Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)
Weather Data from Marietta, GA:
Latitude: 33.963900 Longitude: -84.492260 Sky Conditions: Clear Present Weather: Hot Visibility: 9 miles Windspeed: Less than 1 knot Temperature: Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit
It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.
As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:
Question 1: Where did you sleep?
I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!
Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?
Question 3: What animals did you see?
I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lionfound in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!
See the video below:
Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?
This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.
From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”
From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”
So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.
Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?
YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.“
Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.
Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 53.055’ N 124◦ 47.003’W Windspeed: 13 knots Geographic Area: @10-15 miles off of the Oregon/California coast Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celsius Air Temperature 68◦Fahrenheit
Navigation is how Fairweather knows its position and how the crew plans and follows a safe route. (Remember navigation from the last post?) But what “drives” where the ship goes is Hydrographic survey mission. There is a stunning amount of sea floor that remains unmapped, as well as seafloor that has not been mapped following a major geological event like an earthquake of underwater volcano.
Why is Hydrography important? As we talked about in the previous post, the data is used for nautical safety, creating detailed maps of the ocean floor, setting aside areas are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines — especially subduction zones which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.
In addition to
generating the data needed to update nautical charts, hydrographic surveys
support a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging),
coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone
management, and offshore resource development. Detailed depth information and
seafloor characterization is also useful in determining fisheries habitat and
understanding marine geologic processes.
The history of hydrographic surveys dates back to the days
of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a
survey of our young nation’s coast. This began the practice and accompanying sciences
of the coastal surveys. The practice of
surveys birthed the science of Hydrography (which we are actively conducting
now) and the accompanying science of Bathymetry (which we will go into on the
next post.) This practice continues of
providing nautical charts to the maritime community to ensure safe passage into
American ports and safe marine travels along the 95,000 miles of U.S. Coastline.
Want to learn more about Hydrographic Survey history? Click on THIS LINK for the full history by the NOAA.
Scientists have tools or equipment that they use to successfully carry out their research. Let’s take a look at a few of the tools hydrographic survey techs use:
Want to learn more about the science of SONAR? Watch the video below.
On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.
The transducer on Fairweather is an EM 710- multibeam echo sounder which you can learn more about HERE.
The Transducer is located on the bottom of the ship and sends out 256 sonar beams at a time to the bottom of the ocean. The frequency of the 256 beams is determined by the depth from roughly 50 pings per second to 1 ping every 10 seconds. The active elements of the EM 710 transducers are based upon composite ceramics, a design which has several advantages, which include increased bandwidth and more precise measurements. The transducers are fully watertight units which should give many years of trouble-free operation. This comes in handy since the device in on the bottom of Fairweather’s hull!
Here is the transducer on one of the launches:
The 256 sonar beams are sent out by the transducer simultaneously to the ocean floor, and the rate of return is how the depth of the ocean floor is determined. The rate of pulses and width of the “swath” or sonar beam array is affected by the depth of the water. The deeper the water, the larger the “swath” or array of sonar beams because they travel a greater distance. The shallower the water, the “swath” or array of sonar beams becomes narrower due to lesser distance traveled by the sonar beams.
The minimum depth that this transducer can map the sea floor is less than 3 meters and the maximum depth is approximately 2000 meters (which is somewhat dependent upon array size). Across track coverage (swath width) is up to 5.5 times water depth, to a maximum of more than 2000 meters. This echo sounder is capable of reaching deeper depths because of the lower frequency array of beams.
The transmission beams from the EM 710 multibeam echo sonar are electronically stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw, while they receive beams are stabilized for movements. (The movement of the ship) What is roll, pitch, and yaw? See below – these are ways the Fairweather is constantly moving!
Since the sonar is sent through water, the variable of the water
that the sonar beams are sent through must be taken into account in the
Some of the variables of salt water include: conductivity
(or salinity) temperature, depth, and density.
Hydrographic scientists must use tools to measure these factors in sea water, other tools are built into the hydrographic survey computer programs.
One of the tools used by the hydrographic techs is the XBT or Expendable Bathy Thermograph that takes a measurement of temperature and depth. The salinity of the area being tested is retrieved from the World Ocean Atlas which is data base of world oceanographic data. All of this data is transmitted back to a laptop for the hydrographers. The XBT is an external device that is launched off of the ship to take immediate readings of the water.
Launching the XBT: There is a launcher which has electrodes on it, then you plug the XBT probe to the launcher and then XBT is launched into the ocean off of the back of the ship. The electrodes transmit data through the probe via the 750-meter copper wire. The information then passes through the copper wire, through the electrodes, along the black wire, straight to the computer where the data is collected. This data is then loaded onto a USB then taken and loaded into the Hydrographic data processing software. Then the data collected by the XBT is used to generate the sound speed profile, which is sent to the sonar to correct for the sound speed changes through the water column that the sonar pulses are sent through. The water column is all of the water between the surface and seafloor. Hydrographers must understand how the sound moves through the water columns which may have different densities that will bend the sound waves. By taking the casts, you are getting a cross section “view” of the water column on how sound waves will behave at different densities, the REFRACTION (or bending of the sound waves) effects the data.
