Victoria Cavanaugh: Navigating the Inside Passage, April 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 24, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 50° 10.002′ N
Longitude: 125° 21.685′ W
Sea Wave Height: 7 feet
Wind Speed: 5 knots or less
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility: 14 km
Air Temperature: 9oC  
Sky:  Mostly Sunny

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has begun its transit to Alaska for the heart of the field season which means transiting the famous Inside Passagea roughly two day voyage through a stretch of nearly a thousand islands between Washington State and Alaska.  The more protected waterways of the Inside Passage provided a smooth, calm ride.  I took advantage of the transit to spend more time on Fairweatherbridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.

Magnetic North v. True North

Magnetic North v. True North

One thing that quickly became clear on the bridge of Fairweather is that for many navigational tasks, the crew has at least three ways of being able to obtain needed information.  For example, navigational charts (maps) show two compasses: magnetic and true north.  The inner circle represents the magnetic compass, which in reality points 17 degrees right of true North and is dependent upon the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core.  Because the magnetic compass can be offset by the pull of the ship’s magnetic fields (the ship is made of steel, after all), Fairweather’s compass is actually readjusted each year.  During our Inside Passage transit, a specialist came aboard near Lopez Island to reset the ship’s magnetic compass.

Magnetic Compass

The Ship’s Magnetic Compass Located on the Flying Bridge (Top Deck)

Mirrors

A Series of Mirrors Allows the Crew to Read the Magnetic Compass from the Bridge

The ship’s magnetic compass is located on the flying deck, just above the bridge.  So, to be able to read the compass from the bridge, the crew looks through a series of mirrors above the helm. Notice that next to the mirrors, is a digital display that reads “78.”  This is an electrical reading from the gyrocompass.  The gyrocompass reflects “true North” also referred to as geographical North.

Gyrocompass

The Gyrocompass is Secured in a Closet on D Deck Near the Galley

Auxiliary Compass

An Auxiliary Compass, Connected to the Gyrocompass, is Located Right Off the Bridge on Both Port and Starboard

When at sea, a crew member on the bridge takes “fixes” every fifteen minutes, both day and night.  To take a fix, the crew member uses an auxiliary compass and chooses three landmarks on shore as points.  The crew member then lines up the viewfinder and records the degree of the line formed between the ship and the given point.

Focusing the auxilliary compass

The Crew Focuses the Auxiliary Compass on a Landmark on Shore. This Allows for a Reading on the Gyrocompass.

Next, the crew member plots the three points on the chart using triangles (similar to giant protractors).  The point where the three lines intersect is the ship’s current location.  Though technically, the crew could just plot two points ashore and look for where the lines intersect, but as a way of triple checking, the crew chooses three points.  Then, if a line doesn’t intersect as expected, the crew member can either retake the fix or rely on the other two points for accuracy.

Plotting the Course

The Crew Use Triangles to Plot Their Course

Verifying location

A Crew Member Uses a Compass to Verify Our Current Location, Measuring and Checking Latitude and Longitude

In addition to using the two aforementioned compasses to determine the ship’s location, the open seas often mean majestic night skies.  Some of the crew members told me they  also look to the stars and find the Big Dipper and North Star.  A central theme on the bridge is being prepared: if both compasses malfunction, the crew can still safely guide Fairweather along its course.

Original Navigation System

The Original Navigation System: The Night Sky

Location display

The Ship’s Location Also Displayed Electronically above the Helm

In addition to being able to take fixes and locate constellations in the night sky, modern day technology can make the crew’s job a bit easier.  The ship’s latitude and longitude is continually displayed by an electronic monitor above the helm via GPS (Global Positioning System).  Below, the ship’s Electronic Navigation System (ENS) essentially acts as Google Maps for the sea.  Additionally, the ENS provides a wealth of data, tracking the ship’s speed, wind, and other contacts.

Electronic Navigation System

The Electronic Navigation System – Sort of Like Google Maps for the Ship!

Next to the ENS on the bridge is the ship’s radar, which shows other vessels transiting the area.  Similar to ENS, the radar system also provides information about the ship’s speed and location.

Radar screen

The Ship’s Radar Is Yet Another Navigational Tool

Electronic Wind Tracker

The Electronic Wind Tracker above the Helm

Wind matters in navigation.  The force and direction of the wind can affect both currents and the ship’s route.  Winds may push the ship off course which is why taking fixes and constantly monitoring the ship’s actual location is critical in maintaining a given route.  The wind can be monitored by the weather vane on the bow, the electronic wind tracker above, or on the ENS below.  Additionally, a crew member demonstrates a wheel, used for calculating and recalculating a ship’s course based on the wind’s influence.

Calculating Wind and Direction

A Crew Member Holds a Wheel for Calculating Wind and Direction

Speaker System

An Old-Fashioned Speaker System on the Bridge

On the bridge, multiple ways of being able to perform tasks is not limited to navigation alone.  Communicating quickly on a ship is important in case of an emergency. Fairweather is equipped with various communication systems: a paging system, an internal telephone line, cell phones, satellite phones, etc.

Phone Systems

A Collection of Bells and Phone Systems for Contacting Various Parts of the Ship

Personal Log

Just before leaving Puget Sound, I had the chance to go kayaking for a few hours with two of the crew members.  We had great luck; not only was the water placid, but harbor seals played for nearly an hour as we paddled around one of many coves.  It was neat to see Fairweather from yet another perspective.

