the waves in a small boat called a skiff. Check out the video! Before I thought to start videotaping I was able to capture a picture of them swimming!
Swimming Deer. Japanese Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Scientist of the Day Today I would like you to meet Shauna Glasser, a First Assistant Engineer for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. It’s old hat for Shauna to travel wherever the Fairweather may take her. Growing up, she moved so many times that college was the first school she went to for four years in a row! Even though she moved often she still managed to be successful in her academics. She received a BA in Marine Engineering Technology from California Maritime Academy but it was by chance that she even enrolled there. As a senior in high school she received a postcard in the mail from this college.
Shauna Glasser, First Assistant Engineer on the Fairweather
Knowing nothing about the school, Shauna decided to visit the school for a week long introduction program to see their campus and curriculum. She knew she wanted to be a marine biologist and she enrolled. However, before college began, her math teacher from high school recommended she take a summer class in chemical engineering. Shauna always excelled in math and she really liked the engineering, but not so much the chemical side. She soon switched paths from marine biology and became a marine engineering major.
Shauna has been with NOAA for five years and has worked her way up in the job. As first assistant engineer she is the person on the ship directly under the chief engineer. There are eight people who report under first assistant engineer. The engineers do all the maintenance on the ship and they keep it running. Shauna says that this is a job that is in high demand. The Fairweather, along with two other ships in the fleet, will actually be docked at port starting July 7th because they are in need of more engineers aboard. The ships can’t run without them! This young engineer has risen to a leadership role in her field and sees being a chief in her future. Shauna says, “Go for it! Ask questions, be yourself, think smart, and you can do it!”
NOAA Ship Fairweather, July 1, 2014
My day today is ending just as magical as it began with several more animal sightings. We are underway to Seward, Alaska where I will say goodbye to the wonderful crew of the Fairweather. As we got underway we had a fire drill and then a little while later, an abandon ship drill. As the crew at my drill station were standing on the port side of the ship wearing our life jackets, hats, and in possession of our survival suits, a pod of orcas swam by spouting from their blowholes. They play and blow as they pass by our ship. Then, after dinner I am working on this blog and take a break and go to the bridge to see what’s going on. There were pods of orcas to the port side and humpback whales a mile north of us. The humpbacks were spouting and breaching. I have an out of focus picture of a whale going straight up in the air. It looks like it’s pirouetting. The crew on the bridge said that this was a large sighting of whales and everyone was excited.
Dana Clark at the helm of the Fairweather with Jim Klapchuk
I begin looking at the equipment on the bridge and asking questions when I was asked if I would like to steer the ship. Nervously I said yes. They explained that it was currently on a type of ship auto pilot which they would turn off and I would take the helm, similar to a steering wheel on a car, and I would be in control of the ship’s path. Jim Klapchuk, an Able Seaman on the Fairweather, showed me what to do. I would be at the helm and would continue in the correct direction by looking at my gyroscopic compass and my rudder angle indicator. The gyroscopic compass would tell me my heading, which was 030° which would keep me going north-east. The rudder angle indicator would move every time I moved the wheel because turning the wheel turned the rudder and the rudder changes the course of the ship. Keeping this lesson in mind, they turned off the auto pilot and I was steering the 231 foot ship on a heading for Seward! I kept constantly looking at the numbers and trying to keep it at exactly 030°. After a short while, the boat felt like it was swaying a bit so I gave the helm back to Jim and they set it back to auto. What a way to end my science adventure!
Fairweather navigational chart that shows route from Kodiak Island heading to Seward, Alaska
A warm thank you to all the crew aboard the Fairweather. I have learned so much and will take back to my classroom a new excitement along with tons of science. Terms like hydrographic, surveys, hydrographer, polygon, launch, CTD, gyroscopic compass, swells, tides, charts, cartographer and many more will be introduced. I have also enjoyed getting to know you and hearing about your lives. You are a talented group. And I learned to play cribbage – thanks Tim and Charlie!
Question: But first, an answer to the last plant or animal poll. It appears that all of you know what a jellyfish looks like because you voted animal. Thanks for voting and thanks for following my blog. There are a lot of jellyfish here in the Gulf of Alaska and I will leave you with a few of my favorite shots. It’s amazing how each one looks so different. Which is your favorite? Vote in the poll below!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Yaara Crane Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013
My roommate, Ensign Kristin, is teaching me how to steer at the helm.
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Latitude: 38.81°N Longitude: 75.06°W
Weather Data from Bridge: Wind Speed: 13.50 knots|
Surface Water Temperature: 22.61°C
Air Temperature: 23.30°C
Relative Humidity: 87.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1001.38mb
Sunset over the bow of the Thomas Jefferson.