See how the XBT is launched and data is collected below!
Videos coming soon!
The other tool is the MVP or moving vessel profiler which takes measurements of conductivity, temperature, and depth. These are all calculated to determine the density of the water. This is a constant fixture on the aft deck (the back of the ship) and is towed behind the Fairweather and constantly transmits data to determine the speed of sound through water. (Since sonar waves are sound waves.)
The sonar software uses this data to adjust the calculation of the depth, correcting for the speed of sound through water due to the changes in the density of the ocean. The final product? A detailed 3d model of the seafloor!
All of this data is run through the survey software. See screen shots below of all the screens the hydrographers utilize in the course of their work with explanations. (Thanks Sam!) It’s a lot of information to take in, but hydrographic survey techs get it done 24 hours a day while we are at sea. Amazing! See below:
Did You Know? An interesting fact about sonar: When the depth is deeper, a lower frequency of sonar is utilized. In shallower depths, a higher sonar frequency. (Up to 900 meters, then this rule changes.)
Question of the Day: Interested
in becoming a hydrographic survey tech?
See the job description HERE.
Challenge yourself — see if you can learn and apply the new terms and phrases below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
August 12th Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W Windspeed: 19mph Geographic Area: Northwest Pacific Ocean Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit
Science and Technology Log
Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean. The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us! Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important? We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important. On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area. The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis. More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post. For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.
Science Word of the day: NAVIGATION
The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined:
process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and
following a route.
helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”
Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th:
As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe? Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.” So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be. First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!
the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat. These are not to be confused with the CO or
Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be
present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school
(if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals
1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck. The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales! The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed.
in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck. The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO
and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with
paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the
course for the ship.
The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman. The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD. Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.) The helmsman has another duty as lookout. The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.
There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions. This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!
Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?
Radar is a system
that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high
frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is
Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds. Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area. On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.
While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes. A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement. This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading.
Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.
To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.
Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only. Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles. So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.
It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too! As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station! What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?
With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)
The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship
must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below). Now the crew must plot a course to cover the
area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping. The bridge and the hydrographic survey team
collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and
timing of turns.
See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!
been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure! There is so much to take in and share with my
students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the
country! Today, we went from sunny skies
and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas! The ship is definitely moving today! I keep thinking about STEM activities to
secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship! For safety, the entire crew is tying up any
loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM
challenges to simulate this for sure!
Did You Know?
When steering a ship, an
unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the
degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30!
Question of the Day:
How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?
Thermosalinigraph: Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.
Challenge yourself: see if you can learn and apply the terms below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
ECDIS: Electronic chart display information system
Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA? All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same. Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission. Learn more here: https://www.noaa.gov/education
I will be embarking August 12 and sailing through August 23 on a Hydrographic Survey mission from Newport, Oregon. Hydrographic Survey missions focus on mapping the seafloor in detail. I will be sharing more about that soon! To all my students (past and present), colleagues, fellow STEM enthusiasts, and friends, I hope you will follow along via these blog posts as I share this teacher adventure at sea and learn with me about the important work of NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”
Most of my time teaching is spent within the walls of the classroom, trying to prepare students for STEM careers that they (or I) have never seen. Now, as a Teacher at Sea, the dynamic will be flipped! I will learn with actual scientists about STEM careers that support NOAA’s mission and bring those experiences back to the classroom myself! I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my own knowledge and for my students who will get a front row seat to STEM careers in action.
My “classroom” for the next two weeks:
I was born in New Hampshire and moved around quite a bit growing up. My “hometown” was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I grew up in many places including South Africa. I currently live on a “pocket farm” in Powder Springs, Georgia with my husband, 3 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats. My family and I love to travel as well as camp in state and national parks.
I have always enjoyed a bit of adventure, learning rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, bungee jumping, and skydiving. My favorite adventure came at the age of 13 when I learned how to scuba dive. A new underwater world was revealed to me and I developed a deep love and respect for the ocean. I have tried to teach my children and my students the joys of outdoor adventure and the importance of stewardship. Powder Springs is about 20 miles away from the Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta. We love going to NFL Falcons’ games and MLB Braves’ games when we are not out camping!
My greatest adventure now is being a STEM teacher. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I have been a STEM teacher for my entire teaching career and love it! I see STEM everywhere and believe our students are going to do great things for the world with a strong background in STEM education. I particularly enjoy teaching Coding and 3D printing to students as well as how to use technology to create solutions to problems instead of being passive users of technology
My undergraduate work was focused in Early Childhood education, and my graduate degree in Integration of Technology into Instruction. I now teach at Sope Creek Elementary and love my 1,000+ students in our evolving STEM school. We follow the steps of the EDP or Engineering Design Process every day to solve real world problems. We especially like to integrate problem solving with technology. This practice is what drew me to the hydrographic survey projects conducted by NOAA. I am excited to learn how technology is utilized to create detailed maps of the ocean floor, and learn about the science of Bathymetry, which is the study of the “beds” of “floors” of water bodies including oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams.
