Eric Koser: The Impact of the Work

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Koser
Aboard Ship Rainier
June 22-July 9
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK
July 4, 2018: 1000 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 55°57.7’          Long: 133°55.7’
Skies: Clear
Wind Light and variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: <1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 14.1°C Dry Bulb, 12.5°C Wet Bulb

Pelican Harbor

The harbor at Pelican, Alaska.

The Impact of the Work
“We’re a part of history!” This notion, shared by a colleague on a launch yesterday, brings home the importance of the work of this team and NOAA’s Hydrographic Branch. Lisianski Inlet was last surveyed in 1917 by lead line! The charts of the inlet were old and not likely accurate. This week – fresh data has been collected by Ship Rainier and her launches to bring the next century of mapping tools below their shores.

Pelican Harbor in the town of Pelican, Alaska was last surveyed between 1970 and 1989.–until we surveyed it yesterday with Rainier Launch RA-3. Our team drove in and out between each of the docks in the harbor, carefully pinging sound waves off of the floor of the harbor to construct a new digital map of the bottom.

Pelican Guys

Guys on a mission…walking to pickup the HorCon.

Pelican HorCon

This is the Horizontal Control station, or HorCon, setup on the breakwater at Pelican before we took it down.

Part of our task yesterday, in addition to conducting MBES survey from our launch, was to dock in Pelican and retrieve our HorCon (a GPS reference radio setup on land that we have used there all week). As we walked through the very small town carrying two car batteries in backpacks, a pair of antennas, tripods, and other gear back to the launch – surely people were interested in what we were up to. Several people stopped to chat as we made our way from the pier, along the boardwalk, and down to the docks to go back to our launch. People asked who we were – and if we were the NOAA team that was in town. There was much appreciation expressed to NOAA for the work being done in the inlet to update the nautical charts. Here in Pelican, the water is the primary mode of transport. Accurate nautical charts provide security and safety.

 

 

 

Pelican

Here is a bit of history on the city!

Main Street, Pelican, Alaska

Main Street, Pelican, Alaska

 

Pelican

It’s a comfortable place, here in Pelican!

There are no roads to Pelican. A few cars are in town – to pull trailers and move equipment. But the primary mode of land transport is four-wheelers. The ‘main street’ is really a raised boardwalk that runs along the rocky shore – and is the heartbeat of the community.   Folks that live up or down the inlet from the town get there in small launches – there are no roads. A ferry comes to Pelican twice a month and is how cars and trucks come and go here. A seaplane comes through a few times a week—often bringing tourists in and out – and the mail. It’s a beautiful spot centered in a small inlet on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelican Seaplane

The fastest transportation in many parts of Alaska.

Pelican House

A house up the shoreline from Pelican.

Science and Technology Log

It’s mission accomplished for Lisianski Inlet!

Nautical charts are broken up into sheets. And within each sheet, areas are broken down into smaller polygons for data collection. Each launch (small boat), as well as the ship itself, can bring in multibeam data with the equipment mounted on each hull to complete plotting polygons and eventually complete sheets.

The hydrographic survey team is working away today in the plot room and on “the holodeck” of Ship Rainier (an office area on the top of the ship behind the plot room) processing the data we have collected the past several days. A combination of ship and launch multibeam data in addition to bottom samples and shoreline updates have been collected. Now the work of the scientists continues and becomes data processing.

Holideck

Part of the hydrographic team on the holodeck.

As the data is combined, it is reviewed and refined to make a complete picture of the survey area. Once the team on the ship has completed their work, the data goes to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of the Office of Coast Survey of NOAA. Here, the PHB team reviews that data again and assures it meets the specifications and standards needed to become finalized for use.

From PHB, the data is passed to two places. One is the NCEI (National Center for Environmental Information) office. They archive all of the raw and processed data including the digital surfaces themselves and the descriptive reports written by the hydrographers here.

The data also goes to the Marine Chart Division, an office of NOAA Coast Survey. Here is where the nautical charts are produced in both ENC and RNC (electronic and paper versions). It is this branch that publishes the data for use by mariners and the general public. Anyone can see the charts at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov (try the “Chart Locator”).

Nautical Chart

Here is a finished chart we are using to navigate today. Notice the two buoys in purple and green on the chart, and the narrow space between them.

Flybridge Approach

This is the view from the flybridge as we approach these same two buoys that are indicated on the chart.

 

Who is on board?

Tyanne

Tyanne Faulkes is a hydrographic scientist with NOAA.

During this leg of the trip, we have a visiting scientist from NOAA’s is here on board. Tyanne Faulkes works as a physical scientist for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA. She is a part of the team that processes the data from the hydro teams on NOAA Ship Rainier and NOAA Ship Fairweather. Her job is to assure that the data meets NOAA’s specifications–so that they can provide evidence of dangers of navigation and accurate depth information for all mariners.