Science and Technology Log
At any given time, the Thomas Jefferson is home to about 30-40 individuals. These individuals come from all walks of life to become deck hands, engineers, stewards, scientists, or officers. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with Chief Engineer Tom learning about how his team of engineers works to keep this home afloat and functional. There are currently 4 licensed engineers, and 3 QMEDs (Qualified Members of the Engine Department) aboard the TJ.
The engineering control console keeps and eye on all of the mechanics of the ship. If the bridge loses control, the engineers could steer the ship from here!
How do you become an engineer on a NOAA ship? There are two routes to becoming an engineer on a NOAA ship. If you wanted to start working immediately aboard a ship, you could apply to start as an undocumented engineer. You are required to work 180 days at sea, pass a basic safety course, and then would become eligible to take a test to become a QMED. Another 1080 days would make you eligible to take a licensing test to become third engineer. From there, time and more licensing tests help you work up the ranks. There are a myriad of licensing tests that depend on the horsepower of the ship you want to work on. For example, most NOAA ships require the same license, but the NOAA ship Ron Brown has more horsepower and requires what is called an unlimited license. All licensing falls under the purview of the U.S. Coast Guard and various federal regulations. A different route to becoming an engineer involves attending a four-year program at a maritime academy. The maritime academy gives graduates the necessary skills to move straight into a third engineer position because it includes internships and semester at sea opportunities. The students from the academy must still take all of the same licensing tests. Clearly, engineers must have a great amount of knowledge as part of their toolkit no matter their background.
What really stood out to me was when Tom mentioned the fact that the word engineer comes from engine. The primary purpose of the engineer is to make sure that the ship has enough power for all of the tasks that happen around the clock. The TJ has two engines for propulsion and three generators for electricity that can be put online to boost the power output. When I was in the engine room yesterday, second engineer Steve was on watch and communicating with the bridge about having more power for their bow thruster. The bow thruster increases the maneuverability of the ship when it is slowing down, such as when anchoring. Steve made sure that Generator 1 was providing the energy needed for this particular task while Generator 2 was providing power for the rest of the ship’s needs. Overall, the Thomas Jefferson can hold approximately 198,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and uses about 1,500 gallons a day for all of its operations.
Can you tell which of these reverse osmosis machines is working, and which one is offline?
Most of the engineering equipment comes in duplicate just in case anything breaks down. For example, there are two reverse osmosis machines whose purpose is to turn seawater into potable water. One of them is currently down, so it is imperative that we have a second aboard. Reverse osmosis is the process by which seawater is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane in order to filter out the solutes, and only allow the water solvent through. The solute (sea salt) can then be dumped right back into the ocean. The water that is collected must be chlorinated before use, but will then go on to the galley, bathrooms, laundry, etc. The TJ can store around 21,500 gallons of freshwater and uses about 2,500 gallons of fresh water a day.
When being built, NOAA ships are outfitted for water usage in different ways, and Tom is busy planning how to make the ship more energy efficient. The TJ does not have the ability to use and recycle gray water or sea water very efficiently. Some NOAA ships have the ability to use seawater in the toilets, but the TJ does not. Have you ever thought of how much water is used when flushing a toilet? Well, you might have to think of that if you live in a desert area, or on a ship! Tom will be able to reduce the amount of water used in each flush by about 1.4 gallons with a simple valve that he plans on installing when the ship is docked for some maintenance work this summer. If we assume that there are 35 people on board the ship, and each person flushes 5 times a day, then the TJ can save 245 gallons of water each day with just a simple upgrade. This amounts to a reduction in water use of around 10% a day!
Tom has thought through many other types of upgrades, most not so simple, to better put to use the resources on board. Instead of using reverse osmosis, some NOAA ships make water through an evaporator. An evaporator is a much more efficient way of creating water because it needs a reduced pressure and average temperature near 160°F. On ships that have evaporators, water is diverted into pipes near the heat of the main engine so that the waste energy created by the engine can be transferred to reduce the amount of energy needed in the evaporator.
Although I have a particular interest in wastewater treatment and energy usage, these are by no means the extent of the engineer’s tasks. They are also responsible for checking fuel levels, keeping the air conditioning running (crucial considering the heat generated by the servers required to hold all of the ship’s scientific data), maintaining a workshop, being the ship’s electricians, and much more. Finally, they also work to keep up the morale of everyone in this floating town.
