Linda Kurtz: Hydrographic Surveys – Not your Mama’s Maps! August 17, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/17/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 17th 2019

Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 53.055’ N 124◦ 47.003’W
Windspeed: 13 knots
Geographic Area: @10-15 miles off of the Oregon/California coast
Cruise Speed:  12 knots
Sea Temperature 20◦Celsius
Air Temperature 68◦Fahrenheit

Future hydrographer button
Is this you?

Navigation is how Fairweather knows its position and how the crew plans and follows a safe route.  (Remember navigation from the last post?)  But what “drives” where the ship goes is Hydrographic survey mission.  There is a stunning amount of sea floor that remains unmapped, as well as seafloor that has not been mapped following a major geological event like an earthquake of underwater volcano.

Why is Hydrography important?  As we talked about in the previous post, the data is used for nautical safety, creating detailed maps of the ocean floor,  setting aside areas are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines — especially subduction zones which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.

In addition to generating the data needed to update nautical charts, hydrographic surveys support a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging), coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone management, and offshore resource development. Detailed depth information and seafloor characterization is also useful in determining fisheries habitat and understanding marine geologic processes.

The history of hydrographic surveys dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a survey of our young nation’s coast.   This began the practice and accompanying sciences of the coastal surveys.  The practice of surveys birthed the science of Hydrography (which we are actively conducting now) and the accompanying science of Bathymetry (which we will go into on the next post.)  This practice continues of providing nautical charts to the maritime community to ensure safe passage into American ports and safe marine travels along the 95,000 miles of U.S. Coastline. 

Want to learn more about Hydrographic Survey history?  Click on THIS LINK for the full history by the NOAA.

Scientists have tools or equipment that they use to successfully carry out their research.  Let’s take a look at a few of the tools hydrographic survey techs use:

Want to learn more about the science of SONAR? Watch the video below.

ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ijaPa-9MDs

On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.

Multibeam sonar illustration
Multibeam sonar illustration

The transducer on Fairweather is an EM 710- multibeam echo sounder which you can learn more about HERE

The Transducer is located on the bottom of the ship and sends out 256 sonar beams at a time to the bottom of the ocean.  The frequency of the 256 beams is determined by the depth from roughly 50 pings per second to 1 ping every 10 seconds.  The active elements of the EM 710 transducers are based upon composite ceramics, a design which has several advantages, which include increased bandwidth and more precise measurements. The transducers are fully watertight units which should give many years of trouble-free operation.  This comes in handy since the device in on the bottom of Fairweather’s hull!

Here is the transducer on one of the launches:

transducer
View of transducer on a survey launch

The 256 sonar beams are sent out by the transducer simultaneously to the ocean floor, and the rate of return is how the depth of the ocean floor is determined.  The rate of pulses and width of the “swath” or sonar beam array is affected by the depth of the water.  The deeper the water, the larger the “swath” or array of sonar beams because they travel a greater distance.  The shallower the water, the “swath” or array of sonar beams becomes narrower due to lesser distance traveled by the sonar beams.

The minimum depth that this transducer can map the sea floor is less than 3 meters and the maximum depth is approximately 2000 meters (which is somewhat dependent upon array size).  Across track coverage (swath width) is up to 5.5 times water depth, to a maximum of more than 2000 meters. This echo sounder is capable of reaching deeper depths because of the lower frequency array of beams. 

The transmission beams from the EM 710 multibeam echo sonar are electronically stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw, while they receive beams are stabilized for movements. (The movement of the ship) What is roll, pitch, and yaw? See below – these are ways the Fairweather is constantly moving!

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw
Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Since the sonar is sent through water, the variable of the water that the sonar beams are sent through must be taken into account in the data. 

Some of the variables of salt water include: conductivity (or salinity) temperature, depth, and density.

Hydrographic scientists must use tools to measure these factors in sea water, other tools are built into the hydrographic survey computer programs. 

One of the tools used by the hydrographic techs is the XBT or Expendable Bathy Thermograph that takes a measurement of temperature and depth.  The salinity of the area being tested is retrieved from the World Ocean Atlas which is data base of world oceanographic data. All of this data is transmitted back to a laptop for the hydrographers.  The XBT is an external device that is launched off of the ship to take immediate readings of the water. 

Launching the XBT:  There is a launcher which has electrodes on it, then you plug the XBT probe to the launcher and then XBT is launched into the ocean off of the back of the ship.  The electrodes transmit data through the probe via the 750-meter copper wire.  The information then passes through the copper wire, through the electrodes, along the black wire, straight to the computer where the data is collected.  This data is then loaded onto a USB then taken and loaded into the Hydrographic data processing software.  Then the data collected by the XBT is used to generate the sound speed profile, which is sent to the sonar to correct for the sound speed changes through the water column that the sonar pulses are sent through.  The water column is all of the water between the surface and seafloor. Hydrographers must understand how the sound moves through the water columns which may have different densities that will bend the sound waves.  By taking the casts, you are getting a cross section “view” of the water column on how sound waves will behave at different densities, the REFRACTION (or bending of the sound waves) effects the data.

See how the XBT is launched and data is collected below!

Videos coming soon!

The other tool is the MVP or moving vessel profiler which takes measurements of conductivity, temperature, and depth.  These are all calculated to determine the density of the water.  This is a constant fixture on the aft deck (the back of the ship) and is towed behind the Fairweather and constantly transmits data to determine the speed of sound through water.  (Since sonar waves are sound waves.)

MVP and launching wench
MVP (left) and the launching wench (right)

The sonar software uses this data to adjust the calculation of the depth, correcting for the speed of sound through water due to the changes in the density of the ocean.  The final product?  A detailed 3d model of the seafloor!

current survey area
Our current survey area! (Thanks Charles for the image!)

All of this data is run through the survey software.  See screen shots below of all the screens the hydrographers utilize in the course of their work with explanations.  (Thanks Sam!)  It’s a lot of information to take in, but hydrographic survey techs get it done 24 hours a day while we are at sea.  Amazing!  See below:

ACQ software screenshot
Hydrographic Survey “Mission Control”
HYPACK Acquisition Software
HYPACK Acquisition Software
Real time coverage map
Real time coverage map

Did You Know?  An interesting fact about sonar:  When the depth is deeper, a lower frequency of sonar is utilized.  In shallower depths, a higher sonar frequency. (Up to 900 meters, then this rule changes.)

Question of the Day:  Interested in becoming a hydrographic survey tech?  See the job description HERE.

Challenge yourself — see if you can learn and apply the new terms and phrases below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!

New Terms/Phrases:

Multibeam sonar

Sound speed

Conductivity

Salinity

Sonar

Sound waves

Refraction

Water column

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Animals seen today:

Humpback Whale

Bathymetry and USGS friends coming soon!

Plot room
Hydro-technician Sam Candio (right) collaborating with USGS Research Geologist James Conrad and Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell.

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: July 11, 2019

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

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


What is NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program?

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

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

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


Science and Technology Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Personal Log

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

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

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


Did You Know?

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


Quote of the Day

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

Jill Bartolotta: Sounds of the Deep, June 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 5, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°01.5’ N

Longitude: 079°16.0’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 128

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 27.7°C

Barometric Pressure: 1021.3

Sky: few

Science and Technology Log

What is sonar?

Sonar is the use of sound to describe the marine environment. Sonar can be compared to satellites that use light to provide information about Earth, but instead of light, sound is used. It is used to develop nautical charts, detect hazards under the water, find shipwrecks, learn about characteristics of the water column such as biomass, and map the ocean floor. There are two types of sonar, active and passive. Active sonar is sonar that sends out its own sound wave. The sonar sends a sound wave (ping) out into the water and then waits for the sound to return. The return sound signal is called an echo. By assessing the time, angle, and strength of the return sound wave or echo one can learn many details about the marine environment. Passive sonar does not actively send out a sound ping, but rather listens for the sound from other objects or organisms in the water. These objects may be other vessels and these organisms may be whales or marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Sound waves move through the water at different speeds. These speeds are known as frequencies and the unit of measurement for sound is a hertz (Hz). Lower frequencies (example 18 kHz) are able to go farther down because they move slower and have more power behind them. It is like when a car goes down your street, pumping the bass (always seems to happen when I am trying to sleep) and you can hear it for a long time. That is because it is a low frequency and has longer wave lengths. Higher frequencies (example 200 kHz) move faster, but have less power. The sound waves should reach the bottom, an object, or biomass in the water column, but there may be no return or echo. High frequency sound waves are closer together. High frequencies give you a good image of what is happening near the surface of the water column and low frequencies give you a good idea of what is happening near, on, or under the ocean floor.

Type of Sonar on Okeanos Explorer

There are many types of sonar and other equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer for use during mapping operations. All have different capabilities and purposes. Together they provide a complete sound image of what is happening below us.

Kongsberg EM302 Multibeam Sonar

Multibeam sonar sends sound out into the water in a fan pattern below the hull (bottom) of the ship. It is able to map broad areas of the water column and seafloor from depths of 10 meters to 7,000 meters. Only the deepest trenches are out of its reach. It is the most appropriate sonar system to map seafloor features such as canyons and seamounts. The fan like beam it emits is 3-5.5x the water depth with a max swath range of 8 km. However, when you get to its depths below 5,000 meters the quality of the sound return is poor so scientists keep the swath range narrower to provide a higher quality of data return. The widest swath area scientists can use while maintaining quality is a depth of 3,300-5,000 meters. The user interface uses a color gradient to show you seafloor features (red=shallow and purple=deep).

Swath ranges for the multibeam sona
Swath ranges for the multibeam sonar at various depths. The y-axis shows the water depth in meters and the x-axis shows the swath width in meters. Photo credit: SST Charlie Wilkins, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Multibeam Sonar information
Some of the information that is collected using the multibeam sonar with labels describing their purpose. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Backscatter

Backscatter uses the same pings from the multibeam. People use backscatter to model or predict physical or biological properties and composition of the sea floor. The coloring typically is in grayscale. A stronger echo looks brighter in the image. A weaker echo looks darker in the image. It gives you a birds-eye view of seafloor characteristics such as substrate density and seafloor features.

Backscatter and Bathymetry
Top image is backscatter showing you a birds-eye view of the ocean floor. The bottom image shows you what it looks like when backscatter is overlaid over the bathymetry layer. You are able to see intensity of the sound return, but floor features are more noticeable. Photo credit: NOAA OER

XBT

An Expendable Bathy-Thermograph (XBT) provides you with information on the temperature gradients within the water. When the temperature profile is applied to a salinity profile (taken from World Ocean Atlas) you are able to determine sound velocity or the rate at which the sound waves can travel through the water. When sound moves through water it does not move in a straight line. Its path is affected by density which is determined by water type (freshwater or saltwater) and temperature. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater and cold water is denser than warm water. The XBT information accounts for sound refraction (bending) through various water densities. When near shore XBTs are launched more frequently because the freshwater inputs from land alter density of the water and temperatures in the water column are more varied. XBTs are launched less frequently when farther from shore since freshwater inputs are reduced or nonexistent and the water column temperature is more stable. However, ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (affecting us on this cruise) can affect density as well. The Gulf Stream brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and along the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, one must also take into account which ocean currents are present in the region when determining the launch schedule of XBTs.

