You may be wondering what role technology plays in a hydrographic survey. I have already written about how modern survey operations rely on the use of multibeam sonar. What I have not described, and am still coming to understand myself, is how complex the processing of sonar data is, involving different types of hardware and software.
For example, when the sonar transducer sends out a pulse, most of the sound leaves and eventually comes back to the boat at an angle. When sound or light waves move at an angle from one substance into another, or through a substance with varying density, they bend. You have probably observed this before and not realized it. A plastic drinking straw in a glass of water will appear broken through the glass. That is because the light waves traveling from the straw to your eye bend as they travel.
The bending of a wave is called refraction. Sound waves refract, too, and this refraction can cause some issues with our survey data. Thanks to technology, there are ways to solve this problem. The sonar itself uses the sound velocity profile from our CTD casts in real time to adjust the data as we collect it. Later on during post processing, some of the data may need to be corrected again, using the CTD cast profiles most appropriate for that area at that general time. Corrections that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand are simplified with the use of technology.
Another interesting project in which I’ve been privileged to participate this week was setting up a base station at Shark Point in Ugak Bay. You have most likely heard of the Global Positioning System, and you may know that GPS works by identifying your location on Earth’s surface relative to the known locations of satellites in orbit. (For a great, kid-friendly explanation of GPS, I encourage students to check out this website.) But what happens if the satellites aren’t quite where we think they are? That’s where a base station, or ground station, becomes useful. Base stations, like the temporary one that we installed at Shark Point, are designed to improve the precision of positioning data, including the data used in the ship’s daily survey operations.
Setting up the Base Station involved several steps. First, a crew of six people were carried on RA-7, the ship’s small skiff, to the safest sandy area near Shark Point. It was a wet and windy trip over on the boat, but that was only the beginning! Then, we carried the gear we needed, including two tripods, two antennae (one FreeWave antenna to connect with the ship and a Trimble GPS antenna), a few flexible solar panels, two car batteries, a computer, and tools, through the brush and brambles and up as close to the benchmark as we could reasonably get. A benchmark is a physical marker (in this case, a small bronze disk) installed in a location with a known elevation above mean sea level. For more information about the different kinds of survey markers, click here.
Next we laid out a tarp, set up the antennae on their tripods, and hooked them up to their temporary power source. After ensuring that both antennae could communicate, one with the ship and the other with the satellites, we met back up with the boat to return to the ship. The base station that we set up will be retrieved in about a week, once it has served its purpose.
Career Focus – Commanding Officer (CO), NOAA Corps
Meet Ben Evans. As the Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Rainier, he is the leader, responsible for everything that takes place on board the ship as well as on the survey launches. Evans’ first responsibility is to the safety of the ship and its crew, ensuring that people are taking the appropriate steps to reduce the risks associated with working at sea. He also spends a good deal of his time teaching younger members of the crew, strategizing with the other officers the technical details of the mission, and interpreting survey data for presentation to the regional office.
Evans grew up in upstate New York on Lake Ontario. He knew that he wanted to work with water, but was unsure of what direction that might take him. At Williams College he majored in Physics and then continued his education at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, completing their 3-year Engineering Degree Program. While at WHOI, he learned about the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, and decided to apply. After four months of training, he received his first assignment as a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Rude surveying the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Nearly two decades later, he is the Commanding Officer of his own ship in the fleet.
When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Evans smiled to himself and took a moment to reply. He then described the fulfillment that comes with knowing that he is a small piece of an extensive, ongoing project–a hydrographic tradition that began back in 1807 with the United States Survey of the Coast. He enjoys working with the young crew members of the ship, sharing in their successes and watching them grow so that together they may carry that tradition on into the future.
For my last post, I would like to talk about some of the amazing marine life that I have seen on this trip. Seals, sea lions, and sea otters have shown themselves, sometimes in surprising places like the shipyard back in Seward. Humpback whales escorted us almost daily on the way to and from our small boat survey near Ugak Bay. One day, bald eagles held a meeting on the beach of Ugak Island, four of them standing in a circle on the sand, as two others flew overhead, perhaps flying out for coffee. Even the kelp, as dull as it might seem to some of my readers, undulated mysteriously at the surface of the water, reminding me of alien trees in a science fiction story.
Stepping up onto dry land beneath Shark Point, we were dreading (yet also hoping for) an encounter with the great Kodiak brown bear. Instead of bears, we saw a surprising number of spring flowers, dotting the slopes in clumps of blue, purple, and pink. I am sensitive to the smells of a new place, and the heady aroma of green things mixed with the salty ocean spray made our cold, wet trek a pleasure for me.
Word of the Day
Davit – a crane-like device used to move boats and other equipment on a ship
Speaking of Refraction…
Thank you to NOAA Ship Rainier, the Teacher at Sea Program, and all of the other people who made this adventure possible. This was an experience that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to share it with my students back in Georgia!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1106
Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N
Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar
Air Temperature: 29.5° C
Sea Temperature: 30.8° C
Wind Speed: 12.98 knots
Relative Humidity: 76%
Science and Technology Log
Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.
To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.
Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.
To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.
The weather devices on top are called anemometers, and they measure true wind speed and direction relative to the ship’s speed and direction. The term comes from the Greek word ‘anemos,’ which means wind. On the right is the fishing day shape, indicating to nearby ships that the Oregon II is using fishing gear.
These satellites help to provide the television and internet on the ship.
I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.
When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html
A dissolved oxygen sensor to be mounted on the environmental profiler, which collects environmental data through the water column.
A CTD refers to several electronic instruments that measure conductivity, temperature, depth, and other properties in the water column. Scientists are interested in changes in these properties relative to depth.
Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.
On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/
Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of TheOregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?
I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.
I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.
Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.
The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.
Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.
My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.
To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:
Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because
Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.
Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.
I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.
Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.
One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.
Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.
Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.
The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C
Science and Technology Log
Yesterday was my first small vessel operation where we took down a base station and set up a new system on an islet next to Harbor Island. We took RA-7, a skiff that used a crane to lift it off the flying bridge of the ship and into the water. This local satellite receiver allows for a reference point for data acquisition that occurs in Alaska, where the GPS system is not as dependable as the lower forty eight states. The positioning given from this high accuracy base station, called GNSS, will assist with nautical charts developed from the Tracy Arm project once time sonar data has been collected. Since the lower forty eight states have permanent base stations with this highly accurate positioning, there is no need to set up these stations.
The base stations work by comparing the satellite positioning to a theoretical ellipsoid that was generated in Canada to standardize positioning. Before this, different areas would utilize various landmarks as the reference point and this inconsistency proved challenging when comparing data internationally or even across the states. So, geodesists, scientists who study geometric shape, positioning in space and gravitational field, generated a theoretical ellipsoid. This was created by rotating the shorter axis of an ellipse to mimic the shape of the Earth. Since the poles of the Earth are flat and the equator bulges, this ellipsoid is an accurate representation. This system gives all points on Earth a unique coordinate, similar to an address, and is extremely helpful in developing nautical charts. However, the limitations of this theoretical ellipsoid include its inability to take into account the actual shape of the Earth.
While being on the skiff and learning about theoretical positioning ellipsoids, I heard a lot of talk about RA-2, one of the shoreline launches on Rainier. I learned that in addition to a single beam sonar, this vessel also has LIDAR. LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, can be used in bathymetric data acquisition and is currently used for shoreline data on Rainier.This remote sensing technology can survey up to seventy meters of depth in coastal waters by sending out a laser. LIDAR sends out light pulses and senses the time it takes for these lasers to return to the sensor, to gather data on different land structures. LIDAR gets cloud point data and dots make up the image of the ocean floor. From this, three dimensional maps can be generated. Since the light can penetrate a canopy just like the sun, this technology is used in South America to find hidden cities under tree lines. This technology can also be mounted on planes and is most likely the future direction of shoreline data acquisition. Lasers survey the land and they get the height of different landmasses and can be used for bathymetric data or topographic data.
Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of two alpine, or tundra, ecosystem areas that ship Rainier will survey. Twenty percent of these areas are covered in glaciers and snow fields and are too cold to support trees. The coastal areas of Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of the Terror Wilderness, which is part of Tongas National Forest, the largest national coastal temperate rainforest. Observing my first glacier, Sumdum Glacier, off the coast of Harbor Island while we were at the inlet of Tracy and Endicott Arms, reminded me of a time much before humans existed.
Here, out of Holkham Bay, I experienced my first expedition in a skiff, RA-7, to remove a horizontal control base and help set up a new one. Stepping foot on an actual landmass with all of the different living parts of an ecosystem was a treasure and it most certainly felt like a shore party, as the name suggests. I observed several calcium carbonate shells of urchins, amongst kelp, mussels, and barnacles. The shells transitioned into a forest with Devil’s Club, the only member of the ginseng family present in Alaska, with woody, prickly stems. This shrub was growing under a Sitka Spruce forest with cone-bearing trees present among the steep rocks of granite. These trees can grow up to one hundred and seventy feet tall and can be as old as seven hundred and fifty years old in Southeast Alaska. After an exciting afternoon of a shore party, we safely returned to the ship and headed into Tracy’s Arm.
Proceeding into the Southern arm of Tracy’s Arm, I saw calves of the tidal glacier that we would soon see. The refrozen and pressurized snow became glacial ice and carved the valleys to form the deep inlets with massive granite slabs on either side of us. South Sawyer glacier was off to the East and the air seemed to get colder as we approached it. Even in the rain and weather, I couldn’t pull myself away from the incredible beauty of this inlet. After endless waterfalls, we approached Sawyer Glacier which was once big enough to cover all of Tracy’s Arm. This acted as a reminder of the Ice Age and its effect on geology.
During this journey through Tracy’s Arm, I saw two eagles perched on an iceberg and shortly afterwards three orca whales showing their dorsal fins and playing in the water. As XO informed me, orca whales are actually the largest species of dolphins and these carnivorous mammals can weigh up to six tons. These creatures use echolocation to communicate to their pods, and I wonder how the multi-beam sonar affects this form of communication.
Studebaker, Stacy. Wildflowers and Other Plant Life of the Kodiak Archipelago.
When glacier ice melts, it is filled with air bubbles. As new layers of ice form on top of the old ice, the ice gets denser and the air bubbles get smaller. As the human eye detects the yellow and red light reflected from glacial ice, it appears a spectacular blue. Since snow is full or air bubbles, it reflects the entire spectrum of light and appears white.
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean along the California Coast
Date: June 5, 2018
Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33º 42.135 N
Longitude: 119º 15.440 W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Direction: 125.98º (Southeasterly Winds)
Air Temperature: 17.35º C
Science and Technology Log
I arrived on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker on Wednesday, May 31st. However, we just left the Port of San Francisco last night (June 2nd) because the ship had to make sure everything was running properly and pass multiple inspections. Safety is a serious thing out here, and I appreciate that very much. Once we had the green light, we sailed out of San Francisco Bay underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The winds were about 25 knots (almost 29 mph) with 10 foot swells. Conditions like this are not ideal for data collection, so we sailed about 220 nautical miles to the South where conditions were more promising. I spent my first night on the job acclimating to the evening schedule. In that time, I learned about some of the equipment and programs we use to collect and analyze our catches and samples.
The first thing that I noticed was a GPS system used to track the ship’s location and the locations for each trawl. The boat icon shows the location of the ship, and the dots indicate locations where we plan to survey. Those with a triangle inside are the trawling locations, while the others indicate spots where we need to perform CTD tests. This systems marks locations using latitude and longitude, and can provide an estimated time of arrival.
The second program I learned about was NOAA’S Scientific Computer System (SCS). This system allows the ship to record a variety of environmental and positional data immediately into the computer. While some data is still recorded by hand, this system reduces human recording errors, in turn allowing for analyses that accurately represent the data collected. I also had the opportunity to interview our Survey Technician, Jaclyn Mazzella. Jackie is one of the NOAA Crew members on board, but she is also one of the most important people that serves as a liaison for both the scientists and the crew. Read the interview below:
What are the responsibilities of the Survey Technician?
The Survey Technician is responsible for data management. All the data collected on the ship is recorded in the Scientific Computer System Database. This includes data from the thermometers, anemometer (wind speed), TSG (thermosalinograph), fluorometer, etc. The data is organized and then delivered as a data package to the scientists. There are two major types of files, continuous files and snapshot files. A continuous file may include data that is taken every 30 seconds, like latitude and longitude, speed over ground, course over ground, etc. A snapshot file provides information about a very specific event. For example, their system records every single step in the trawling process, including the moment the net hits the water, “shooting the doors” that hold the net open, begin fishing, and then every step in the return of that process. While this is happening, all the environmental parameters are simultaneously and continuously being recorded. Jackie maintains these files until the end of a survey and then gives the data to the chief scientist in a document known as the MOA, or the Marine Operations Abstract. The information is also sent to the National Center for Environmental Information, the world’s largest active archive of environmental data. These archives are available to the public.
Why did you apply to work for NOAA?
At first, I didn’t know what NOAA was. I originally wanted to study things like Marine Biology, Astronomy, and Physics. I was attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College as a liberal arts major. I planned to transfer to another school for Physics and Astronomy, but my counselor suggested another option, knowing my interest in Marine Science. I then went to SUNY Maritime in the Bronx to study Marine Environmental Science (State University of New York), a school I never knew existed considering I lived right down from the street from it. Upon graduation, I received an email from a former classmate also working for NOAA, stating that NOAA was seeking Maritime Majors for this position. She gave me a contact, I sent my resume, and I got the job.
What is the most important tool you need to do your job?
The SCS is the most important thing I need, and am fortunate that NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker has up-to-date, top-of-the-line equipment. We are one of the most technologically advanced ships in the world. We also have back-ups for almost everything on board which is nice to have while at Sea.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing this position as a career?
Being a Survey Technician requires you to have a degree in science. Be certain that if you apply for a position, be sure to know what you are applying for. Much of my training was on the job training, and I was fortunate to work with Phil White, Chief Survey Technician with years of experience. I learned a lot from him. Phil also developed course for those wanting and needing to learn the ins and outs of a Survey Technician.
If you didn’t work for NOAA, what career would you choose?
Working in Astronomy or Physics because I had a strong interest in both. However, I would say that joining NOAA was one of the best decisions I ever made. I came from a rough background growing up, and now I get to experience things I never would have imagined. NOAA provides an acceptable salary, nice benefits, leave time, vacation time, and paid overtime. When I take leave, I travel to other countries. This is something I always wanted to do.
What are your hobbies?
I love trying new foods when we go in port. I love drawing, painting, and playing video games. And I love to travel. I’ve already been to Egypt, Qatar, Europe. In the next year for two occasions, I plant to travel to Italy, then [for my honeymoon] to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Maldives.
Analyzing data can be a daunting task. “R,” a coding language used for statistical computing and graphics, allows scientists to analyze their data in a variety of ways. The program can be used to perform statistical computations of large amounts of data to show underlying patterns and trends. It can also be used to create plots of specific sects of data if one wanted to highlight a location or time. Many scientists like this program because it is very user friendly, and if one needs help with a program (code), there is a free and open community of users available to provide advice and feedback.
