Linda Kurtz: Reflections from Fairweather, September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 9/7/2019

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?

Some days (and nights) so foggy that they had to use the fog horn for safety!


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 Lion found in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!

See the video below:

California Sea Lions


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.”

underwater ridge
Bathymetry map showing ridge

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.

Linda Kurtz: Hydrographic Surveys – Not your Mama’s Maps! August 17, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/17/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 17th 2019

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

Future hydrographer button
Is this you?

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.

ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ijaPa-9MDs

On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.

Multibeam sonar illustration
Multibeam sonar illustration

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:

transducer
View of transducer on a survey launch

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!

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw
Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

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 data. 

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.)

MVP and launching wench
MVP (left) and the launching wench (right)

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!

current survey area
Our current survey area! (Thanks Charles for the image!)

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:

ACQ software screenshot
Hydrographic Survey “Mission Control”
HYPACK Acquisition Software
HYPACK Acquisition Software
Real time coverage map
Real time coverage map

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!

New Terms/Phrases:

Multibeam sonar

Sound speed

Conductivity

Salinity

Sonar

Sound waves

Refraction

Water column

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Animals seen today:

Humpback Whale

Bathymetry and USGS friends coming soon!

Plot room
Hydro-technician Sam Candio (right) collaborating with USGS Research Geologist James Conrad and Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell.

Linda Kurtz: Navigating Fair Winds and Following Seas – Fairweather Edition, August 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/13/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

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: the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

synonyms: 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!

On 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 of course.) 

 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. 

2nd 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.

Kevin Tennyson
Officer of the Deck (OOD): Kevin Tennyson
Calderon and Ostermyer
Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) Jeff Calderon and Helmsman Terry Ostermyer


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 moving. 

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.

RADAR
RADAR showing other watercraft and objects that could come into contact with Fairweather, for safe NAVIGATION.
Close up of RADAR
Close up of RADAR screen showing blue lines (indicative of speed) trailing other detected objects

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.

radio
Communication is essential for safe navigation.

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.


Weather Tools:

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?

Weather Data
Data from the bridge on Day 2
Weather Data Time Series
Weather Data Time Series
weather data updates
Weather data updates – the ship can NAVIGATE to avoid dangerous weather


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!

Cascadia Margin chart
Cascadia Margin: 1st Region the Fairweather is mapping
mapping progress
Progress mapping – navigation the survey area – colored lines indicate where the ship has been


Personal Log

It’s 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?


New Terms/Phrases:

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

Longitude and Latitude

True North

Magnetic North


Animals Seen Today:

Dall’s Porpoise

Humpback Whale

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

Linda Kurtz: STEM Teacher AWAY! August 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission:  Cascadia Margin Ocean Mapping Project

Geographic Area: Coastal Oregon and northern California

Date: August 6, 2019


Introduction

I am thrilled to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

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:

Classroom for Fairweather
My “classroom” for the next two weeks


About Me:

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.

Kurtz Family Photo Collage
Kurtz Family Photo Collage

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!

Family Game Time
Family Game Time

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!

Meg Stewart: What the Bathymetry Looks Like at Cape Newenham, Alaska: Flat and a Little Wavy, July 23, 2019

sand waves

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

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!

project location
Fig 1. First, here is a reminder of the location area for the project in Alaska, in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay (circled in red).
coverage graphic
Fig 2. Here is the entire coverage of the project area to date. Notice that some of the coverage is complete and some is in spaced line segments. The red areas on the map are shallow and vessels should avoid those. The dark blue to purple zone is the deepest shown on the map and that is where ships should navigate and mariners will know that by looking on the future navigational chart. During the project, the Chief Hydrographer began to notice that the sea bed was nearly flat and gently sloping. The decision was made to use set line spacing for the rest of the project. (Hint: Click on the image to see more detail)
Cape Newenham
Fig 3. Going in a little more closely, I’ll show you the Cape Newenham area, shown in the dashed line region. You may recall that this is the nautical chart from three blog posts ago.
Cape Newenham surveyed
Fig 4. Now, we’ve zoomed in one of the cool parts of the bathymetric map. As I said above in Fig 2, most of the Cape Newenham sea floor surface is gently sloping. There are no obvious obstructions such as large boulders or shipwrecks; if there were, those would show up in the hydrographic survey. I’ll talk more about the red (or shallower) part of the map in the next figure.
sand waves
Fig 5. This is a 3D side view of the upper part of Fig 4. The red that you see is 5 meters or about 16 feet below the ocean surface. The light blue area is about 36 or so meters deep which is about 120 feet deep. What the hydrographers noticed were sand waves, which they found interesting but non-threatening to navigation unless the crests neared the ocean surface. Sand waves can migrate or move around and they can also grow larger and possibly become a navigational hazard in the future. As a geologist, I think the sand waves are excellent. These waves (sometimes they are called ripples) of sediment form as a result of ocean currents and show the direction of flow. See the next figure for a profile view (cross section view) along the light blue line on this map.
profile of sand waves
Fig 6. This is 2D profile view along the surface of the light blue line shown in Fig 5. This is the top of the sand waves. I’ve pointed to a couple of sand wave crests; there are five crests shown in this profile length. Notice that there is a gently sloping face of the wave and a steeper face. The ocean current direction is moving from the gentle face towards the steep face in this location on Cape Newenham which is from north to south. The hydrographers told me that, though the ocean flow may be north to south here now, it is possible that in the winter, the current reverses. There is also a tidal influence on the current here, too.


Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or
Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer

engineer Klay Strand
Photo 1. Klay Strand, 2AE, showing us around the Fairweather engine room.

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.

ship's engines
Photo 2. There are two engines that power the ship. Ear protection is a must. Standing between the two engines felt like standing inside a running car engine if you were a tiny mouse. I didn’t get a shot of us standing there, so I drew an approximate line for reference.
engine room
Photo 3. The ceiling in the engine room is very low. There are A LOT of moving parts. And wires, cords, pipes, valves, enormous tools, tanks, meters and things I’ve never seen before. This part in the foreground, with the yellow painted on the cylinder, is akin to a car’s driveshaft.
waste water levels
Photo 4. This shows how much black water and gray water the ship currently has in the tanks. Those tanks are located in the engine area and the engineers keep a close eye on that information. Gray water is wastewater from washing dishes, clothes washers, and the showers. Black water is from the toilets, I mean ship’s heads. Black water is treated through a chlorination process. Both wastewaters are released at sea, where permissible.
desalination
Photo 5. Recall in my last “Did You Know?” that I said the ship makes its own freshwater from sea water. This is the reverse osmosis monitor showing how much freshwater is being produced. Yes, the engineers keep an eye on that, too.


Personal Log

Dutch Harbor panorama
Before I boarded the small plane that took off from Dutch Harbor to take me to Anchorage, AK, I looked out over the harbor. It was so lovely in Alaska. There’s so much space and untouched landscape. The green, pointed hill on the right side of the image is called Mount Ballyhoo, which I hear was named by Jack London on a swing through Dutch Harbor in the late 1800s.

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?

Marine Protected Area map
Using the interactive Marine Protected Area map, I zoomed in on the Cape Newenham area. Though there is a Walrus Protection Area there, we did not see any on our leg.

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?

NOAA Marine Protected Areas – this is information about MPAs in the U.S.

Atlas of Marine Protection is an interactive map that shows all the MPAs around the globe. 

National Geographic – Marine Protected Areas – a good teaching resource. Here is a NG lesson looking at MPAs.

Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) – the science of marine reserves.

Quote of the Day

“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

Lona Hall: Land and Sea, June 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 12, 2019

Time:  1541 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1009’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0031’ W

Wind Speed: 9.0 knots

Wind Direction: N (10 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.78° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Lona in immersion suit
All dressed up (in an immersion suit) and no place to go

Science and Technology Log

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.

Refraction in a glass of water
Refraction in a glass of water

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.

power source for the base station
Setting up the power source for the base station

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.

Base station installers
Base station installers: damp, but not discouraged

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

CO Ben Evans at dinner
CO Ben Evans enjoying dinner with the other NOAA Corps officers

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.

Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer
Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer, tracks our location on the chart


Personal Log

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.

Shark Point
Looking out over Shark Point from the base station

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…

Rainbow
Rainbows are caused by the refraction of light through the lower atmosphere

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!

Lona Hall: Rockin’ at the NALL on Ugak, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 10, 2019

Time:  1932 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1359’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0488’ W

Wind Speed: 17.2 knots

Wind Direction: N (353 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.13° Celsius

Water Temperature: 9.44° Celsius

Lona on a launch vessel
Sitting in the sun on a launch, Rainier in the background


Science and Technology Log

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.  

Point Cloud
Point Cloud: Each dot represents a lidar “ping”, indicating the presence of features above the waterline

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.

Amanda and Audrey
Amanda and Audrey discussing the locations of rocks along the shoreline

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.

Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer

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.


Personal Log

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!

Ugak Bay
Ugak Bay (Can you spot the whale?)


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.

(:

Lona Hall: Alaska Awaits, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: May 22, 2019

Personal Introduction

Finishing off the school year has never been so exciting as it is now, with an Alaskan adventure awaiting me!  My students are nearly as giddy as I am, and it is a pleasure to be able to share the experience with them through this blog.

In two weeks, I will leave my home in the Appalachian foothills of Georgia and fly to Anchorage, Alaska.  From there I will take a train to the port city of Seward, where I will board NOAA Ship Rainier.  For 11 days we will travel around Kodiak Island conducting a hydrographic survey, mapping the shape of the seafloor and coastline. The Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project is critical to those who live and work there, since it greatly improves the accuracy of maritime navigational charts, ensuring safer travel by sea.

Lona Hall and students in Mozambique
My Mozambican students, 2013

In the past, I have traveled and worked in many different settings, including South Carolina, Cape Cod, Costa Rica, rural Washington, and even more rural Mozambique.  I have acted in diverse roles as volunteer, resident scientist, amateur archaeologist, environmental educator, mentor, naturalist, and teacher of Language Arts, English Language, Math, and Science.

View of Mount Yonah
Mount Yonah, the view from home in northeast Georgia

I now found myself back in my home state of Georgia, married to my wonderful husband, Nathan, and teaching at a local public school.  Having rediscovered the beauty of this place and its people, I feel fortunate to continue life’s journey with a solid home base.

Lona and Nathan at beach
My husband and I at the beach

Currently I teach Earth Science at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville, Georgia.  For the last five years, I have chosen to work in the wonderfully wacky world of sixth graders.  Our school boasts a diverse population of students, many of whom have little to no experience beyond their hometown.  It is my hope that the Teacher at Sea program will enrich my instruction, giving students a glimpse of what it is like to live and work on a ship dedicated to scientific research.  I am also looking forward to getting to know the people behind that research, learning what motivates them in the work that they do and what aspects of their jobs they find the most challenging.

Did you know?

Kodiak Island is the largest island in Alaska and the second largest in the United States.  It is located near the eastern end of the Aleutian Trench, where the Pacific Plate is gradually being subducted underneath the North American Plate.

David Tourtellot: Draggin’ The Line, July 21st, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Tourtellot

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 9-26, 2018

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey – Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 21st, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29° 11.6357’ N

Longitude: 093° 55.9746’W

Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles

Sky Condition: 6/8

Wind: Direction: 224°    Speed: 8.5 knots

Temperature:

Seawater: 30.4°C

Air: Dry bulb:31.5°C          Wet bulb: 28.5°C

 

Science and Technology Log

In my previous post, I discussed the ship’s sonar. This time, I’ll go into more detail about the tools the Thomas Jefferson is using to complete its mission. The sonar that the ship uses is multi-beam echosounder sonar, which sends the pings down to the seafloor and receives echoes in a fan shape, allowing the ship to survey a wide swath beneath the ship.

Multibeam Sonar
An illustration of a ship using multi-beam sonar. Image courtesy of NOAA

In addition to the multi-beam sonar, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson utilizes two towfish, or devices that are towed in the water behind the ship.

The first is the side scan sonar. Like the multi-beam, this device uses pings of soundwaves to create images of its surroundings. However unlike the multi-beam, the side scan doesn’t capture any data from the area underneath it. Instead, it collects data to its sides.  The side scan is connected to the ship via a cable, and is dragged through the water 6-15 meters above the seafloor. It is great for measuring the intensity of the return of the ping, which provides insights into the makeup of the seafloor.

The side scan towfish
The side scan towfish

The second towfish that the Thomas Jefferson is using is the MVP (like many things on the ship, MVP is an acronym, for Moving Vessel Profiler). The MVP truly gives the ship some of its most valuable data. As I discussed in my previous blog post, in order for us to accurately calculate the distance that the sonar’s pings are traveling, we need to know the amount of time it takes them to travel, as well as the velocity, or the speed, at which they’re moving. The singarounds I mentioned in my last post measure sound velocity, but only at the face of the sonar. Water conditions are not uniform – at the surface, water tends to be warmer, with less salinity. As you get deeper, however, the water tends to be colder and saltier. This means that the velocity of sound changes the deeper you get. Most of the time, the MVP rides just under the surface of the water, but periodically it will get cast down, to approximately 1 meter above the seafloor. It measures the water conditions of the entire water column from the surface to the seafloor, allowing us to calculate sound velocity all the way down.

MVP
The MVP towfish as it is being lowered into the water

The MVP measures the same water qualities as the CTD (a device I discussed in an earlier blog post), however, the MVP has a distinct advantage over the CTD. In order to use a CTD, the ship has to come to a stop while the CTD is lowered into the water. The MVP, however, can be used while the ship is in motion, which greatly increases productivity.

When surveying, many on the crew say it’s like mowing the lawn. The ship will capture a long stretch of data, called a line, and then turn around, and capture another stretch. 4% of these lines are cross lines, which run perpendicular, across a wide swath of lines of captured data. Cross lines allow the survey department to double check that the data they’ve captured is accurate.

Mowing the Lawn
A display of the lines of survey data the ship has captured. Cross lines can be seen running perpendicular to the majority.

 

Personal Log

TJ Bridge Daylight
The bridge of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in the daylight

A couple of days ago, I went up to the bridge shortly after sunset, and I was surprised what I saw. All the lights were off, and the screens of the various instruments had been covered by red filters. I was told that this is for maintaining night vision when on watch. Red light interferes least with our night vision, so anything that gives off light is switched to red.

Bridge at night
The bridge of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson at night

While on the bridge, I had the opportunity to ask ENS Garrison Grant (who had recently been selected for a promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade – congratulations Garrison!) a little about the NOAA Corps. I must admit that I was largely unfamiliar with them before joining the Thomas Jefferson.

The NOAA Corps as we know it today began in 1970, though its roots are much older. As president, Thomas Jefferson (for whom NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is named) created the United States Survey of the Coast, which would later evolve into the United States Coast & Geodetic Survey. Their early operations were not unlike the survey work that NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is doing today, though their tools were more primitive: surveyors wanting to determine the depths of America’s bodies of water didn’t have the benefit of sonar, and instead used lead lines – lead weights tied to the end of ropes. These surveyors would also play a vital role in our military history. They would often assist artillery, and survey battlefields. This is what led to the United States Coast & Geodetic Survey (and later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to gain a commissioned uniformed service. Due to the rules of war, captured uniformed service members could not be tried as spies.

To join the NOAA Corps today, you need to first have a bachelor’s degree. ENS Grant received his degree from Stockton University in Marine Sciences, but he says that it isn’t a requirement that the degree be in a maritime field. He says that some of his classmates had degrees in fields such as English or Communications. After getting a degree, you then apply to join the NOAA Corps (anyone interested should check out this website: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/join/applying). If selected, you would then complete the Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC), which generally takes about 6 months. After that, you’d be given your first assignment.

 

Did you know? Before NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson was operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it belonged to the U.S. Navy and was known as the U.S.N.S. Littlehales

Taylor Planz: Teachers Must Give Progress Reports, July 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity

Date: July 20, 2018 at 10:14am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.275′ W
Wind: 4 knots S
Barometer: 767.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 11.8° C
Sea Surface: n/a
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

Despite a few setbacks, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather worked diligently to complete as much surveying as possible around Point Hope during this leg of the mission. Three small boats were sent out last Saturday, July 14th to each survey part of a “sheet”. A sheet is an area of ocean assigned to a hydrographer to survey and process into a bathymetric map. A bathymetric map is the colorful map produced from survey data that shows ocean depth using colors of the rainbow from red (shallow) to blue (deep). Ultimately, that sheet will be added to a nautical chart. Hydrographer Toshi Wozumi kindly showed me the progress that the ship has made towards the Point Hope survey mission below. The soundings were conducted with “set line spacing” of between 100m and 1,000m between each line in order to cover a satisfactory amount of ground in a feasible timeframe. When a more detailed map is necessary, there will be no empty space between lines and this is known as “full coverage”.

Point Hope survey progress from Leg II
Point Hope survey progress from Leg II

Point Hope is such a unique little piece of land. All of the light blue you see on the map above is actually fresh water from inland. Skinny slices of land separate the salty Arctic water from the fresh water. Hydrographer Christina Belton told me that this area experiences a lot of erosion. In the area we surveyed, you can see an unusually straight line between the deep blue-colored seafloor and the relatively shoal yellow- to green-colored seafloor (shoal is a synonym for shallow, but of the two it is the more common word used by hydrographers). This distinct line is a sand bar where sediment collects from erosion and water currents. I am really interested to see how the bathymetric map develops as the season goes on! Hydrographers are expecting this survey to be very flat and unexciting, but you never know what will show up!

