Linda Kurtz: Women in STEM-(at sea): Meet Bekah Gossett, August 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/22/2019

HSST Beka Gossett
HSST Bekah Gossett

HSST Rebekah Gossett

  1. When you were a child, what was your dream career?

As a child, I always wanted to draw. I was drawing constantly and I wanted to somehow make my love for creating art into a career, whether that meant being a studio artist myself or helping to teach others to make art.

2. What was your favorite (and least favorite) subject in school?

Believe it or not, science! I grew to really enjoy my science classes starting in middle school and through high school, especially participating in the science fairs. My love for science was inversely related to my love for math. I started to dread all my mathematics courses as I went through high school, and really up into my earlier college years which often made my science courses difficult. During my junior year in college I took calculus taught by a great professor and things finally clicked!

3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?

Sometime in between my junior and senior years in college, I realized I wanted to do what is I’m doing now. That’s when I was introduced to hydrography.

4. What do you enjoy the most (and the least) about your work?

I really enjoy working on the ocean and with small boats. It’s a really dynamic platform. The lifestyle that comes with living on a ship can be difficult. It’s a lot of traveling and spending time away from home.

5. Where do you do most of your work?

Most of my work is done on the ship in the Plot Room. It’s a big room on the ship where most of our processing systems live.

6. What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A computer! Computers are used for data acquisition, processing, and delivery. Everything is done via some sort of processing/work station.

7. What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

I never thought I would be a NOAA Diver. I didn’t even know that NOAA had a dive program. Learning to be a working diver was an awesome experience and opportunity that I don’t think I would have ever had, or even would want to have outside of NOAA.

8. How could teachers help students understand and appreciate NOAA science?

Teachers could help students understand and appreciate NOAA science by sharing some of the awesome work we do that’s applicable to their classroom. NOAA is such a big administration with tons of cool science going on so by picking some interesting topics that are more relatable to their classroom audience might help engage their students.

9. What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?

When acquiring data, my favorite part of the day is the end, when the data is transferred and being processed. It’s not because the day’s over, but because I get to see all of the data we’ve collected throughout the day and remember the work that went into it. It’s also the beginning of the next stage of work for that dataset, the quality control stage.

10. What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure I would be doing anything hydrography related. NOAA has been a great learning platform for me to become the hydrographer I am now. NOAA has really taught me to appreciate ocean science.

11. Do you have an outside hobby?

My outside hobby is painting. It can be hard to find space on the ship to paint, but traveling around Alaska and being on the water always inspires me to be more creative.

12. What is your favorite animal?

Picking one is pretty difficult, but I’m really into jellyfish right now. They seem like they have a low-stress lifestyle.

13. If you could go back in time and tell your 10 year old self something, what would it be?

“Relax, being 10 is way cooler than you think.”

14. Have you traveled anywhere interesting travels while studying Geology?

I traveled to Northern India as my field study in college. We were studying the water quality and management stemming from the Ganges River. Also, most of my geology labs in college were trips to the field which often meant the beach. Traveling and being outside is an added bonus while studying geology.

Interested in learning more about Hydrography and NOAA? Check out the resources below:

HYDROGRAPHY CAREERS NOAA 1

HYDROGRAPHY CAREERS NOAA 2

NOAA EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

SCIENCE ON A SPHERE

OCEAN TODAY-“TRASH TALK”

Meg Stewart: What Does the Seafloor Look Like? Hydrography Can Tell Us, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 1 knot N
Barometer: 1011.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 58° F or 14° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Red Sky
“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” This old mariner’s adage did NOT prove to be true when I saw this sunrise viewed from NOAA Ship Fairweather at 5:21am yesterday. It turned out to be a perfect delight for a surveying day!


What is NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program?

You may be wondering what, exactly, am I doing going “to sea” with NOAA. First off, NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and originates back to 1807 with Thomas Jefferson founding the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (as the Survey of the Coast) with a mission to provide nautical charts to the maritime community for safe passage into American ports. Over time, the Weather Bureau was added and then the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was developed. In 1970, these three agencies were combined under one umbrella organization and named NOAA, an agency that supports accuracy and precision of physical and atmospheric sciences, protection of life and property, and stewardship of natural resources. NOAA is within the Department of Commerce.

Meg on flying bridge
I am standing on the flying bridge of the Fairweather where you get a fantastic 360° view.

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program has existed since 1990, sending over 800 teachers on NOAA research cruises. The TAS mission is “to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.”  There is usually just one teacher sent per leg of a mission, that way the TAS gets full exposure to the research process and attention from the crew, scientists and staff on the ship. And it is true, everyone onboard has been friendly, helpful, welcoming, and willing to answer any question I might have, like, where is C deck? (That’s where my stateroom is located).


Science and Technology Log

Now that you understand NOAA’s mission, it should not surprise you that I am on a research cruise that is mapping a part of the seafloor that has not had detailed soundings. “Soundings” means the action or process of measuring the depth of the sea or other body of water. See the map below as that is where I am right now, in Bristol Bay. By the way, NOAA nautical charts are available for free at this NOAA site.

Bristol Bay nautical chart
The NOAA nautical chart of Bristol Bay, Cape Newenham and Hagemeister Strait. Note that where there are small numbers in the white and blue sections of the chart (that is all water), you can see the sounding depths to surface shown in fathoms. The red polygon is drawn on by me. We are working in the upper, northwest part of that “poorly mapped” section. Notice that there are essentially no soundings in that region.

When I’ve told friends, family and students that I was chosen to be on a NOAA research vessel that was compiling a detailed map of the sea floor off of Alaska, it was met with great surprise. “The ocean floor hasn’t been mapped before? How could that be?” In fact, more than 80 percent of the ocean bottom has not been mapped using modern, highly precise technologies.  But we do have a very coarse ocean floor – or bathymetric – map, created in the early 1950s by Marie Tharp using sounding data collected by the U.S. military and her collaborator Bruce Heezen. Tharp’s early map of the sea floor beautifully revealed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and added another piece of evidence in support of the theories of continental drift plate tectonics. There’s a terrific Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey episode featuring Tharp.

1977 colorized ocean floor map
This is the Tharp and Heezen (1977) colorized ocean floor map. This map is used under the Creative Commons license.

Why we need a more detailed bathymetry map than the one created by Tharp and Heezen can be explained by the original mission of the early version of NOAA. Jefferson wanted to build a “…survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States…” in order to provide safe passage of ships to ports within the navigable waters of the U.S. As the Bristol Bay chart above shows, there are still coastal areas that have limited to no data. Without detailed charts, mariners cannot know where the shallower waters are (called shoals), or rock obstructions, shifted underwater sand bars, shipwrecks, or other hindrances that cause safety concerns to the movement of boats.

The hydrographic Survey Team on the NOAA Ship Fairweather use several 30 foot boats, called launches, with a multibeam echosounder attached to the hull (the bottom of the ship). The multibeam echosounder uses sonar and is a device useful for both shallow and deep water. In a nutshell, depth measurements are collected by calculating the time it takes for each of the sound pulses to travel from the echosounder through the sea water to the ocean floor and back again. The distance from the instrument to the seafloor is calculated by multiplying the travel time by the speed of sound through seawater, which is about 1,500 meters/second or 4,921 feet/second. Right before a hydrographic survey is started, the team collects information on the conductivity, temperature and depth of the sea water, as temperature and salinity will modify the density and change the travel time of the sonar pulses. The video below can explain the process further.

This NOAA video explains multibeam sounding and hydrographic operations.
launch with echosounder
A launch on a lift right before going out to survey. The multibeam echosounder is permanently fixed to the bottom of the hull. It’s a square, rigid box that sits flat against the hull in front of the keel.
Ali in a launch
This is Ali Johnson in the cabin of a launch. She is a hydrographic survey technician and is analyzing the multibeam echosounder data as it is being collected. The length of a launch is 32 feet, and all the technology needed for the hydrographic surveys are directly on boats in the cabin. Post-processing, or stitching the completed surveys into one comprehensive product, is done “back in the office” on Ship Fairweather.

The software used to collect the soundings is created by the multibeam echosounder manufacturer, so the collection of millions of points on a transect is seamless. Data collection runs are taken over multiple days and several “legs” or extended periods of time when the crew are all out at the same time on the Fairweather.  Following collection transects, the data are then post-processed using Caris HIPS and SIPS, which is the software that the Fairweather hydrographers use for data processing.

screen showing bathymetry
A close-up of one of the monitors that shows what the sounding data look like. By looking at these data returns, the hydrographers can tell immediately if something is not right with the equipment. The two windows that show maps colored red to yellow to blue (top right and bottom left) show the bathymetry. The red areas are shallow depths and the blue are deeper depths, relatively speaking. Also notice the window at the bottom right with a triangle and circle within the triangle; that is showing the fan-shape of the echosoundings.


Personal Log

We’ve motored to a new location, Cape Newenham, which is the name of this mission, so we will be here for about a week. When we got underway, the ship got to really rocking and my stomach could not handle it. I had one bad night but I am now fine and ship shape!

Cape Newenham is at latitude 58°N so we are up close to the Arctic Circle (66.5°N). At this time of year, there are about 5 hours of darkness per night here in Alaska, which is really cool. Compare that what we have in New York…

Anchorage v NYC
For July 11, 2019, the number of daylight hours in Anchorage, AK (closest large city to where I am now) is 18 hours and 41 minutes. Times of sunrise and sunset are also given….the sun sets at 11:25pm today! And in NYC, NY (where my school is located), you are getting four fewer daylight hours, or about 15 hours of light. Again, times of sunrise and sunset are shown. Source for both: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa
Launches and Fairweather
Launches waiting to get underway. All boats going out for surveys stay close to the Fairweather until everyone is securely in their boat, just in case of MOB (man overboard).
Fairweather anchored
This is where Ship Fairweather is anchored for the next few days, as the survey crews transect the project area. We are on the southern side of Cape Newenham. Again, the terrain is tree-less, though we are now adjacent the mainland of Alaska. I’ve seen so many types of sea birds, but the puffins are the best because they seem to not have figured out how to fly. I hear there are walrus in the area, but I haven’t spotted one as yet.


Did You Know?

You probably know that Charles Darwin was the naturalist on board the HMS Beagle which set sail on December 27,1831. Over the nearly five years the Beagle was at sea, Darwin developed his ideas on natural selection and evolution of species. But what you might not know is that the captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, was an officer in the Royal Navy, a meteorologist and hydrographer. In fact, the primary mission of the Beagle was to survey the coastline of South America and, in particular, the Strait of Magellan, at the southernmost tip. Better, more accurate charts were needed by the British government, to navigate the treacherous, rough waters of the channels. In addition, FitzRoy was a protégé of Francis Beaufort (who developed the Wind Force Scale which is still used to help explain wind speed) and both worked together to create the science of weather forecasting.


Quote of the Day

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” – Rachel Carson

Meg Stewart: Getting Ready for an Adventure in Alaska

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 25, 2019

Introduction

I am so excited about my upcoming experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will be on the NOAA Ship Fairweather from July 8 to 19 and will be participating on a hydrographic research cruise, one that is mapping the sea-floor in detail; more about that soon. We will embark from and return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which is part of the Aleutian Islands. If you are my current or former student, or you are a friend or colleague of mine, or you are an admirer of the Teacher at Sea program, I hope you will follow along on this ocean adventure as I post about my experiences while at sea.

Meg on catamaran
This is me on a catamaran off the coast of Barbados.

A little about me

I am originally from California. I went to the beach often to body surf and splash around, maybe sunbathe (I don’t do THAT anymore).   It was in California where I got interested in geology. I was pretty young when I experienced the 1971 San Fernando 6.5M earthquake and after that, earthquakes were a regular occurrence for me. When I moved to Hayward, California, in early 1989 to complete my bachelor’s degree in geology at California State University East Bay, I was living off-campus and had the “pleasure” of rocking and rolling through one of the longest earthquakes I every felt when the 6.9M Loma Prieta earthquake hit.  I moved on from there to the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, to earn my Master’s in Structural Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I didn’t feel any earthquakes in Nevada, but I did do my research on an active fault in southwestern Utah. I like to think of myself as a “boots-on-the-ground” kind of scientist-educator.

Meg teaching
Teaching graduate students about digital mapping.

My work and life experiences are such that for five years after grad school, I was a staff geologist at a large environmental consulting company. I loved that job and it took me all around the U.S.  One of the assignments I had was to manage a mapping project involving data from New York and New Jersey harbor area. From that experience I became interested in digital mapping (known as Geographic Information Systems or GIS) and switched careers. I went to work at a small liberal arts college as the GIS support person within the instructional technology group. In addition to helping teach professors and college students how to work with the GIS software, I helped teach about use of social media in teaching, use a mobile devices for data collection, integrating alternative assessments like using of audio and video, and I maintained two computer labs. While I was involved in those two different careers, I gained some adjunct teaching experiences at several different colleges and grad schools, teaching geology, environmental science and GIS.

Meg at University of the West Indies
At the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies

Another professional experience that I’ve had that I am most proud of is I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010 to Barbados. My family and I lived in Barbados for a year while I was worked with the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) I taught GIS to graduate students, I worked with some of the students on research projects, I traveled to Belize as a field assistant on a field studies trip with faculty members and CERMES students, and I had the privilege of working on a marine-based, community-driven mapping research project with a then PhD student (who has since earned her degree). My part of the project was to take the spatial data, organize it and create a user-friendly Google Earth KML file. She and I got to travel around St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, teaching community members about the work, the available data, and how to access the Google Earth project file. 

New York state fossil
Behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, checking out the official state fossil of New York, Eurypterus Remipes.

In 2015, I re-tooled yet again and was accepted into a challenging yet rewarding education program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 15 months, I learned how to teach with artifacts, took graduate courses in all manner or earth and space subjects, of course, had classes in pedagogical approaches, had two in-residence teaching experiences at area schools, all the while in the amazing AMNH, home of Night at the Museum. 

Meg and students at AMNH
These are two of my ninth graders checking out a piece of kimberlite with a diamond sticking out. We’re at AMNH in the Hall of Planet Earth.

Now as a public high school educator, teaching Earth Science to 9-12 graders in the Bronx, I have a strong foundation in the solid earth topics like plate tectonics, rocks and minerals, and geologic time. But Regents Earth Science class in New York also involves oceanography, meteorology, climate science and astronomy. 

Meg snorkeling
Yes, this is me, actually in the sea at Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island in the Grenadines.

What compelled me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is what motivates me throughout my other life decisions: I wanted to push against my boundaries and my limitations. I have always had a healthy respect for the sea, which was mixed in with a little fear. I saw the movie Jaws when I was young and impressionable, so I never really wanted to venture too far into the water beyond the waves. I didn’t even want to swim in lakes for fear of what might be traversing through the murky unknown. As I’ve aged, I’ve certainly grown less fearful of the water. I’ve traveled on sailboats and catamarans, I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, I’ve jumped into waters with nurse sharks and stingrays! But as a teacher who feels like she’s missing some key knowledge of her curriculum – oceanography – I want to challenge myself to learn-while-doing as I have the privilege of being selected to be a Teacher at Sea. I cannot wait!

Lona Hall: Meeting, Greeting, and Settling In, June 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

 

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 3, 2019

Local Time: 1100 hours

Location: Alongside, JAG Shipyard, Seward, AK

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 60°05.1022’ N
Longitude: 149°21.2954’ W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE (114 degrees)
Air Temperature: 12.12° Celsius

Lona Hall on NOAA Ship Rainier
Enjoying the fresh air

Science and Technology Log

While at port in Seward, it has already been my pleasure to meet some of the people that make up the team of NOAA Ship Rainier.  My mission so far has been to learn about the different capacities in which individuals serve on board the ship and how each person’s distinct responsibilities combine together to create a single, well-oiled machine.  

The five main departments represented are the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the Hydrographic Survey Technician team, the Engineering team, the Deck department, and the Stewards.  There are also a few visitors (like me) who are here to observe, ask questions, and participate in daily operations, as possible.

Career Focus – Hydrographic Survey Technician

Today I spent some time with Survey Technician, Amanda Finn.  Amanda is one of nine Survey Techs aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician
Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician

What is hydrography?

According to the NOAA website, hydrography is the “science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.” Essentially, hydrographers create and improve maps of the ocean floor, both deep at sea and along the shoreline.  The maps, or charts, allow for safer navigation and travel at sea and are therefore very important.

(Click here to see the chart for Resurrection Bay, where the ship is currently docked.)

 

What does a Hydrographic Survey Technician do?

Technicians like Amanda are in charge of preparing systems for collecting hydrographic data, actually collecting and processing the data, monitoring it for quality, and then writing reports about their findings.  They work part of the time on the ship as well as on the smaller launch boats.

 

What kind of data do Survey Techs use?

Both the main ship and the small launches are equipped with multibeam sonar systems.  SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging. This fascinating technology uses sound waves to “see” whatever exists below the water.  Instead of sending out one sound wave at a time, the multibeam sonar sends out a fan-shaped collection, or swath, of sound waves below and to the sides of the boat’s hull. When the sound waves hit something solid, like a rock, a sunken ship, or simply the sea floor, they bounce back.  The speed and strength at which the sound waves return tell the technicians the depth and hardness of what lies beneath the ocean surface at a given location.

small vessel in the water
Small launch for near shore survey

Personal Log

It is possible to be overwhelmed in a good way.  That has been my experience so far traveling from my home in Georgia to Alaska.  The ship is currently docked at the Seward shipyard in Resurrection Bay. When you hear the word “shipyard”, you might not expect much in the way of scenery, but in this case you would be absolutely wrong!  All around us we can see the bright white peaks of the Kenai Mountains. Yesterday I stood in one place for a while watching a sea otter to my left and a bald eagle to my right. Local fishermen were not as enchanted as I was, but rather were focused on the task at hand: pulling in their bounties of enormous fish!

View near Seward shipyard
Out for a walk near the shipyard

I am similarly impressed with the order and organization aboard the ship. With over fifty people who need to sleep, eat, and get things done each and every day, it might seem like an impossible task to organize it all.  By regular coordination between the departments, as well as the oversight and planning of the ship’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, everything flows smoothly.

I think that it is worth noting here how the level of organization that it takes to run a ship like NOAA Ship Rainier should not be taken for granted.  Every individual must do their part in order to ensure the productivity, efficiency, and safety of everyone else.  As a teacher, we often discuss how teamwork is one of life’s most important skills. What a terrific real-world example this has turned out to be!

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

Did you know?

Seward is located on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska.  The name Kenai (key-nye) comes from the English word (Kenaitze) for the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina tribe.  The name of this tribe translates to “people along the Kahtnu river.” Click here for more information about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Word of the Day

fathom: a unit of length equal to 6 feet, commonly used to measure the depth of water

Tom Savage: Surveying the Coastline of Point Hope, Alaska, August 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 12, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Dry bulb 8   Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology

Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor?  As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857.  The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.

This data was compiled by NOAA using 10 different sources. For further information as how this data was compiled visit https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/mar14/alaska-sea-ice.html. 

The light grey indicates  0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift.  The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack.  The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857
Sea Ice Concentration August 1857

Ice Concentration August 1957
Ice Concentration August 1957

Sea Ice Concentration August 2016
Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts.  Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.

As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important.  Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore.  In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing).  In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.

 

Safety Briefing
Safety Briefing by LT Manda – photo by Tom Savage

 

Deploying a launch boat
Deploying a launch boat – photo by Tom Savage

The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.

deploying CTD
TAS Tom Savage deploying the conductivity, temperature and density probe ~ photo by Megan Shapiro

The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.

Coxswain
Coxswain Zucker – photo by Tom Savage

The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.

 

 

 

 

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data
Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected.  The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting.  Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!

 

Personal Log

I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities.  Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July!  For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?

Question of the day.  Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above?      Data table below……    Answer in the next blog

What is the relative humidity?
What is the relative humidity?

 

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom

Eric Koser: Concluding Matters, July 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22-July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 17, 2018: 900 HRS

 

Weather Data From the Front Porch
Lat: 44°9.48’          Long: 94°1.02’
Skies: Clear
Wind 6 knots, 50°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: no seas!
Water temp: no precip to measure
Air Temp: 22°C Dry Bulb

 

Science and Technology Log

Hydrography matters. It allows mariners to travel safely. It allows many of the goods that arrive here in Minnesota to get here! Containers of goods arrive in Minnesota by truck and train from both coasts as well as the great lakes and by barge on the Mississippi river. Right here in Mankato, we often see shipping containers on trucks and trains. But I wonder if many people stop to consider what it takes to assure that the goods they desire arrive safely.

 

These trains carry containers that likely come from one of the coasts on a ship. The containers often transfer to semi trucks to go to their final destinations.

Intermodal Truck
Shipping containers like this one are very common on Minnesota roadways and railways!