Kayaks

Kayaks are Secured for Seas on the Flying Bridge – The Hardest Part Is Carrying the Kayaks Up and Down Several Docks to Be Able to Launch Them

Launching Kayaks

A Bit Tricky: Launching Kayaks from a Launch

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Ready to Explore

Ready to Explore

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals Played in the Water Around Our Kayaks

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Incredibly Calm Waters in Puget Sound Made for Picturesque Reflections

 

 

Did You Know?

The Inside Passage is a series of waterways and islands that stretches from Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, Washington on past Vancouver and British Columbia and up to the southeastern Alaskan panhandle.  In British Columbia, the Inside Passage stretches over more than 25,000 miles of coast due to the thousand or so islands along the way.  In Alaska, the Inside Passage comprises another 500 miles of coastline.  Many vessels choose the Inside Passage as their preferred coast as it is much more protected than the open waters of the Pacific Ocean to the immediate west.  Nonetheless, rapidly changing tidal lines, numerous narrow straits, and strong currents make navigating the Inside Passage a challenging feat.  In addition to frequent transit by commercial vessels, tugboats, and barges, the Inside Passage is also increasingly popular among cruise ships and sailboats.  On average it takes 48-60 hours to navigate.

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Approaching Open Waters as the Fairweather Leaves British Columbia and Enters the Alaskan Portion of the Inside Passage

Glassy Reflection

A More Protected Stretch of the Inside Passage Creates a Glassy Reflection

Crew on Anchor Watch

Crew on Anchor Watch on the Inside Passage as We Approach Seymour Narrows. Note the Weathervane on the Bow.

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Late Afternoon View

Enjoying a Late Afternoon View from Fairweather’s Fantail

Islands

Some of the Many, Many Islands along the Inside Passage

Blackney Passage

Blackney Passage

tugboat and barge

A Tugboat Pulls a Barge Near Lopez Island

 

Late Afternoon

Late Afternoon on the Inside Passage as Seen from Starboard, F Deck

Mountain view

Impossible to Get Tired of These Views!

Challenge Question #4: Devotion 7th Graders – NOAA and NASA collaborated to produce the National Weather Service Cloud Chart which features explanations of 27 unique cloud types.  Clouds can tell sailors a great deal about weather.  Can you identify the type of clouds in the ten above pictures of the Inside Passage?  Then, record your observations of clouds for five days in Brookline.  What do you notice about the relationship between the clouds you see and the weather outside?  What do you think the clouds in the pictures above would tell sailors about the upcoming weather as they navigated the Inside Passage?  Present your observations as journal entries or a log.

A Bonus Challenge. . .

Just outside the bridge on both the Fairweather‘s port and starboard sides are little boxes with two thermometers each.  What is the difference between dry and wet temperatures?  Why would sailors be interested in both measurements?

Two thermometers

Two thermometers, labeled “Dry” and “Wet”, with different readings

 

 

Victoria Cavanaugh: Newport, Oregon to Port Madison, Washington, April 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44.64°N
Longitude: 124.04°W
Sea Wave Height: SW 3 ft at 5 seconds. NW swell 9 feet at 10 seconds.
Wind Speed: 11 to 14 kt. Gusts to 20kt.
Wind Direction: SSW
Visibility: 15 kilometers
Air Temperature: 7.8oC  
Sky:  AM showers, scattered clouds in PM.

Science and Technology Log

Though we were originally set to sail on Monday afternoon, predicted 10-15 foot swells for Monday evening delayed our departure from Newport, Oregon until Tuesday afternoon.  The extra time in Newport allowed me to spend some time in the Plotting Room aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.  The Plotting Room is one of the main work areas for the hydrographers, the NOAA technicians who both plan the missions and then process data collected after each launch.

 

One of the friendly surveyors, Bekah, gave me an overview of the upcoming project which will focus on the area west of Prince of Wales Island.  The hydrographic survey technicians first receive an assignment, known as a project, from NOAA.  Next, technicians, break each project into “sheets,” or smaller sections, which are assigned to each technician or NOAA officer.  From there, the technicians further break down the sheets into “polygons.”  The polygons are like mini-sections of a given area of the map, and are sized depending on a number of factors including the amount and distance from the shoreline as well as the depth.  The polygons are assigned one-by-one to the survey launches to complete.

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A Sheet from the Project

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A Sheet Sectioned into Polygons (in Blue).  Notice the Topographical Markings on the Islands.

One of NOAA’s primary goals with hydrographic surveying and updating the charts is to obtain more accurate data on the Pacific seafloor and its features in order to promote safe marine navigation.  NOAA is part of the US Department of Commerce, and so updating navigational charts will help improve safe passage of all ships, especially commercial cargo ships.  As commercial ships grow larger and heavier and global trade continues to increase, improved navigational charts allow for increased shipping drafts (how deep the vessel extends below the water, which is a function of how much cargo they can load), which in turn creates a positive economic impact for the national economy.

