Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)
Weather Data from Marietta, GA:
Latitude: 33.963900 Longitude: -84.492260 Sky Conditions: Clear Present Weather: Hot Visibility: 9 miles Windspeed: Less than 1 knot Temperature: Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit
It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.
As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:
Question 1: Where did you sleep?
I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!
Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?
Question 3: What animals did you see?
I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lionfound in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!
See the video below:
Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?
This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.
From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”
From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”
So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.
Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?
YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.“
Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.
Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 53.055’ N 124◦ 47.003’W Windspeed: 13 knots Geographic Area: @10-15 miles off of the Oregon/California coast Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celsius Air Temperature 68◦Fahrenheit
Navigation is how Fairweather knows its position and how the crew plans and follows a safe route. (Remember navigation from the last post?) But what “drives” where the ship goes is Hydrographic survey mission. There is a stunning amount of sea floor that remains unmapped, as well as seafloor that has not been mapped following a major geological event like an earthquake of underwater volcano.
Why is Hydrography important? As we talked about in the previous post, the data is used for nautical safety, creating detailed maps of the ocean floor, setting aside areas are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines — especially subduction zones which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.
In addition to
generating the data needed to update nautical charts, hydrographic surveys
support a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging),
coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone
management, and offshore resource development. Detailed depth information and
seafloor characterization is also useful in determining fisheries habitat and
understanding marine geologic processes.
The history of hydrographic surveys dates back to the days
of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a
survey of our young nation’s coast. This began the practice and accompanying sciences
of the coastal surveys. The practice of
surveys birthed the science of Hydrography (which we are actively conducting
now) and the accompanying science of Bathymetry (which we will go into on the
next post.) This practice continues of
providing nautical charts to the maritime community to ensure safe passage into
American ports and safe marine travels along the 95,000 miles of U.S. Coastline.
Want to learn more about Hydrographic Survey history? Click on THIS LINK for the full history by the NOAA.
Scientists have tools or equipment that they use to successfully carry out their research. Let’s take a look at a few of the tools hydrographic survey techs use:
Want to learn more about the science of SONAR? Watch the video below.
On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.
The transducer on Fairweather is an EM 710- multibeam echo sounder which you can learn more about HERE.
The Transducer is located on the bottom of the ship and sends out 256 sonar beams at a time to the bottom of the ocean. The frequency of the 256 beams is determined by the depth from roughly 50 pings per second to 1 ping every 10 seconds. The active elements of the EM 710 transducers are based upon composite ceramics, a design which has several advantages, which include increased bandwidth and more precise measurements. The transducers are fully watertight units which should give many years of trouble-free operation. This comes in handy since the device in on the bottom of Fairweather’s hull!
Here is the transducer on one of the launches:
The 256 sonar beams are sent out by the transducer simultaneously to the ocean floor, and the rate of return is how the depth of the ocean floor is determined. The rate of pulses and width of the “swath” or sonar beam array is affected by the depth of the water. The deeper the water, the larger the “swath” or array of sonar beams because they travel a greater distance. The shallower the water, the “swath” or array of sonar beams becomes narrower due to lesser distance traveled by the sonar beams.
The minimum depth that this transducer can map the sea floor is less than 3 meters and the maximum depth is approximately 2000 meters (which is somewhat dependent upon array size). Across track coverage (swath width) is up to 5.5 times water depth, to a maximum of more than 2000 meters. This echo sounder is capable of reaching deeper depths because of the lower frequency array of beams.
The transmission beams from the EM 710 multibeam echo sonar are electronically stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw, while they receive beams are stabilized for movements. (The movement of the ship) What is roll, pitch, and yaw? See below – these are ways the Fairweather is constantly moving!
Since the sonar is sent through water, the variable of the water
that the sonar beams are sent through must be taken into account in the
Some of the variables of salt water include: conductivity
(or salinity) temperature, depth, and density.
Hydrographic scientists must use tools to measure these factors in sea water, other tools are built into the hydrographic survey computer programs.
One of the tools used by the hydrographic techs is the XBT or Expendable Bathy Thermograph that takes a measurement of temperature and depth. The salinity of the area being tested is retrieved from the World Ocean Atlas which is data base of world oceanographic data. All of this data is transmitted back to a laptop for the hydrographers. The XBT is an external device that is launched off of the ship to take immediate readings of the water.