Finally, it was the mission of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program is what drew me to apply for this program: The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation. The program provides a unique opportunity for kindergarten through college-level teachers to sail aboard NOAA research ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew. As a life-long learner it is difficult to access professional development. In this program, I will gain real world experience as a scientist as sea while also having an adventure at sea! I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you! Now I’m off to get my dose of vitamin sea! More soon.
Questions and Resources:
Teachers: Please reach out with questions from teachers or students and keep an eye out for resources I will be sharing in the comments section of this blog. Check out these K-12 resources available through NOAA!
Students: Have a teacher or please post your questions. Here are the answers from questions so far:
Question 1: Do you think you will end up like the Titanic?
Answer: No way! The NOAA Ship Fairweather has been conducting missions since 1967 (the ship is older than ME!). This is a 231 foot working vessel with a strengthened ice welded hull. I don’t plan on seeing any icebergs off the coast of Oregon in Pacific Ocean, so don’t worry! NOAA Ship Fairweather’s crew have some of the best professionals in the world to run their fleet, so I will be safe!
Question 2: Are you coming back? And will you have to sleep outside like a pirate?
Answer: Yes, I will be coming back! I will be away for 2 weeks and will be back in the STEM-Kurtz lab on August 26th-so you can come see me when I get back. As for your 2nd question, I will get to sleep inside in a “berth” and will have a bed and everything else I need. I do not have to sleep outside, but you know when I’m home I like to sleep outside in my hammock!
Student focus of the week: Hey 5th Grade students! You are going to be learning about constructive and destructive processes of the earth over time. Check out this document about the Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards Project Plans. My mission will link directly to what you are learning in class!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska
Date: July 23, 2019
Weather Data from Home Latitude: 41°42’25.35″N Longitude: 73°56’17.30″W Wind: 2 knots NE Barometer: 1011.5 mb Visibility: 10 miles Temperature: 77° F or 25° C Weather: Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
As you can tell from 1) the date of my research cruise and 2) my latitude and longitude, I am no longer in Alaska and I am now home. For my final NOAA Teacher at Sea post, I am pleased to show you the results of the hydrographic survey during the Cape Newenham project. The bathymetric coverage (remember that bathymetry means the topography underwater or depth to the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes) is not final as there is one more leg, but it is pretty close. Then the hard part of “cleaning up” the data begins and having many layers of NOAA hydrographers review the results before ever being placed on a nautical chart for Cape Newenham and Bristol Bay. But that day will come!
Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer
This is Klay Strand who is 2nd Engineer on the Ship Fairweather. He’s been on the ship for about a year and a half and he graciously and enthusiastically showed three of us visiting folk around the engine room towards the end of our leg. It was truly eye-opening. And ear-popping.
Before I get to the tour, a little bit about what Engineering Department does and how one becomes an engineer. There are currently nine engineers on the Ship Fairweather and they basically keep the engines running right. They need to check fluid levels for the engine (like oil, water and fuel) but also keep tabs on the other tanks on the ship, like wastewater and freshwater. The engine is on the lower level of the ship.
Klay Strand’s path to engineering was to go to a two-year trade school in Oregon through the JobCorps program. Strand then worked for the Alaskan highway department on the ferry system and then he started accruing sea days. To become a licensed engineer, one needs 1,080 days on a boat. Strand also needed advanced firefighting training and medical care provider training for his license. There are other pathways to an engineering license like a four-year degree in which you earn a license and a bachelor’s degree. For more information on becoming a ship’s engineer, you can go to the MEBA union, of which Strand is a member. On Strand’s days off the ship, he likes to spend time with his niece and nephews, go skydiving, hike, and go to the gun range.
The following photos are some of the cool things that Klay showed us in the engine room.
Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. When I tell people about the experience, what comes out the most is how warm and open the crew were to me. Every question I had was answered. No one was impatient with my presence. All freely shared their stories, if asked. I learned so much from all of them, the crew of the Fairweather. They respected me as a teacher and wondered about my path to that position. I wondered, too, about their path to a life at sea.
My first week on the ship, I spent a lot of time looking out at the ocean, scanning for whales and marveling at the seemingly endlessness of the water. Living on the water seemed fun and bold. As time went by, I could tell that I may not be cut out for a life at sea at this stage of my life, but I sure would have considered it in my younger days. Now that I know a little bit more about these careers on ships, I have the opportunity to tell my students about living and working on the ocean. I can also tell my educator colleagues about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.
Though I loved my time on the Ship Fairweather, I do look forward to seeing my West Bronx Academy students again in September. I am so grateful for all I learned during my time at sea.
Did You Know?
If you are interested in finding out about areas of the ocean that are protected from certain types of human activity because of concerns based on habitat protection, species conservation and ecosystem-based marine management, here are some links to information about Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas are defined as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” Did you know that there are over 11,000 designated MPAs around the world?
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
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!
For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here). Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey. First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.
Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart. The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island. The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions. An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.
I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself. In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations. At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students. No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.
Career Focus – Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997. A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school. The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.
Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength. The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations. They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.
Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job. Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world. He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box. As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.
In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway. I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home. How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!
Word of the Day
bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship
Q & A
Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?
Yes! NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska. Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.
What did you eat for dinner?
This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.