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

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Tourtellot

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 9-26, 2018

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey – Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 49.4115’N

Longitude: 93° 37.4893’W

Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles

Sky Condition: 4/8

Wind: Direction: 240°, Speed: 7 knots

Temperature:

Seawater: 31.7°C

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

 

Science and Technology Log

 

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

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

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

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

Sonar 1 Singaround

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

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

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

Sonar 2

The hull of one of the Hydrographic Survey Launches.

 

Personal Log

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

Plan of the Day

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

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

Mike Below Deck

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

Oil Rig and Boat

An oil rig and a supply vessel

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

Fixing the AC

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

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

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

 

Victoria Obenchain: Launching Boats, July 9, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25 – July 6, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 9, 2018

Science and Technology Log

My last few days at sea were rather exciting.  Wednesday, I got to attend some medical training necessary at sea in the morning, and then in the afternoon we practiced safety drills. The whole crew ran through what to do in the case of three different ship emergencies: Fire, Abandon Ship and Man Overboard.  These drills were pretty life-like, they had a fog machine which they use to simulate smoke for the fire drill. Once the alarm was triggered people gather in their assigned areas; roll was taken, firemen and women suited up and headed to the location where smoke was detected, and from there teams are sent out to assess damage or spreading of the fire, while medical personnel stood prepared for any assistance needed. The abandon ship drill required all men and women on board to acquire their life preserver and full immersion suit, and head to their lifeboat loading locations. Roll is then taken and an appointed recorder jots down the last location of the ship. Once this is done, men and women would have deployed the life rafts and boarded (luckily we did not have to). And for the man overboard drill they threw their beloved mannequin Oscar overboard in a life vest and had everyone aboard practice getting in their look out positions. Once Oscar was spotted, they turned the ship around, deployed an emergency boat and had a rescue swimmer retrieve him.

Fast Rescue Boat

Deployed emergency boat for rescue of the beloved mannequin, Oscar.

These drills are necessary so that everyone on board knows what to do in these situations. While no one hopes these emergencies will happen, knowing what to do is incredibly important for everyone’s safety.

Thursday was maybe my favorite day on board. Due to the fact that there are a handful of new personnel on board, practice launching and recovering the survey launch boats was necessary. There are 4 launch boats on top of NOAA Ship Fairweather, each equipped with their own sonar equipment. These boats sit in cradles and can be lowered and raised from the sea using davits (recall the video from the “Safety First blog a few days ago). These four boats can be deployed in an area to allow for faster mapping of a region and to allow for shallower areas to be mapped, which the NOAA Ship Fairweather may not be able to access.  Since this is a big operation, and one which is done frequently, practice is needed so everyone can do this safely and efficiently.

 

With the aid of Ali Johnson as my line coach, I got to help launch and recover two of the survey launch boats from the davits on the top of the ship into the Bering Sea. This is an important job for all personnel to learn, as it is a key part of most survey missions. Learning line handling helps to make sure the survey launches are securely held close to the ship to prevent damage and to safely allow people on and off the launch boats as they are placed in the sea.  From learning how to handle the bow and aft lines, to releasing and attaching the davit hooks, and throwing lines from the launches to the ship (which I do poorly with my left hand), all is done in a specific manner. While the practice was done for the new staff on board, it was fun to be involved for the day and I got to see the beauty of the NOAA Ship Fairweather from the Bering Sea.

And I truly enjoyed being on the small launch boats. I then understood what many of the officers mentioned when they told me they enjoyed the small boat work. It’s just fun!

 

My trip ended in Nome, Alaska, which was in and of itself an experience. Students, you will see pictures later.  I am extremely thankful for the crew on board NOAA Ship Fairweather, they are a wonderful mix of passionate, fun professionals. I learned so much!

Personal Log

Being a Teacher at Sea is a strange, yet wonderful experience. Being a teacher, I normally spend the vast majority of my day at work being in charge of my classroom and beautiful students; leading lesson and activities, checking-in with those who need extra help and setting up/tearing down labs all day, as well as hopefully getting some papers graded. However during this experience, I was the student, learning from others about their expertise, experience and passions, as well as their challenges; being in charge of nothing.  And given that I had no prior knowledge of hydrography, other than its definition, I was increasingly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm those on board had for this type of work.  It drove my interest and desire to learn all I could from the crew. In fact, I often thought those on board were older than they were, as they are wiser beyond their years in many area of science, technology, maritime studies, NOAA Ship Fairweather specifics and Alaskan wildlife.

Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather

NOAA offers teachers the opportunities to take part in different research done by their ships throughout the research season as a Teacher at Sea. The 3 main types of cruises offered to teachers include (taken from the NOAA Teacher at Sea website):

  • Fisheries research cruises perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats.
  • Oceanographic research cruises perform physical science studies to increase our understanding of the world’s oceans and climate.
  • Hydrographic survey cruises scan the coastal sea floor to locate submerged obstructions and navigational hazards for the creation and update of the nation’s nautical charts.

I was excited to be placed on a Hydrographic Survey boat, as this is an area in my curriculum I can develop with my students, and one which I think they are going to enjoy learning about!