2018 proposed Point Hope survey sheets
2018 proposed Point Hope survey sheets

The tiny little polygon at the bottom left of the picture above is a section of a PARS corridor. PARS is an acronym that stands for Port Access Route Studies, and these studies are initiated by the US Coast Guard when an area may be in need of routing changes or new designated routes for a number of different reasons. According to the US Coast Guard, the Eastern Bering Sea is a relatively shallow sea with depths ranging from 20 – 250 feet. This in combination with outdated nautical charts containing sparse data points can make for dangerous conditions for mariners trying to navigate in and around the Bering Sea. In addition Arctic sea ice is retreating more and more each year, and there is a growing interest in travel through the Northwest Passage, formerly covered in sea ice year round. I have heard that a cruise ship will soon travel the Northwest Passage, and tickets start at $37,000 per person. Any takers?

Section of NOAA's Point Hope to Cape Dyer Nautical Chart
Notice the difference in the soundings to the right of the map (north of Point Hope) and to the left of the map (west of Point Hope). The points to the north were conducted in the 1800s by Russia, and the points to the west were conducted in the mid-1900s by the US. This section shows why more surveying is needed in northern Alaska. Photo source: http://www.charts.noaa.gov/PDFs/16123.pdf

NOAA Ship Fairweather was tasked with surveying a small section of the PARS corridor. We worked on this project during our return trip to Nome. A bathymetric map was not prepared by the time I left the ship, so I was not able to see the data. However, this data will be a very important addition to the US Coast Guard’s maps. You may notice on the map of the proposed survey sheets that the northern border of the polygon follows a longer line. This is the International Date Line and also the border between the US and Russia. NOAA Ship Fairweather had to take special precautions to ensure we did not enter international waters without permission, so we ran a couple of soundings the short way on the edge of the polygon before changing our lines to go the long way. The short lines gave us room to turn the ship around without entering Russian waters. If you have ever mowed your lawn, running lines on the ship is just like mowing lines on your grass. When you get to the end of your yard, you need room to turn the lawn mower around before mowing in the opposite direction. In fact, hydrographers informally refer to the act of collecting data with the MBES as “mowing the lawn”!

NOAA Ship Fairweather will continue to collect data in the Point Hope region for a couple more months. The ship is projected to use 53 days at sea to finish the project. However, this time of year can be difficult for navigating the Bering Sea due to frequent storms. This work requires patience and flexibility, as I witnessed during my time on the ship. In the end, the maps and nautical charts they create will be increasingly valuable as more marine traffic will use the Arctic Ocean during the months when there is no sea ice.

Personal Log

This morning we docked the ship in Nome. It was a bittersweet feeling to step on land once again. I grew to enjoy waking up each morning with water in all directions. The light rocking motion in the evening helped me sleep like a baby! I learned a lot of new information in a short period of time. I also made some new friends among the Fairweather crew and the visitors. Together we endured the 12′ seas of Tuesday’s storm in addition to the Blue Nose initiation! The initiation will forever remain a Navy (and NOAA Corps) secret, but I suppose I can show you the after picture! The ceremony itself was quite a messy ordeal, so we had to rinse off before going back inside the ship. What’s the best way to rinse off at sea? You guessed it! Ice cold Arctic sea water! Not to worry though; safety was the first priority and there were no cases of hypothermia onboard. Upon completing the initiation, the 24 crew members below metamorphosed from slimy wogs to polar bears! The remaining 20 or so crew members had previously earned the name of polar bear.

24 soaking wet but proud Polar Bears!
24 soaking wet but proud Polar Bears!

One thing I learned while aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather is that living and working in the same place with the same people is a unique experience. Your work time and off time are confined to the same spaces. You are always around the same 40 – 50 people. In addition, working in remote areas means fewer modern conveniences like TV and cell phone service. You can’t go out to eat or go shopping until you arrive back in port. It’s not for everyone. What I can say though is that not a single person aboard the ship complained about any of these things! Everyone onboard has learned to adapt to the unique challenges and benefits of their workplace. There are many things to enjoy too! It was so nice not having to cook or do dishes for two weeks! You get to live more simply, which means fewer things to worry about day to day, like getting to work on time and getting to the gym/grocery store/post office/anywhere before it closes or gets too crowded. It’s also a fun place to be! Events like the blue nose initiation boost morale and give everyone fun things to plan and look forward to. I thoroughly enjoyed the mindset shift and gained an appreciation for this kind of work. I will also miss it!

Did You Know?

The most recent soundings for the coastal area north of Point Hope were taken in the 1800s when Russia owned Alaska. They were measured with lead lines, and as you can see in the Point Hope nautical chart, there was a large distance between each measurement.

Answer to Last Question of the Day

What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?

To be eligible for appointment into the NOAA Corps, you must

  • be a US citizen of good moral character
  • be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before you turn 62
  • have a baccalaureate degree from an institution accredited by the US Department of Education
  • have at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering related to NOAA’s missions
  • pass a mental and physical examination
  • be able to maintain a “secret” security clearance
  • be able to pass a test for illegal drug use.

Sources:
US Coast Guard (2017). Appendix B – Hydrographic Quality Analysis. Bering Sea PARS. https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/PARS/Bering_Strait_PARS_Appendix_B.pdf.

Taylor Planz: Surveying 101, July 18, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Planz
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 18, 2018 at 10:15am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 66° 24.440′ N
Longitude: 163° 22.281′ W
Wind: 17 knots SW, gusts up to 38 knots
Barometer: 758.31 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 12.2° C
Sea Surface 9.6° C
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has a variety of assignments in different parts of the west coast each year, mostly in Alaska. They also work with many different organizations. In April of 2018, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, hired the ship to complete the last part of the survey of a fault line, the Queen Charlotte Fault, which lies west of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. This was a joint venture between the US and Canada because it is the source of frequent and sometimes hazardous earthquakes. The Queen Charlotte Fault lies between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The North American Plate is made of continental crust, and the Pacific Plate is made of oceanic crust. The two plates slide past one another, so the plate boundary is known as a transform, or strike slip, fault.

Queen Charlotte fault area
This image is from the USGS, who have been surveying the Queen Charlotte Fault area for many years. Photo Source: https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/

The image to the right came from the USGS. Notice the two black arrows showing the directions of the North American and Pacific plates. Strike slip faults, such as this one, have the potential to produce damaging earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault in California is another example of a strike slip fault. The Queen Charlotte Fault moves relatively fast, with an average rate of 50 mm/year as shown in the photo. The USGS explains the Queen Charlotte fault beautifully in this article.

The image below was created after hydrographers on NOAA Ship Fairweather processed the data from their survey in April. The colors show relative depth across the fault, with red being the shoalest areas and blue being the deepest areas. In the top right section, you can see Noyes Canyon. There are many finger-shaped projections, which are result from sediment runoff. Notice that the color scheme in this area does not have much orange or yellow; it basically goes from red to green. If you were to look at this map in 3-D, you would see in those areas that the sea floor dramatically drops hundreds of meters in a very short distance.

Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon
Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon. Photo Courtesty of HST Ali Johnson

It is also worth noting what can be found in the remainder of this image. When NOAA finishes their survey, two different products are formed. The first is the colored map, which you see to the far left of the image. This is useful for anyone interested in the scientific components of the area. Mariners need the information as well, but a colored schematic is less useful for marine navigation, so nautical charts are produced (or updated) for their use. A nautical chart looks just like the remainder of this image. Small numbers scattered all over the white part of the map (ie – the water) show the depth in that area. The depth can be given in fathoms, meters, or feet, so it is important to find the map’s key. The purpose of the charts is to communicate to mariners the most navigable areas and the places or obstacles that should be avoided. The nautical charts usually have contour lines as well, which give a better picture of the slope of the sea floor and group areas of similar depth together.

Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson
Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson

The photo above is a closer view of the Queen Charlotte Fault. Can you see the fault? If you cannot see it, look at the line that begins in the bottom center of the photo and reaches up and to the left. Do you see it now? On the left side of the fault lies the Pacific Plate, and on the right side lies the North American Plate. If you look even closer, you might find evidence of the plates sliding past each other. The areas that resemble rivers are actually places where sediment runoff imprinted the sea floor. If you observe closely, you can see that some of these runoff areas are shifted at the location of the fault. Scientists can measure the distance between each segment to determine that average rate of movement at this fault line.

I also wanted to briefly mention another small side project we took on during this leg. A tide buoy was installed near Cape Lisburne, which is north of Point Hope. The buoys are equipped with technology to read and communicate the tidal wave heights. This helps hydrographers accurately determine the distance from the sea surface to the sea floor. The buoy will remain at its station until the end of the survey season, at which time it will be returned to the ship.

 

 

Personal Log

Northwest Alaska may not be a breathtaking as Southeast Alaska, but it has sure been an interesting trip! It amazes me that small communities of people inhabit towns such as Nome, Point Hope, and Barrow (which is about as far north as one can travel in Alaska) and endure bone-chilling winter temperatures, overpriced groceries, and little to no ground transportation to other cities. Groceries and restaurant meals are expensive because of the efforts that take place to transport the food. During my first day in Nome, I went to a restaurant called the Polar Cafe and paid $16 for an omelette! Although the omelette was delicious, I will not be eating another during my last day in Nome on Friday. It is simply too expensive to justify paying that much money. I also ventured to the local grocery store in hopes of buying some Ginger Ale for the trip. Consuming ginger in almost any form can help soothe stomach aches and relieve seasickness. Unfortunately ginger ale was only available in a 12-pack that happened to be on sale for $11.99. I decided to leave it on the shelf. Luckily the ship store has ginger ale available for purchase! The ship store is also a great place to go when your sweet tooth is calling!

The Ship Store
The Ship Store opens most nights for personnel to buy soda, candy, or even t-shirts!

 

Did You Know?
The Queen Charlotte fault was the source of Canada’s largest recorded earthquake! The earthquake occurred in 1949 and had a magnitude of 8.1!

Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?

Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?

When something is less dense than water it floats, and when it is more dense than water it sinks. Something with the same density as water will sit at the surface so that it lies about equal to the water line (picture yourself laying flat on the surface of a lake). Your body is over 50% water, so the density of your body is very close to the density of water and you naturally “half float”. A PFD, on the other hand, is made up of materials which have a lower density than water and they always float completely above water. When you wear a PFD, your body’s total density is a combination of your density and the PFD’s density. Therefore, the total density becomes less than the density of water, and you float!

Sources:
Danny, et al. (2016). Investigating the Offshore Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System in Southeastern Alaska and its Potential to Produce Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Submarine Landslides. USGS Soundwaves Monthly Newsletter. https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/.

Torresan, L (2018). Earthquake Hazards in Southeast Alaska. USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/geohazards/sealaska.html.

 

David Tourtellot: The Speed of Sound, July 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Tourtellot

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 9-26, 2018

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey – Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 49.4115’N

Longitude: 93° 37.4893’W

Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles

Sky Condition: 4/8

Wind: Direction: 240°, Speed: 7 knots

Temperature:

Seawater: 31.7°C

Air: Dry bulb:31.5°C          Wet bulb: 27.5°C

 

Science and Technology Log

 

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is well underway in its mission of surveying the seafloor. The primary tool that the ship (as well as its 2 Hydrographic Survey Launches) is using to accomplish this task is sonar. Sonar was originally an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging. If you are familiar with echolocation – the system that some animals (such as bats and dolphins) use to navigate their surroundings – then you already have a basic understanding of how sonar works. The sonar transmits a short sound (called a ping) that will travel down, away from the ship, until it hits the seafloor. At this point, it will reflect off of the sea floor, and echo back up to the ship, where it is detected by the sonar’s receiver. The crew aboard are then able to calculate the depth of the water.

To make the necessary calculations, there are 3 variables at play: the time that it takes for the ping to travel; the distance that the ping travels; and the velocity, or the speed, at which the ping moves through the water. If we know two of those variables, it is easy to calculate the third.

When using sonar to determine the depth of the water, distance is the unknown variable – that’s what we’re ultimately trying to figure out. To do so, we need to know the other two variables. Time is an easy variable for the sonar to measure. The sonar has a transmitter, which generates the ping, and a receiver, which hears it. These two components communicate with one another to give us an accurate measure of time. The third variable, velocity, is a bit trickier.

In saltwater, sound travels approximately 1500 meters per second. However, that rate can vary slightly based on water conditions such as temperature and salinity (how salty the water is). In order for sonar to get as accurate a reading as possible, it needs to calculate the precise speed of sound for the particular water it is in at the moment. The sonar is able to do that by using a component called a sound velocity sensor, known colloquially as a singaround.

Sonar 1 Singaround
The sonar on the hull of one of the Hydrographic Survey Launches. The orange rectangles are the projector (or, the transmitter) and the receiver, and the component in the green circle is the singaround

A singaround looks like a bar with a nub on each end. One nub is a projector, and the other is a reflector. The projector broadcasts a ping that travels parallel to the hull of the ship, bounces off of the reflector, and returns to the projector. We use that information to calculate velocity. The calculation uses the same 3 variables as above (time, distance, and velocity), but this time, distance isn’t the unknown variable anymore – we know exactly how far the ping has traveled, because we know how far the projector and reflector are from one another. The singaround electronically measures how long it takes for the ping to travel, and since we now know two of the variables (distance and time) we can calculate the third (velocity) for our particular water conditions at the face of the sonar.

Sound travels roughly 4 times faster in water than it does in air (this is because water is denser than air). To ensure that the sonar gets an accurate reading, it is important that air bubbles don’t get in the way. The boat’s hull (bottom) has a triangular metal plate directly in front of the sonar, which routes air bubbles around to the side of the sonar.

Sonar 2
The hull of one of the Hydrographic Survey Launches.

 

Personal Log

Each day, the ship’s CO (Commanding Officer) publishes a POD, or Plan Of the Day. This is full of important information – it tells us what the ship will be doing; if/when we will deploy the launch boats, and who will be on them; what time meals will be; and the expected weather conditions. Below is an example from Friday, July 13th.

Plan of the Day
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson Plan of the Day for Friday, July 13, 2018

On Friday, I had the opportunity to go out on one of the Hydrographic Survey Launches. Because of their smaller size, the launch boats are great for surveying difficult to maneuver areas. For instance, we spent most of the day surveying an area near an oil rig, and were able to get much closer than the Thomas Jefferson could.

Mike Below Deck
Survey Tech Mike Hewlett collecting and analyzing survey data aboard a launch boat

Oil Rig and Boat
An oil rig and a supply vessel

I’ve been very impressed by how multi-talented everyone on the ship seems to be. In addition to analyzing data, the ship’s survey techs can also be found handling lines as the survey boats are launched and recovered, and do a lot of troubleshooting of the hardware and software they’re using. The coxswains (people who drive small boats) double as engineers, fixing issues on the launch vessels when away from the ship. I’m surrounded by some very gifted people!

Fixing the AC
Coxswain Francine Grains and Survey Tech Brennan Walters fixing the air conditioner on one of the launch boats that had stopped working unexpectedly. They had it up and running in no time

Did you know?: As president, Thomas Jefferson ordered the first survey of the coastline of the United States. Because of this, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is named for him. 

Latest Highlight: While surveying, we spotted a water spout in the distance. A water spout is a tornado that forms over water. Luckily, we were a safe distance away. It was an amazing sight to see!

 

David Tourtellot: Introduction, July 5th, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Tourtellot

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 9-26, 2018

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey – Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 5, 2018

 

Personal Introduction: Greetings! My name is David Tourtellot, and in just a few days I will be joining the crew of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson as part of the Teacher At Sea program. I feel very fortunate having been chosen for this opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited!

I received a degree in Music Education from the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and I just finished my fifth year teaching 5th and 6th grade orchestra classes at 4 elementary schools in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. We had a great year making music together!

Tourtellot Headshot Close
David Tourtellot

I have long been fascinated by the field of acoustics, and I share that with my students. Not only do they learn the fundamentals of playing music, we also discuss how their instruments make sound, the properties that make one instrument sound different from another, and why our ensemble sounds different performing in one room than we do in another. Currently, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is doing a hydrographic survey and is using sonar (which operates using sound waves) to detect what is underwater. I am very much looking forward to learning more about this, and helping my students to make deeper connections between science and the arts.

IMG_1734
At the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Pleasant Hill, Missouri

I’m also looking forward to spending time on the ship. I’ve lived my entire life in the Midwest, and can count the number of boats I’ve been on on one hand. This will certainly be a new experience!

Victoria Obenchain: Robots in the Arctic, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 61o 04.7’ N
  • Longitude: 167o 53.5’ W
  • Wind Speed: 4 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, southwest
  • Visibility: 150 feet
  • Air Temperature: 9.8o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center have partnered up to test out an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), a programmable robotic survey boat. In two weeks, they will be deploying the ASV in the Arctic, in the Point Hope vicinity, where NOAA Ship Fairweather has been tasked to map the ocean.

20180704_155557.jpg

There are many benefits to using the ASV for ocean mapping. First, it is able to survey in shallower waters than the launch boats, especially along coastlines. This data will be helpful to those who work on predicting storm surges and flooding for coastal communities. Second, the ASV can survey in potentially dangerous areas the launches would not be able to gain access to, such as in rocky areas or areas where there may be sandbars, that data will be helpful for smaller boats who use the area. Third, it can provide additional survey capacity in conjunction with the launches. For example, 4 launch boats could be sent out and an ASV to get an area surveyed, cutting down on the time required to accomplish missions. And lastly, if trained personnel are not available to drive or survey in a launch, this gives an additional option to the crew to accomplish the survey.

While those benefits are the goal of using ASV’s in the future, this summer’s mission with the ASV is to allow people to get acquainted with the robot, work out issues with software and the robot itself, and see how effective this tool is. The crew will practice deploying and recovering the robot. While robots can make jobs easier and possibly even safer for humans, until it is tested, you are never sure if they will actually be helpful. Robots in general tend to be finicky, have no sense of danger, and are not be able to work when waves are too high. Additionally, sometimes how we presume something will work in theory plays out differently in practice. I see this in my classroom all the time when the first and fourth graders are working with their robots and inventions, so trial and error is important, especially with a new tool. However, with any luck, this will serve as an excellent resource for the future of ocean hydrography.