Loading the XBT Launcher
Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins and Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe, loading the XBT launcher. XBTs are launched off the stern of the ship.
XBT Capture
Sound speed or velocity is determined by the density of the water, which is determined by temperature and salinity. Focus on the blue line in each graph. The first graph takes the information from the temperature and salinity graphs to determine sound speed. If we look at the first graph, we see that sound speed slows with depth. Sound speed slows because according to the second graph the temperature is colder making the water denser, thus affecting sound speed. Salinity does not vary much according to the third graph so its effect on density is most likely limited. Photo credit: NOAA OER

Simrad EK60 and EK80 Split-beam Sonar

Split-beam sonar sends out sound in single beam of sound (not a fan like the multibeam). Each transducer sends out its own frequency (example 18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 KHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz). Some frequencies are run at the same time during mapping operations. Mapping operations typically do not use the 38 kHz frequency since it interferes with the multibeam sonar. Data collected with the use of the EK60 or EK80 provides information about the water column such as gaseous seeps, schools of fish, and other types of dense organism communities such as zooplankton. If you remember my “did you know” from the second blog, I discussed how sonar can be used to show the vertical diurnal migration of organisms. Well the EK60 or EK80 is the equipment that allows us to see these biological water column communities and their movements.

Water column information
Water column information collected with the EK60 or EK80 split beam sonar. If you look at the first row you can see, in the image to the left, the blue dots are at the top and in the second image the blue dots are moving back down into the water column as the sun rises. The process of organisms’ movement in the water column at night to feed is known as vertical diurnal migration. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Knudsen 3260 Sub-bottom Profiler

The purpose of using a sub-bottom profiler is to learn more about the layers (up to 80 meters) below the ocean floor. It works in conjunction with the sonar mapping the ocean floor to provide more information about the bottom substrate, such as sediment type and topography features. Sub-bottom data is used by geologists to better understand the top layers of the ocean floor. A very low frequency is used (3.5 kHz) because it needs to penetrate the ocean sediment. It will give you a cross section of the sea floor so floor features can be detected.

Cross section of the ocean seafloor
Cross section of the ocean seafloor shows you substrate characteristics. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Telepresence

Telepresence aboard the ship allows the science team to get mapping products and raw data to land on a daily basis. The science team can also live feed data collection to shore in real time. By allowing a land based shore team to see the data in real time you are adding another system of checks and balances. It is one more set of eyes to make sure the data being collected looks correct and there are no issues. It also allows a more collaborative approach to mapping, since you are able to involve a worldwide audience in the mission. Public viewers can tune in as well.  Support for the technology needed to allow telepresence capabilities comes in partnership with the Global Foundation of Ocean Exploration (GFOE). With GFOE’s help, the protocols, high-speed satellite networks, Internet services, web and social media interfaces, and many other tools are accessible when out to sea. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER) provides the experts needed to develop, maintain, and operate the telepresence systems while at sea, but also at shore through the Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) and the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.

Live interaction
Live interaction with Okeanos Explorer, Inner Space Center at URI/GSO, and a group of high school students. Photo credit: NOAA OER

All in all, the equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer is impressive in its abilities to provide the science team with a high quality and accurate depiction of the ocean floor and water column. The science team aboard is able to interpret the data, clean out unwanted data points, store massive data files on computers, and send it back to land daily, all while rocking away at sea. Very impressive and very cool!

Personal Log

I learned all about memes today. Apparently they are very popular on the ship. So popular, we are even in the middle of a meme contest. For those of you unfamiliar to memes like I was, a meme is a funny picture with a clever caption that makes you laugh or relates to something in your life. After my tutorial in meme making, we had a great time out on the bow of the ship playing corn hole and hanging out. The night was beautiful. The humidity subsided and there was a great breeze. After the sun set, I watched the stars come out and then went inside to learn more about the mapping process. I am starting to get a better understanding of what the science team is doing. You know the how and the why of it all. After I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I made my nightly venture out onto the bow to look from some bioluminescence, the glittering of zooplankton in the night. A magical site. I will leave you wondering how the ocean glitters until one of my future blogs when I describe the process of bioluminescence.

Corn hole
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn (left) and General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron (right) playing corn hole on the bow at sunset.

Did You Know?

The SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) channel occurs in the world’s oceans between depths of 800 to 1000 meters in the water column. Because of the density and pressure around this channel, sound waves travel for an extended distance. It is thought that fin whales travel to this channel to communicate with other fin whales many kilometers away.

Lona Hall: Launchin’ and Lunchin’ Near Kodiak Island, June 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019


Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 6, 2019

Time:  2000 hours

Location: Underway to Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°39.2266’ N
Longitude: 152°07.5163’ W
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Direction: NW (300 degrees)
Air Temperature: 11.37° Celsius
Water Temperature: 8.3° Celsius


Science and Technology Log

Lona on launch RA-5
Yours truly, happy on RA-5

Today I went out on a launch for the first time.  The plan was to survey an area offshore and then move nearshore at low tide, with the water at its lowest level on the beach of Kodiak Island.  Survey Techs, Carl Stedman and Christina Brooks, showed me the software applications used to communicate with the coxswain and collect data. To choose the best frequency for our multibeam pulse, we needed to know the approximate depth of the area being surveyed.  If the water is deeper, you must use lower frequency sound waves, since higher frequency waves tend to attenuate, or weaken, as they travel. We chose a frequency of 300 kilohertz for a 60 meter depth. Periodically, the survey techs must cast a probe into the water.  The Sea-bird SeaCAT CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) measures the characteristics of the water, creating a sound velocity profile. This profile can tell us how quickly we should expect sound waves to travel through the water based upon the water’s temperature, salinity, and pressure.

Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Carl Stedman deploying the probe
Carl Stedman deploying the probe

Using the sound velocity profile allows the computer’s Seafloor Information System (SIS) to correct for changes in water density as data is being collected.  Once the profile was transmitted to SIS, we were ready to begin logging data.

Imagine that you are mowing your lawn.  To maximize efficiency you most likely will choose to mow back and forth in relatively straight paths, overlapping each new row with the previous row.  This is similar to how the offshore survey is carried out. As the boat travels at a speed of about 7 knots, the Kongsberg EM2040 multibeam sonar transducer sends out and receives pulses, which together create a swath.  The more shallow the water, the wider the base of the swath.

Close up of chart
Close up of chart, showing depth gradient by color

After lunch we changed to a nearshore area closer to Kodiak Island between Sequel Point and Cape Greville. It was important to wait for low tide before approaching the shore to avoid being stuck inshore as the tide is going out.  Even so, our coxswain was very careful to follow the edges of the last swaths logged. Since the swath area extends beyond the port and starboard sides of the boat, we could collect data from previously uncharted areas without driving directly above them.  In this way we found many rocks, invisible to the naked eye, that could have seriously damaged an unlucky fisherman!


Career Focus – Able Seaman

Our coxswain driving the boat today was Allan Quintana.  

Allan, aka "Q", driving the boat
Allan, aka “Q”, driving the boat

As an Able Seaman, Allan is part of the Deck Department, which functions primarily to keep track of the ship, manage the lines and anchoring, and deploy and drive the launches.  Allan started out working for the Navy and later transitioned to NOAA. A Miami native, he told me how he loves working at sea, in spite of the long stretches of time away from his friends and family back home.


Personal Log

If you have never been on a boat before, it is a unique experience. Attempts have been made by poets, explorers, scientists, naturalists, and others throughout history to capture the feeling of being at sea.  Although I’ve read many of their descriptions and tried to imagine myself in their shoes, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.

Standing on the bow of the anchored ship, looking out at the water, my body leaning to and fro, rising and falling, I am a sentient fishing bobber, continuously rocking but not really going anywhere.  My head feels somehow both heavy and light, and if I stand there long enough, I just might fall asleep under the spell of kinetic hypnosis. The motion of the launch is different. A smaller boat with far less mass is bullied by the swells. For a new crew member like me, it’s easy to be caught off guard and knocked over, unless you have a good grip. I stand alert, feet apart, one hand clasping a rail, as the more experienced crew move about, casually completing various tasks. I wonder how long it would take to become accustomed to the boat’s rising and falling.  Would my body gradually learn to anticipate the back and forth rocking? Would I eventually not feel any movement at all?

View over the bow
A ship with a view


Word of the Day

draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull of a boat, a.k.a. the draught

The draft of NOAA Ship Rainier is 17 feet.

Meredith Salmon: Deciphering the Data! July 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

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

Date: July 30, 2018

Latitude: 35.27°N

Longitude: 73.24.°W

Air Temperature: 27.5°C

Wind Speed:  18.17 knots

Conditions: Partly Sunny  

Depth: 3742.65 meters

Qimera is a hydrographic processing software that was used during this expedition. This computer program allows scientists to edit and process the survey line data as it was being collected. 

Qimera Survey Area
The survey area 200 nautical miles off the coast of Bermuda projected in Qimera. Warmer colors indicate depths close to 4,000 meters while the cooler colors represent deeper regions up to 5,500 meters.

To successfully edit incoming multibeam data, it was necessary to isolate a specific section of the line and use Qimera’s 3D Editing Tool. The 3D Editing Tool was utilized to remove outliers that skew the data.

Essentially, each colorful point in the diagram below is a sounding from the multibeam sonar. The soundings are return signals that bounce back and reach the receivers on the sonar. When scientists are previewing and editing data, certain points are considered outliers and are rejected. The rejected points are shown as red diamonds in the diagram below. Once the edits are made, they are saved, and the surface is updated.  

3D editor qimera
Examples of a data set being processed by the 3D Editing Tool in Qimera. The red dots are rejected points that will not be included when the data is completely processed.

It is especially important to ensure that we are collecting as much data as possible as we continue to survey this area. In order to accomplish this, factors such as required resolution, sea state, water depth and bottom type are used to determine line plans.  By partially overlapping lines, we ensure there is quality data coverage on the outside beams. More overlap tends to mean denser, high quality coverage which will allow our team to develop accurate maps of the seafloor.

Qimera Survey Area
Side view of a section of the survey area projected in Qimera. The warmer colors indicate depths around 4,000 meters while the cool colors indicate depths closer to 5,500 meters.

Another program that was used to process data was known as Fledermaus. This interactive 4D geospatial processing and analysis tool is used to reproject Qimera projects as well as export the Daily Product that was completed and sent onshore where it is publicly available. We also projected the edited data on Google Earth (see below) and would include this in the Daily Product that was sent to shore as well.

Google Earth view
The survey and transit lines are displayed in blue, while previously mapped areas of the seafloor are shown in green.

 

Personal Log

Now that we have left the survey area, we are transiting back to Norfolk and still collecting and processing data. We are scheduled to arrive early on the 31st and a majority of us will depart that evening. Since we are still collecting return transit data, it is still necessary for processing to occur. Although we’ve been working diligently, we still like to make time for fun. On Friday night, we hosted a Finer Things Club Gathering complete with fancy cheese, crackers, sparkling apple juice, and chocolate! It was great! On Saturday, we played the final cribbage tournament game as well as other board games, and on Sunday we had an ice cream party!