When I arrived at the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, we expected to sail on May 31st. However, we were delayed in port for 2 extra days, officially leaving port on June 2nd. During the waiting period, I explored the piers along the Embarcadero. I had the chance to visit the Exploratorium, the Bay Aquarium, and the famous Pier 39. Pier 39 is where the Sea lions aggregate every day and, apparently, have been doing so for 28 years.
I hiked up the stairs to Coit Tower, a historic landmark built in 1933 (Lillian Hitchcock Coit, a rich socialite, bequeathed over $100,000 back in 1929 to restore and beautify sections of San Francisco). Hey WINS girls, remember how we climb the steps coming out of Tumbling Waters, and how you felt like you were going to die before you reached the top…I almost died twice climbing those stairs! By the second time it was easier.
When on the ship, I would read or sit out on deck and watch the pelicans, gulls, cormorants, terns, and common murres. I also got to do a little bird watching heading to Coit Tower, where I saw lots of Anna’s humming birds, chestnut-backed chickadees, and song sparrows. It was interesting because I don’t recognize the calls of west coast birds. Even the song sparrow, which are also common Philadelphia, have a variation in their song, like an accent or a dialect.
As of June 2nd, we have been out to sea. I’ve been assigned to night shift, which means I will be working a lot on sorting the overnight hauls (Stay tuned for the next blog). However, the weather leaving the bay on the first night was rough, so we sailed south to find calmer waters. I didn’t mind so much because as soon as we passed the Golden Gate Bridge, I got to see something I wanted to see my whole life, humpback whales! It was worth the wait.
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 5, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: ≥ 1 Nautical Mile
Wind Direction: 090°E
Wind Speed: 20 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1008.3 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 13.3°C
Air Temperature: 12.1°C
Science and Technology Log
3… 2… 1… deploy the drifting buoy! The NOAA Office of Climate Observation established the Adopt a Drifter Program in 2004 for K-16 teachers. The program’s mission is “to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world and engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science.” By adopting a drifter I am provided the unique opportunity of infusing ocean observing system data into my library media curriculum. A drifter, or drifting buoy, is a floating ocean buoy that collects data on the ocean’s surface. They tend to last approximately 400 days in the water. Drifters allow scientists to track ocean currents, changes in temperature, salinity, and other important components of the ocean’s surface as they float freely and transmit information.
The buoy is equipped with a thermistor, a drogue and a transmitter so that it can send out daily surface water temperatures and its position to an Argos satellite while it is being moved by surface currents pulling on the drogue. Soon I will receive the WMO number of my drifting buoy to access data online from the drifter. My students and I will receive a drifter tracking chart to plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves freely in the surface ocean currents. Students will be able to make connections between the data accessed online and other maps showing currents, winds, and surface conditions.
How to Deploy a Drifter:
Remove the plastic covering (shrink-wrapped) from the buoy on the ship.
Record the five-digit ID number of the drifter inscribed on the surface float.
A magnet is then removed from the buoy, which starts a transmitter (located in the upper dome) to allow data from the buoy to be sent to a satellite and then to a ground-based station so we can retrieve the data.
Throw the unpacked drifter from the lowest possible deck of the ship into the sea. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents.
Record the date, time, and location of the deployment as well as the five-digit ID.
GoPro footage of the drifter’s deployment
My drifter buoy was launched at 8:01 PM (20:01) on June 3rd, 2017. Its official position is 43 degrees 32.9 minutes North, 067 degrees 40.5 minutes West.
The WMO # associated with my drifter is 44907. To track the buoy and view data, please visit the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center website. There, you will find instructions on how to access data via the NOAA Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC) webpage or Quality Control Tools Buoy Location and Trajectory website. My students will have full access to our drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date) in near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the Global Drifter Program. Students can access, retrieve, and plot various subsets of data as a time series for specified time periods for any drifting buoy and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year). My students are going to be thrilled when learn they get to be active participants in NOAA’s oceanography research.
Below is a 2-minute video from NOAA’s National Ocean Service to learn more about drifting buoys.
Deploying my drifting buoy in 360-degress
Understanding where you are on the grid is essential when navigating a ship of any size. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter houses a major operation with 30 personnel on board. The safety of each individual is a primary concern for Commanding Officer, Lindsay Kurelja. She knows all there it is to know about navigating a marine vessel. Early mariners heavily relied on the stars and landmarks to determine their position in the sea. While celestial and terrestrial navigation techniques are still effective and used often by contemporary sailors, modern ships have GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it lets us know where we are and where we are going anywhere on Earth. GPS is quickly becoming an integrative part of our society. It is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations.
Commanding Officer Kurelja and her crew use a GPS receiver to chart Gordon Gunter’s position in the ocean. The ship receives signals from 10 satellites that are in lower orbit. Once the ship’s receiver calculates its distance from four or more satellites, it knows exactly where we are.
Within seconds, from thousands of miles up in space, our location can be determined with incredible precision, often within a few yards of your actual location. [Source — NOAA] The satellites’ signals give NOAA officers the ship’s positioning. Then, using a nautical chart of the area in which we are cruising, the Navigation bridge team plots the latitude position and the longitude position to determine the ship’s exact location.
Since my expedition began you might have wondered, “How is he even sending these blog posts from so far out at sea?” That is a legitimate question. One I had been asking myself. So, I went to Tony VanCampen, Gordon Gunter’s Chief Electronics Technician for the answer. You may have guessed it; the answer has something to do with Earth’s satellites. Providing internet on ships is different than on land because, well, there is no land. We are surrounded by water; there are no towers or cables.
On the deck of the ship is a fixed installation antenna that provides broadband capability. It looks like a mini water tower. The antenna sends signals about the ship’s positioning to a geostationary satellite. A geostationary satellite is placed directly over the equator and revolves in the same direction the earth rotates (west to east). The ship’s computers use the connection made between the antenna and the satellite to transfer data which the satellite in turn sends to a ground site in Holmdel, New Jersey. The site in New Jersey connects the ship to the Internet.
Chief Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen not only understands, installs, maintains, and repairs all the technology on board Gordon Gunter, he is an expert on all things nautical. Tony has been an asset to my Teacher at Sea experience. He takes the time to not only explain how equipment works, but he shows me where things are and then demonstrates their capabilities. Aboard Gordon Gunter, Tony runs all of the mission electronics, navigational electronics, and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Tony has been working at sea since 1986 when he joined the NAVY and reported on board the USS Berkeley. He took a short break from work at sea when he became a physical security specialist for the NAVY at a weapons station. Tony has held several roles in the NAVY and with NOAA, all have given him a wealth of knowledge about ship operations. He is dedicated to the needs of the crew, scientists, and as of late, one Teacher at Sea. I owe Tony a debt of gratitude for his assistance and kindness.
Out to Sea (Saturday, June 3)
As I entered the dry lab this morning to report for duty, there was a lot of exciting chatter going on. I presumed a whale had been seen nearby or an unusual fish was caught in one of the bongo nets. While either of these situations would generate excitement, the lab’s enthusiasm was on the drifting buoy that was to be deployed today. I love how the scientists and volunteers get overwhelmed with joy for all things “science”. I had strong feelings after learning the news, as well. My emotions steered more toward worry than elation because I was the one to deploy the buoy! What if I deployed the drifting buoy incorrectly? What if it gets sucked under the ship? What if a whale eats it? Questions like these kept running through my mind all afternoon. Luckily, time spent rinsing bongo nets and preserving plankton samples kept my mind off the matter. But a voice in the back of my brain kept repeating, “What if…”
I finally laid my worries to rest. At sunset I deployed the drifting buoy without incident! The entire event was extremely special. My buoy is now floating atop the waves of the Gulf of Maine and soon to other parts of the sea. Yes, it will be all alone on the surface, but underneath and above will be a plethora of wildlife. Even when no one is there to witness it, ocean life carries on. For my students and me, we do not have to be with the drifting buoy physically to experience its journey. The transmitting equipment will give us the opportunity to go on the same adventure as the buoy while learning new things along the way.
A New Week (Sunday, June 4)
It has been one week, seven days since I first arrived on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Like the virga (an observable streak of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporates or before reaching the surface) we experienced this morning, my time aboard the ship is fleeting, too. As the days dwindle until we disembark, I find myself attempting to soak in as much of the experience as I can. Suddenly, I am looking at the horizon a little longer; I pay closer attention to the sounds made by the ship; and I pause to think about how each sample will tell us more about the Earth’s mysterious oceans. Yes, a week has passed, but now it is the first day of a new week. With two days and a “wakeup” remaining, I intend to embrace each moment to its fullest.
Just Another Manic Monday (Monday, June 5)
No matter the day or time, NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter runs like clockwork. Today, however, the ship seemed to be buzzing with a different kind of energy. NOAA Corps Officers and the crew have been moving around the ship with an ever greater sense of purpose. Believe me, there is never an idle hand aboard Gordon Gunter. One major factor that heavily influences the ship’s operations is the weather. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine. Gale warnings mean maritime locations are expected to experience winds of Gale Force on the Beaufort scale.
Tonight’s weather forecast are winds reaching 20-30 Knots with seas building to 4 to 6 feet. Tuesday’s forecast is even grimmer: winds between 25-35 Knots and waves reaching 7-12 feet. [Source — National Weather Service] Even though the weather forecast is ominous, I fear not! Having witnessed the professionalism and expertise of every crew member on board the ship, I have full confidence in Gordon Gunter.
Chief Scientist and the Commanding Officer adjusted our course due to the imminent weather. We passed through the Cape Cod Canal, an artificial waterway in the state of Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels and people often just sit and watch ships and boats transiting the waterway. It was indeed a joyous occasion seeing land on the starboard and port sides of the ship. The passage provided many more sites to see compared to the open ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise through the Cape Cod Canal, but inside me was the desire to one day return to the deep, blue sea.
As you can tell, this blog post’s theme revolves around positioning and tracking. So, I decided to ask the seabird and marine mammal observers about the technology and methods they use to identify the positioning of animals out on the open ocean. Our wildlife observers, Glen and Nicholas, have a military-grade cased computer they keep with them on the flying bridge while looking for signs of birds and whales. The GPS keeps track of the ship’s position every five minutes so that a log of their course exists for reference later. When Glen or Nicholas identify a bird or marine mammal, they enter the data into the computer system which records the time and their exact GPS position. To know how many meters out an animal is, observers use a range finder.
This pencil has been carefully designed according to their location above sea level which is 13.7 meters from the ship’s flying bridge where the observers keep a sharp lookout. The observers place the top of the pencil on the horizon to get accurate distances. If the bird falls between each carved line on the pencil, they know approximately how many meters away the animal is. Wildlife observers’ rule of thumb for tracking animals is called a strip transect. Strip transects are where observers define a strip of a certain width, and count all creatures within that strip. Glen and Nicholas input data on any animal they see that is within 300 meters of the ship. Providing as much information as possible about the positioning of each observed living thing helps researchers understand what is happening and where.
RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging): It is used to determine the distance and direction of the ship from land, other ships, or any floating object out at sea.
Gyro Compass: It is used for finding true direction. It is used to find correct North Position, which is also the earth’s rotational axis.
Auto Pilot: It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical system and is used to control the ship’s steering system from a remote location (Navigation Bridge).
Echo Sounder: This instrument is used to measure the depth of the water below the ship’s bottom using sound waves.
Speed & Distance Log Device: The device is used to measure the speed and the distance traveled by a ship from a set point.
Automatic Radar Plotting Aid: The radar displays the position of the ships in the vicinity and selects the course for the vessel by avoiding any kind of collision.
GPS Receiver: A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is a display system used to show the ship’s location with the help of Global positioning satellite in the earth’s orbit.
Record of Navigation Activities: All the navigational activities must be recorded and kept on board for ready reference. This is a mandatory and the most important log book.
Did You Know?
GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 12,550 miles. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day. The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged so that users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet. [Source — NOAA]
The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.
In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features. Step 1 is to determine where we are.
In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.
Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is. Think “bath” water and metry “measure.” When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.
As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.
Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor. Here is a screen shot of the data we collected. It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!
Here I am, gathering pings.
Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water. Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides. The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.
The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area. On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install. This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.
You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data. Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.
Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart. The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.
Installing Tide Gauge Stations
Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is. The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure. The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water. The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data. This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis. Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.
There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world. The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia. These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.
The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle). During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.
Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks
Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches. Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.
Why Bench Mark?
There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.
The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land. The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge. The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly. As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.” We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s reference frame. Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed. After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!
Installing the Benchmark
Today, our beach party broke into two groups. We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline. We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete. A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more. We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification. If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.
As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.
To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water. Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team. The dive team secured a sensor below the water. The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days. During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.
After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick. One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal. They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height! Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.
Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours. Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to. If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements. I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do. If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.
As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island. I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.
Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.
Spotlight on a Scientist
Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II. The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.
During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits. He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.” He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks. For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.” Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart. His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.
Today was a special day for me for many reasons. It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever. Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking. I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me. In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently. All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Susy Ellison Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier September 9-26, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands Date: September 13, 2013
Weather: current conditions from the bridge
You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing
GPS Reading: 55o 15.037’ N 162o 38.025’ W
Wind Speed: 9.8 kts
Barometer: 1021.21 mb
Visibility: foggy on shore
Science and Technology Log
Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland. Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated. Think about it. If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane. You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?). Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it. Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day. If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion. OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes? Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it. It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind).
Challenge number one—how do you measure something you can’t see or touch with your own hands? Long ago, sailors solved that obstacle by using a lead line; literally, a line with a lead weight attached to the end. They would drop the weighted line over the side of their ship to measure the depth. These soundings would be repeated to get enough data to provide a view of the bottom. This information was added to their maps along with estimates of the horizontal aspects (shoreline features and distance from the shoreline) to create reasonably good charts that kept them off most of the underwater obstacles. A simple solution to a complex problem. No electricity required, no advanced degrees in computer science needed, no calculus-based physics necessary. Fast- forward to 2013 and the world of complex calculations made possible by a variety of computer-based algorithmic calculations (i.e. some darn fancy computing power that does the math for you). The NOAA Ship Rainier’s hydrographers use sound as their lead line, traveling in small boats known as launches that are equipped with multibeam sonar that send a series of sound ‘pings’ to the ocean floor and measures the time between sending and receiving the ping back after its trip to the bottom. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If it were all that simple I wouldn’t be typing this in a room on the Rainier filled with 20 computer monitors, 10 hard drives, and all sorts of other humming and whirring electronic devices. Not only that, each launch is equipped with its own impressive array of computer hardware.
So far on our survey days 2 launches have been sent out to cover identified transects. Their onboard crew includes a coxswain (boat driver), as well as 2-3 survey technicians and assistants. Each launch is assigned a polygon to survey for the day.