In Minnesota, it’s very common to see containers on trucks. The more I am aware, the more often I realize there are shipping containers all around. I wonder how many people stop to consider that trip that some of the containers here on trucks have taken. I would guess that many of them have traveled on the ocean and many across international waters.

 

 

 

Intermodal Truck
Many carriers distribute merchandise via the intermodal system.

 

Seafood matters. People enjoy Alaskan fish, even here in the Midwest. Fishing boats are successful in part due to safe navigation made possible by current charts. The ledges and shoals identified by the hydro scientists on Rainier keep mariners safe, and ultimately support the commerce that many enjoy around the world.

Salmon isn't native to Minnesota!
This looks like a tasty ocean treat!

Navigation matters in many areas! All mariners in the US have free access to the latest navigational charts for inland and coastal waterways, thanks to the work of NOAA’s hydrographers aboard ships like Rainier. The updates we made in Alaska that are most pertinent to safety will be posted in a matter of weeks as “Notice to Mariners.” Here is an example. The general chart updates made by the team will be in the online charts within a year.

——-

It’s been both exciting and rewarding to be a part of this work. I’ve developed a good understanding of the techniques and tools used in basic ocean hydrography. There are so many great applications of physics – and I’m excited to share with my students.

One of the key take-aways for me is the constant example of team work on the ship. Most everywhere I went, I witnessed people working together to support the mission. In the engineering department, for example, Ray, Sara, Tyler, and Mike have to communicate closely to keep the ship’s systems up and running. More often than not, they work in a loud environment where they can’t speak easily to each other. Yet they seem to know what each other needs – and have ways to signal each other what to do.

On the bridge, one way the teamwork is evident in the language used. There is a clearly established set of norms for how to control the ship. The conn gives commands. The helm repeats them back. The helm reports back when the command is completed. The conn then affirms this verbally. And after a while, it all seems pretty automatic. But this team work is really at the heart of getting the ship’s mission accomplished automatically.

Hydro Team
Here the hydrographers work together with the cox’n to assure our launch captures the needed data.

The hydrographers aboard Rainer sure have to work together. They work in teams of three to collect data on the launches – and then bring that back to the ship to process. They need to understand each other’s notes and references to make accurate and complete charts from their observations. And when the charts are sent on to NOAA’s offices, they need to be clear. When running multibeam scanning, the hydrographer and the cox’n (boat driver) have to work very closely together to assure the launch travels in the right path to collect the needed data.

Even the stewards must be a team. They need to prepare meals and manage a kitchen for 44 people. And they do this for 17 days straight—no one wants to miss a meal! The planning that happens behind the scenes to keep everyone well fed is not a small task.

Ocean Sunset
Sunset on the ocean is an occasion in itself! Its easy to be captivated by such beauty at sea!

I look forward to sharing lots about my experiences. I have been asked to speak at a regional library to share my story and photos. I also will present at our state conference on science education this fall. And surely, my students will see many connections to the oceans!  Kids need to understand the interconnectedness of our vast planet!

Finally, I’m very appreciative of NOAA both for the work that they do and for the opportunities they provide teachers like myself to be involved!

Teacher at Sea
This Teacher at Sea has had a great experience!

 

Meredith Salmon: Xtreme XBTs, July 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

 

Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation

Geographic Area:  Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda

Date: July 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 14, 2018

Latitude: 28.58°N

Longitude: 65.48°W

Air Temperature: 27.4°C

Wind Speed:  13.96 knots

Conditions: Rain and clouds

Depth: 5183 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

Temperature and salinity are two main variables when determining the density of water. The density of water or any acoustic medium is a very important factor in determining the speed of sound in water. Therefore, temperature data collected by Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes, as well as historical salinity profiles from the World Ocean Atlas, are used to create sound velocity profiles to use to correct for sound speed changes in the water column.

Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes are devices that are used to measure water temperature as a function of depth. Small copper wires transmit the temperature data back to the ship where it is recorded and analyzed. At first, I was surprised to learn that temperature data is such an important component of multibeam mapping operations; however, I learned that scientists need to know how fast the sound waves emitted from the sonar unit travel through seawater. Since these probes are designed to fall at a determined rate, the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water.

On our expedition, we have been deploying XBTs on a schedule as the ship is making its way to the survey area. The XBT Launcher is connected to a deck box, which translates information to computer systems onboard so the data can be logged when the probes are deployed into the water. Aboard the Okeanos Explorer, up to 8 tubes can be loaded at one time and launched by scientists.

XBT closet in the Dry Lab
XBT closet in the Dry Lab

 

XBT Launcher
XBT Launcher on the Okeanos

xbt 2
Loading the XBT Launcher

 

 

xbt 1
Savannah and I after a successful XBT load

 

XBT Data
XBT Data from a launch aboard the Okeanos Explorer. The colors on the graph indicate the XBT number and the data is plotted on a temperature and depth scale.

 

 In addition to launching XBTs and collecting data, we completed a Daily Product so that we can communicate the data we have collected to anyone on shore. The Daily Products are completed not only to ensure that the hydrographic software systems are working correctly but to also inform the public our current location, where we have collected data, and if we are meeting the objectives of the mission. Once onshore, NOAA uses this information to analyze the quality of the data and use it for analysis for dive planning. In order to generate the Daily Field Products, we use hydrographic computer systems such as QPS Qimera for advanced multibeam bathymetry processing, Fledermaus for 4D geo-spatial processing, and Geocap Seafloor for digital terrain modeling. In addition, the Daily Field Products allow us to double check the quality of the data and search for any noise interferences due to the speed of the ship or the type of seafloor bottom (hard vs soft).

 

Personal Log

One of the coolest parts of learning aboard the Okeanos Explorer is the fact that I am a part of scientific exploration and discovery in real time.  Known as “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” the Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the sole purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. This is the first U.S.-led mapping effort in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation and all of this information is going to be available for public use. Not only do I get the opportunity to be involved with “real-time” research, but I am also responsible for communicating this information to a variety of different parties on shore.

Being immersed in the “hands-on” science, learning from the survey techs and watch leads, and observing all of the work that is being done to collect, process, and analyze the data is a really exciting experience. I am definitely out of my element when it comes to the content since I do not have any prior experience with seafloor mapping, sonars, etc., but I am really enjoying playing the role as the “student” in this situation. There is definitely a lot to learn and I am trying to soak it all in!

 

Did You Know?

XBTs contain approximately 1,500 meters of copper wire that is as thin as a strand of hair!

 

Resources: 

http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/goos/xbtscience/news.php

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/xbt.html

Taylor Planz: Safety First!, July 15, 2018

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

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 15, 2018 at 8:46am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 68° 22.310′ N
Longitude: 167° 07.398′ W
Wind: 3 knots W, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer: 753.06 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 10.8° C
Sea Surface 9° C
Weather: Overcast, light rain

Science and Technology Log
I was in my stateroom on Friday afternoon when I heard one continuous alarm sound, followed by an announcement that white smoke had been detected on board. My first thought was Oh no! What’s wrong with the engine now??? As I walked out of my room, I noticed smoke permeating through the halls near the ceiling. My muster station was the forward mess, so I walked there to meet up with my group. Two PICs (people in charge) had already laid out a map of the ship, and they were assigning pairs of people to search different sections of the ship looking for smoke and/or hot spots on doors or walls. Each “runner” group took a radio and reported their findings, and the results were written on the map. I was runner group 4 with an intern named Paul, and we were assigned the E level just below the bridge. We saw a small amount of smoke but no hot spots. One runner group opened an escape hatch to the fan room to find smoke EVERYWHERE. After finding the source of the fire, it was put out as quickly as possible and the smoke ventilated out of the ship. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was our first fire drill.

Safety is always the first priority on all NOAA vessels. Working on a ship is much different than working on land. In the event of an emergency, everyone on board has to be prepared to be a first responder. If one serious accident happens, it could affect all 45 people on board. To ensure emergency preparedness, drills take place on a regular basis. Each drill is treated as though the emergency were happening in real life. Fire drills and abandon ship drills take place weekly, and man overboard drills and hazardous materials drills take place every three months.

An announcement to abandon ship happens as a last resort if there is no possible way to save the ship. If this were to happen, we would hear seven or more bursts of the alarm followed by an announcement. We would then grab our immersion suit and PFD (personal flotation device) as quickly as possible and meet at our muster stations. My muster station is on the port (left) side of the ship at fire station 24. There are life rafts on each side of the ship that can be deployed into the water. Right now, the water in the Arctic Ocean is a chilly 9° C. To protect ourselves from hypothermia, we must don an immersion suit within 60 seconds of arriving at our station. New people to the ship must practice this during our first few days on board.

The immersion suits would be used to keep warm in the event we had to abandon ship
The immersion suits would be used to keep warm in the event we had to abandon ship

In addition to drills, an operational risk assessment (or GAR score) is calculated for the mission each day. GAR stands for Green, Amber, or Red, and it determines whether the mission is safe to pursue that day. The GAR score consists of the following sections: resources, environment, team selection, fitness, weather, and complexity. Each section is given a rating of 1 – 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. Many of the sections are variable depending on the day, so sometimes a mission will be delayed until the weather improves, and other times assigning different personnel to the task may be enough to make the mission safe. The total score is the sum of the six sections. If the score is 45 or above (red zone), then the mission will not happen that day. If the score is between 24 and 44 (amber zone), it means extra caution is advised, and a low GAR score of 0 – 23 is green. The best case scenario is for the mission to be in the green zone.

Some other examples of safe practices on board NOAA Ship Fairweather are detailed below.

LT Manda gives a safety brief before deploying the small boats for the day. Once deployment begins, everyone must wear hard hats and a PFD for safety
LT Manda gives a safety brief before deploying the small boats for the day. Everyone participating in the boat deployment must wear hard hats and a PFD

Many hands are needed to safely deploy a small boat
Many hands are needed to safely deploy a small boat

The small boats are equipped with life jackets, immersion suits, first aid kids, and other safety equipment
The small boats are equipped with life jackets, immersion suits, first aid kids, and other safety equipment

Personal Log
I’m learning what it truly means to be flexible during my time with NOAA Ship Fairweather. Weather can make or break a day of surveying on the sea. The water experiences surface waves from both the wind and swell. Swells are the large waves that originate elsewhere and have a definite direction whereas the surface waves are caused by wind and are much smaller. The surface waves in combination with the swell produce a total wave height, and the NOAA Corps looks at the total wave height when deciding the plan of the day. Unfortunately, waves of up to 14′ are predicted in the Point Hope region this week, which will make it incredibly difficult to launch the small boats. Not only do the large waves create hazardous conditions on the boat, they make it harder to acquire good soundings with the MBES. If the data collected will be of poor quality, it is better to delay the mission and wait for better conditions. The poor weather in combination with the mechanical delay we experienced during the first week of the leg has made it difficult to collect very much data around Point Hope.

Not only do the large waves slow down the ship’s data collection, they make me queasy! I felt lucky coming in to the Arctic Ocean on Friday because the sea was calm and beautiful! It was almost eerily quiet. The most amazing part was that the horizon seemed to disappear as the sky and the ocean gently blurred into one. The serenity was short-lived however, and taking the small boats out Saturday morning was quite the adventure! I am so glad I brought motion sickness medication with me!

The Arctic Water was calm and beautiful Saturday morning
The Arctic Water was calm and beautiful Saturday morning

Did You Know?
Did you know NOAA Ship Fairweather weights 1,591 tons? Since one ton is the same as 2,000 pounds, the ship weighs 3,182,000 pounds! The ship stays afloat, so that means the buoyant force it experiences is equal and opposite to its weight. If the buoyant force were any less, the ship would sink!

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

Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land?
These are the ones I have learned so far:
Stateroom = Dorm or bedroom
Galley = Kitchen
Mess = Dining room
Scullery = Dish washing room
Head = Bathroom
Gangway = ramp (to get off boat)
Sick Bay = doctor’s office/patient room
Do you know of any that I missed? Feel free to answer in the comments!

 

Brandy Hill: First Leg (hopefully not the last!) at Sea Complete: July 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 12, 2018

 

Personal Conclusion

It was wonderfully impressive listening to ENS Jacquelyn Putnam’s orders to the Bridge while docking the ship. She and Lt. Klemm stood just outside the doors to the Bridge with a clear view of the dock at Pier 21. As she called out orders, the Bridge team would respond by making adjustments to the rudder, speed, or direction. I hadn’t realized how much of a team effort docking the ship would be. It was like parallel parking a car in busy downtown Portland on a much larger scale.

FishingVessel.jpg
We arrived at Pier 21 in Galveston, Texas early Friday morning on July 6th. There were several fishing vessels flocked with birds. Sometimes you could see dolphin fins peeking up through the water around the boat.

After we were safely docked, all shipmates met in the mess where CDR Chris van Westendorp gave a speech of recognition and appreciation for his crew. These last couple legs at sea are especially meaningful for CO as they symbolize a transition of many years at sea to an upcoming land assignment. There were also several people taking much-deserved leave, or moving onto other job assignments.

 

 

SunsetBow.jpg
Sunset from the bow during my two weeks aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson.

I am so grateful to have been able to participate as a teacher at sea on the Thomas Jefferson. I knew it would be a learning experience, but I didn’t realize how impactful my relationships and interactions with the crew would be. There is something truly inspirational about being around a well-functioning team of people serving a meaningful purpose. People are excited to work for NOAA and to be a part of a higher scientific mission.

I also hadn’t realized the direct relationship between hydrographic surveys and hurricane relief. After a hurricane, the sea floor can shift and change/block major pathways for delivering supplies like oil and water. Last year, NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson responded to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico,  “NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson spent the last three weeks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands surveying ports and bays in response to Hurricane Maria. Over the three week period, the crew surveyed 13 areas and no fewer than 18 individual port facilities, as well as conducted emergency repairs to three tide and weather stations.” (NOAA Office of Coast Survey, October 2017)

Looking towards next school year, I am excited to bring my experience into the classroom and provide students with meaningful learning opportunities. I am looking into using Citizen Science, ways of incorporating the Ocean Literacy Principles, and reaching out to have more diverse professionals interact with my classroom. One of my goals as a science and math teacher is to provide students with many opportunities to ask questions, explore, think critically, and be inspired to continue a lifelong journey of learning and growth.

My experience with NOAA and NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson will forever have an impact on my classroom and for that, I am extremely grateful.

RiceCrispieFlag.jpg
4th of July goodies made by ENS Sydney Catoire, Julia Wallace, and Kevin Brown.

BowlineKnot.png
I practiced my Bowline knots on the long trek home.

Taylor Planz: Rocks are Red, Valleys are Blue, July 10, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and Vicinity

Date: July 10, 2018 at 5:30pm

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 5 knots SW, gusts up to 12 knots
Barometer: 749.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 16.0° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 11.9° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

The City of Nome from NOAA Ship Fairweather
The City of Nome from NOAA Ship Fairweather

Welcome to Nome
The center of town features a sculpture of a gold pan because Nome is historically known for gold panning and dredging.

I arrived in Nome on Saturday, July 7th around 7:30pm. The weather was a beautiful 65° F with just a few clouds in the sky! By the time I settled in my stateroom (bedroom) and unpacked my belongings, it was raining! According to the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), Nome receives and average of 16″ of rainfall each year and 60″ of snow. Despite this fairly low rainfall total, precipitation is a frequent
occurrence in Nome. Usually, the precipitation falls as more of a light drizzle in the summer, so the accumulation over the course of a year is very small.

I am here in Nome to join NOAA Ship Fairweather on a Hydrographic Survey of the vicinity of Point Hope, Alaska. Nome is the northernmost city in Alaska with a deep enough draft dock and facilities (such as sewage disposal and fresh water) for a ship. Therefore, we will start and end our trip in Nome. The ship has been experiencing some technical difficulties, so we were not able to go underway on our scheduled day of July 9. Over the weekend, engineers discovered a leak in the exhaust from one of the ship’s engines. Left untreated, black smoke could escape into the ship and personnel could be exposed to the unhealthy fumes. As of today, the exhaust pipe has been fixed, but there are a few parts that need to be shipped to Nome to finish the job. Hopefully NOAA Ship Fairweather will be underway later this week.

on a small boat
Here I am aboard one of the small boats with NOAA Ship Fairweather in Background at the Nome Harbor.

Once we are underway, the trip to Point Hope will take approximately 22 hours. That means we must reserve a full day on each end of the leg (another name for the trip) for travel. In order to maximize our limited time near Point Hope, NOAA Ship Fairweather will deploy up to four 28′ boats to work at the same time. There are also enough personnel onboard to allow data to be collected on the small boats for up to 24 hours per day. Two of the four 28′ boats are shown below.

Launch 2805
Two 28′ boats with hydrographic instruments can be found on each side of NOAA Ship Fairweather.

So what are these boats all doing anyways? As previously mentioned, NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats are designed for hydrographic research. “Hydro” is a prefix meaning “water”, and “graph” is a root word meaning “to write”. The boats will map the sea floor (i.e. – “write” about what is under the water) and any of its contents with sonar devices. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. The main sonar device used on this ship is a multibeam echosounder (MBES for short), which can be found on the underside of the ship as seen below. Sound waves are emitted from the front of the device, known as the transmitter. The sound waves travel through the water column, bounce off the sea floor, and then get picked up by a receiver adjacent to the transmitter.

Multibeam Echosounder
Multibeam Echosounder on NOAA research vessel (Photo courtesy: NOAA)

Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Sensor (CTD)
Conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor (CTD)

There is a lot of math involved both before and after sound wave data is collected! The photo below is a CTD instrument, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well an object conducts electricity. This instrument is lowered through the water column, collecting data on all three parameters listed above. The speed of sound varies based on conductivity and temperature, so the sonar data can be adjusted based on the results. For each individual data point collected along the sea floor, the actual speed of sound is multiplied by half of the time it took the sound wave to travel from transmitter to receiver. Using the equation distance = rate x time, one can find the distance (i.e. – depth) of each point along the sea floor. Put a bunch of those results together, and you begin to see a map!

Workstation
Many screens are needed to put all of the data together into an accurate sea floor map.

Sea floor maps use color to show different depths. The most shallow areas are colored with red, while the deepest areas are colored with blue. The remaining colors of the rainbow form a spectrum that allows us to see slopes. Today, we took a small boat out and surveyed the harbor where NOAA Ship Fairweather is docked. The harbor was very shallow, so every large rock in the harbor showed up as red on the map. The deeper areas showed up as blue. Hence my blog title! In my next blog, I will include pictures of maps that have recently been completed! Stay tuned!

Personal Log

Sea glass and rock treasures
Sea glass and rock treasures from the Bering Sea

Living on a ship that is docked in a tiny town with little to no cell phone service is fairly challenging. However, everyone on the ship finds creative solutions to keep themselves and others entertained. It is not uncommon for groups to form in the conference room to watch a movie on the big projector screen or to host a game night. There is also a fitness room onboard with plenty of exercise options! The Bering Sea and a long beach are a short, five minute walk from the ship. We had a campfire with marshmallows the first night that everyone returned to the ship from their time off. One person in our group found a whale bone on the beach! See the picture below. I spent some time walking the water line looking for sea glass. I actually found a few pieces, in

Whale bone
This is a whale bone that was found on the beach near NOAA Ship Fairweather

addition to a couple of rocks I thought were quite pretty! Sea glass is made from containers, bottles, and other glass objects that end up in the ocean. Over time, these objects break into smaller pieces, and the sandy and/or rocky sea floor erodes them. By the time they reach the beach, the pieces of glass have smooth edges and a translucent color. They are fun to collect as they come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes!

Did You Know?
Ocean water has a high conductivity, or ability to conduct electricity, because of all of the dissolved salts in sea water. The ions that form from dissolved salts cause ocean water to be about 1,000,000 times more conductive than fresh water!

Question of the Day
If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area? Make sure to use proper units, and remember that the total time is two ways and not just one way!
(Answer in the next blog post)

Victoria Obenchain: NOAA Corps Officers, July 3, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 3, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 54o 53.1’ N
  • Long.: 162o 30.8’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 29 knots
  • Wind direction: East, southeast
  • Temperature: 10.0oC
  • Visibility: 4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast/Hazy

Personal Log

I am writing my personal log first this time, because I am just in awe of the beauty around me. We pulled in to Kodiak, AK on Sunday to pick up an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) which will be used later in the summer, and to refuel. The scenery here is just amazing, I spent the day on the Flying Bridge (the highest point I am allowed to stand) and just took in the sun, scenery and beauty. The water was a crystal royal blue, the mountains a bright green topped with white snow; and as we finally pulled out, fascinating sea life appeared all around us. From jellyfish, sea otters, porpoises, whales and puffins; it was beautiful. While I was not fast enough with my camera when an animal decided to grace my presence, here are some pictures of the scenery.