Launching the XBT: There is a launcher which has electrodes on it, then you plug the XBT probe to the launcher and then XBT is launched into the ocean off of the back of the ship. The electrodes transmit data through the probe via the 750-meter copper wire. The information then passes through the copper wire, through the electrodes, along the black wire, straight to the computer where the data is collected. This data is then loaded onto a USB then taken and loaded into the Hydrographic data processing software. Then the data collected by the XBT is used to generate the sound speed profile, which is sent to the sonar to correct for the sound speed changes through the water column that the sonar pulses are sent through. The water column is all of the water between the surface and seafloor. Hydrographers must understand how the sound moves through the water columns which may have different densities that will bend the sound waves. By taking the casts, you are getting a cross section “view” of the water column on how sound waves will behave at different densities, the REFRACTION (or bending of the sound waves) effects the data.
See how the XBT is launched and data is collected below!
Videos coming soon!
The other tool is the MVP or moving vessel profiler which takes measurements of conductivity, temperature, and depth. These are all calculated to determine the density of the water. This is a constant fixture on the aft deck (the back of the ship) and is towed behind the Fairweather and constantly transmits data to determine the speed of sound through water. (Since sonar waves are sound waves.)
The sonar software uses this data to adjust the calculation of the depth, correcting for the speed of sound through water due to the changes in the density of the ocean. The final product? A detailed 3d model of the seafloor!
All of this data is run through the survey software. See screen shots below of all the screens the hydrographers utilize in the course of their work with explanations. (Thanks Sam!) It’s a lot of information to take in, but hydrographic survey techs get it done 24 hours a day while we are at sea. Amazing! See below:
Did You Know? An interesting fact about sonar: When the depth is deeper, a lower frequency of sonar is utilized. In shallower depths, a higher sonar frequency. (Up to 900 meters, then this rule changes.)
Question of the Day: Interested
in becoming a hydrographic survey tech?
See the job description HERE.
Challenge yourself — see if you can learn and apply the new terms and phrases below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
August 12th Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W Windspeed: 19mph Geographic Area: Northwest Pacific Ocean Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit
Science and Technology Log
Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean. The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us! Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important? We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important. On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area. The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis. More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post. For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.
Science Word of the day: NAVIGATION
The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined:
process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and
following a route.
helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”
Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th:
As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe? Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.” So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be. First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!
the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat. These are not to be confused with the CO or
Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be
present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school
(if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals
1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck. The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales! The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed.
in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck. The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO
and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with
paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the
course for the ship.
The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman. The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD. Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.) The helmsman has another duty as lookout. The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.
There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions. This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!
Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?
Radar is a system
that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high
frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is
Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds. Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area. On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.
While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes. A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement. This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading.
Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.
To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.
Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only. Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles. So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.
It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too! As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station! What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?
With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)
The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship
must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below). Now the crew must plot a course to cover the
area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping. The bridge and the hydrographic survey team
collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and
timing of turns.
See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!
been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure! There is so much to take in and share with my
students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the
country! Today, we went from sunny skies
and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas! The ship is definitely moving today! I keep thinking about STEM activities to
secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship! For safety, the entire crew is tying up any
loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM
challenges to simulate this for sure!
Did You Know?
When steering a ship, an
unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the
degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30!
Question of the Day:
How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?
Thermosalinigraph: Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.
Challenge yourself: see if you can learn and apply the terms below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
ECDIS: Electronic chart display information system
Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA? All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same. Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission. Learn more here: https://www.noaa.gov/education
I will be embarking August 12 and sailing through August 23 on a Hydrographic Survey mission from Newport, Oregon. Hydrographic Survey missions focus on mapping the seafloor in detail. I will be sharing more about that soon! To all my students (past and present), colleagues, fellow STEM enthusiasts, and friends, I hope you will follow along via these blog posts as I share this teacher adventure at sea and learn with me about the important work of NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”
Most of my time teaching is spent within the walls of the classroom, trying to prepare students for STEM careers that they (or I) have never seen. Now, as a Teacher at Sea, the dynamic will be flipped! I will learn with actual scientists about STEM careers that support NOAA’s mission and bring those experiences back to the classroom myself! I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my own knowledge and for my students who will get a front row seat to STEM careers in action.