Finer Things Club
The Mapping Team hosts a Finer Things Club Meeting complete with sparkling apple juice, crackers, cheese, and chocolate!

Finer Things
Our fancy spread of gourmet snacks!

final match
Charlie and Mike in the FINALS!

ice cream social
Sundaes on Sunday!

 

View of calm seas
Super calm seas on the way home!

Calm Seas
Calm Seas

 

Did You Know?

One of the first breakthroughs in seafloor mapping using underwater sound projectors was used in World War I.

Resources:

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/03fire/background/mapping/mapping.html

David Tourtellot: A Musical Perspective of Sonar, July 24, 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 24th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29°09.1270’N

Longitude: 093°46.5544’W

Visibility: 5 Nautical Miles

Sky Condition: 8/8

Wind: Direction: 70.1°, Speed: 13.3 knots

Temperature:

Seawater: 29.24°C

Air: Dry bulb:26.9°C          Wet bulb: 24.7°C

 

Science and Technology Log

Coming to NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, I was eager to learn all I could about sonar. I am amazed that we have the ability to explore the ocean floor using sound.

uncharted wreck
An uncharted wreck discovered by NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

Over the course of my previous blog entries, I have described the tools and processes used to survey using sonar. This time, I am going to try to frame the sounds that the sonars are using in a musical context, in the hope that doing so will help students (and myself) better understand the underlying concepts.

Note – many aspects of music are not standardized. For the purpose of this blog post, all musical tuning will be in equal temperament, at A=440. When I reference the range of a piano, I will be referencing a standard 88-key instrument. Many of the sonar frequencies do not correspond exactly to an in-tune pitch, so they have been written to the nearest pitch, with a comment regarding if the true frequency is higher or lower than the one written.

In sonar and in music, when considering soundwaves it is important to know their frequency, a measure of how many waves occur over the course of a set period of time. Frequency is measured in a unit called Hertz (abbreviated as Hz), which measures how many soundwaves occur in one second. One Hertz is equal to one soundwave per second. For example, if you heard a sound with a frequency of 100Hz, your ears would be detecting 100 soundwaves every second. Musicians also are concerned with frequency, but will use another name for it: pitch. These words are synonymous – sounds that are higher in pitch are higher in frequency, and sounds that are lower in pitch are lower in frequency.

Below are the eight octaves of the note A that are found on a piano, each labeled with their frequency. The notes’ frequencies have an exponential relationship – as you move from low to high by octave, each note has a frequency that is double that of its predecessor.

Piano As with frequencies
The frequency of each A on a piano

The highest note on a piano, C, has a frequency of 4186.01Hz

Highest Note on a piano
The frequency of the highest note on a piano

Average, healthy young humans hear sounds ranging from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. All sounds outside of that range are inaudible to people, but otherwise no different from sounds that fall within the human range of hearing. The highest note we would be able to hear would be an E♭, at a frequency of 19,912.16Hz (a frequency of exactly 20,000Hz would fall in between E♭ and E♮, though would be closer to E♭). If put on a musical staff, it would look like this:

High Eb 19kHz
The frequency of the highest note in the human range of hearing

The hull of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is equipped with several sonar transmitters and receivers, which can operate at a wide variety of frequencies.

TJ Sonar
The hull of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, with several sonars. Note that the projectors that transmit lower frequencies are larger than the ones that transmit higher frequencies. This is similar to musical instruments – instruments that make lower sounds, like the tuba or the double bass, are larger than instruments that make higher sounds, like the trumpet or the violin

Higher frequencies provide higher resolution returns for the sonar, but they dissipate more quickly as they travel through water than lower frequencies do. Surveyors assess the depth of the water they are surveying, and choose the frequency that will give them the best return based on their conditions. Most of the sonar frequencies are too high for humans to hear. The ship’s multi-beam echo sounder has a variable frequency range of 200,000Hz-400,000Hz, though as I’ve been on board they’ve been scanning with it at 300,000Hz. Likewise, the multi-beam sonars on the launches have also been running at 300,000Hz. The ship has a sub-bottom profiler, which is a sonar used for surveying beneath the seafloor. It operates at a frequency of 12,000Hz, and has the distinction of being the only sonar on the ship that is audible to humans, however, we have not had a need to use it during my time aboard the Thomas Jefferson.

The ship’s side scan towfish (which I described in my previous blog entry) operates at 455,000Hz.

Here, we can see what those frequencies would look like if they were to be put on a musical staff.

Assorted Sonars and reference pitches
The frequencies of sonar, with reference pitches

Altering the frequency isn’t the only way to affect the quality of the reading which the sonar is getting. Surveyors can also change the pulse of the sonar. The pulse is the duration of the ping. To think about it in musical terms, changing the pulse would be akin to switching from playing quarter notes to playing half notes, while keeping the tempo and pitch the same. Different sonar pulses yield different readings. Shorter pulses provide higher resolution, but like higher frequency pings, dissipate faster in water, whereas longer pulses provide lower resolution, but can reach greater depths.

Personal Log

Mariners have a reputation for being a rather superstitious bunch, so I decided to ask around to see if that held true for the crew of the Thomas Jefferson. Overall, I found that most didn’t strictly adhere to any, but they were happy to share some of their favorites.

Everyone I spoke to told me that it is considered bad luck to leave port on a Friday, though the Commanding Officer, CDR Chris van Westendorp, assured me that you could counteract that bad luck by making three 360° turns to the left as soon as the ship is able. Many on the crew are also avid fishermen, and told me that bringing bananas aboard would lead to a bad catch, and one went so far as to be mistrustful of yellow lighters as well.

Certain tattoos are said to bring good luck – I was told that sailors often have a chicken and a pig tattooed on their feet. According to custom, those animals were often stored in wooden crates that would float if a ship went down, and having them tattooed onto you would afford you the same benefit. When asked if he was superstitious one of our helmsmen Jim proudly showed me a tattoo he has of a dolphin. He explained that having a sea creature tattooed on your body would prevent drowning. “It works!” he said with a grin, “I’ve never drowned!”

Several maritime superstitions deal with foul weather. Umbrellas are said to cause bad weather, as is split pea soup. Whistling while on the bridge is said to “whistle in the winds.” While not a superstition per se, many crew members told me variations of the same meteorological mantra: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.

One of the NOAA Corps Officers aboard, ENS Garrison Grant, knew several old superstitions related to shipbuilding. When laying the keel (the first piece of the ship to be put into place), shipbuilders would scatter evergreen boughs and tie red ribbons around it to ward off witches. Historically, having women aboard was considered bad luck, though, conversely it was said that if they showed their bare breasts to a storm, it would subside. This is why several ancient ships had topless women carved into the masthead. Legend has it that in order to assure that a ship would float, when it was ready to be launched for the first time, virgins would be tied to the rails that guided the ship from the ship yard into the water. The weight of the ship would crush them, and their blood would act as a lubricant, allowing the ship to slide into the water for the first time. Yikes! Thankfully, as society became more civilized, this practice evolved into the custom of breaking a bottle of champagne against a ship’s bow!

Did you know? Musical instruments play an important role in ship safety! In accordance with maritime law, ships will use auditory cues to make other vessels aware of their presence in heavy fog. For large ships, this includes the ringing of a gong at regular intervals.

Latest Highlight: During this week’s fire drill, I got to try the fire hose. It was very powerful and a lot of fun!

David Tourtellot during a fire drill
David Tourtellot during a fire drill

Meredith Salmon: Setting Sail! July 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

 

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

Geographic Area:  Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda

Date: July 12, 2018

Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 12, 2018

Latitude: 32.094°N

Longitude: 69.591°W

Air Temperature: 26.2°C

Wind Speed:  10.7 knots

Conditions: Sunny

Depth: 693 meters

Survey Area
Map showing the planned operations area for the expedition outlined in yellow. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Science and Technology Log

According to the Oceanic Institute, the oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface. This is calculated to be 335,258,000 square kilometers! Recently, the Okeanos Explorer mapped over 1,000,000 square kilometers of the seafloor using high- resolution multibeam sonar. Although this may not seem like much, that region is larger than the areas of Arizona and Texas combined!

So why is it so important for the Okeanos Explorer to map the seafloor? The ocean’s terrain plays a very important role in ecosystems since underwater valleys determine currents and weather patterns, sea topography influences fishery management, and seamounts serve as protection against unpredictable storms. Therefore, high-resolution maps allow scientists to categorize marine habitats, provide information vital to protecting and tracking marine life, and enable us to make smart decisions for solid, sustainable conservation measures.

In order to successfully map the ocean floor, multibeam sonar is used. The Okeanos Explorer uses an EM 302 multibeam system that is designed to map a large portion of the ocean floor with exceptional resolution and accuracy. The EM 302 transducers point at different angles on both sides of the ship to create a swath of signals. Transducers are underwater speakers that are responsible for sending an acoustic pulse (known as a ping) into the water. If the seafloor or object is in the path of the ping, then sound bounces off the object and returns an echo to the transducer. The EM 302 has the ability to produce up to 864 depth soundings in a single ping. The time interval between the actual signal transmission and arrival of the return echo (two way travel time) are combined with a sound velocity profile to estimate depth over the area of the swath. In addition, the intensity of the return echo can be used to infer bottom characteristics that can be utilized for habitat mapping. Since the EM 302 creates high density, high-resolution data as well as water column features, this sonar system is ideal for exploring the seabed for geographic features.

The image below shows data being collected by the multibeam sonar on the Okeanos Explorer. The colors are used to indicate swath depth (warm colors indicate shallow waters while cool colors indicate deeper waters).

Multibeam sonar data
Multibeam sonar data including backscatter (lower left), depth (upper center) and water column data (lower center) from 7/12/2018 the Okeanos Explorer

 

As this data is being collected, it must be “cleaned” to eliminate any erroneous points.  Data is collected and cleaned in both the Dry Lab and Mission Control Room.

Dry Lab
Dry Lab, equipped with 12 computer monitors, used to process data onboard the Okeanos Explorer

Mission Control
Mission Control Room aboard the Okeanos Explorer

 

Since we have not reached the survey area yet, we have been monitoring the depth of our path thus far. We are collecting transit data which is considered to still be valuable data for unmapped seafloor area, but it may not be as high quality as focused mapping data. We will continue to collect transit data until we reach the survey area near Bermuda.

Personal Log

Life onboard the Okeanos Explorer has been a very interesting and fun learning experience! The ship runs on a 24/7 operation schedule and people are working diligently at all hours of the day. Everyone on the ship has been really welcoming and willing to share their stories and insights about their careers at sea. I am really looking forward to speaking with more people to learn about their experiences!