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers of the NOAA Corps work hard to keep our ship on course and accomplish the ship’s mission. The ship has a wide range of officers; senior officers who are within a few years of retirement, officers who have worked on multiple assignments and are working their way up the ranks to one day being a commanding officer (CO) of their own ship, down to junior officers who have just joined NOAA a few months ago and are still learning all they need to know to be a part of this amazing team.  They are an incredible example of respect, self discipline, perseverance and teamwork.

20180702_112937.jpg
Officers on the bridge of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Today, the newer junior officers had a chance to take part in a docking and launching ship simulation. The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines. The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions. The officers yelled out the commands and the other players responded accordingly, much like they would do as an Officer on Duty. The ship on the screen then would move as it would in the sea. Junior officers could then see how a ship would respond to their calls. Docking and launching are done very little once on a mission, so junior officers might not get too many chances to practice this important skill. This seemed to get everyone a bit involved.

Every few years, officers rotate between ship deployments and land assignments. While an officer may really love their current assignment or position, this change in location and assignment allows them to learn new skills and develop as NOAA officers. NOAA’s commitment to science and technology has attracted some of the most passionate and scientifically-minded individuals to this career path; developing their skills and challenging them to grow within their field seems to be something NOAA has excelled at. On board NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers are constantly learning, pushing or supporting each other and following a chain of command with the highest respect.  I am constantly impressed with their knowledge of the ship, the engines, native sea life, navigational skills, safety protocols, survey planning (yes they do surveys, too!) and patience, especially with a very interested and inquisitive Teacher at Sea.

20180703_082655.jpg
ENS Lawler and ENS Junge keeping us on course.

NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniform services in our country. NOAA’s mission has a scientific focus, so all officers have an undergraduate degree in a scientific field and some level of science expertise. While many are excited to join this amazing team, there are some challenges outside the work itself. A ship assignment is not the easiest of jobs; to be in a self-contained area which serves as both your work and your home, one that may offer you little privacy and connections to the outside world when cell service is not available or wifi is slow, and yet together they lift each other up, help each other succeed and move past disagreements quickly, as they are all going through some of the same issues.

I have spent some time talking to a few of the newer officers about why they joined NOAA Corps. They are all so passionate about their job, yet, only one of them, when they were in middle school or high school, even thought this would be where they are today.  For time and space reasons, not to mention for my students’ attention spans, I will paraphrase a few of them below.

What was appealing about joining NOAA Corps?

-I really wanted to go to sea, and do science. I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-NOAA Corps moves you around every few years, between land and sea assignments. This allows you to never get stagnant in your skills, you are always learning. – LT Steve Moulton

-Before this I was in the Coast Guard reserves and working on my science graduate degree, and this seemed like a good next step. What cemented it for me was when I got to go to Antarctica for some research on a ship for 37 days, it made me realize this was what I wanted to do. -ENS William Abbott

What are the best days like on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-Driving the ship in cool places and in interesting, challenging passes. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-I like doing the small boat surveys; small boat operations and data collection, and getting diving practice in when possible. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

-Just being on the bridge, orienting yourself with where you are, and figuring out the big picture when it comes to the ship. – ENS William Abbott

-Being on the bridge with your co-workers, figuring things out together, it can be really fun. -ENS Jeff Calderon

What challenges are there to working on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-It can be a lot of pressure to perform your job well. You are responsible for those on board. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-Being on a ship for so long, it starts to feel small, and you miss things like gardening and just the land in general. – ENS Linda Junge

-There is a lot of electronic equipment to become acquainted with and know how to work without thinking about. – ENS Cabot Zucker

What are you looking forward to in your NOAA Career?

-My next assignment is in Maryland, I’ll be doing small boat surveys and mapping in the Chesapeake Bay. It will be nice to be closer to home. – ENS Patrick Lawler

– Hopefully getting sent to Antarctica, they have a station there. It would be cool to work there for a bit. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

-Hopefully going to dive school. I also like that throughout this job I will be constantly learning. – ENS Cabot Zucker

-I hope to be getting into pilot training/flight school within a few years.- ENS Jeff Calderon

What did you want to be growing up or what did you see yourself doing when you were older?

-Totally wanted to be a baseball player… or I guess something with Marine Biology or Marine Science, doing field research. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-Was very interested in being a pilot for a bit of a time. Sometimes I was unsure, but definitely knew I wanted to travel! – ENS Linda Junge

-I wanted to be on a ship, my Mom and Godmother worked on ships, this was kind of where I saw myself. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

– The stereotypical mad scientist. Yep, that’s what I thought. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

Is there anything else you would tell someone about this job, in particular some adorable science loving, students who maybe have not heard much about this type of career?

-This is a lot of fun! It’s a good mix of science, active and outside work, and you get to see the world. –ENS Kevin Tennyson

– I definitely did not know about this growing up! I would say to look at Maritime Academies for those who might be interested. There are a lot of ship jobs out there that pay well and offer you fun interesting work that is not behind a desk. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

– A ship is a cool environment to work in, not just for NOAA, any ship job can be great. If you are interested in research options to more exotic or isolated places, employers like those who have ship work skills. Those people can usually be resourceful and diffuse stressful situations; because, well you have to be able to. And it’s cool… so why not be on a ship? – ENS Linda Junge

– This job is all about adventure, it will definitely challenge you! – LT Steve Moulton

One last thing: I got a very short video of some porpoises, check them out!

Eric Koser: Navigation + Hydrography = Great Charts! July 1, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018

 

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 1, 2018: 0900 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 58°06.8’          Long: 136°32.0’
Skies: Broken
Wind 10 kts at 220°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 11.6°C Dry Bulb, 10.9°C Wet Bulb

 

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, it takes a team to manipulate this ship. But first, much planning must occur to prepare for each day!

The FOO (Field Operations Officer) creates the plan for each day. Each evening, around dinner time, the FOO publishes the POD (Plan of the day) for the next day for everyone aboard. Here is a portion of July 1’s POD developed by FOO Ops Officer Scott Broo:

7.1.18 RA POD
The “Plan of the Day” for July 1, 2018. Notice the shoreline window indicates the best time for the launches to work.

Today at 0515 was M/E Online.  This is when the Engineering Department starts both 12 cylinder diesel locomotive engines–after being prepped and inspected ahead of time.

Next the Deck Department “weighed the anchor” at 0600 to get underway. Note – this term refers to when the ship holds the weight of the anchor – as it is pulled OUT of the water so we can get underway.

The principal work of Ship Rainier is hydrographic mapping. All operations here focus on creating the best charts possible of the ocean floor. As we are logging (using the MBES to take data from the ship), the plot department communicates to the bridge to indicate where they need the ship to go. The bridge can view a computer display showing the current plots the hydro team is working on – and uses this and the guidance of the hydrographic team to direct the ship. Over time, the ship covers the area of the current sheet while the hydro team captures the data from the MBES. As the process proceeds, the whole sheet gets ‘painted’ by the MBES so we have a complete chart of the bottom.

MBES Data
This display in the plot room shows the hydrographers the incoming MBES data in real time. Note the line of travel of the ship in the center pointing WestSouthWest as this sheet is ‘painted.’ Various colors represent different relative depths.

It really takes a team on the bridge to control the ship when underway. The bridge is the control room of the ship.

Bridge Location
The bridge is the room with all the windows (in the blue box) just below the fly bridge.

Imagine standing on the bridge (the room where the driving happens) and noticing who is there. From port (left) to starboard (right) we have: Navigator, Lee Helm, Helm, Lookout, and OOD.

The Bridge
Here the lookout, the JOOD (junior officer on deck), the OOD, and the helmsman (left to right) are on the bridge.

Bridge Diagram
This snippet from the ship’s plans illustrates locations of tools on the bridge.

The navigator’s job is to always be aware of where the ship is and where she is to be heading. The lee helmsperson operates the controls for the engine speed and the pitch of the props [forward or backwards]. The helmsperson turns the wheel to control the rudders or sets the helm in autopilot to steer a fixed bearing. The lookout maintains awareness of all other vessels around the ship and any potential obstacles in the ship’s path. The OOD orchestrates the whole team and is directly responsible for the motion of the ship. The OOD gives commands for any changes that are to happen to the course of the ship – and also communicates with Plot to know where they need the ship to go to create the charts.

Lee Helm
The lee helm is the control panel for the engines located on the bridge. The propeller pitch is controlled by the levers at the center. The bow thruster is controlled by the lever on the right.

The Helm
The helm is the ship’s steering control. The current bearing is show at the top and bottom and the auto pilot bearing is on the display at the center.

Radar
The radar displays what is around us. The yellow indicates land (we were anchored in a bay at the time of this photo). Radar also senses other vessels in the water. Two radar units run at two different ranges all the time.

 

 

Personal Log

 

Shoreline from Launch
This is a shoreline view from launch RA-7 as we were charting features along Lisianski Inlet.

The wildlife in this part of Alaska is great and easy to find. We’ve seen humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, eagles, gulls, deer, and bears. Last night as we were anchored at the end of the inlet I watched a grizzly bear on shore. I was able to use the large mounted binoculars on the flybridge affectionately called “big eyes” to take photos. I watched the bear move along the shore as a pair of eagles flew overhead.

Here are a few of the wildlife photos I’ve taken the past several days!

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Here is a video of the same bear lumbering along the shoreline in the evening.

Shore Bear

 

Questions to Ponder

Why do you suppose the shoreline window for launch boats to conduct hydrographic surveys matches up to the times of the lowest tide of the day?

What role does the tide play in creating accurate charts of the sea floor?

How can a ship or launch make an accurate map of the seafloor if the vessel is constantly changing pitch, yaw, and role as it moves in the waves?
[There is a system to account for this!]

Who can access the charts created by NOAA?  Anyone!
The United States is the only country to provide freely available navigational charts to anyone.  Visit charts.noaa.gov to see what these look like!

Brandy Hill: What Lies Beneath the Surface, July 1, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 –  July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29° 10.1’ N

Longitude: 093° 54.5’ W

Visibility: 10+ NM

Sky Condition: 3/8

Wind: 16 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.4° C

Air: 27° C

 

Science and Technology Log

At this point I have been able to understand more of the sonar technology taking place during the survey aboard the Thomas Jefferson. The ship uses two types of sonar: multibeam and side scan. Both work together transmitting and receiving sound pulses to and from the ocean floor. This provides a multispectral analysis.

Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.
Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.

Multibeam sonar is located underneath the hull of the ship. Multibeam is used to detect bathymetry (the depth of the ocean floor). Multibeam backscatter (reflected wave energy) gives a reading of the surface intensity. For example, a strong signal would mean a harder surface like rock or pipeline. With multibeam sonar, you can also adjust the sound wave frequency. For example, high frequency (primarily used during this survey in the Gulf of Mexico) is used for shallower waters allowing for higher resolution images. Images from multibeam have a color gradient to allow for clear vision of contours and depth differences. One way surveyors aboard the TJ may use backscatter images is to determine areas where bottom sampling might be applicable.

A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)
A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)

Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)
Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)

3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)
3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)

A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.
A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.

The side scan sonar is used alongside multibeam to provide black and white scans of images. Like multibeam backscatter, side scan measures the intensity of the sound returning from the sea floor. For example, a side scan return with high intensity could indicate a difference in material like pipeline or a wreck. A low intensity value could mean that the side scan sonar waves have reached a muddy substrate. Julia used the analogy of a tennis ball being bounced against a wall of different materials. For example, the tennis ball hitting a concrete wall would bounce back with higher intensity than one being bounced against a soft wall. Side scan sonar is very effective at detecting features that protrude off the sea floor, and for shallow water surveys, typically can see farther and cover a greater area the sea floor than multibeam echosounders alone.

The side scan sonar sensor is located on a torpedo-shaped “towfish” and pulled behind the boat. When viewing side scan images, surveyors typically look for the acoustic shadow cast by a feature protruding off the sea floor. By measuring the length of the acoustic shadow, hydrographers can determine whether the feature requires additional investigation. For example, the outline of a shipwreck, bicycle, or pipeline. However, it can also detect mammals like dolphins or schools of fish.

Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)
Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)

The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.
The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.

In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the "shadow" of the wreck.
In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the “shadow” of the wreck.

Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.
Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.

Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.
Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.

While this is happening, surveyors are also towing a MVP or Moving Vessel Profiler to capture information about the water column. This is important because multiple factors in the water column need to be corrected in order for accurate sonar calculations. For example, the speed of sound in salt water is roughly 1500 m/s but may change while the ship is traveling over different parts of the sea floor or passing through a thermocline (steep temperature gradient) or halocline (steep salinity gradient). The MVP is similar to the CTD used on the launch boat (see previous post), but the MVP allows the ship to continue moving at about 10 knots (average survey speed), while the CTD must be cast when the ship is stationary.

Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.
Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.

For more information on multispectral analysis and sonar, see these resources:

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09bermuda/background/multibeam/multibeam.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/how_sidescansonar.html

Personal Log

One of my goals in the classroom is to teach students to be comfortable making and learning from mistakes. Making mistakes in math and science is common and welcome because they lead to great discussion and future change. Often, my sixth graders get discouraged or so caught up in failure that they become paralyzed in making further attempts. While aboard the Thomas Jefferson, I have witnessed several aspects not go according to plan. I think these experiences are important to share because they provide real-life examples of professionals coming together, learning from mistakes, and moving forward.

Around 4:00 am, the towfish side scan sonar became entangled with the MVP. This was a horrendous disaster. The crew spent about 16 hours contemplating the issue and collecting data using the multibeam only, which is less than ideal.  One of XO LCDR McGovern’s many roles aboard the ship is to serve as the investigator. She reviewed tapes of the early morning, talked with the crew, and later held a debrief with all involved. When something like this happens, the ship must write a clear incident report to send to shore. There were many questions about why and how this happened as well how to best proceed. In the end, the towfish and MVP were untangled with no damage present to the sensor. Within the same day, both were cast out and back in use.

I find this to be an astounding example of perseverance and teamwork. Despite being disappointed and upset that a critical tool for collecting accurate data was in dire shape, the crew came up with a plan of action and executed. Part of the engineering and scientific processes include evaluation and redesign. Elements of the sea and a center drift of the side scan lead to a documented new plan and refiguring the process so that this is unlikely to happen again.

Lt. Charles Wisotzsky's sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.
Lt. Charles Wisotzsky’s sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.

This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.
This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.

Peaks

+Saw a tuna eat a flying fish

Flying Fish. (www.ocean.si.edu)
Flying Fish. (www.ocean.si.edu)

+There is a large sense of purpose on the ship. Despite complex sleep schedules to enable 24 hour operations with a smaller crew, people are generally happy and working hard.

+ There seems to be an unlimited supply of ice cream in the ice cream freezer. Junior Officer, ENS Garrison Grant introduced me to a new desert- vanilla ice cream, a scoop of crunchy peanut butter, and chocolate syrup. I also found the rainbow sprinkles.

Eric Koser: Let the Science Begin! June 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Koser
Aboard Ship Rainier
June 22-July 9
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK
June 27, 2018: 1500 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 57°52.9’          Long: 133°33.8’
Skies: Overcast
Wind 15 kts at 011°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: Calm
Water temp: 3.9°C

Science and Technology Log

Rainier Hat
This insignia cap is worn by the NOAA Corps members on the ship.

Let the science begin! We departed from Sitka about 1300 on Monday enroute for Lisianski Inlet. Getting out to sea has been a wonderful experience. Ship Rainier is truly run by a dedicated team of people. I have been able to spend quite a bit of time on the bridge – first watching and then participating with the Junior Officers on the deck. It quickly became obvious to me that this is a teaching operation. The hands on the deck represent a variety of experience levels, quite by design. More experienced NOAA Corps Officers coach Junior Officers through each procedure that happens on the Bridge. It’s a great example of a team based ‘on the job’ teaching system!

On the bridge there is always an OOD (Officer On the Deck) that is in charge of operations. This person then helps to administrate the work of the CONN (responsible for the conduct of the vessel), the helm, the lee helm, the lookouts, and the navigator. The CONN gives commands to the others on the team, which are then repeated back to assure clarity.

Chart Table
This is the chart table where the Navigator works on the bridge of the ship.

The first task I learned was to plot our course on the charts. The CO (Commanding Officer—in charge of the entire ship) selects waypoints for an upcoming course in a digital mapping suite called Coastal.   Coastal sets a series of digital paths that each include a compass bearing (direction in degrees) and range (distance in nautical miles) between each waypoint. Then the navigator takes this same series of points and plots them by hand in pencil on the series of chart {the nautical term for maps]. Each point is a pair of latitude and longitude points plotted as a small square. Given the expected cruising speed, the navigator can also estimate future positions of the ship, which are referred to as “dead reckoning” and are plotted with a half circle.

 

 

 

Sheet Route
A route that I plotted on our charts.

Coastal
A view from the Coastal software of a route.

Periodically the navigator measures the location of the ship either digitally with GPS or by measuring distances to adjacent land features with radar. A pair of dividers is used to plot these distances on the sheet as small triangles and confirm the current location of the ship. By these methods, the navigator assures the ship is on the planned track and/or adjusts the track accordingly.

The person at the helm (the steering wheel) is directed by the CONN to point the ship at the necessary bearing. As changes are needed to the bearing, the person at the helm responds to the CONN’s commands to adjust.

In Lisianski Inlet the team of hydrographers started collecting data with the multibeam sonar system around midnight Tuesday morning. As we traveled along the entire length of the Inlet overnight, this initial data was collected. When we arrived at the small town of Pelican, AK (pop. 88) a crew on a launch (small boat deployed from Rainier) traveled in and set up a HORCON (Horizontal Control) reference station. This is a high precision satellite receiver. It provides a very accurate way to measure potential drift in satellite indicated GPS over time. After taking data from the ship, the latitude and longitude are corrected with data from the HORCON.

Launch RA
This is one of several small(er) boats called “Launches” that are used for surveying.

Ship Rainier
This is a view of our ship from the launch.

After this initial work was complete at Lisianski, we began transit to Tracy Arm Fjord. While the multibeam sonar work was completed here last week, three crews deployed in launches to ‘proof’ the shoreline information on the charts. This is essentially confirming and updating the existence and location of particular features (rocks, ledges, etc).

Tracy Arm
This was the view as we approached the glacier at the end of Tracy Arm.

Launch Team
NOAA Hydrographer Amanda Finn and I together on the launch.

At this point, the hydrographers are processing much of the data obtained in the past few days. Additional data will be collected tomorrow morning. Then in the evening we’ll transit back to Lisianski to begin further work there.

Ship among ice.
The ship parked here while the launches moved closer to the ice.

Glacial Ice
The glacial ice shows a beautiful blue color.

Ice Blue
Different pieces of ice appear slightly different colors.

Personal Log

Every member of the team on this vessel has a job to do. Every member matters. The success of the entire operations depends upon the teamwork of all. There is a positive sprit among the group to work together for the tasks at hand.

I’ve been welcomed to learn to chart our course. I had an opportunity today to operate the helm (steering). I went out on a launch today to visit waters that were yet uncharted as the glacier at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord is receding. It was incredible to see not only the beauty of the ice among the water, but to also witness from afar the calving of the glacier. A rumble like thunder accompanied the crashing of two small walls of ice into the ocean below as we watched from afar.

I enjoyed capturing many photos of the ice and the wildlife among it. Many harbor seals were relaxing upon chunks of glacial ice as we traveled through the Arm. The natural beauty of this area is best represented by a few photos.

An adult seal and pup
This adult seal was watching us closely with the pup.

Ice Dog?
What can you see in this ice? Might it resemble a dog?

Did You Know?

Junior Officers in the NOAA Corps learn in a 19 week program followed by 2 weeks at sea on a tall ship called Eagle.

There are approximately 320 commissioned officers in the NOAA Corps internationally.

NOAA Operates 16 Ships and 20 Aircraft!

Vickie Obenchain: Safety First! June 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 26th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 58o 11.3’ N
  • Longitude: 134o 23.2’ W
  • Wind Speed: 6 knots
  • Wind Direction: East
  • Visibility: 7 nautical miles
  • Air Temperature: 12.5o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: 99% Cloud over made up of mainly stratus clouds, with a consistent drizzle

(Picture taken before consistent drizzle started.)
(Picture taken before consistent drizzle started.)

Science and Technology Log

I joined the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Juneau where it has been undergoing upgrades to its propulsion control. Due to these upgrades, yesterday and today the ship has been conducting sea trials to learn how the new upgrades work, train their crew on them and to make sure everything is calibrated accurately before we head out to sea and continue on the ship’s mission.

NOAA Ship Fairweather is a 231 foot long hydrographic (hydro meaning “water”, graphic meaning “drawing”) survey ship which helps map the sea floor and update nautical maps using sonar. A communications specialist contracting for NOAA, Gina Digiantonio, said it best (I will paraphrase her here): Would you jump into a body of water not knowing how deep it was? Or would you want to know you weren’t going to get hurt? This is the same thing ships and vessels have to plan for; will they run aground, hit rocks, is it safe enough for them to get through? By knowing the depth of the sea floor, mariners can avoid dangerous and expensive accidents to both their vessels and the environment.

