Susy Ellison, From Dragons to Data – Mapping Our World, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 18, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge

You can also go the NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing.

GPS coordinates: 55o  12.442’ N  162o 41.735’ W
Temp:  9.6C
Wind Speed:  20.3 kts
Barometer: 994.01mb
Visibility:  grey skies, foggy

Science and Technology Log

WHERE ARE WE? HOW DO WE KNOW?

As we float about all day collecting gigabytes of data to turn into charts, there’s ample time to reflect on the art and science of cartography, or map making.  To me, maps are an elegant means for transforming the 3-dimensional landscape around us into a 2-dimensional story of our world using lines and points, geometric shapes, numbers, and a variety of colors and shadings.  It’s science, technology, engineering, math, and, as always, a bit of magic! It’s quite amazing to think about the changes in mapmaking and our expectations for information from the first hand-drawn lines on small pieces of clay or in the dirt to the concatenated gigabytes of today.

Consider some of the earliest maps that have been found.  Archaeologists have unearthed clay tablets in Babylonia that date back to 600 BC.  These hand-sized clay tablets were simple line representations of local geography.  Roman maps from around 350BC were utilized to provide information to conquering armies.  Where were they heading; which villages were going to be conquered today?

This is one of the earliest known maps.  It is a clay tablet from Babylonia. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/m/map_of_the_world.aspx

This is one of the earliest known maps. It is a clay tablet from Babylonia.

2peutinger map

Romans used maps to identify villages and towns along the routes of conquering armies.
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?group=pre-1600

3paleolithic map

Here’s an early map drawn on stone.

The earliest maps were, both literally and figuratively, flat;  they were a 2 dimensional image of a world that was believed to be flat.  That changed in 240 BC when Eratosthenes, who believed the earth to be a sphere, calculated earth’s diameter by comparing the length of noontime shadows at distant sites.  No advanced computing power was used for this calculation!  Once geographers and cartographers were united in their use of a spherical representation of the earth, the next challenge was how to project that spherical surface onto a flat page.  Ptolemy, sometime around 100 AD figured this out.  He went a step further, assigning grid coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the maps to use as identifiers.  His latitude lines, rather than expressed as degrees from the equator, were categorized by the length of the longest day—not such a bad proxy for degrees north and south and certainly an obvious change as you head north or south.  Longitude, instead of referencing the Greenwich Meridian as 0o, was set at 0 at the westernmost point that he knew.  Much of his work was not used until it was rediscovered by monks poring through manuscripts in the 1300s.  One monk was able to use the coordinates in these manuscripts to create graphic representations (maps!) of Ptolemy’s concepts.  These were printed in 1477 as a map collection known as Geographia.  It is almost mind-boggling to consider the efforts that went into this volume from its initial intellectual conception, to its rediscovery, to using some of the first printing presses to make multiple copies that were used to plan and guide some of our most amazing voyages of discovery.  Ptolemy’s concepts were further refined when Gerardus Mercator  invented a cylindrical projection representing globe on a map’s flat surface.  Each refinement both changed and enhanced our view of the planet.

Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg

Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg

 THERE MAY BE DRAGONS

Sailors set forth with maps using these concepts for many years, seeking out new lands and new wealth for the countries they represented.  As they returned with new discoveries of continents, cultures, and meteorological conditions, they were able to replace some of the ‘dragons’ on maps with real information and add new layers of information on top of the positions of continents and oceans—an early sort of GIS (geographic information systems) process!  In 1686, Edmond Halley created a map that incorporated the prevailing winds atop a geographical map of the world.  A new layer of information that told a critical story.  For a sailor navigating using the wind, the story this map told was incredibly useful.   Further layers were placed on the surface geography as Johann Friedrich von Carpenter created the first geological map in 1778.  This map included information about what was under the surface, including soils and minerals.

Halley's map included information about global wind patterns.  Pretty important if you're on a sailboat navigating around the world!

Halley’s map included information about global wind patterns. Pretty important if you’re on a sailboat navigating around the world!