We set sail out of Norfolk today and began our 3.5 day/4 day transit to the survey area near Bermuda. This morning, we found out that we will need to schedule an emergency dry dock towards the end of our mission to solve an issue with a stern thruster necessary for ROV cruises. As a result, we will not be ending up in port in St. George, but we will still be able to map the area 200 nautical miles off the coast of Bermuda, so that is great!

norfolk out to sea!
NOAAS Okeanos Explorer (port quarter aspect) navigating the Elizabeth River outbound for sea from the NOAA pier in Norfolk, VA on July 12, 2018. [Photo by Commander Briana Hillstrom, NOAA
 

Did You Know?

Sonar is short for Sound Navigation and Ranging.

Check out this video for a visual representation of the process sonar uses to generate data! https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/caribbean-mapping/mapping-video.html

 

Resources:

https://www.oceanicinstitute.org/aboutoceans/aquafacts.html

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/one-million/welcome.html

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/

 

Cindy Byers: Mapping in the ice! May 11, 2018

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

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: May 11, 2018

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude:57°43.3 N
Longitude:133°35.5 W
Sea Wave Height: 0
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: variable
Visibility:3 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 11.5°C
Sky:100% cloud coverage

Cindy on Flydeck
Me ready to get on a launch with a float coat and hard hat

 

Science and Technology Log

The area that NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying is Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm.  These are fjords, which are glacial valleys carved by a receding (melting) glacier.  Before the surveying could begin the launches(small boats) were sent up the fjords, in pairs for safety, to see how far up the fjord they could safely travel.  There were reports of ice closer to the glacier. Because the glacier is receding, some of the area has never been mapped. This is an area important for tourism, as it is used by cruise ships.  I was assigned to go up Endicott Arm towards Dawes Glacier.

Starting to see ice
Starting to See Ice in Endicott Arm

launch at Dawes Glacier
A Launch at Dawes Glacier

Almost as soon as we turned into the arm, we saw that there was ice. As we continued farther, the ice pieces got more numerous. We were being very careful not to hit ice or get the launch into a dangerous place.  The launch is very sturdy, but the equipment used to map the ocean floor is on the hull of the boat and needs to be protected. We were able to get to within about 8 kilometers of the glacier, which was very exciting.

IMG_8954
Dawes Glacier

The launches have been going out every day this week to map areas in Tracy Arm.  I have been out two of the days doing surveying and bottom sampling. During this time I have really enjoyed looking at the glacial ice.  It looks different from ice that you might find in a glass of soda. Glacial ice is actually different.  It is called firn.  What happens is that snow falls and is compacted by the snow that falls on top of it. This squeezes the air out of of the snow and it becomes more compact.  In addition, there is some thawing and refreezing that goes on over many seasons. This causes the ice crystals to grow. The firn ends up to be a very dense ice.

ice on Endicott Arm
Ice in Endicott Arm

 

Glaciers are like slow moving rivers.  Like a river, they move down a slope and carve out the land underneath them. Glaciers move by interior deformation, which means the ice crystals actually change shape and cause the ice to move forward, and by basal sliding, which means the ice is sliding on a layer of water.

 

The front of a glacier will calve or break off.  The big pieces of ice that we saw in the water was caused by calving of the glacier.  What is also very interesting about this ice is that it looks blue. White light, of course, has different wavelengths. The red wavelengths are longer and are absorbed by the ice.  The blue waves are shorter and are scattered. This light does not get far into the ice and is scattered back to your eyes. This is why it looks blue.

Blue Ice 2
Blue Glacial Ice

blue ice

Meltwater is also a beautiful blue-green color.  This is also caused by the way that light scatters off the sediment that melts out of the glacial ice.  This sediment, which got ground up in the glacier is called rock flour.

green blue water Endicott
This is the green-blue water from glacial melt water

waterfall in Endicott Arm
Waterfall in Endicott Arm

 

Mapping and bottom sampling in the ice

NOAA Ship Fairweather has spent the last four days mapping the area of Tracy Arm that is accessible to the launches.  This means each boat going back and forth in assigned areas with the multibeam sonar running. The launches also stop and take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts.  These are taken to increase the accuracy of the sound speed data.

Rock Sample
Rocks and a sediment chart from a bottom sample

Today I went out on a launch to take bottom samples. This information is important to have for boats that are wanting to anchor in the area. Most of the bottom samples we found were a fine sand.  Some had silt and clay in them also. All three of these sediment types are the products of the rocks that have been ground up by ice and water. The color ranged from gray-green to tan. The sediment size was small, except in one area that did not have sand, but instead had small rocks.

The instrument used to grab the bottom sediment had a camera attached and so videos

Bottom Sampler
The Bottom Sampler

were taken of each of the 8 bottom grabs. It was exciting to see the bottom, including some sea life such as sea stars, sea pens and we even picked up a small sea urchin.  My students will remember seeing a bottom sample of Lake Huron this year. The video today looked much the same.

 

Personal Log

I have seen three bears since we arrived in Holkham Bay where the ship is anchored.  Two of them have been black. Today’s bear was brown. It was very fun to watch from our safe distance in the launch.

I have really enjoyed watching the birds too.  There are many waterfowl that I do not know. My students would certainly recognize the northern loons that we have seen quite often.  

 

I have not really talked about the three amazing meals we get each day. In the morning we are treated to fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, made to order eggs, potatoes, and pancakes or waffles. Last night it was prime rib and shrimp.  There is always fresh vegetables for salad and a cooked vegetable too. Carrie is famous for her desserts, which are out for lunch and dinner. Lunches have homemade cookies and dinners have their own new cake type. If we are out on a launch there is a cooler filled with sandwich fixings, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, trail mix, hummus and vegetables.  

 

The cereal and milk is always available for snacks, along with fresh fruit, ice cream, peanut butter, jelly and different breads.  Often there are granola bars and chips. It would be hard to ever be hungry!

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Kayaking, see the ship in the background?

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Three Kayakers – me in the center

Kimberly Scantlebury: The Night Shift, May 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 10, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 15:36

Latitude: 2804.2177  N, Longitude: 9042.0070 W

Wind Speed: 10.2 knots, Barometric Pressure: 1016.8 hPa

Air Temperature: 26.1 C, Water Temperature: 24.89 C

Salinity: 36.49 PSU, Conditions: Some cloud, light wind, 2-4 foot waves

Science and Technology Log

Research vessels do not just work during the day. It is a 24/7 operation. Tonight I checked in with the night shift to learn more about the sonar mapping that has been done in the dark ever since I boarded NOAA Ship Pisces.

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Algebra I level math in action!

The first thing I noticed entering the dry lab was a pad of paper with math all over it. Todd, the survey technician I interviewed earlier, had noticed the the picture the ship’s sonar was producing had a curved mustache-like error in the image. Details like temperature need to be taken into account because water has different properties in different conditions that affect how sound waves and light waves move through it. He used the SOH-CAH-TOA law to find the speed of sound where the face of the transducer head was orientated. He found a six meter difference between the laser angle and what the computer was calculating. Simple trigonometry on a pad of paper was able to check what an advanced computer system was not.

NOAA Ship Pisces is also equipped with an advanced multibeam sonar. (Sonar stands for SOund NAvigation and Ranging.) In fact, there are only eight like it in the world. One of Todd’s goals before he retires from NOAA is to tweak it and write about it so other people know more about operating it. Since they are so few and you need to go to them, there are fewer publications about it.

Another mapping device is the side scan sonar. It is towed behind the vessel and creates a 300 meter picture with a 50 meter blind spot in the center, which is what is underneath the device. Hydrographic vessels have more sonars to compensate for this blind spot. The purpose of the mapping is to identify new habitat areas, therefore expanding the sampling universe of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Surveys.

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Up on the bridge looks much different. The lights are off and monitors are covered with red film to not ruin the crew’s night vision. Everything is black or red, with a little green coming from the radar displays. This is to see boats trying to cross too close in front of NOAA Ship Pisces or boats with their lights off. Lieutenant Noblitt and Ensign Brendel are manning the ship.

Ensign Brendel noted to me that, “We have all of this fancy equipment, but the most important equipment are these here binoculars.” They are always keeping a lookout. The technology on board is built for redundancy. There are two of most everything and the ship’s location is also marked on paper charts in case the modern equipment has problems.

There are international rules on the water, just like the rules of the road. The difference is there are no signs out here and it is even less likely you know who is following them. Each boat or ship has a series of lights that color codes who they are or what they are doing. Since NOAA Ship Pisces is restricted in maneuverability at night due to mapping, they have the right of way in most cases. It is also true that it takes longer for larger vessels to get out of the way of a smaller vessel, especially in those instances that the smaller one tries to pass a little too close. This did happen the night before. It reminds me of lifeguarding. It is mostly watching, punctuated with moments of serious activity where training on how to remain calm, collected, and smart is key.

Personal Log

It has been a privilege seeing and touching many species I have not witnessed before. Adding to the list of caught species is bonito (Sarda sarda) and red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). I always think it is funny when the genus and species is the same name. We have also seen Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) jumping around. There are 21 species of marine mammals indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, most in deep water off of the continental shelf. I also learned that there are no seals down here.

One of the neatest experiences this trip was interacting with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates). It has a pad that looks like a shoe’s sole that grips to create a suction that sticks them to their species of choice. The one we caught prefers hosts like sharks, turtles…and sometimes science teachers.

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Did You Know?

Fishing boats use colored lights to indicate what kind of fishing they are doing, as the old proverb goes red over white fishing at night, green over white trawling tonight. Vessels also use international maritime signal flags for communication during the day.

Lynn Kurth: Time and Tide Wait For No Man, June 28, 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:  57˚57.486 N   Longitude:  152˚55.539 W  (Whale Pass)

Date:  June 28, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Overcast
Visibility: 15 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 164
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 8.3° C (46.94° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1019.6 mb


Science and Technology Log

The ocean supports many ecosystems which contain a diversity of living things ranging in size from tiny microbes to whales as long as 95 feet.  Despite the fact that I am working on a hydrographic ship, when out on a skiff or while in port, I have had the opportunity to view some of these ecosystems and a number of the species found in them.

While the Rainier was in port in Homer, I spent some time at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which, like other estuaries, is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.  An estuary, with accompanying wetlands, is where the freshwater from a river meets and mixes with the salt water of the sea.  However, there are some estuaries that are made entirely from freshwater.  These estuaries are special places along the Great Lakes where freshwater from a river, with very different chemical and physical characteristics compared to the water from the lake, mixes with the lake water.

Because estuaries, like the Kachemak Bay Estuary, are extremely fragile ecosystems with so many plants and animals that rely on them, in 1972 Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than one million estuarine acres.

ESTRE
Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

All estuaries, including the freshwater estuaries found on the Great Lakes, are affected by the changing tides.  Tides play an important part in the health of an estuary because they mix the water and are therefore are one of several factors that influence the properties (temperature, salinity, turbidity) of the water

Prior to my experience in Alaska, I had never realized what a vital role tides play in the life of living things, in a oceanic region.  Just as tides play an important role in the health and function of estuaries, they play a major role in the plants and animals I have seen and the hydrographic work being completed by the Rainier.  For example, the tides determine when and where the skiffs and multi beam launch boats will be deployed.  Between mean low tide and high tide the water depth can vary by as much as 12 feet and therefore low tide is the perfect time to send the skiffs out in to document the features (rocks, reefs, foul areas) of a specific area.