This research is done not only with NOAA Ship Fairweather, but with the help of 4 smaller boats, or launches, on board. Each launch is equipped with its own sonar equipment which when all in use, help get large areas of the sea floor mapped at once.  Below you can watch one of these 8 ton launches being lowered into the Juneau harbor.

This work is incredibly important. Some nautical charts in the area date back to before the 1900’s with lesser bottom coverage and some areas in use are not mapped at all. With the forecast of complete loss of summer sea ice by 2050 in the Northwestern Alaska area, and with that the increase in commercial vessel traffic; the need for accurate maps to ensure safety of all vessels and the surrounding environment is important work.


Since I am a visitor on the NOAA Ship Fairweather; I, along with a few other visitors and new employees, took part in a safety orientation in case of emergencies. We learned where life vests and life boats are located, where to go in case of an emergency and what calls are used to notify those on the ship, as well as the procedures associated with each situation. Additionally, we had to practice getting into an immersion suit in case we had to abandon ship. These are full body wet suits which are waterproof and help prevent hypothermia.  Mine was a bit big, so I was given a smaller one. You can see me modeling a larger one here:

(Picture of me in immersion suit kindly taken by ENS Lawler)
(Picture of me in immersion suit kindly taken by ENS Lawler)

Personal Log:

I got to Juneau a day before the ship was set to start sea trials so I was able to visit Mendenhall Glacier which is about 12 miles outside of Juneau with two other visitors of NOAA Ship Fairweather.   As many glaciers are retreating around the globe, I felt lucky to go visit this one!

Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years
Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years

The 13 mile glacier stops at the Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years.  Evidence of the glaciers movement is seen on the rocks, as they are polished from where miles of heavy ice has slid over them, over time.   This glacier has been retreating for the last 500 years and in doing so it has made new ecosystems around Juneau. These ecosystems include: a wetland for migrating birds, Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through (pictured below). The glacier’s retreat is noticeable from pictures taken over time at the visitor center.

Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through
Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through

 

Eric Koser: Welcome– Its Almost Time! June 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 25 – July 9, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of navigable waters to develop and update navigational charts. At sea June 25 – July 9, 2018.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Lisianski Strait, along the SE coast of Alaska followed by transit of the Inside Passage to home port in Newport, OR.
Date: June 21, 2018, the Summer Solstice!

Weather Data from the Bridge [okay, the front porch at home!]:

44.1589° N, 94.0177° W
Current Weather: Light Rain, 70°F (21°C)
Humidity: 79%
Wind Speed: E 15 mph
Barometer: 29.81 in
Dewpoint: 63°F (17°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Welcome!
It’s nearly time to embark on this adventure! I’ve always appreciated chances in life to explore and learn about different parts of the world. Recently I’ve enjoyed the book “One Earth, Two Worlds” by the Minnesota SCUBA diver Bill Mathies. I’m fascinated by the realm of underwater exploration. A large percentage of our planet has never even been seen by humans! NOAA’s hydrographic research vessels are in place around the world to map the ocean floor and promote safe navigation.

Science and Technology Log
I am Eric Koser and I live in southern Minnesota where I have worked with students learning about physics for 24 years. I teach at Mankato West High School, one of two mid-sized high schools in our river community of about 100,000 people. Mankato and North Mankato are the regional hub of south-central Minnesota. Our school district is home to about 9000 students K-12. Our community has particular strengths in manufacturing, education, and healthcare. Read more here at greatermankato.com!
I teach a variety of physics courses at West including AP Physics and Physics First at grade 9. I love to engage kids in learning physics by helping them to discover patterns and systems in nature. I really enjoy developing experiments and demonstrations to illustrate ideas. I also coach our YES! Team as a part of our Science Club here at West. Youth Eco Solutions is a program to support students to make positive energy and environmental based changes in their communities. These kids have tackled some big tasks – replacing styrofoam lunch trays with permanent trays, updating our building lighting’s efficiency, and systematically monitoring campus electrical usage.

Mankato West Scarlets

YESmn

Mankato Area Public Schools

Personal Log
My wife Erica and I have four kids that we love to support. They are currently ages 20, 18, 15, and 10 and always on the move. Our oldest, Josh, is an engineering and technical theater student at the U of MN. Our next, Zach, just graduated from high school and is rebuilding a small hobby farm and an 1800’s house to become his rural home. Ben is an avid photographer now working at a local photo studio shooting professionally for events. Meron is headed to fifth grade– she is our most social kid who loves being with her friends and our many pets here at home.

Team Koser
“Team Koser” – our immediate family.

Our summers often involve many days at ‘the lake’, a place we enjoy in northern Minnesota with extended family. We love to fish, swim, kayak and explore the water there. As a SCUBA diver, I’ve begun to explore below the surface of the water as well.

SCUBA MN
Lake diving in Minnesota can be chilly! – Photo by Ben Koser

MN Lake Sunset
Ben captures the last of this Minnesota lake sunset – photo by Eric Koser

This summer has also involved lots of construction on Zach’s farm as we bring a once gutted two-story house into a finished home.

MN Hobby Farm
Zach’s Minnesota Hobby Farm – photo by Eric Koser

In a few short days, I look forward to joining the NOAA Ship Rainier on a hydrographic survey of Lisianski Inlet on the SE coast of Alaska. I’ll meet up with the Ship in port at Sitka, Alaska.

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier – Photo courtesy NOAA

The Rainier is a 231 foot long ship equipped with a variety of tools to digitally map the bottom of the ocean with the goal of updating and improving navigational charts. I look forward to meeting and working alongside the experts on Rainier while I learn everything I can about the important work that they do. I look forward to bringing questions and ideas to my students and community during and after this experience!

Questions!

The Rainier design specifications list a “draft” of 14.3 feet. What does this mean?

This ship displaces 1800 tons of water. What does this mean?

How could you determine the ‘footprint’ of the ship in the sea based on these two pieces of data? What is the average area of the footprint of this ship?

Cindy Byers: On the Homefront, May 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cindy Byers
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 29 – May 13, 2018

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: May 19, 2018

Weather:  It is SPRING in Wisconsin!

 

Personal Log

I got home this week from an absolutely amazing experience on NOAA Ship Fairweather!  I arrived so excited to share what I have learned with students and other teachers alike!  I went to school 30 minutes before the end of the day bell when I arrived.  I felt like I was welcomed back like a hero!  My students and the staff were happy to see me, and I was very happy to see them!  I got lots of hugs and high fives.  It was especially exciting to hear that the students had enjoyed and learned from my blog.  They especially liked to learn what I had eaten!

I was able to share some pictures and stories this week as our year winds down. I have begun organizing my photos and have plans with the staff to give a presentations to all the 4-8 grade students in the fall.  Ideas are flowing through me about how I will incorporate my new knowledge and experiences into my different curriculums.  There is so much potential!

I have not stopped talking about my experience with people in and out of school.  I love having so many experiences to share.  The people of NOAA Ship Fairweather where so willing to teach me about hydrography and ship life.  I have strong memories of people asking if I wanted to try doing something, or calling me over to explain something they were doing.  I, of course, hopped in and tried everything I could!  I got to drive the ship on my first morning!  I also was able to drive the launches! (Thanks Colin!)  I learned so much about being a hydrographer thanks to all the surveyors!   What a wonderful group of people.  I could thank everyone really, the deck crew, the engineers, the stewards, the NOAA Corps officers, and the great leadership of the XO and CO.  I was able to learn from all of them.  Everyone always made me feel like they had time to teach me how to do things, and to answer questions.  It is exciting to be in a place with so many talented educators!

This is a trip that will influence how I approach my teaching and my everyday life.  I will never forget the kindness and caring of NOAA Ship Fairweather personnel, or the beauty and splendor of SE Alaska!

NOAA Corps mustaches
NOAA Corps Officers! Mustaches are required.

CTD Cast
Taking a CTD Cast

IMG_8844
Setting up a HorCon (Horizontal Control) Station

Dawes Glacier
Our NOAA Physical Scientist at Dawes Glacier

Bald eagle skull
A Bald Eagle skull being examined

Skiff ride
Skiff ride to a shore party

Settlers of Catan
A game of Settlers of Catan

Sam in galley
Sam, one of the stewards, in the galley

Hydrographer
Ali Johnson, Hydrographer, at work

Bekah with guide
Hydrographer Bekah Gossett looking up marine mammals

LTJG Douglas
NOAA Corps Officer LTJG Douglas on the bow

Life on the Bridge
Life on the Bridge

Kayaking
Kayaking

Glacial moraine
Me and the mountains from the glacial moraine

Victoria Cavanaugh: Questions & Answers with the Ship’s Crew, April 22, 2018

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

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 48° 25.012′ N
Longitude: 122° 44.039′ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10-20 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Visibility: 14.1 km
Air Temperature: 14oC  
Sky:  Scattered Clouds

Science and Technology Log

As NOAA Ship Fairweather began its northward journey through the Inward Passage, I took advantage of a few days at sea to conduct interviews with crew from each of the various departments onboard: deck crew, engineers, officers, stewards, and survey technicians.  Through the interview process I realized just how much goes in to making Fairweather  successful.  Two themes arose again and again in conversations: First, the crew of the Fairweather loves what they do — the crew’s commitment and passion for being at sea was unanimous. . .and contagious.  Second, Fairweather is family.

Enjoy the five interviews below, the first of which is with a Edward Devotion School alum. . .


An Interview with AB Carl Coonce, Fairweather Deck Crew & Devotion School Alum (1971-1974)

AB Carl Coonce at the Helm
AB Carl Coonce at the Helm

Carl on bridge
AB Carl Coonce & Devotion School Alum on Fairweather’s Bridge

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m an able-bodied seaman or AB. My permanent job is to take care of the ship. Some duties include maintaining the ship’s cleanliness, ensuring the security of the vessel, and steering the ship.

Q: Why is your work important?

A: Without AB’s, the ship can’t be driven. AB’s also maintain the security of the ship and watch out for the safety of the ship’s personnel. AB’s work on the upkeep of the ship’s inside and outside condition, checking to prevent rust and other damage. The AB’s ready the equipment for different missions and load and unload equipment, too. Finally, the AB’s help with the officers’ work, with surveying, and with engineering.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love being able to see different sunrises and sunsets every day. I see things most people only see on TV or in pictures. For example, I’ve seen two rainbows cross before at sea. Sometimes rainbows are so close when you are at sea that you can almost reach out and touch them. Every day at sea is a new adventure.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I mostly work as a helmsman (driver) up on the bridge (which is like the front seat of the car/ship). A helmsman is the person who drives the ship. A helmsman keeps watch, looking for any potential dangers such as things floating in the water, other ships, and certain parts of land (such as sand bridges). Another important part of my job is to understand how to read maps and use all of the radar and other navigational equipment up on the bridge.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Sleep!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I always wanted to come to sea because my father was a sailor. I took a different route for a long time, but about 15 years ago I started my ocean career. I guess it was in my blood. It was hard to get started because I knew nothing about ships and what was required in the beginning. I went online and researched shipping companies and sent my resume out to a few hundred companies. I received a call from NOAA and began my sea career in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on a fishing vessel, NOAA Ship Albatross. By the way, Albatross is actually where the NOAA Teachers at Sea Program started.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I didn’t expect to be around the same people 24/7. You are always with the people with whom you work and your boss. Eventually, though, it becomes like a family.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I would tell other people that NOAA is a wonderful job for people interested in going to sea. When you start off, you can go out to sea for a few weeks at a time. With NOAA, you have a chance to see and do things that you don’t get to do on commercial boats. You also are able to see new parts of the country. I’ve seen the east and west cost. The benefits are outstanding. Aside from traveling, I also have three months of vacation each year, something I would probably not have with a desk job, even after many years.

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was on the east coast, I was on NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow out of Newport, Rhode Island. A group of scientists came onboard, and we sailed up by Newfoundland. We sent a special net nearly three miles down into the ocean. The most memorable thing was catching a fish that was about 2.5 feet long, incredibly white, paper thin, and had bright red fins. The scientists told me that this fish only lives two miles down. Experiences like this are once in a lifetime. That was one of the most exciting and memorable trips I’ve had with NOAA.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: Don’t take the sea for granted. There is a mystery for the sea. We know more about the moon than we do about the oceans. There is so much to learn at sea. Even after fifteen years at sea, there is so much more to learn about the ocean. It is never the same. There is always something new to see. I’m still amazed by some of the things I’ve seen at sea, even if I’ve seen them over and over again. For example, hearing the sound of the glaciers hitting the water is unforgettable. Seeing the different colors of the ocean, you realize there is so much more than green and blue. Once you think you’ve learned it all, the ocean changes again on you.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I’d probably be back in Boston working as a chef. I went to school for culinary arts, but I think I’d be miserable if I wasn’t at sea.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: When I’m home, I like to work in my backyard. I like to work on my garden. I also like to work out.

Q: What is your favorite memory as a student at the Edward Devotion School?

A: I loved growing up in Brookline. It was a wonderful town to grow up in. I really feel now that being a kid at Devotion School was one of the happiest parts of my life. There is so much history at the Devotion School. Even after having traveled all around the country with NOAA, I love going back home to Boston and Brookline. Boston and Brookline are my favorite places. I still keep in touch with five of my friends from school in Brookline. We’ve been hanging out together for over thirty years. My friendships from grade school and later at Brookline High are still tremendously important to me today.


An Interview with HST Bekah Gossett, Fairweather Hydrographic Survey Technician

HST Bekah Gossett
HST Bekah Gossett

IMG_20180422_134940
The View from the Plot Room

Bekah's sheet on Yakutat Bay project
One of HST Gosset’s Projects from Last Season: Notice the Green Plot Lines and Surrounding Glaciers

A Finished Sheet from Last Season
A Finished Sheet from Last Season: Notice the Contrasting Depths (69 fathoms on a Previous Chart v. 94 fathoms Based on Sonar Data)

Comparing Updated Charts with a Historic One
Comparing Updated Charts with an Outdated One (Green Represents Data Matched, Blue/Red Show One Data Set is Deeper/Shallower than the Other)

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: My role on the ship is to acquire and process data that gives us information about the depth of the seafloor.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: This work is important because it contributes to updating and creating charts (maps) that are navigationally significant for US mariners to keep them safe and to support them economically. And, it’s cool!

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really like working on the small boats (the launches) and working in Alaskan waters is great. It is a really open and good learning environment for this field of work. I have learned a whole lot in just a year and a half. This goes beyond hydrography. I’ve learned a lot about others and myself and about working with people.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the plot room and on the launches. During the field season, we’re on the launches almost every day. The plot room is the data processing room where there are lots of computers. It is adjacent to the bridge, the central and most important location on the ship.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: A computer!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would create something with lidar (lasers) or a super sonar. Lidar is used on planes or drones to scan and provide data back. Lidar on launches would help us get data quicker.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I studied art in school, but then I switched to science. I’ve always liked ocean sciences. I decided to pursue an ocean career when I was 19.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I run the ship store, which is never something I expected to be doing. The ship stores sells snacks, candy, soda, and ship swag for the crew to keep morale high.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I usually explain the ship’s mission as updating and correcting nautical charts. Sometimes we have different projects. Last year, for example, we were searching for a ship that sunk in Alaska in February 2017. We found it!

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was in college studying geology, I realized exactly how important it is to communicate science, because there is a lot of knowledge there that we can all learn from and use.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are a lot of different things one can do. There are many different degrees from engineering, to environmental science, to biology. You can study ocean science, but you don’t have to. Any science can be applied in the ocean. It is not just science. You can learn about many different careers in oceans. Engineers and deck crew are great fields to pursue. You could also be a steward and travel a lot.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be working for an environmental agency, but I would probably not be very happy. I might be at home with my dog.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like to paint. I also have a ukulele. I also love to read.


An Interview with EU Tommy Meissner, Fairweather Engineer

EU Tommy Meissner
EU Tommy Meissner Hard at Work in Fairweather’s Boat Shop

EU Tommy Meissner in Navy
First Assignment: In the Navy, Onboard the USS Forrestal, The World’s First Supercarrier at 1,060 Feet Long in 1990

 

IMG_20180422_195404
EU Tommy Meissner: An Engineer & His Electric Guitar

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a utility engineer. I stand watch on the main engines and  check all of the propulsion equipment. I do maintenance on the small boats. I work on air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, etc. I am jack-of-all-trades.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: There is always something too hot or too cold, something leaking or blocked. There is always too much of something or not enough of something else. That is really the challenge of the job.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: The travel aspect is the best thing about my job. I can go anywhere in the world I want to go, whenever I want to go. The oil field in Mexico is opening back up, and so now there is lots of work available.

From a work aspect, it is challenging to understand why a piece of equipment isn’t working. Fixing the engines. . .or anything really. . . is all about following a process, working methodically. It feels good to be able to fix the boat and keep it in the water.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the boat shop on the small boats on E-Deck. That’s where all the maintenance is performed while the launches are in the davits (the machines that put the boats in the water). When underway, I spend eight hours a day in the machine room, but when in port I work mostly in the boat shop. Eight hours a day, four hours a watch. In addition to the two watches, I usually do at least two hours of overtime a day. During a watch, I walk around, checking all the machines, pumps, generators, boilers, air conditioners, fridge, freezer, etc.

Q:  What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: The first thing I always grab is a pipe wrench. It is always good to have one nearby. A pipe wrench is a tool that we use to take apart plumbing and to loosen and tighten any connections. I am pretty well known on this boat for unclogging restrooms and showers.

Q:  If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would want a third hand! There is always a time when you need another person. It would be helpful to have one more hand to do work more efficiently. There are lots of times when I can’t reach or need that extra hand.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I’ve been sailing since 1990. I joined the Navy in 1989. All my life I’ve liked being around boats and on the water. Even though I lived around the water when I was little, I never had the opportunity to go to sea, so it was something I dreamed about for when I was older. Living in Fort Lauderdale, I saw the Navy come through and watched all the ships. I thought it would be cool.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I had no idea where I would be going when I joined NOAA. Before I said yes to the job, they gave me the choice to go on the Fairweather or the Rainier. Initially, I wondered about Alaska. Nome, Alaska is as far away from home for me as Dubai. I had never been so far west.  Alaska has been great, though.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: Everyone I talk to doesn’t seem to know what NOAA is. NOAA has various missions, mapping the bottom of the ocean, studying coral reefs, fish ecology (understanding how many tuna are in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and what species of fish are on the reef off  North Carolina). I don’t think people know enough about NOAA.

Q: What recommendations do you have for a young person interested in pursuing an ocean career?

A: I would study oceanography and math and science if you want to go to sea.  Decide what type of career you would like; there are so many options at sea.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: If I wasn’t working for NOAA, I would go back to South Carolina and work in building or construction. I prefer NOAA!

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

I play guitar and teach guitar. I was always a metal head.


An Interview with 2C Carrie Mortell, Fairweather Steward

2C Carrie Mortell
2C Carrie Mortell Serving a Delicious Meal in Fairweather’s Galley

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I work in the galley (kitchen), which is very, very busy. It is kind of like the heart of the ship.   We work to feed everyone, make sure everything is kept clean, etc. There is a lot to do! We work twelve hours everyday. Many people think the galley is just cooking, but there is a lot more to the galley such as keeping track of massive amounts of stores (supplies), keeping everything fresh, and more.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: Keeping the mess deck (dining area) clean and keeping people happy and healthy with good meals is key. We boost morale. People look forward to sitting down and having a good meal at sea. We try to take peoples’ requests and keep the crew satisfied.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love to cook. I like to see people happy and satisfied. I always try to keep upbeat. We all have to live together, so it is important to keep morale up. We’re like a big family at sea.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I spend most of my day in the galley.   All of the stewards cook. We rotate every week. One week, one cook is in the galley, and then we switch into the scullery (where dishes are cleaned).

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: My hands!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: Another pair of arms to help cook. It is really, really busy in the galley!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Well, I used to commercial fish. I have always loved being on the ocean. I grew up around fishing people. When I was little, I always wanted to live in a lighthouse. I also like being able to go to different places. It is exciting to always get to travel when at sea. I loved the French Polynesian Islands, where I traveled with NOAA. I worked out of Hawaii for about eight years, so I spent a lot of time sailing around the Pacific, visiting Guam, Sonoma, the Marshall Islands, and crossing the equator several times.   On the East Coast, I enjoyed sailing Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I also love Alaska, so sailing on Fairweather is great! Eventually, I want to move back to Alaska.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I really love cooking, which is what I get to do everyday. I feel really passionate about my job. There isn’t anything I didn’t expect. You do have to really like what you do, though, at sea.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: All the ships do different missions. NOAA Ship Fairweather, for instance does mapping. Another NOAA ship I worked on put out buoys for tsunamis. NOAA helps keep oceans clean. NOAA also works with fisheries and brings many scientists out to sea to study the population of our oceans. NOAA even has gone on rescue missions for aircraft and other ships in distress.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: First, you should love the sea. It is hard sometimes if you have a family. Sometimes you miss out on important events, but if you pick a ship in the right area, you can see your family more often. Sometimes, NOAA isn’t what people expect. It is really hard work, but I love it. There are lots of different departments and jobs on the ship though, so it is possible to find something you love.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I definitely would be working in culinary arts somewhere.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I love to write, paint, draw, crochet, and read. I’ve always dreamed of writing children’s books. I used to tell my children stories, especially scary ones which they loved.