My “classroom” for the next two weeks:
I was born in New Hampshire and moved around quite a bit growing up. My “hometown” was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I grew up in many places including South Africa. I currently live on a “pocket farm” in Powder Springs, Georgia with my husband, 3 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats. My family and I love to travel as well as camp in state and national parks.
I have always enjoyed a bit of adventure, learning rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, bungee jumping, and skydiving. My favorite adventure came at the age of 13 when I learned how to scuba dive. A new underwater world was revealed to me and I developed a deep love and respect for the ocean. I have tried to teach my children and my students the joys of outdoor adventure and the importance of stewardship. Powder Springs is about 20 miles away from the Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta. We love going to NFL Falcons’ games and MLB Braves’ games when we are not out camping!
My greatest adventure now is being a STEM teacher. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I have been a STEM teacher for my entire teaching career and love it! I see STEM everywhere and believe our students are going to do great things for the world with a strong background in STEM education. I particularly enjoy teaching Coding and 3D printing to students as well as how to use technology to create solutions to problems instead of being passive users of technology
My undergraduate work was focused in Early Childhood education, and my graduate degree in Integration of Technology into Instruction. I now teach at Sope Creek Elementary and love my 1,000+ students in our evolving STEM school. We follow the steps of the EDP or Engineering Design Process every day to solve real world problems. We especially like to integrate problem solving with technology. This practice is what drew me to the hydrographic survey projects conducted by NOAA. I am excited to learn how technology is utilized to create detailed maps of the ocean floor, and learn about the science of Bathymetry, which is the study of the “beds” of “floors” of water bodies including oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams.
Finally, it was the mission of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program is what drew me to apply for this program: The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation. The program provides a unique opportunity for kindergarten through college-level teachers to sail aboard NOAA research ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew. As a life-long learner it is difficult to access professional development. In this program, I will gain real world experience as a scientist as sea while also having an adventure at sea! I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you! Now I’m off to get my dose of vitamin sea! More soon.
Questions and Resources:
Teachers: Please reach out with questions from teachers or students and keep an eye out for resources I will be sharing in the comments section of this blog. Check out these K-12 resources available through NOAA!
Students: Have a teacher or please post your questions. Here are the answers from questions so far:
Question 1: Do you think you will end up like the Titanic?
Answer: No way! The NOAA Ship Fairweather has been conducting missions since 1967 (the ship is older than ME!). This is a 231 foot working vessel with a strengthened ice welded hull. I don’t plan on seeing any icebergs off the coast of Oregon in Pacific Ocean, so don’t worry! NOAA Ship Fairweather’s crew have some of the best professionals in the world to run their fleet, so I will be safe!
Question 2: Are you coming back? And will you have to sleep outside like a pirate?
Answer: Yes, I will be coming back! I will be away for 2 weeks and will be back in the STEM-Kurtz lab on August 26th-so you can come see me when I get back. As for your 2nd question, I will get to sleep inside in a “berth” and will have a bed and everything else I need. I do not have to sleep outside, but you know when I’m home I like to sleep outside in my hammock!
Student focus of the week: Hey 5th Grade students! You are going to be learning about constructive and destructive processes of the earth over time. Check out this document about the Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards Project Plans. My mission will link directly to what you are learning in class!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska
Date: July 23, 2019
Weather Data from Home Latitude: 41°42’25.35″N Longitude: 73°56’17.30″W Wind: 2 knots NE Barometer: 1011.5 mb Visibility: 10 miles Temperature: 77° F or 25° C Weather: Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
As you can tell from 1) the date of my research cruise and 2) my latitude and longitude, I am no longer in Alaska and I am now home. For my final NOAA Teacher at Sea post, I am pleased to show you the results of the hydrographic survey during the Cape Newenham project. The bathymetric coverage (remember that bathymetry means the topography underwater or depth to the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes) is not final as there is one more leg, but it is pretty close. Then the hard part of “cleaning up” the data begins and having many layers of NOAA hydrographers review the results before ever being placed on a nautical chart for Cape Newenham and Bristol Bay. But that day will come!
Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer
This is Klay Strand who is 2nd Engineer on the Ship Fairweather. He’s been on the ship for about a year and a half and he graciously and enthusiastically showed three of us visiting folk around the engine room towards the end of our leg. It was truly eye-opening. And ear-popping.