How do you keep spirits high in Alaska, on a research vessel?

The crew on NOAA Ship Fairweather seems to have the right idea when it comes to keeping moral high. As I have said before, living and working in the same smallish space can have it challenges. Yet this ship has been doing scientific hydrographic research for 50 years, and has people on board who love their job and this small community. So how do they do it? I have learned a few of their ways.

They are a super welcoming community. They accept each other, and the different perspectives people bring to the job, and make each other feel appreciated. This welcoming attitude plays well for those who visit, as well.

They have Carrie, a chef who makes three delicious meals a day with her fellow stewards. She uses quality foods, remembers everyone’s likes and dislikes, and cheerfully greets everyone as the come into the mess line. Everyone on board looks forward to meals and especially her desserts! From cookies, carrot cake, puddings to even cheese cake; she is keeping everyone a bit spoiled- especially me!

They have a gym on board. There are machines, weights, group challenges and goal setting going on. Working out helps people have an outlet for their stress and any pent up energy. Also, it can help you feel better after having a bit too much dessert one night!

There is a ship store, which stocks essentials, candy, people’s favorite sodas, and some ship memorabilia. And let’s be honest, sometimes you need a Diet Coke, M&M’s, or a Zip Fizz to help you get 41,000% of your daily B12! All profits go into the staff’s moral fund. This can get used for the staff to have extra snacks, excursions and community evenings on the boat.

They have a Moral, Wellness and Recreation committee (MWR). This group of 5 individuals plan and put on community events some evenings while at sea, excursions while in port and support other community gathering events.

General community gatherings take place regularly. While I have been on board, there have been movie and TV show nights where people gather in the lounge and watch together. A board game evening where those interested gathered to battle each other at Settlers of Catan. A Rock Band evening where even I found myself singing and playing guitar with officers, visitors and the CO and XO of the ship.

There is a Finer Things Club where people listen to classical music, light fake candles, share candies, cheeses and other items not on the ships menu with one another. And just have some nice, classy relaxation time with one another.

20180703_193748.jpg

They have access to a huge collection of movies; both old and brand new. This creates much excitement and joy for many. In addition to that, there is an extensive board game collection, model planes that can be built and puzzles for those who prefer quieter evenings.

They celebrate holiday and maritime events in a big way! The MWR club decorates the ships common areas for such events, and works overtime to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. From drawing decorative hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, carving pumpkins for Halloween and making red white and blue rag tapestries for Independence Day; even though they are at sea, they are not missing out!

20180703_154134.jpg

 

Everyone helps out when one department needs it. This helps create unity among the staff and for everyone to get to know each other better. Those in Survey help out the Deck Department for docking and launching, and if someone gets sick or a department is low in personnel, they sign up to help out that department.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the ship, so I will be posting one more blog when I return home. My experience has been so enlightening about NOAA, hydrography, Alaska, and life on a ship! I can not wait to share this with all of you, my students!  For those of you still reading along this summer, this is the path we have taken from Juneau to Nome, AK. I unfortunately will not be continuing on with NOAA Ship Fairweather as they venture farther north, but am so impressed with their dedication and skill in making our coastlines safe for both the mariners in the area and the environment.

 

20180627_071926
Our route to Nome, AK.

Brandy Hill: Weather Reports and Rock Hunting, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 5, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 53.4’ N

Longitude: 093° 44.6’ W

Visibility: 10+ NM

Sky Condition: 3/8 (Reminder: 3 out of 8 parts of the sky are covered with clouds.)

Wind: 6 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.1° C

Air: 27° C

 

Science and Technology Log

It is fitting to add a section on weather because tonight we are seeing a lightning storm! I can even hear the fog horn. During Bridge Watch, weather data is logged every hour around the clock. Every four hours, it is entered into a computer system. On most days, we are fortunate to get a weather report in various character voices over the intercom from ENS Krabiel.

DeckLogWeatherObs.jpg
This is the hourly weather log from June 26, 2018.

My favorite tools are the wind wheel, alidade, and relative humidity thermometers.

WindWheel.jpg
A somewhat complicated process allows one to find the true direction (opposed to relative) of the wind. Since the ship is not always traveling North, it is important to be able to calculate true wind direction. Officers typically use a reading on the computer to find true wind direction, but I thought it was a neat tool to try.

Alidade.jpg
The alidade is located outside of the Bridge. It is a sighting device used for measuring angles. It has been helpful with measuring the swell direction. ENS Krabiel mentioned that it is also useful for checking bearings when a ship is anchored. For example, a bearing (like to an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico) will change if the ship is drifting and/or dragging anchor.

RelativeHumidity.jpg
On the Weather Log, there is a place for “dry bulb” and “wet bulb.” This information is collected using two thermometers outside of the Bridge. The dry bulb is a typical thermometer, while the wet bulb has a small sock-like covering wicking up water from a tray. The closer the two temperature values, the higher relative humidity.

I have also sat in on a number of data processing evenings with the Survey Team. In one evening, roughly 50 GB of data from multibeam sonar only was processed. It is estimated that a total of 11 TB has been processed since April. Data processing begins around 7:30 pm and the survey team analyzes all information collected during the hours of 7am- 7pm. Staying on top of processing is important because of the massive amounts that accumulate, especially from side scan sonar.

Julia Wallace, physical scientist, showed me one aspect of processing multibeam sonar. She takes a file of data and runs a “flier finder” with a parameter of 0.5 meters (appropriate for the depth of sonar.) Essentially, the flier finder is marking any outliers that fall outside of this range. Julia then manually goes through and “hides” these points so that they do not contribute to the data set. This is important because when this data is used to mark bathymetry (sea floor depth) on nautical charts, it will somewhat randomly “grab” these false sounding set numbers and could land on one of the outliers, resulting in a false depth.

SonarPings.jpg
Every dot in this picture of raw data is a sonar ping returning to the multibeam echosounder. The number of pings depends on the sonar sounding frequency. For example, one could expect 300 pings per second when operating at a sounding frequency of 300 hz.

From what I have witnessed and gathered through multiple conversations with the team, the data collected by the Thomas Jefferson for NOAA charts is extremely accurate. For example, every pixel (or node) on the multibeam sonar grid represents no coarser than 1 square meter of the sea floor. This has changed from about 30 years ago where the ratio was 1 nodel: 5 square meters. In addition, many processes are doubled-up as a check for validity. This includes crosslines for checking main scheme data and operating two multibeam frequencies at the same time.

Backscatter.jpg
One of the benefits to running two frequencies of multibeam is the ability to create an overlapped average of the two backscatter signals (with a false color scheme.) This information helped inform Lt. Anthony Klemm and survey technician Kevin Brown determine eight unique sites varying in backscatter intensity for bottom sampling. (Remember: intensity is a measure of how strong the sonar ping returns, depicting varying sea floor substrate.

The use of this technology paid off! All eight sites sampled varied in texture and sediment size. Using this process of selectively choosing sites of interest based on “multispectral” backscatter intensity has replaced taking numerous random bottom samples using a grid. Again, this is a highly accurate and time-saving process. It was also interesting seeing the actual sea floor that we are mapping.

BottomSampleLocation.jpg
In the bottom right corner, Bottom Sample #1 site is selected.

 

 

 CHST Allison Stone manages the crane while Lt. Charles Wisotzsky directs the bottom sample claw and ENS Taylor Krabiel performs various substrate tests. 

TopView.BottomSamples.jpg
ENS Krabiel gives me a tutorial on bottom sampling. Krabiel enjoys creating short “Rock Hunting” clips for entertainment. His enthusiasm has made this trip a lot of fun.

BottomSampleShells.jpg
All of the eight bottom sample sites had a different composition. One in particular had a lot of rocks and shells. The rock in the upper right appears to have remnant tunicate casings.

BottomSampleNotes.jpg
Notes from survey sheet H13044, BS# 001 (Bottom Sample #1) state the grain size: silt, muddy, coarse, and some shell fragments.

A GoPro is located in a cage on the bottom sample claw. Video footage of the sea floor enables hydrographers to view the substrate and current ripples in the sand. ENS Krabiel wears the control on his wrist to activate the camera.

Personal Log

 I have enjoyed hearing the back-stories of the crew. For example, Allison Stone, Chief Survey Technician knew she wanted to be a part of NOAA when she was in 6th grade- the same age as my students. She remembers going to a parent career night at school and speaking with a presenter from NOAA. The presenter was enthusiastic about their job which inspired Allison to pursue a placement with NOAA. Although she envisioned counting marine animals and snorkeling daily, she is still passionate about her work in hydrography geoscience and speaks highly of NOAA outreach.

Field Operations Officer, Lt. Anthony Klemm started out wanting to do a public service and became a teacher. Later, he joined the NOAA Corps and after completing basic training got a job at the Marine Chart Division in Washington DC. It was during this time that he was given a lot of flexibility and time to create and test his own ideas and experiments. In his words, some of them flopped. However, one idea that has recently captured attention is the idea of “crowdsourcing” bathymetry. Collecting, processing, and submitting data for the official approval and update of NOAA nautical charts is a long process. It can take months for charts to be updated and available to the public. Crowdsourcing bathymetry is a way for the general public to gather and submit sonar data using simple devices like a “fish finder” that one might find on a recreational boat. These could serve as interim bathymetry data until the areas can officially be surveyed and charted. It’s also simple (users select a setting), and free.

Visit the NCEI/IHO Data Center for Digital Bathymetry  to view digital bathymetry data.

You can read more about this program at:

https://noaacoastsurvey.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/noaa-announces-launch-of-crowdsourced-bathymetry-database/

active captain shoaling hazard fl 2.PNG

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This photo and thee above are snapshots of data collected using “crowdsourced” bathymetry.

Peaks

+ Participated in a simultaneous medical/fire drill.

MedicalDrill.jpg
“This is a drill, this is a drill. There has been a medical emergency on the starboard stairway of the bridge…” The person in this picture is only acting and not actually injured. The bridge had also simulated a fire which interfered with steering and communications.

MedicalDrill2.jpg
A debrief was held in the Mess after the drills.

FRBTest.jpg
This was a day for drills. The FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) was manually unloaded using a hand brake to simulate loss of power. Earlier in the day, the launch boat was manually loaded back onto the ship. Passengers (including myself) boarded the ship using a rope ladder.

 

 

Heather O’Connell: Surveying Tracy Arm, June 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska

Date: 6/20/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°52.9’ N, 133 °38.7’ W, Sky Condition: Broken, Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: Light Variable, Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 3.9°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 17.8°C, Wet bulb: 14°C

Science and Technology Log

After the morning meeting of hearing everyone’s risk assessment before getting on the launches, I was part of the four person crew on launch RA-6. Our task for the day was to clean up the data, or collect data in places within the Tracy Arm polygon that weren’t already surveyed. We had to fill in the gaps in L and M polygons on the East point. The entire area of Tracy Arm needed to be surveyed because there are several cruise ships that are coming into this area now that Sawyer Glacier is receding and the area has not been surveyed since the late nineties. Navigation charts must be updated to ensure that the safety of the people that are visiting the area.

Launch going out to survey
Launch going out to survey

Once on the launch, the bright orange POS MV, or Positioning Orientation System Marine Vessel, must be powered to start the survey process. The new acquisition log was created as an excel spreadsheet to record the different casts along with the latitude and longitude, the maximum depth and the sound speed of the water at about approximately one meter. With all of the valuable data recorded, it is important to have a consistent system for managing all of the data so that it can be accessed and managed efficiently.

The EM-2040 Konsberg Sonar S.I.S., Seafloor Information System, program was powered on next. The EM processing unit, which is connected to the multi-beam sonar, has three lines of information when properly communicating with sonar. The right hand monitor in the launch displays the information from the sonar. Creating the file name is another crucial way of ensuring that the data can be managed properly. It is from this computer that you can manually adjust the angle of the beam swath with the sound pings.

Sonar Computer Systems
Sonar Computer Systems

Once the computers were started and communicating with each other, we completed a C.T.D. cast to obtain the sound speed profile of the water. There is also a device that measures this right on the multibeam sonar, but it is important that two devices have a similar sound speed profile to ensure data accuracy. If there is a large discrepancy between the two values, then another cast must be taken. Initially, the measuring sound speed profile at the interface was 1437.2 and the C.T.D. sound speed was 1437.8. The final algorithm that determines the depth of the water will take this information into account. Since we were somewhat close to a waterfall, the fresh water input most likely affected the sound profile of the water.

Preparing the CTD
Preparing the CTD

After viewing the data acquired in the sheet, or the assigned area of Tracy Arm to survey, Greg found areas where there were holes. He put a target on the map on the monitor on the left hand side computer. This HYSWEEP interface for multibeam and side scan sonar (which is a subset of HYPAC which is the multibeam software) screen shows a chart of the area with depths in fathoms and any rocks or shoals that would impede driving ability along with a red boat image of the vessel. This display is what the coxswain driving above also sees so that he or she is aware of what direction to travel. Once logging data, this screen also displays the beam so that you can ensure that all necessary data is being acquired. Previous surveys are depicted in a more subdued color so that you can see that the missing data is being collected. From the monitor, the survey technician must control the view of the map to be sure that it includes the targeted area, along with the path of the boat so that future obstructions can be avoided.

Multi-beam Sonar Work Station
Multi-beam Sonar Work Station

Since we were avoiding icebergs in the initial part of the clean up, we were going at about two knots. This slow pace allows for an increase in returns, nodes and soundings that increase the data density. Shallow waters take much longer to survey due to the smaller swath width. It is important to have accurate, high resolution data for shorelines since this is the area where many vessels will be traveling.  When a sonar pings, every swath, or fan-shaped area of soundings, returns five hundred soundings. Five hundred soundings times a rate of seven pings per second means there are thirty five hundred soundings per second total. This data density enhances the resolution of the maps that will be generated once the data has been processed.

Since there are sometimes safety hazards when surveying there are several different approaches that can be used to ensure the entire area is surveyed in a safe manner. Half stepping included going back over previous coverage far enough away from the hazard. Scalloping is another method which involves turning right before the rock or obstruction. This sends the beam swath near the rock without putting the vessel in danger. Some areas that were too close to icebergs could not be surveyed since it was not safe. But, this hydrographic survey was able to acquire data closer to the Sawyer Glacier than ever before. Being a part of this data collection was gratifying on many levels!

Personal Log

Seeing a white mountain goat amongst some of the most beautiful geological features that I have ever laid eyes on was another benefit of being out on the launch for the day. When a grizzly bear cub ran by a waterfall I continued to appreciate a day on the launch. Seals perched on icebergs were always a fun sight to see. And, the endless pieces of ice drifting by in the sea during our surveying never ceased to amaze me. 

Seals on an Ice Berg
Seals on an Iceberg

After a day of surveying, kayaking to a waterfall in William’s Cove and exploring proved to be another fun adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Waterfall in William’s Cove

Growing Muscle like Growing Character

The other day as I ran on the treadmill, I had a realization. While looking at the lifting weights, I realized that in order to build muscle, one must tear old muscles and rebuild new strands of protein. When these new fibers build on top of each other, muscles grow. I realized that new officers go through a similar process of developing skills and character. Junior officers come in with a two year responsibility where they learn an incredible amount. They are constantly put into new and challenging learning experiences where they tear their muscles. As they acclimate to these experiences, they build character, or muscle. The cycle repeats with subsequent occurrences.

Junior Officer ENS Airlie Pickett has a small triangle tattooed on her inner left bicep. When I asked her the significance of it, she said that the only way that you can truly understand something is to observe how it changes. In math, integrals and derivatives explain this change.

As I appreciated her tattoo, I considered that she must learn quite a lot about herself as a junior officer constantly learning new things. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to experience and observe myself in an unfamiliar surrounding on Rainier. It’s humbling to not understand the nautical terms, endless acronyms of surveying and NOAA Corps structure of life. I appreciated that all hands on Rainier made me feel welcomed, and were patient with explaining new concepts to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the Inside Passage while learning about hydrographic surveying. Living on a ship, learning about navigation and meeting all of the hard working people on Rainier has been an unique experience. Overall, this has been an incredible opportunity. Mahalo nui loa! (Thank you very much). A hui hou Rainier! (Until we meet again)!

Did You Know?

Barometers measure atmospheric pressure in millimeters of mercury or atmospheres. An atmosphere is the amount of air wrapped around the Earth and one atmosphere, atm, is the amount of pressure at sea level at fifteen degrees Celsius. As altitude increases, the amount of pressure decreases since the density of the air decreases and less pressure is exerted. A decrease in altitude increases the amount of pressure exerted and the density of the air increases.

Changes in pressure can signify weather patterns. A drop in barometric pressure means a low pressure system is coming in and  there is not enough force to blow away the weather. Weather indicative of this includes windy, cloudy and/or rainy weather. An increase in barometric pressure means a high pressure system is coming in and  cool, dry air pushes out the weather resulting in clear skies.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/barometer/

 

Victoria Obenchain: Surveying with Fairweather, June 30, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 30th, 2018

 Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 57o 57.7’ N
  • Long.: 145o 45.7’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 1 knot
  • Wind direction: West, southwest
  • Temperature: 10.8oC
  • Visibility: 6.4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Cloudy

 Science and Technology Log

The last two days have been surveying days. With the MVP (described in the last blog) deployed, the survey team got to work. This ship uses multibeam sonar which is affixed below the ship. Since surveying can be done at all times of day, 3 teams were created to do Survey Watch; each team worked two 4 hour blocks during the day to make sure the data was collected correctly.  I was luckily placed on one of the teams, working the 3:30-7:30pm shift and the 3:30-7:30am shift. While these may not be the most normal of work day times, especially the latter, I was excited to be included and experience how work gets done on this ship.

