Caroline Singler, August 11-12 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean
Date of Post: 13 August 2010

Maneuvering in Ice – 7-10 August 2010

Location and Weather Data from Bridge
Date: 11 August 2010

Time of Day: 1015 (10:15 local time); 17:15 UTC
Latitude: 71º 23.2’ N
Longitude: 144º 43.2’ W
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Heading: 106.6º (ESE)
Air Temperature: 5.1ºC /41.2ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1010.6 millibars
Humidity: 100%
Winds: 30.6 knots ENE
Wind Chill: -2.2ºC /28.14ºF
Sea Temperature: 4.8ºC
Salinity: 23.70 PSU
Water Depth:2952.9 mDate: 12 August 2010
Time of Day: 1900 (7:00 local time); 02:00 UTC
Latitude: 71º 10.94’ N
Longitude: 144º 40.28’ W
Ship Speed: 11.9 knots
Heading: 265.3º (WSW)
Air Temperature: 6.73ºC /44.12ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1016.7 millibars
Humidity: 97.9%
Winds: 18.8 knots ESE Wind Chill: 3.96ºC /39.12ºF
Sea Temperature: 6.0ºC Salinity: 24.32 PSU
Water Depth:2496.0 mScience and Technology Log
I want to give you a sense of how ice can affect the progress of the ship. It was not something that I could imagine before coming on the Healy. When we first encountered ice, I was captivated by its beauty – it is a wilderness of an entirely different sort than I have ever experienced. I knew the ice would slow our progress, and I knew from talking to the scientists that it could complicate the mapping with the multibeam system. I did not realize all the ways in which it would challenge everyone involved in the mission, for example:

  • the chief scientist and the rest of the science team have to decide how to alter the ship’s track without sacrificing the mission objectives;
  • the ice analysts use satellite imagery and ice buoy data and try to predict where the ice may be and advise the Chief Scientist and the ship’s crew regarding possible changes in course;
  • the Coast Guard officers and crew who try to keep us as close to our planned course as possible, keeping in constant communication with the Chief Scientist and with the watch standers in the geophysics lab to be sure that we are able to collect good data;
  • the computer specialists have to figure out how to get the best ultibeam data, even when ice clogs the seawater intake that provides data for the sound speed profile and when sound beams transmitted from the surface bounce in all directions and cannot find bottom;
  • geophysics watch standers like me have to watch for tiny clues from the instruments that the ice might be interfering with the transmission of the sound signals and the acquisition of reliable data.

Everything about working in the Arctic is a lesson in patience and flexibility; one must learn to “go with the floe”.

Bow of the USCGS Healy
Bow of the USCGS Healy
View of Ice Breaking from the Bridge
View of Ice Breaking from the Bridge

Since our primary objective is to collect bathymetric data, the locations of transect lines were determined before the mission to best meet the objective. Some lines provide data about previously unmapped areas; others fill in gaps between existing data tracks. We are able to follow the plan when we are in open water, but once we are in the ice, sometimes plans change. This became immediately apparent when I went on watch on the night of 7 August. We were heading north in the Beaufort Sea into thicker ice. There was a flurry of activity in the geophysics computer lab. The scientists were studying the ship’s track and the latest satellite images of the ice. We were on course to encounter some very large floes. I was about to get my first real taste of what an ice breaker does.