Today, NOAA Ship Fairweather uses sonar to measure seafloor depths.  Previously, hydrographers used lead lines.  Essentially, lead lines were dropped over the ship’s rail and lowered until they rested on the seafloor.  While lead lines are occasionally still used today in very shallow areas close to shore, creating new seafloor maps with sonar allows for much greater precision, are much less labor intensive, and allow for continually measuring the depth.

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ENS Linda Junge Holding a Lead Line

Personal Log

On Tuesday afternoon, at 14:00 (2pm), we set sail from Newport, Oregon and began making our way north to Port Madison, near Seattle Washington.  After spending a few days at dock in Newport, I was eager to get underway, and the rest of the crew, many of whom had been in Newport for much of the winter, also seemed eager to begin the season.  While the views leaving Oregon were spectacular, the wide open seas proved a bit of a challenge.  I quickly learned that heading to the open deck on the back of the ship, the fantail, was an ideal place to catch some respite from feeling seasick.  Later in the evening, the waves subsided a bit, and by morning the seas felt much calmer.

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On the Dock in Newport, OR

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A Beautiful Last Night in Newport

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Passing Under the 982 meter long Yaquina Bay Bridge as We Leave Newport

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Heading Out to the Pacific

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Leaving Yaquina Bay

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Some Really High Waves Crashing on the Fantail!

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A Map Showing Our Departure Port (Newport) and Arrival (near Seattle)

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On the Flying Bridge of the NOAA Ship Fairweather as We Depart Newport

Each day, the POD (Plan of the Day) is updated with important meetings, mealtimes, and general updates.  Emergency responsibilities are also posted, and one of the first things we did once we were underway at sea was practice drills for a fire and abandon ship.  As part of the abandon ship drill, I had to practice putting on the “survival suit.”

Most aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather work several four hour shifts or “watches” each day, and some may also work a few additional hours of overtime.  Perhaps for this reason, meal times seem a bit early with breakfast at 7am and lunch at 11am.  Dinner, when in port is at 4pm, and at sea, it’s at 5pm.   Meals are prepared in the ship’s galley (or kitchen), and served buffet style.  The crew eats together in the mess (or main dining area).  In addition to meals, snacks such as cereal, fruit, and icecream are available 24/7 and some additional options are available for those on night watches who may eat “night lunch.”  Meals are a great time to meet the many aboard Fairweather and better understand how the different teams–the wardoom, the engineers, the survery technicians, the deck, the stewards, the ET, and the visiting scientists–all work together.

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Fairweather is celebrating its 50th birthday this year!  Fairweather was designed by the US Deparment of Commerce Maritime Administration and built in Jacksonville, Florida by Aerojet-General Shipyards.  Fairweather was commissioned in October 1968 and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Fairweather’s sister ship is NOAA Ship Rainier which is also part of NOAA’s Pacific Fleet.

NOAA Ship Fairweather has a field season of about 220 days per year.  At 231 feet long, it can house roughly 57 crew and weighs 1591 tons!  While cruising, Fairweather averages 13 knots, and while surveying, the ship travels 6 to 10 knots.

By the way, you might be wondering what exactly is a knot.  As the story goes, ancient mariners used to tell how fast their ship was moving by throwing a piece of wood tied to a rope overboard and measuring how much time it would take the wood to travel from the bow (front) to the stern (back) of the ship.  According to historian Elizabeth Nix, by the 16th century, this method was updated to include knots tied at certain intervals in the rope that was thrown overboard.  Sailors began to count the knots to determine a ship’s speed, and eventually a “knot” became a nautical mile per hour.

Nautical miles, by the way, refer to the Earth’s circumference, and are different from “land miles” which reflect the distance it takes to walk 1,000 steps (according to the Romans) or 5,280 feet (according to Queen Elizabeth).  Today, one nautical mile is understood as 1,852 meters or 1.1508 miles.  Or, more practically, it is one minute of latitude (where 60 minutes of latitude = 1 degree).

A knot, then, is a measure of speed used by ships and planes.  A rate of one knot refers to covering a distance of one nautical mile in one hour.

Challenge Question #1:  Devotion 7th Graders — Can you convert the speed of your favorite land animal, your favorite sea animal, your favorite bird,  your favorite car/plane/boat, and this year’s Boston Marathon winner (male or female) to knots?  Show the work to justify your conversions and then create an illustration comparing your choices.

 

 

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Lisa Battig: DRs, The Survey Team and A Goodbye in Kodiak, September 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Alaskan Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Kodiak and Anchorage Airports and back home

Date: September 8, 2017

 


map of route to kodiak

A map of the long transit south from the through the Aleutians and then northeast to Kodiak (the dark green line was the Tuesday evening through Friday morning transit from the Yukon River delta)

The last three and a half days of the experience were the transit back to Kodiak. This gave me a lot of time up on the bridge and in the surveyors’ work areas.

So many things impressed me about the crew on this trip.  I think most of all, seeing that a group of young scientists between 22 and 38 (I believe) were ultimately responsible for all of the ship operations and were doing a phenomenal job! Fairweather has the largest number of junior officers on board and the atmosphere is of constant training. I kept thinking about the ages of most of the junior officers and how my own students could be in this position in a few years. The opportunity to grow as a member of a uniformed service and receive all of the training while still being able to pursue the sciences is incredible to me and I intend to make sure that my students know about the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I had just known this existed when I graduated college…”

 

On the long trip back, we were traveling through dense fog, narrow rocky passes in the middle of the night, and areas of high and sometimes unpredictable currents. We even managed a rendezvous with another NOAA vessel in order to pass of some medical supplies. Throughout all of it, I watched the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers handle everything with tremendous grace under pressure. But on Fairweather, I found out their work does not stop with the ship operations. Each of the officers are also directly involved with the hydrographic science, and have responsibility for a specific survey area.