While I was sad to leave, and half way through had a “I wish I would have known about this type of work when I was first looking at jobs” moment (which I realize was not the goal of this fellowship or of my schools for sending me), I am super excited to both teach my students about this important work and also be a representative of this awesome opportunity for teachers. I will wear my NOAA Teacher at Sea swag with pride!

Teacher at Sea gear!

Me in my awesome Teacher at Sea gear!

 

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: 6/20/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology Log

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

Launch going out to survey

Launch going out to survey

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

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

Sonar Computer Systems

Sonar Computer Systems

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

Preparing the CTD

Preparing the CTD

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

Multi-beam Sonar Work Station

Multi-beam Sonar Work Station

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

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

Personal Log

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

Seals on an Ice Berg

Seals on an Iceberg

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfall in William’s Cove

Growing Muscle like Growing Character

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

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

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

 

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

Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey final leg

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

Date: September 1, 2017

Weather from the Bridge:  extremely variable today!!

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

 

Science and Technology Log

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

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

Ambar at breezeway

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

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

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

Boat on fantail

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

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

Crane on Fairweather

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

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

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

Single beam on Ambar

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Ambar driving lines

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

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

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


Personal Log

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

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

Little and Big Diomede 2

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

 

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

ornaments from Brev Mis

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

 

 

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

Brev Mis Fam on ATV

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

 


Did You Know?

Cross commemorating Brev Mis 1918 flu victims

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

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

Mass grave Brev Mis 1918 flu victims

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

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

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Lisa Battig: Nome, Alaska & Launch 2808, August 30, 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: Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Location: Port Clarence: 65o14.034N 166o43.072W

Weather on the bridge:
30+ knot winds, 42o F, 4ft seas, heavy stratocumulus clouds (9/10 coverage)

Science & Technology Log

Over the past two days I have been introduced to tremendous amounts of the science of hydrography. In this blog post I will focus on the hardware used and the process of surveying. There are two types of sonar that are being employed. The first is side scan sonar and the second is multibeam sonar.

Side Scan

Side scan array sonar housed underneath one of the small launch vessels

 

Side scan is shorter range and performs better in shallower water. Side scan is used in conjunction with multibeam, however, as side scan does not give true depth values. The function of side scan is to show features evident on the ocean floor. For this reason, multibeam is run in conjunction with side scan in order to keep an accurate record of depths.

Multibeam

Multibeam sonar housed underneath another of the small launch vessels

Multibeam shows an exact depth. Due to the fact that it is an angular spreading band from the center of the underside of the launch, at shallow depths it will only show a very narrow strip of ocean floor.


Stop and imagine…a lit flashlight shining on a wall from only a few centimeters away. What happens to the image on the wall as you pull the flashlight back? The area of coverage of the image will become larger. The concept is similar for the multibeam in shallow versus deeper water.


Using multibeam in shallow water then would create a need for more passes closer together in order to cover an area. There are instances where using this technology even in shallow water would make sense, but for a full coverage survey, this would not be the case.

CTD Image 2

A CTD; it contains sensors for conductivity, temperature and density of the water column

The third piece of hardware used for the standard small boat launch hydrographic surveys is the CTD device. The CTD will measure conductivity of the water and also give both a temperature and density profile. The CTD is deployed multiple times during a survey as a tool to calibrate the data that is coming in via the sonar. Conductivity of the water gives an estimate of the total dissolved solids in the water. This information, along with the temperature and density will give an estimate of sound speed through the water column.


Stop and try this one for better understanding… knock on a door normally with your head roughly arm’s distance from the point where you are knocking. Now repeat the process of knocking, but with your ear pressed against the door approximately an arm’s length away from the knock. What is different? You should have noticed that a more precise (and typically louder) sound reached your ear. If you pay close attention, you will also notice that the sound reaches your ear more quickly. This is roughly analogous to how changes in the water column will affect sound speed.


The final piece of equipment used regularly for surveys is a HorCon (horizontal control) station. This is a land-based station that will help to define accurate position in the water. It allows for greater precision with global positioning data. The signals of satellites responsible for global position are affected daily by changing atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the precise positions of the satellites themselves are actually not well known in advance. This may result in a GPS location moving a few centimeters in one direction or another. While this is not going to heavily impact your ability to find a Starbucks in a strip mall, it can have a definite impact on the accuracy of charts for navigation. The HorCon station always remains in the same place on land, and can therefore be used to calibrate the measurements being read in the survey waters nearby and that information can be used along with corrected satellite positions since it is coming after the fact.

Port Clarence chart

A nautical chart of the Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor area where we were surveying

Today we worked in Port Clarence, Alaska, both outside and inside of Grantley Harbor. Most of the depths being surveyed are in the 4-6 meter range. The particular area being surveyed had been previously surveyed in the 1950s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likely using a single beam sonar system. The current survey is intended to note changes that have occurred since that prior survey and to accurately update all of the charts. The area of western Alaska is expected to increase in boat traffic over the coming years due to the opening of the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic. This route is significantly shorter for most shipping traffic than the route through the Panama Canal. Because of this expected increase in traffic, there is a need to identify areas for sheltering during heavy seas. Port Clarence is a natural inlet that offers some protection and holds potential for this purpose.