An ice breaker is designed differently from other ships. It is double-hulled with extra thick steel at the bow, stern and water line. It has a flat hull with a rounded bow that slopes gradually upward to allow it to ride up over the ice. (I am told that same feature makes it roll considerably in rough seas, though thankfully the Healy’s design is somewhat modified from the earlier Coast Guard ice breakers, so it does not roll as much as it could!) There are numerous mechanical modifications that allow ice breakers to work in an environment that would crush other ships. (See Cool Antarctica for a good summary of the characteristics of ice breakers.) The ship weighs over 11 tons, and the basic principle of ice breaking is to ride up over the ice and allow gravity to do the work, using the ship’s weight to fracture the ice. Healy’s typical cruising speed is 12 knots, with a maximum of 17 knots; depending on ice conditions, Healy’s speed typically decreases to 7 knots, and it is often necessary to go even slower through large floes, particularly if the multibeam is not recording good data. In the thickest ice, the ship uses a technique called “backing and ramming” which is pretty much exactly as it sounds – the ship is driven on the ice, then backed up and driven back onto the ice again. But while Healy is a powerful ship, a large tabular floe of multiyear ice has a lot of inertia, and it takes an incredible force to move it. More often than not, it is a better idea to try to find a way around the large floes instead of breaking through them.

The next few photos show what happens when Healy breaks through ice. Cracks radiate out in all directions as the weight of the ship is forced into the floe. The deep blue color indicates that much of the ice is “multiyear ice” – ice that has lasted through at least one summer melting season.
Close up of USCGS Healy breaking ice
Close up of USCGS Healy breaking ice
The following maps show how one large floe affected our progress in the early morning hours of 8 August 2010. I came on watch at 8:00 p.m. local time (04:00 UTC) on 7 August. We were at the point labeled “0” on the first map, travelling through open water and light ice at a speed of approximately 11.7 knots. We reached point “1” at 11:30 p.m. (07:30 UTC) and were beginning to slow down in the ice. In 3.5 hours, we covered a distance of 38.88 nautical miles (nm), at an average speed of 11.1 knots. At 12:57 a.m. (08:57 UTC), we reached point “2”, 7.89 nm from point 1 – that’s an average speed of about 5.3 knots.

Things got tricky after that. Notice the change in scale on the second map, which shows the ship’s progress over the next 3 hours until point “11” at 4:00 a.m. (12:00 UTC) on the 8th. In that time, we covered 15.48 nm and had to deviate off a straight line course and change direction several times to maneuver around ice. Our average speed continued to be about 5 knots, but there were times during that stretch when the speed was a low as 1 or 2 knots. Relative to the original planned straight line course, the distance covered in that period was 6.7 nm.


Map 3 shows the remaining course we followed for that transect (the right hand track line) – note again the different map scale. We covered the remaining distance along the line between points 11 and 12, about 91 nm, over the next 3 hours. The trackline on the left shows our subsequent course, about a day later.


It takes a special ship to do what Healy does, and it takes a crew and science team who are capable, flexible, and cooperative to get the job done.

Personal Log

A lot happened in the last few days. If you pay attention to the location information at the beginning of some posts, you will notice that we have traveled north and south, east and west through the Beaufort Sea between the Mackenzie Delta region on the Canadian coast and the Prudhoe Bay area of the Alaska coast. We had the long-awaited rendezvous with Canadian Coast Guard Cutter Louis S. St. Laurent on Tuesday 10 August. Three members of our science team (two marine mammal observers and one ice analyst) went to the Louis and three members of their team joined us on the Healy. It was exciting to watch the helicopter exchange of personnel. I was not prepared for how fast the helicopter moved, and I was not quick enough to capture any close-ups.
Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.
Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.
Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Healy and flying back to the Louis.
Here’s a look at the helicopter approaching the helo pad aft on Louis and flying back to the Healy.
We took some cores of the seafloor on Wednesday and Thursday – more on that exciting change in routine in another post. We were out of the ice for several days, and I missed it, but we are moving north again now, farther north than we have been so far and we have started the cooperative part of the mission, in which Healy will lead and break ice forLouis.

Tomorrow, it seems, is Saturday. It is extremely hard to keep track of the days at sea, especially when there is not much darkness at night. Saturday is cleaning day, so we have to make sure everything is “ship-shape” in our staterooms and the science work areas. Stay tuned for some photos of my room after it’s neat and tidy!

Did you know?