EVERY PING YOU TAKE…
Once they arrive at their assigned area, it’s time to ‘mow the lawn’—traverse back and forth systematically collecting data from one edge of your assigned polygon to the other until the entire area has been surveyed. Just in case you haven’t realized it yet, although that sounds pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Is the area shallow or deep? Depth affects how much area each traverse can cover; the sonar spreads out as it goes downward sending it’s little pings scampering to the ocean floor. Visualize an inverted ‘V’ of pings racing away from the sonar towards the sea floor. If it’s deep, the pings travel further before being bounced back upwards. This means that the width of each row the sonar cuts as it “mows the lawn” is wider in deeper water, and narrower in shallow. Shallower areas require more passes with the launch, since each pass covers a more limited area than it might if the water were deeper. As the launch motors back and forth ‘mowing the lawn’, the sonar signature is recorded and displayed on monitors in the cabin area and in front of the driver. Ideally, each lap overlaps the previous one by 25-50%, so that good coverage is ensured. This requires a steady hand and expert driving skills as you motor along either over or parallel to ocean swells. All you video gamers out there, take note–add boat driving to the repertoire of skills you might need if you want to find a job that incorporates video gaming with science!
Here’s a small list of some of the variables that need to be considered when using sonar to calculate depth; the chemistry of the water column through which you are measuring, the variability of the water column’s depth at specific times of day, the general depth (is it shallow or deep), and the movement of the measuring device itself. So many variables!!
HOW FAST DOES SOUND TRAVEL?
When you’re basing your charts on how sound travels through the water column, you need to look at the specific characteristics of that water. In a ‘perfect world’, sound travels at 1500m/second through water. In our real world, that speed is affected by salinity (the concentration of salts), temperature, and depth (water pressure). The survey crew uses a CTD meter to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD meter is deployed multiple times during the day to obtain data on these parameters. It is attached to a line on the rear of the launch, dropped into the water just below the surface for 2 minutes, and then lowered to near the ocean floor to collect data. After retrieval, it’s hooked to the computer on the launch to download the data that was collected. That data is stored in its own file to use when the data is reviewed in the evening back on board the Rainier. This is one of the variables that will be applied to the sonar data file—how fast was the sound moving through the water? Without this information to provide a baseline the sonar data would not be accurate.
ROCKING AND ROLLING…
When you’re out on the ocean in a boat, the most obvious variable is the instability of the surface, itself. This is called ‘attitude’. Attitude includes changes to the boat’s orientation fore and aft (pitch), side-to-side (roll), and up and down (heave) as it is gently, and not-so-gently rocked by ocean swells and waves. This means that the sonar is not always where you think it is in relation to the seafloor. This is like trying to accurately measure the height of something while you, the measurer, are on a surface that is constantly moving in 3 different directions. Good luck. Luckily for this crew of hydrographers, each boat is equipped with a little yellow box whose technical name is the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that I call the heave-o-meter, as we bob up and down on this might ocean. This little box contains 3 gyroscopic sensors that record all those forward and backward pitches, sideways rolls, as well as the bobbing up and down motions that the boat does while the sonar is pinging away. This information is recorded in the launch’s computer system and is applied to the sonar data during analysis back at the Rainier.
TIME AND TIDE…
Now that you’ve gotten your launch to the correct polygon (using GPS data to pinpoint your location), taken CTD readings to create a sound transmission profile for your transect area, and started up the heave-o-meter to account for rocking and rolling on the high seas, it’s time to start collecting data. Wait—there’s still another variable to think about, one that changes twice daily and affects the height of the water column. You also have to factor in changes in the depth of the water due to tidal changes. (for an in-depth look at how tides work, check out this link: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/tides/tides01_intro.html). At high tide, there’s a greater likelihood that subsurface obstacles will be covered sufficiently. At low tide, however, it’s pretty important to know where the shallow spots and rocks might lurk. NOAA’s hydrographers are charting ocean depths referenced to mean lower low water, so that mariners can avoid those low-water dangers.
You might be asking yourself, who keeps track of all that tide data and, not only that, how do we know what the tide highs and lows will be in an area where there are no other tide gauges? NOAA has tide gauges along many coastal areas. You can go online to http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/and find out predicted tide heights and times for any of these locations. While we are working here in Cold Bay, we are using a tide gauge in nearby King Cove, as well as a tide gauge that the Rainier’s crew installed earlier this summer. More data is better.
What do you do if you’re surveying in an area that doesn’t have existing tide gauges? In that case, you have to make your own gauge that is referenced to a non-moving point of known elevation (like a rock). For a detailed description of how these gauges are set, check out NOAA TAS blogs from some of the teachers who preceded me on the Rainier. On Wednesday, I helped dismantle a tide gauge on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands that had been set up earlier this season (check out TAS Avery Martin’s July 12th posting), but had ceased to report reliable data. Our mission on Wednesday was to find out if the station had merely stopped reporting data or if it had stopped collecting data entirely.
When we arrived at Bird Island we found out exactly why the gauge had stopped sending data—its battery bank had fallen from one rocky ledge to another, ripping apart the connections and breaking one of the plastic battery boxes in the process. That took a lot of force—perhaps a wave or some crazy gust of wind tore the 3 batteries from their mooring. Since each battery weighs over 25lbs, that means that something moved over 75lbs of batteries. Ideally, the station uses solar panels to keep the batteries charged. The batteries power up the station so that data can be sent to a satellite. Data is also stored on site in a data logger, but without power that data logger won’t work.
We retrieved all the equipment and will be able to download whatever data had been recorded before the system broke. The automated tide gauge is, basically, a narrow diameter air-filled tube that is underwater and set at a fixed depth with a narrow opening pointed downward to the seafloor. The pressure required to balance the air in the tube is equal to the pressure of the water column directly above the opening. The tide gauge measures this pressure and converts it to depth. Pressure/depth changes are recorded every six minutes—or ten times each hour. As it turns out, the damaged battery bank was only one of the problems with this station. Problem number two was discovered by the dive team that retrieved the underwater portion of the gauge; the hose had been severed in two locations. In this case, something had caused the tube to break, so it was no longer connected to the data logger. That must have been some storm!
While there, we set to work checking on benchmarks that had been set earlier in the season. We used a transit and survey rods (oversized rulers) to measure the relative heights of a series of benchmarks to ensure accuracy. There are 5 benchmarks along the beach. Each one was surveyed as a reference to the primary benchmark nearest the gauging station. Multiple measurements help ensure greater accuracy.
We also were tasked with checking the primary benchmark’s horizontal location. While this had been carefully measured when it was set back in July, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t moved. It might seem a crazy concept to think that a benchmark cemented into a seemingly immovable piece of rock could move, but we are in a region that experiences seismic events on an almost daily basis. (You can check out seismic activity at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/) NOAA Corps Officer ENS Bill Carrier set up a GPS station at the benchmark to collect 4 hour’s data on its position, a process called HORCON (horizontal control). Unfortunately, the winds were in charge of how much data we were able to collect that day, and blew down the station after only 3 hours! [image of station down] Sometimes the best laid plans …..
DATA, DATA, and MORE DATA
While data collection is important, it’s what you do with the data that really gets complicated. Data management is essential when working with so many files and so many variables. Before each launch returns to the Rainier, the day’s data is saved onto a portable hard drive. Immediately after being hauled back up onto the ship, the data is handed off to the ‘Night Processing Team’ and hustled off to the Plotting Room (computer HQ) to be uploaded into a computer. This is where the magic happens and an advanced degree in computer science or GIS (geographic information systems) can come in handy. I have neither of those qualifications, but I know how to read a screen, click a mouse, and follow directions. So, on Friday evening I was ushered into the ranks of ‘night processor’.
First, data is downloaded into the main computer. Each launch’s files are called raw data files and are recorded in the launch’s acquisition logs. Once the data is on the computer, it is important to set up what I call a ‘file tree’; the series of files that increase in specificity. This is analogous to having an accurate list of what files live within each drawer and section of your file cabinet. These files are color-coded according to the operations manual protocols to minimize the chance of misfiling or the data. They are definitely more organized than the files on my laptop—I might change my lackadaisical filing ways after this trip!
Once the data are placed in their folders, the fun begins. Remember, you have files for multiple variables; sonar, CTD casts, the IMU Heave-o-meter, and tide data. Not only that, you have, with any luck, performed multiple casts of your CTD meter to obtain accurate data about the conditions affecting sound wave transmission within your polygon. Now you get to do something I have never done before (and use a vocabulary word I never knew existed and one that I might try to spell in a future Scrabble game); you concatenate your CTD data. Basically, you put the data from all your CTD casts together into one, neat little file. Luckily, the computer program that is used does this for you. Next, you direct the program to add all the variables to your sonar files; the concatenated CTD data, tide data, and IMU data.
Assuming all goes well and you have merged all your files, it’s time to ‘clean’ your data and review it to make sure there are no obvious holes or holidays in the data that was collected. Holidays can occur if the launch was bouncing too much from side to side during data collection and show up as a blank spot in the data because the sonar was out of the water and not pinging off the bottom. You can identify these holidays during the data collection process [holiday signature], but sometimes there are smaller holidays that show up once the data is merged and on your computer screen. There can also be miscellaneous errant pings caused by debris in the water column. Cleaning involves systematically searching each line of your surveyed polygon to identify and delete those ‘bad’ pings. Kind of like photoshopping away the parts of a digital image that you don’t want in the final image. You work methodically in a grid pattern from left to right and top to bottom to ensure that you are covering the whole file. It sounds easy, but to a non-PC person such as myself all that right click, left click, center click stuff was a bit boggling. The program is amazingly complex and, rumor has it, a little bit ‘buggy’ at times.
After all this, guess what?! You still don’t have a chart. It takes almost 2 years to go from data collection to chart publication. There’s endless amounts of data compilation, reports to be written, and quality control analysis to be completed before the final report and charts are issued.
So far I have spent two nights on the ship ‘in transit’, moving between ports. The other nights have been spent anchored offshore. While the first night at sea was a little bouncy, the second was, in my opinion, the wildest roller coaster ride I have ever taken. Imagine being pulled to the top of a high roller coaster, and released to fly down to the bottom while you are lying flat in your bed. That’s what it felt like as we motored from the Shumagin Islands to an anchorage in Cold Bay. An endless series of up, up, ups, followed by a wild ride down, down, down. Luckily all the drawers and doors have latches that keep them from flying open—although I had a jacket hanging on a hook that seemed to hit the latch on one closet door and actually knock it open—after this happened a couple of times I gave up and put the coat on the floor and firmly shut the door. My bathroom trash can ended up in the shower stall. At one point I heard a loud thump in the dark—and realized my survival suit in its orange bag had fallen from the top bunk to the floor—glad I wasn’t in its way! It was time to just hang on and try not to roll out of bed.
We finally stopped rocking and rolling around 3 in the morning. I thought maybe I was just a bit sensitive to the rocking motion, but was comforted to find out the everyone agreed that it had been a wild night. In fact, one of the potential ‘hazards’ for our work on Thursday was ‘lack of sleep’.
After almost a week aboard the Rainier I have been impressed with the teamwork, precision, and overall efficiency which overlays all operations. This crew can get a launch loaded, lowered, and underway in less time than it sometimes takes me to record my morning attendance at school! This is no simple feat (the boat, not the attendance!). It reminds me of a buzzing beehive filled with activity and focused on a single task; data collection. Each day begins on the fantail (the rear of the boat) at 0800 with the FOO (Field Operations Officer) reviewing the POD (Plan of the Day) and a summary of the day’s goals, work assignments, weather, and potential hazards, prior to sending out the survey crews.
The Boatswain (bo’sun) directs the next part of this tightly choreographed activity, as the launches are lowered by their davits (small cranes), while lines and hooks are handled with an eye to safety and efficiency. Within 5 minutes the two launches have been lowered, loaded with crew and supplies, and are on the water, buzzing away from the hive like bees to perform their daily waggle dance as they move back and forth collecting hydrographic data.
At 1630 they return to the hive, filled with the sweet nectar of hydrographic data. Launches are lifted back onto the ship and the data is whisked off to the computer room for downloading. 5 Minutes later a survey team debrief is held to review work accomplished that day and any problems that may have come up so that plans can be made for the next day’s work. This crew is organized!!
Weather Data: Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction: West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast
Science and Technology Log:
It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them. The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.
You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor. Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm. A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!
The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.
If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.
I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!
The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment. The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data, help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.
I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 28.1C (82F)
Wind Speed: 4.5 knots (5.2mph)
Wind Direction: From the SSE
Relative Humidity: 78 %
Barometric Pressure: 1021.1
Surface Water Temperature: 28.1C (82F)
Science and Technology Log
Rather than fishing for multiple samples of each species from every Marine Protected Area (MPA) we stop at, the scientists opted to use a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to gather their data. This also allows Stacey Harter and Andy David to get real time footage of the animals that inhabit each dive site as well as a more complete picture of the habitat itself. Not only are we collecting data on the fish, but John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are taking data on all of the invertebrates we see such as sponges, corals, hydroids, crinoids, sea stars, urchins, and lobster. The ROV we are using for this expedition is called the Phantom S2. It weighs about 300 pounds when out of the water with the dimensions of 24 inches in height, 55 inches in length and 33 inches in width. The Phantom S2 uses the tether to power the two ½ horizontal horsepower electric motors and the two vertical 1/4 vertical horsepower motors and has a maximum speed of 2 knots (2.3mph) and because of the length of the tether, is limited to a depth of 1000 feet. The ROV is equipped with a high resolution video camera with a 12x zoom as well as a digital still camera with strobe to collect high quality color images of anything the scientists need for their research. On this cruise we are averaging about 450 still images and about seven hours of video daily. Two lasers mounted at 10 cm wide help the scientists measure specimens without bringing them to the surface.
Setting up the ROV onboard the ship takes about a day. This requires the ROV team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the Undersea Vehicles Program out of University of North Carolina Wilmington to arrive at least 24 hours in advance of departure so that they can have the ship’s crew load all of the ROV equipment with the crane. From there they set up the components in the dry lab and begin running the tether cables from the ROV, which is located on the deck, to the computer, which is located in the dry lab. We also have to run a line up to our GPS device and our VHF radio that are both installed on the flying bridge, and yet another cable to transfer the digital images to the computer, and the power line for the ROV engines. Once the research gets underway, it is not uncommon for Lance and Glenn to spend as many as 12 hours a day working on preparing for the dive, operating the equipment during the dive, and then processing all of the data after the dive. It is hard work and takes great attention to detail.
In order to communicate with the ROV while it is underwater the operators deploy a Trackpoint hydrophone over the side of the ship which must be taller than the hull of the ship, which on the Pisces is over 28 feet tall. This hydrophone picks up the X,Y,Z coordinates from the ROV then uses the data from antenna mounted on the fly bridge of the ship to create GPS coordinates for the ROV.
