Lauren Wilmoth: Officially a Teacher at Sea! October 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 10, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 10.6 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 59°00.742′ N
Longitude: 150°53.517′ W

Science and Technology Log

On Thursday, I got to sit in on Junior Officer Steve Wall and Survey Tech Christie’s discussion of their holiday plan.  This does NOT mean they were talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  A holiday is a space in an area that has already been surveyed where there still isn’t sufficient data.  This can happen for a number of reasons.  Think about mowing the lawn.  If the lawn mower is going back and forth in lines, just as the ship does, sometimes you can still miss a spot (I know I do).  With the lawn mower though, it is easy to see where you missed a spot, so you can go back over it immediately.  This is not the case with the ship.  What’s more, when you are mowing the lawn it is relatively easy to push the lawn mower in a straight line.  It is not as easy to drive a ship in a straight line, because currents and weather can be pushing and pulling it in different directions.  The purpose of a holiday plan then is to find these missed spots, so a smaller boat can be sent over to fill in those gaps in the data.  The holiday plan also tries to figure out how this can be done most efficiently.  For example, if holidays are close together you can send out one boat one time to take care of multiple holidays.

The holidays are the places outlined in yellow.  This shows the area were are about to survey in Kodiak.
This is part of the holiday plan that Christie and Steve put together for this next part of our trip.  The holidays are the places outlined in yellow and the black are the places where there is already sufficient data.

While I have been aboard the ship, I have constantly be learning more about NOAA corps.  If you were interested in joining the NOAA corps, the first step would be get a four year (Bachelor’s) degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) field.  Many corps members have degrees in Marine Biology.  The greatest need is for people with engineering degrees.  Once you have your four year degree, you can apply to be in the NOAA corps.  If you are accepted in to the program, you will have training for 5 months.  This is a combination of class work and hands-on training.  When you successfully complete your training, you will be assigned to a ship.  You will work on that ship for 2 to 3 years.  During those years, your jobs progress in difficulty and vary, so that you can slowly learn how to do it all.  All NOAA corps officers are trained on navigating the ship!  Even though you are assigned to a ship for 2 to 3 years, you won’t be “gone” the entire time.  Each ship has a season when it operates.  For example, the Rainier‘s season runs from April to November.   When the ship is out of season, it stays in the home port.  Rainier‘s home port is Newport, Oregon.  Just because the ship is out of season doesn’t mean you don’t work.  You still report to the ship daily and work aboard the ship.  It is just docked during that time.   In the off-season, you may do additional training that would occur off of the ship.  Also, many people take their leave during the off-season.  NOAA corps officers get 30 days of paid leave a year!  After your 2 to 3 years on a ship, you work on land for 2 or 3 years.  When you return for your second ship assignment, you will likely have moved up in the ranks.

Today, we finally got underway!  I was invited to listen in on the evolution required to get the ship underway.  Evolution, I quickly learned, has a different meaning in the military then has when we talk about evolution in biology class.  An evolution is a set, step-by-step process.  To ensure that everything is done properly, there is a check list that must be completed before departure.  Some tasks begin an entire day ahead of time.  Some of the items required for the checklist include checking the fire doors, heating up the engine (for about 30 minutes), and much much more.  Just untying the ship involves multiple steps because of the ship’s size.  We actually had to leave two crew members behind to undo the lines.  Then, they hopped on one of Rainier‘s smaller boats (called a skiff) and rode back the ship.  After they got off of the skiff, Rainier hoisted the skiff up and puts it back in its place.

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The skiff coming to the ship after the ship was untied from the pier.
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The skiff being hoisted onto the ship with a crane.














Quickly after getting underway, we had our required emergency drills.  I had NO idea how realistic the fire drill would be!  I thought it would be like a school drill where we just go to our spot and stand around.  This was definitely NOT the case.  I was sitting in my stateroom (where I sleep) when the alarm sounded which announced it was a drill.  The announcement proceeded to say where the fire was located which was the XO’s (Executive Officer) room a few doors down from me.  By the time I was in the hall there was smoke, pretend smoke, but smoke!  People were going to their stations, some were getting on their fire fighting gear, and in no time, they were fighting the pretend fire with gear on and hoses unwound.  I was sent on border control, so basically, I had to go to a bordering area and monitor if the fire was spreading by feeling for heat.  The drill was so realistic that there was even an unconscious victim that had to be treated by the medical officer.  It is vital to have these realistic drills, because unlike on shore, you cannot just call the fire department.  You have to be your own fire department!  Almost immediately after the fire drill, we had an abandon ship drill.   My group mustered (gathered) at life raft #8 and then, we had to put on our red survival suits.

My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.
My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

Personal Log

On Thursday, Meclizine was passed out in the dispensary.  This is a medication to prevent motion sickness.  I will definitely be taking some.  Even if it doesn’t work 100%, I have been given some tips on how to settle the feelings of nausea.  It was recommended for one that I get further down in the ship and closer to the center of the ship.  There is a lounge with couches called the ward room that is in a more ideal place to reduce motion sickness than my berthing area, so I may go there if I start feeling bad.  If my nausea is still bad, I have been told to go the back of the ship (the fantail) and watch the horizon.  You might wonder why watching the horizon off the back of the ship would help.  Motion sickness is caused when your senses are giving you conflicting information.  So if you are in a ship, your inner ear ,which controls your balance, knows your body is moving, but visually, since the boat is moving with you, your eyes are telling you a different story.  This explains why it can be helpful to go to the fantail.  Your visual sensory input (what you see) will match more with what your inner ear is telling your brain if you are watching the movement.

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Selfie with my motion sickness medicine.

Between the fire drill and the abandon ship drill, the captain called me up the bridge (the place where you control the ship).  He wanted me to see all of the orcas (killer whales).  There was a whole pod of them.  There were possibly 50 orcas (Orcinus orca) and they were pretty close to the ship at times!  There were also dall’s porpoise’s (Phocoenoides dalli) swimming in our wake.  It was so cool!


Here is a picture of dall’s porpoises like the ones we saw today. This photo was taking by Teacher at Sea alumna Britta Culbertson.


Did You Know? 

There is more than one way to “rock the boat.”  The ship can pitch, roll, or yaw.

Animal Spotting

Thursday night I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by the piers.  I didn’t get a picture, because it flew way too fast.  It was still awesome though!

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

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

Mrs. Heins Taking a CTD Cast

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

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology Log

Watching The Sonar

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

View Of the Data Acquired For the Ship On The Bridge

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

Ship Hydrographic Survey

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

Rainier Multibeam Sonar

Personal Log

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

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

Hydrographic Survey Data In Caris

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

Fire Drill Practice

Student Questions Answered


Animals Spotted


Sea Otters

Question of the Day