Distance at sea is typically measured in nautical miles. One nautical mile is equal to approximately 1.15 statute miles or 1.85 kilometers. Speeds are measured in knots. One knot is equal to 1 nautical mile per hour or 1.15 miles per hour.


Maggie Prevenas, Week 2 in Review, April 22, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 22, 2007

Week in Review

It’s hard to believe another week has passed. There have been so many exciting projects, and unexpected problems. I am in awe of the creativity and the toughness of the scientists on board!

Monday April 16: We started the rotation last week Thursday. It’s time to rotate into our next scientist group. For me that is the ‘mud guys.’ David Schull and Al Devol. These scientists get samples of the bottom sediment (mud) and are able to figure out what’s going on by measuring the amount and type of gas produced. There is a lot happening in terms of Nitrogen fixing and natural radon gas presence. These are serious scientists that like to play in the mud. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Tuesday April 17: Our first live event from somewhere in the Bering Sea. The topic of the event was ‘Scientific Research -Life Onboard Ship” We invited Dr. David Hyrenbach and Mr. Steven Elliot to field questions from the virtual audience. Considering we ARE in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ice, we thought the connection and the whole project went very well! Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day. Our next Live Event will be THURSDAY April 26. We hope to hear you there ?

Wednesday April 18: We are trying to keep up with the research schedule. It’s time for the next rotation into the fishes. Dr. Alex De Roberis does some amazing things using acoustics to measure the population and tracking of fishes. Fishing is one of the most important industries in the Bering Sea. Understanding how fish populations might be influenced by climate change is a timely issue. I learned about Euphausids (krill) and other teeny tiny copepods. I also learned about fishes like Pollack; fishing Pollack is a major, MAJOR industry in the Bering Sea. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Thursday April 19: Onto Rotation 3 and the Marine Mammal group. This group, headed by Dr. Michael Cameron from the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle, WA is doing baseline studies with ice seals to document their population and distribution. About twice a day, two or three of the ice seal team wiggle into survivor suits and bunny boots. They follow a transect in the helicopter and count the animals.

They see much more than ice seals. They have seen belugas, polar bears, walrus, and orcas from their 400-foot observatory in the sky. Other members of the team include Dr. Josh London, Gavin Brady, Dave Withrow, Shawn Dahle and Lee Harris. This stuff is very cool. Robyn and my ice observations continue to take place every two hours. That’s about 7 or more a day.

Friday April 20: Flight in a helicopter! So I was working with David Hyrenbach and Robyn Staup to coordinate our outreach program on the Pribilof Islands next week when Dr. Mike gave me the signal that it was my turn to fly.

Me Fly?!

So I jumped into a survivor suit MS 900, got fitted with a flight helmet, slipped on my bunny boots and there I was ready to go. The scariest part of all this was giving the helicopter facilitator my true weight. Women out there can easily identify with this. Giving out your age and weight to a male not related to you, is something that you don’t do until you are married. I mumbled the tonnage and closed my eyes, expecting it to go on the Coast Guard ‘pipes’ (in ship speaker announcement system.) I lucked out.

The flight was just totally amazing. Sitting in the front seat of the helo and watching the boat slide away from underneath your big white feet is a bit un-nerving But soon you adjust to the fact that you are at 400 feet altitude, zipping along at 80-90 miles per hour. Suddenly, little dark shapes turn into seals but they are not. And other dark colored seal bodies, turn into ice, which they are. It takes someone with way more experience than me to count seals.

This I learned many times as we flew over the solid white sea. At this point in the cruise we were very close to Russia. I saw a few seals and some walrus. Trying to spot the ice seals was as tough as trying to see those white-tailed deer that my Dad pointed out to us during trips up to Gramma’s house as a child. ‘Look a deer!’ And six children’s’ heads swiveled and eyes strained to see that beast. I never could see that deer, and I never did see too many ice seals.