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Rock feature in Uganik Bay (actually “the foot” mentioned in previous blog) Notice tidal line, anything below the top of that line would be underwater at high tide!

In addition to being the perfect time to take note of near shore features, low tide also provides the perfect opportunity to see some amazing sea life!  I have seen a variety of species while working aboard the Rainier, including eagles, deer, starfish, dolphins, whales, seals, cormorants, sea gulls, sea otters and puffins.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to capture quality photos of many of these species, but I have included some of my better photos of marine life in the area and information that the scientists aboard the Rainier have shared with me:

Tufted Puffins:  Tufted Puffins are some of the most common sea birds in Alaska.  They have wings that propel them under water and a large bill which sheds its outer layer in late summer.

puff2

Double Crested Cormorants:  Dark colored birds that dive for and eat fish, crabs, shrimp, aquatic plants, and other marine life.  The birds nest in colonies and can be found in many inland areas in the United States.  The cormorants range extends throughout the Great Lakes and they are frequently considered to be a nuisance because they gorge themselves on fish, possibly decimating local fish populations.

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Cormorant colony with gulls

Pisaster Starfish:  The tidal areas are some of the favorite areas starfish like to inhabit because they have an abundance of clams, which the starfish love to feed on.  To do so, the starfish uses powerful little suction cups to pull open the clam’s shell.

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Teacher at Sea Kurth with a starfish that was found during a shore lunch break while working on a skiff.

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Starfish found in tidal zone

Glaucous-winged Gull:  The gulls are found along the coasts of Alaska and Washington State.  The average lifespan of Glaucous-winged Gull is approximately 15 years.

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Glaucous-winged Gull watching the multi beam sonar boat

The hydrographic work in Uganik Bay continues even though there are moments to view the wildlife in the area.  I was part of the crew on board a boat equipped with multi beam sonar which returned to scan the “foot feature” meticulously mapped by the skiff.  During this process, the multi beam sonar is driven back and forth around the feature as close as the boat can safely get.  The multi beam does extend out to the sides of the boat which enables the sonar to produce an image to the left and right of the boat.  The sonar beam can reach out four times the depth of the water that the boat is working in.  For example, if we are working in six feet of water the multi beam will reach out a total of 24 feet across. Think of the sonar as if it was a beam coming from a flashlight, if you shine the light on the floor and hold the flashlight close to the floor, the beam will be small and intense.  On the other hand, if you hold the flashlight further from the floor the beam of light will cover a wider area but will not be as intense. The sonar’s coverage is similar, part of why working close to the shore is long and tedious work: in shallow water the multi beam does not cover a very wide area.

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“The foot” feature (as discussed in previous blog) being scanned by multi beam sonar

 

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Image of “the foot” after processing in lab. The rocks are the black areas that were not scanned by the multi beam sonar.


All Aboard!

I met Angelica on one of the first days aboard the Rainier and later spent some time with her, asking questions as she worked .  Angelica is very friendly, cheerful and a pleasure to talk with!  She graciously sat down with me for an interview when we were off shore of Kodiak, AK before returning to Uganik Bay.

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Assistant Survey Technician Angelica Patyten works on processing data from the multi beam sonar

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Angelica Patyten originally from Sacramento, CA and happy to be a part of NOAA’s scientific mission!  I have always been very interested in marine science, especially marine biology, oceanography and somewhat interested in fisheries.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins.  My cousin said that when I was really young I was always drawing whales on paper and I’d always be going to the library to check out books on marine life.  I remember one of the defining moments was when I was in grade school, we took a trip to see the dolphins and orca whales and I thought they were amazing creatures.

As far as hobbies, I love anything that has to do with water sports, like diving and kayaking.  I also want to learn how to surf or try paddle boarding as well.

How did you discover NOAA?:

I just kind of “stumbled upon” NOAA right after I had graduated from college and knew that I wanted to work in marine science.  I was googling different agencies and saw that NOAA allows you to volunteer on some of their vessels.  So, I ended up volunteering for two weeks aboard the NOAA ship Rueben Lasker and absolutely loved it.  When I returned home, I applied online for employment with NOAA and it was about six months before I heard from back from them.  It was at that point that they asked me if I wanted to work for them on one of their research vessels.  It really was all good timing!

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship? 

My responsibilities right now include the processing of the data that comes in from the multi beam sonar.  I basically take the data and use a computer program to apply different settings to produce the best image that I can with the sonar data that I’m given.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?

I love the scenery here in Alaska and the people I work with are awesome!  We become like a family because we spend a lot of time together.  Honestly, working aboard the Rainier is a perfect fit for me because I love to travel, the scenery is amazing and the people I work with are great!


Personal Log:

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer’s words are so fitting for my time aboard the Rainier which is going so quickly and continues to revolve around the tides.

Jeanne Muzi: Science, Service and Stewardship, August 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 10, 2015

As I head home to New Jersey a few days ahead of schedule, I am reflecting on what I have learned aboard the Thomas Jefferson. From day one, I was asking questions and trying to understand the process of hydrographic surveying, the equipment used and the different roles of everyone involved in the process. I learned why hydrographic surveying is so important and why the mission of NOAA (Science, Service and Stewardship) is demonstrated in all the research and activities aboard the Thomas Jefferson.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.  NOAA protects, preserves, manages and enhances the resources found in 3.5 million square miles of coastal and deep ocean waters.

The oceans are our home. As active citizens, we must all become knowledgeable, involved stewards of our oceans.

our-ocean
Our ocean. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

Science and Technology Log

As my Teacher at Sea experience ends, I wanted to make sure I shared some of the conversations I had with the officers charged with leading the missions of the Thomas Jefferson and the hydrographic work it is involved in.

The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!
The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!

It is my honor to introduce to you:

Captain Shepard Smith (CO)

CO Smith
CO Smith

Captain Smith grew up on the water in Maine. He always enjoyed reading maps and charts. He received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and earned a Master’s of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire Ocean Engineering (Mapping) Program. He has worked at NOAA in many different capacities.

He served aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, NOAA R/V Bay Hydrographer and the Thomas Jefferson. He was also the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Captain Smith also served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Deputy Administrator and as Chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. Captain Smith explained how he has been involved in integrating many new technological innovations designed to improve the efficiency of NOAA’s seafloor mapping efforts. It was through Captain Smith’s endeavors that Americans enjoy open access to all NOAA charts and maps.

CO Smith on the Bridge
CO Smith on the Bridge

He enjoys being the CO very much and feels the best part of his job is developing the next generation of leadership in NOAA. He feels it is very important to have that influence on junior officers. The worst part of his job is the separation from his family.

Captain Smith’s advice to young students is to pay attention to the world around you and how things work. Try to ask lots of questions. He said, “There are loads of opportunities to be the best at something and so many things to learn about. There are new fields, new ideas and new ways to see and understand things. Never limit yourself.”

Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser (XO)

XO LCDR Hauser
XO LCDR Hauser 

LCDR Hauser grew up in New Jersey and always loved learning about the ocean. As a little girl, she thought she would like to study Marine Science but wasn’t sure how. She grew up and earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from Franklin and Marshall College and her Master’s of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies. Before coming to NOAA, LCDR Hauser spent time working for a mortgage company, which provided her with different kinds of skills. She soon started officer training for NOAA and got to apply the sonar knowledge she developed in graduate school to her NOAA work. She has served on the NOAA ships Rainier and Thomas Jefferson. She has built her strong background in hydrography with both land and sea assignments. She has been Field Operations Officer, Field Support Liaison and Executive Officer. She explained that in the field of hydrographic surveying, experience is key to improving skills and she is always trying to learn more and share her knowledge. As XO, she is the second highest-ranking officer on the ship.

LCDR Hauser feels the best part of her job is that it never gets boring. Everyday is different and there are always new things to see and learn.

XO supervises the arrival of the launch
XO supervises the arrival of the launch

LCDR Hauser also explained that the hardest part of the job is the transitions, that come pretty frequently. She said, “You may find yourself leaving a ship or coming to a new job. There are always new routines to learn and new people to get to know. With so many transitions, it is often hard to find and keep community, but on the positive side, the transitions keep you adaptable and resilient, which are important skills too.”

Her advice to young students is “Take opportunities! Explore things you never heard of. Don’t give up easily! Even the rough parts of the road can work for you. Every experience helps you grow! Keep asking questions…especially about how and why!”

Lieutenant Joseph Carrier (FOO)

LT Carrier
LT Carrier

As a young boy, LT Carrier was the kind of kid who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He joined the Navy right out of high school. When he got out, he attended University of North Carolina at Wilmington and studied biology as an undergraduate and marine science in graduate school. He taught biology, oceanography, and earth science at a community college and worked at NOAA’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, VA before attending officer training. He served on other NOAA ships before coming to the Thomas Jefferson and has learned a lot about the technical aspects of hydrographic surveying, data collection and processing while onboard. He is currently the Field Operations Officer.

FOO on deck
FOO on deck

LT Carrier feels the best part of his job is the great people he works with. He explained that on a ship you are part of a close family that works together, lives together and helps each other.

He said the hardest parts of the job are the long hours and missing his family very much.

His advice to younger students is don’t get discouraged easily. He explained, “If you are not good at something at first, try again. Know that each time you try something…you have an opportunity to get better at it. Everyone can overcome challenges by working hard and sticking with it!

Personal Log:

Quick painting fromTJ Bow
Quick painting fromTJ Bow

The experience of living and learning on the Thomas Jefferson will stay with me and impact my teaching as I continue to encourage kids to stay curious, ask questions and work hard!

I would like to thank everyone at NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program for enabling me to come on this adventure! My time as a TAS has provided me with authentic learning experiences and a new understanding of science and math in action. I would like to thank every person serving on the Thomas Jefferson who took the time to talk with me and shared his or her area of expertise. I appreciated everyone’s patience, kindness and friendly help as they welcomed me into their home. Every crewmember has given me stories, knowledge and information that I can now share with others.

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Conserving our ocean and coasts. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day and Picture of the Day was:

What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

These containers are life rafts. The letters “SOLAS” stand for “Safety of Life at Sea.”

The First SOLAS Treaty was issued in 1914, just two years after the Titanic disaster. The Treaty was put in place so countries all around the world would make ship safety a priority. The SOLAS Treaty ensures that ships have safety standards in construction, in equipment onboard and in their operation. Many countries have turned these international requirements into national laws. The first version of the treaty developed in response to the sinking of the Titanic. It stated the number of lifeboats and other emergency equipment that should be available on every ship, along with safety procedures, such as having drills and continuous radio watch. Newer versions of the SOLAS Treaty have been adopted and the guidelines are always being updated so people at sea remain safe. If there was an emergency on the Thomas Jefferson, the crew is prepared because they have practiced many different drills. If these lifeboats were needed they would be opened, inflated and used to bring everyone to safety.

Many thanks for reading about my Teacher at Sea Adventure! 

Learning to be safe at sea!
Learning to be safe at sea!