This information is plotted into the Hypack mapping system and is used by both the ROV driver as well as the bridge of the ship. This helps the officer on deck know what heading the ship needs to be traveling so the ROV driver can maneuver the ROV to where the scientists want to go. Depth is calculated by the delay in time that it takes the hydrophone to get a signal from the ROV.
Driving the ROV takes great skill and concentration. Not only do you have to watch the ROV display footage to make sure you don’t run into anything, but you also have to constantly be aware of your heading so you don’t get the ROV too far off course. The tether keeping the ROV in communication with the ship also has to be monitored. Getting the tether wrapped around a rock overhang or part of a mast on a shipwreck is of great concern. If the tether is severed or becomes too entwined, the ROV could be lost. The ROV driver is in constant contact with the crew on the back deck who are watching the tether line as well as the bridge so that any necessary course corrections can be made quickly and efficiently. Having too much tether in the water can also lead to tangling, so the tether is marked in 50 foot increments, which allows the deck crew to know how much of the tether line to feed into the water. On our cruise, the longest the ROV has been below the surface has been 3.5 hours. Because of the intense concentration it takes to drive the ROV, four consecutive hours is the limit that a driver can do in one sitting. If the dive needs to be longer than four hours, Lance and Glenn would trade duties, so if Lance was driving, he would rotate out onto the deck to monitor the tether while Glenn takes over at the controls.
The ROV requires three consoles of components to operate. The first is the ROV control console. This is where the driver controls the ROV itself. On this panel are the two joysticks that control the movement of the ROV through the water. The joystick on the left controls the up, down and side to side motion. The joystick on the right controls the forward, reverse, as well as left and right. There are also control switches to tilt the camera so that it is hanging vertically within the cage to take pictures of the ocean floor.
The scientists on this cruise want a “bottom” shot every two minutes. This is their way of “collecting” random samples of the habitat while we are making our way along the transect line. There are also controls switches to turn on and off the lights, turn on and off the laser, and to switch over from the video camera to the still camera so digital still pictures can be taken. Directly above the control panel is a flat screen monitor showing the live footage from the ROV so the pilot can see where the ROV is below the surface.
The middle console has all of the navigation components. There is a GPS unit displaying the coordinates of the ship at all times. It also contains a Trackpoint acoustic tracking system that provides position data for the ROV. This is not only helpful to the driver, but the scientists take waypoints throughout the operation to help them match up the data they recorded while watching the live video feed from the ROV with the still images, and the temperature and depth data taken by a small CTD attached to the ROV cage.
Also on this cabinet is a rackmount computer using Hypack software. The scientists can load the multibeam sonar information and the transect coordinates into the navigation computer. This software gathers and logs information from the ROV as well as other navigational electronics so the driver sees a real time image of where the ROV is in relation to the ship and features of interest on the sea floor. This also gives both the driver and the scientists an idea of where we are in relation to the transect line. If multibeam images were available and downloaded into the navigation computer, the chief scientist can use those to adjust our heading off the transect line if she feels the structures they need to study are on a different heading than originally plotted.
The third console contains the controls for the digital still camera as well as the digital recording devices. Steve Matthews, part of the science team, has been manning the still photography on this cruise. When the scientists see something they want a close up picture of, they ask the driver to stop the ROV and position it so the still camera can be zoomed in for a close up shot. This will help the scientists to make the proper identification of all of the different species we photographed while on this cruise.
For this research trip, video and still images are all the scientists need to assess the efficacy of the MPAs. The Phantom S2 has other tools that can be used depending on how the scientist needs to collect their data. The ROV can be fitted with a sonar device which can be used to located objects, such as ship wrecks or other lost items, at ranges farther away than the video can see. Scientists can also elect to use the claw for sample collection, a plankton net to gather plankton, and a fish collection suction device.
The bottom of the ocean has such incredible diversity! Before being invited to be a part of this research expedition, I had only read about all of the amazing things we have seen in text books. The ROV has allowed us to travel to depths that are inaccessible to recreational scuba divers and to visit sites that not too many other people have been to. Every day we see different species and habitats. It is interesting to compare areas that are inside the MPAs with those that are outside of the MPAs. Even though each day might seem like we are doing the same thing over and over again, I am anxiously awaiting a glimpse of something that I have never seen before. For each depth we dive to, there is a new set of species and habitat to learn about. The deepest dive we have been on so far this cruise was at the Snowy Wreck MPA at about 25 m (833 ft) below the surface. This location was really cool because there is an old ship wreck here that is full of corals and anemones and all sorts of fish species. We also had a little fun while at the depth and shrunk some styrofoam cups. Stephanie Farrington is an amazing artist and designed these fabulous cups for us each to send down to shrink.
Ocean Careers Interview
In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday. Today I interviewed Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor, ROV operators from University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).
Mr. Horn, what is your job title? I am the operations director of the Undersea Vehicles Program at University of North Carolina Wilmington. I started at UNCW in 1985 as part of NOAA’s Underwater Research Center (NURC) as a hard hat diver. In 1987, I joined UNCW’s scuba and ROV program which has now become the Undersea Vehicles Program.
What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? As director, I am in charge of lining up jobs for us, maintaining the budget, and finalizing the contracts from each project. I also pilot and maintain the ROV itself.
What type of education did you need to get this job? I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with an Associate’s Degree in Underwater Technologies. In this program, we studied compressors, hydraulics, welding, scuba and underwater photography.
What types of experiences have you had with this job? This job has allowed me to travel all over the world and to see some really cool things under the ocean’s surface. My favorite ROV dive so far was when I went to Antarctica to map the trash dumped at the bottom of Winter Quarters Bay. Before people realized what kind of impact indiscriminately dumping their trash overboard was doing to the habitats on the ocean floor, ships used to come into port at Winter Quarters Bay and dispose of their trash in the ocean. This includes very large items such as 55 gallon drums, fire hoses, conex boxes, and even a bulldozer that fell through the ice! My job was to use the ROV to create a map showing the location of the large objects so that it could be determined if it would be possible to recover these items for proper disposal. As part of this project, we also had to take the ROV outside of the bay to have an undamaged habitat to use as a control variable for comparison with the bay. Outside of the bay was amazing. We were diving under six feet of ice and got to see an environment that not many others have seen, including purple worms, white sponges, and anemone. It was beautiful.
What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs? Not every job requires a four year degree. You can still find a good job doing something you love. I have been successful doing what I do with a two year Associate’s Degree. Florida Institute of Technology was not an easy school. I worked hard to earn my degree.
Mr. Taylor, what is your job title? I am an ROV pilot and technician with the Undersea Vehicles Program and UNCW.
What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? In addition to piloting the ROV, my primary responsibilities are to maintain the three console units that house all of the digital equipment we need to control the ROV. This includes any rewiring that needs to be done or the replacement of equipment either for repairing broken parts or upgrading to newer electronics.
What type of education did you need to get this job? I earned my Bachelors Degree from Clarkson College of Technology. I went to work for General Electric in New York. I was transferred to GE in Florida after which I decided to retire from GE and become a scuba dive master. I went to work for NURC in St. Croix but was transferred to UNCW when the St. Croix office was closed. This is where I hooked up with Lance in 1993 and learned to operate the ROV.
What types of experiences have you had with this job? I have also been fortunate enough to travel the world with the ROV. Diving at the Edisto MPA this week is probably the highlight of my career in ROV operation. The reef features were fantastic, the water was clear, we had hardly any current, the ship was able to remain on course. It was perfect conditions.
What advice do you have for students wanting a career with ROVs? First and foremost, follow your passion. What do you get excited about? I have been driving ROVs for almost ten years and I still love coming to work each day. To be successful in this field, you need a strong background in computers and technology. You can be trained to drive the ROV, but strong technology skills are essential. Another good skill to have is problem solving and trouble shooting. Things might go wrong in the middle of a dive, you have to be able to figure out a solution right there on the spot to keep the dive going.
Weather Data from the Bridge: Monitoring Tropical Storm “Alberto”
Science and Technology Log
I am currently a “Teacher on Land”. Tropical storm “Alberto” has forced our ship to dock in Florida. I found out Saturday evening around 7:30 in the evening about the storm. The CO (commanding officer) held a meeting in the mess deck (eating area) to inform all crew about the change in plans. We were informed that we were heading to Florida to get away from the storm. The plan would be to arrive in Florida at the Mayport Naval Base at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. If the storm stayed on track as predicted we would leave Florida on Monday at 5:00 p.m.
A tropical storm causes high winds ranging from 33 – 73 miles per hour, and very high waves. There is a weather buoy located by Gray’s Reef tracking weather conditions. The Nancy Foster is docked at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville, Florida. Another NOAA ship, Okeanos Explorer, is docked behind us. Okeanos Explorer was headed north to Rhode Island which is their home base , when they had to turn around. What is really cool about Okeanos is that it has a giant soccer ball which is their satellite system.
On the bridge of the ship, the CO (commanding officer), and her crew use the ship’s computers to monitor radar, weather, navigation, and water depth. The ship is equipped with GPS (global positioning system). GPS is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information. In all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites, weather can be tracked. The GPS system is maintained by the United States government, and can be accessed by anyone using a GPS receiver.
The view of Mayport Naval Base is amazing. This base is like a city having everything imaginable. There is a bowling alley, a hotel, stores, restaurants, a beach, a gym, and much more. Yesterday, we went outside the guarded gates to the beach area. We ate at a nice restaurant. I am now having trouble walking on land. It feels like I am still on the ship. Today, I walked outside the gates where the ships are to go get some pizza for lunch. I had to show the armed Navy guards my I.D. We walked quite a distance. We stopped at the base exchange to buy some magazines and snacks. On the way back, I stopped where the submarine Tikuna, from Brazil is docked. I got to climb on top of the sub. It was very cool. Some of our crew from the Nancy Foster went down a very steep ladder into the sub. We are expecting to resume activities at Gray’s Reef on Tuesday. We are heading back around eight this evening. Okeanos Explorer left at ten this morning, and they are reporting rough seas as they head back to Rhode Island. The crew will continue to monitor weather conditions….
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 26 – August 12, 2011
Mission: Pollock Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Location: Barnabas Trough 56 deg 54.05N, 152 deg 38.100W Heading: 252 at 2.4 kts
Date: August 8, 2011
Weather Data From the Bridge Dry Bulb Temp: 11.0 deg C
Wet Bulb Temp: 10.0 deg C
Pressure: 1020 mb and steady
Cloud cover: Mostly Cloudy, Altostratus
Wind: 16 kts at 271 deg Station model 08.09
Science and Technology Log
One of the most important abilities the NOAA Corps officers should master is the capability of navigating the ship. Today, I got a brief tour of the all of the neat gadgets on the bridge that keep us “headed” in the right direction!
The tour started off with me playing the “What if?” game. Poor guys. It went a little something like this:
ENS Rodziewicz: This machine tells us our current heading.
Landlubber DeSchryver: What if that thing breaks? Then what?
ENS Rodziewicz: Well, then we use this machine over here.
Landlubber Deschryver: And if that breaks?
ENS Rodziewicz: (sighs) We use this alternate machine.
Landlubber DeSchryver: And if that breaks?
ENS Rodziewicz: Well, this would be our last stop if we were in a real pinch. He points to the magnetic compass.
Landlubber DeSchryver: And what do you do if that breaks?
I realized my gaffe as it was flying out of my mouth.
He politely informed me that compasses don’t break. I knew that. I just didn’t remember it right that second…
Thankfully, he didn’t hold it over my head too long as the tour continued. As it turns out, much of the tour went in the same manner. The Oscar Dyson’s bridge can also be called the Department of Redundancy Department. There are multiple back-up systems to combat malfunctions on all counts. They even have a hand-held crank phone on the bridge in case things really head south. The bridge has the following instruments/gadgets:
Two Radars to detect oncoming traffic/small islands
One computer screen to list, by name and give speed/direction of said oncoming traffic
Two computers for plotting course – one of them has “layering” capabilities to include depth, traffic, heading, and the ability to program the ship to steer itself
Speaking of steering – there are at least 4 separate places for the “driver” to “drive the ship.”
A radio, hand-crank phone, and backup generator power supply for all items in the event of a cataclysmic failure.
A superior selection of hard candies for bridge visitor/users perusal.
After the tour, I was a little cross-eyed at all of the instrumentation and its capabilities. I’ve also evaluated and concluded that the Oscar Dyson would be a great place to hole up in the event of an apocalypse, as she is truly ready for anything.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed looking at the multi-colored information recorders, but what I really wanted to know was “How did the old school guys get the job done? You know, drive the ship with maps and compasses?”
As it turns out, there are many factions of Old School sailing. The oldest group had nothing more than a map, a compass, a sextant, and the stars or the sun to get the job done. But we’ve been using GPS for quite some time now, so some would consider a single GPS system with satellite passes that would “ping” the ship twice a day as Old School. It was a nice reminder that we certainly live in a different age!
One of the neat tricks I learned to do tonight was how to calculate the true wind speed. If you aren’t familiar with true wind speed and direction, here’s a brief tutorial:
It’s time to think in terms of relativity. Everything on Earth is relative to something else. Think about the last time you got into a car and sat in the passenger seat. Relative to the car, the passengers in the car don’t appear to be moving. BUT…to an observer on the street outside of the car, both the driver and the passenger are moving – in a given direction with a given speed. (To get technical, they are moving with velocity only – recall that velocity is speed with direction.) Now, let’s picture riding in the back seat of a car. The passengers in the front don’t appear to be moving. If the driver accelerates past another moving car, the car that is getting passed appears to be moving backward. Some people blame their eyes playing a trick on them. They shouldn’t. Relative to your position in the moving car, they are moving backward. To viewers watching the cars move while standing on the street, both cars are moving forward. Tricky.
Now, let’s think about this with a ship. If a ship is trying to calculate the wind speed while it’s moving, it’s not going to get a good reading. Why not? The boat effectively creates its own wind as it’s zooming through the ocean. It can also give a false direction because the ship is not necessarily cruising along in the same direction of the wind. How do we solve the problem?
Tonight, I learned how to use a Maneuvering Board to calculate the true wind speed and direction. A maneuvering board is like a fancy piece of circular graph paper that can do so much more than regular graph paper can. If graph paper is the cat’s meow, the Maneuvering Board is the lion’s roar. By drawing the vectors of the ship and the relative wind, the true wind can be calculated on the board.
Remember, the ship has a speed and a direction – its total motion is a vector quantity. Wind also has a speed and a direction – its total movement is ALSO a vector quantity. I’m sure as you read you can hear the vector demon whispering in your ear, prophesizing about what is to come…time to resolve vectors…time to resolve vectors…Just give in. There’s no use fighting it, mostly because vectors are super-awesome.
In order to calculate the true wind speed, both the relative speed and direction of the wind and the true direction and speed of the ship must be taken into account. Once those two vector quantities are added (or subtracted, depending on the motion of the ship and the wind) the true wind speed and direction can be calculated.