The Survey team are also responsible for specific survey areas.

Drew & Bekah

Survey techs Bekah and Drew at their computers. If they’re not eating, sleeping, working out, or on a survey boat – this is probably what they’re doing!

For each area owner, this culminates in a final report (called a Division Report, or DR) giving details of the survey and talking through all anomalies. Survey work does not stop. These folks are working 7 days a week and often 14+ hour days when they are out at sea.

In some cases the owner of a survey area will have very intimate knowledge of a survey area because they had the opportunity to be out on the survey boats. But in many cases, this will not be true. Ultimately their responsibility is making absolutely certain that every piece of necessary information has been gathered and that the data is clean. I was told that in most cases, writing the final report will take a couple months.

These reports will eventually become mapped data that is accessible to anyone through the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But it will also be sent in various forms to be housed for shipping navigation and other industries.

Sleepy Surveyors

If you’re working long hours 7 days a week, you learn to take advantage of any opportunity you get to rest. A couple members of the survey team, catching a nap on the transit back from the Yukon Delta to Fairweather.

With all of the work they do at sea, ports can become very welcome places. The Fairweather crew had gone into port at Nome, Alaska several time through July and August and were excited to pull into Kodiak. Even on our transit south, I watched the crew get more excited as they left the desolation of the tundra and we began to see cliffs and trees again.

I am so glad that I saw the tundra finally, and that I will now be able to explain it more fully to my students, but I can also completely understand how the sheer vastness of the northern parts of Alaska could make you long for more varied terrain.

Kodiak harbor

Harbors in Southern California don’t look like this!! Coast Guard Base harbor in Kodiak, AK

I only got to spend one day in Kodiak, but it is a breathtaking place. I didn’t get to do any serious hiking, but I did see the salmon running and ended up on an old nature trail. And the best part was that I got to see a bunch of amazing people relax and enjoy their time away from work.

Would I do this again if I had the opportunity? Unequivocally YES!! I would jump at the chance!

Would I recommend this to other teachers? Absolutely! It is an amazing experience. Granted, I think I had the best ship with the best crew…

 

 

Lisa Battig: Launching the Small Boats, September 1, 2017

Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey final leg

Geographic Area of Cruise: Brevig Mission, Alaska
Latitude  65 19.2N,  Longitude 166 30.7W

Date: September 1, 2017

Weather from the Bridge:  extremely variable today!!

  • Morning: overcast, 6-8 knot winds, 41 degrees
  • Afternoon: partially cloudy skies, 2 knot winds, 48 degrees
  • Late afternoon: full cloud cover, rain squalls, 10-14 knot winds, 41 degrees

 

Science and Technology Log

Thursday’s science was a bit different. Two boats went out to do some final surveying and follow up in Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor. Because the area of Grantley harbor to be surveyed was in less than 4 meters of water, an Ambar jet boat was used with a single beam sonar mounted aft on the port side. The second boat that went out was one of the small launches for use as a dive boat for NOAA trained divers (https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/diving-program). The goal of the dive boat was to dive on a particular location in Port Clarence that was giving a strange image that must have been coming from a man-made structure. The sonar showed a grid pattern roughly 100m x 60m with lines 7-8m apart on the long axis and 5-6m apart on the short axis. The team felt strongly that they needed to understand what was there in order to determine if it was safe for anchoring. I’ll follow up more on this later…

I went out with the team on the Ambar. As is the case with all the small launches, the Ambar is brought down from the boat deck to the breezeway deck for loading before the actual release.

Ambar at breezeway

Ambar jet boat at the breezeway deck, loading supplies. You can see parts of the davit where it was previously cradled on the boat deck above.

All gear, materials, food (long days out there!!) and people embark prior to the final drop to the water and the actual launch. This takes a team of a dozen or so people working in coordination. Prior to the start of launch, a safety officer is required on deck to oversee the process. This might be the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer) or Operations Officer. Most of the other personnel involved are a part of the deck crew, including the coxswain (who drives the small launches).  A davit operator handles the control of the boat via cable(s) all the way down. The bosun (boatswain) on the breezeway deck is directing commands to the operator using hand signals. Several hands are securing the craft with ropes against the side of the ship. All of these moves have to happen in perfect coordination for the safety of everyone and the protection of the Ambar and Fairweather. Personal protective equipment is worn by all parties throughout. This includes a flotation vest or jacket and a hard hat which you can see on those on the boat in the image to the left.

Five of the other six small launches on the Fairweather undergo a similar process. Each is housed in a davit cradle and each has one or more cables to control the craft during its descent toward the waterline. The davits all shift their cradling position while the cables lift to assist in the release of the craft. Once the craft is entirely free of the cradle, it is slowly lowered down the side of the vessel to the breezeway deck for loading as described above. One boat, though, has a really cool option. This is the FRB or Fast Rescue Boat. This craft can actually be launched by the driver, which is a requirement of any FRB.