 

Jeanne Muzi: STEM in Action, August 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 8, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 73°F (23°C) Fair
Humidity: 59%
Wind Speed: N 10 mph
Barometer: 29.94 in (1013.6 mb)
Dewpoint: 58°F (14°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Science and Technology Log:

It is amazing that with hydrography, scientists can “look” into the ocean to “see” the sea floor by using sound.

All the data collected by the TJ, and other NOAA Hydro ships, is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models.

 

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This is important work because the charts are used to warn mariners of dangers to navigation, which can mean everything from rocks to ship wrecks. They also record tide or water level measurements to provide information about water depths. Surveys also help determine if the sea floor is made up of sand, mud or rock, which is important for the anchoring of boats, dredging, construction, and laying pipeline or cables. Hydrography also provides important information for fishery habitats.

The work being done on the Thomas Jefferson is a great example of STEM in action since hydrographic surveying combines science, lots of technology, the engineering of new devices and procedures, and the application of mathematical computations.

Here are two amazing survey images:

A crane discovered underwater
A crane discovered underwater

 

Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor
Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor

A few of my students emailed me yesterday to ask how does the information gathered out on the launch become a chart. That’s a great question!

My XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Olivia Hauser provided me with a great explanation of how the data becomes a chart. She explained it this way:

It starts with deciding where to survey, and ends with an updated chart that is published and available for mariners to use. The decision where to survey is steered by a document called the National Hydrographic Survey Priorities document. It outlines where the top priorities to survey are based on the type of ship traffic that travels the area, the age of the survey in the area, how often the seafloor changes in the area, and specific requests from port authorities, the US Coast Guard, and other official maritime entities. Please see the following link for more information. http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm

The operations branch of the Hydrographic Surveys Division of the Office of Coast Survey in NOAA (where Patrick works-see below) uses this document to decide where the ship will survey next. This branch then provides the ship with project instructions that identifies where the work will be done and divides the survey area into manageable chunks.

The data is raw when we first acquire it, and once it comes back to the ship, we need to apply some correctors to it, to improve the data quality.

Working in the survey room
Working in the survey room

One corrector we apply to the data is tide information. The water gets shallower and deeper depending on the stage of tide, and we need to make sure the depths on the chart are all relative to the same stage of tide.

Another corrector we apply to the data is vessel motion. When we acquire depth data with the sonar, the boat is moving with the waves, and the raw data looks like it has waves in the seafloor, too. We know that is not the case, so we take the motion data of the boat out of our depth data.

A third corrector we apply to the data is sound speed. The sonar finds the depth of the seafloor by sending a pulse of sound out and listening for its return, measuring the time it takes to complete that trip. We also measure the speed of sound through the water so we can calculate the depth (see the picture of ENS Gleichauf deploying the CTD to measure sound speed). Speed =Distance/Time. Speed of sound through typical seawater is 1500 meters per second. The speed of sound changes with water temperature and salinity (the saltiness of the water) .If we measure the time it takes for the sound to get to the seafloor and back, 1 second for example, and the sound speed is 1500 meters per second we know the seafloor is 750 meters away from the sonar. (the sound is traveling two ways).

Once all of the correctors are applied to the data, a digital terrain model (DTM) is created from the data to make a grid showing the depths and hazards in the area. A report is written about the survey, and it is submitted to the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch (Where Jeffrey works- See below). This branch reviews the data and makes sure it meets NOAA’s specifications for data quality. They also make a preliminary chart, picking the important depths and hazards that should be shown on the chart.

Once the data has been reviewed, it goes to the Marine Charting Division. This group takes the preliminary chart of the area surveyed, and adds it to the official chart that is being updated. These charts are then distributed to the public.

I had a chance to talk with some of the Survey Techs and project scientists who work on the TJ to find out more about their jobs.

Allison Stone
Allison Stone

Allison Stone is the Hydro Senior Survey Technician (HSST). When Allison was 12 years old she clearly remembers her school’s Career Day, when lots of parents came in to talk about their jobs. She recalls there was one mom who had a sparkle in her eye when she talked about her job. She was an Oceanographer. That mom became her advisor when she attended the College of Charleston. Allison had an internship at the Atlantic Hydrography Branch in Norfolk and she first came to the TJ as a Student Scientist. She later became a full time technician. She enjoys her job because she gets the opportunity to observe the seafloor like no one has ever seen it before. She gets to solve problems and think outside the box. When she is going through raw data, she is able to make connections and interpret information. The work is interesting and challenging. Allison’s advice for young students is to keep being passionate about things you are interested in. Try to find out more and stay flexible. Try to volunteer as much as possible as you grow up so you can find out what you like to do and love to work on.

Jeffery Marshall
Jeffery Marshall

Jeffery Marshall was visiting the TJ for a project during my time aboard. Jeffery is a Physical Scientist with the Office of Coast Survey as a member of the Hydrographic Surveys Division, Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Jeffery grew up on the Jersey Shore and loved being out on the water, down at the beach and learning about the ocean. He loved surfing and was always wondering what the weather would be like so he could plan for the waves and the tides. So when he went to college, he studied meteorology. Following graduation, he taught middle school science and loved being a teacher. When he was ready for a change, he decided to attend graduate school and got his masters degree in Coastal Geology. He really enjoys having the opportunity to get out on the ships. His job is usually applying the processed data to charts, what he calls “Armchair Hydrography.” When he gets a chance to work on a NOAA ship mission, he has more opportunities to collect and analyze data. Jeff’s advice to young students is to read a lot and think about lots of different things, like how we use maps. He thinks everyone should take a look at old maps and charts, and think about how they were made. He encourages students to look for patterns in nature and to think about how rocks and sand change over time.

Patrick Keown
Patrick Keown

Patrick Keown is also a Physical Scientist. He was also working on a project on the TJ. Patrick works at the Operations Branch of the Hydrographics Survey Division in Silver Spring, Maryland. Patrick is usually working on plans for where surveying needs to take place. He started college as an Anthropology major but ended up in a Geographic Information Systems class and found that it came easily to him. Geographic Information Systems are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. He had an internship with the Army Corp of Engineers which provided some “on the job learning” of hydrography. When Patrick was young, he didn’t have the chance to travel much, so he spent a lot of time looking at maps and wondering, “What else is out there?” Now he loves to travel and likes to look at what he calls “Social Geography.” Patrick thinks the best part of his job is the chance to experience new things. He has had opportunities to try the latest technology and is inspired by all the new types of equipment, like drones and the Z boats. Patrick’s advice to young learners is “Never be afraid to explore! Never be afraid to ask questions! Most importantly, stay curious!!”

Cassie Bongiovanni
Cassie Bongiovanni

Cassie Bongiovanni is a GIS Specialist who works at The Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. The center is a partnership between the University of New Hampshire and NOAA, and it has two main objectives: to develop tools to advance ocean mapping and hydrography, and to train the next generation of hydrographers and ocean mappers. Cassie grew up in Texas and did not like science at all when she was young. She attended the University of Washington in Seattle and fell in love with the ocean. She received her Bachelors of Science in Geology with a focus in Oceanography. She is now working with NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping group on processing lidar and acoustic data for post Hurricane Sandy research efforts. Cassie explained that she loves her work because she loves to learn! She has lots of opportunities to ask questions and discover new things. The kid in her loves making maps and then coloring them with bright colors to create 3-D images of things like shipwrecks.

 

Personal Log:

IMG_4023

The launch headed out again today to try to find a ship that sank earlier in the summer. Information was gathered and lines were surveyed, but so far no shipwreck was found. The day ended with a beautiful sunset.

Setting lines to survey
Setting lines to survey

Looking out from the cabin of the launch
Looking out from the cabin of the launc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sunset

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day was:

How was the ocean floor mapped before sonar was invented?

Mariners have used many different methods to map the ocean floor to try to “see” what was under the water. For thousands of years a stick was used to see how deep the water was. Eventually, the stick was marked with measurements. Once ships started exploring the oceans, sticks were no longer good options for finding out the depth of water or if anything was under the water that could harm the ship. Sailors started tying a rope around a heavy rock and throwing it over board. In the 1400’s, mariners began using lead lines, which were marked lengths of rope attached to a lead weight. The lead line was good for measuring depth and providing information about the sea floor. The standard lead line was 20 fathoms long–120 feet–and the lead weighed 7 pounds. In the early 20th century, the wire drag was invented. This meant two ships had a set system of wires hung between them and it enabled mariners to find hidden rocks, shipwrecks or other hazards hidden in the water.

 

leadline

Find out more about the history of navigation tools at http://www.vos.noaa.gov/MWL/aug_08/navigation_tools.shtml

In my last entry, The Picture of the Day showed Ensign Gleichauf lowering an instrument into the water. That is a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is made up of electronic instruments that measure these properties. The CTD detects how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes as it goes deeper into the water. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is how salty the seawater is.

What is that?
This is a CTD

Today’s Question of the Day and Picture of the Day: What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

 

Thanks for reading this entry!

Safety first!
Safety first!

 

Jeanne Muzi: Problem Solving on the Thomas Jefferson! August 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson|
August 2 – 13, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise
: North Atlantic
Date: August 5, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 71° F (22° C)
Humidity: 84%
Wind Speed: S 5 mph
Barometer: 29.89 in (1012.1 mb)
Dewpoint: 66° F (19° C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Hello again!

Science and Technology Log:

One important thing that every single person has to face, no matter how old they are or what kind of job they have, is what to do when things go wrong. We are always happy when things are going smoothly—but what do you do when they don’t?

I found out about how important it is to be a thinker and problem solver on the Thomas Jefferson because we are experiencing engine problems. First the launches were not running. Then the TJ’s engines were having difficulties and it was discovered that we had water in our fuel. The engineers and officers all started to ask questions: Where is the water coming from? Is there a problem with the tanks? How are we going to fix this situation? What is the best solution right now? It was determined that we should sail into the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island so the fuel could be pumped out and the fuel tanks examined. This is a big job!

Heading to Newport
Lighthouse

Jamestown Bridge
Jamestown Bridge

We sailed into Newport on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I got to spend some time on the bridge and watched as Ensign Seberger and GVA (General Vessel Assistant) Holler steered our large ship around obstacles like lobster pots and small sailboats. AB (Ablebodied Seaman) Grains acted as the look out, peering through binoculars and calling out directions in degrees (instead of feet or yards), and port and starboard (instead of left and right). LTJG Forrest explained how to chart the route to Newport using a compass, slide rule and mathematical calculations. His computations were right on as he plotted the course of the Thomas Jefferson. 

Charting TJ's course to Newport
Charting TJ’s course to Newport

When we arrived at Newport, the tugboat, Jaguar, needed to help us dock and then the gangway was lifted into place using a crane.

The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.
The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.

The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport
The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport

The walkway is lowered from ship to shore.
The gangway is lowered from ship to shore.

Now we are waiting in Newport to see how the ship will be repaired, and how that will impact the surveying mission and the work of all the scientists on board. The fuel is currently being pumped out of the tanks so the engineering department can figure out what is going on.