Tyanne loves to be involved in making maps of the sea floor – and getting to see things others have not seen before! She loves that NOAA provides data for free to scientists around the world. Her job includes not only desk work, but also opportunities to make many mapping trips to understand where the hydro data comes from. Ms Faulkes has a bachelors degree in geography and GIS. It was a paid internship just out of college with NOAA that initially brought her to this work. And – she has a ton of fun with what she does. As a kid, Tyanne loved oceanography. Her GIS education tied well with the internship – and it all came together to take her where she is today!

Tyanne Mountains

When she’s not chasing the bottom of the oceans, Tyanne also loves to climb mountains!

She some advice to students – “Learn how to code!”

“Building Python scripts is a very powerful tool to allow us to automate the data review process. Being able to write the code – or at least understand the basic concepts that put it together – allows one to be much more efficient in your work!”

Understanding the concept of an algorithm that can save one hours of work is a very good asset. “I wish in college someone would have taught me how to do this!” One easy example is a bulk file renaming tool that the launch teams use. After collecting 50 some separate files of data in a day, this tool will take the individual file names and append any number of things to the filenames – all automatically.

Want to get involved? Next week, Tyanne and her team at NOAA’s Western Regional Center at Sand Point in Seattle, WA are hosting an annual camp for middle school and high school students! Students from across the US can apply to come to this camp each summer and have great experiences learning all about oceans and hydrography! Check it out on the web: NOAA Science Camp – Washington Sea Grant.

 

Lisa Battig: Nome, Alaska & Launch 2808, August 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Alaska

Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Location: Port Clarence: 65o14.034N 166o43.072W

Weather on the bridge:
30+ knot winds, 42o F, 4ft seas, heavy stratocumulus clouds (9/10 coverage)

Science & Technology Log

Over the past two days I have been introduced to tremendous amounts of the science of hydrography. In this blog post I will focus on the hardware used and the process of surveying. There are two types of sonar that are being employed. The first is side scan sonar and the second is multibeam sonar.

Side Scan

Side scan array sonar housed underneath one of the small launch vessels

 

Side scan is shorter range and performs better in shallower water. Side scan is used in conjunction with multibeam, however, as side scan does not give true depth values. The function of side scan is to show features evident on the ocean floor. For this reason, multibeam is run in conjunction with side scan in order to keep an accurate record of depths.

Multibeam

Multibeam sonar housed underneath another of the small launch vessels

Multibeam shows an exact depth. Due to the fact that it is an angular spreading band from the center of the underside of the launch, at shallow depths it will only show a very narrow strip of ocean floor.


Stop and imagine…a lit flashlight shining on a wall from only a few centimeters away. What happens to the image on the wall as you pull the flashlight back? The area of coverage of the image will become larger. The concept is similar for the multibeam in shallow versus deeper water.


Using multibeam in shallow water then would create a need for more passes closer together in order to cover an area. There are instances where using this technology even in shallow water would make sense, but for a full coverage survey, this would not be the case.

CTD Image 2

A CTD; it contains sensors for conductivity, temperature and density of the water column

The third piece of hardware used for the standard small boat launch hydrographic surveys is the CTD device. The CTD will measure conductivity of the water and also give both a temperature and density profile. The CTD is deployed multiple times during a survey as a tool to calibrate the data that is coming in via the sonar. Conductivity of the water gives an estimate of the total dissolved solids in the water. This information, along with the temperature and density will give an estimate of sound speed through the water column.


Stop and try this one for better understanding… knock on a door normally with your head roughly arm’s distance from the point where you are knocking. Now repeat the process of knocking, but with your ear pressed against the door approximately an arm’s length away from the knock. What is different? You should have noticed that a more precise (and typically louder) sound reached your ear. If you pay close attention, you will also notice that the sound reaches your ear more quickly. This is roughly analogous to how changes in the water column will affect sound speed.


The final piece of equipment used regularly for surveys is a HorCon (horizontal control) station. This is a land-based station that will help to define accurate position in the water. It allows for greater precision with global positioning data. The signals of satellites responsible for global position are affected daily by changing atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the precise positions of the satellites themselves are actually not well known in advance. This may result in a GPS location moving a few centimeters in one direction or another. While this is not going to heavily impact your ability to find a Starbucks in a strip mall, it can have a definite impact on the accuracy of charts for navigation. The HorCon station always remains in the same place on land, and can therefore be used to calibrate the measurements being read in the survey waters nearby and that information can be used along with corrected satellite positions since it is coming after the fact.