Boat on fantail

Workboat on the fantail – note the three lines attached, two at the stern and one at the bow. These are handled expertly by the deck crew during launch to keep her true.

The final craft is a workboat which is housed on the fantail. It is not used for surveying, but will often be employed as passenger transport. It is also used for pick up and drop off of material that may be used on land, such as the HorCon station discussed in my previous post. This craft is not seated in a davit cradle and is instead launched through the use of a very large crane (see image below). The crane is attached to the launch at a center point connected with three lines.

Crane on Fairweather

Crane on the Fairweather boat deck centered between four small launch davits.

The craft is moved from the position on the fantail to either the port or starboard side level with the deck and lowered to the water before loading. For this reason, it is much more difficult to keep it completely horizontal and not hitting the deck and doing damage to the Fairweather.

So back to the Ambar and what we were actually doing in Grantley Harbor. Much of the harbor is quite shallow and when a team had been in there previously, they felt that there may be some irregularity to the otherwise uniform seafloor. They had been getting some interference and scattering on the side scan. They wanted to understand why and also to get a complete picture of the harbor seafloor. With the Ambar and the single beam sonar, there is little to no danger of doing damage in extreme shallows since the equipment is not on the underside of the boat and the Ambar itself can be beached as there are no propellers.

Single beam on Ambar

Single beam sonar in its mount on the stern of the Ambar. It is in the down position as it will be when launched tomorrow.

 

 

 

We took the boat into the shallows with the single beam sonar to take measurements along lines to as shallow as 2m. While surveying in the shallows, we found that there were sea grasses growing and according to the Operations Officer who was on board, that may have been the reason for the interference. Regardless, we continued to survey a regular pattern in order to have good data for future charts. During this time, I was given the opportunity to drive the Ambar… which showed me how much more difficult staying a straight line course is than the coxswains make it look.

 

 

Ambar driving lines

Yep. The outlined line is my line. I am reasonably proud that I actually manage to make it from one side to another. But even that was with a WHOLE lot of coaching!!

Upon return to the Fairweather, the Ambar is reattached to the cable and brought back up to the breezeway deck. Ropes are again used in coordination to keep the boat steady as it is lifted, much the reverse of what was described above. At that point all materials are unloaded and all the people disembark. The Ambar is then hoisted back up into the davit cradle.

When I’m back in an area with lots of bandwidth, I’ll create a video post to show just how cool the launches of small boats really is…


Personal Log

Shipboard life on a NOAA vessel is quite different from life on land. First, because the ship is a twenty four hour operation, people are needed at all hours. Many of the positions on NOAA vessels run on a 4 hours on, 8 hours off cycle. Some positions have recently shifted to 4 on, 4 off, 4 on, 12 off to afford greater lengths of time for sleep. When you are on the lower decks, it is also easy to lose track of time – and of course when you’re in Alaska during summer, it’s still light out at 10 o’clock. There are auroras to potentially be seen in the wee hours and multibeam surveying that happens through the night. There are always people up and about doing things – so the ship is a busy place at all times.

And with this in mind, I have to admit I have not been doing a great job getting to sleep. But I do sleep well on the ship, the rocking is the best cure for insomnia I’ve ever experienced. And I have been eating incredibly well – and I mean INCREDIBLY well. Mealtimes are the same each day, so that’s a great help. I will talk more about the food and the kitchen in a future post. Fortunately, with all that good eating, there’s a gym on board, so I’ve been able to work some of it off. There’s also laundry on board and a lounge with lots of movies. I like it. And waking up to the ocean and a lovely sunrise each morning makes the tiredness not really matter much.

Little and Big Diomede 2

Light early in the eastern sky – the sun comes up all around you this far north. It’s truly lovely.

 

As a part of NOAA’s mission, we had the opportunity to go ashore at a small town at Port Clarence called Brevig Mission. It is a town of almost 400, most of whom are native to Alaska. While ashore, we were able to spend time talking with the people, purchasing some of their handcrafts and fish, and even visiting the school. The people live simple lives. They still hunt walrus, seal and whale and those foods are the staple of their diet through the frozen winter months. I found it fascinating that they use all of the parts of the animals – the items that I purchased were from seal and walrus.

ornaments from Brev Mis

On the left is an ornament made of seal fur and on the right is a pendant of walrus tusk.

 

 

The CO (Commanding Officer) also arranged for ship tours for people from the town. The folks were taken in the Ambar out to the Fairweather in small groups and shown around. It was fun speaking afterward with those who went – there was a lot of excitement! I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to go to the town. They have a crazy history (see the “Did you know?” section below.)

Brev Mis Fam on ATV

Mom with her two little girls down near the water on their ATV. This is the most common form of transport around Brevig Mission.

 


Did You Know?

Cross commemorating Brev Mis 1918 flu victims

This cross memorializes all of the residents of Brevig Mission who died in the 1918 flu. It now lays on the ground aside the mass grave. All of the names and ages of the victims are listed.

Brevig Mission was hit hard by the 1918 Spanish Flu, perhaps in percentage mortality, the hardest hit place in the world. Of the 80 residents of Brevig Mission, 72 succumbed to the flu and died in a 5 day period. It was absolutely devastating. One of the current residents shared with me that reaching 400 is encouraging to the town and everyone there believes that the town is continuing to grow.