Saturday April 21: Out of the ice and into open water. Tons of wildlife including a huge pod (20+) of Beluga whales as viewed from the helicopter.  With the help of the evening science team, I stayed up way late, running the Styrofoam experiment. We attached the Styrofoam cups, bowls and balls to the rosette, CTD sampler as it descended to 2700 meters. It was time I modeled scientists round the clock behavior. I never expected the CTD sampling to run past midnight. But 3 o’clock in the morning? I hope my students realize that science is not for sissies. Because we left the ice behind us, our ice observations were cancelled until we return to the ice sometime tomorrow. It was a banner day for animals and we discovered that birds, ribbon seals, spotted seals, and orcas all enjoy life in the loose pack as it cycles into the southern Bering Sea.

Maggie Prevenas, April 13, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

The three person crew from left, Shawn Dahle, Josh London, and Mike Cameron.
The three person crew from left, Shawn Dahle, Josh London, and Mike Cameron.

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 13, 2007

Science Log: Launching the Helicopter and Zodiacs

One thing you can say about the BEST mission is that it’s full of adventure! Take today for example.

April 13 was the launch test date for the helicopter that the National Marine Mammal Lab (NOAA) uses for transects of seal populations. There was an air of excitement about the boat. The helicopter, pilot, and three-person crew were going to test out the machine and the instruments they needed. And they did.

This beautiful machine will carry up to three seal scientists to study ice seal populations.
This beautiful machine will carry up to three seal scientists to study ice seal populations.

The helicopter was a thing of beauty. It carries 600 pounds of cargo including human passengers. It is equipped with a camera that can take a picture of what is directly below the machine every two seconds. Seals missed in a count can be seen in the photos. It lifted straight up from the flight deck. No glitches. So fast. It circled over us and was gone. Zoom, zoom, and zoom.

After more than an hour, the helicopter returned to the ship. It approached from the starboard (right side) of the flight deck, slowly, slowly, and then landed as soft as a snowflake on the rough textured cement.

They waited for the blades to stop, then jumped out of the helicopter from doors in the passenger and navigator positions. They were covered from head to foot in safety gear, bundled against a potential problem. No problems surfaced.

Climbing down
Climbing down

They saw the ice boundary just 14 miles away. They saw a seal.

Being a scientist requires you to have top-level problem solving and analyzing skills. The scientific team from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) is a great example of this skill in practice.

Michael Cameron led a team of six skilled seal experts through a practice run of a seal launch. It may sound easy, but the Healy had never launched a zodiac of the 17-foot or 14 foot variety before. A joint dry run was held to test the abilities of the Seal Team to change into survival gear and the abilities of the Coast Guard to get the zodiacs into the water. Right after breakfast, the teams made a beeline to the heliport, where the three zodiacs patiently rested. While the Coast Guard gathered together and assigned duties to the staff, the Seal Team pulled and tugged on their safety gear.

Setting up
Setting up

Next, the entire team got together and the Coast Guard brought up potential problem areas. The seal team regrouped for a few reminders. And the dry run began. The Coast Guard scrambled into position, using ropes, cables, and a ‘headache ball’ (a modified hook attached to a pulley). Soon the ball and hook were attached to the zodiacs’ rope harness.

The headache ball is a modified hook and pulley that is used to haul heavy objects.

A crane operator plucked the first zodiac away from its trailer cradle and gently, so gently lowered it to the icy 31-degree water.

The first two scientists, Mike Cameron the seal catcher and David Withrow the skilled driver, descended the Jacob’s Ladder. I have always known Jacob’s Ladders to be toys that you can flip over and over again by twisting your wrist. That was not this. This was not a toy. This is science!

Strong hands held the three zodiacs together.
Strong hands held the three zodiacs together.

The scientists had to descend to the zodiac along a suspended ladder. The ladder was a twisty moving thing. They were wearing bunny boots the size of watermelons on their feet. It must have been hard hanging and balancing. But they made it. Yay, they made it! But, you can count on something going wrong on a dry run. And it did.