This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts a MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.
This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts a MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.

Ali Johnson monitoring 5 screens to make sure the sonar mapping is done correctly.
Ali Johnson monitoring 5 screens to make sure the sonar mapping is done correctly.

I was teamed up with two amazing female scientists and surveyors on Survey Watch, Megan Shapiro and Ali Johnson.

Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation
Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation

Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation. She has a love for whales and that is what brought her to Alaska, as she used to work in Seward, Alaska as a deck hand and naturalist on whale watching excursions. To NOAA’s luck, this is where Megan learned about NOAA Ship Fairweather and its hydrographic mission.  Megan joined the ship about three month ago and has gotten tons of on the job training to help her learn how to map the sea floor.

Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College.
Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College.

Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College. She learned about NOAA and its work with sonar while she was volunteering at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.  NOAA was actually using sonar in the preserve to help learn about diurnal fish migrations and predator prey relationships in the area.

While on Survey Watch, Megan and Ali monitor the ships sonar readings along the sea floor, deploy the MVP continuously throughout the trek to gather up to date data, and make sure the information is being recorded correctly. They work along side the officers to monitor the ship’s course to make a full coverage map of the area, which means having the ship go back and forth, like a lawn mower might do in your yard, until all pieces of an area are mapped. And then once all the sonar soundings are in, weeks of processing that data starts. They use correctors for the data, such as: tides, roll and pitch of the boat, sound speed, and position, to then help create the most accurate representation of the sea floor.

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I wanted to know more about these amazing scientists. NOAA Ship Fairweather is a fairly large ship which can hold approximately 50 people, Megan and Ali are two of the only five women who work onboard.

What is the most rewarding part of this job?

Megan: Probably knowing that the work I am doing is going to be making the nautical charts used by mariners all over the world, it’s cool to know I am taking part in that.

Ali: I like the high quality and accuracy of data we provide, it allows for others to use the data in other applications, such as tsunami and hurricane planning, hazard mitigation and in other facets of NOAA.

What are some of the perks working for NOAA and on NOAA Ship Fairweather?

Megan: Getting to travel to new places and getting to meet a lot of new people, many of which are like minded.

Ali: We get to travel and gain access to remote areas of the world which are stunning. I like being out on the water as well. Additionally, we get access to new release movies before they hit stores, so that’s pretty nice, too!

What are some of the challenges to this type of work?

Megan: It’s hard staying in touch with friends and family since the ship is normally out of cell service range and the wifi can be slow. Additionally, I miss cooking! While the ship offers us great cooked meals, I sometimes miss cooking for myself.

Ali: One of the biggest challenges is just being away from cities. If we wanted to go to the east coast, or home for a long weekend, its kind of hard. It is a 17 hour trip, from Juneau, with all the connections.

What have been some of the coolest or most memorable moments on the job?

Megan: While processing the data for an area known as Tracy Arm, my coworker and I discovered a previously unknown underwater trench! When we were looking at the area during processing, the area looked like it had a cut or dip in the surface. Once it was 3-d imaged you could see the trench. It was pretty cool.

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Ali: Last year, a fishing/crabbing vessel, F/V Destination, went down in February with six on board. NOAA Ship Fairweather was passing through the area in June, and it had yet to be found. Since we were in the last known area of the vessel the Coast Guard asked us if we could spend a day or two in the area and use our sonar to see if we could help find it. We had only planned on spending one day looking since we were on our way to the Arctic, but when that day was done we decided to do one last pass and on the 26th hour the sonar ended up finding it. It was nice to be able to provide the families with closure.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Megan: I wanted to be a zoo keeper! Or really anything with animals, I thought about being a teacher, too.

Ali: I knew I wanted to do something with the oceans. Originally I wanted to work with ocean animals, possibly mammals or cephalopods.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Megan: Hopefully, having a farm by the ocean where I can have lots of dogs. I would love to have an Irish Wolf Hound, Collie and a Borzio in particular. Maybe get my masters in Marine Biology and continue studying whales.

Ali: Maybe I’ll be retire from NOAA by then and look into starting a nonprofit for the ocean. I’ll probably live somewhere warm and tropical; maybe lead a dive school to get others interested in the ocean, as well. And I’ll have some dogs, too!

Personal Log

I keep finding myself outside the ship to view the Alaskan coastline or to scope for animals. It is truly beautiful here.  So far I have been lucky enough to see quite a few whales, sea lions, porpoises and sea birds including albatross. It is a bit cold, so I can only be outside for a little bit, but I find the time completely worth it. Soon my time will be up and I want to be able to remember this experience and the Alaskan beauty I am in.

Alaskan coastline
Alaskan coastline

 

 

Eric Koser: Hydrography 101 – and the Tools to Make it Happen, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 28, 2018: 0900 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 57°52.59′ Long: 133°38.7′
Skies: Broken
Wind 1 kt at variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: calm
Water temp: 5.6°C

Science and Technology Log

Long Line Boat
A typical longline fishing boat. The fishing lines get spread out behind the boat from the large booms on either side.

The ultimate focus of Rainier is to assure accurate navigational charts are available to all mariners. This task is critical to the safety of many industries. About 80% of all the overseas trade in the US (by weight) is moved over water. Here in SE Alaska, it appears the largest industry is commercial fishing. Many boats fish both with nets and long lines to catch halibut, rockfish, cod, and several varieties of salmon.

Another major industry here is certainly tourism. As we conduct our work, we often see very large cruise ships. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to be in a narrow inlet surrounded by mountains, ice, and wildlife and then come across a large ship.  We passed the brand new ship Norwegian Bliss around 11 PM on our transit to Tracy Arm. This ship is 1,082 feet long, carries a crew of 2,100 people and has a guest capacity of 4,004 people! The safe navigation of all of these vessels depends upon the accuracy of charts produced by NOAA.

Norwegian Bliss
The cruise ship Norwegian Bliss as we passed her port to port in the evening.

The freely available charts offered by NOAA are created with three essential steps. First, the bulk of the depth data in this area is measured with MBES (Multi-Beam Echo Sounder). This creates a three-dimensional digital image of the bottom.

Secondly, important features to navigation that are shallow are best identified by our launches which travel along the shorelines and inspect for rocks, ledges, and other potential dangers. The locations of features are identified by GPS location and charted digitally by hydrographers on each launch.

Thirdly, bottom samples are collected by launch crews to confirm the type of material present on the bottom.

The MBES systems aboard Rainier and the launches come from Kongsberg Maritime. Two transducers (devices that transmit and receive) work in tandem. The transducer that is oriented front to back sends out an array of sound signals in a wide beam. The width of the beam on the sea floor depends directly on the depth – deeper water allows the beam to spread farther before reflecting. The transducer that is oriented side to side in the water receives a narrow swath of the ‘pings’ of sound that were transmitted. The time it takes any ping to get to the bottom and reflect back to the ship is recorded. The greater the time, the larger the depth.

MBES on a launch
This shows the position of the MBES on the bottom of one of several launches.

MBES transducers
This is the pair of MBES transducers on a launch, looking from the bow towards the stern.

Hydro Sonar
This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts an MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.

A couple of issues provide challenges to this technique. One, the speed of sound in water depends on several factors. The salinity (concentration of salt in the water),  the conductivity (how easily electricity passes through the water), and the temperature each fluctuate as the depth changes and affect the speed of the sound waves. As hydrographers receive data, the system has to account for these changes in speed to produce an accurate depth measurement. One way to do this is with a static CTD sensor. This device is lowered from the launches all the way to the bottom as it measures the speed of sound in the water.  It provides a set of three charts as the depth changes which are used to adjust the time data from the MBES accordingly. There is also a version of the CTD, called a MVP (Moving Vehicle Profiler or ‘fish’), that can be pulled behind Rainier as we are moving and take dynamic data.

Here is a NOAA article on hydrographic surveying.  Here is further explanation of MBSS.

Deploying Depth Profiler
Here the crew lowers the profiler “fish” into the water.

Speed Profiler Data
These three plots represent the speed of sound, temperature, and salinity (from left to right) vs. depth (on the vertical axis).

A second issue is GPS signal drift. Over time, the location information can shift slightly. To account for this potential problem, the scientists place a HORCON (Horizontal Control) station onshore in the area where they are mapping. I described this tool in my previous post.

Another interesting technology that is currently being developed is called “backscatter” mapping. Here scientists look not only at the time it takes the sound waves to bounce back to the transducer, but also at the quality of the return signal. Different materials on the seafloor reflect the sound differently – hard surfaces like rocks have a sound signature that is much different than soft surfaces like silt or plants. NOAA is continually improving the tools they use to learn!

Here is an example of the chart that we are updating in Tracy Arm.

Personal Log

I had a chance to take the helm yesterday! It’s interesting how sensitive the steering on this large vessel really is. The rudders are able to turn from “amidships” or their center position, up to about 35° to either side. But while traveling at about 8 knots, we tend to use a maximum of about 5° of rudder to alter the ship’s direction. While at the helm, we keep close track of the heading (compass bearing) of the ship as indicated by the gyro compass and magnetic compass on board. Then we provide steering input to hold the ship to the course ordered by the CONN. I had the chance to help steer around several icebergs as we transited into Tracy Arm. Careful attention to detail – and willingness to promptly follow commands make for success!

Helm
My opportunity to take the helm of Rainier.

I also took an opportunity to head out in a kayak from the ship where we are anchored! Two of my new colleagues and I paddled across this bay and had a great chance to look very closely at pieces of ice. The ice is really beautiful and forms many interesting shapes. The quiet of the bay – hearing only the distant waterfalls, birds, and our paddling was beautiful!

Iceberg
This piece of ice drifted through Tracy Arm from the glacier. It was temporarily ‘grounded’ on the bottom by the receding tide.

It’s crazy to consider the ice we were seeing may have been formed thousands of years ago in the glacier – and it just now melting as it floats away.

Did You Know?

President Thomas Jefferson signed a mandate in 1807 ordering a survey of the nation’s coasts. This fundamental task is always ongoing, with 95,000 miles of US Coastline.

About 90% of any floating piece of ice will be submerged below the salt water.  Because the density of frozen fresh water just slightly less than salt water, the ice floats very low in the water!  Read more here!

Who is Onboard?

I’d like you to meet HST (Hydrographic Survey Technician), Amanda Finn! Ms. Finn has been with NOAA since last September – and started working aboard NOAA Ship Rainier in October of 2017. As an HST, Amanda works with the team of hydrographers to collect MBES data from either the ship or any of the launches. Amanda graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in GeoSciences and a minor in Oceanography. At the end of her college experience, she knew that seafloor mapping was her passion but wasn’t sure how to make that into a job. But it all came together when she found NOAA through a friend of a friend!

HST Amanda Finn
HST Amanda Finn with recently acquired depth data for Lisinaski Inlet!

Amanda was performing at her first harp concert (another skill!) when she met a relation of a hydrographer who works on a NOAA ship! Based on her experience, her advice to students is: “When things don’t seem to be going the way you want, take time to focus on something else you like instead. In good time, things will work out!”

One positive challenge Amanda shares working here on a hydro ship is developing an understanding of systems integration. Many different pieces must come together to create the finished charts. The people aboard Rainier make the experience very positive!  The passion for seeking the unknown is the drive to continue!

 

Brandy Hill: Chat with Chief Engineer and My First Tuna Catch, June 28, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 28, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 50.7’ N

Longitude: 093° 34.4’ W

Visibility: 10+ nm

Sky Condition: 4/8

Wind: 12 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.6° C

Air: 29.3° C

 

 

Science and Technology Log

This afternoon I spent an hour with Chief Marine Engineer, Thom Cleary. As promised, he gave me a tour of the Engine Room. Thom arrived on the Thomas Jefferson in 2011 and has worked not only on maintaining operations, but greatly improving them. When asked about his favorite ship mechanism, he responded with one that is not his favorite but of which he is most proud. The Thomas Jefferson, along with most other ships, typically used to rid greywater and sewage by offloading into the ocean. The EPA states that ships must be at least one nautical mile from land or people in the water and three nautical miles from aquaculture (2018). With hydrographic survey operations taking place in “no discharge” areas (close to shore), this could complicate and/or slow down the Thomas Jefferson’s progress.

Realizing the inefficiency and in an effort to improve, Thom investigated other options. It was decided that a fuel storage tank would be converted to hold more wastewater. After a long wait period, the new method was installed. Within the first season 38,000 gallons of sewage was stored and discharged to a shore treatment facility. Today, the tanks have gone almost two months without release into the Gulf of Mexico. This improvement has allowed hydrographic operations to continue without interruption, conserves fuel, and increases efficiency.

Renovations to the Thomas Jefferson did not stop there. Originally constructed in 1991, the ship has room for many other improvements. Thom and team advocated for all natural lubricants (rather than petroleum), switched all light fixtures to LEDs, and adjusted the ballast system. In 2016 the roughly 122,000 gallon ballast system changed from using sea to municipal water. This now allows the ship to move from multiple coastal waters without concern for carrying invasive species in the ballast tanks. In addition, the new waste water tank was strategically placed in the center of the ship to help with stability.

Ballast diagram
Ballast diagram showing invasive species risk. (CC)

Thom is an innovator and self-described incorrigible tinkerer. Many of these changes would not have been made without his (and team’s) desire and advocacy to make things better. When I asked if these upgrades were standard on ships, he mentioned that the Thomas Jefferson is a trailblazer.

Chief Engineer Thom Cleary
Chief Engineer Thom Cleary and the desalination/ reverse osmosis system. The RO typically operates at 650 psi (with 900psi maximum potential) and pushes sea water through a membrane creating potable water for the ship.

 

Personal Log

CO (Commanding Officer) authorized a launch on one of the boats. After some mishaps with a fuse, the crew performed multiple safety checks and we were cleared to go. Mission: collect survey data near a stationary platform. CO’s comfort level to obstructions with the main ship is a half-mile, so having the smaller launch boats is helpful when surveying areas like this.

Launch Boat Approach
The launch boat crew from left to right: Lt. Klemm, Kevin Brown, Pat Osborn, and Brandy Hill (below deck).

 

SurveyNearPlatform
Survey area near the stationary platform. The ship to the left is a supply vessel.

While cruising out to the survey area, I spoke with Pat Osborn, part of the Thomas Jefferson’s deck crew and our survey line driver for the day. Pat has two years of training and was explaining that he is still learning parts of his job. (Everyone on the ship wears multiple hats.) He spoke highly of his job and appreciated the multi-dimensional relationship between CO and the crew. Pat explained that CO is not expected to be an expert in all areas of the ship- there are safety checks (such as preparing for the launch) where the CO asks lead crew members to evaluate and sign-off prior to action. Every mission I’ve observed and attended has proceeded in this manner. It is a highly respectful and safe environment.

AllisonLaunchApproach
Chief Survey Technician, Allison Stone, awaiting launch boat arrival.

Launch Return to Ship
Patrick Osborn approaching ship Thomas Jefferson with the launch boat.

KevinDeployingCTD
Kevin Brown lowers the CTD while the boat is stationary. A CTD captures the salinity, temperature, depth, and concentration of particles in the water column. This information is used for analyzing the survey data. On the ship, this information is collected using an MVP which allows the ship to stay in motion.

As soon as we had the survey equipment set up and running, survey technician Kevin Brown brought out a fishing pole. I hadn’t realized that we could fish while out on the boat! We proceeded to catch and release about 10 tuna (likely False Albacore and Bonito). Kevin reeled in two, then passed the pole to me. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to real in a fish. I was reading that they can stay on the line and swim up to 40 mph!

Brandy reeling
Brandy Hill’s active line power stance.

False Albacore
Brandy Hill and her first fishing boat catch, False Albacore.

Peaks

 + Witnessed hard work and precision paying off- the launch boat survey data had an error of 0.0006 meters. The data is highly accurate!

+ Drove “the survey line” on the launch boat. (More of an explanation coming soon.)

+ Reeled in a beautiful, tough fish.

Note: After the seasickness subsided, I’ve decided to leave out the “Valleys” category. I’m having a great time.

Vickie Obenchain: Starting a Hydrographic Survey, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 26 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Alaska

Date: June 28th, 2018

Weather from the Bridge

  • Latitude: 54o 25.5’ N
  • Longitude: 134o 13.7’ W
  • Wind Speed: 13 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, Southwest
  • Temperature: 12.2 oC
  • Visibility: 10 nautical miles
  • Wave Height: 1 foot
  • Current Sky Conditions: Overcast

 

Science and Technology Log

This morning I spent some time on the bridge with the officers. NOAA Ship Fairweather is manned day and night with men and women making sure we are safely on course. While the ship is equipped with GPS, the ship is also full of experienced mariners who plot our position on paper nautical charts to help guarantee the technology is working correctly and helps the officers orient themselves with the area.  Every 15 minutes, an officer plots our position either by using GPS coordinates, radar returns, or fixed land triangulation using an alidade. This last mode of determining our coordinates, at least to me, is the most difficult. You must use 3 fixed land points on either side of the ship, determine their direction using the compass on the alidade and then using sliding protractors plot our triangulated position on the chart. Both Executive Officer (XO) Michael Gonsalves and ENS Cabot Zucker have been incredibly helpful in teaching me these different plotting techniques.

plotting our course
XO Gonsalves in the foreground and ENS Zucker in the back plotting our course.


Today we are headed to the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System. This is a strike slip fault line extending 746 miles off shore of Vancouver Island to the Fairweather range in southeast Alaska.  USGS has partnered with NOAA Ship Fairweather to help to create part of a comprehensive map of one of the fastest moving underwater tectonic plates in the world, moving of a slip rate of 2 inches a year. Over the next 24 hours they will survey the area using multibeam sonar to help complete the mapping which as taken almost 4 years to complete.