Before I get to the tour, a little bit about what Engineering Department does and how one becomes an engineer. There are currently nine engineers on the Ship Fairweather and they basically keep the engines running right. They need to check fluid levels for the engine (like oil, water and fuel) but also keep tabs on the other tanks on the ship, like wastewater and freshwater. The engine is on the lower level of the ship.
Klay Strand’s path to engineering was to go to a two-year trade school in Oregon through the JobCorps program. Strand then worked for the Alaskan highway department on the ferry system and then he started accruing sea days. To become a licensed engineer, one needs 1,080 days on a boat. Strand also needed advanced firefighting training and medical care provider training for his license. There are other pathways to an engineering license like a four-year degree in which you earn a license and a bachelor’s degree. For more information on becoming a ship’s engineer, you can go to the MEBA union, of which Strand is a member. On Strand’s days off the ship, he likes to spend time with his niece and nephews, go skydiving, hike, and go to the gun range.
The following photos are some of the cool things that Klay showed us in the engine room.
Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. When I tell people about the experience, what comes out the most is how warm and open the crew were to me. Every question I had was answered. No one was impatient with my presence. All freely shared their stories, if asked. I learned so much from all of them, the crew of the Fairweather. They respected me as a teacher and wondered about my path to that position. I wondered, too, about their path to a life at sea.
My first week on the ship, I spent a lot of time looking out at the ocean, scanning for whales and marveling at the seemingly endlessness of the water. Living on the water seemed fun and bold. As time went by, I could tell that I may not be cut out for a life at sea at this stage of my life, but I sure would have considered it in my younger days. Now that I know a little bit more about these careers on ships, I have the opportunity to tell my students about living and working on the ocean. I can also tell my educator colleagues about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.
Though I loved my time on the Ship Fairweather, I do look forward to seeing my West Bronx Academy students again in September. I am so grateful for all I learned during my time at sea.
Did You Know?
If you are interested in finding out about areas of the ocean that are protected from certain types of human activity because of concerns based on habitat protection, species conservation and ecosystem-based marine management, here are some links to information about Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas are defined as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” Did you know that there are over 11,000 designated MPAs around the world?
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
You may be wondering what role technology plays in a hydrographic survey. I have already written about how modern survey operations rely on the use of multibeam sonar. What I have not described, and am still coming to understand myself, is how complex the processing of sonar data is, involving different types of hardware and software.
For example, when the sonar transducer sends out a pulse, most of the sound leaves and eventually comes back to the boat at an angle. When sound or light waves move at an angle from one substance into another, or through a substance with varying density, they bend. You have probably observed this before and not realized it. A plastic drinking straw in a glass of water will appear broken through the glass. That is because the light waves traveling from the straw to your eye bend as they travel.
The bending of a wave is called refraction. Sound waves refract, too, and this refraction can cause some issues with our survey data. Thanks to technology, there are ways to solve this problem. The sonar itself uses the sound velocity profile from our CTD casts in real time to adjust the data as we collect it. Later on during post processing, some of the data may need to be corrected again, using the CTD cast profiles most appropriate for that area at that general time. Corrections that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand are simplified with the use of technology.
Another interesting project in which I’ve been privileged to participate this week was setting up a base station at Shark Point in Ugak Bay. You have most likely heard of the Global Positioning System, and you may know that GPS works by identifying your location on Earth’s surface relative to the known locations of satellites in orbit. (For a great, kid-friendly explanation of GPS, I encourage students to check out this website.) But what happens if the satellites aren’t quite where we think they are? That’s where a base station, or ground station, becomes useful. Base stations, like the temporary one that we installed at Shark Point, are designed to improve the precision of positioning data, including the data used in the ship’s daily survey operations.
Setting up the Base Station involved several steps. First, a crew of six people were carried on RA-7, the ship’s small skiff, to the safest sandy area near Shark Point. It was a wet and windy trip over on the boat, but that was only the beginning! Then, we carried the gear we needed, including two tripods, two antennae (one FreeWave antenna to connect with the ship and a Trimble GPS antenna), a few flexible solar panels, two car batteries, a computer, and tools, through the brush and brambles and up as close to the benchmark as we could reasonably get. A benchmark is a physical marker (in this case, a small bronze disk) installed in a location with a known elevation above mean sea level. For more information about the different kinds of survey markers, click here.