An Interview with ENS Linda Junge, Fairweather Junior Officer

ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge
ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge

ENS Linda Junge
ENS Linda Junge Leading a Navigation Briefing, Explaining Fairweather’s Course for the Inside Passage

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a junior officer (JO).

Q: What’s the process for becoming a JO?

A: The process to apply to become a JO is much like applying to graduate school. You write essays, get three to five letters of recommendation, fill out the application, and have an interview. You need a BS in a field relating to NOAA’s mission, which can be pretty much any math or science field (geology, physics, calculus, engineering, biology, environmental sciences, etc.). Then you attend BOTC (Basic Officer Training Class), which is held at the Coast Guard Academy along with their officer candidate school. Another way to become a JO is to transfer in if you were formerly enlisted. BOTC for JO’s lasts five months, and we have lots of navigation classes.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: NOAA Ships have three main categories: oceanography, hydrography, and fisheries. The major job of JO’s on ships is driving, we’re like bus drivers for science. When we are underway, 50% of my work is navigation, driving the ship, and deck stuff. 30% is collateral duties, extra administrative things to make the ship run such as thinking about environmental compliance and working as a medical officer. 20% (which can fluctuate) is focused on hydrographic survey, driving small boats or helping with survey sheets, managing an area, collecting data, and being sure data is processed on time.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really enjoy knowing that I’m keeping people safe while they are sleeping. I really enjoy traveling. I really enjoy the sense of family that comes from living on a ship.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: All of the navigation is done from the bridge. The rest of the work is desk work. Any ship needs lots of administrative work to make it run. It’s like a space ship, a hotel, a restaurant, a family. To make all of those things run you need cooks, plumbers, etc., you need a lots of admin. It is like a government-run hotel. There is lots of compliance to think about. It’s a JO’s job to make sure everything is done correctly and all is well taken care of because it is paid for and continues to be paid for by tax payers. Everyone who serves aboard a ship has documented time of when you have been on the ship, sea-service letters. A commercial ship may have human resources (HR), and yeomen (arranges paperwork for travel, keep everything supplied and running, stocked, etc.), pursers (who manage money and billable hours), but all of these tasks are done by JO’s on Fairweather.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Red lights. At night, it is dark on the bridge. We can’t destroy our night-vision, so we use red lights, which are gentle on the eyes and don’t affect one’s night vision. It’s important to be able to see the charts as well as to maintain night vision while keeping watch.

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would hire someone to be the yeomen to make sure we never ran out of pens, always had travel vouchers, made sure copiers ran, and helped with all the other random jobs.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Before I did this, I was a fisheries observer. I was a biologist who went out to sea. I always loved standing on the bridge and hearing the stories. I loved not commuting, not having to go to the office. I loved casting out to sea, working hard, and then, pulling in, tying up, and feeling a huge sigh of relief that the crew worked hard and arrived safely back in port. It stuck with me, I enjoyed that, and I decided to pursue a career with NOAA.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: All the administrative stuff!

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: NOAA is everywhere, and sometimes people don’t appreciate that. NOAA produces weather reports and regulates fisheries in Alaska, where I’m from. NOAA could do a better job of advertising to the public its many pursuits.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are many cool internships on research vessels. The commercial sector will always take people looking for adventure. If you don’t make a career of it, that’s fine. At the worst, you learn something new about yourself while having a really cool experience. That is not such a bad thing.  I highly recommend giving an ocean job a try.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be in grad school. I would study city planning.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like walking. I like being in the woods.


Personal Log

While most of the crew spends days working on the bridge (navigation), the plot room (data analysis), in the galley (preparing meals), or in the engine room/boat shop (keeping everything running smoothly), there are a lot of other areas on the ship that help make Fairweather feel more like home.  Below are some pictures of such key places:

The Ship's Gym
The Ship’s Gym Next to the Engine Room

Ship's Movie Theater
The Ship’s Movie Theater. Some Nights the Crew Gathers to Watch Films Together or Play Games.

Ship's library
The Ship’s Library – Lots of Science Fiction and Suspense!

Ship's Mailroom
The Ship’s Mailroom – Mail is Sent to Each Port; One of the Many Things to Look Forward to in a New Destination.

Conference room
The Ship’s Conference Room Where Navigation Briefings and Safety Meetings Are Held

The Ship's Laundry Room
The Ship’s Laundry Room

Ship's store
The Ship’s Store – Candy & Snacks – Treasures at Sea

The Ship's Store - Swag!
The Ship’s Store – Swag

Berth
A Berth (or Living Space) on the Ship Shared by Two Members of the Crew. Note the Bunk Beds & Curtains. The Crew Works Various Shifts 24/7.


Did You Know?

There is a lot of lingo aboard!  Here are some terms helpful to know for navigating a ship:

Aft: towards the back of the ship

Bow: the front of the ship

Bridge: the navigation or control room at the front/top part of the ship

Decka floor/level on a ship

Flying Bridge: the top-most deck of the ship that provides unobstructed views

Fantail: area towards the back of the ship

Galley: the ship’s kitchen

Hands: a popular way to refer to the crew or people working aboard the ship

Head: the bathroom on a ship

Helm: the “steering wheel” of the ship

Hull: the outside sides/bottom of the vessels

Mess: dining area on the ship

Scullery: where dishes are washed

Starboard: to the right of the ship

Stores:  the supplies kept in the hull that the crew will need while away at sea for a long time

Stern: the back of the boat

Port: to the left of the ship

Challenge Question #3: Devotion 7th Graders – Create a scale drawing of your ideal research or fishing vessel!  Be sure to include key areas, such as those shown above.  Remember that your crew will need space to eat, sleep, navigate, research, work, and relax. At a minimum, include the plan for at least one deck (or floor).  Include your scale factor, show conversions and calculations, and label each area using some of the vocabulary included above.  Needs some ideas?  Check out this link to NOAA’s Marine Vessels for some inspiration.

Lisa Battig: Of Auroras, Anemometers, Anchors and Adult-sized Exposure Suits, September 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N            Longitude:  165o 48.7 W

Date: September 3, 2017

Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover


Science and Technology Log

 AURORAS: 

Manda aurora 1
A shot of the aurora taken by Lieutenant Damien Manda, Operations Officer. This was my first aurora ever, and I know I was treated to a truly spectacular display. There was a lot of ooo-ing and aaah – ing and shrieks of delight. I was definitely one of those!

So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.

The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.

Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.

ANEMOMETERS: Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.

Fairweather anemometer
Looking up at the anemometers on Fairweather set on the flying bridge. You can see the two levels reasonably well. This is where constant weather data are being gathered which are then relayed to multiple places both on the ship and off.

The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.

All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.

ANCHORS:

watching the anchor and chain
Commanding Officer Mark Van Waes and Chief Bosun Brian Glunz checking the anchor and chain to be sure it is clear of the ship. Dennis Brooks is standing by.

 

When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.

Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.

washing the anchor chain
Me. Washing down the anchor chain as it comes up with SS Dennis Brooks helping hold the fire hose (it’s pretty heavy!)

ADULT EXPOSURE SUITS: 

Exposure suit
Me trying on a VERY large adult exposure suit. Look at those legs!!

Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.

I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.

It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.


Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!

The Deck Crew
The amazing deck crew! L-R back row: Terry Ostermeyer, Dennis Brooks, Brian ____. L-R front row: Carl Coonts, Rick Ferguson, Me, Peter “Nick” Granozio

Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!

Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.


Personal Log

Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.

But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…

Little and Big Diomede from Kyle
The islands of Little Diomede (left, foreground) and Big Diomede (right, background). Little Diomede is American land but Big Diomede is Russian. I saw Russia!

 


 Did You Know?

…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.

Lisa Battig: Getting Excited for an Upcoming Adventure… August 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Alaska

Date: August 19, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge (well, from my home city): 33.656311, -117.887800

I haven’t left yet, so I’ll just report on weather here in coastal southern California. It is a fairly typical August day, late morning temperatures in the high 70s, blue skies and a light 4 knot breeze from 235 deg SW. Yes, there is a reason so many people come to live here, but I’m personally ready for the far more extreme temperatures I will get to experience 30 degrees further north and 50 degrees further west!

Science and Technology Log

I have the privilege of being a part of the NOAA Ship Fairweather crew for 10 days. We will be off the coast of Alaska doing hydrographic surveys.  While I don’t totally know what to expect, I know that the end goal is mapping for navigation purposes and that the sonar can give some other information, too. Ultimately, that and other hydrographic survey data can be used to make maps and I LOVE maps. This one below (courtesy of USGS) shows the submarine canyons at the end of the Los Angeles River and the Santa Ana River off the coast of Southern California. It’s so cool to have a visual sense of what you’re surfing, paddling, swimming or fishing over.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Canyons_off_LA.jpg
A map of the submarine canyons at the end of the Los Angeles River and the Santa Ana River off the coast of Southern California (source: USGS)

So, what I do know about what we’re doing is that we’ll be taking side scan sonar data of an area around Nome, Alaska in the Bering Sea. I know that the ship will be running some predetermined patterns to add to an existent database that was begun with legs I, II, and III of this same mission. The ship, by the way, is the Fairweather(image courtesy of NOAA)

NOAA Ship Fairweather
NOAA Ship Fairweather (credit: NOAA)

She’s quite grand and I can’t wait to board and to meet all of the shipboard personnel and learn more about the operations firsthand. I’ll have lots of science and procedure and people to talk about in my next post, I’m sure.

Personal Log and Introduction

Lisa Battig, here! I’ve been teaching at Fountain Valley High School since 2007. Fountain Valley High School is a comprehensive public high school with about 3,800 students. I currently teach Chemistry and Environmental Science there and I love it!  “FVHS” is filled with teachers who are adventurous and willing to try new things. As a result, we’ve always had an administration that is exceedingly supportive of teacher ideas. The culture is collaborative, encouraging and exciting. I could not wish for a better school. Then there are the 3,800 talented young people who walk on campus every day who really make it a fun place to work. Here is an image of me with 64 of them (and lots of parent chaperones!) at Joshua Tree National Park this past January:

 

DSC_0127
Fountain Valley High School students at Joshua Tree National Park

So a bit more about me…

I couldn’t tell the story of where I am now without paying homage to the great Bob Perry. You may not have the privilege of knowing Bob, but that man has inspired probably thousands of students over his career. He was my high school marine biology teacher who also was a master dive instructor, owned his own boat, wrote his own plankton keys, did photography on the side, expected his first year students to do real research and read journal articles, taught us DOS commands and some Basic so we could analyze our data on a computer (1987!!), and had his classes out in the field at the local pier weekly taking raw data. Not to mention he had a research permit and kept three enormous saltwater tanks in the back of his room holding local species so we would be familiar with them and kept a wet table in class that I used when I took an independent research course with him during my senior year.

I was challenged by him, certified in SCUBA by him, encouraged by him, directed by him, mentored by him and ultimately owe at least 80% of what I do in the classroom today to him and his methods.

That spark of interest in high school was the impetus for my undergraduate Marine Biology degree. The ocean was and still is one of my greatest passions. In my college years, I was again blessed with a professor who allowed me to help with his research on copepods and who made certain that we had plenty of time in the field doing trawls, dredges, plankton tows and so much more. Sadly, though, with just an undergraduate degree it was difficult to find anyone willing to pay me to sit in the ocean and hang out with dolphins all day. But my program had been broad and garnered me a minor in Chemistry, also. So out of college I went to work as an analytical chemist instead. That later led me into a varied and interesting career in technical sales and then finally into teaching. It was a good place for me to land – and it’s allowed me to indulge my desires to become more involved in Environmental Science. I went back to school for my MS in Environmental Science a few years ago and was able to develop a sanitation and hygiene education program to be used with small communities throughout the world. This is part of the program being used one on one by a volunteer in a village in El Salvador.

Applying Glo Germ
Sanitation and hygiene education program in El Salvador

I haven’t lost my love of the ocean, nor my love of research. These days, I indulge the former through surfing and offering my AP students the opportunity to get SCUBA certified. Their certification ends with a three day boat trip to dive spots all around Catalina Island. For the research component, I have my AP students develop their own field or lab research and present the findings in a poster session at the end of the school year. I also find whatever research might be available to me through summer programs and the like. I’ve been able to assist in two local university labs through Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants. The experiences have had broad impacts on me personally and definitely on my teaching as well.

Nias 2
A surfer off of Nias Island

 

(For clarification, I am behind the camera for this Nias Island beauty, not behind the sheet of water. It was the best surf trip of my life! But this one day was a bit too big for me.)

And finally, how I got involved with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

My first year of teaching in 2005, I had a mentor who was chosen to be a part of the Teacher at Sea program. His stories immediately sparked my interest in it and I started dreaming about where I might be able to go and what I might be able to do. Unfortunately, each year some challenge would prevent me from applying. Last November, though, all the pieces finally fell into place and I was able to get that application in. Now I find it almost impossible to believe that a 12 year dream is finally coming to fruition! Again, I am so thankful to have a supportive administration that is willing to let me miss some school so that I can bring real world research, application and STEM connections back into the classroom.

Did You Know?

The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 will only cover approximately 28% of the sun in Nome, Alaska where I’ll be embarking. However, on March 30, 2033 Nome will be one of the few land masses to be awarded a total eclipse!

 

Helen Haskell: Changing Latitude, July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: July 11, 2017

Weather Data 

Wind:  6mph coming from the south

Visibility: ~62.44 miles (100.48km) (to Mount Taylor on the horizon) but a little hazy

Air temperature: 72°F (22°C) getting to 94°F (34°C) by the afternoon

Cloud: 0%, but hopefully thunderclouds will build later and we will have rain

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Personal Log:  

Latitude.  It is a word I use regularly during the school year. In my 6th and 9th grade science classes, we review latitude as the angular distance north or south of the equator. We pull out maps, of New Mexico, of Antarctica, of our planet, and we explore.  In January of this year, we sponsored two SOCCOM floats (https://soccom.princeton.edu/) and this upcoming school year, we will chart where Sundevil Sam and Sundevil Lion are, as they send data back from the Southern ocean, data that my classes can access online.  Now, after my time on Fairweather, thanks to NOAA’s vast amount of resources, my students will be able to pull up the nautical charts of places I went (http://www.charts.noaa.gov/BookletChart/17408_BookletChart.pdf) and we can integrate even more mapping and bathymetry into our world. In the last five weeks I’ve gone from 35°N to ultimately as far north as 58° and back again, but in so many ways, my latitude has been much greater.

 

Latitude is also defined, in photography, as being the range of exposures photography paper can be given and still achieve a quality image.  So, applying this definition, there is no doubt that my latitude professionally and personally has increased as a result of my experiences on Fairweather this summer.  My exposure to hydrography, my exposure to new careers, my exposure to new places and my exposure to new people and new friends is significant, in some ways quantifiable, and in other ways immeasurable.    As I sit here in my New Mexico home, preparing to teach a desert field ecology class for the University of New Mexico next week, I find that my brain after a while wanders off from reviewing the ecology of desert species, and I begin to wonder where Fairweather is on route to Nome.  I wonder how the landscape has changed from the dense Sitka Spruce, hemlock and alder I got used to seeing from the ship in Southeast Alaska.  As I fill my birdfeeders and watch the goldfinch flock,  I wonder if the crew have seen more albatross species as they have gone north. As I spend a somewhat frivolous Sunday morning driving two hours north to play and cool down in Abiquiu Lake, near where the artist Georgia O’Keefe gained much inspiration, I am reminded of the Gulf of Alaska’s water temperatures, discovered on a wet day when bottom sampling west of Prince of Wales Island, and of the Argillite carvings produced by Haida artists not far from Ketchikan.

 

 

Latitude also refers to freedom in actions and choices.  I feel fortunate to teach at the school that I do, as I have a lot of latitude when it comes to my curriculum and a lot of support in allowing me to apply for opportunities such as Teacher At Sea.  This makes it very easy to incorporate the science of hydrography I have learned this summer into my existing curriculum.  I have latitude in exposing students to my experiences, and hopefully as a result, expanding theirs.  On the 21 days I sailed on Fairweather I was able to make time to review curricula Teachers At Sea have created in the past, and develop new hydrography lessons I hope many of us can use.  I was able to directly ask Fairweather hydrographers for support, and thanks to Sam Candio, I have images of the mud volcano and Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault we surveyed, that I can use in the classroom next month.  I am using data collected by Hollings scholar, Carly LaRoche, in the classroom  -my 6th graders will analyze her maps and the data to see if there are correlations.

 

On the ship, after a few days, I also realized that I was now the student. I’ll admit that it was slightly humbling and when I got over the ‘I’m used to being in charge and doing’ feeling I relished the new position I found myself in.  While I had anticipated learning a lot about the science of hydrography and what it takes to sail and run a large science vessel, I hadn’t thought about the indirect observations I would make, about myself as a student and the consequences of my experiences as a student to my classroom.  I began to examine how I could tweak a lesson here and there to make it more applicable to my students experiences, and how even excellently explained concepts can be confusing initially, and repetition and re-introduction can be essential for some students.  I watched myself be overwhelmed by acronyms in the beginning and get excited 18 days in to the leg when I could remember one without looking it up. I never did quite remember what each of the computer software programs were for, and marveled at my hydrographer colleagues as they navigated HYPAC, HYSWEEP, CARIS, SIS and Charlene (or Sharr-lene at it became affectionately known in honor of one of the NOAA Corps officers).  I learned that I had a bit of a stumbling block when it came to learning what each program did, and it was a reminder to me that these stumbling blocks can be present for my students in the classroom setting too.

My degrees of latitude have changed significantly in the last two months since I found out, in the dusty remote gas station parking lot in southern Utah, that I would be going to be on a NOAA hydrography ship in Alaska.  The longer I have been home, the more I have realized what an incredible opportunity I was given by NOAA Teacher at Sea.  Life changing may sound ‘hokey’ but I think that is a good succinct summary.  I now have a profound understanding of the time consuming and often hard work needed to create nautical charts.  I have a new understanding of what it is like for the crew of Fairweather, and many other vessels, to spend weeks, and in their case, months, away from family and friends; I have a healthy respect and comparisons to make and share about the ecology and geology of Alaska.  I have new friends and new ideas.  And now, as a teacher, the real work begins in synthesizing this experience.

This weekend I spoke with my friend Jillian Worssam, a TAS alumna and incredible science teacher in Flagstaff, AZ, who has founded a program Scientists in the Classroom. Her work, ideas and community engagement are inspirational, and while I was on the ship, I shot her an email as I knew I wanted to make sure I did not lose ground, I did not want to lose momentum once I returned to ‘normal life’.  As a teacher, things pile up as the school year progresses, and I am profoundly aware that it’s so easy, when things ‘get crazy’ to fall back on what’s been done before. While that is not always a bad thing, it is a constant challenge to integrating new experiences  and new learning from professional development such as Teacher At Sea.  As a teacher, I have also learned, that while my brain is good, when I ‘beg, borrow and steal’ other people’s’ knowledge and ideas, my classroom becomes stronger and my students’ degrees of latitude increase.  My new NOAA contacts, both on the ships and on land, should have a heads up that this is only the beginning.

IMG_1876
Waiting for the temperature to drop to 50F so I can wear my Fairweather hoodie again…

 

Helen Haskell: Bottom Sampling! June 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 17, 2017

Weather Data (on day of bottom sampling –June 14th)

Wind:  27 knots from the west (110° true)

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Barometer:  1005.3 hPa

Air temperature: 9.4°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

 

Science and Technology Log 

IMG_2004
Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, TAS Helen Haskell, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.

If you have ever taken a look at a nautical map, other than just depths listed on it, there will be symbols and definitions that provide information to help with safety and knowledge of the area.  For example, asterix-like symbols represent rocks, and a branch-like symbol represents kelp. Also written on the maps is information about the seafloor and what it is composed of, such as gravel, sand, or bedrock.  Here in southeast Alaska, off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, much of the data that is currently on the charts was collected over 100 years ago.  Fairweather’s mission is to collect new information to allow these charts to be updated, and this includes information on the seafloor too.

The other day I was tasked with joining a survey crew to conduct bottom sampling.  The assigned bottom sample locations are provided by the Operations branch at headquarters. The sheet managers adapt the locations if they think there are better locations that will provide information for anchoring or to help characterize different regions in the area.  With less than glassy water conditions on a windy and rainy day, the boats were launched and we moved to our first sample area.