Mass grave Brev Mis 1918 flu victims

This is the location of the mass grave from the 72 flu victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu. It is a sobering place.

In 1997, the lungs of a well-preserved victim in the mass grave were shipped to a molecular pathology lab in Washington, D.C. and the flu virus was reconstructed. The evidence showed that it was a bird flu (similar to the avian flus which plague our world today) but incredibly virulent as it passed from birds to humans. You can read more about the findings here. (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/alaska-science-forum/villager-s-remains-lead-1918-flu-breakthrough)

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Lynn Kurth: The Ocean and Humans are Inextricably Interconnected, July 1, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  58˚03.973 N   Longitude:  153˚34.292 W

Date:  July 4, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Cloudy
Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 010
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 11.1° C (51.9° F)
Dry Temperature: 12° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1013.3 mb


Science and Technology Log

Throughout my experience as a Teacher at Sea, it has been evident that the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.  This was apparent from my very first evening in Homer when I came across an eagle poised next to its colossal nest assembled in the middle of three rusty pier pilings.  An illustration of nature conforming to our presence on the water and what we deem to be acceptable for our environment.

 

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Eagle with nest located in deep water port of Homer, AK

But, humankind must sometimes accept and conform to nature.   The fishermen of Uganik Bay have built their fishing camps above the tidal line and strung out their nets where the fish traditionally run.  Most of the men and women who live here have chosen to do so because this is where the fish are found.  One such gentlemen is Toby Sullivan, a commercial fisherman, who in 1975 headed to Alaska from Connecticut to work on the Alaskan pipeline.  Instead, he found himself fishing vs. working on the pipeline and to this day is still gill-netting salmon to make a living.  Toby’s fishing camp, East Point, located on the south shore of the Uganik Bay, has had a net on the site for the past 80 years.  And, unfortunately, we drifted into that site when a strong current took us by surprise while we were gathering water quality data over the side of the small sonar vessel.  When this happened, Toby and his crew worked swiftly and diligently to secure their fishing gear while NOAA divers were summoned from the Rainier to safely help our vessel leave the area.

 

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Toby Sullivan and crew work to install an additional line on their fishing set

A few evenings later, Mr. Sullivan and his crew came on board the Rainier as dinner guests and a rich discussion of hydrographic work and fishing gear followed.  He explained in detail how he sets his fishing gear and offered the idea that a radio channel be utilized between NOAA’s small vessels that are working around fishing gear and the local fisherman, in order to facilitate better communication.

 

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Toby Sullivan and XO (executive officer) Jay Lomincky

As I watched the exchange of ideas between Commanding Officer E.J. Van Den Ameele and Mr. Sullivan it appeared that both men recognized that both parties were interested in Uganik Bay because the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.  The Rainier’s primary mission in Uganik Bay is to gather the necessary data to create accurate and detailed charts for navigational use by the local fisherman and other mariners.  As a commercial fisherman, Mr. Sullivan’s primary interest is to keep his gear and crew safe while continuing to make a living from the harvest of local fish.

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Toby Sullivan shares information about how he sets his fishing gear

Today the Rainier continues on with its mission of hydrographic work at sea using the multibeam sonar which is located on the hull of the Rainier.  The swath that multibeam sonar on the Rainier covers is similar to the swath of the multibeam sonar on the smaller boats; the coverage area depends on the depth of the water.  For example, at our current water depth of 226 meters, the swath of each pass that the multibeam sonar makes an image of  is 915 meters wide.  This evening, upon the completion of the work with the Rainier’s multibeam sonar we will depart the area and be underway for Kodiak, AK.


All Aboard!

Michael Bloom serves as as survey technician aboard the Rainier and kindly took some time with me to discuss his background and work aboard the Rainier.

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Survey Technician Michael Bloom completes the collection of a bottom sample in Uganik Bay

Tell us a little about yourself:

I grew up in a military family, so I was actually born in England and have lived in Florida, Nebraska, Montana, Oregon and Washington.  I went to college at Oregon State University located in Corvallis, OR and majored in earth systems with a focus on marine science.

How did you discover NOAA?:  

Ever since I was a little kid instead of having posters of bands etc… I had posters of maps.  NOAA Corps participated in career fairs at my university.  I stopped at their booth my sophomore year and again my junior and senior year to learn more about their program.  After learning more about NOAA I also focused on the marine aspect of earth science because I knew I wanted to work with them.  Initially I didn’t know about the civilian side of NOAA, so I applied for the NOAA Corps two times and wasn’t accepted into the program, although I was an alternate candidate once.  At some point, when speaking with an officer he told me to apply for a civilian position with NOAA.  So, I applied and was accepted.

I’m happy to be on the civilian side because I get to work on the science side of the operations all of the time and I get to keep my beard!

 

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Survey Technician Michael Bloom monitors the settings of the Rainier’s multi beam sonar

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?:

I am survey tech and my primary duties include data acquisition and data processing.  We can work to become the Hydrographer in Charge on the surveys after enough time working in the field and, if after the Field Operations Officer observes us, he feels confident that we are ready. Eventually I’d like to work for NOAA as a physical scientist, a job that would have me going out to sea several times a year but one that is primarily land based.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?:

I get paid to travel!  I go to places that people pay thousands of dollars to visit and I actually get paid thousands of dollars to go there.  I enjoy that I can see the real world application of the work that I do.  Scientists are using our data and ultimately we could be saving lives by creating such accurate charts.