The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733

The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733

To me, perhaps one of the fundamental changes in how we represented the earth came in 1782, when the first topographic map was created.  Marcellin du Carla-Boniface added still more layers of information to our ‘flat’ surface, including contour lines that were like slices of the landscape whose spacing indicated the slope of the feature.  Suddenly, we were going from a 3-dimensional world, to a 2-dimensional image, and back to a system of symbols to represent that third dimension.  More data, more layers, more information on that one sheet held in your hand, and a more detailed ‘story’ of the landscape.  Each cartographical and technological advance has enabled us to put more information, with increasing accuracy, upon our maps.  Go one step further with this and click on Google Earth.  A 3-dimensional view on a 2-dimensional screen of 3-dimensional data. Go one more step as you use your smartphone to display a 2-dimensional image taken from a 3-dimensional Google Earth view, made using layers of information applied to a flat map image.  It’s a bit more sophisticated than the original flat clay tablet—but it basically ‘tells’ you how to get from here to there. While the complexity of our world has not actually increased, the stories we are telling about our planet have increased exponentially, as has our ability for combining datum from a variety of sources into one, tidy little package.

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS

THERE MAY BE DATA!

With each new technique and layer of information our ability to tell detailed stories with maps has improved.  We can add data to our maps using colors—just look at a modern colorful weather map in USA Today if you want to see an example of this.  Early cartographers used colors and shading to depict disease outbreaks or population numbers.  Here on the Rainier, we use color variations to show relative depth as we survey the ocean floor. The final charts have lines to denote depth changes, just as lines on a land-based topographic map show changes in elevation.

So, you might be asking yourself at this point, ‘How does a history of mapping relate to mapping the coastline in SW Alaska?’ Why are we currently anchored out here near Cold Bay, Alaska?  NOAA had its beginnings in 1807 when the first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast, was established.  Since then, NOAA’s mission has broadened to include the following “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.”  We are here as part of that mission, working through their National Ocean Service.   You might not realize it, but almost every imported item you buy spent some part of its life on a ship.  While Alaska’s coastline may seem a trifle remote, if you check out a map you might notice that it’s almost a straight shot from some of the ports in Asia to the west coast of the US.

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area

A Google Earth image of Cold Bay

A Google Earth image of Cold Bay

Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes.  See how many pass near SW Alaska.

Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes. See how many pass near SW Alaska.

The Alaska Maritime Ferry also passes through these coastal areas on its way to towns and villages.  While these areas are, indeed, remote, they are united by a common coastline.  The Rainier, in over 40 years of ‘pinging’ its way northward each season from Washington and Oregon, has mapped this coastline.  That, to me, is an amazing feat!

Think of where we’ve come in our ability to tell stories about our landscape and how the intersection of all those stories has played a part in creating the world in which we live.  I, for one, still delight in the most simple of maps, drawn on a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin, showing someone how to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’.  Those maps are personal, and include the layers of information that I think are important (turn left at this house, turn right at that hill, go 2 miles, etc) and that tell the story I want to tell.  We now have the ability to add endless layers to our mapping stories, concatenating ever more data to tell an amazingly precise version.  In spite of this sophistication I hope there’s still a few dragons left out there!

There still may be some dragons out there!!

There still may be some dragons out there!!

If you want to know more, here’s some of the websites I looked at while researching this information:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/#1

http://www.noaa.gov/

http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/

http://specialprojects.nos.noaa.gov/welcome.html

http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?page=introduction

 For a great cartographic mystery, check out this book:

The Island of Lost Maps;  A True Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey

Personal Log

Today’s blog blends the scientific with the personal.  Maps are both of these things; a way to categorize and document our planet in a methodical, reasoned, repeatable, and scientific manner, and a way to personalize our planet to tell a story that we want to tell.  Cool stuff to think about as we drive back and forth across our little polygon here in Cold Bay.  It puts our work into perspective and creates both a sense of its importance and its relevance to describing a piece of our planet.  Hmmmm, in my next lifetime maybe I should be a hydrographer……

Student Driver!