IMG_0252
A bottom sampler

The technology behind sampling is a little more antiquated than other parts of the research I’ve seen. It involves hooking up a self-closing scoop like device to a rope, and lowering it in to the water until it hits the seafloor.  Ideally, the trigger is released when it hits the seafloor and it closes. With closed scoops, the bottom sampler is winched up, ideally full of whatever material is located on the seafloor in that immediate location.  There were three different styles of these bottom samplers and we quickly had a firm favorite that seemed to work the best.  Easing the boat in the swell to the location, the coxswains, Dennis and Denek, would keep the boat in position so we did not tangle the rope in the motor.  We could tell from the rope going slack when the bottom sampler had hit the sea floor, and a mechanical winch made the return journey easy.

 

Dumping the contents in to a bucket we were able to see the diversity of the seafloor in just a few samples.  Occasionally rocks or shells would get stuck in the mechanism and we’d have to repeat the procedure, but overall we had tremendous success.

IMG_1863
Carly, Denek, the coxswain and me getting some respite from the rain

There are international protocols to follow in collecting bottom samples. These allow for communication and consistency of data on navigational charts.  In general, the main medium of the sample is described, such as sand, mud or pebbles, and an adjective used to describe it, such as broken, sticky or soft. Color is also assigned to the sample as well as appropriate size of the grains (fine, medium or coarse).  Symbols are used for all this data: For example, ‘the sample is mostly fine brown sand with mud and a little bit of broken shell’ would be written fne br S M brk Sh.  Protocols indicate that if sampling is attempted three times in one location and it doesn’t work then ‘unknown’ is documented in that location.

IMG_1926
Success in our sampling

At each of the sampling locations, we marked the spot on the chart and took latitude and longitude coordinates. We also documented additional observations we had about the sample, including findings that were not included as data choices. For example, in our second sampling site we found what we thought initially were mammal hairs.   Several sites later we struck ‘gold’ again, finding what appeared to be more hairs in a mud matrix. Upon reflection and discussion, it’s possible they are more likely decomposing kelp fibers.  It would be interesting to have the samples analyzed to identify what these fibers/hairs come from.   We also found whole clamshells as well as having a sample that only contained water. Our thoughts with the water only samples were that perhaps we were hitting bedrock rather than failing on obtaining any kind of sediments.  We also observed that in the more sheltered bays, the samples were very odiferous dark mud. In both of these occasions, the landscape surrounding the bay was heavily logged, and it would be interesting to see if there were correlations between the logging and the dark sediments, perhaps containing higher levels of carbon material washed in from terrestrial sources. In one of these areas, documentation from 100 years ago suggested that at that time, the seafloor was gravel.

 

Personal Log

The bottom-sampling day was challenging day weather wise, both for the coxswains and the science crew, but very rewarding.  Due to the rough seas it wasn’t a good day to collect sonar data, and on days like this, other parts of the total data collection are put in to place.  Part of our work that day was to also do crosslines (sonar data verification) but the water conditions were too hazardous in certain directions of travel, and so it was decided that we should focus on bottom samples.   To be frank, this was my favorite day as a Teacher At Sea so far. Truth be told, I was reminded that I quite enjoy sticking my hand in a bucket of mystery ‘goop’ and trying to figure out what it is composed of.  The diversity of samples was completely surprising and finding hair samples, twice, completely intriguing.  It was great also to observe upcoming OPS officer, LT Damian Manda at work logging the data, and realize again, the role technological knowledge plays a role in the success of this research. And, thank you to Coxswain Dennis Brooks for taking most of the photos for this blog entry.

 

IMG_2047
Me and Carly at the end of the day

 

Word of the day:

Hollings Scholarship Program: this NOAA program provides undergraduate students with a ten week internship at a NOAA facility and academic assistance, as well as an orientation and symposium. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship

Fact of the day:

Backscatter is the intensity of acoustic energy received by the sonar after interacting with the seafloor. Backscatter data can be used to help determine the surface of the seafloor.  In softer areas, perhaps a surface of mud, returns a weaker signal, but a harder surface, such as bedrock returns a stronger signal.  Hollings scholar Carly LaRoche from American University is on the boat for several legs this summer and is collecting and analyzing backscatter data in the area. Bottom sampling of the area is allowing Carly to compare the backscatter data with the sediments collected to see if there are correlations.

What is this?

IMG_0270

(Answer from previous blog: part of the vertical struts of an old pier at a former salmon canning factory.)

Acronym of the day: Used in bottom sampling

NATSUR:  Nature of surface  -example: mud, gravel, coral

NATQUA: Qualifying terms for NATSUR -example: sticky, soft, calcareous

Helen Haskell: From Raw Data to Processed Data, June 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 16, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  3 knots from the east (272° true)

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9 °C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to assume that once the small boat surveys are conducted and data from the larger sonar equipment on Fairweather is also acquired, that the hydrographers’ work is done and the data can be used to create navigational charts. As I have learned, pretty quickly, there are many parameters that affect the raw data, and many checks and balances that need to be conducted before the data can be used to create a chart. There are also a significant amount of hurdles that the crew of Fairweather deals with in order to get to their end goal of having valid, accurate data.  Some of the parameters that affect the data include tides, salinity of the water, temperature of the water, and the density of the data.

Tides:

Tides play a huge role in data accuracy.  But how do tides work and how do they influence navigational chart making? Tides on our planet are the effect on water due to forces exerted by the moon and the sun.  The mass and the distance from the Earth to these celestial bodies play significant roles in tidal forces. While the sun has a much greater mass than the moon, the moon is much closer to the Earth and it is distance that plays a more critical role.  Gravity is the major force responsible for creating tides. The gravitational pull of the moon moves the water towards the moon and creates a ‘bulge’. There is a corresponding bulge on the other side of the Earth at the same time from inertia, the counterbalance to gravity.  The moon travels in an elliptical orbit around the planet and the Earth travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun. As a result, the positions of the moon to the Earth and the Earth to the sun change and as a result, tide height changes.   The tides also work on a lunar day, the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth, which is 24 hours and 50 minutes. So high tide is not at the same time in one area each solar day (Earth’s 24 hour day). There are three basic tidal patterns on our planet.  Here is southeast Alaska, the tides generally are what is called ‘semi-diurnal’, meaning that there are two high tides a day and two low tides a day of about the same height. Other areas of the world may have ‘mixed semi-diurnal’ tides, where there are differences in height between the two high and two low tides, or ‘diurnal’ tides, meaning there is only one high and one low tide in a lunar day.   The shape of shorelines, local wind and weather patterns and the distance of an area from the equator also affect the tide levels.  How does this affect the hydrographers’ data? If data is being collected about water depth, obviously tide levels need to be factored in.  Hydrographers factor this in when collecting the raw data, using predicted tide tables.  However, later on they receive verified tide tables from NOAA and the new tables will be applied to the data.

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The tide times of the day

Sound Speed Profiles:

Traveling down through the water column from the surface to the seafloor, several factors can change, sometimes significantly.  These factors include temperature, pressure and salinity.  These variables affect the accuracy of the sonar readings of the MBES (Multibeam Echo Sounders), so have to be factored in to account with the raw data analysis.  What complicates matters further is that these factors can vary from location to location, and so one set of readings of salinity, for example, is not be valid for the whole dataset.  Many fresh water streams end up in the waters off the islands of southeast Alaska.  While this introduction of freshwater has effects on the community of organisms that live there, it also has impacts on the hydrographers’ data.  To support accurate data collection the hydrographers conduct sound speed casts in each polygon they visit before they use the MBES.  The data is downloaded on to computers on the boat and factored in to the data acquisition.  The casts are also re-applied in post processing, typically on a nearest distance basis so that multiple casts in an area can be used.  In the picture below, the CTD cast is the device that measures conductivity (for salinity), temperature and depth.  It is suspended in the water for several minutes to calibrate and then lowered down through the water column to collect data. It is then retrieved and the data is downloaded in to the computers on board.

 

 

Data Density:

Hydrographers also need to make sure that they are collecting enough sonar data, something referred to as data density.  There are minimum amounts of data that need to be collected per square meter, dependent on the depth of the sea floor in any given area.  Having a minimum requirement of sonar data allows any submerged features to be identified and not missed. For example, at 0-20 meters, there need to be a minimum of five ‘pings’ per square meter.  The deeper the sea floor, the more the beam will scatter and the ‘pings’ will be further apart, so the minimum of five pings occupy a greater surface area.  Hydrographers need to make sure that the majority of their data meets the data density requirements.

Crossline Acquisition:

After much of the initial raw data has been collected, and many of the polygons ‘filled in’, the hydrographers will also conduct crossline surveys. In these surveys they will drive the small boat at an angle across the tracklines of the original polygon surveys. The goal here is basically quality control. The new crossline data will be checked against the original MBES data to make sure that consistent results are be acquired. CTD casts have to be re-done for the crossline surveys and different boats may be used so that a different MBES is used, to again, assure quality control.  At least 4% of the original data needs to be covered by these crossline surveys.

Shoreline verification:

Low tides are taken advantage of by the hydrographers. If the research is being conducted in an area where the low tide times correlate with the small boat survey times, then a vessel mounted LIDAR system will be used to acquire measurements of the shoreline.  Accurate height readings can be extracted from this data of different rocks that could prove hazardous to navigation.  Notes are made about particular hazards and photos are taken of them.  Data on man-made objects are also often acquired. Below are pictures produced by the laser technology, and the object in real life. (for more on LIDAT: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Processing:

Each evening once the launches (the small boats) return, the data from that day has to be ‘cleaned’. This involves a hydrographer taking an initial look at the raw data and seeing if there were any places in the data acquisition that are erroneous.  None of the data collected is deleted but places where the sonar did not register properly will become more apparent.  This process is called night processing as it happens after the survey day. After night processing, the sheet managers will take a look at remaining areas that need to be surveyed and make a plan for the following day.  By 6 a.m. the next day, the Chief Scientist will review the priorities made by the managers and let the HIC (Hydrographer In Charge) know what the plan in for their survey boat that day.

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Night Processing

Personal Log 

Throughout the Science and Technology log in this blog post, I keep referring to technology and computer programs.  What stands out to me more and more each day is the role that technology plays in acquiring accurate data.  It is an essential component of this project in so many ways, and is a constant challenge for all of the crew of Fairweather.  Daily on Fairweather, at mealtimes, in the post survey meetings, or on the survey boats themselves, there is discussion about the technology.  Many different programs are required to collect and verify the data and ‘hiccups’ (or headaches) with making this technology work seamlessly in this aquatic environment are a regular occurrence. I am in awe of the hydrographers’ abilities, not only in knowing how to use all the different programs, but also to problem solve significant issues that come up, seemingly on a regular basis.  Staff turnover and annual updates in software and new equipment on the ship also factor significantly in to technology being constantly in the foreground.  It often eats in to a large amount of an individual’s day as they figure out how to make programs work in less than forgiving circumstances.  Tied to all of this is the fact that there is a colossal amount of data being collected, stored and analyzed each field season.  This data needs to be ‘filed’ in ways that allow it to be found, and so the tremendous ‘filing system’ also needs to be learned and used by everyone.

 

 

Word of the day:   Fathom

Fathom is a nautical unit of measurement, and is the equivalent of 6 feet.  It is used in measuring depth.

Fact of the day:

Prince of Wales Island, west of which this research leg is being conducted is the fourth largest island in the United States. 4,000 people live on the island, that is 2,577sq mi.

What is this? 

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(Previous post: a zoomed in photo of ‘otter trash’ (Clam shell)

Acronym of the day:  

LIDAR: Light Detecting and Ranging

 

Helen Haskell: Life on a Ship, June 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West of Prince of Wales Island 

Date: June 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55 04.473 N

Longitude: 133 03.291 W

Wind: 9 knots from the east

Air temperature: 17C

Visibility: 10 miles

Barometer: 1004.2 hPa

Science and Technology Log

The mission of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys for nautical charting. The Fairweather does this work in the waters off the United States Pacific coast, but principally in Alaskan coastal waters. The data is collected using sonar both by the Fairweather but also using a series of smaller boats that are launched as often as possible, each with a small crew of 3-4 people. These smaller boats are able to conduct the surveys much closer to the shoreline, and spend about 8-9 hours each day surveying a specific region. Many of the waters up here have had no recent data collected, and mariners are relying on charts that may have measurements taken in the 1800’s or 1900’s when technology was very different.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather

During the field season, Fairweather spends about 210 days at sea. During the rest of the year, the Fairweather stays at her homeport, allowing the crew to work on maintenance issues, take leave, work on the data and outfit the boat for the following season. During the field season, the boat conducts different legs of the research, spending 12-20 days out at sea at a time before returning to a port to re-supply. There are six departments on the ship: Command, Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey. Each person on the ship is hired with specific duties and responsibilities.

As a government vessel, the Fairweather is also available for use during the time of war or in case of an emergency. In the event of something along these lines, the ship and the officers would be transferred to the Armed Forces of the United States.

The Fairweather is named after the tallest peak in the Fairweather range in Alaska. The ship served in Alaskan waters for over 20 years but was decommissioned in 1988. In 2004, due to increasing demand for modern surveys in Alaska, it was retrofitted and put back in to the research fleet. Previously staterooms housed up to 4 people, but after the retrofit a maximum of two people share a room. The boat can house 58 people in 24 single staterooms and 17 double staterooms. The boat itself is 231 feet in length and 42 feet wide. Its cruising speed is 13 knots, with a survey speed of 6-10 knots.   The Fairweather has 7 levels, A-G, each containing many rooms and areas essential to the mission of this ship. Wires and pipes run throughout the ship with sensors monitoring equipments, sensors ready to trigger if needed. Lower levels of the ship contain tanks, ballast and engines. Diesel, drinking water and grey water are stored in the tanks. The next three levels contain staterooms, lots of machinery and storage, the Mess, the Galley, laundry, labs, the sick bay and one deck with small boat storage. The last two levels contain the ships Navigation Bridge, the data processing center, electronics office, and lots more equipment.

Personal Log

A few days in to my journey with the ship, things are starting to make more sense. While there are still doors I haven’t opened and rooms I am sure I have not been to, I feel that I am getting a better sense of the Fairweather and how it works, the roles that people play, and a slightly better understanding of what it means for home to be a ship.

There is a lot going on. Unlike many of the fisheries boats, where science staff works on a shift system, here on the Fairweather, much of the hydro data acquisition needs to be done on the small vessels during daylight. After the 8am meeting, boats are launched and the survey crew leave for the day. Meanwhile the rest of the scientists and survey crew works with the previously acquired data. Shift systems are in operation for most of the rest of the staff. There are always engineering projects and issues to sort out on a boat of this size, and engineers are always available and always problem solving. There are always NOAA Corps officers and deck crew on the bridge to monitor the ship and coordinate communication. From early in the morning there is always food to prepare, parts of the ship to be cleaned and decisions to be made, reviewed and modified. Somewhere around 4:30pm the survey boats return. Meal times and group meetings are places where most of the crew comes together to hear about how the day has gone and what is needed for the next day. After dinner, there is still work to be done. The day’s data needs to be processed in order for the plans for the next day to solidify. Small boats are checked after their day in the water, re-fueled and parts fixed if need be. After working hours the ship is patrolled hourly to make sure equipment is working and things are safe.

 

In between all these jobs, the crew does have down time. Those on a shift system hopefully manage to get some decent sleep, even if it is daytime. Laundry gets done. Personal emails are sent to communicate with families. Movies are watched in the lounge/conference room. Showers happen. People visit the exercise room. The ships store opens up for a while each night, allowing crew to splurge on a bag of chips or a candy bar. So, it’s a busy place. Whether it’s visible or not, there are always things going on.

 

In some very simple ways it is no different to your home or mine. There is food, shelter and water. In most other respects, it is very far removed from living on land. Most people don’t have breakfast, lunch and dinner with their work colleagues. Here we do. Most people don’t have bedrooms without windows in them. Here we do. Most people don’t have the floor swaying beneath their feet due to wave action. Here we do. And for what it’s worth, most people don’t get to look over the deck and watch curious sea otters swim by, knowing that a whale may breach any minute. Here we do.

 

 

Fact of the day:

NOAA has nine key focus areas: Weather, Climate, Fisheries, Research, Satellites, Oceans and Coasts, Marine and Aviation, Charting and Sanctuaries. NOAA employs 12,000 people worldwide, of which 6,773 are scientists and engineers studying our planet. NOAA’s roots began over 200 years ago with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey by President Thomas Jefferson. In 1870 the Weather Bureau was formed closely followed by the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. In 1970 these three organizations became the beginning of NOAA. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency

Word of the day: Knot

Knot, in nautical terms is a unit of speed.  One knot is the equivalent of going one nautical mile per hour.

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).

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(Previous answer: The picture is of a light and whistle that are attached to my PFD (personal flotation device).

 Acronym of the Day

MPIC: Medical Person In Charge

 

Helen Haskell: Alaska, Here I Come… May 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: May 22, 2017

Weather Data

If anyone has been to New Mexico, you will have experienced the blue skies, the sunshine, and a range in temperatures, with storms blowing in, and dust devils swirling sand and debris all around.  This week, in the lead up to my trip we seem to have had it all.  Snow just to the west of the city, blue skies, cooler than average temperatures for May, and sudden rainshowers.  Today however, it is 90F and the swamp cooler is being turned on for the first warm but windy day of the summer.  

Science and Technology Log

So what is a hydrographic survey?  The Fairweather is one of NOAA’s many research vessels, but unlike many of the others that focus on life in the ocean, the Fairweather conducts surveys using SONAR to examine the ocean floor. This is an aspect of ocean navigation that most of us don’t consider, but looking for changes to the ocean or river floor, as a result of plate tectonics, natural disasters, coastline changes, and even sunken vessels.  Here’s a link to more information: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/ 

Personal Log

Living in the desert Southwest, I am and I feel far from the ocean. Water is a scarcity in the desert, but when we find it we are drawn to it, even if it is a spring seeping out of the rock up a dry wash. Just a couple of weeks ago I was on a boat, a beautiful 18 foot sea kayak, paddling with some of my students at Lake Powell.  Paddling up to explore side canyons with tall orange sandstone walls rising hundreds of feet, seeing willows and cottonwoods trying to re-establish as water levels recede, I wondered where and when I would be going with NOAA Teachers At Sea. Out of internet range for a week can do wonders for the soul, but I was eager to learn about my NOAA TAS placement.  

On the drive back to Albuquerque, NM, we pulled into the small gas station in White Mesa, near Blanding, UT.  My phone ‘beeped’ and emails came flooding in. Buried in the list of unread messages was the email from Jennifer Hammond, welcoming me back from my trip and giving me basic details  – Alaska to do hydrography…. I think perhaps I began jumping up and down at that point but you’d have to ask one of the students who was there….the reality is though, I would have been excited with any location and any science mission, but I’ve never been to Alaska and as someone who teaches geology, including bathymetry and subduction zones and other aspects of the ocean floor, this couldn’t be more relevant.

Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to increase my professional development and personal experience with learning about the ocean. Slowly I am incorporating oceanography more and more into my desert classroom. Some people ask why, when we are hundreds of miles from any coast line.  Not surprisingly there is always more to the story, beginning in New Mexico millions of years ago.  My modern desert region had several geologic episodes where it hosted inland seas, and students can visit the top of our Sandia Mountains that skirt the eastern edge of the city and find brachiopods and crinoids, fossils in the Pennsylvanian limestone and remnants of the ocean now securely seated at 10,000 feet.   The geologic connection is in fact an easy one to make. The challenge for me as a teacher is connecting my students to this modern day ecosystem so many miles away, one that many of them have not seen, or at least have not spent time with, and, in reality, have learned very little about.  Our oceans, as we know, are instrumental in the planet’s systems… Without securing a knowledge of how oceans function, we are unable to understand how Earth fully works and how our daily actions and choices have global impacts.

Back in the classroom, I shared my news with my students. In the lead up to the end of the school year we’ve been examining the website that contains information on the Fairweather, discussed SONAR, hypothesized what it would be like to live on a ship, and used Google Earth to figure out where Ketchikan and Kodiak, AK are.  Our discussions further our quest to learn more about density, buoyancy and how boats float.  A challenge was issued and students experimented trying to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy – for it to not sink or float.

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Students experiment with ways to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy

Students also began to create a list of questions that they would like me to answer while I am on the Fairweather…..stay tuned for some of the answers.

Questions about the ship and location of research Questions about living on a ship Science-related questions
How many rooms are on the ship?

How do ships not sink since they are made of metal?

Would it matter if there was a big animal under the ship?

What happens to all the sewage?

Is there a weight limit on the boat?

Who is the Captain?

What is the fastest it may go?

Will it snow where you are going and if so will it affect the boat or the research?

Does the boat sail every summer?