To start this, the survey team had to deploy a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) into the water. The MVP follows behind the ship and by detecting water temperature and salinity of the water, the MVP can then determine the speed of sound in water needed to accurately detect the sea floor. With this knowledge the survey team can correctly calibrate their sonar to map the sea floor. Below you will see Sam Candio and Simon Swart of the survey team deploying the MVP.

 

Next blog will cover the amazing people working with the sonar, all times of day and night to make the sea floor maps! (Stay tuned!!)

______________________________________________________________________________

Another short term visitor on this ship is a college student from Loyola University Chicago, Paul Campion, who is on board doing an internship with NOAA. Each year NOAA accepts approximately 130 college sophomores into their two-year-long Hollings internship program to give students an opportunity to take part in research, gain job experience and see what NOAA does.  While on board, Paul has been working with the survey team to learn how they do their work, as well as create his own project.  Paul has been looking at the electronic navigational charts (ENC) used today by most mariners which show the depth of the sea floor. As NOAA Ship Fairweather surveys an area, these ENC’s can then be updated with more accurate and up to date data. While some areas may remain the same, some areas may show changes or even characteristics which may not have been mapped prior and need to be highlighted.  Paul has been working to help create an efficient way to show where the ENCs are different to the new NOAA Ship Fairweather data and may need to be altered or updated.

Paul Campion
Paul Campion pointing out a beautiful glacier!

Personal Log

Since we are out in the sea, and do not have neighboring island chains around us, the boat has been tossed around a bit more and is definitely rolling around in the waves. Luckily, I have not been sick… yet. I have been taking sea sickness pills, and making sure I get plenty of fresh air, but the boat is definitely more difficult to work in. You find yourself moving both with the boat’s inertia and then having to fight against it to move. Walking uses walls and railings, sitting requires holding on to the closest counter top or nailed down object and to get into rooms you need to shove doors away from you to open them, yet hold on so they don’t swing completely away from you and slam the opposite wall. It is kind of challenging and yet amusing.

After lunch today, I went to take a shower. I was given some good advice since I had not done this when the boat was in open water. These words of advice included: Use the walls, kind of squat down to lower your center of gravity, don’t take a razor with you (nothing good will come of that), and if the soap drops be especially careful! All things I took to heart and I am glad to report I am clean, unscratched and ready for another day.

 

Taylor Planz: Welcome to my Adventure! June 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska

Date: June 27, 2018

Weather Data from the House

Lat: 33.4146° N Long: 82.3126° W
Air Temperature: 23.3° C
Wind Speed: 6.1 Knots
Wind Direction: West
Conditions: Mostly Cloudy, 69% humidity

Personal Log

Welcome to my blog! My name is Taylor Planz, and I am so honored to be a Teacher at Sea this season! My passions in life besides education are my family, my cats, the mountains, and, of course, the ocean! In college I studied Oceanography and conducted undergraduate research in Chemical Oceanography where I explored phosphate dynamics in estuarine sediments. I went on multiple afternoon research cruises as part of my undergraduate degree, but I have never been on a ship overnight before now. I married my husband Derrick in 2014 on the beach, a childhood dream of mine. We got married on the Gulf of Mexico in Destin, Florida.

My husband Derrick and I got married on the Gulf of Mexico in 2014.
My husband Derrick and I got married on the Gulf of Mexico in 2014.

In the fall I will be teaching Physical Science and Forensic Science to juniors and seniors at Harlem High School in rural Harlem, GA. In the past, I taught middle school science and this year will be my first year in a high school classroom. I am excited to teach a new age group this fall as there are many big decisions students must make during these critical high school years. I hope that my experience with NOAA Teacher at Sea will inspire at least one student to pursue science, and maybe even ocean science, as a career! There is so much out there to be explored in the ocean, atmosphere, landscape, and even space!

Alaska is about to be the 34th state I have visited in my life! I never really understood how far away it was until my flights for this trip were booked. After departing Atlanta, Georgia, I will land briefly in Portland, Oregon and then Anchorage, Alaska before arriving in Nome, Alaska. From there, I will board NOAA Ship Fairweather for Point Hope. The flights and layovers alone will take 16 hours! It is quite amazing how far the United States stretches!

Flight Map
My trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Nome, Alaska will span 3 flights and 16 hours.

NOAA Ship Fairweather will be my home for 12 days next month where I will help conduct a hydrographic survey of the Point Hope region in northwestern Alaska. We will be so far north that we may cross the Arctic Circle! Only 30% of this region’s ocean floor has ever been surveyed, and those surveys need updating because they took place in the 1960s. Updated and new surveys will be vital for the continued safe navigation of the ever-increasing maritime traffic, especially because the size of the vessels navigating the local waters continues to grow.

NOAA Ship Fairweather
NOAA Ship Fairweather – Photo Courtesy NOAA

Science and Technology Log

Most of the blog posts I write onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather will tie back to physical science, so today I would like to discuss some earth science! Point Hope, AK is located at 68.3478° N  latitude and 166.8081° W longitude. As you may know, Earth is divided into 90° of latitude per hemisphere, so 68° is pretty far north! In comparison, Harlem, GA is located at 33.4146° N latitude and 82.3126° W longitude.

What is significant about a region’s latitude? Latitude affects many things including sunlight distribution, seasons, and climate. For most of us in the United States, we know that summer days are long and winter days are short (in reference to hours of sunlight per 24 hour day). In Alaska the effect is much more dramatic! Parts of Alaska experience 24 hours of daylight around the summer solstice in June and 24 hours of darkness around the winter solstice in December. Not only are the daylight hours much different than what most of us experience, the concentration of sunlight that reaches Alaska is different too.

No matter which hemisphere you live in, as your latitude increases away from the equator (0° latitude) the amount of sunlight that reaches you decreases. The sun has to travel a longer distance through more of Earth’s atmosphere to reach you. As the light travels, it becomes more diffuse and less of it reaches its final destination: the Earth’s surface. The less direct sunlight makes those places feel cooler throughout the year than places like Ecuador, which is close to the equator and gets direct sunlight year round. Regions closer to the equator also do not get the long summer days and long winter nights because their daylight hours average around 12 hours per day year round.

It’s a common misconception to think that Earth is closer to the Sun in the summer and farther in the winter. If this were true, summer would start in June all over the world! Instead, the Earth’s tilt (at 23.5°) determines which hemisphere is pointing towards the Sun and that hemisphere experiences summer while the other experiences winter. As latitude increases, the seasonal effect becomes more dramatic. In other words, the difference between summer and winter is more and more noticeable. That is why warm, tropical places near the equator stay warm and tropical year round.

With all of this important science to consider, my 12 days in Alaska will definitely be an adjustment! I purchased an eye mask to help me to get restful sleep while the sun shines around me close to 24 hours per day. In addition, I will be packing plenty of layers to stay warm during the cool days and cold nights. In Georgia, most summer days reach temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity. In contrast, Alaskan days on the water will reach 50s-60s on average.

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Fairweather was built in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-1960s, and its home port today is on the opposite side of the country in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Question of the Day

How many hours of daylight did you experience in your home state during the summer solstice on June 21? Nome, Alaska had 21 hours and 21 minutes of daylight!

 


Brandy Hill: Warm Initiation to Life at Sea: June 26, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 26, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 59.9′ N

Longitude: 093° 50.4′ W

Visibility: 10+ nm

Sky Condition: 2/8 (2 out of 8 parts have cloud cover)

Wind: 170°, 8 knots (kts)

Temperature: Sea water: 29.8 ° C, Air: 28.8 ° C

 

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Upon early evening arrival to Corpus Christi, TX, I was greeted by ENS Taylor Krabiel with a friendly sign at the airport arrival gate. We made a short drive to the port in Corpus Christi and boarded NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.

 

TJ Starboard View
Starboard view of the Thomas Jefferson while docked in Corpus Christi.

 

ENS Krabiel provided a quick and thorough tour of the Thomas Jefferson including the well-stocked mess (including a fresh salad and fruit bar, ice cream freezer and espresso machine), gym, complementary laundry facilities, all offices and staterooms, the plot (survey) room, and multiple outdoor decks. He was also patient as I repeatedly lost direction of the stairwell, multiple decks (floors) and doors. It is evident that ENS Krabiel has experience as a teacher because his enthusiasm about the ship, projects, personnel, and patience with newcomers seems to come naturally.

One fact he shared about the ship is that the Thomas Jefferson makes its own water through reverse osmosis. This means that all hands (everyone aboard the ship) generally do not need to worry about water rationing. I hope to take a tour and find out more about this process during the next couple of weeks.

 

2012-2018 Puretec Industrial Water
Reverse osmosis diagram. (Puretech Industrial Water 2012-2018)

 

He also mentioned that the U.S. via NOAA is one of the only countries that provide nautical chart data at no cost to the public. Private parties may use these accessible charts and make their own modifications.

The CO, Commanding Officer, of the ship and I discussed various careers aboard the Thomas Jefferson. CO explained that ship personnel in blue uniforms are hired through NOAA Corps and follow military rankings while professional mariners include the survey team, engineers, stewards, and deck department. There are also electronics technicians who are hired as civil servants. I found it astonishing that some crew members have been with the Thomas Jefferson since NOAA acquired the ship in 2003. I was able to have my first breakfast aboard the ship with Puddin’ Gilliam, Junior Engineer, who has been with the ship since then.

It was interesting observing the plans for departure from Corpus Christi come together. I sat in on a safety brief discussing the strict plan of navigation. It takes roughly two hours to navigate through a narrow, 21-mile long channel out of the port. Coming too close to the sides of the channel could cause the ship to run aground, while coming too close to oncoming ships could cause additional damage. There are also several points of crossways where ships could be coming from a different direction. All of these variables require critical communication and a concise plan. Junior Officer, ENS Jacquelyn Putnam, lead the brief and displayed digital Mercator projections of the navigation plan. She claims that navigation is her favorite part of her job. In addition, it was decided that the assistance of a pilot (someone who boards the ship while docked and departs at the jetty) would provide ideal support in navigating the ship.

General Alarm
Several checks are completed prior to departure. This includes sounding all alarms (above), checking the ship whistle, and steering (not pictured).

 

During a project brief lead by FOO (Field Operations Officer) Lt. Anthony Klemm, I learned that the primary mission is to accurately complete the survey of a section of the Gulf of Mexico. The area was last surveyed in the 1930s. Already, the survey team has submitted updates including the removal of two wrecks or obstructions previously documented in the narrow fairway leading to Galveston. This inaccurate documentation of obstructions that were no longer present could have been causing ships to deviate from the fairway or move unnecessarily into the oncoming lane of traffic. In addition, the surveys done by NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson allow for validation of surveys completed by other organizations such as BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).

 

 

           ENS Taylor Krabiel launches a towfish sonar device. 

       Basics of the survey process include launching two types of sonar which work together to provide in-depth views of the ocean floor. Sonar sends a sound wave at a speed around 1500 meters per second in salt water. Using this information and the time it takes for the sonar wave to return to the device, the distance can be calculated using Distance = Speed x Time. The sonar images generated are then processed, saved, and analyzed by the survey team. ENS Putnam mentioned that it is important to validate the data by using multiple scans, “buttoning-up” or finalizing, and re-surveying areas that generated poor data. At times, areas of interest (like a wreck) or areas of safety concern are further investigated by completing another scan on the main ship or by sending a launch (smaller boat).

 

Personal Log

While Tom Loftin, Chief Electronics Technician, was getting my computer set-up on the ship’s wifi, we heard a call for “All Hands on deck.” I looked at him and asked if that meant us. He replied, “Yep, let’s go!” We joined everyone on the ship to form an assembly line to assist with unpacking crates and passing food down into the mess. The crew would get excited about certain items like the ice cream and blueberries while questioning other generic items with nondescript labels.

Starting at the very beginning before we even left port, there has been no end to teamwork, positive morale, and camaraderie presented on the ship. I have discussed this with multiple crew members and all have said that teamwork and constant communication is critical. Several examples include: the departure from Corpus Christi, observing the survey and bridge communication while sonar is in the water, and the timely “Plan of the Day” email sent out by Lt. Charles Wisotzkey. ENS Putnam mentioned that nothing can be accomplished without a well-functioning team. She further stated that clearly defined roles and the importance of everyone’s job makes the team function well.

It has been a lot of fun to be around this crew. Everyone is kind and highly accommodating thus far. Outside the XO’s (executive officer) office is a sign that says, “Work hard and be nice to others.” I am excited to be here and to witness such a well-functioning team.

 

Bridge Departure View
Officers, crew, and pilot on the bridge while navigating the narrow channel to Galveston.

 

Peaks and Valleys

 

+ I enjoyed observing the departure process and launching the sonar devices.

+ I’ve seen over 30 dolphins scattered around the Gulf.

+I enjoy catching up with people during meal times. The food isn’t bad!

 

– I experienced my first bought of sea sickness immediately upon leaving the jetty. Seas were a bit rough (an estimated 8 feet) and I retired to my stateroom (bedroom) early without eating dinner.

– I accidentally locked myself out of the shared head (bathroom).

Eric Koser: Getting Underway! June 25, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018


Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Region: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 25, 2018, 1500 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 56°59.4’, Long:135°53.9’
Skies: Broken
Wind 19 kts at 340°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 3-4’ with swells of 2-3’
Water temp: 9.4°C

Science and Technology Log

Rainier and her sister ship Fairweather celebrated their 50th anniversary together this past March. The bell on the bow of each ship is now plated in gold to celebrate the event.

This vessel has quite a physical plant below deck maintained by the competent team in the Engineering Department. For propulsion, there are two V-12 Diesel Locomotive Engines. After bathing the valves in fresh oil, each engine is started with compressed air at the press of a button. Once up and running, the Rainier’s engines often run for several days at a time. There is no “transmission” on this vessel. Instead, the two propellers utilize what is called ‘variable pitch’. When the pitch is set to zero, the props spin but push water neither back or forward – and thus don’t force the ship to move. When the prop pitched is increased in a forward direction – up to a pitch of 10, the ship is pushed forward. Of course, this is really the water pushing the ship forward as the propellers push the water backward. A pitch of “10” means that for each single rotation of the prop, the blades will move water ten feet back. When reverse is desired, the props can each pitch back to a maximum of ‘6’. Now the water is pushed forwards by the prop so the water can push the ship backward.

Prop Pitch Control
This is the variable prop pitch control system. Notice the silver digital actuator at the top which provides an electronic signal back to the bridge.

Push to Start
This is how the Engineering Department can start the engines.

As there are two engines and two propellers, the Rainier’s crew can run one prop forwards and the other backward to turn the vessel around nearly in place. This could be called a ‘split 6’ – where one prop is pitched forward 6 to match the other prop’s pitch backward of 6.

Rainier Engines
This is one side of one of Rainier’s two V-12 Diesel locomotive engines.

Another device the crew can use to manipulate the ship in the water is called a ‘bow thruster’.   This is an open tube from port (left) to starboard (right) near the bow of the ship underwater. There is a propeller mounted in this open tube which is powered by a separate engine. The engineering team can have the bow thruster system up and running in just a matter of minutes when called on by the bridge to prepare for its use! By pushing water to one side, the water pushes the bow the other way. This is a great tool to maneuver this large vessel in tight spaces.

In addition to the two engines plus the bow thruster, there are several other important systems maintained on The Rainier. There are a pair of 4000 Watt diesel electric generators to provide electricity. There is a water purification system – to isolate salt from seawater and make clean drinking water and a wastewater treatment plant to process waste. There are air compressors to supply the ship’s systems.

There are 45 individuals on board this ship – and they pull together into five teams to make operations happen on board. The NOAA Corps is responsible for the administration and navigation of the ship. The Deck crew handles all things on the surface of the ship including handling all lines, cranes, and davits (to manipulate the launches—small boats). The Engineering Crew is responsible for all the mechanical systems on board.  The Electronics Department handles all instrumentation and wiring on the ship. The Stewards run the ever important galley – keeping the entire group well fed. All of this supports the work of the survey team of Hydrographers, the team of scientists that are mapping the sea floor.

 

Personal Log

I’ve enjoyed both finding my way around the ship and getting to know the crew. These people work as a team!

I came in early enough to enjoy a few days exploring Sitka, Alaska. This is a small port town that is really the first city in Alaska. Russians originally settled here in 1799 and eventually sold the city to the US in 1867. Sitka is a beautiful place to explore – being primarily a port for commercial and private fishing operations.

Sitka Bridge
This bridge spans the main channel in Sitka.

Sitka Harbor
This is one of Sitka’s many harbors.

We’ve just left port this afternoon [Monday] as we transit to Lisianski Strait to being the hydrographic mission of this leg. We’ll arrive there late tonight/early Tuesday morning to collect data first from the Rainier itself. The experience on the ocean has been great thus far, and I look forward to much more!

departing Sitka
Here we are departing Sitka Monday afternoon – headed to the open Pacific to transit north.

Did You Know?

Sitka is the largest city, by area, in the United States in terms of land area! It occupies 2870 square miles yet has only a population of about 9,000 people—located mostly on the port location of Sitka.

The Rainier holds about 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel that is located in several tanks below deck. The weight of the fuel serves as ballast to help keep the ship stable while at sea! Fuel can be shifted between tanks to adjust the trim [front or back tilt] and list [port or starboard tilt] of the ship.  Typically Rainier refuels when the tanks reach about half full.

Vickie Obenchain: Alaska Here I come! June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria (Vickie) Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25 – July 6, 2018

Mission:   Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 22nd, 2018

 

Personal Log

Hello, my name is Vickie Obenchain and I am the K-5 science specialist and 6-8 middle school science teacher at the Saklan School in Moraga, California. I was an outdoor environmental educator before becoming a classroom teacher and found water ways fascinating, as they can show you the health of an area, see human impact and also connect so many areas of the world and environments.  Now in the classroom, as my school is very close to the San Francisco Bay, water and ocean topics are always a discussion in my science classes.