Student Driver!

driving 2

I might need to fine tune my driving skills before anyone really lets me be a hydrographer. Those white gaps are ‘holidays’–no data was collected. 

Rob Ulmer: Preparing to Leave Home, May 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
(Not yet aboard) NOAA Ship Rainier
At sea from June 16 to July 3, 2013
(Still home in Gainesville, Florida, N 29 42 30, W 82 22 48)

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Along the coast of Alaska, from Juneau to Kodiak
Log date: May 12, 2013

Personal Log

For as long as I can remember, I have loved maps. A good map is an invitation to explore, to let the mind wander in distant lands, among unfamiliar environs, and into new challenges, but always with the advice of the explorers who walked there earlier. Imagine being the first person to cross a dense bit of jungle or a vast glacier, to find an underground passageway of ancient caves, or to walk on the surface of some planet. Certainly, you or other people might have created speculative pictures in your head before your journey, hypotheses about what you might find. But those hypotheses must be tested, verified, investigated. The explorer bravely takes the advice of others, the creative ideas that grow from his own previous experiences and imaginings, and whatever other tools fit into his kit, and he walks forward.

That is what we humans are. Explorers.

Checking the trail map and USGS marker on Pine Mountain

Checking the trail map and USGS marker on Pine Mountain

Even young children are scientists. Starting from very little background knowledge, they do that most human of activities: They wonder. Uninhibited by the social structures of the adult world, they spend nearly all of their waking moments drawing new maps in their heads. Maps of the paths of beetles crossing the yard, maps of the grocery store aisles, maps of best hiding places on the playground or in the house… but not only geographic maps. They also “draw maps” of how to talk Mom into an extra snack, how to fill the bathtub with bubbly water, and how to put on a shirt.

Two routes from Amelia Island to Big Talbot Island

Two routes from Amelia Island to Big Talbot Island

When Euclid wrote Book 1 of his Elements, he laid down a road map of proofs so that others could confidently follow him to the Pythagorean Theorem. When Leonardo da Vinci and the Wright Brothers made drawings of their flying machines, they were mapping the paths that they had trod toward liberating humans from the clutches of Earth’s gravity. And when Grandpa wrote the recipe for his excellent gumbo, he, too, was a cartographer, taking notes about how he had done the work so that others might learn from it and, maybe, expand it into something more meaningful and delicious in their own lives.

The land and surrounding waters of Alaska have captivated humans for many ages. The majesty of the advancing and receding glaciers as they slowly carve valleys amid the mountains, the freedom of the soaring flights of eagles as they look down upon the rarely-visible orcas and belugas, the mystic palette of icy blues and whites against the vernal greens and floral splashes… People travel to, through, along, and across Alaska for commerce, for sightseeing, for escape, and for investigation, and the maps of those who have gone before them make those passages easier and more interesting, both by providing guideposts and by leaving other details to be explored by the new travelers with their own curiosities and motivations.

When I join CDR Rick Brennan (who is both the Commanding Officer and the Chief Science Officer of the ship), Executive Officer Holly Jablonski, and the rest of the crew of NOAA Ship Rainier in a few weeks, I will be learning how skilled scientists continue the grand tradition of mapmaking, using modern equipment to plumb the depths and chart the coasts from Juneau to Kodiak, updating the notes made by previous explorers so that the next travelers will have the confidence of our data before they add their own interesting pieces to their own maps. By participating actively in the expedition, I will be mapping new territory for my students and myself, too, as I gain first-hand evidence of how scientists in the field conduct the business of their science. Remember that more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered with water, and we have more than 100 miles of atmosphere above our heads, and yet we’ve barely begun to explore those regions of our own home world. That makes the work and leadership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even more important because they are pioneers at this early stage in human exploration of those parts of our planet.

Rock climbing with the family in the hills of Georgia

Rock climbing with the family in the hills of Georgia

Don’t you wonder what it might have been like to hang out with Galileo as he peered through his telescope, to sit next to Beethoven as he composed and edited a symphony, or even to watch the patient musings of Mendel as he gardened peas season after season? I do. It’s difficult to remember what it felt like to be a young explorer, unburdened by almost any preconceptions. But exploration is always available if we are willing to open our eyes and minds, and to get our hands dirty while investigating our own surroundings.