Personal Log:

Some of my students have emailed to ask where am I sleeping. When you are aboard a ship, you sleep in a stateroom. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate has the top. We have storage lockers and shelves to hold our stuff. The bathroom (called the head) connects our stateroom with another room.

Bunks in our stateroom
Bunks in our stateroom

Everyone eats in the Mess. You pick up your hot food on a plate in front of the galley and then sit down to eat at a table. Some of our meals so far have been omelets and cereal for breakfast, shrimp, rice and vegetables for lunch, and fish and potatoes for dinner. There is always a salad bar. Yogurt and ice cream are available, along with lots of different drinks.

Everyone eats meals together in the mess.
Everyone eats meals together in the mess.

The passageways are pretty narrow around the ship and the stairs going from one deck to another are steep whether you are inside or outside.

Lots of ups and downs outside...
Lots of ups and downs outside…

Lots of ups and downs inside
Lots of ups and downs inside…

 

Everything on a ship must be well-organized so equipment can be found quickly and easily.

Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.
Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.

The view from the outside deck has been beautiful…

There is always something to see on the TJ
There is always something to see on the TJ

The last Question of the Day was: What do the letters XO mean on the hardhat of the person in the center of this picture?

XO Stands for Executive Officer
XO Stands for Executive Officer

XO stands for Executive Officer. Our Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser. She is the second in command on board.

The last Picture of the Day showed this image:

Whale caught with sonar
Whale caught with sonar

This image was captured with sonar and shows a whale swimming in the ocean. Amazing!

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Why is surveying the ocean floor so important?

Today’s Picture of the Day is:

What is this and what is it used for?
What is this and what is it used for?

What is this?

Thanks for reading this entry.

Windy day on the deck of the TJ
Windy day on the deck of the TJ

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Jennifer Petro: Mapping the Unknown, July 12, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 1 — 14, 2013 

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July 12, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 26.3°C (79.3°F)
Barometer: 1011.30 mb
Humidity: 78%
Wind direction: 194°
Wind speed: 17 knots
Water temp: 26.9° C (80.4°F)
Latitude: 32 32.84 N
Longitude: 78 34.76 W

Science and Technology Log

There is a team aboard the vessel whose job is to map the ocean floor.  On this cruise we are diving in known locations but we are also diving in new proposed areas where there is little or no mapping data.  This team is a critical component of this mission.  Without their hard work we would have no clue as to where we are sending the ROV to search for the target fish species or find very cool benthic invertebrates.  The type of mapping they are using is called multibeam mapping.  Multibeam mapping has been used for years but the technology and software is becoming very cutting edge.  All of the mapping was done at night so my hat comes off to the survey team for pulling a lot of all nighters!

Graphic of how a multibeam survey works.   ©Wessex Archaeology
Graphic of how a multibeam survey works. ©Wessex Archaeology

The mapping occurs in several stages.  First we have to get an idea of what the sea floor looks like.  Multibeam mapping uses many signals of beams that sweep the sea floor and bounce back up to the ship.  It is a very computer-heavy science.  First we need to test the water, literally.  The survey team, consisting of Laura Kracker from the National Ocean Service, NOAA Marine Research Lab, Charleston, SC, Friedrich Knuth from the College of Charleston and Marta Ribera from Boston University, use an expendable probe to test the density of the water.  This is important because water density changes due to water temperature and salinity.  One the probe is deployed, the survey team can calibrate the beam width to get the most accurate reading of the multibeam signal.

Survey team member Friedrich Knuth send an XBT expendable probe over the side.
Survey team member Friedrich Knuth sends an XBT expendable probe over the side.

As the beams travel through the water, sea floor depth is determined by the amount of time it take for the beams to leave the vessel and then come back.  The intensity of the sound tells you the probable type of sea floor bottom.

  • Low intensity equals a softer bottom
  • High intensity equals a harder bottom

The one piece of information that the beams cannot tell us is the geomorphology or the type of bottom features and rock that make up the sea floor. That we can only see through the lens of the ROV but the mutlibeam mapping gives up a good idea of the locations in the MPA that would have the most amount of fish.  We want to look in areas of high relief; i.e. rock ledges, rubble, etc., because that is where we will most likely see the target species of fish.

At the point that the beams get back to the Pisces, it is still “raw data”.  It needs to be processed so that it can be read in map form.  This is where the computer programs and the long nights came into play.  It is not a simple process.  The data is manipulated through 5 programs consisting of many steps to produce a map that can be used in a program called ArcGIS.  ArcGIS is a GIS, Geographical Information System, program that is relatively user-friendly, The maps produced during this cruise were amazing.  Stacey Harter, the Chief Scientist, used these maps to determine features that the ROV would dive on.  The ROV drivers used them to “see” where the ROV was in relationship to those features in real-time.  The research teams are able to embed the maps into their cruise notes and cross-reference the maps with still photos.  I was truly amazed.

Evidence of ancient iceburg scours off of North Carolina as detected by multibeam mapping.
Evidence of ancient iceburg scours off of North Carolina as detected by multibeam mapping Courtesy of NOAA.

Laura shows me the raw data from the multi-beam mapping.
Laura shows me the raw data from the multi-beam mapping.

Friedrich points to a monitor that keeps track of the Pisces as it follows grid lines for mutlibeam mapping.

Computer monitor that shows the intensity of the multibeams as they are leaving the ship.
Computer monitor that shows the intensity of the multibeams as they are leaving the ship.

Personal Log

I am sad that this incredible experience is coming to an end.  I cannot gush enough about the scientist and the crew.  I was able to witness a few “firsts” and I enjoyed seeing these scientists, some who have been doing this for 30 years, get excited about seeing something new.  I loved how the lab had an open door policy and crew members, from the CO to engineers, would come in and check out what was happening during the dive.  If it was after their shift, they would stay for hours. Everyone shared stories and I was made to feel like I was part of the science team.  I have a distinct advantage over other Teachers at Sea because I was able to cruise with a team that is located right here at home.  I look forward to the possibility of creating a true partnership and bringing NOAA right into my classroom.  I have so many ideas for lessons and activities from this experience and have found a massive amount of NOAA resources to use from pictures to data.

This has been so eye opening that I am now a big proponent of NOAAs MPA program as I have seen first hand how the closing of these areas has benefited the recovery of fish populations.

Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing in my adventure.

Fair weather and calm seas.

We are all dreamers creating the next world, the next beautiful world for ourselves and for our children. ~Yoko Ono

Kaitlin Baird: The Importance of Sound, September 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Maryland
Date: September 16th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 37’72.10
Longitude: 75′ 17.02

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction:  West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:

It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them.  The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.

You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor.  Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm.  A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!

bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow

Bigelow multibeam sonar (NOAA)

echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Personal Log:

The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.

If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.

I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!

The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment.  The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data,  help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.

otoliths (fish ear bones) that i removed from a Butterfish
Otoliths (fish ear bones) that I removed from a Butterfish

You can see here is an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will Jan 1st of the next year.
You can see here an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will be Jan 1st of the next year.

I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

Me and a Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland
Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland

Thanks for reading!

Amanda Peretich: Awesome Acoustics, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
Aboard Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2012 – July 18 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise:
Bering Sea
Date:
July 13, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 59ºN
Longitude: 174ºW
Ship speed: 11.7 knots (13.5 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 7.3ºC (45.1ºF)
Surface water temperature: 7.6ºC (45.7ºF)
Wind speed: 4.3 knots (4.9 mph)
Wind direction: 12ºT
Barometric pressure: 1010 millibar (1.0 atm, 757.5 mmHg)

Science and Technology Log

How sonar works: energy (sound) waves are pulsed through the water. When it strikes an object, it bounces back to the receiver. (from http://www.dosits.org/)
How sonar works: energy (sound) waves are pulsed through the water. When it strikes an object, it bounces back to the receiver. (from http://www.dosits.org/)

Before stepping onto the Oscar Dyson, I wasn’t quite sure about much of the science going on. Did they just put the nets in the water every so often and hope to catch some fish? Carefully lean over the side of the ship saying “here fishy fishy” with the hope that the pollock would find their way into the net? Neither of these scenarios is correct (good thing I’m not actually a fisherman!). So today’s lesson is going to be all about what the chief scientist actually uses to find fish: hydroacoustics (hydro meaning water and acoustics meaning sound). This also involves SONAR, which is short for SOund Navigation And Ranging.

Fishfinding Basics
Fishfinding basics.

If you’ve ever been on a smaller boat, yacht, fishing vessel, or the like, you may have seen something called a fishfinder. The basic concepts are the same as what is happening on the Oscar Dyson. An echosounder sends a pulse of energy waves (sound) through the water. When the pulse strikes an object (such as the swim bladder in fish), it is reflected (bounced) back to the transducer. This signal is then processed and sent to some sort of visual display.

Swim Bladder
Swim bladder in a fish.
(from https://www.meted.ucar.edu/)

The Oscar Dyson uses acoustic quieting technology where the scientists can monitor fish populations without altering their behavior. The Scientific Sonar System and various oceanographic hydrophones (underwater microphones) are raised and lowered through the water column beneath the ship on a retractable centerboard. This is important so that the transducers can be lowered away from the flow noise generated by the hull, which in turn will improve the quality of data collected. In addition, there is a multibeam sonar system located on the forward hull. Ultimately the hydroacoustic data is all used as one piece to the puzzle of measuring the biomass of fish in the survey area.

OD acoustics
The different sonar signal transmitter/receivers (transducers) used on this leg of the pollock survey and their location on the ship.

Neal at work
Chief scientist Neal working away in the Acoustics lab. The second screen from the left on the upper row is showing the information from the ME70 multibeam.

So how does this all work when we are looking for fish? The chief scientist (Neal on the 0400-1600 watch) or another scientist (Denise on the 1600-0400 watch) will spend a lot of time analyzing the various computer screens in the acoustics lab, which has been affectionately termed the “cave” (no windows). They are looking at the information being relayed from both the multibeam and the EK60.

What is a multibeam? The Oscar Dyson has the Simrad ME70 scientific multibeam echosounder. It is located on the hull (underside) of the ship on the front half and sends 31 sonar beams per second down to the bottom of the sea floor.

Multibeam
Multibeam echosounder.
(from http://www.simrad.com/)

Aft of the multibeam (on the centerboard) are the five Simrad transducers. It may seem confusing, but hopefully I can walk you through a teensy little bit of how it works when we are looking to trawl for fish.

EK60 Transducer
Information from the EK60 transducer at 18kHz (top) and 38kHz (bottom).

Information from the EK60 echosounder is displayed on the far left screen in the acoustics lab while information for the ME70 multibeam is displayed on the next screen. The darker patches are showing that there are fish in that area. When the scientist first starts to see a good amount of fish, they will “mark” it and keep watching. If the screen fills up with fish (as in the EK60 image), the scientist will call upstairs to the bridge and tell them where to head back to on the transect line to start trawling. Depending on the location of the fish in the water column, it may be a bottom trawl (83-112 net), a midwater trawl (AWT net), or a methot trawl. Side note: the 83-112 midwater comparison trawl that I’ve mentioned before is done almost immediately after an AWT midwater trawl to compare the fish caught in a common area.