Port Clarence chart

A nautical chart of the Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor area where we were surveying

Today we worked in Port Clarence, Alaska, both outside and inside of Grantley Harbor. Most of the depths being surveyed are in the 4-6 meter range. The particular area being surveyed had been previously surveyed in the 1950s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likely using a single beam sonar system. The current survey is intended to note changes that have occurred since that prior survey and to accurately update all of the charts. The area of western Alaska is expected to increase in boat traffic over the coming years due to the opening of the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic. This route is significantly shorter for most shipping traffic than the route through the Panama Canal. Because of this expected increase in traffic, there is a need to identify areas for sheltering during heavy seas. Port Clarence is a natural inlet that offers some protection and holds potential for this purpose.

The process of surveying:
Two launches were deployed. I was on launch 2808, the second described here. The first was equipped with only multibeam sonar and the second had both multibeam and side scan. The plans for the two launches were different. The launch with only multibeam was working in an area of Grantley Harbor and covering an area that had previously been mapped to insure that the values were acceptably accurate. This focus existed primarily because of extra time available up in this area. The launch running the side scan was completing some unfinished work in Port Clarence and then did further work inside of Grantley Harbor. These areas, or “sheets” are described below. As a side note, small boat deployment is a fascinating and involved activity that I will discuss in a later blog.

Survey areas are broken up into sections known as “sheets” – each sheet has a manager. This person will be from either the NOAA Corps or a civilian member of the scientific survey team. The sheet manager will be responsible for setting up the plan for survey and doing all of the final checks after data has been gathered, cleaned and examined to determine if there are areas that should be rechecked or run again before it is completed and undergoes final processing.

A sheet manager will need to consider several questions prior to setting up the initial parameters for the survey. What is the depth being surveyed? What type of bottom is it? What type of coverage is needed? All of these factors will come into play when determining how the lines will be run – how long, how far apart, which sonar type, etc.
Once the plan is determined, it will be the job of the Operations Officer, LT Damian Manda, to parse out the duties and create a daily work plan to cover all of the areas. Each day, multiple launches will be sent out to gather data as described above. As the fieldwork finishes for the day, data will be transferred to a drive and then brought into the ship’s mapping room where night processers will begin the lengthy work of checking and cleaning the data so that it can all be ready for the final processing step prior to being sent to the client.

HMarshburn at computer

Senior surveyor Hannah Marshburn at the computer terminal in launch 2808

How good are those data?
There are several checks built into the data collection process. First, the survey team members on the launches are watching in real time. With three screens to work from, they are able to see what the sonars are seeing and can also set certain limits for the data that will alarm when something appears to be contrary to what’s expected. Night processors look for anomalies in the data like sudden inexplicable drops in depth in an otherwise flat surface or an extremely “noisy” area with little good data. Any area with a former survey will also be compared to the previous values with large differences signaling possible issues. Many trained eyes look at the data before it is accepted for charting and there will commonly be at least one return to an area to check and recheck prior to completion. One area in the current survey has continued to show odd results, so trained NOAA divers will dive the area to find out what is really going on.

Personal Log

So far this has been an amazing experience. I fully enjoy being among the crew of the Fairweather and living on the ship. It’s hard to say what my favorite part has been so far because I have honestly enjoyed all of it! Since we didn’t get underway until Monday, I had the opportunity on Sunday to roam around Nome with a couple of the other folks that are just here for two weeks, LT Joe Phillips and LCDR Ryan Toliver. I learned a lot more about both the NOAA Corps and the Public Health Service of which they are respectively a part. (These are two of the seven uniformed services – can you name the other five?) NOAA Corps officers are in command on all of the active NOAA commissioned ships and aircraft and you will learn a lot more about them in future posts. The PHS is an organization made up primarily of medical professionals. These folks serve in various medical and medical research positions around the nation. There are many who will work for the National Institutes of Health in research, or the Bureau of Prisons or commissioned vessels like Fairweather as practitioners. Unlike NOAA Corps, PHS is not on a billet cycle where every two to three years you will be moved to a new position in a different office or location. Similar to all of the other uniformed services, though, promotion through the ranks is both encouraged and desired.

Traditional Boat - Nome

As we walked all around Nome, this was one of the sights – the frame of a traditional fishing boat.

We also saw the marker for the end of the Iditarod race. I was able to see the historic beginning in Seward, Alaska back in 2010, so seeing the end in Nome was an unexpected treat. Nome also has Cold War-era missile early warning system arrays at the top of a mountain nearby. We had a chance to hike around them and see some of the interesting geologic features of the area. There’s so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll stop here and save shipboard life for my next post.

Did You Know…

… that the Iditarod has its historic beginnings with the Public Health Service? There were many children in interior and western Alaska dying of diphtheria in the early 1920s. When it reached epidemic proportions, the only doctor in Nome reached out to the PHS in the lower 48 to ask for help. Vials of serum were found and sent north to Seward, but then because of heavy ice and storming, dog sled teams were used to get the vials to the interior towns and to Nome. The original race along the Iditarod Trail was run as a memorial to the “Serum Run” and eventually evolved into the highly competitive race it is today.