But we only have to do that if all of the instrumentation catastrophically fails on the bridge. A lot of the people on the bridge will complete a maneuvering board on occasion, just to stay fresh. Otherwise, you just read the screen.
WHALES!!! WHALES EVERYWHERE!!! Tonight as we were moving between transects, we were invited to join a humpback whale party. I was on my way up to the bridge to see what sorts of shenanigans were going on when someone informed me that the bridge was the place to be because there was a whale. Well, when I got to the bridge, it was NOT a whale.
There were at least 15. It started off as two or three spouts in the distance. Then came the tail flukes slowly and playfully slapping the water. They were everywhere! As if that weren’t a beautiful enough show, they began to breach – exploding out of the water and returning via a graceful dive. We must have seen 8 to 10 breaches. I don’t know if any one whale breached more than once, but it felt like just as one re-entered the water, someone was shouting “Breach!” in a completely different direction. Two swam within about 50 feet of the Dyson, and we had to change our course briefly for one particular whale who was fancying our transect line as a place to play. We stayed up on the bridge for about an hour, just watching them have a good old time in the sea. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I hope to see it again soon. I got some on video, but my plan is to wait until I’m home to upload videos to my blog because it takes up a lot of internet to upload videos at sea. It was an incredible and powerful sight. Scientists still can’t completely confirm why they breach, in particular why humpback whales breach, but I’m not going to ask questions as long as they keep doing it! What a trip!
In other news, I’ve been combatting seasickness quite handily (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon! Uh oh!) by using a transdermal ear patch. I tried using some other anti-seasick meds, and they worked just fine, but they made my brain feel foggy – not a good state to be in while assessing fish stocks! Finally I just gave up and went to the patch. I didn’t want to overload my body with medication, but it’s critical that I remain alert while at sea. It is also critical that I do not hang halfway over the side-rails for extended periods of time. After all, I still don’t have my sea legs.
Up on the bridge, one of the NOAA Corps Officers asked me how long I had been wearing my patch. I told him I was going on hour 48. He told me I ought to take it off because my pupils were wildly dilated, which is a side effect of this particular medication. Admittedly, I kind of blew the advice off, because even if my pupils are big, at least I’m not feeding fish. A reasonable trade off in the grand scheme of things, in my meek opinion.
Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Have you ever seen the cartoon classic feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Yeah. I look like one of those bad-guy Toontown weasels after he gets hit on the head with a frying pan. Both of my pupils are large, but one (the one that shares the same side as the ear patch) is considerably larger. In case you are having a hard time picturing this, I have converted this image into a “dilated emoticon face” to give you a reasonable representation of my eyes: <– me. So, I’m currently at an impasse. I was told that after three or so days at sea, it’s not necessary to continue medication because your body adjusts to everything constantly moving. I don’t know how I feel about that. I also don’t know how I feel about looking like a crazy cartoon weasel for the next five days. So, with that being said, I think I may resolve the issue by cutting the patch in half and reducing the medication amount. It is my hypothesis that my pupils may return to regular, well matched sizes at that juncture. It is also my hypothesis that I will remain an able-bodied sea girl in doing so. I guess we’ll see what happens.
Trivia Question: Where was the Oscar Dyson built? In what year was she launched?
*Answer: She was built in Mississippi, and launched in 2005.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Obed Fulcar NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 27, 2010 – August 8, 2010
Mission:Summer Pollock survey III Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska Date: July 21, 2010
Weather from the Bridge: Time: 0345 pm Latitude: 57.23 degrees North Longitude:173.33 degrees West Wind: 12 knots Direction: 257 degrees West Sea Temperature: 8.5 degrees C Air Temperature: 8.85 degrees C Barometric Pressure: 1020.0 mb Skies: Partly Sunny
Science and Technology Log:
Yesterday, Tuesday July 20, we finally left Dutch harbor, once all the delayed scientific equipment arrived. I was later told that it included some new and sophisticated technology to track and measure fish underwater. We climbed up to the “flying bridge” at the very top of the ship to see the view of Dutch harbor behind us and the open ocean ahead. After that we came down to the bridge where Acting Executive Officer XO Sarah Duncan, Ensign Amber Payne, and Buddy Gould from the Deck Department gave us a tour of the bridge. They explained that the panels of navigational instruments used to sail the ship included Radar screens, to detect any vessels or ships in the proximity, one for long range, and another for short range, showing any ships close by. The screens show the many readings from instruments on board such as wind speed (in knots), Wind direction (in degrees), Latitude, Longitude, and Air Pressure (in millibars).
Next we received a demonstration in how to chart a course using the Electronic chart. I was surprised to understand the navigational terminology, (Iguess my Basic Sailing class is paying off), such as true wind, leeward, aft, forward, et…
I asked if they still used paper Nautical Charts and the answer was yes, they use them to plot the course of the ship using pen, ruler, and compass. I was surprised to know that even with all this technology even though the ship course and navigation is done completely electronically, they still rely on pen and paper charts as back up! On the bridge were also two scientists fro the US Fish and Wildlife service working on Seabird research, as part of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Project, a multidsciplinary study that is looking at how climate change is affecting the ecosystem of the Bering Sea. liz and Marty were both working from the bridge with binoculars, observing and counting all seabirds within 300 meters from the ship. armed with a laptop computer connected to the ship’s navigational system they were able to count and input the GPS location (latitude/longitude) of every sighting of a seabird, and plot a GIS graph in real time. I found this to be really cool! We saw seabirds found on the Bering sea such as Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Tufted/Horned Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, and Thick-bill Murre.
Today is Day 4 of the mission and so far I have done pretty well in terms of motion sickness. A calm sea has been a great factor and has allowed me to get adjusted to life at sea. I am surprised to find myself at home in my my bunk bed, and haven’t had any difficulties sleeping at all, though I do miss my bed. The long schedule from 0400 to 1600 (4pm) full of activities has been of help keeping me busy. The food is great thanks to Floyd the master cook with a variety of international food and home baked pastries. I was also impressed by the international collaboration in this mission, with two Russian scientists on board conducting research on the fisheries of the Bering Sea since part of the transects or line passess done by the Oscar Dyson cover Russian territorial waters as well. New Vocabulary Words;
Nautical charts, Radar, Latitude, Longitude, GPS (Global Positioning Satelite), Leeward (opposite to wind), Forward (front of ship), Aft (back of ship)
Animals seen today:
Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Tufted/Horned Puffin, Fork-tail storm Petrel, Thick-bill Murre Bitacora Marina #2: Ayer martes, 20 de Julio finalmente zarpamos hacia alta mar. Los oficiales del Oscar Dyson nos dieron un tour del puente explicandonos los sofisticados instrumentos de navegacion electronica como Radares, sonar acustico, y sistema global de ubicacion por satelite (GPS).A pesar de tanta tecnologia, todavia se grafica el curso de la nave usando Cartas Marinas, compas y lapiz!Tambien me presentaron a una pareja de biologos del Servicio de Pesca y Caza de los EEUU, haciendo un conteo de las aves marinas del Estrecho de Bering, graficando en tiempo real cada observacion en un ordenador laptop usando tecnologia GIS, o sistema de informacion geografica.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 6 – 24, 2009
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska Date: July 21, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55°10.84’ N
Longitude: 161°41.87’ W
Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 220° true
Wind Speed: 16 knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1ft.
Swell Waves: 1-2 ft.
Water Temperature: 9.4° C
Dry Bulb: 10.0° C
Wet Bulb: 9.4° C
Sea Level Pressure 980.0 mb
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Rainier is an important workstation used for gathering hydrographic survey data. Rainier is able to cover large distances in order to get to remote places where charting information is needed, but there are no communities from which hydrographers and crew can work. Therefore Rainier herself is a compact city. The science of operating a small city might seem simple enough, but a closer look at the major parts and it becomes obvious that there is much involved. Two of the areas I have found to be very interesting would be the bridge, where the ship is operated when underway, and the engineering department (the “public works department” of this small community).
The bridge is the command center of the ship. While tied to a pier or at anchor, there are many responsibilities for those on duty on the bridge. Weather data is gathered every hour and radios are monitored for any emergencies that might come up on other ships in the area. While at anchor, the ship’s position is closely watched using radar and GPS to be sure the anchor is holding fast. While underway, the bridge has direct control of the engines and steering. Safe navigation and following a predetermined sail plan are also the responsibilities of those on the bridge. Getting this small city safely and directly to the places it needs to work is critical to the mission of the Rainier.
The engine room is also a very important and interesting area on board this ship. Rainier has two large diesel engines each capable of producing over 1,200 horsepower. A typical automobile produces between one hundred and two hundred horsepower. Those two engines can push this 231 ft ship at a cruising speed of about thirteen knots per hour. The engineering department can be compared to a public works department of a city because they provide many of the same services. All of the electricity used by Rainier is generated on board. The engineering department is also responsible for making fresh water from salt water using evaporators capable of producing one hundred fifty to one hundred seventy gallons per hour. Any wastewater created on the ship is also treated on board Rainier before it is discharged. The engineering department is also responsible for all of the heating and cooling systems onboard the ship including a large walk-in refrigerator and freezer. Rainier is capable of carrying a crew of over fifty people on hydrographic survey missions for up to three weeks at a time. To make that operation possible, this ship is a floating city complete with all the services and utilities any small town would need to function effectively.
I’ve been on board Rainier now for almost three weeks. I have seen and learned many things. The work of the hydrographers is very important. The ship provides an excellent work platform from which to gather data and each of the different departments contributes greatly to the mission of the ship. There is quite a bit of quality science and mathematics going on everywhere on board. I have had a chance to watch these people work and I have seen science and math being applied everywhere. What has stood out to me the most over these weeks has been that even with the variety of types of work being done on Rainier everyone works together to get the mission completed. I am excited to share all my experiences on board with my students back home. Perhaps one day some of them will have a chance to be a part of a ship like this.
Something to Think About
The Rainier has many different types of work on board that require many different types of knowledge. If you want to apply navigation interest, work with computers, become an engineer, work as a deck hand, become a cook, or become a scientist, why not do it on a NOAA ship like Rainier?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier June 15 – July 2, 2009
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK Date: June 17-19, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind 15 kts
8 mi visibility
Pressure 999.5 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 6.7◦ C Wet bulb 5.6◦ C
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 6.7◦C, 44◦ F
Science and Technology Log
While the weather holds, we head out on the launches to survey areas that are not charted or were last charted probably back in the time of Captain Cook. After the boats are lowered using gravity davits, 4 boats head out to survey. Upon reaching the survey area, the first thing that gets done is a casting. This consists of lowering the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) unit into the water at the surface for 2 minutes for calibration. Then it’s lowered to the sea floor (taking measurements as it goes) and brought back up to the surface with a winch and a pulley system. The sensor unit is cabled to the computer and the data is downloaded. This is a vital step in interpreting the sonar data. Since saltwater conducts electricity differently based on the salt concentration, using the CTD gives the hydrographer information about sound velocity at different depths.
Velocity of sound is most affected by temperature, which is also measure by the CTD. Next, the hydrographer decides whether to use the high or low frequency transmitter depending on the depth. The hydrographer uses a lower frequency for deeper water. Casting is often done again after lunch since temperatures can change, especially at the surface. Alaska is known for the confluence of fresh and salt water at the surface due to melting glaciers and fresh water runoff. The MVP (moving vessel profile), is another device used for sound velocity. It looks like a torpedo and it’s towed behind the boat allowing for continuous casting.
The plane you see on the picture is used instead of a boat because of the position of the GPS sensor relative to the shape. The coxswain can make the plane pivot on a point as they line up on a line to survey. On the survey, the map is broken down into polygons. Each sheet manager gets a sheet with their polygons to survey. Surveying consists of the coxswain driving the boat as they watch the computer screen. As they drive, the screen shows in real-time a swath of color indicating the swath of the beams. After surveying, the boats return to the ship and are hoisted back up onto the davits. All survey techs meet in the wardroom to discuss what happened on their survey. The Captain and FOO (Field Operation Officer) ask questions about what was surveyed and any problems they had with any equipment. This is a true community of scientists who share data and knowledge.
We load the launches at 8:00 am and complete surveys until noon. We break for lunch and unpack the ice chest packed by the cooks for us. It’s always a surprise to see what we have! Then we continue surveying until about 4:00 pm when we return back to the ship. I have had the opportunity to cast the CTD unit into the water, drive the launch and collect the data on the computers. The coxswains make driving the boat following the lines on the computer look so easy! Especially in rough seas, the coxswains do an amazing job of helping the survey techs collect data. Again, good communication is a key! I’ve also seen how the techs have to problem- solve on a daily basis.
One day we got into the launch and the engine wouldn’t start and the coxswain had to troubleshoot the problem. Another day, several boats had problems with their CTD units and they had to repeat trials several times. When you are 12 miles away from the nearest help, it’s crucial to have good problem-solving skills. After dinner, there’s time to finish writing journals, do laundry, fish off the fantail, watch a movie, play guitar hero or exercise in the gym area. Then, it’s time for bed and the day will start over again. If you are not on a survey launch, you work in the night processing lab compiling the data collected by the survey techs during the day’s launch. This includes applying various filters to clean up the “noise” or fuzziness from the sonar. The coolest part is seeing the data in three dimensions. After the data is cleaned up, the sheet managers write up a descriptive report that gets sent to Pacific Hydrographic Branch. This ship is a great example of a system: there are many separate parts that when combined with other parts, complete a task.
Each night at 10 pm, fellow Teacher at Sea –Jill Stephens and I go to the bridge and collect weather data that is transmitted directly to NOAA. Although the days have started off hazy and grey, by evening we often see sunshine that lasts until 11:00 pm. This part of Alaska is breathtaking! I love watching the volcanoes, Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, in different types of light.
Whales, Puffins, and Sea gulls.
New Word of the Day
Cavitation: The sudden formation and collapse of low-pressure bubbles in liquids by means of mechanical forces, such as those resulting from rotation of a marine propeller.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier June 15 – July 2, 2009
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK Date: June 16, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind 19 kts
4-6 ft seas, 9-11 ft swells
10 nautical mile visibility
Sea Temp 6.1◦ C
Sea level air pressure 1001.0 mb
Dry Bulb 8.9 Wet Bulb 8.3
Science and Technology Log
The day was spent in 17 hours of transit to our survey location. During the day the seas turned heavy with 4-6 foot seas and 9-11 foot swells. Even some of the crew and seaman had to hold onto the walls as they walked. The ship definitely rocked and rolled! This was a great test of the trans-derm scop patch to prevent sea-sickness. I was so surprised that it worked so well.
ET John Skinner checked my computer to be sure it was virus free and then set up access to the ship’s email and internet. The ship receives internet through a satellite signal. All ship personnel have to take a computer security test in order to login to the ship’s network.