Next we laid out a tarp, set up the antennae on their tripods, and hooked them up to their temporary power source. After ensuring that both antennae could communicate, one with the ship and the other with the satellites, we met back up with the boat to return to the ship. The base station that we set up will be retrieved in about a week, once it has served its purpose.
Career Focus – Commanding Officer (CO), NOAA Corps
Meet Ben Evans. As the Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Rainier, he is the leader, responsible for everything that takes place on board the ship as well as on the survey launches. Evans’ first responsibility is to the safety of the ship and its crew, ensuring that people are taking the appropriate steps to reduce the risks associated with working at sea. He also spends a good deal of his time teaching younger members of the crew, strategizing with the other officers the technical details of the mission, and interpreting survey data for presentation to the regional office.
Evans grew up in upstate New York on Lake Ontario. He knew that he wanted to work with water, but was unsure of what direction that might take him. At Williams College he majored in Physics and then continued his education at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, completing their 3-year Engineering Degree Program. While at WHOI, he learned about the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, and decided to apply. After four months of training, he received his first assignment as a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Rude surveying the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Nearly two decades later, he is the Commanding Officer of his own ship in the fleet.
When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Evans smiled to himself and took a moment to reply. He then described the fulfillment that comes with knowing that he is a small piece of an extensive, ongoing project–a hydrographic tradition that began back in 1807 with the United States Survey of the Coast. He enjoys working with the young crew members of the ship, sharing in their successes and watching them grow so that together they may carry that tradition on into the future.
For my last post, I would like to talk about some of the amazing marine life that I have seen on this trip. Seals, sea lions, and sea otters have shown themselves, sometimes in surprising places like the shipyard back in Seward. Humpback whales escorted us almost daily on the way to and from our small boat survey near Ugak Bay. One day, bald eagles held a meeting on the beach of Ugak Island, four of them standing in a circle on the sand, as two others flew overhead, perhaps flying out for coffee. Even the kelp, as dull as it might seem to some of my readers, undulated mysteriously at the surface of the water, reminding me of alien trees in a science fiction story.
Stepping up onto dry land beneath Shark Point, we were dreading (yet also hoping for) an encounter with the great Kodiak brown bear. Instead of bears, we saw a surprising number of spring flowers, dotting the slopes in clumps of blue, purple, and pink. I am sensitive to the smells of a new place, and the heady aroma of green things mixed with the salty ocean spray made our cold, wet trek a pleasure for me.
Word of the Day
Davit – a crane-like device used to move boats and other equipment on a ship
Speaking of Refraction…
Thank you to NOAA Ship Rainier, the Teacher at Sea Program, and all of the other people who made this adventure possible. This was an experience that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to share it with my students back in Georgia!
For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here). Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey. First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.
Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart. The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island. The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions. An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.
I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself. In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations. At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students. No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.
Career Focus – Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997. A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school. The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.
Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength. The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations. They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.
Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job. Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world. He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box. As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.
In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway. I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home. How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!
Word of the Day
bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship
Q & A
Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?
Yes! NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska. Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.
What did you eat for dinner?
This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The tide buoy was successfully released and will remain in the Arctic Ocean until late summer or early fall.
Tide Buoy near Cape Lisburne, AK
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!
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/.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
My favorite tools are the wind wheel, alidade, and relative humidity thermometers.
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.
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.
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.
CHST Allison Stone manages the crane while Lt. Charles Wisotzsky directs the bottom sample claw and ENS Taylor Krabiel performs various substrate tests.
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.
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.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
After a day of surveying, kayaking to a waterfall in William’s Cove and exploring proved to be another fun adventure.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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!
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.
Weather Data From the Bridge Lat: 57°52.59′ Long: 133°38.7′
Wind 1 kt at variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Water temp: 5.6°C
Science and Technology Log
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
+ 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.
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.
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.
MVP, Moving Vessel Profiler
Sam and Simon deploying the MVP
Survey technicians Sam Candio and Simon Swart view the MVP controls
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
Weather Data From the Bridge Lat: 56°59.4’, Long:135°53.9’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Passage, a 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 Fairweather‘s bridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The Plotting Room
The Main Project Table in the Plotting Room
The West of Prince of Wales Island Project. Notice how each “sheet” is assigned a color.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The POD (Plan of the Day)
Emergency Drill Assignments
Donning 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.