Tomorrow, I leave for northwest Alaska to take apart in oceanic research on board NOAA Ship Fairweather. I will be working with NOAA scientists to help map the ocean floor around Alaska to help boats maneuver along those water ways, as most commerce comes either by boat or plane. Accurate up to date data is necessary to help also with storm surges and wave modeling.

NOAA Ship Fairweather_Photo courtesy NOAA__1513364385969__w960

NOAA Ship Fairweather (Courtesy of NOAA)

I am very excited to take part in this research. Being chosen to be a Teacher At Sea and learn along other scientists, take part in important research and travel to an area I have never seen before excites me to think of what all learning opportunities I will be able to bring back to my classroom. Most of all, I am excited to share with my students what a scientist’s life may look like; as they may get inspired themselves.

The weather in Alaska looks like it is in the 50’s and 60’s during the day and down into the 40’s at night, so I am packing a bit warmer clothes then I have been wearing the last week. Along with my awesome new NOAA Teacher At Sea swag I received to make me feel like one of the gang.

I hope you will follow along with me this summer!

 

Heather O’Connell: Understanding Hydrographic Surveying and Life on a Ship, June 4, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 4, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

This evening as I write the blog in port in Seattle, Washington, it is partly cloudy with a low of 53 degrees Fahrenheit. There are west southwest winds at 10-14 miles per hour.

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Rainier surveyed parts of Possession Sound last month and survey technicians created two and three dimensional maps with the depths of the sea floor around Everett, Washington. The 31 square nautical mile maps were developed after processing data utilizing single-beam and multi-beam sonar over a three week period. A colored depth range map was generated and superimposed onto a previous nautical map. The fact that the contour lines matched proved the accuracy of the survey. An exciting part of the Puget Sound survey proved to be a shipwreck from an Alaskan fishing boat that burned when anchored in 1982. 

Color map generated on top of previous nautical map
Color map generated on top of previous nautical map

Before completing the survey, a computer-generated polygon plan was drawn to section out the areas that each boat would cover. While Rainier has the ability to survey large areas, it was out of the water being repaired due to damage to the rudder. The four launch boats and one small shoreline ship covered the entire area. The launch boats utilized an efficient multi-beam sonar to generate the map in conjunction with a single beam sonar on a shoreline ship. The single beam sonar is located on a jet boat, rather than a boat with a propeller, which has less draft, making it a better platform for surveying in shallow water. 

Multi-beam sonar has the ability to quickly and accurately collect data on the depth of the sea floor. NOAA Ship Rainier and the four launches each have a multi-beam sonar where the transmitter sends out a sound pulse and the receiver creates a 512 beam from the returning echo of the sea floor.  The 512 beam swath, or fan shaped area of sound beams, generated from the receiver creates an image on the computer of the depth of the sea floor. The sound travels to the ocean floor and then back to the receiver in the boat, located perpendicular to the transmitter in a Mills Cross orientation. The time return, or time it takes to send out a signal and return to the receiver is then applied to an algorithm that determines the depth of the ocean floor. Things to consider in the speed of sound include the source level of the sound, the transmission loss from the sound traveling, and the noise level from other materials. Further factors that affect sound travel in the ocean include the type of sediment. Soft sediment like mud and silt absorb sound while hard materials like rock, granite and metal reflect sound energy. The tides must also be recorded and utilized to determine the actual depth of the water. All of these factors are put into the formula used for calculating sea depth.

A multi-beam sonar in the Mills Cross orientation on the underside of a launch boat
A multi-beam sonar in the Mills Cross orientation on the underside of a launch boat

Collecting data in deeper water is easier than surveying shore-line data. The near-shore data uses single resolution for more detail and the outer depth information utilizes a much higher resolution, or coarse resolution. The combined variable resolution allows for the multiple resolution image to be put on one surface, generating specific maps. Shoreline surveys have a narrow swath meaning there are closer runs that must go back and forth in order to cover the same range as a deep water survey. The multi-beam swath may only reach 8 meters when close to shore, but may be as wide as 60 meters when it can travel further into the ocean. So shallow water takes longer to survey and deeper water can be surveyed faster.

Once all of the data is collected, the points from the beam become pixels on a two dimensional or three dimensional computer generated map.  The time return charts are put into the Caris software, which is like the arc GIS of nautical maps. The software produces a map with varying depths of the ocean floor represented by different colors. Hydrographic Survey technician Amanda generated this accurate 3-D image of the shipwreck around Everett after processing the data.

Boat Wreck
Pings from multi-beam sonar become pixels in this 3-D image of the boat wreck in Possession Sound

Survey technician Amanda also shared her knowledge on removing the noise from images before generating maps. Often times, the sonar waves create some interference that doesn’t match up with the rest of the map and must be removed. Different ships survey the data using different colors so that when the maps are combined, the differences are apparent. The role of processing data is completed by survey technicians during the off season or when the ship is not actively surveying, such as when it is in port. Technicians have a one hundred and twenty day time period to complete data processing to the established specifications post survey. Data is then sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for quality control and eventual submission to the Marine Chart Division for eventual application to nautical charts. 

Personal Log

I arrived early morning on Saturday, June 2nd and after taking a taxi to the Seattle Coast Guard base, a patrolling officer brought me to Ship Rainier. I called the bridge and informed the officer on watch that I had arrived. Charlene, the A.B., or able bodied seaman, was on watch and gave me a basic tour, although I only assimilated a small portion with my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged brain. Luckily, I had haphazardly met my roommate. She showed me the tight sleeping quarters with locking drawers and cabinets to keep all things stationery, along with a small sink in the corner. The bunk consisted of two metal beds stacked on top of each other with only enough room to lay down. Since there are only two of us staying in the room for four, it is reasonably comfortable. There are two bathrooms, or heads, along with two showers located in the hall outside of bunk C-09.

After resting for quite some time, I joined Audrey and Mike, two hydrographic survey technicians, on an adventure to Pike’s Marketplace on this atypically warm Seattle afternoon. Open faced crab and wild salmon sandwiches were enjoyed overlooking the Puget Sound and the bustling market. Exploring downtown Seattle on foot proved to be a graceful way to transition to this new way of life at the port.

20180605_054507
Pike’s Marketplace in Seattle

On Sunday, I went for lunch with Dan and Johnny from the engineering department. These two were working hard to cut a metal plate on the stack so that they could access inside for repairs. Preparing to embark on a ship for a week in transit requires tremendous work. I have thoroughly enjoyed observing the process for this journey and look forward to leaving the port when the time comes.

Not only do I enjoy living on a ship at port, but I love learning about the different lifestyle of the Rainier crew. Some long term ship employees have Ship Rainier as their address and reside in Newport, Oregon on this ship during the off season during the winter. Oftentimes, they are out to sea for three weeks at a time during the field season, then they port for several weeks.

Today was the first day a meal was served on the ship and I came across several familiar and new faces at breakfast. After breakfast I went to the prop room and the holodeck where the officers and technicians were analyzing data. At 1300 there was an all hands meeting with an update from the Captain and Chief Officer or CO. Next, I received damage control, or D.C., from Michelle Levano who also grew up on Long Island, New York. The training included two other new junior officers, Stephanie and Harper, who studied Environmental Conservation and Aeronautical Engineering, respectively. Christopher, a new A.B. and Ray from engineering also joined us on the walk around the ship where we learned the different signals for various emergencies that might take place on the ship. I also learned where the lifeboats are located and the protocol for a man overboard, M.O.B.,or what to do if and when you have to abandon the ship.

So, all in all my time on the ship and in Seattle has had a balance between the new structure of life on a ship with the freedom to explore a city. I’m excited to experience how Rainier functions once we leave the port life on Thursday at 1300 hours. I’m also curious what it will be like to be stationed to a 231 foot vessel when I’m used to the freedom of exploring.

20180604_205810
Sunset from the Seattle Coast Guard Base

Did you know?

There are two types of NOAA employees on ship Rainier. There are NOAA employees and also NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps employees who wear uniforms and operate like U.S. military officers. They share the uniform of Coast Guard members and are one of the two unarmed branches of the military.

 

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

IMG_20180421_140958
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.

img_20180418_1151321.jpg
A Sheet from the Project

IMG_20180418_115152
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.

IMG_20180419_103240
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.

IMG_20180416_120612
On the Dock in Newport, OR

IMG_20180416_202433
A Beautiful Last Night in Newport

IMG_20180417_141802
Passing Under the 982 meter long Yaquina Bay Bridge as We Leave Newport

IMG_20180417_142159
Heading Out to the Pacific

IMG_20180417_142331
Leaving Yaquina Bay

IMG_20180417_162826
Some Really High Waves Crashing on the Fantail!

IMG_20180416_122629
A Map Showing Our Departure Port (Newport) and Arrival (near Seattle)

IMG_20180417_134549
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)

Continue reading “Lisa Battig: Launching the Small Boats, September 1, 2017”

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

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

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


 

Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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In order to check whether the tide gauge is working or not, a tidal observation needs to take place.  Over the course of several hours, the tide is measured as it rises or falls on graduated staffs and is recorded and compared to our tidal gauge data.  Credit Brian Glunz for the photo.

While horizontal control base stations are used to improve the accuracy of the positions of all points on a surface by providing a fixed known location to compare to GPS coordinates, constantly changing tides present another challenge in of its own.  With tides in the survey area ranging 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 ft.), depths can vary widely for various shallow-water hazards depending on the strength of the tide.  Consequently, accurate tide data must be recorded during the survey and in close proximity of the survey site since tides vary widely depending on topography, weather systems, and other factors.  This is where tide stations come into play and are necessary to accurately gauge the vertical level of water throughout the survey area.

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Surveying equipment is used to check benchmarks near the tide station in the upper left for any movement.  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Hannah Marshburn is recording data from the leveling process with Ensign Matthew Sharr sighting a staff held in place by Ensign Mason Carroll and Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus.

Before a survey is started in an area, a tide station can be set up within the survey area to measure local tides. The tide stations use solar cells to generate electricity to power a small compressor on land that sends air through a hose that is attached to the ocean bottom in a near-shore environment.  The tide gauge can measure how much pressure is needed to generate a bubble out the end of the hose, the greater the pressure, the deeper the water.  These pressure gradients correlate to a certain depth of water while the depth of the water is tied to a nearby benchmark of surveyed elevation.  This information is then transmitted out to tide reporting sites online.  For additional data on tide patterns, the information on tide levels can be downloaded from the gauge in refining survey data.  In order to ensure that a tide gauge is working correctly, manual tide observations are periodically made at the same location. Additionally, the benchmarks near the tide gauge go through a process called “leveling.” This is survey work that compares all of the secondary benchmarks in the area to the primary benchmark.  If none of the benchmarks have moved relative to each other, it is safer to assume that the benchmarks still represent the elevation that they were originally surveyed.  Once the survey in the area is completed, the tidal gauge is packed up to be used at another location.  Since the portion of the tidal gauge that releases the pressurized bubble is under the entire tidal water column, a dive team is required to remove the remaining equipment.  The entire tidal gauge site is returned to how it looked before the station was set up.  Only the survey benchmarks remain for future use.

Personal Log:

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From left to right Ensign Tyler Fifield charts our course while Able Seaman Godfrey Gittens has the helm with Ensign Lander Van Hoef controlling the power to propulsion.  Bridge usually has at least one officer and one deck member on watch at all times.  Ensign Fifield has been in NOAA and on the Fairweather for two years and has a background in marine safety and environmental protection.  AB Gittens spent 4 years in the Navy, 20 years on commercial and military marine contracted vessels, and has now worked for NOAA for a couple of months.  Ensign Van Hoef has a background in mathematics and has been on the Fairweather for six months.

Dear Mr. Cody,

On our cruise ship there are officers that wear uniforms who run the ship.  They also look out for the safety of everyone onboard.  They are very nice and know a lot about how to keep the ship running and get the cruise ship to each stop on our vacation.  They work with each department on the ship to make sure everything runs properly and people stay safe.  It has been a great trip to Alaska, and now we are at our last stop.  Goodbye Alaska!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and has been corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has officers, the NOAA Corps, to help run the ship and carry out NOAA’s mission by utilizing NOAA’s fleet of ships and aircraft and by staffing key land-based positions throughout the organization.  The NOAA Corps ensures that trained personnel are always available to carry out NOAA’s missions using cutting-edge science and technology.  This gives NOAA the flexibility it needs to complete many types of varied research since officers are trained to fulfill many types of missions.  This gives NOAA the ability to respond quickly to scientific and technological needs and helps retain a continuity of operations and protocol throughout the vast fleet and area of operations.  In order to be considered for acceptance into the NOAA Corp, applicants must have at least a four year degree in a field of study relating to NOAA’s scientific and technological interests.  Once accepted into the program, they go through five months of training at the United States Coast Guard Academy where they develop an understanding of NOAA’s mission, maritime and nautical skills, and general ship and boat operation skills.  After successful completion of the training, NOAA officers are placed on a ship in the fleet for three years of sea duty to begin their new career.

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Chief Electronics Technician Sean Donovan performs his daily check of communications systems on the bridge.  CET Donovan served as a naval service ground electronic technician for 11 years in the Navy and has been in NOAA for 8 months.

On the Fairweather NOAA Corp officers help run and manage the ship and launch boats.  They navigate the ship and stand watch on the bridge.  They work with the other departments to ensure that the mission is accomplished and everyone remains safe during the mission.  On a hydrographic survey ship such as the Fairweather, Corps officers commonly have the position of sheet manager for hydrographic survey regions as collateral duties allowing them the opportunity to plan the logistics of hydrographic survey areas and learn how to use software associated with hydrographic data collection and analysis. Additionally, officers will be assigned to other scientific missions as they arise since the Fairweather will participate in a variety of scientific projects throughout the year.

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Able Seaman Carl Coonce controls the hydraulic system that is picking up a launch boat from a survey mission.  AB Coonce has been in NOAA for 12 years.  He was also on the NOAA ships Albatross and Bigalow.  He has been on the Fairweather for five years.  He started out in NOAA as a second cook and then a chief steward, but he wanted to learn more about ships; so, he made the move to the deck department commenting, “When you go out on deck, all differences are set aside.  We lookout for each other.”

A hydrographic ship such as the Fairweather requires many departments to work together  including the NOAA Corps officers to accomplish the mission.  There is the deck department and engineering department and the steward department as I have discussed their role in previous posts.  However, there are also electronic technicians that assist the survey in all of its technological aspects including the ship’s servers, electronics, radar, and communication systems.  Since technology plays a critical role in the collection and analysis of data, a hydrographic ship depends on these systems to carry out its scientific research.

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Acting Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician John Doroba prepares a boat launch for another portion of the hydrographic survey.  ACHST Doroba is the lead survey technician for this leg.  He has a background in geography, physical science, and information systems with a decade of work experience in and out of NOAA relating to surveying and related technology.

The survey department does the bulk of the collection and analysis of hydrographic data.  Depending on experience and education background, someone in survey may start out as a junior survey technician or assistant survey technician and advance up to a survey technician, senior survey technician, and possibly a chief survey technician.  With each step more years of experience is required because a greater amount of responsibility comes with each position concerning that survey.  Survey technicians generally need to have a background in the physical sciences or in computer science.  Technology and physical science go hand-in-hand in hydrographic survey work by applying and analyzing scientific data through the lens of advanced technology and software.  One needs to be capable in both areas in order to be proficient in the survey department.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Steve Eykelhoff collects hydrographic data during a launch.  HAST Eykelhoff has a background in geology and hydrology.  He has worked on many mapping projects including mapping the Erie Canal and the Hudson River.

It really comes down to people working together as a team to get something done.  In the case of the Fairweather, all of this talent and dedication has been brought together in a team of NOAA Corps, engineers, deck, survey, technicians, and stewards to carry out a remarkable array of scientific work safely and efficiently.  This team is always ready for that next big mission because they work together and help each other.  Yes, Dillion, my time here on the Fairweather is also drawing to a close.  I have enjoyed the three weeks onboard and have learned a lot from a very friendly and informative and driven crew.  I thank all of those who were willing to show me what their job in NOAA is like and the underlying concepts that are important to their careers.  I learned a great deal concerning NOAA careers and the science that is carried out onboard a NOAA hydrographic ship.  Thank you!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the United States consisting of more than 300 officers that operate NOAA’s fleet of 16 ships and 9 aircraft.

Can You Guess What This Is?111_0918 (2)

A. a ship  B. a hydrographic survey  C. a NOAA vessel  D. a final farewell to an amazing ship and crew

You should already know the answer if you have been following this blog!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an azimuth circle.  The Fairweather has an azimuth circle onboard.  While it is not typically used for navigation, it is yet another technology that remains as a holdover from earlier seafaring times and as a potential navigation tool available when all modern equipment has failed.  The azimuth circle can be used to measure the position of a celestial body for navigation purposes or to get a bearing on an object visible from the ship.)

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N
Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W
Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)
Water Temp: 14˚C (58˚F)
Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Wind Speed: 6 kts (7 mph)
Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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“Killing dots” or manually flagging data points that are likely not accurately modeling hydrographic data is only the beginning of a very lengthy process of refining hydrographic data for new high-quality nautical charts.  Credit Hannah Marshburn for the photo.