I am trying to keep myself busy learning about all of the aspects of the ship. It is difficult to throw myself into the data analysis because the CARIS program is so complex; however, I spend lots of time watching the scientists plug at it. I have also been spending a lot of time on the bridge where some of the officers have been letting me help to collect hourly weather data, and teaching me to take navigational fixes. It is interesting to see that even with all of the digital data, the bridge officers must still take time to read a wall-mounted barometer and interpret cloud formations in the sky. For navigation, the officers still need to know how to use a compass and protractor, which brought me back to 1998 and my days in geometry class.
I also love hearing travel stories from the many people on board. Keith, a deckhand, has travelled all over the world on a NOAA ship based in Hawaii. It motivates me to continue to find opportunities to expand my horizons and see the world. I hope that I can also motivate my students back at Annandale to get creative with their ambitions.
Did You Know?
Officers must be on watch 24/7, even when at anchor. To help preserve their night vision after the sun sets, the bridge is stocked with red plastic squares which are mounted over the screens to help minimize glare from white light.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Wes Struble Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown February 15 – March 5, 2012
Mission: Western Boundary Time Series Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas Date: February 24, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus
Moving a ship through the water has come a long way since Ben-Hur was chained to a rowing bench as a Roman War Galley slave. I was interested in what systems powered the Ron Brown and Lt. James Brinkley was kind enough to take me on a tour of the ship’s engine rooms.
The Ron Brown has a total of six separate power units. Three of these are V16 (16 cylinders) diesel engines connected to electric generators.
Second Assistant Engineer Jake DeMello sits watch in the entrance to the engine room
These generators produce electricity to run the ship’s electric motors which turn the screws (propellers). In the past the diesel engines would have been connected directly to the propeller shaft, but in the last 20 – 30 years many ships have gone to using electric motors as an interface between the diesel engines and the propellers. On the Brown at any given time two of the V16 diesel engines are online running the generators while the third engine is held in reserve. These generators produce 600 volts of AC current. A transformer converts the 600 V AC to a DC current to run the ship’s large DC electric motors.
Image credit: nauticexpo.com
This image shows a diesel engine connected directly to the “Z” drive.
On the Ron Brown there is a generator and an electric motor between the
diesel engine and the “Z” drive.
A view of the main propulsion diesel engines of the Ron Brown. The V16 propulsion engines are in the foreground while the Ship Services V8 engines are in the background
Close-up of two of the V16 Marine diesels on the Ron Brown. For scale notice the flight of stairs behind the engines
Most ships have a propeller shaft that exits the rear of the ship parallel to the keel. The propeller is stationary – it can only rotate to propel the ship forward or backward. To turn the ship a rudder is employed which is usually controlled by a wheel on the bridge. The Ron Brown does not have a rudder; instead it is propelled by a “Z” drive. This type of propulsion system is specially suited for research vessels. In a “Z” drive the main drive shaft from the electric motors comes out parallel to the ship’s keel. It then is joined to a type of “spline gear” and makes a 90 degree turn down. At this point the shaft exits the ship where there is another “spline gear” which turns 90 degrees again parallel to the keel.
NOAA Corps Officer Lt. James Brinkley stands next to one of the V16 "exhaust pipes" from the main propulsion engines on the Ron Brown
The region between the two “universal joints” is mounted on a kind of turn table which allows each of the screws (there are two – one on the starboard side of the ship another on the port side) to rotate 36o degrees. In addition to precise maneuvering, this system of two “Z” drives and a bow thruster, when interfaced with a computer control system and GPS, allows the ship maintain an exact position in the water to within a few feet or better.
The Ron Brown's inboard portion of the "Z" drive. The electric motor that propels the ship is at left. If you look carefully just to the left of center you can see the main drive shaft connecting the motor to the "Z" drive mechanism
The engine status monitor. Notice at the very top it indicates that Propulsion engines 1 & 2 are operating.
The Ron Brown has three other smaller V8 diesel engines that power generators that are used to provide electricity for SS (ship services). This would represent things like radios, heating & air conditioning, lighting, computers, etc. The electricity produced by these three generators goes through two step-down transformers. The first reduction drops the potential from 600 V to 480 V. The next step down brings it from 480 V to 120 V. This is the form that is available to power the equipment throughout the ship. In addition, these three smaller engines and their generators can be used to power the Ron Brown’s propulsion in case of an emergency.
NOAA Corps Officer, Lt. James Brinkley stands next to one of two cable spools, located in the stern of the Ron Brown, that contain 5000 meters of cable each. They are used for long distance towing. For scale Lt. Brinkley is 6'3".
I would like to thank Lt. James Brinkley for the tour and Second Assistant Engineer Jake DeMello for explaining some of the technical aspects of the engines and answering my questions.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
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
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
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.
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!