Personal Log

NOAA’s website for the Rainier states that the Rainier is one of the most productive and advanced hydrographic ships in the world.  After spending two weeks working on board the Rainier, I couldn’t agree more.  However, I don’t believe that it is only the cutting-edge technology that makes the Rainier one of the best hydrographic ships in the fleet.  But rather a group of outstanding people at the helm of each of the different technical aspects of hydrography.  Hydrographic surveying has many steps before the end product, a chart, is released.  The people I met on board who are part of that process are teaching each other the subtle nuances of Rainier’s hydrographic mission in order to become even better at what they do.  I am grateful for the time that the crew and Officers have graciously given me while I have been on board.  I felt very welcome from the moment a NOAA Corps member picked me up at the airport throughout my stay on the Rainier as I continued to pepper everybody with questions.  Thank you Rainier!  I am confident that when I return to my classroom your efforts to help me better understand your work of hydrographic surveying will pay off.   You have given me the gift of new knowledge that, when shared with my students has the potential to ignite in them the same excitement and passion for science that so many of you possess.

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Teacher at Sea Kurth on the middle deck of the ship

Barney Peterson: Spreads Like A Ripple, July 1, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

(Soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13-28, 2016

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2016

Spreads Like a Ripple

“Yep, sounds exciting, but you teach about Pacific Salmon, so how useful is learning about Hammerhead Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico really going to be?” my friend asked.

Her reaction was not unusual. I am a 4th grade teacher with 26 years of experience in the Everett Public Schools in Washington State. I have put some serious thought into using my Teacher At Sea experiences to open eyes and minds to the world around us. I think the possibilities are endless.

My first Teacher at Sea assignment was summer 2006 aboard NOAA ship, RAINIER, on a hydrographic survey mission in the Shumagin Islands, Gulf of Alaska. From this I developed lessons on making contour maps using sticks and a sounding box. I grew my understanding of how weather systems that develop in the Gulf of Alaska influence our weather in Puget Sound. I used that knowledge to help students understand relationships between geography, weather and climate. I learned about birds, mammals and fish in the ocean food chain and inserted that learning into helping students understand the life cycle of the salmon we raise in our classroom.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to share a Teacher in the Air experience with fellow TASA Dana Tomlinson from San Diego, California. We flew with a winter storm research crew from Portland, Oregon; traveling 1800 miles out over the Pacific Ocean and back tracking developing weather systems. We created lessons that helped students understand the importance of using accurate global positioning information to follow low pressure systems as they moved across the ocean toward the west coast of North America. We put together a unit to help them understand how air pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction are measured and how that data is used to understand and predict weather patterns. My students still use those lessons as we participate in the GLOBE program, sending data in every day of the school year.

That was then, and this is now:

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

At school, I have students use globes and inflatable Earth Balls to track from the Arctic Ocean through every other ocean and back to the Arctic without taking their pointer-fingers off ocean surface. Then they start to get it… the connections: there is really just one big ocean! We learn about the water cycle and I challenge them to explain “where the water comes from.” We learn about food webs and energy flow. Our salmon studies teach them about producers, consumers and decomposers. They get the idea of cycles and systems and how all parts must work together. They learn to consider what happens when one step of a cycle fails or one part of a system is missing. We learn about organisms labeled “indicator species” that help scientists track changes in the health of ecosystems.

True, all of this is presented with a focus on where we live in the Pacific Northwest. But…that is just one place on the edge of our one ocean. Time comes to broaden the view. There are many life cycles depending upon the continual efficient functioning of Earth’s systems. Since there is just one ocean, nothing really happens in isolation. The same kinds of events that disrupt life cycles in one place will certainly disrupt them in another.

In August I will be aboard the NOAA ship, OREGON II, in the Gulf of Mexico. Our mission is to investigate and gather data about Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and Red Snapper. They share an ecosystem and participate in the same food web. They are subject to consequences of the same environmental changes and catastrophes that happen in other parts of our ocean.

Drop a pebble into the water anywhere and ripples spread until they reach the outermost boundaries. We all share one ocean. Where does the ripple stop?

Lynn Kurth: The Earth has One Big Ocean, June 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude: N 57˚50 Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 268
Wind Speed: 14 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft. on average
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 16° C (60.8° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1023 mb


Science and Technology Log

I’m continually searching for ways to connect what I am learning to what is relevant to my students back home in the Midwest.  So, as we left Homer, AK for our survey mission in Kodiak Island’s Uganik Bay, I was already thinking of how I could relate our upcoming survey work to my students’ academic needs and personal interests.  As soon as the Rainier moved away from Homer and more of the ocean came into view, I stood in awe of how much of our planet is covered with water.  It’s fascinating to think of our world as having one big ocean with many basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic.  The study of ocean and its basins is one of the most relevant topics that I can teach when considering the following:

  • the ocean covers approximately 70% of our planet’s surface
  • the ocean is connected to all of our major watersheds
  • the ocean plays a significant part in our planet’s water cycle
  • the ocean has a large impact on our weather and climate
  • the majority of my students have not had any firsthand experience with the ocean

