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.

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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 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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?

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(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.)