How many miles are you travelling?

What temperature will it be?

What are some jobs on the boat?

Is there ice in the ocean where you are going?

What does the ship’s mast do?

What is the hardest part about taking care of the boat?

How long did it take to build?

If you fall off, what do you do?

Can you take a shower?

What does the ship provide me?

When do I get to sleep on the boat?

Do we catch any of the food we eat?

How much food is brought on the ship for a voyage?

Are the seas going to be rough?

What is included in the bedroom?

How hard is it to work on the ship?

Will you have to wear dirty clothes? Do they have a washer and dryer?

Will you fish?

Will you go swimming?

How many people are traveling with you?

Do you get seasick?

Are there going to be other women on the boat?

Do the other workers get seasick?

What age could you go on a trip like this?

Do you share a room?

How does the SONAR actually work?

Does Ms Haskell get to operate the SONAR machinery?

Do you do any research about ocean life?

How accurate is the scanner?

How deep is the trench up by the Aleutian islands?

What is the deepest the ocean will be?

Will you see whales?

What is the favorite animal you have seen on the ship?

What’s it like to feel an earthquake on a ship?

Are there any sunken ships or warships like the USS New Mexico up there?

Are the oceans deeper or shallower than others?

The next month promises to be a great adventure and a fantastic way for me as a teacher to learn more current science research, to explore an area of the world I have never been, and for the ‘desert dwelling ocean rookie’ to become well acquainted with the diversity of jobs and life on a research ship.  As a ‘birder’ I hope to add new birds to my life list, maybe see a new mammal or two, and incorporate much more understanding of this part of the world into my classroom and community.  Stay tuned.  

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date:  June 23, 2016

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


Science and Technology Log

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Evolution of Survey Techniques (Illustration Credit: NOAA)

 

 

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


 All Aboard!

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NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

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

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Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux checks the ship’s radar

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

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


Personal Log

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

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Teacher at Sea (TAS) Kurth Hi Mom!

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

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

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All Hands on Deck! Summer Solstice 2016


Did You Know?

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

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Japanese Fishing Floats


 

Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Cody: What Remains Unseen, June 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 16˚C (60˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,013 hPa (1,013 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus is cataloguing all of the discreet hazards and objects by location and by photographic evidence that will be available for the new nautical charts once the survey is complete.

Uncovering potential dangers to navigation often requires more that acoustic equipment to adequately document the hazard.  Many hazards are in water that is shallow enough to potentially damage equipment if a boat were to be operating in that area and may also require special description to provide guidance for those trying to interpret the hazard through nautical charts and changing tides.  This is one of the key reasons so much planning must be placed into assigning survey areas determining the size and extent of polygons for mapping.  Depending on the complexity of the area’s structures, the polygon assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch.  Near-shore objects may require a smaller boat to adequately access the shallow water to move in among multiple hazards.  This is where a smaller boat like the Fairweather’s skiff can play a role.  The skiff can be sent out to map where these near-shore hazards are using equipment that that will mark the object with a GPS coordinate to provide its location.  Additionally, a photograph of the hazard is taken in order to provide a greater reference to the extent of the object and what it looks like above or below the water.  This information is collected and catalogued; so, the resulting nautical chart will have detailed resources and references to existing nautical hazards.

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Ensign Pat Debroisse covers nautical hazards such as rocks and kelp indicated throughout a very shallow and hazardous inlet.

Nautical hazards are not the only feature found on charts.  Nautical charts also have a description of the ocean bottom at various points throughout the charts.  These points may indicate a rocky bottom or a bottom consisting of silt, sand, or mud.  This information can be important for local traffic in terms of boating and anchoring and other issues. In order to collect samples from the bottom, a launch boat drops a diving probe that consists of a steel trap door that collects and holds a specimen in a canister that can be brought up to the boat.  Once the sample is brought up to the boat, it is analyzed for rock size and texture along with other components such as shell material in order to assign a designation.  This information is collected and catalogued so that the resulting nautical chart update will include all of the detailed information for all nautical hazards within the survey area.

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Bottom samples are taken with a heavy steel torpedo-shaped probe that is designed to sink quickly, dive into the ocean bottom, clamp shut, and return a sample to the boat.  Credit Ensign Joseph Brinkley for the photo.

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

The food on the cruise ship is great. They have all of our meals ready and waiting.  There are many people who prepare and serve the food to us to make our trip enjoyable.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The food onboard the Fairweather is also very good.  Much of the work that they do happens so early in the morning that most never see it take place.  Our stewards take very good care of us by providing three meals a day, snacks, and grab bag lunches for all of our launches each day.  They need to start early in morning in order to get all of the bagged lunches for the launches prepared for leaving later that morning and breakfast. They start preparing sandwiches and soup for the launches at 5 AM and need to have breakfast ready by 7 AM; so, mornings are very busy for them.  A morning snack is often prepared shortly after breakfast for those on break followed by lunch and then an afternoon snack and finally dinner.  That is a lot of preparation, tear down, and clean up, and it all starts over the next day.  The steward department has a lot of experience in food preparation aiding them in meeting the daily demands of their careers while preparing delicious and nutritious food that the crew will enjoy.

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What are you doing at 5:15 in the morning?  Mornings are very busy for the steward department preparing lunches for the day’s hydrographic launches and breakfast for the entire crew.  From left to right, Chief Steward Frank Ford, Chief Cook Ace Burke, Second Cook Arlene Beahm, and Chief Cook Tyrone Baker.

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Chief Steward Frank Ford is preparing a delicious mid-morning snack for the crew.

Frank Ford is the chief steward. He has been in NOAA for six years.  Before joining NOAA he had attended culinary school and worked in food service for 30 years in the restaurant and hotel industry.  “I try to make meals that can remind everyone of a positive memory…comfort food,” Frank goes on to say, “Having good meals is part of having good morale on a ship.”  Frank and the others in the steward department must be flexible in the menu depending on produce availability onboard and available food stores as the mission progresses.

 

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Chief Cook Tyrone Baker helps prepare breakfast.

Tyrone Baker is the chief cook onboard. He has been in NOAA for 10 years and has 20 years of food service experience in the Navy.  Ace Burke has been with NOAA since 1991 and has served in many positions in deck and engineering and has been a steward for the last 15 years.  He came over from the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson to help the steward department as a chief cook. Arlene Beahm attended chefs school in New Orleans.  She has been with NOAA for 1 ½ years and started out as a general vessel assistant onboard the Fairweather and is now a second cook.

 

Did You Know?

Relying on GPS to know where a point is in the survey area is not accurate enough.  It can be off by as much as 1/10 of a meter.  In order to increase the accuracy of where all the points charted on the new map, the Fairweather carries horizontal control base stations onboard.  These base stations are set up on a fixed known location and are used to compare to the GPS coordinate points.  Utilizing such stations improves the accuracy of all points with the survey from 1/10 of a meter of uncertainty to 1/100 of a meter or a centimeter.

Can You Guess What This Is?109_0609 (2)

A. an alidade  B. a sextant  C. an azimuth circle  D. a telescope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was D. a CTD.  A CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor is needed for hydrographic surveys since the temperature and density of ocean water can alter how sound waves move through the water column. These properties must be accounted for when using acoustic technology to yield a very precise measurement of the ocean bottom.  The sensor is able to record depth by measuring the increase of pressure, the deeper the CTD sensor goes, the higher the pressure.  Using a combination of the Chen-Millero equation to relate pressure to depth and Snell’s Law to ray trace sound waves to the farthest extent of an acoustic swath, a vertical point below the water’s surface can be accurately measured.  Density is determined by conductivity, the greater the conductivity of the water sample running through the CTD, the greater the concentration of dissolved salt yielding a higher density.)

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?

104_0410 (2)

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

The answer will be provided in the next post!

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

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

NOAA Teahcer at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 10, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 60%

Wind Speed: 4 kts (5 mph)

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

Science and Technology Log:

102_0137
Goodbye Juneau, we are off to our survey site just west of Prince of Wales Island in the southernmost part of Southeast Alaska.

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

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

Personal Log:

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

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?

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

The answer will be provided in the next post!

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

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

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 8, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 17˚C (63˚F)

Water Temp: 11˚C (52˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 52%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?

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

The answer will be provided in the next post!

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

Spencer Cody: Fairweather in Transition – June 5, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 5, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 58˚ 17.882′ N

Longitude: 134˚ 24.759′ W

Air Temp: 15˚C (59˚F)

Water Temp: 8.9˚C (48˚F)

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

Relative Humidity: 67%

Wind Speed: 5.2 kts (6 mph)

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

 

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

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

Personal Log:

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

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?

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

The answer will be provided in the next post!

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

Theresa Paulsen: Ship Navigation, March 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 28, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 26˚C, Wind speed 13-18 knots, Wave height 5-7ft

Science and Technology Log

Mapping of our first priority area is now compete and we have moved to the priority two area on the north side of the Puerto Rico Trench.  We are more than 100 miles from shore at this point.  Land is nowhere in sight.  Able-Bodied Seaman Ryan Loftus tells me that even from the bridge the horizon is only 6.4 nautical miles away due to the curvature of the earth.  At this point with no frame of reference other than celestial bodies, navigation equipment becomes essential.

The ship uses Global Positioning Systems, GPS units:

GPS Units
GPS Units aboard the vessel

Radar:

Radar display
The radar display.

 

On the radar display, we are in the center of the circle. Our heading is the blue line. Since this photo was taken near shore, the yellow patches on the bottom indicate the land mass, Puerto Rico. The two triangles with what look like vector lines to the left of us are approaching vessels. On the right, the Automated Identification System displays information about those vessels, including their name, type, heading and speed.  The radar uses two radio beams, an S-Band at 3050 MHz and an X-band at 9410 MHz, to determine the location of the vessel relative to other vessels and landmarks within a 1% margin of error.

Gyrocompasses:

A gyrocompass
A gyrocompass

A standard compass points to the magnetic north pole rather than true north, therefore mariners prefer to use gyrocompasses for navigation.  Before departing, a gyrocompass is pointed to true north.  Using an electric current, the gyroscope in the device is spun very fast so that it will continually maintain that direction during the voyage.  Slight errors build up over time and must be corrected.  The watch standers post the necessary correction on the bridge.  Since the device is electronic, it can feed data into the system allowing for automated navigation and dynamic positioning systems to work well.

ECDIS Screen
The Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIIS) Screen

On the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) screen, watchstanders can view the course planned by the Expedition Coordinator in charge of the science conducted on the voyage (in red), see the bearing they have set (thin black line), and see the actual course we are on (the black, dashed, arrowhead line).

The Dynamic Postioning System
The Dynamic Positioning System

The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to remain in one spot in very delicate situations, such as when they lower a tethered device like the robotic vehicle they will be using on the next cruise or a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe).  It is also helpful for docking.

The electronics are able to control the ship due to the ingenious way the engine system is designed.  The diesel engine powers generators that convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy.  This way electrical energy can be used to control main hydraulic propellers at the stern as well as electric bow and side thrusting propellers.

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What happens if the power goes out and the electronic navigation devices fail?  There are back ups – no worries, students and family!!

The vessel can sail onward.  It is equipped with a magnetic compass and the watchstanders are well versed in reading charts, using a sextant, and plotting courses by hand – they often do that just to check the radar and GPS for accuracy.

The magnetic compass
The superimposed red arrow is directing your attention to the magnetic compass above the bridge.

Using Nautical Charts
Operations Officer, Lt. Emily Rose cross checking the radar and GPS with nautical charts.

Using a Sextant
Seaman Ryan Loftus teaching me how to use a sextant.

They also have a well-used copy of the “bible of navigation,” The American Practical Navigator written in 1802 by Nathaniel Bowditch.

The American Practical Navigator
The American Practical Navigator, The “Bible” of navigation for over 200 years.

They even let me take it for a spin – okay it was about a 90˚ turn – but hey, it feels pretty cool to be at the helm of a 224ft vessel!

At the helm
Steady as she goes! Mrs. Paulsen’s at the helm!

So where are we right now?

As I said we have begun mapping in our second priority zone, more than 100 miles north of Puerto Rico.  We are near the boundary of the Sargasso Sea.  It is not bordered by land, like other seas.  Instead it is bordered by ocean currents that keep the surface water in one area.

The Sargasso Sea
The Sargasso Sea. Image Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Remember the seaweed I wondered about in an earlier post?  It is called Sargassum.  It grows in rafts in the Sargasso Sea.  This is actually where the Sargasso sea got its name.  According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, these rafts provide habitat for certain fish and marine life.  Turtles use them as nurseries for their hatchlings.  In recent years large blooms of Sargassum have been washing up on nearby coastlines causing problem along the shore.  (Oct 1, 2014, USA Today)  More research needed!  There are always more questions.  Is this caused by warming oceans, by oil spills, or by a combination?  Nothing lives in isolation.  All life forms are connected to each other and to our environment.  Changes in the ocean impact us all, everywhere on the globe.

A Sargassum Mat. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Want to explore yourself?  Check out NOAA Corps to become ship officer!

Career Profile of a NOAA Corps Officer:

Acting Executive Officer (XO) Lieutenant Fionna Matheson is augmenting on this leg of the trip, meaning she is filling in for the XO currently on leave.  Otherwise, in her current “land job” she works at NOAA headquarters for the NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.  Dr. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, reports to the Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker. Working on the headquarters team, LT Matheson learns a great deal about the breadth and importance of NOAA’s mission.

Lt. Fionna Matheson
Lt. Fionna Matheson

To become a member of the NOAA Corps you must have a Bachelor’s degree in Science or Math. It is a competitive process, so some sort of experience with boating is advantageous, but not required.  NOAA Corps officers are trained not only to drive and manage ships, but also to handle emergencies including fire-fighting, and follow maritime law.  They act as the glue between the scientists and the crew (wage mariners), making sure the scientific mission is accomplished and the safety of the crew and the vessel are secure.  Fionna has been part of the corps for 11 years.  She explains that NOAA Corps officers are stationed for about 2 years at sea (with some shore leave) followed by 3 years on land throughout their careers. During her NOAA career, Fionna has sailed in the tropical Pacific maintaining deep-ocean buoys, fished in the North Atlantic, collected oceanographic samples in the Gulf of Mexico, and now mapped part of the Caribbean. She has also worked as part of an aerial survey team in San Diego, studying whales and dolphins.

Fionna’s advice to high school students is this, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is action.  Take the initial risk.”

Personal Log

What do we do for fun in our free time?

We read.

Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos.
Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos during his off hours.

We play games like chess, although I am not very good.  I try, and that is what is important, right?

Chess Tournament
Chief Steward Dave Fare and CO Mark Wetzler playing a warm up game before the chess tournament.

We watch movies – even watched Star Trek on the fantail one evening.   Very fitting since we are boldly going where no one has gone before with our high-resolution sonar.

Movie Night
Movie night on the fantail.

And we watch the sun go down on the ocean.

Sunset
A view from the fantail of the ship.

Mostly, I like watching the water when I have time.   I would have made a great lookout – I should look into it after I retire from teaching.  I have been trying to use my Aquaman powers to summon the whales and dolphins, but so far – no luck.   Maybe on the way back in to shore we’ll catch another glimpse.

What do I miss?

My family and friends.  Hi Bryan, Ben, Laura, Dad, Mom, and the rest of the gang.

My family
My family

And my students and coworkers.  Go Ashland Oredockers!

Ashland Public Schools, Ashland, Wi

I am fortunate to have such supportive people behind me!  Thanks, guys!

I do not miss snow and cold weather, so if you all could warm it up outside in northern Wisconsin over the next week, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll see what kind of strings I can pull with these NOAA folks!   ¡No me gusta la nieve o el frío en la primavera!

Did you know?

Sky conditions on the bridge are determined by oktas.  An okta is 1/8th of the sky.  If all oktas are free of clouds the sky is clear.  If 1-2 oktas contain clouds, the bridge reports few clouds, 3-4 filled oktas equal scattered clouds, 5-7 equal broken clouds, and 8 filled oktas means the sky is overcast.

Question of the Day

Theresa Paulsen: And We’re Off! March 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log

Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Physical Scientist Hydrographer with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and our Expedition Coordinator, gave the science team aboard the vessel an overview of our expedition on Sunday after an evening of becoming acquainted with the ship and other members of the science team.

Meme Lobecker
Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Expedition Coordinator from the NOAA Office of Oceanic Exploration Research (OER)

Mapping Introduction
Mapping Introduction

She explained how oceanic exploration research is different from the rest of the scientific community and even other projects within NOAA, because it focuses purely on exploration and discovery that can generate hypotheses. In other areas, a scientist has a hypothesis first and sets out to test it through research and experimentation.

The information gained on our mission could generate hypotheses in all kinds of areas of research such as geology, fisheries, oceanography, marine archeology, and hydrography. It could help us identify areas that need protection, such as spawning grounds for commercial fish populations.  Meme and her team will turn the data over to the National Coastal Data Development Center within three weeks. From there, it goes to the National Geophysical Data Center and the National Oceanographic Data Center, where it is freely accessible through public archives within 60-90 days of the end of the cruise.  From there, any entity, public or private, can access the data for use in their work. Have you ever wondered how Google Earth and Arc View GIS get the background data for their ocean floor layer? This data contributes to those layers. Now you know! Public data access is through www.ngdc.noaa.gov and www.nodc.noaa.gov.

While we currently have low resolution data from satellites, less than 5% of the oceans have high-resolution images. We have better data now about the features of Mars than we do about our oceans on earth. Why? Because ocean surveying is difficult and time-consuming. High resolution maps cannot be made of the ocean floor with current technology on satellites.  The technology is getting better and better, though. The image below shows the progression from a leadsman dropping a 10 pound weight attached to a line in the water to the multibeam sonar being used as I type.

Developing Hydrographic Survey Techniques.

Learn more about the history here.

The multibeam sonar aboard the Okeanos Explorer sends out a ping at 30 kHz that bounces off the seafloor and returns to the transducer that is equipped with sensors oriented in 432 different directions receiving up to 864 beams per swath. This method has been tested in depths of up to 8000 meters. It can give us not only bathymetry data, but also water column backscatter and bottom backscatter data. This allows us to know if there are features in the water column like gaseous seeps escaping from the ocean floor. We can also tell something about the surface features, whether they are soft sediments or hard rock, from the bottom back scatter.

Meme has a crew of mappers working with her including Scott Allen, Senior Survey Technician;  Melody Ovard and Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Leads; and several interns. Another important part of the mission is to train a new generation of ocean explorers. These interns, Chelsea Wegner, Kristin Mello, and Josue Millan, come from colleges all over the country.  Their main job is to make sure the data is good and to create logs to document data collection.  They have to correct the multibeam sonar data by deploying XBTs (Expendable Bathythermographs) that determine the temperature changes within the water column because sound speed increases as water temperature increases.  They also use sensors on the ship to measure the conductivity and therefore determine the salinity of the water.  Since sound waves penetrate saltier water more easily, the salinity affects the sound intensity measurements.  Pressure must also be calculated into the equation because sound speed also increases with increasing pressure.

XBTS launch
Josue Millan launching an XBT

The vessel’s attitude also has to be factored into the sonar (like teachers need to factor in student attitudes when planning a lesson!) Similar to an airplane, a boat can pivot on its center of gravity in all three-dimensional axes: Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.  Think about your own head.  Pitch is like nodding your head in agreement, yaw is like shaking your head to say no, and roll would be like putting your ear to your shoulder.  Gives new meaning to the phrase “Heads are going to roll,”  doesn’t it?  Boats also heave, or move up and down as swells pass beneath them.

Mapping Data Collection Screen
This screen shows the data being collected by the mappers.

The screen shot above shows the data as it is being collected by the mappers.  In the main window in the upper right is the bathymetry data.  Below that is the water column backscatter.  In the bottom left is the attitude of the vessel on all axes.   The center left gray image shows the bottom backscatter while the number 421 above is the current depth beneath the vessel.  Finally, the display on the top left indicates the quality and intensity of each of the 432 beams.

We also have a team of researchers from the University of Puerto Rico that are deploying free vehicles to study water masses within the Puerto Rico Trench. More about them in the next blog!

Safety First!    On Monday, we had our first drills as part of our safety training. We practiced the “Abandon Ship” and “Fire” drills. We tested the fire hoses and donned our gumby suits. Mrs. Paulsen is looking pretty good, eh? It is comforting to know I’ll be well-protected by good equipment and a great crew in the event of an emergency.

Kristin Mello and Theresa Paulsen in their gumby suits during the first "Abandon Ship" drill.
Kristin Mello and I are trying out our gumby suits during the first “Abandon Ship” drill.

Fire hose test
Chelsea Wegner testing a fire hose.

After mapping all morning, we learned we had to return to port due to a medical issue. I discovered that engineers are vital to the operation. Without them, we don’t sail – and they are hard to come by.  All of my students interested in marine engine repair should consider NOAA in the future. The pay is good and the adventure is awesome!