In the last post, I talked about how we collect the hydrographic data.  The process of hydrographic data collection can be a challenge in of itself with all of the issues that can come up during the process.  But, what happens to this data once it is brought back to the Fairweather?  In many ways this is where the bulk of the work begins in hydrography.  As each boat files back to the ship, the data they bring back is downloaded onto our servers here on the ship to begin processing.  Just the process of downloading and transferring the information can be time consuming since some data files can be gigabytes worth of data.  This is why the Fairweather has servers with terabytes worth of storage to have the capacity to store and process large data files.  Once the data is downloaded, it is manually cleaned up.  A survey technician looks at small slices of hydrographic data and tries to determine what is the actual surface of the bottom and what is noise from the multibeam echosounder.  Leaving too many false data points in the slice of hydrographic data may cause the computer software to adjust the surface topography to reach up or below to something that in reality does not exist. The first phase of this is focused on just cleaning the data enough to prevent the hydrographic software from recognizing false topographies.  Even though the data that does not likely represent accurate hydrographic points are flagged and temporarily eliminated from the topographic calculation, the flagged data points are retained throughout the process to allow for one to go back and see what was flagged versus what was retained. It is important to retain this flagged data through this process in case data that was thought to be noise from the echosounder really did represent a surface feature on the bottom.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sam Candio is using a three dimensional viewer to clean the hydrographic data collected from that day’s launches.

Once this process is complete, the day’s section is added to a master file and map of the target survey area.  This needs to happen on a nightly basis since survey launches may need to be dispatched to an area that was missed or one in which the data is not sufficient to produce quality hydrographic images.  Each launch steadily fills in the patchwork of survey data; so, accounting for data, quality, and location are vitally important.  Losing track of data or poor quality data may require another launch to cover the same area.  After the survey area is filled in, refinement of the new map takes place.  This is where the crude cleanup transitions into a fine-tuned and detailed analysis of the data to yield smooth and accurate contours for the area mapped.  Data analysis and processing are the parts of hydrographic work that go unnoticed.  Since this work involves many hours using cutting-edge technology and software, it can be easy to underappreciate the amount of work survey technicians go through to progress the data through all of these steps to get to a quality product.

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

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A friendly humpback is keeping our survey launch company as we map our assigned polygon.

I know what you mean about the wildlife.  I am seeing wildlife all over the place too.  On our transit to our survey site from Juneau, I saw numerous marine mammals: hump back whales, dolphins, and killer whales.  On our last survey launch, we had two humpbacks stay within site of the boat the entire morning.  They are remarkable creatures.  Whenever we locate a marine mammal, we fill out a marine mammal reporting form allowing various interests to use these reports to estimate the population size and range of these animals.  The waters off the Alaskan coast are full of marine life for a reason.  It is a major upwelling area where nutrients from the ocean bottom are being forced up into the photic zone where organisms such as phytoplankton can use both the nutrients and sunlight to grow.  This provides a large amount of feed for organisms all the way up the food chain.  This area is also known for its kelp forests.  Yes, if you were on the sea bottom in these areas dominated by kelp, it would look like a forest!  Kelp are a very long- and fast-growing brown algae that provide food and habitat for many other marine organisms.

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Kelp forests form on relatively shallow rocky points and ledges allowing for the holdfasts to form and latch onto the bottom giving the resulting algae growth the opportunity to toward the surface to collect large amounts of sunlight for photosynthesis.

Did You Know?

The RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounders found onboard the survey launches use a 200 kHz or 400 kHz sound frequency.  This means the sound waves used fully cycle 200,000 or 400,000 times per second.  Some humans can hear sounds with pitches as high as 19 kHz while some bat and dolphin species can hear between 100 and 150 kHz.  No animal is known to have the capability to audibly hear any of the sound waves produced by the multibeam onboard our survey boats.  Animals that use echolocation tend to have much higher hearing ranges since they are using the same premise behind acoustic mapping in hydrography but to detect food and habitat.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a marker buoy  B. a water purification system  C. an electric bilge pump  D. a CTD sensor

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was A. a search and rescue transponder.  If a launch boat were to become disabled with no means of communication or if the boat needs to be abandoned, activating a search and rescue transponder may be the only available option left for help to find someone missing.  When the string is pulled and the cap is twisted, a signal for help is sent out in the form of 12 intense radar screen blips greatly increasing the odds for search and rescue to find someone in a timely manner.  The radar blips become arcs as a radar gets closer to the transponder until the radar source gets within a nautical mile in which the arcs become full circles showing rescue crews that the transponder is nearby.)

Spencer Cody: Filling in the Asterisk, June 10, 2016

NOAA Teahcer at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 10, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 60%

Wind Speed: 4 kts (5 mph)

Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Goodbye Juneau, we are off to our survey site just west of Prince of Wales Island in the southernmost part of Southeast Alaska.

On Sunday with everyone who needed to be here for the next leg of the hydrographic survey onboard, we set off for the survey site.  Transiting through Alaskan fjords and associated mountains is a real treat to say the least.  The abundance of wildlife and picturesque views of glaciers, mountains, and forests lend one easily susceptible to camera fatigue.  Every vista resembles a painting or photograph of significance.  The views are stunning and the wildlife breathtaking.  After a day’s worth of transiting, we arrived in our survey area just west of Prince of Wales Island on the southern tip of Southeast Alaska and its Alexander Archipelago.  The chain of islands that makes up the Alexander Archipelago represent the upper reaches of the submerged coastal range of mountains along the Pacific.  A mere 20,000 years ago, the sea level was roughly 120 meters (400 ft.) lower than what it is today as our planet was in the grips of the last major ice age.  To put that into perspective, the Fairweather is currently anchored in a calm bay with about 30 meters (100 ft.) of water.  During the recent ice age, this entire ship would be beached hanging precariously next to ledges dropping 100 meters (300 ft.) to the ocean below.  The mountains and steep island banks continue down to the sea floor providing for wildly changing topography below sea level.  This type of environment is perfectly geared toward Fairweather’s capabilities.

While mapping survey areas that include shallow near-shore water, the Fairweather anchors in a calm bay maximizing ideal conditions for launching and retrieving boats whenever possible.  Survey launches are dispatched out to their assigned polygons with the survey area while a skiff boat carries out near-shore marking of rocks and obstructions.  Each of the four survey launches have a RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounder to collect data for mapping.  Survey launches are sent out for much of the day and return with hydrographic data concerning their assigned area.  All of the data is compiled into one file after extensive processing and quality control.

Personal Log:

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Dillion enjoying Sitka, Alaska.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

We arrived in Sitka, Alaska, with bald eagles flying overhead.  The islands with the tall mountains are amazing.  Some even have snow on them still.  They have a lot of trees and wildlife.  The mountains are all over the island and come right down to the ocean with a very tall dormant volcano across the sound from Sitka.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

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Assisting Ensign Joseph Brinkley in lowering a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensor.  The CTD records temperature, salinity, and density.  All of these factors affect the speed of sound and must be factored into our data collection.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Dear Dillion,

We are not that far to the southeast of you in our survey area.  That is part of the challenge of mapping this area and ensuring that nautical maps are accurate and up to date.  Those tall mountains that you see so close to your ship really do continue down into the ocean in many places.  I was able to go out on one of our survey launches to see how hydrographic data is collected using the Fairweather’s fleet of survey launch boats.  It started with a mission and safety briefing before the launches were turned loose.  Our operations officer went over the assigned polygon mapping areas with us.  We were then reminded of some of the hazards that a small boat needs to be cognizant of such as the log debris in the water and the potential of grounding a boat on rocks.  Both our commanding officer and executive officer repeatedly stressed to us the importance of being careful and alert and always defaulting to safety versus more data collection.  Once the briefing was over, our boats were launched one at a time to our assigned survey polygons.  We were to map the area just north of the McFarland Islands.  Parts of the this area had known hazards hidden just below sea level.  Complicating matters was the fact that many of these hazards marked on existing maps were instances in which someone hit a rock but did not know the exact location or a rock was potentially spotted at low tide.  It was our job to carefully map the area without damaging the boat or putting any of the passengers in harm’s way.

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Keeping the boat on course as we collect a swath of hydrographic data in deep water devoid of rocks, kelp, or logs.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Mapping an assigned area can be anywhere between the two extremes of incredibly uneventful to nimbly avoiding obstacles while filling in the map.  Since the multibeam echosounder requires sound waves to travel farther through a deeper column of water, the swath covered by the beam is wider and takes longer to collect.  In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data.  When the boat is in shallow water, the reverse is true.  The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace.  This makes mapping shallow regions challenging.  The person navigating the boat must work with a narrower beam at faster speeds while avoiding the very hazards we were sent to map.  Additionally, in this area kelp forests are very common.  The long brown algae forms a tangled mass that can easily bind up a boat propeller.  Add massive floating logs from all the timber on these islands, and now you have a situation in which a trained driver needs to have all their wits about them.

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Narrowing the data collection to a range of depths in which the entire swath can be recorded minimizes the cleanup of false data points while not losing any of the pertinent hydrographic data.  Credit Amber Batts for the photo.

While the person navigating the boat tries to orderly fill in the polygon with a swath of hydrographic data, a person must be stationed at a work station inside the cabin modifying the data stream from the beam to help keep out noise from the data making the survey data as clean as possible.  Sloppy data can result in more time in cleanup during the night processing of data once the boats return to the Fairweather.  In addition, to control what is recorded, the station also determines when the multibeam echosounder is on or off.  It takes some practice to try to keep multiple tasks on multiple screens functioning within an acceptable range.  The topography in the map area also adds to the challenge since drop offs are commonplace.  There were many times were the difference from one end of the beam to the other end was 100 meters or more (300 feet or more).  It was like trying to survey the cliff and bottom of the canyon including the wall of the canyon in one swipe.  Sometimes the ridges are so steep underwater that shadows are produced in the data were the sound waves were blocked by the ridge and our relative angle to it preventing a complete swath.  This requires us to move over the ridge on the other side to map the gap.

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Slowly but surely, we are painting over the existing map with a detailed color-coating of contours of depth.

There is something inherently exciting about being the first to see topography in such detail.  Much of this area was last surveyed by lead line and other less advanced means of surveying than our current capabilities.  In many respects they were accurate, but as we filled in our data over the existing maps, one could not help but to feel like an explorer or as much as one can feel like an explorer in this modern age.  We were witnessing in our little assigned piece of the ocean something never seen before: land beneath the water in striking detail.  The rocks and navigational hazards no longer resembled mysteriously vague asterisks on a navigation map to be simply avoided.  We were replacing the fear of the unknown with the known by using science to peer into those asterisks on the map and paint them in a vivid array of well-defined contours later to be refined and made ready for the rest of the world to utilize and appreciate through upgraded navigation charts.  Once our assigned polygon was filled to the best of our abilities, we moved on to the next and so on until it was time to head back to the Fairweather completing another successful day of data collection.

Did You Know?

Kelp is a long brown algae that forms underwater forests that serve as an important habitat for many marine organisms.  Kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet.  Some species can grow a half a meter (1.5 ft.) per day reaching lengths of 80 m (260 ft.) long.

Can You Guess What This Is?

152_3283 (2)A. search and rescue transponder  B. an emergency flashlight  C. a marker buoy  D. a flare gun

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was B. an oil filter.  Getting an oil filter change for the Fairweather is a little different than for your car though the premise is similar.  The four long filters used for each of the two diesel engines onboard are many times larger to accommodate the oil volume and are more durable to handle circulating oil 24 hours a day.)

Spencer Cody: No Survey, No Problem, June 8, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 8, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 17˚C (63˚F)

Water Temp: 11˚C (52˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 52%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Refrigeration, boiler, and compressed air are just three of the many systems that are monitored and maintained from engineering.

With much of the survey team either on leave or not yet here for the next leg of the hydrographic survey, it can be easy to be lulled into the sense that not much is going on onboard the Fairweather while she is in port, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Actually, having the ship docked is an important time for departments to prepare for the next mission or carry out repairs and maintenance that would be more difficult to perform or would cause delays during an active survey mission.  On that note while the Fairweather was docked was a perfect time to see the largely unseen and unappreciated: engineering.  Engineering is loud and potentially hazardous even when the engines are not running, much less, when we are underway.  One of the key purposes of engineering is to monitor systems on the ship to make sure many of the comforts and conveniences that we take for granted seemingly just happen.  Sensors constantly monitor temperature, pressure, and other pertinent information alerting the crew when a component drifts outside of its normal range or is not functioning properly.  Catching an issue before it progresses into something that needs to be repaired is a constant goal.  Monitoring in engineering includes a wide array of systems that are vital to ship operations, not just propulsion.  Sanitation, heating, refrigeration, ventilation, fuel, and electric power are also monitored and regulated from engineering.  Just imagine spending the day without any of these systems while the loss of all of them would send us reeling to earlier seafaring days when humanity was entirely at the mercy of nature’s whim.

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Tommy Meissner, an oiler in the engineering department, is giving me a tour and overview of engineering.  The day after this photo was taken, he took and passed his junior engineer certification exam.  Congratulations Tommy!

Two diesel generators can produce enough power to power a small town.  Water systems pressurize and regulate water temperatures for use throughout the ship while filtration systems clean used water before it is released according to environmental regulations.  Meanwhile, enough salt water can be converted to freshwater to meet the needs of the ship and crew.  The method of freshwater production ingeniously uses scientific principles from gas laws to our advantage by boiling off freshwater from salt water under reduced air pressures increasing freshwater production while minimizing energy consumption.  Steam is generated to heat the water system and provide heat for radiators throughout the ship, and of course the two large diesel engines that are used to provide propulsion for the ship are also located in engineering.

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Chief Engineer Bill Ness using the ship’s crane to unload a crate of materials and equipment onto the pier.

How does one get to work in engineering onboard a ship like the Fairweather?  There are several different positions in the ship’s engineering department.  An oiler is largely responsible for maintenance, repair, and fabrication and must pass a qualifying test for this designation focusing on boilers, diesel technology, electrical, and some refrigeration.  Once the qualifying test is passed, the Coast Guard issues a Merchant Mariner credential.  Only then can one apply for that position.  Junior engineers must pass a test demonstrating that they have the working knowledge of the systems involved with engineering especially in areas of auxiliary systems and repair.  Junior engineers generally need less supervision for various operations than oilers and have a greater scope in responsibility that may also include small boat systems and repair.  The scale of responsibility does not stop there, but continues through Third, Second, and First Engineers.  Each involving a qualifying test and having more requirements involving education and experience.  Finally, the Chief Engineer heads the department.  This too requires a qualifying test and certain experience requirements.  There are two different ways in which one can progress through these different levels of responsibility.  They can attain the formal education or they can document the job-related experience.  Usually both play a role in where someone is ultimately positioned determining their role onboard the ship as part of an engineering team.

Personal Log:

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Deck crew Terry Ostermyer (lower, right) with Jason Gosine (middle) and I (left) degreasing cables for the hydraulic boat launching system.  It really needs a before and after photo to be appreciated.  Credit Randy Scott for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

The crew is very friendly.  They take care of everything that we need on our trip to Alaska.  They also take care of the ship.  They must have to do a lot of work to keep such a large ship going and take care of this many people on vacation at sea.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has a crew that takes care of the ship and its very own fleet of boats.  While in port, I worked with our deck department to get a very small sense of what they do on a day-to-day basis to keep the ship running.  The pitfall of having a lot of equipment and having the capability of doing many multifaceted missions is that all of this equipment needs to be maintained, cleaned, repaired, and operated.  This includes maintaining both the ship’s exterior and interior, deployment and retrieval of boats, buoys, arrays, and various other sampling and sensory systems.  When not assisting with carrying out a component of a mission such as launching a boat, the deck crew is often performing some sort of maintenance, standing watch, mooring and anchoring the ship, unloading and loading supplies, and stowing materials.  Depending on years of experience and whether they have a Merchant Mariner’s certification or not will determine the level of responsibility.  On a survey ship, the deck department specializes in boat launches and maintenance; so, the levels of responsibility reflect that central area of concern.  Beginning experience starts with general vessel assistant and ordinary seaman progressing through able seaman with Merchant Mariner’s certification and seaman surveyor or deck utility man to boatswain group leader to chief boatswain.  The chief boatswain is in charge of training and supervision regarding all of the areas pertinent to the deck department.  This is a stark contrast compared to the deck department on the Pisces that specialized in techniques associated with fish surveys.

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Cannot paint because of a rain delay?  No problem.  There is always something else to do like heads and halls.  Deck crewmember Denek Salich is in the background.  Credit Randy Scott for the photo.

When I was with the Fairweather’s deck crew, they were working on taking an old coating of grease off cables and applying a new coating back on.  The cables are used to raise and lower the 28’ long hydrographic survey launches.  This will be a system that will be in use throughout the next leg; so, now is a great time to clean and replace that grease!  After using rags and degreasing agents to strip the old grease off, a new coating was added to the cables.  The crew is always conscientious about using chemicals that are friendly to the environment and proper containment strategies to prevent runoff from the deck directly into the ocean.  Deck crew need to be very flexible with the weather.  Since the weather was not cooperating for painting, we moved indoors and did “heads and halls,” sweeping and mopping hallways and stairs and cleaning bathrooms.  The Fairweather resembles an ant colony in its construction; so, heads and halls can be a lot of work even for a whole team of people, but as I am reminded by one of our deck crew, “Teamwork will make the dream work.”  It is, indeed, teamwork that makes Fairweather’s missions, not only possible, but successful.

Did You Know?

The boiler system produces steam that provides a heat source for the water system and the heating system.

Can You Guess What This Is?

155_3411 (2)A. an ocean desalinization unit  B. an oil filter  C. a fuel tank  D. a sewage treatment unit

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an incinerator.  You may not think of it as being a major problem, but one person can produce a lot of trash over the course of a week or weeks.  Imagine this same problem times 50!  Since the Fairweather must utilize its storage and equipment spaces efficiently, burnable wastes must be incinerated; otherwise, we would be stacking the trash to the ceiling in every available space.)

Lynn Kurth: Solstice at Sea!, June 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Assigned to:  NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20th-July 1st, 2016

Personal Log: 

My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work aboard NOAA Ship Rainier as a Teacher at Sea during the summer solstice.  Over the past twenty years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard research vessels on Lake Superior and the Atlantic, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad.  The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is.