After completing my computer safety module, John took me and fellow Teacher at Sea, Jill Stephens, on a quick tour of the launch boats and described the technology installed on them. Each 29 foot launch boat is worth more than a million dollars with all the equipment aboard. John showed us the sound velocity meter, the high and low frequency multibeam echosounder transducers to send and receive the signal, and the computers that collect and store the data. (I’ll explainmore about how these work in my next journal). Each boat also has GPS (Global Positioning System), Iridium satellite phone, AIS ship identification (Automatic Identification System that broadcasts in the VHF frequency), marine RADAR, VHF marine radio, fathometer, compass, life raft, fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems.
After dinner, the first POD (Plan of the Day) was posted. This is produced by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). I excitedly found my name on Launch # 5. Our mission tomorrow will be to find a safe anchorage for the ship on the south side of Ukolnoi Island. We will be surveying ocean floor that has not ever been charted before. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into the ship’s routine here. Breakfast is at 7:00 am, lunch at 12 noon and dinner at 1700 (5:00PM). After dinner, I visit the Bridge and see the many instruments used to guide the ship safely. My favorite piece of equipment is the Clearview screen, or “rain spinner”. It has two pieces of glass that spin and keep the windshield clear of rain.
I learn that all the weather data is taken here on the bridge and then submitted to NOAA for their meteorological database. Next, I visit the chart room where the survey techs process the data collected by the launches. Tonight, they are anxiously planning the areas to survey tomorrow. The people on the ship are so very interesting and friendly. It’s great to hear their stories of how they came to the ship and how much they enjoy the work they do.
Did You Know?
Sergio Taguba, our Steward, has been on the Rainier the longest of anybody? He’s been here for 36 years!
Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: 10 miles to less than 25 miles
Wind direction: 065°
Wind speed: 06 knots
Sea wave height: small
Swell wave height: 4-6 feet
Sea level pressure: 1014.5 millibars
Cloud cover: 3, type: stratocumulus and cumulus
Science and Technology Log
Today was very busy because it was the day that WHOTS-2 mooring, which has been sitting out in the ocean for almost a year, was recovered. At around 6:30 a.m., Sean Whelan, the buoy technician, tried to contact the Acoustic Release. (The Acoustic Release is the device that attaches the mooring to the anchor. When it receives the appropriate signal, it disengages from the anchor, freeing the mooring for recovery. There are actually two releases on WHOTS2.) He does this by sending a sound wave at 12 KHz down through the ocean via a transmitter, and when the release “hears” the signal, it returns a frequency at 11 KHz. The attempt failed, so the ship moved closer to the anchor site and the test was repeated. This time it was successful. Based on the amount of time it takes the acoustic signal to return, the transmitter calculates a “slant range” which is the distance from the ship to the anchor. Because the ship is not directly over the anchor, this slant range creates the hypotenuse of a right triangle. Another side of the triangle is the depth of the ocean directly below the ship. Once these two distances are known, the horizontal position of the ship from the anchor can easily be calculated using the Pythagorean theorem.
After breakfast, the buoy recovery began. A small boat was lowered from the ship and driven over to the buoy, as the ship was steamed right near the buoy. A signal was sent down to activate the Acoustic Releases. Ropes were attached from the buoy through a pulley across the A-frame, located on the stern of the ship, to a large winch. With Jeff Lord leading the maneuvering of the 3750-pound buoy, it was disengaged from the mooring and placed safely on deck. This was a bit of a tense moment, but Jeff did a wonderful job of remaining calm and directing each person involved to maneuver their equipment to effectively place the buoy. Once the buoy was recovered and moved to the side of the deck, each instrument on the mooring was recovered. The first to appear was a VMCM, (Vector Measuring Current Meter) located just 10 meters below the buoy.
Then two microCATs were pulled up, located 15 and 25 meters below the buoy, followed by a second VMCM. This was followed by a series of eleven microCATs located five or ten meters apart, an RDI ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), and two more microCATs. As each instrument was recovered, the time it was removed from the water was recorded and its serial number was checked against the mooring deployment log. Each instrument was photographed, cleaned off and sent to Jeff Snyder, an electronic technician, for data upload. Each of these instruments has been collecting and storing data at the rate of approximately a reading per minute for a year (this value varies depending on the instrument) and this data now needs to be collected. Jeff placed the instruments in a saltwater bath to simulate the ocean environment and connected each instrument to a computer by way of a USB serial adaptor port. The data from each instrument took approximately three hours to upload. Tomorrow, these instruments will be returned to the ocean alongside a CTD in order to compare their current data collection with that of a calibrated instrument.
Once all of the instruments were recovered, over 4000 feet of wire, nylon rope, and polypropylene rope were drawn up using a winch and a capstan. Polypropylene rope is used near the end of the mooring because it floats to the surface. The last portion of the mooring recovered was the floatation. This consisted of eighty glass balls chained together and individually encased in plastic. The glass balls, filled with air, float the end of the mooring to the surface when the Acoustic Releases disengage from the anchor. It takes them about 40 minutes to reach the surface. Recovering the glass balls was tricky because they are heavy and entangled in one another. Once on deck they were separated and placed in large metal bins. After dinner, a power washer was used to clean the buoy (it is a favorite resting place for seagulls and barnacles) and the cages encasing some of the instruments. The deck was cleaned and organized to prepare for tomorrow.
The theme that keeps going through my mind during this trip and today especially, is how much of a cooperative effort this research requires. It begins with the coordination between Dr. Weller and Dr. Lukas to simultaneously collect atmospheric data using the buoy and subsurface data with the mooring instruments. In addition, Dr. Frank Bradley, an Honorary Fellow at the CSIRO Land and Water in Australia, is on the cruise working to create a manual set of data points for relative humidity using an Assman psychrometer to further check the relative humidity data produced on the buoy. Within the science teams, coordination has to occur at all stages, from the collection of data to its analysis. This was very evident in physical form today with numerous people on deck throughout the day working to retrieve the mooring, fix machinery as it broke down (the winch stopped twice), and clean the instruments. In the labs, others were working to upload data and configure computer programs to coordinate all of the data. In addition to all of this is the quiet presence of the ship’s crew who are going about their duties to be sure that the ship is running smoothly. Several of the crew did take a break today just after the instruments were collected in order to put out fishing lines! They caught numerous tuna and beautiful Mahi Mahi that the cook deliciously prepared for dinner.
Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: 10 miles to < 25 miles
Wind direction: 080°
Wind speed: 12 knots
Sea wave height: small
Swell wave height: 2-4 feet
Sea level pressure: 1016 millibars
Cloud cover: 5
Cloud type: cumulus, stratocumulus
The Cruise Mission
The overall mission of this cruise is to replace a mooring anchored north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It’s called the WHOTS buoy: The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Timeseries (HOT) Site (WHOTS). The mooring consists of a buoy that contains numerous meteorological sensors that collect data on relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, precipitation, short and long wave solar radiation, and sea surface temperature. The buoy serves as a weather station at sea, one of few such stations in the world.
There are two of each type of sensor on the WHOTS-3 buoy to ensure that data collection will continue should a sensor break down. The buoy is equipped with a GPS unit. The buoy also serves as a platform for observing the ocean. Hanging below the buoy are four different types of instruments. These include SeaCATs, MicroCATs, an ADCP and NGVM. The SeaCATs and MicroCATs take salinity and temperature measurements. The MicroCATs, in addition to salinity and temperature, also take depth measurements. There are several of each instrument attached to the mooring and they are located approximately 5 meters apart down to a depth of 155 meters. (The WHOTS-2 mooring only contains MicroCATs). The ADCP or Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler is an instrument that allows the scientists to measure the velocity of the current at a set of specific depths. The NGVM is a New Generation Vector Measuring device that measures the velocity of the current at fixed points using propeller sensors located at 90° to one another. Finally, two Acoustic Release Devices are attached to the anchor that is holding the mooring in place.
These instruments allow the scientists to determine the location of the anchor and will also mechanically release the mooring from the anchor when sent a specific acoustic signal. (More about how these work in a later log). The WHOTS-2 mooring has been sitting in the ocean for a year collecting data. It is powered by 4000 D-cell batteries and is capable of running off of them for about 16 months. I asked Jason Smith, the lead instrument calibration technician, why solar panels weren’t used on the buoy and he told me that they are susceptible to being shot at or stolen. Evidently anything that looks valuable in the middle of the ocean is vulnerable to theft!
Personal and Science Log
After arriving in Hawaii on the afternoon of Monday, June 19th, it feels good to be at sea on a moving vessel. I spent the remainder of Monday meeting the science crew from WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) led by the Chief Scientist, Dr. Robert Weller, having a nice dinner and falling asleep after a long day of travel.
Tuesday brought my first view of the REVELLE, a working science vessel owned by the SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Go here for diagrams, pictures and statistics describing this ship. The ship has two platforms below the main deck and three decks above, not including the bridge. The main deck contains heavy equipment consisting of several winches, a crane, an electric winding cart and other machinery designed to move heavy objects. All of this equipment operation is run or overseen by Cambria Colt, the resident technician, who knows the ship like the back of her hand. It is her primary job to act as a liaison between the ships’ crew and the scientists, making sure that the needs of the science team are met. We were at the ship by 7:30 a.m. and the team started working, preparing for the cruise.
Many of the team members had already been here for a week unloading and working with the instruments. The team works well together – everyone keeps busy and seems to know what to do without a lot of discussion. I helped Jason to string up two GPS units on an upper deck of the stern of the ship as well as an antenna.
The antenna is used to transmit all of the data from the mooring and from the ship to a satellite, which then directs it to WHOI. I also recorded measurements as Sean Whelan, the buoy technician, measured the distances from the top of the buoy to all of the instruments located on the buoy. He also wrapped bird wire repellant along the top of the tower of the buoy in an attempt to keep birds from landing on the instruments. The bird wire is spiky wire that jets out in various directions and can be quite treacherous to work with! Along the deck, Jeff Lord, an engineering technician, and Scott Burman, an undergraduate volunteer, worked on bolting down numerous winches to the deck that will be used to pull the buoy out of the water. Several winches are used on all sides to maintain maximum control over whatever is being maneuvered into or out of the water.
I also met the captain of the ship, Tom Desjardins, in the afternoon. I had no idea he was the captain when I first saw him, he was working hard on deck with the rest of the crew, clad in a T-shirt and shorts. He is quite affable, calm, and willing to put in a hand where it is needed. In a quick discussion with him I learned that security has become much tighter on the ship since 9/11. There are always two people on watch at the entrance to the ship when it is in port making sure that everyone who enters and leaves is accounted for. We all wear badges when we are on ship when it is in port. I also asked him about potable water use on the ship. The ship can hold 12,000 gallons of water and up to 3,000 gallons more can be distilled per day. Heat from the ship’s engines is used to distill the water.
I had Wednesday free to do a bit of sightseeing and that leads me back to today. We packed our clothes onto the ship early this morning and made up our berths (beds). The staterooms (bedrooms) are larger than I had expected. I have my own room and share a head (bathroom) with Terry Smith, another member of the team. Terry is also an undergraduate who won the NOAA Hollings Scholarship to participate on this cruise. Currently working towards a second career, Terry was a chef for 20 years before making the plunge to study science. She is working towards a degree in geo-oceanography. During the day I was able to get a computer set up and mostly watched and asked a few questions as more work was being done. The ship left port at 4:00 p.m. After taking a few pictures and watching the beauty of the coast slip away, I went back inside to attend a meeting led by Cambria and Dr. Weller.
Life Aboard Ship
Cambria talked about safety and reviewed some basics about living on the ship. We wear closed toed shoes at all times (except in our rooms), preferably steel-toed. When we are working on deck during the scientific operations we will wear hard hats and safety vests. Tomorrow there will be a safety drill at some point to be sure we all know where to “muster” and how to proceed should a fire or other problem occur on the ship. We separate our trash here – anything plastic and non-biodegradable has a separate bin. All of the paper and food waste, etc, has its own bin and is eventually tossed into the sea. Meals are at specific times during the day (and they are quite good!) but we are asked to “eat and run”, as the galley crew needs to get on with their work of cleaning up and preparing for the next meal or just getting some time off. The ship is equipped with a laundry and an exercise room. Evidently on long cruises members of the crew can be seen running laps around the main deck.
Vocabulary – Weather Data
Wind direction: Wind direction is measured in degrees, which follow the readings on a compass.
Wind speed: Measured in knots. A knot is 1 nm/hr. A nautical mile is the distance required to travel 1° longitude. It is equivalent to 1.85 km.
Sea wave height: This is the height of waves produced by the wind. This is logged in the ships log as either small or slight. The technical formula for sea wave height is .026 x (speed of wind)2.
Swell wave height: This is the height of the swells produced by distant weather patterns. Swells form a wave pattern as opposed to sea waves, which are more random. Swell wave height is measured in feet.
I began today by getting aboard RA #8 for boat launch operations in the Wrangell Narrows at 0800. The crew went to check a tide gauge that had been placed on a pier in the narrows six weeks ago. A data logger was attached by assistant survey technician, Matt Boles, to a laptop computer and the data for the past two weeks was downloaded onto the laptop. The tide gauges give a more accurate representation of what the tide is doing in a certain area. Tide gauges are positioned throughout the narrows but may be miles apart. To get more precise data of the narrows, temporary gauges are used when the RAINIER is mapping areas where boating occurs. Also, a horizontal GPS position was measured from a known GPS location to make sure the tidewater data was correct and reliable.
At 0930 hours we returned to the RAINIER to pick up operations officer LT Ben Evans who showed ENS Laurel Jennings how to use the Trimble Backpack to map piers and dock areas in the narrows. The Trimble Backpack is a GPS system that is carried on the back of a person. As they walk the perimeter of an area, it downloads data onto a logger that then can be downloaded to a computer later for data analysis. This gives precise information to the cartographer to place the pier in the exact location that it needs to be on the map.
Upon returning to the RAINIER at 1530 hours we had several emergency drills including fire and abandon ship. The drills were interesting to watch as everyone went to their designated location for muster and directions on what to do next. A ship’s personnel must always be prepared for an emergency. Your shipmates may be the only help you will receive in an emergency. Drills are conducted on a routine basis so that the crew stays sharp and ready in case of a real emergency. The crew of the NOAA ship RAINIER is well-trained and prepared in the case they may have to use their training to get control of the ship in an emergency. Several members on board have specialized training that allow them to take the lead in case of a ship emergency.
Throughout the day I learned many new facets of global positioning and how it is used to make more accurate maps that can be used by boaters, ships, and people who live in the area. Collecting science data for NOAA maps is a slow, yet precise method that can take many weeks to get an accurate map that can be relied upon by mariners. The fire emergency and abandon ship drill was done with precision and professionalism. I am sure I am in good hands in case of an emergency aboard the RAINIER.
Question of the Day
The mapping of the characteristics of oceans, lakes, and rivers is known as___________.
Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: 4 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 120 °
Wind speed: 20 kt
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft.
Swell waves dir: 300
Swell waves height: 2 ft.