Learning by investigation on the shore of Jekyll Island

Learning by investigation on the shore of Jekyll Island

And when I return to my 8th-grade classroom in tiny land-locked Lake Butler, Florida, at Lake Butler Middle School,  I’ll be able to share my own first-hand experiences and explorations aboard Rainier. I look forward to feeling the excitement bubble from inside me to capture the curiosities of my kids, as I act out the launching of depth-finding devices, display real data from my cruise, and share stories, notes, pictures, and videos to help them see and smell and hear what I witnessed. I look forward to my students’ questions after I return as much as I am excited about my own questions now. And I know that I won’t be able to answer all of those questions, but that’s the beauty of exploration: The students’ own wonderings will lead them to continue the explorations themselves, to enhance the maps with new notes, new details, and new points of interest.

Expedition boat about to visit the corals reef off Summerland Key from Mote Marine/NOAA Lab

Expedition boat about to visit the corals reef off Summerland Key from Mote Marine/NOAA Lab

View southeastward from Mote Marine Lab in Summerland Key, Florida

View southeastward from Mote Marine Lab in Summerland Key, Florida

Teachers always are motivating their students to dig in, to investigate, to think for themselves and take chances with new and creative ideas. Of course, my students read to learn what others before them have discovered, but they learn in other and sometimes more meaningful ways by designing and building their own rockets, by lifting heavy weights with different sets of pulleys, and by constructing legitimate scale models of their home solar system. As a teacher, I have great influence over the young people in my care, and so I also must explore so that my students can trust my insistence that learning by active engagement is necessary and a real commitment for life-long learning. By leaving the comfort of my home to conduct hydrographic surveys along the coast of Alaska with the crew of Rainier, I hope to model that commitment.

Students building models at Kennedy Space Center

Students building models at Kennedy Space Center

A last note: There’s something very poetic and temporal about starting my cruise at Juneau and ending it at Kodiak. Juneau is the capital of the state of Alaska, and Kodiak was the regional capital when Alaska was Russian territory. Moreover, regardless of the political boundaries, people of different tribes and nations have lived in the region since long before either country formally existed. Maybe what I’m saying is that the maps always will be re-drawn based on what people want to see in those maps. In some ways, people are just like people always have been, and in other ways they change. So does the land, so does the sea. And so I end this first blog where I started it, by respecting the role of the mapmaker as a trailblazer, a note-taker, a guide, and an explorer.

Keep exploring, my friends. And follow my blog here to travel with me and see where my explorations go next. Thanks for reading.

Kaci Heins: Introduction, August 1, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaci Heins
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 6 — 22, 2011

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline
Date: August 1, 2011

Kaci Heins

Kaci Heins at Space Academy for Educators June 2010

HI! My name is Kaci Heins and I am really looking forward to my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise on NOAA Ship Rainier! Usually my head is up in the clouds or in space with NASA programs, but for this experience I will have to acquire my sea legs! I have only been on small boats for really short periods of time and a cruise boat at sea.  Living in the high desert of Flagstaff, Arizona, this experience will be a great way to make the 6th grade ocean and atmosphere curriculum meaningful to the students.  Not only will this experience tie into my science curriculum, but the mapping will also connect to my social studies content.

My cruise will focus on hydrographic surveying of the ocean floor.  I am really excited to see the scientists at work and how the technology helps in creating these 3-D maps.

The best thing about these amazing teacher opportunities is that I am able to bring back the experience to the classroom to enhance the curriculum.  I am able to bring in great resources, network with scientists, and expose students to new STEM (Science, technology, engineering, & math) careers.  These experiences provide so much more than what a textbook or worksheet can.  It is real world and hands-on.  This translates into students retaining the information longer and them having their own positive experiences that can lead to possible careers down the road.  Below, is just one of those experiences I can’t wait to share with my students who were the master minds behind our zero-g experiment.