The process of surveying:
Two launches were deployed. I was on launch 2808, the second described here. The first was equipped with only multibeam sonar and the second had both multibeam and side scan. The plans for the two launches were different. The launch with only multibeam was working in an area of Grantley Harbor and covering an area that had previously been mapped to insure that the values were acceptably accurate. This focus existed primarily because of extra time available up in this area. The launch running the side scan was completing some unfinished work in Port Clarence and then did further work inside of Grantley Harbor. These areas, or “sheets” are described below. As a side note, small boat deployment is a fascinating and involved activity that I will discuss in a later blog.

Survey areas are broken up into sections known as “sheets” – each sheet has a manager. This person will be from either the NOAA Corps or a civilian member of the scientific survey team. The sheet manager will be responsible for setting up the plan for survey and doing all of the final checks after data has been gathered, cleaned and examined to determine if there are areas that should be rechecked or run again before it is completed and undergoes final processing.

A sheet manager will need to consider several questions prior to setting up the initial parameters for the survey. What is the depth being surveyed? What type of bottom is it? What type of coverage is needed? All of these factors will come into play when determining how the lines will be run – how long, how far apart, which sonar type, etc.
Once the plan is determined, it will be the job of the Operations Officer, LT Damian Manda, to parse out the duties and create a daily work plan to cover all of the areas. Each day, multiple launches will be sent out to gather data as described above. As the fieldwork finishes for the day, data will be transferred to a drive and then brought into the ship’s mapping room where night processers will begin the lengthy work of checking and cleaning the data so that it can all be ready for the final processing step prior to being sent to the client.

HMarshburn at computer

Senior surveyor Hannah Marshburn at the computer terminal in launch 2808

How good are those data?
There are several checks built into the data collection process. First, the survey team members on the launches are watching in real time. With three screens to work from, they are able to see what the sonars are seeing and can also set certain limits for the data that will alarm when something appears to be contrary to what’s expected. Night processors look for anomalies in the data like sudden inexplicable drops in depth in an otherwise flat surface or an extremely “noisy” area with little good data. Any area with a former survey will also be compared to the previous values with large differences signaling possible issues. Many trained eyes look at the data before it is accepted for charting and there will commonly be at least one return to an area to check and recheck prior to completion. One area in the current survey has continued to show odd results, so trained NOAA divers will dive the area to find out what is really going on.

Personal Log

So far this has been an amazing experience. I fully enjoy being among the crew of the Fairweather and living on the ship. It’s hard to say what my favorite part has been so far because I have honestly enjoyed all of it! Since we didn’t get underway until Monday, I had the opportunity on Sunday to roam around Nome with a couple of the other folks that are just here for two weeks, LT Joe Phillips and LCDR Ryan Toliver. I learned a lot more about both the NOAA Corps and the Public Health Service of which they are respectively a part. (These are two of the seven uniformed services – can you name the other five?) NOAA Corps officers are in command on all of the active NOAA commissioned ships and aircraft and you will learn a lot more about them in future posts. The PHS is an organization made up primarily of medical professionals. These folks serve in various medical and medical research positions around the nation. There are many who will work for the National Institutes of Health in research, or the Bureau of Prisons or commissioned vessels like Fairweather as practitioners. Unlike NOAA Corps, PHS is not on a billet cycle where every two to three years you will be moved to a new position in a different office or location. Similar to all of the other uniformed services, though, promotion through the ranks is both encouraged and desired.

Traditional Boat - Nome

As we walked all around Nome, this was one of the sights – the frame of a traditional fishing boat.

We also saw the marker for the end of the Iditarod race. I was able to see the historic beginning in Seward, Alaska back in 2010, so seeing the end in Nome was an unexpected treat. Nome also has Cold War-era missile early warning system arrays at the top of a mountain nearby. We had a chance to hike around them and see some of the interesting geologic features of the area. There’s so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll stop here and save shipboard life for my next post.

Did You Know…

… that the Iditarod has its historic beginnings with the Public Health Service? There were many children in interior and western Alaska dying of diphtheria in the early 1920s. When it reached epidemic proportions, the only doctor in Nome reached out to the PHS in the lower 48 to ask for help. Vials of serum were found and sent north to Seward, but then because of heavy ice and storming, dog sled teams were used to get the vials to the interior towns and to Nome. The original race along the Iditarod Trail was run as a memorial to the “Serum Run” and eventually evolved into the highly competitive race it is today.

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date:  July 4, 2016

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


Science and Technology Log

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

 

eagle

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

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

 

enhancedtoby

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

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

 

discuss

Toby Sullivan and XO (executive officer) Jay Lomincky

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

toby

Toby Sullivan shares information about how he sets his fishing gear

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


All Aboard!

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

DSCN0300

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

Tell us a little about yourself:

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

How did you discover NOAA?:  

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

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

 

DSCN0393 (2)

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

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

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

What do you love about your work with NOAA?:

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


Personal Log

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

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Teacher at Sea Kurth on the middle deck of the ship