Sea level pressure: 1006.0mb
Present weather: Drizzle
Temperature: °C~ 7.6dry/7.1wet
Science and Technology Log
I attended the navigation meeting in preparation for today’s departure from home port. The personnel responsible for conducting the navigation meeting and providing all of the essential information for exploration are junior officers who are trained in atmospheric science, oceanography, mathematics and navigation technology. Several charts were displayed to show the route of travel and the location of the intended areas for research. The first priority of the project is tide gauge installation. One particular area of the travel route (Snow Passage) will present a challenge because it is hard to go through during this time of year as a result of the currents in the narrow parts. One of the areas of research (Gulf of Esquibel) contains lots of navigational hazards such as rocks and low water levels near high water levels. The FAIRWEATHER only needs four fathoms of water to navigate, but generally stays in water deeper than ten fathoms due to the nature of the seafloor and the age of the charts.
An in-depth explanation of the survey tech procedures in data acquisition and processing was provided by a member of the survey tech team. Survey techs are given a charted sheet that represents their area of concentration. In order to do this, the tech first collects raw data, including depth information, with the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Shallow Water Multibeam (SWMB), and the Position and Orientation System for Marine Vessels (POS-MV) in operation at the same time. The POS-MV does the inertial motion of the vessel’s roll, heave, pitch, and gyro positions. Next, the tech uses processing systems as a visual way to look at the surface of the water. The third and fourth steps are to apply motion corrections and tide corrections. The fifth step is to create the sound velocity profile based on water conductivity, temperature, and density. The next step is to combine each of the files into one file – a concatenated file. Following is the step involving computing total propagated error. This will result in the error value based on error associated with sonar data. Step eight is for the tech to make a digital terrain model which is a basic grid from XYZ data. The final step is to view or look for errors caused by the system. These errors may indicate dangerous uncharted errors.
First time feeling the boat leave dock was a rush! The whale sighting was awesome! Too far from my cellular phone extended network coverage to call home and share with family.
Question of the Day
Environmental Science Students
Explain the importance of water conductivity, temperature and density to sound velocity.
Geospatial Semester Students
Using course software, produce a map that indicates the bodies of water associated with the Gulf of Esquibel. Identify those areas that have less than 30-40 fathoms.
Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 340°
Wind speed: 2 kt
Sea level pressure: 1018.8 mb
Present weather: Partly cloudy
Temperature: °C~ 6.0 dry/5.0 wet
Science and Technology Log
I woke up in time for breakfast at 0700. I was joined at breakfast by the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer, and the Chief Electronics Technician. The conversation centered around the different careers that exist on the ship. In addition to the careers, discussion was had regarding the ship being analogous to a city. The XO gave me a tour of the engine room. Amidst all of the engines and associated technology it was clear that the engine room could represent a city public utilities department and waste management facility. The sea water is the readily available water source that is filtered through a distillation process to be used on the ship for all purposes. The idea that the engineers are responsible for treating the water that is used on the ship is a credit to their knowledge and stamina.
I attended the briefing meeting conducted by the Field Operations Officer and the Chief Survey Technician. Several handouts were given and explained in reference to guidelines for this field season: presurvey, data acquisition, processing and deliverables. These guidelines were synonymous in its most simplistic form with what I have presented to my students in preparation for laboratory experiences. Acronyms were used throughout the meeting, but I was able to follow along with the language thanks to a survey technician’s thoughtfulness in providing me with three pages of acronyms and their meanings. As a part of the meeting, the Senior Survey Technician presented CUBE software. This software completes data analysis to offer the user possible hypotheses. The Chief Survey Tech informed the techs against simply relying on the hypotheses offered by CUBE.
After lunch, I spent a considerable amount of time on the bridge checking out the weather monitoring instruments and the navigation technology. The weather log is manually completed every four hours while the ship is docked and every hour while at sea. The weather monitoring instruments and navigation technology range from simplistically designed wet/dry bulb thermometers for temperature readings to more complex in form and function technology such as the ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information System.) The ECDIS has the capability to overlay radar on in use charts and display information about specific ships within the VHF radio range. For example, information about a 1500 ton ship that is within 40 miles of the FAIRWEATHER can be displayed on the ECDIS.
During the early evening I went to Settlers’ Cove to visit the rain forest. A bald eagle and two river otters were spotted feeding in the water. Lush foliage and trees created a moderately warm and moist environment in the midst of the surrounding cold temperature.
Question of the Day
Geospatial Semester Students
What is the functional difference that exists between global positioning system (gps) and differential global positioning system (dgps)?
Environmental Science Students
Compare the FAIRWEATHER survey technicians’ field survey guidelines to the Richmond Public Schools model for experimental design.
Provide a possible explanation for the Settlers’ Cove rain forest environment within the relatively cold environment of Ketchikan.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 25 – August 13, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK Date: July 30, 2005
Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 55˚53.4’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 7, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus
Science and Technology Log
I went boating into new territory today. We took launch RA-4 and headed to the western end of Mitrofania Island to map the bottom around Spitz Island and several rocks. I got to learn more about the RAINIER crew, saw a new type of sonar, met some sea lions and even drove the launch. Ensign Brianna Welton led our launch with assistance from Lorraine Roubidoux. Ensign Welton is an expert in sonar technology and I watched other crew members seek out her help when problems crop up. Ms. Roubidoux goes to school at the University of New Hampshire where she’s earning a Masters Degree. She joined the RAINIER for a month to get experience with sonar systems. Ms Roubidoux conducts research on sonar “background scatter.” Background scatter occurs when sonar signals bounce around more than once and give false readings of ocean bottom depth. Ms. Roubidoux’s research will hopefully result in better sonar for future ships.
Women play an important role on NOAA ships. They serve as officers like Ensign Welton and scientists like Ms. Robidoux. Women also play key leadership roles on the RAINIER like our ship’s XO (Executive Officer), Commander Julia Neander, who takes command of our ship when the Captain leaves. I hope my students will learn that many cool opportunities exist for women in the sciences and they should not be discouraged from taking math and science classes. Above is a photo of Ms. Robidoux running the sonar on our launch.
Coxswain (official name for a sailor who drives small boats), Corey Mussey, carefully maneuvered the launch as we approached Spitz Island. Underwater rocks make this type of mapping more dangerous and Seaman Mussey moved the launch slowly and carefully to avoid ripping off the half million dollar sonar sensor from the hull. Because we moved into shallow water, Ensign Welton turned on a different type of Sonar Sensor called the Reson SeaBat 8101. The Reson works in water depths of 4 to 150 meters and gives a sharp, clear image of the bottom. The other sonar I saw before, the Elac, operates in deeper waters ranging from 40 to 400 meters, but does not give a clear image of the bottom. Corey told me you can actually see ship wrecks in full detail with the Reson sonar.
As we mapped, I occasionally stood on the bow of the launch and looked out for rocks as we moved close into shore. We passed over underwater “forests” of bull kelp and I saw 25 to 30 feet below the surface where a long, single whip like strand moves toward the surface and attaches to a floating round bulb. Out of the bulb comes half a dozen flat fronds about 5 to 10 feet in length and four inches wide that make the bull kelp look almost like underwater palm trees. Suddenly I saw a salmon dart quickly underwater and then 40 to 50 fish appear under the launch and move just as quickly out of view to our port (left) side.
As we moved back and forth in our “mowing the lawn” mapping pattern, we saw two groups of Steller Sea Lions. Four males sat on a small rocky island while two dozen or more females beach themselves on Spitz Island three hundred yards away. Each time we passed, the Sea Lions sat up and barked at us. We may be the first humans they have seen in this remote part of the Southwestern Alaskan peninsula. As you can see, the one male challenged me with its open mouth while another sat calmly with his seagull friend.
At the end of the day, Corey let me drive the launch and run one of the transect lines for the sonar mapping. As you can see in the photos below, I looked at a computer screen that showed our boat as a red torpedo along a line on the computer screen. I had to keep the black marker on the red and green bar at the bottom of the screen exactly in between the two colors or we would miss our mapping area. This proved difficult because just as one gets lined up a wave pushes the launch off course so you constantly correct the boat’s position. I found using the computer screen to drive the launch similar to a video game except you could wreck the boat and get hurt for real if one makes a mistake. I had a great day and returned to the ship to await another adventurous day.
I had a fantastic day. I got to see some interesting technology and talked to professional people. Being out on the bow of the launch scared me a bit. If we had hit a rock I failed to spot, the damage to the sonar system could equal a half a million dollars. The bow also requires a lot of balance and strength. Each time a wave rocked the launch, I risked falling into the cold Alaskan water and had to really pay attention.
Though the crew of the RAINIER works hard and long hours, they do get a chance to relax and Saturday nights are special. After supper, we loaded up into the open skiff and rode about mile to a wide open, gravelly beach for a party. A few people started a large bon fire and we had soda drinks and music playing. The skiff could only carry eight people at a time, but the party grew larger and noisier each time it arrived on the beach. People talked, told jokes, found whale bones, and caught salmon all evening long. The party lasted until 11:30 pm and we rode back to the RAINIER just as the Alaskan sky started to turn dark.
After returning to the ship, I joined some of the crew in the Wardroom (ship’s lounge) and watched the video, “Napoleon Dynamite,” about a high school student. We all laughed and talked about our own high school experiences. Tomorrow we all will be tired, but ready for another two weeks of work.
Question of the Day
How large can Stellar Sea Lions get? Where do we find Stellar Sea Lions and what are their life’s history.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 25 – August 13, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK Date: July 29, 2005
Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 58˚ 53.36’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus
Science and Technology Log
Today I worked on what the hydrographic map makers call “vertical control” and “horizontal control.” When NOAA makes maps showing how deep the water is, they have a problem in that the depth changes when the tides come in and go out. If a rock exists in the water, there may be no problem at high tide, but ships can run into the same rock at low tide.
To overcome this problem, NOAA measures bottom depths on their charts starting at a constant elevation called mean lower low water. Low tide occurs twice a day, but one low tide is always lower than the other. By keeping track of all the lowest, low tides of the day and averaging their elevations over many years, scientists can come up with an elevation for mean lower low water (MLLW). You want to start measuring from your lowest tide level to ensure that ship captains can trust the chart to protect them from danger even during low tide. All of the ocean bottom charts are based on depth below MLLW. However, when you collect sonar data, your height above MLLW constantly changes with the tide in a vertical position (up and down). Hence the term “vertical control” because the chart maker needs to know how to correct the sonar data so the maps are based on MLLW, not the current tide height. In remote areas like Alaska, limited tide data exists so the RAINIER crew installed a device called a tide gauge to measure and record the rise and fall of the tide in the mapping area. The information from the tide gauge will help us to correct the sonar data so we can make the charts based on MLLW.
The RAINIER crew installed a tide gauge on Mitrofania Island 1.5 weeks ago before I got on board. Today I rode in an open boat to help the crew check the tide gauge. Ensign Andrew Halbach led our mission with assistance from Survey Technician Matt Foss and Ensign Laurel Jennings. Mike Laird, the other Teacher at Sea also joined our group. Carl Verplank, Ordinary Seaman, drove the skiff and stayed off shore after dropping us off to ensure the boat won’t get stuck when the tide goes out. Carl had the best job because he fished for salmon until we needed a pick up. I hope he shares some fish with us tonight!
Upon reaching shore, Matt Foss and I walked over to the tide gauge station to check it out. Matt carried “bear repellant” with him which is pressurized pepper put into a spray can. If a grizzly bear should approach and attack us, the pepper spray might keep the bear from eating us. On the other hand, maybe bears like to have a little pepper on their steaks. In any event, we need to stay alert in bear country.
We found the tide gauge in good working order. Matt told me that Scuba Divers helped to put the gauge in and that it sends tide information via satellite back to Washington, DC for further analysis. Now that our vertical control (up and down movement) has been taken care of, Matt and I hiked over to join Ensign Halbach and Ensign Jennings who are working on “horizontal control” or side-to-side motion.
Normally, the crew of the RAINIER knows its horizontal position through the use of global positioning satellite (GPS). As discussed in previous log entries, GPS works by using signals from several satellites to locate your horizontal position on the Earth in terms of latitude and longitude. The chart makers combine sonar data with GPS data to create accurate maps of ocean bottom depth. Atmospheric conditions can affect the satellite signals so scientists calculate correction factors. Special radio stations transmit these factors which allow the launch crews to correct the GPS data. These corrections are called “horizontal control.”
Unfortunately, the remoteness and steep mountains of the Mitrofania Island area prevent the RAINIER from receiving good radio signals. We need to set up our own radio transmission and GPS base station to get good control. This task took up the rest of our day.
Matt and I found the others busily setting up the GPS station and taking measurements to ensure good location information. Ensign Halbach carefully leveled the GPS antenna and oriented it towards north. After setting up the GPS station, Carl picked us up and drove the open boat to another location about a mile away where we repeated the process and set up a second GPS station. However, constructing the radio transmitter tower proved to be our big challenge. Nobody in our group ever set up a tower before so we worked as a team to figure it out. We returned to the RAINIER and hit the machine shop where we measured out metal, drilled boltholes and scavenged any thing to help us build the tower.
We carefully load the skiff and quickly motored back the mile across the water to the transmitter site located on a sand bar that sticks out into Mitrofania Bay. Ensign Halbach led us in constructing the tower and it went up faster than planned. Two people hold the tower straight up and balance it while the other three string guy ropes to metal stakes pounded in the ground. The tower made us proud of our team work, but no one dares to climb it. Maybe some of you students reading this log entry would like to come to Alaska and try to climb it. We returned to the RAINIER and could see our tower on the horizon where it will transmit horizontal control data to all the launches conducting sonar work over the next two weeks.
This was the most physical day yet on the research vessel. I actively participated in setting up the tower instead of just observing. I really enjoyed working in a team today and helping to solve problems. I also had a good physical workout by carrying heavy equipment to the GPS and radio transmitter sites. The work out really helped because the food on board the RAINIER is delicious and plentiful with three large cooked meals a day. I need to watch my weight on this trip.
The tower project showed me you need both technical training and practical construction skills when out in a remote area like Alaska. My students tend to be either hands-on or all academic, but you need a balance of both these skills to be successful upon graduation. Many of the crew on the RAINIER learned their jobs while on the boat and had to solve difficult problems without any outside help. Hopefully my students can use the RAINIER’s crew as an example on the importance of seeking balance in their lives. Speaking of balance, it’s time for me to catch a salmon. Here I am ready to go. See you tomorrow.
Question of the Day
What causes the tide to rise and fall and how does it change over the course of an entire month?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 24 – August 13, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: North Pacific Date: July 28, 2005
Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus
Science and Technology Log
Another beautiful day in the Gulf of Alaska – partially cloudy with lots of sun! Today I remained aboard the RAINIER and had an opportunity to talk with Ensign Olivia Hauser about the map sheets. The sheets are prepared to guide the launches on their echo sounding runs. The whole area to be mapped on this leg of the mission is subdivided into zones called sheets. At the beginning of the workday, each launch is assigned a sheet for the crew to follow for that day. However prior to distribution to the launch crews, the sheets must be developed.