The first zodiac had a very nice outboard motor, that wouldn’t start. David and Mike took turns pulling. And pulling. And pulling. And pulling.

David told me later in the day, that even though the motor was a bit temperamental, it was still better than some of the motors he had to work with in the past. It was David who finally started the motor. By the set of his jaw, and the strength of the pull, I could tell that pull was the one. And it was.

Off they went waiting for the other two zodiacs. Each launch of the zodiac proved faster and smoother than the previous. Soon the flotilla circled and took off flying across the water. Two short miles later, the zodiacs slid into position on the starboard side of the Healy. They reversed the process of boarding into the process of deboarding. First they stopped the motor. Then they connected the ‘headache ball’ to the rope harness.

One at a time, the driver and seal catcher climbed the ladder. After they were safe on the Healy, the skilled Coast Guard crane operator and rope tethers eased the zodiac back into her trailer cradle. Each time they pulled in a zodiac, it was smoother. At the end of the exercise, I don’t know which group had the wider smile, the six seal scientists or the Coast Guard Zodiac Crew.

Karolyn Braun, October 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: October 7, 2006

NOAA Ship KA’IMIMOANA docked in Honolulu.
NOAA Ship KA’IMIMOANA docked in Honolulu.

Monday, October 2, 2006 – Wednesday, October 4, 2006 

After a long red-eye flight from American Samoa, NOAA Officer Rebecca Waddington greeted me at the Honolulu International Airport.  As the sun came up, we drove to pier 45. As I made my way onto the ship, I was introduced to the crew: The NOAA officers, the deck crew, the engineer crew, the scientists, and the doctor. The next few days were filled with walking around Honolulu and getting used to ship life.

Thursday, October 5, 2006 

The sun was just above the horizon and already the KA’IMIMOANA was buzzing with movement as the crew was getting ready for an on-time departure. The horn sounded as we sailed out of the harbor. The plan of the day was to conduct a helicopter emergency drill and then return to the fueling dock for a six-hour fueling session. Half way through with fueling, we were informed that our departure was going to be delayed till Friday morning due to some electrical difficultly with the alarm systems.

A helicopter emergency drill.
A helicopter emergency drill.

Friday, October 6, 2006 

All systems were go as we headed out of the fueling harbor at noon. The ocean was calm but there was an uneasiness in some of the crew as it is believed to bad luck to sail on a Friday.

All new hands onboard attended a safety lecture where we learned what to do in case of: man-overboard, fire and collision, or abandoned ship emergency.  A while later an abandoned ship drill was conducted. All hands had to grab their assigned gear and meet at their designated safety boat. Our “gumby suits” had to be put on and whistles checked, after which we were able to dress down without PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) on to await further instructions. As the sunset an amazing full moon rose to fill the night sky. What a wonderful night!

Saturday, October 7, 2006 

The morning started with my assisting one of the researchers with fixing a CTD.  The Conductivity, Temperature & Depth instrument measures the conductivity and temperature of water, which will assist in obtaining the amount of salinity.  Using the salinity and the temperature, the density of the water can be determined.  In turn, knowing the densities of the ocean, scientists can determine currents.  The main CTD instrument is surrounded by 14 or so Niskin Bottles.  These bottles collect water at a certain depth to be used in a variety of other tests on ship or on land. All new hands onboard watched a “HAZMAT: Your Right to Know” video and then the ship’s familiarization video. That afternoon we had a fire drill. All scientists meet in the galley unless the fire is in the galley, and then we meet on the boat deck and act as runners for the ship’s crew; if any vents need to be closed or boundaries need to be checked, it’s all part of a team.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Karolyn Braun, tries on her “gumby suit.”
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Karolyn Braun, tries on her “Gumby suit.”
Dr. Braun assists in repairing a CTD instrument.
Dr. Braun assists in repairing a CTD instrument.