 

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Earth’s One Big Ocean as seen from outside of Homer, AK

 

Each of the ocean basins is composed of the sea floor and all of its geological features which vary in size and shape.  The Rainier will be mapping the features of the sea floor of the Uganik Bay in order to produce detailed charts for use by mariners.  The last survey of Uganik Bay was completed in 1908 when surveyors simply deployed a lead weight on a string over the edge of a boat in order to measure the depth of the water.  However, one of the problems with the charts made using the lead line method, is that the lead line was only deployed approximately every 100 meters or more which left large gaps in the data.  Although not in the Uganik Bay, in the 1930s NOAA began using single beam sonar to measure the distance from a ship’s hull to the sea floor which made surveying faster but still left large gaps in the data. Fast forward from approximately 100 years ago when lead lines were being used for surveying to today and you will find the scientists on the Rainier using something called a multibeam sonar system.  A multibeam sonar system sends out sound waves in a fan shape from the bottom of the ship’s hull.  The amount of time it takes for the sound waves to bounce off the seabed and return to a receiver is used to determine water depth.  The multibeam sonar will allow our team on the Rainier to map 100% of the ocean’s floor in the survey area that we have been assigned.

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Evolution of Survey Techniques (Illustration Credit: NOAA)

 

 

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NOAA Ship Rainier June 22, 2016 in Uganik Bay off of Kodiak Island


 All Aboard!

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NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux

The folks I am working with are some of the most knowledgeable and fascinating people that I have met so far on this voyage and Shelley Devereaux from Virginia is one of those people.  Shelley serves as a junior officer in the NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Corps and has been working aboard the Rainier for the past year.  The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and trains officers to operate ships, fly aircraft, help with research, conduct dive operations, and serve in other staff positions throughout NOAA.

Here is what Shelley shared with me when I interviewed her one afternoon.

Tell us a little about yourself:  I’m originally from the rural mountains of Appalachia and moved to Washington DC after college.  I lived in DC for about seven years before I joined the NOAA Corps and while in DC I really enjoyed cycling, hiking, cooking, baking and beer brewing.

How did you discover NOAA Corps and what do you love most about your job in the NOAA Corps?

I went to Washington DC after I received my undergraduate degree in math and worked a lot of different jobs in a lot of different fields.  In time, I decided to change careers and went to graduate school for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) because I like the data management side of the degree and the versatility that the degree could offer me.  I was working as a GIS analyst when my Uncle met an officer in the NOAA Corps who talked with my Uncle about the NOAA Corps.  After that, my Uncle told me about NOAA Corps and the more I found out about NOAA Corps the more I liked it.  Especially the hydro side!  In the NOAA Corps each of your assignments really develops on your skill base and you get to be involved in a very hands on way.  Just this morning I was out on a skiff literally looking to determine what level a rock was in the water.  And, later in my career I can serve an operations officer.  So I loved the fact that I could join the NOAA Corps, be out on ship collecting data while getting my hands dirty (or at least wet!), and then progress on to other interesting things.  I love getting to be part of all the aspects of ship life and being a surveyor.   It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that what we do here has a tangible effect on the community and the public because we are making the water safer for the people who use it.

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NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux manages her sheets during near shore work in Uganik Bay

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

I am an ensign junior officer on a survey ship.  Survey ships operate differently than other ships in the NOAA fleet with half of my responsibilities falling on the junior officer side of ship operations which includes driving the ship when we are underway, working towards my officer of the deck certification, working as a medical officer, damage control officer and helping with emergency drills.  The other half of what I get to do is the survey side.  Right now I am in charge of a small section called a sheets and I am in charge of processing the data from the sheets in a descriptive report about the area surveyed.  So, about half science and half ship operations is what I do and that’s a really good mix for me.  As a junior officer we are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to and are expected to learn the entire science of hydrography.

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Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux checks the ship’s radar

What kind of education do you need to have this job and what advice do you have for young people interested in a career like yours?

You need a college degree with a lot of credits in science and/or math.  Knowing the science that is happening on the ship is important to help your understanding of the operations on the ship which helps you be a better ship operator. Realize that there are a lot of opportunities in the world that are not always obvious and you need to be aggressive in pursuing them.


Personal Log

You didn’t think I’d leave out the picture of Teacher at Sea in her “gumby suit” did you?  The immersion suit would be worn if we had to abandon ship and wait to be rescued.

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Teacher at Sea (TAS) Kurth Hi Mom!

 Happy Solstice!  Quirky but fun:  For the past six years I have celebrated the solstice by taking a “hand picture” with the folks I am with on the solstice.  I was thrilled to be aboard the Rainier for 2016’s summer solstice and include some of the folks that I’m with on the ship in my biannual solstice picture.

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Winter Solstice 2015 with Sisu (family pet) and my husband James

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All Hands on Deck! Summer Solstice 2016


Did You Know?

Glass floats or Japanese fishing floats are a popular collectors’ item.  The floats were used on Japanese fishing nets and have traveled hundreds and possibly thousands of miles via ocean currents to reach the Alaskan shoreline. The floats come in many colors and sizes and if you’re not lucky enough to find one while beach combing, authentic floats and/or reproductions can be found in gift shops along the Alaskan coast.

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Japanese Fishing Floats