Each sheet (there are six sheets for our current assignment) is the responsibility of a single sheet manager who takes care of the initial preparation of the sheet, sheet revisions, and the beginning phases of data analysis. In developing the sheet, the manager attempts to achieve 100% coverage of the seafloor. This means that the manager attempts to determine the optimum distance between the lines the launch will follow during its sounding runs. In areas like the waters around Mitrofania where there is little or no existing data, the first run of a sheet is a best guess plot. In essence, the launches are conducting reconnaissance runs.
The data collected during these runs, may reveal some error in the initial line plots. One problem is called a “holiday” which is a gap between the lines (unsounded seafloor). This happens when the lines are spaced too far apart for the depth of the water (the water is shallower than expected), and the footprint scanned becomes too narrow leaving a gap between it and the footprint of the neighboring line(s). A second type of problem is excessive noise in the scan results. In reconnaissance work, this is often the result of a greater than expected water depth in a launch not equipped to handle soundings at that depth. When these types of errors are identified, the sheet manager will revise the sheet plotting a new set of lines to be run. If necessary, a different launch (one with appropriate echo sounding equipment) will be assigned to run the new lines. Once a complete set of good lines is established for a sheet and seafloor data for the entire sheet is collected, initial analysis begins. Computer programs take cast data (conductivity, pressure, and temperature), tide information, GPS readings (corrected for error), data accounting for the pitch and roll of the launch and process the soundings. The result is a first look at the bottom! Subtle changes in shading reveal changes in floor depth and other bottom features. The soundings run by the RA5 launch so far have indicated a mostly flat floor with a few rock outcroppings and small ridges.
The day was fantastic warm and sunny! One of the crew caught a halibut, which the galley cooked–a special treat for dinner tonight!
I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and partly cloudy skies. The waters of Cushman Bay calmly rock the RAINIER gently back and forth. I could see pink salmon jump near the ship and seabirds feeding in the water. Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I stayed on board the RAINIER today to catch up on our log entries and to see what the rest of the crew does. We had a quiet day of writing, talking to the crew, and taking photographs.
At 8:00 am I watched the deck crew lower the launches for the mapping teams. Lowering the launches can be dangerous work and the deck crew does it carefully while wearing hard hats. Two winches move each launch out over the water as shown here (left and right) and then survey crew board the vessel and load gear. After the survey crew loads the launch, they work with the deck crew to disconnect the cables and hooks from the launch. The launch then speeds off to start a busy day of mapping the waters of Mitrofania Bay.
Once the launches left, the deck crew worked on other tasks. I saw crew washing decks and maintaining machinery. Other crew members used a crane to move one of the smaller boats (called skiffs) into the water: Other crew members went about the ship conducting other tasks such as preparing meals, keeping the engines running, contacting the launches to help solve problems, and conducting bridge watch. In later log entries, I will try to describe the different departments on board the RAINIER.
I had a very quiet day and spent it catching up on paper work and cleaning up my digital photos. After looking at my photos and talking with XO Julia Neander, we decided that our whales from the other day are not fin, but Sei (pronounced “say”) whales. We saw white spots on the whales back and a prominent ridge on the whale’s forehead which are give away signs for Sei. I spent the evening fishing for salmon off the fan deck (located at the rear of the ship). Several other crew members also fished of the stern, but only Raul, one of our cooks, caught salmon. He pulled in four cohos weighing around 7-8 pounds each. Will he share and surprise us for supper tomorrow night? I can’t wait to find out.
Question of the Day
The RAINIER is like a small community made up of 50 people. What kinds of jobs does this community need in order to sustain it for 3 weeks at sea without any outside help?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 25 – August 13, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK Date: July 27, 2005
Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 55˚ 53.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4’ W
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012 mb
Cloud Cover: 2, cumulus
Science and Technology Log
The RAINIER is now anchored for the next several days in Cushman Bay on the north side of Mitrofania Island. Today the ship’s crew began their first full day of mapping the bottom of the waters surrounding the island. The Captain assigned me to observe operations on board one of the RAINIER’s six survey launches. The launches are small craft equipped with sonar and computer equipment to collect bottom data as seen in the following photographs:
Each launch has a crew of three and four launches go out at a time. On my launch, Ensign Brianna Welton serves as the hydrographer in charge with Matt Boles as the Assistant Survey Technician. Able Body Seaman Corey Mussey drives the launch and makes sure it stays on course using a computer screen directs him where to go.
A winch lowered our launch into the water. We jumped about two feet from the side of the ship to get into the launch. We carried no equipment in our hands or on our backs and wore life jackets to ensure we safely crossed the deep water.
Once underway, Ensign Welton turned on the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The DGPS uses satellite signals to determine our location and even can tell our direction and speed. Unfortunately, our DGPS did not work correctly and Ensign Welton and Matt Boles struggled over the next 2 hours to trouble shoot the problem. When out at sea and hundreds of miles from the nearest repair shop, the crew of the RAINIER has to become creative to solve problems in order to achieve their mapping mission. The DGPS problem finally got fixed after the antenna was taken apart and the connecting cables cleaned. Matt told me that whenever one starts a new field survey, you commonly find problems that must be fixed due to the difficulties of working in the harsh environments found at sea and in Alaska.
With the DGPS fixed, the crew sent a SEACAT probe through the water column to the bottom to collect temperature, salinity and pressure data. Sonar mapping works by bouncing sound waves off the bottom and measuring how fast the waves return to the ship. Sound travels through salt water at 1435 meters per second, but its speed can be changed by temperature, salinity or pressure. The computer takes the data from the SEACAT and makes corrections to the sonar data so we have a better measurement of the bottom depth.
We spent the rest of the day running transects to map the bottom. Transects are long, parallel lines that are spaced to ensure we cover the entire bottom of the area being mapped with some overlap. To better understand what “running a transect” means, think about mowing your lawn. When you mow the lawn, you run the mower in parallel lines, but you always go over part of the path you mowed before in the previous line. Just like mowing, the sonar is able to map the entire bottom of the map area by using a transect pattern.
Around 4:30 pm we returned to the RAINIER and the deck crew winched the launch back on board. I handled the stern line and threw it to a deck hand on the ship. I also attached the hook from the winch onto the launch, but I didn’t do it correctly on my first try. You have to be careful because the launch weighs 14,000 pounds and the seas can bounce it around. I got too close to the block and tackle on the winch, but Ensign Welton pulled me back and showed me how to properly connect the cables. To the right here is a picture of Ensign Welton correctly hooking up the launch.
Once the launch returned to the RAINIER, the mapping crew’s duties were not f inished. After supper, the crew down loaded the launch’s computers onto the ship’s main frame and “cleaned up” the data. Clean up consisted of looking at the data and matching it with maps on the main frame computer. The survey technician also had to correct the data with tidal information and look for false sonar signals to remove from the data set. Upon finishing clean up, an officer checked the work for quality. Here is a picture of Dan Boles, Matt’s older brother, cleaning up some data.
I had a great time today going out on the launch and learning what the survey crews do. The landscape overwhelms one with large open areas of water surrounded by mountains covered in green, low lying vegetation. Mount Veniaminof dominates the background with its glacier covered dome that rises 7,075 feet above sea level.
As we traveled in the launch, I could see whales blowing spray out their blow holes in the distance and pink salmon jumping out of the water. At the end of work, we took 10 minutes to fish off the launch and Matt caught a ling cod while I had one on the hook that got away.
I enjoyed talking to Matt Boles and learning about how he ended up on the RAINIER with his brother Dan. Matt has a two year college degree in computers and Dan has a Bachelors degree in geology and French. I see a lot of potential for my own students to get jobs aboard ships like the RAINIER and to have a great time exploring wild places like Matt and Dan.
Question of the Day
Why do temperature, salinity and pressure change the speed of sound in water?
I was fortunate to sit with some of the crew at the breakfast table this morning and was able to take part in a discussion regarding what we were doing today. This gave me an opportunity to ask some questions. I’m getting the idea of the science that is taking place here, but conversation today helped me understand the connections that I have been missing. For example there are about eight programs that are used on board to gather and process the data. There are four important data gathering devices that are merged together: The exact time, the GPS location, the motion of the ship and the sonar. Interestingly, as in many computer programs there is a “Bug” that they call the “Midnight Bug” that causes them to sometimes, not always, lose data for about half an hour. The question is whether to stop and circle around and pick up what was missed or to continue. There are pros and cons and are decided by those colleting the data. The information gathered on this ship is processed quickly. This is an advantage because if there is an error or discrepancy the ship has not already moved out of the area so they can adjust or redo immediately. Of course this allows for accurate information to be gathered.
An aside on time: All NOAA ships use the same Greenwich Time no matter what time zone they are in. This saves confusion when crossing time zones. Midnight here, in this time zone is 4:00 in the afternoon. That is then the beginning of a new day. There are three ways the ship can gather bottom data. (1.) When the main ship is “hydroing” as we will be doing for the next few days, 24 hours a day the ship is sonarring the bottom in a wide swath in deep water. (2.) When the water is too shallow for the ship to hydro that is when the launches are sent out to do basically the same thing, although they use less power because the water is not as deep. (3.) The third way of collecting information is by shoreline observations, using the flat-bottomed small boat and physically eyeballing the area, taking notes and pictures and entering that data into the programs when they return to the ship. I discovered today that although all the ships in the fleet that are doing the same type of science use the same programs, they may not be using them in exact manner. I would liken this to the example that although all fourth grade teachers must meet the same state standards of curriculum, they don’t all approach the task in the same way. An example is how the scientists “draw lines” of an area to be hydroed. The FAIRWEATHER marks off polygon areas that need to be scanned. This can be done in any fashion, across-up and down or in any pattern as long as the whole area gets covered. Other ships opt to draw in lines to follow in a selected area. If they can’t follow the lines because of swells, or whatever, then they are out of luck as far as surveying that day. However because we are scanning the channel with the ship today, we are following lines.
I am going to observe a training demonstration at 1:00 P.M. in the boiler room and then tour the boiler room. The training session went as planned. It was how to use the oxygen mask and how and when to use the fire extinguishers.
I spent a couple of hours listening and asking questions of those present, and then I worked on some lesson plans after lunch. I also spent a little while at the bridge. It is a beautiful day, bright and sunny. I will be going out on one of the smaller boats tomorrow. I spent the rest of the day answering emails and working on lesson plans. These are pretty heavy concepts for fourth graders, but I am getting some ideas simplified to their level.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather June 21 – July 9, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska Date: June 23, 2005
This is my first day out on the launch. The computer on the launch stays there all the time and is loaded with the programs that are needed. The sonar scanning devices, GPS and radar are also on the launch. The launch makes sweeping rows across the chosen area to be scanned overlapping each row slightly to prevent “holes” in the information gathered. The operators keep a close watch on the depth and if it gets too shallow, they leave that area for the smaller shore boats to gather information on. I am learning so much, and trying to decide how I can share this information with my fourth graders. Surely reading maps and following directions accurately will be lessons.
The sea air has gotten to me in more ways than one. Not only did I feel the wave action this afternoon, but upon returning, I am very cold so I am retiring early tonight after writing some notes, and checking out tomorrow’s schedule.
Latitude: N 57°31.730
Longitude: W 154°58.325
Visibility: 10 + m
Wind direction: 250
Wind speed: 18 knots
Sea wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Swell wave height: 2 – 4 feet
Sea water temperature: 10.6 °C
Sea level pressure: 1020.1 mb
Air temperature: 12.2 °C
Cloud cover: 2/8
Science and Technology Log
I talked more with P.S. Shyla Allen about how the multibeam echo sounders work on the ship to gather data about the depths of the ocean. Both the RAINIER and the launch ships use the following method to gather data. All of these vessels use echo sounders with anywhere from 120 to 240 beams that scan the ocean floor. The following diagram illustrates how this is done:
Here, “z” is an echo sounding two-way travel time beam, and the multibeams are spread over the footprint distance of “f”. The size of the sound footprint, “f”, depends on the depth at which the measurement is taken, “z”. The greater the depth is, the greater the footprint is. However, the greater the footprint is also means less accuracy on the outer edges of the footprint. Therefore, the ship will run a “mowing the lawn” pattern across the given section to get desired overlapping of data:
The width of these lines is determined by: width of x = 3 * z. By using this rough equation, the ship will be able to overlap the areas of least accuracy, i.e. the areas on the outer range of the footprint:
From this data, the depth and contours of the ocean floor can be determined. I also asked P.S. Shyla Allen about the problems and sources of error associated with this data collection. She responded by detailing three main issues that must be corrected when cleaning the data, i.e. the data must undergo three main correction factors before accurate readings can be analyzed. These three factors include: a) tide changes, b) sound velocity, c) the motion of the ship and GPS positioning. To correct for tide changes, the researchers must have accurate readings of the tides. Tide gauges are installed along the coastline at various points, and all readings are reduced to Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW). This basically gives the average of the lowest possible depth at a given location. To correct for sound velocity changes, which is the most important correction factor dealt with, researchers take measurements of water temperature and salinity level at the given depth reading. For every change of 1 ppm in salinity, there is a change of 3 m/s in sound velocity. Therefore, salinity is perhaps one of the most important factors. Finally, the motion of the ship and GPS position need to be corrected for. This includes correcting for the pitch, roll, and gyration of the ship as well as error in the GPS system. Because the ship uses Differential GPS (DGPS), this error is already accounted for. However, for the pitch, roll, and gyration of the ship, two antennas are used to on the port and starboard sides. These antennas, often referred to as Motion Reference Units (MRU), are very stable feed into the same computers that process the data. Therefore, the computer takes into account the readings from these antennas and combines this information with the corrections made for the tidal changes, sound velocity factors, and positioning of the ship. After cleaning the static from the data, a nautical chart can be produced. This method of charting the ocean floor is definitely more efficient than when researchers used lead lines—long ropes with lead that would be dropped down and then measured to determine the depth!
I woke up this morning after sleeping for about 12 hours—I think the seasickness medicine I took last night made me very sleepy. Luckily, however, all traces of seasickness are gone; I can even sit here at the computer and type without noticing the pitching of the ship very much at all. I think all of my muscles must be getting stronger as a result of reacting to the changing ground and all of the stairs I go up and down every day. I spent some time on the bridge this morning mostly asking questions about the tools used there and what various measurements mean. I find it very interesting that simply reading tiny numbers and using small switches and knobs will run this 231 foot ship. However, my experience aboard ships tells me that it is not even close to impossible. I know that even the slightest adjustment at the helm on a sailboat can change the course of the boat. I am reminded of sailing in the British Virgin Islands and the dispute over if it was more important to maintain the way point or try to make the boat go very fast. However, that is not an issue on this boat. We are supposed to reach the Shumagin Islands tonight, and tomorrow we will start the launches—I can’t wait!
Question for the Day
How many sets of data points must be filtered out before the data is considered clean? On what does this number depend? How does one determine if a data point is an outlier or and actual reading?