I took the time in port to work in the galley helping to make lunch with the chefs. They are a friendly bunch. We made fajitas of all kinds and swordfish. Delicious! I also learned how to garnish a buffet line and even washed dishes afterward. In my high school and college days I worked in many restaurants, but they never let me work in the back. They said I was too much of a “people person” and so I was always waiting on customers. Today I got to cook on one of those large grills I see on cooking shows. Fun to cook on, but not fun to clean. The Chief Steward, Dave Fare, said he brought 5000 lbs of food on board for our trip! We’ll be eating well! Good thing there is a fitness room on board too!

Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed my how to garnish a line.
Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed me how to garnish a line.

Cooking in the Galley.
Cooking in the Galley.

Personal Log

After training on Sunday I had some time to take in a little of the history and culture of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a lovely place filled with beautifully colored buildings and fun music. The history is fascinating. According the National Park Service, this is where Chrisotopher Columbus landed on his 2nd voyage and laid claim to the land for Spain. Under Juan Ponce de Leon, Spain took control of the island, displacing the Taíno Indians in 1508. An enormous wall of defense was built to keep hold of the island. Trade winds and ocean currents allowed ships to easily sail here from the east. The fortifications on the island took 10 generations to build.

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Spain kept control of the island against invaders until the Spanish-American war in 1898 when Puerto Rico became a US Territory. The fortress including the Castillo de Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal are now historical sites managed by the National Park Service. You can learn more here.

After touring the city, I found my way to the sea! I watched children running from the waves.  This reminded me of my childhood. My father used to take us to the coast when we lived in California and Oregon. That is where my love of the sea began. Both of my parents have adventurous spirits and strong work ethics. They taught me that anything is possible if you are willing to take the chance and put in the effort. This is a belief I hope I pass on to my students.

Question of the Day

Can you identify this crustacean I found along a beach in San Juan?

Crab on the beach of Sn Juan.  Can you classify it?
Crab on the beach of San Juan. Can you classify it?

 

Laura Guertin: Thank you, Thomas Jefferson! September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Departing the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 19, 2014 – Day #263
Location of ship (in port at Norfolk): 36o 51.18′ N, 76o 17.911′ W

 

Watch out - Dr. G is bringing the Thomas Jefferson home!
Watch out – Dr. G is bringing the Thomas Jefferson home! Cruising speed ~11 knots. (photo taken by J. Johnson)

My time on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has come to an end.  It is an amazing amount of sadness I feel, leaving this incredible ship with its incredible crew.  Although my physical time on the ship is complete, I know the experience I’ve had will continue to inform my teaching and allow me to educate others about NOAA and the “what” and “why” of hydrographic surveying.

 


 

There are several people I have to thank.  First, I would like to thank NOAA for having the Teacher at Sea program, and for allowing higher education faculty to participate.  University faculty will have different takeaways from this experience than K-12 teachers, as we will view our time on the ship with a different lens and share different materials.  My Penn State Brandywine students, as well as other students from other universities, are important recipients of information from their professor that participates as a Teacher at Sea.  Why?  My students share their knowledge with others, whether it is in their other college courses, with their friends on social media, or socializing with friends and family.  My students are everything from future teachers, to future businessmen, to future politicians, and many are still deciding upon careers!  My students have the opportunity to vote.  My students can be advocates for the ocean.  My students, whether they are science majors or not, can really make a difference for our oceans with a better understanding of the process of science and who the people are that are collecting data for scientists to sailors to the everyday citizen.  For 99.9% of my students, my Oceanography course is their first and last formal introduction to the oceans.  My time as a TAS has provided me a valuable, authentic experience that I can share with students, and I am able to provide students this semester and in future semesters a course like no other they will receive in college.

Thank you, NOAA Teacher at Sea program! (yes, that is me in there!)
Thank you, NOAA Teacher at Sea program! (yes, that is me in there!) (photo taken by LCDR Winz)

 


 

I can’t thank enough the amazing people of the Thomas Jefferson (and you all know who you are!).  For a short time, the Thomas Jefferson was my classroom – but this time, I was the student and all of you, the NOAA Corps and crew, were my teachers.  Thank you for your patience, enthusiasm, hospitality, support, and laughter.  You allowed this complete stranger into your home, into your family, and you welcomed me without any hesitation.  You are an amazing group of mentors, and I feel so fortunate to have learned from each of you.  I wish I knew how to express my deepest appreciation for all that you have given me, which will now be shared with students, in-service teachers, and the greater community.

 

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Finally, I need to thank my students in GEOSC 040 this semester at Penn State Brandywine.  Thank you for your understanding and support of me participating in this experience.  I know you did not sign up for a course that was going to be taught online for three weeks, but I’m hoping I have effectively shared with you some of my teaching goals for this cruise:

  • Provide students additional information about NOAA, the NOAA Corps, and wage mariners
  • Help students understand the process of hydrographic surveying
    • The different roles and varied areas of expertise of people involved
    • The different types of equipment utilized
  • Demonstrate to students why hydrographic surveying is needed and relevant
  • Call attention to the intersections between the Ocean Science Literacy Principles and NOAA’s National Ocean Service

I cannot wait to join you back in the classroom for the remainder of the semester to continue sharing what I have learned.  I know this semester is a teaching experience I will never forget, and I am hoping that at the same time, this is a learning experience for you that you will also remember for years to come.

And so, the sun sets on my time at sea…

Good-by to the Atlantic Ocean and my time in the Thomas Jefferson!
Good-by to the Atlantic Ocean and my time in the Thomas Jefferson!

Laura Guertin: Days on the TJ Launch, September 18, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 18, 2014 – Day #261
Location of ship (at 0626 while in transit back to Norfolk): 40o 18.864’ N, 73o 48.974’ W

 


 

Science and Technology Log

For two consecutive days, I had the opportunity to join the hydrographic surveyors on the ship’s launch, HSL 3101 (see my previous post about the ship’s launches), as they surveyed areas close to the shoreline with multibeam echo sounding.  The shallow water areas are tricky and take much time and talent to navigate.  I have been a part of the Thomas Jefferson surveys of the deeper water with its “mowing the lawn” technique (see previous post), but the launch does not have the luxury of always logging data along straight lines at great distance, especially along the rocky New England coast. Check out these photos of the Launch!

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Here was the Plan of the Day (POD) for my first day on the Launch, Day #259:

0000 Ship U/W
0730 HSL 3101 Safety Briefing
0800 Deploy HSL 3101
1730 Recover HSL 3101
2400 Ship Anchored near H12679

I want to call your attention to the 0730 Safety Briefing.  This meeting took place the same time every morning that the Launch went out (which goes out every day during a leg of a survey, unless the weather is extremely bad).  Many items are discussed during the briefing.  I found it interesting that the coxswain (the person of the launch, including navigation and steering) also completes an Operational Risk Management survey each morning that examines the status of people heading out on the Launch and the physical environment.  The following categories are ranked on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 = no risk and 10 = highest risk.

  • Resources: boat and equipment, supervision, communication, support
  • Environment: surf zone, remoteness, ice, rocks, traffic, shallow or uncharted water
  • Team Selection: experience, training and familiarity
  • Fitness: physical and mental
  • Weather: effects on mission and safety
  • Mission Complexity: new or experimental, restricts maneuverability

The scores in all of these categories are tallied up.  If the score is between 0 and 23, the rating is a low risk, or “green,” and the mission is given a go-ahead.  If the score is between 24 and 44, the rating is an “amber” with a warning to use extra caution.  If the score is 45 to 60, then the rating indicates that there is a high risk with a “red” warning to not go out.  But the final total is not the final decision.  The XO (Executive Officer) radios the final score to the CO (Commanding Officer), and the CO has the final say whether the Launch goes out or not.  On my first day with the Launch, we had a score of 23, with the highest individual scores of 5 for Environment and 5 for Team Selection (the rocky shoreline made sense for the higher score, and my presence as a first-timer on the Launch also raised the Team Selection score!). Another important part of the Safety Briefing is a review of the “boat sheet.”   The people going out on the Launch review with the Field Operations Officer (FOO) the target areas for the Launch to visit and the data to acquire.  Below is a slide show of the multi-page packet, prepared the evening before, that goes out with the team.  This boat sheet is from my second day on the Launch, where our objective was to fill in holidays on previously-run survey lines (see my post on Holidays on the TJ).

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Each day I spent on the Launch had a slightly different mission.  On the first day, with two survey technicians, the coxswain, and myself, our goal was to obtain as much data about specific navigation hazards, as well as collect water depth data in shallower water than where the Thomas Jefferson can navigate.  Our ship and Launch are required to survey to the 12-foot contour line, but we certainly had to be careful in this rocky area, as our multibeam echo sounder was sitting in the water approximately one foot lower than the hull of the Launch!  (We had removed the side scan sonar from the Launch earlier in the week to give us more clearance to survey in this area.)  We also ran the Launch at a speed no greater than 10 knots to maintain the quality of our data and to protect the instrument.  On the second day, with one survey technician, the coxswain, and myself, you could probably tell from the boat sheets above that we spent the entire time filling in holidays in the data.  On both days, we were slowed down a bit by a variety of “things in the way.”  The photos below capture some of these obstructions.

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Just like on the Thomas Jefferson, we needed to collect data to apply corrections for sound velocity in the water.  NOAA doesn’t have MVPs on their launches (see more on the MVP), but instead use a similar instrument called a CTD.  The “C” stands for conductivity, the “T” for temperature, and “D” for depth.  When manually lowered over the side of the Launch, the CTD allows water to flow through the instrument, and data are collected as the instrument moves through the water column.  See NOAA’s CTD page for more about a CTD and how it is used.  View the slide show below for some images of the CTD going over the side of the Launch – and getting pulled back in by myself!

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Personal Log

Getting to spend two days on the launch was the final, missing piece of my hydrographic survey experience on the Thomas Jefferson.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to head out and observe the work conducted by the launch.  I found it fascinating that the reason the Launch spent an entire day going back to fill in holidays is because NOAA charts 100% of the coastal ocean floor.  For example, a holiday may represent a 10-centimeter square gap in data – just 10 cm2!  Literally, no stone is left unturned – or in this case, no piece of the coastal zone unmapped!  My appreciation for the complexity of data gathering and processing for nautical charts just keeps growing and growing with every minute I spend on the TJ and now the Launch.  I apparently missed a little excitement while out on the Launch, as the TJ traveled close to the RMS Queen Mary II, which was cruising through the area (from the Launch, we could only see it off in the distance).

But I’m fine with missing the Queen Mary II, because the coolest part of both days?  I got to drive the launch!

That's me, driving the Launch back to the TJ after a full day of surveying
That’s me, driving the Launch back to the TJ after a full day of surveying (photo taken by R. Bayliss)


OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions.  Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #10.

  1. Is the Safety Briefing before the Launch goes out really necessary?  Why/why not?
  2. What value is there in using a CTD while at sea?  (*hint – be sure to check out the links I provided for additional information)
  3. NOAA makes sure that there are no gaps in their data in the coastal zone.  This is in disagreement with Ocean Science Literacy Principle #7, don’t you agree?  For your response to this question, write an exception to Principle #7 (let’s call it “Part G”) that says what we do know about the ocean, based upon what I’ve shared with you in these blog posts.

 


 

Random Ship Fact!

Meet Oscar!
Meet Oscar!

There are times when the launch is off surveying and the Thomas Jefferson does not have any lines to run.  This does not mean the ship is staying put!  One day, CDR Crocker decided to test the junior NOAA Corp officers with a man overboard drill.  This was not a drill for the entire ship, but a challenge for those on the bridge to see if they could rescue “Oscar.”  Oscar is thrown in the water by the CO, and the junior officers were tested to see how they navigate the ship and how long it takes to rescue Oscar (meaning, pull the floater out of the water).  I happened to be on the bridge for the first two drills, which was fascinating to watch and to see the complexity involved in trying to orient the ship, keeping in mind the wind and currents.  Oscar is now safely back on the ship, despite finding a way of “falling” back in the water several times, continuing his journey with us.

By the way, the name “Oscar” comes from the Morse code SOS distress signal, where the “O” stands for Oscar in the military phonetic alphabet.  The Morse code communication system is a set of dots and dashes for numbers and each letter of the alphabet, and the letter “O” in Morse code is three long dashes.  It is no coincidence that three long blasts of the ship’s horn is also the emergency signal for man overboard!

Laura Guertin: “Holidays” on the Thomas Jefferson. September 17, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 17, 2014
Location of ship (at the Troydon Wreck): 41o 08′ 14.459″ N, 71o 21′ 42.987″ W

When I say we have “holidays” on the Thomas Jefferson, I’m not talking about Saint Patrick’s Day or 4th of July.  I’m referring to gaps in previously-collected data we need to fill.  Let me explain by taking you through life on the TJ on Monday, September 15.


Science and Technology Log

The day started just like any other day (we actually use the day of the year to designate days – today was Day #258):

0000 Ship anchored West Passage
0600 Start M/E
0700 Haul Anchor
0730 HSL 3101 Safety Briefing
0800 Deploy HSL 3101
1730 Recover HSL 3101
2400 Ship U/W on Survey H12651

Every day we have been out at sea, our launch has been out collecting data in the shallow-water areas of the coast.  Today, the launch was working on filling in polygons (geographic regions designated for charting) close to the shore.  The Thomas Jefferson was off on its own survey, revisiting areas the ship charted earlier this year that had gaps that needed to be filled in.

First, I should explain the technique the ship uses with side-scan sonar or multibeam echo sounding.  You are all familiar with “mowing the lawn,” where a lawn mower will go across the lawn in one line, then turn 180 degrees and travel back down next to the grass just mowed, and then this linear pattern continues across the lawn.  This is the same pattern hydrographic surveys use when collecting their data – except the lawn is the ocean, and the mower is the ship!  At times, there may be gaps along these lines.  The ship may have to navigate around a buoy or a lobster pot, or another boater may be on an intersect course with our ship.  So there were several small gaps along and between lines that we needed to go back and “mow” over.  Why go back and fill in the data?  On this particular project, we were charting every square foot along the coast.  That’s a lot of lawn to mow!

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The ship is driven by the helmsman on the bridge (Deck 03), but the hydrographic survey laboratory, or plot room, is on Deck 1. This means that communications must be frequent and clear between the two decks, so that the helmsman can accurately navigate while a survey technician starts and stops the data collection along the existing gaps in the lines.

Dr. G in plot room
Dr. G running the show!

In the photo above, you can see me at the station in the plot room where the action takes place.  Each computer screen displays a specific part of the data collection (today, we were collecting multibeam and not side scan).  The crew in the lab was able to train me enough to actually run part of the survey and work with the bridge to identify our next holidays to fill in.

The other instrument used during our survey is called a MVP – no, not a “most valuable player” but a Moving Vessel Profiler.  The MVP weighs 72 pounds and looks like a torpedo.  The weight is important, as the ship will, at set intervals, let the MVP freefall (while tethered to a line).  The MVP measures sound velocity vertically in the water column.  These data are important, as they help the survey technicians apply necessary corrections to the water depth measurements collected by the multibeam echosounder.  I must admit, it was a true test of my multitasking abilities to navigate and collect multibeam data over the holidays, while releasing the MVP and saving that data!  But I had so much fun being involved, I stayed on this work station for two four-hour shifts!

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Personal Log

One of the many incredible opportunities I’ve had while at sea is to be able to get hands-on with the varied activities of the ship – from handling the lines of the launch, to hauling the anchor, to actually sitting at the computers and running the software collecting the multibeam echosounding data. It is not just the “cool factor” of being able to communicate with the bridge and start the data collection. It is definitely “cool” being able to see the different people, their content knowledge and skill sets, and the technology involved in conducting a hydrographic survey.  And it is important to know when to ask for help, when to step back, and when to say, “I’m not ready for that yet.”  I am so eager to learn, but I have to balance jumping in to help, with making sure that my involvement doesn’t interfere with the ship’s activities and mission.  Students, I’m sure you also find it tricky to balance your enthusiasm and desire to participate in activities, versus knowing when you are trying to take on too much.  Here’s my take-home message – always ask!  If you can’t get hands-on, you will most likely be able to observe your surroundings and still learn so much.  There is one activity I’m nervous to try – today, the Commanding Officer (CDR Crocker) asked me if I was going to drive the ship (yes, the 208-foot long Thomas Jefferson!).  I wasn’t ready today, but before this cruise ends, I will drive this ship!  You just may want to stay out of the ocean until I get back to campus…


OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next question (just one for this post). Please answer this question online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #9.

  1. Why do you think it is important that the Thomas Jefferson go back and fill in the holidays? (*this answer is not directly in the text above – think about why it is a good idea to fill in the gaps, not “just because” NOAA is surveying every square foot)

Random Ship Fact!

As mentioned in previous posts, the Thomas Jefferson does not focus its activities just on collecting data on the depth of the ocean.  In fact, we continued surveying today through the evening over the Troydon Wreck.  The wreck was first picked up by a survey from another NOAA Ship, and we then moved in to measure water data above the wreck.  We had to narrow our multibeam echosounder to try to pick up as much detail in the water column – for example, would we be able to find a mast sticking up from this wreck?  Check out these images and check out what we found!

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Laura Guertin: TJ at the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, September 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 15, 2014
Location of ship (at Fort Trumbull Coast Guard pier): 41o 20.698′ N, 72o 05.432’W

There is no Science and Technology Log for this blog post, as the ship made a detour for a special event – the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival in New London, CT. This annual festival was happening for its second year, and the organizers asked NOAA if they would have a ship in the area to participate. Fortunately for them (and for NOAA), we were able to have our ship docked for the weekend activities but still send out our launch (HSL 3101) to continue with the hydrographic surveys.

The weekend had quite a schedule of events for the fan of maritime history. Connecticut TV stations Channel 3 and Channel 8 came and recorded a promo of the event (you can see a brief interview with my Commanding Officer in the Channel 3 video!). On Thursday evening, myself and others from the ship went and listened to sea shanty singing (you can listen to examples of sea shanties on the Smithsonian Folkways website). The evening concluded with a screening of a film titled Connecticut & The Sea, a look at how Connecticut’s identity has been shaped by its maritime heritage.

On Friday, there was an official welcoming ceremony for the festival with Lt. Governor Wyman, Senator Blumenthal, the mayor of New London, Mayor Finizio, and other state officials. There were many speeches, including a reading of a proclamation from last year that annually establishes the second week of September as the Connecticut Maritime History and Heritage Week.  I was pleased to hear that this annual celebration has a strong education mission written in the proclamation, focusing on using schooners as learning tools for youth. Senator Blumenthal specifically mentioned that, “more importantly than the money going in to this [festival] will be what people will learn, especially about our heritage. We are rooted in the sea.” I also learned about a maritime heritage history guide being developed for elementary grades in Connecticut, and another social studies and science guide for middle/high school students on maritime history, transportation, and maritime technology. Sounds like fun topics to teach, and so relevant to students and their geographic location.

Then, we started with ship tours! For two hours, we allowed visitors to come on board for a guided 15-minute tour of the Thomas Jefferson. Below are images of what the visitors were shown.  Images from other areas, such as the mess deck and lounge, can be viewed at my Life on the Thomas Jefferson post.

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Friday evening was the lighted boat parade, with the judges coming on board our ship to view and judge the boats that went by. (Personal commentary… UConn Avery Point – your boat should have won! Any boat with a college mascot on it is a winner in my book!)

UCONN - Avery Point R/V
The UCONN – Avery Point research vessel, filled with lights for the lighted boat festival!

On Saturday, we opened the ship for five hours, having as many as four tour groups on board at once! It was a huge effort in coordination, but as always, I am amazed by this amazing team on the Thomas Jefferson that was able to educate visitors on NOAA, its mission, and hydrographic surveying. The comments when the people came off the ship were so positive and wonderful to hear, and the smiles on the kids’ faces really summed up their experience.

We were pretty much all exhausted on Saturday evening – after all, we hosted 514 visitors on board during the festival! But there was little time to sit back and relax, as we had to be ready to set off our launch at 0800 and pull out of City Pier by 0900 the next morning.

Tour line for TJ
The line was long at times, but as many visitors told us, the tour was well worth the wait!

Personal Log

As an educator heavily involved in outreach, I was thrilled to be able to participate as a NOAA Teacher at Sea in this event. I proudly wore my TAS t-shirt and hat, and when I went over to the Education Exhibits at the festival, I was able to speak to some educators about this NOAA program and the wonderful opportunity it offers. I can’t wait to continue sharing my TAS experiences after this cruise, with my students, other K-12 teachers I work with, and the general public.

And it was fascinating for me to see everything involved in getting ready for the ship’s participation in the festival. The crew worked incredibly hard for several days, generating the posters for displays, cleaning the ship from top to bottom, and painting everything from the handrails to the decks. While at dock, we “dressed the ship” with signal flags – we looked good!