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Me aboard the Oregon II for a Long Line Shark and Red Snapper Survey in 2014

Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom:  Most recently I worked with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students to improve local water quality by installing a school rain garden.  During the project students learned about the importance of diverting rain water out of the storm sewer when possible and how to do it in an effective and attractive way.  Other projects included the restoration of our riverbank last year and using a Hydrolab to monitor the water quality of the Prairie River, which runs adjacent to our school.  So, sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier to learn more about hydrography (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) seems like a most natural and logical way to move forward.

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Eighth grade science students jumping for joy during the fall testing of the Prairie River with the Hydrolab. Notice the fellow in waders holding the Hydrolab with great care!

I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from Homer, Alaska, on June 20th.  Until then I have a school year to wrap up, a new puppy to train, a project with Wisconsin Sea Grant to work on and packing to get done.  There are days I’m a bit nervous about getting everything done but when NOAA Ship Rainier casts off from the pier in Homer I will be 100 percent focused on gathering the knowledge and skills that will enhance my role as an educator of students who are part of the next generation charged with the stewardship of this planet.

IMG_1564Newest addition to our family: Paavo a Finnish Lapphund Photo Credit: Lynn Drumm, Yutori Finnish Lapphunds

 

Spencer Cody: Fairweather in Transition – June 5, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 5, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 58˚ 17.882′ N

Longitude: 134˚ 24.759′ W

Air Temp: 15˚C (59˚F)

Water Temp: 8.9˚C (48˚F)

Ocean Depth: 9.7 m (31.8 ft. at low tide)

Relative Humidity: 67%

Wind Speed: 5.2 kts (6 mph)

Barometer: 1,025 hPa (1,025 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

Fairweather
Yes, the Fairweather needs to be prepared for everything imaginable:  spare parts, lines, tanks, survey equipment, safety equipment, tools, and more.  Preparedness is key to successful mission completion.

Now that I have been on the Fairweather for a few days I have had the opportunity to see much of the ship and learn about how it operates.  If ever there were an embodiment of the phrase newer is not always better, it might be the Fairweather.  Even though the Fairweather is approaching 50 years old, one cannot help but to attain an appreciation for the quality of her original construction and the ingenuity behind her design.  Rooms, compartments, and decks throughout the ship are designed to be watertight and to maximize fire containment.  Multiple compartments can be flooded without putting the entire ship in danger.  The ship is also designed to withstand sea ice due to its densely ribbed construction and extra think hull.  This makes the hull remarkably strong allowing the ship to cut through ice and withstand the additional pressure of ice-covered seas.

 

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One of the two massive Detroit electro-motive diesel engines that propel the ship.  Credit Tommy Meissner for the photo.

The Fairweather is built on redundancy for safety and practicality.  If one system gives out, another can be relied upon to at least allow the ship to get back to port or depending on the system continue the mission.  There are redundant systems throughout the ship involving everything from communications to essentials for sustaining the crew to navigation.  There are even redundant servers in case one set of survey data is compromised or physically damaged the other server may remain untouched.  Storage space is a premium on a ship that needs to be self-sufficient for weeks at a time to address foreseeable and unforeseeable events.  Every free space has a purpose for storing extra equipment, tools, parts, and materials.  Utility and efficiency are running themes throughout the ship.

Personal Log:

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The incoming and outgoing commanding officers read off their orders to signify the official change of command of the ship.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Onboard our ship the captain is in charge of the entire crew and ship.  People follow his orders and the chain of command to take care of the ship and its passengers.  It takes a very large crew to take care of all the passengers on a cruise ship and on such a long trip to Alaska and back.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has a captain whose ultimately responsible for the fate of the crew and the ship. While we are in Juneau, the Fairweather is undergoing a change of command.  On Wednesday we had a change of command ceremony.  It was a day of celebration and reflection on Fairweather‘s accomplishments.  As high-level officials throughout NOAA and other organizations arrived, their arrival was announced or “piped” throughout the entire ship over the intercom system.  Later in the day we had the official change over in a special ceremony attended by all of these dignitaries and guests with NOAA Corps officers dressed in full uniform.

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The Fairweather welcoming dignitaries and guests to the Change of Command ceremony.

After everyone read their remarks on the occasion, the time of the official change over was at hand.  The Reading of Orders ceremony was carried out where both the outgoing and incoming commanding officers read their orders for their new assignments.  Insignia on each officer’s uniform was changed by the spouses officially indicating the new commanding officer and the outgoing commanding officer.  With that Lieutenant Commander Mark Van Waes replaced Commander David Zezula as the CO for the Fairweather becoming its 18th commanding officer.  As the new CO gave his arriving remarks, he reminded us that “Command of a ship is many things…it is an honor to know that the leadership of this organization places special trust in your skills and abilities to hold this position…command is a privilege; of the hundreds of those who have served aboard the Fairweather, only 18 have been the commanding officer…command is a responsibility…for the ship…to the mission…and to the people.”  The Dependents Day Cruise and Change of Command Ceremony made for an eventful week while in port in Juneau.  Now we prepare for our first hydrographic mission with our new CO.

Did You Know?

The Fairweather has a total tonnage of 1,591 tons, displacement of 1,800 tons, a length of 231 feet, and is A1 ice rated meaning it can safely navigate ice covered seas with the assistance of an ice breaker.

Can You Guess What This Is?

TrashA. power generator  B. heat sensor  C. an incinerator  D. RESON multibeam echosounder

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was B. a speaking tube.  Speaking tubes or voice pipes were commonly used going back to the early 1800s to relay information from a lookout to the bridge or decks below.  They were phased out during the 20th century by sound-powered telephone networks and later communication innovations.  They continue to be used as a reliable backup to more-modern communication methods.)

Spencer Cody: Of Geology, Time, and Ice, June 2, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Spencer Cody
Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather
May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska
Date: June 2, 2016
Observational Data:
Latitude:  58˚ 17.882′ N
Longitude:  134˚ 24.759′ W

Weather Data from the Bridge:  
Air Temp: 16˚C (61˚F)
Water Temp: 8.9˚C (48˚F)
Ocean Depth:  9.7 m (31.8 ft. at low tide)
Relative Humidity:  56%
Wind Speed:  18 kts (21 mph)
Barometer:  1,006 hPa (1,006 mbar)

 

Science and Technology Log: After a full day of flying, I arrived in Juneau, Alaska, on Sunday.  The Fairweather came into dock early the next morning to host a very special occasion for friends, family, and the public.  It was a Dependents Day Cruise to go with the Memorial Day celebration.  It was an opportunity for those

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The NOAA Ship Fairweather in the bottom center docked in Juneau, Alaska, preparing for her next hydrographic leg.

who work onboard the Fairweather to show others outside of NOAA what they do while the crew, friends, family, and guests sailed onboard to the Taku glacier in Taku Inlet and back to dock in Juneau.  The day was filled with demonstrations on what the crew does in order to complete their missions and the significance of having a ship such as the Fairweather fulfill its assigned tasks.  We were split up into multiple groups in order to cover the basics of ship operations and the science and research carried out by the crew.  Guests were treated to demonstrations of bridge operations, hydrographic survey techniques and equipment, dive operations and control station demonstrations.  One highlight of the many demonstrations that were carried out

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The crew demonstrate a launch and retrieval of one of the hydrographic survey launches.  The Fairweather has four of these 28′ boats including three additional boats for fast rescue and utility purposes.

was the showing of how the launch boats are lowered into the water and then retrieved.  The Fairweather was maneuvered in such a way that the launch boat was provided a small patch of sea that was calm, a “duck pond,” by blocking the oncoming waves for the launch boat.  While this was not necessary for the weather that day, it did drive home the point about the many ingenious methods that must be employed in carrying out day-to-day operations on a vessel like the Fairweather.  By the time these demonstrations and tours were concluded, we had arrived at the Taku Inlet to see the Taku glacier.

Seeing something that is massive enough to carve solid rock such as the Taku glacier was awe inspiring.  This brings us to one of the key reasons for the complexity of the local geology and the sea channels that the Fairweather will be mapping on the next leg.  After periods of uplift and mountain building, the terrain was recently sculpted with rivers of ice flowing outward to lower sea levels from the ice fields above.  Glaciers encapsulated much of Southeastern Alaska up until the Wisconsin glaciation came to an end about 14,000 years ago.  During this same time, the Laurentide continental glacier still covered much of East River South Dakota.  As the glaciers receded, the ocean levels rose to accommodate the global deluge of melt water.  What was once

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The Taku glacier at the end of Taku Inlet displays the forces of erosion at a remarkable scale.

glaciated land is now well below sea level.  Since glaciers have a remarkable power of erosion, U-shaped valleys have been carved throughout this region.  Where these valleys dip below sea level, they frequently end up becoming important bays or passageways for commercial and private traffic.  Glaciation has also given these passageways some unique characteristics that makes having reliable navigation mapping critical.  Many of the navigable passageways in Southeastern Alaska are your characteristic fjords.  They have been carved deeply by the weight of hundreds or even thousands of feet of ice; yet, they are usually narrow with valley walls that run vertically straight into the air.  This topography largely continues below sea level meaning that in many locations the passageways, straits, and canals formed by glacial action can quickly deviate from hundreds of feet deep to shoals in a matter of very short distances.  The complexity and potential hazards of these fjords is enhanced through the process of glacial isostatic adjustment when the earth shifts back upward after the massive weight of a glacier subsides.  Take these relatively recent geological and climatological

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Much of the rock of the area shows obvious signs of glacial action scouring across the landscape such as this rock near the Mendenhall glacier outside of Juneau.

processes and apply them to the complex system of islands of the Alexander Archipelago that was formed through shifting transform boundaries between the North American and Pacific plates.  Now one can start to appreciate the degree to which timely mapping is needed for this part of the world requiring precision and accuracy in order to provide nautical charts that cater to the needs of growing commercial and private interests in the area.

 

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

We boarded our ship in San Francisco and cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge passing by Alcatraz Island.  At sea I had the chance to tour the ship.  It is huge!  It holds 1,800 passengers and has a crew of 932.  I am still learning how to get around the ship.  It is like a little city on the ocean.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

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Dillion finally at sea en route to his first stop in Alaska.

Dear Dillion,

I boarded the Fairweather the day after I arrived in Juneau.  I, too, am still learning my way around the ship and learning the names of the crew.  Everyone on the crew has been very helpful in helping me find my way around the ship and learning about what they do to make the Fairweather’s mission successful.  The Fairweather is designed to hold more than 50 crew members consisting of NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck, survey, stewards, and electronic technicians.  While your cruise ship is built for comfort for vacationers, the Fairweather is built for utility and efficiency in accomplishing a wide range of tasks.  Though the Fairweather’s primary role is to carry out hydrographic mapping of the sea floor in order to provide reliable navigation charts and increase our understanding of the ocean floor, the ship’s crew has been involved in numerous other projects in just the last year including launching wave and weather monitoring buoys, contributing data to surveys tracking changing climate in the Arctic, participating in marine

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Unpacking and settling into my stateroom aboard the Fairweather.

mammal observations and new marine mammal survey techniques, carrying out phytoplankton tows, aiding the Navy in glider development, mapping nautical obstructions, and retrieving climate and ocean sensors.

 

Did You Know?

The Fairweather was launched in 1967 and named after Mount Fairweather in Alaska.  She was constructed along with two other sister ships, the Rainier, in service, and the Mount Mitchell, retired from NOAA service.  All three ships were named after tall mountains in the United States.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a vent   B. a speaking tube   C. a horn   D. a periscope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

Spencer Cody: 1,000 Miles or 70 Million Years, Whichever Is Closer – May 16, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Soon To Be Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  Southeast Alaska Survey

Date: May 13, 2016

Personal Log:

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Dillion packing for his trip to Alaska with his family.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

I am looking forward to relaxing and having a good time.  Also, I have been on a ship two years ago which was on the Carnival Sunshine.  I’m excited to explore new things on the ship.  I’m looking forward to seeing the glaciers and seeing new things and learning new things!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

I hope you enjoy your trip to Alaska with your family. Your cruise sounds very exciting.  We missed you on the geology trip to the Black Hills, but Mrs. Kaiser was able to find a creative way to bring you with us.  I look forward to hearing more about your trip when you get back and your continued correspondence concerning your trip.  I am sure we will have a number of things in common with our trips to Alaska.  Take care.

As I look forward to another mission with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather and the prospect of again being embedded among NOAA’s ocean research, I cannot help but to think back to our recent geology trip earlier this month and the implications of geology on geography on my next NOAA mission.  The NOAA Ship Fairweather promises to be a very different experience than my experience aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

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While Dillion was on his Alaska trip with his family, Mrs. Kaiser found a clever way to bring him with us.  Look closely for Dillion on our tour through the Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

The Pisces was a survey ship that usually focused on fisheries missions similar to the Reef Fish Study that I worked on in 2014 while the Fairweather represents another key component of the NOAA fleet, the hydrographic ship.  Yes, this is where geology meets mapping, and when these two come together in the ocean, it is NOAA’s task to ensure that the data needed to manage and safely navigate coastal waters is up to date and accurate.

It can be a challenge to ponder upon an obvious connection to the ocean in a state like South Dakota.  During our geology field trip this May, there were times when we were no more than a few miles from the very center of North America’s landlocked isolation.  It may be quite fitting that North America’s pole of inaccessibility, the point at which one is the farthest from every ocean shore is in the Badlands of South Dakota where 100 miles to each horizon one can look in such a place and easily be led to the conclusion that this is, indeed, an ocean-less planet that stretches endlessly into beautiful desolation.

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If you squint you can just make out the sea shore in the distance…just kidding.  The Badlands of South Dakota are as far as one can get from all shores in North America, more than 1,000 miles in every direction.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

But, that is the illusion of South Dakota. The reality is that we live on an ocean planet that is dominated ecologically and cyclically and in every conceivable way by a giant reservoir of water far bigger than the vastness of the great North American interior.  The reality is that ocean deposits built much of what South Dakota is today through hundreds of millions of years of deposition.  The reality is that South Dakotans are tied to the ocean in a multitude of ways, yet it slips the grasp of our awareness and often our understanding.  Imagine the challenge with our students in South Dakota who have few, if any, personal experiences to draw upon when science teachers cover oceanography and other ocean sciences in classes throughout the state.  Thankfully, programs such as NOAA’s Teacher at Sea are tremendously helpful in confronting this challenge through this valuable education and research program.

I have two primary goals during my mission:  connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and vocational pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers.  Basically, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my mission and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA.  I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity, yet again, through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  This is truly another great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.

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There was once an ocean here…70 million years ago.  The great North American interior is largely comprised of ocean deposits of varying composition.  Hundreds of vertical feet of this ancient marine mud, Pierre Shale, is exposed through much of West River South Dakota serving as a constant reminder of our ancient watery origins.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

As with me I will be starting my eleventh year of teaching in Hoven this August.  I teach 7-12 science:  Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics.  I am also the testing coordinator and student adviser for our school district.  Like most staff members in a small school, one must get accustomed to wearing many hats with many roles.  I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences.  It keeps my brain entertained and occupied!  Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in.  It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town.  I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning experience for students.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks.  I will miss them and did get a little home sick the last time with their absence.

I am counting down the days until I fly out on May 29 to Juneau, Alaska, where the Fairweather will be leaving.  I am to report a week early in order to work with the crew of the Fairweather on tidal gauges.  After my work with gauges, I will embark with the Fairweather on its mission and disembark in Ketchikan, Alaska.  I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission.  I look forward to learning more about the various technological aspects of the mission and will report more on the subject once I am underway.  For more information about the Fairweather, visit the Fairweather homepage.

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My family and I and Einstein.

Rebecca Loy, Does Rainier Run on Diesel or STEAM?  September 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 14, 2015

Current Location: South Arm of Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

To answer this question, Rainier runs on both diesel and STEAM.  The diesel keeps this ship running where it needs to go and the engineers are masterful at keeping this ship maintained.  The STEAM is everywhere, and I am not just talking about water steam in a pipe or in the galley.  This ship has serious Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math!!

I met with acting (Executive Officer) XO LT Adam Pfundt and acting (Field Ops Officer) FOO LT Steve Loy (even though Loy is a unique name, we are not related – but it is pretty cool that another Loy is here).  They were discussing who was going to lead certain jobs.  I learned a great deal about the process needed.  During research, an area in review is called a “sheet”.  Why do you think they call the areas sheets and not something else?  Do you think there could be some historical mariner significance?

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed
Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Like most tasks on Rainier, research begins with a geographical area being assigned to a manager, assistant plus a mentor.  They will work together as a team on their sheet until the hydrographic branch of NOAA accepts the data.  Like I mentioned in my second blog entry, this could take weeks or months after the initial data collection to complete.

I have decided to use sheet number H12692, which was just assigned to the team of  ENS Matt Bissell, manager, ENS Shelley Deveraux as assistant, and LT Steve Loy as mentor this past week.  Can you find H12692 on the photo above?

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid
ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid. Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

All team members are responsible for maintaining work logs so they can report on them.  Even here writing & communication is very important – remember this when I help you with YOUR writing!  Here is a brief overview of the duties:

Sheet Manager – this is the biggest of the jobs given.  The sheet manager is responsible for organizing the team.  This person needs to prepare the area to be studied by separating it into more manageable areas called polygon plans.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.
Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

They decide which area gets studied by the large Rainier or if a smaller launch is needed.  The smaller launches are good for areas closer to the shore or shallow areas.

The manager has to know if Rainier should use its multibeam echolocation sounder (MBES) in large runs or drag its Side Scan Sonar (SSS) behind it in the area to be studied.  Another option the manager has to decide is do they need to use the MBES or Side Scan Sonars that are mounted on the smaller launches and where should this be.