ME70 Multibeam
Information from the ME70 multibeam. You can determine the sea floor depth and there are five narrow beam slices from the mid-section of the multibeam (of the 31 different beams that span 120 degrees) displayed on screen.

Neal on bridge
Chief scientist Neal up on the bridge.

Then the scientist will head upstairs as the deck crew is preparing the net. One of the many sensors attached to the net is called the FS70 fishsounder or “the turtle”, and it is only used during trawls (because it is attached to the headrope). The scientist can “watch” the fish swimming under the ship using the EK60 information combined with the information from the fishsounder. The yellow “turtle” on the right in the image shows how the FS70 is flying in the water. You want minimal pitch and roll and for the front of it to be facing the back of the ship. This way, we can “see” the fish as they are going through the net. The officer of the deck and lead fisherman or head boatswain can adjust various things to keep the turtle in the right orientation. The middle image below is constantly changing on the screen in the bridge as the sonar is sweeping back and forth, so you can almost watch the individual fish enter the net. It was interesting to watch the delay between when you would see the fish from the EK60 (on the left) and when you saw them with the FS70 (middle).

Trawl Fishsounder
Display screens on the bridge used during a trawl.

Once the scientist is satisfied that enough fish have been caught for a sufficient sample size, the net will be hauled back and the acoustics work is done for just a little bit (giving Neal some time to grab some well-deserved coffee and the rest of us time to get our rain gear on to process the fish).

So some of the questions I had asked (that don’t really fit nicely in the information above):

Why do we use different frequencies in the acoustic studies?

Frequency Wavelength
Relationship between frequency and wavelength. (from http://emap-int.com)

This ties right back in to chemistry (and other sciences) with an equation and the relationship between frequency and wavelength (yay!). Basically there is an inverse relationship which means that at a high frequency there is a smaller or shorter wavelength (wavelength is the distance for peak to peak of a wave). At a low frequency, there is a higher or longer wavelength.

At a low frequency, you will see only see things that are larger, like pollock, whereas you will see very small things like krill and zooplankton at higher frequencies. Having information from both types of frequencies is necessary to complete the scientific research on the Oscar Dyson.

Single Fish
Traveling at 1 knot, showing single fish from EK60 sonar.

Is it possible to see a single fish?
Yes! From sunset to sunrise, the Oscar Dyson doesn’t actually travel the transect lines. This is because the pollock behave differently during darkness than during the day. So instead of traveling between 11 and 12 knots (which is what happens between trawls), it’s almost like the boat is just sitting around for a couple of hours. But during this time, since the boat isn’t moving along quickly, it’s possibly to see individual fish on the sonar as shown in the image.

Hydroacoustics
Hydroacoustic surveys can involve any number of different types and locations of the transducers. (from http://btechgurus.blogspot.com/2012/06/sonar.html)

Personal Log
Today is Friday the 13th but it was far from unlucky – I finally saw something out in the water other than fog: a boat! Again, all good sightings seem to come from up on the bridge, so I’m thankful for Lieutenant Matt for allowing me to ask a billion questions while I’m up there and teaching me more than I ever thought my brain could hold. He has all of the qualities of a great teacher, which is nice to see.

Ship
The ship we saw up on the bridge this morning from about 5 nautical miles away (left), on the sonar (middle), and through the binoculars (right).

Dancing in the fish lab on the Oscar Dyson
Neal and I dancing while waiting for the fish!

Highlight from the other day? Chief scientist Neal finally dressed out in his Grundens (rain gear) and came to help process a catch in the fish lab! While waiting, he even took a quick second to dance in the doorway (we were “Dougie”-ing) to my music that was playing over the speaker system.

References
NOAA Oscar Dyson flier
NOAA Oscar Dyson Ship Electronics Suite
HTI Sonar
Wikipedia: Sonar
Simrad

Marsha Skoczek: North Florida MPA, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida
Date:  July 7, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  30.262610N
Longitude:  80.12.403W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.2C (84.5F)
Wind Speed:  6.07 knots
Wind Direction:  from the SSW
Relative Humidity:  76%
Barometric Pressure:  1016.8
Surface Water Temperature:  30.82C (87F)

Science and Technology Log

North Florida MPA

Today we made our way about 50 nautical miles off shore to the North Florida Marine Protected Area (MPA) accompanied by dolphins and flying fish.  The North Florida MPAs were closed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to bottom fishing in order to sustain and repopulate the following species of fish:  snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, Warsaw grouper, speckled hind grouper, misty grouper as well as golden and blueline tilefish.  A second part of our science team is looking at the benthic invertebrates such as corals and sponges as they provide a habitat for the grouper and tilefish to live in.  The types of corals and sponges we expect to see in this area include: black coral, whip coral, purple gorgonian, Tanacetipathes, and the stink sponge.

Pisces deck hands launch the ROV

We did three Remotely Operated Vehicle  (ROV) dives with the Phantom S II.  Each dive was between one and two hours long depending on the bottom conditions.  The winch from the Pisces would lower the ROV to the bottom of the ocean approximately 50-60 meters deep (164 to 196 feet).  The area in the MPA we were looking at had been mapped the night before using the ship’s Multibeam Sonar to give the scientists a better idea of where to look and what type of bottom features they will see.   The current at the bottom for a couple of the dives was about 1.5 knots.  This made it pretty difficult to spend quality time looking at the species.  The Scientists will take this data back to the lab where they can spend more time with each video to fully catalog each species we saw today.

Stephanie Farrington and myself are logging data.

Once the ROV’s cameras were rolling, the science team was able to begin logging all of the different species that they saw.  Each part of the transect line is carefully documented with a date and time stamp as well as a latitude, longitude and depth.  Also mounted on the ROV is a small CTD to collect the temperature and depth every 15 seconds.  This will help the scientists match up all of the details for each habitat that we saw with the video on the ROV.  While the ROV is at the bottom collecting data, there are several different stations going on in the lab at the time.

John Reed and Stephanie Farrington are looking mostly at the benthic invertebrates, Stacey Harter and Andy David are cataloging all of the fish they are able to see and identify, and Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor are manning the ROV.  There is also a fourth station where one of the scientists uses a microphone to annotate the video as it is being recorded onto a DVD.  Today John, Stacey and Andy all took turns at the video annotation station.  Basically they are verbally describing the bottom features and habitat they see as well as all the different species of fish and corals.  This will make it easier for the scientists when they get back into their home labs as they process their data.  For each one hour of video taken it will take Stacey between four and eight hours to catalog each fish found as the ROV passed by.  This information is compiled into a report that will be shared with the South Atlantic Council to show if the targeted species are actually making a comeback in these MPAs.

The snowy grouper is one of the targeted species. We found this one using the ROV swimming back into his burrow.

Today some of the species we saw include reef butterflyfish, vermillion snapper, filogena coral, blue angelfish, purple gorgonian,yellowtail reef fish, black corals, bigeye fish, squirrelfish, wire corals, scamp grouper, hogfish, ircinia sponges as well as a couple of lobsters and a loggerback sea turtle.

Tomorrow we will make several more dives at another site outside the North Florida MPA so we can compare this data with the data taken today inside the MPA.

Personal Log

As part of the abandon ship drill, we had to be able to don our immersion suit in less than three minutes.

Life on the ship is really different in some ways compared to life on land.  There is the constant rocking of the ship, which my inner ears are not very fond of. The bedrooms are not the biggest and we each share with one other person.  I am rooming with Stephanie Farrington and she is very easy to get along with.  The food has been great — it would be very easy to gain weight while working on the Pisces.  The stewards do a fantastic job preparing meals for everyone on the ship.  Meal times are the same each day, breakfast is from 7-8 am, lunch is from 11am to noon, and dinner is from 5-6pm.  If someone is working the night shift, they can request that a meal be set aside for them so they can eat later.

Ocean Careers Interview

Stacey Harter

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Stacey Harter, the Chief  Scientist for this mission.

What is your job title?  I am a Research Ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Panama City Lab.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  My responsibilities are to acquire funding for my research, as well as plan the trips, go on the cruise to gather the data, and analyze the data when I get back.  I am also collaborating on other projects with NOAA Beaufort in North Carolina and St. Andrew Bay studying the juvenile snapper and grouper populations in the sea grass found at this location.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I got my Bachelors degree in Biology from Florida State University and my Masters degree in Marine Biology from University of Alabama.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  My best experience I’ve had was getting to go down in a manned submersible to a depth of 2,500 feet to study deep water corals and the fish that live there.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a marine biologist?  Do internships!  This is the best way to get your name out there and to make connections with people who might be able to get you a job after college.  I had an internship at the NOAA Panama City Lab while I was in graduate school which helped me to get my job with NOAA when I graduated.

Kaci Heins: September 24-26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaci Heins
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 17 — October 7, 2011

Mrs. Heins Acquiring Data For The Hydrographic Survey

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: 10.40 knots
Temperature
Dry Bulb: 11.3 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1000.1 millibars
Latitude: 55.28 degrees North
Longitude: -133.68 degrees West

Science and Technology

I have received many questions from students asking “What is hydrography?”.  According to the International Hydrographic Organization,  hydrography is “the branch of applied science which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of the navigable portion of the earth’s surface [seas] and adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their use for the purpose of navigation.” Lets break that word down to find the meanings of the prefixes and suffixes using dictionary.com.

hydro – means water,

graph – means to write or chart

graphy – means the science or process of recording

Another question I have received is what is a hydrographic survey?  Most of the surveys that you may have heard of are used on land.  For example, construction workers may survey a site before they start construction, or you may take a survey at school about what types of food you would like in the cafeteria.  Any kind of survey is the acquiring of information that is used for various purposes.  In the case of a hydrographic survey, the technicians acquire and chart information about the sea floor.  I was fortunate enough to go out on a survey launch to see that a hydrographic survey is conducted using sonar to look through the water to see what the sea floor actually looks like.

Launch Boat

The boat that NOAA uses to conduct the surveys is called a launch.  This means we use a large motorboat to get to where we need to go.  It costs tens of thousands of dollars a day to operate the Rainier, her launches, and the technology.  It is the technology that allows scientists to be able to “see” through the water to map what the ocean floor actually looks like.  The first, and most important, piece of technology on the launch that enables us to “see” the sea floor is the sonarSonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) is the process of using sound waves to bounce off objects we cannot see and then acquiring the return sound to create an image.  However, it does get a little more complicated than that.  There are two different types of sonar that the NOAA National Ocean Service (NOS) goes into detail about.

1) Active Sonar – Transmits a pulse or acoustic sound into the water. If the sound pulse hits an object in its path, such as the sea floor, then the sound bounces off  and returns an “echo” to the sonar receiver.  By determining the round-trip travel time between the emission of the sound pulse and its reception, the transducer can determine the range (how far away) and orientation (location) of the object.  The formula for this is

Distance = (two way travel time x speed of sound through water) / 2

2) Passive Sonar – Is a sonar system that does not emit its own signal, but listens to sound waves coming towards it.

Multibeam Sonar

Both the Rainier and the smaller launches have  both active sonar called multibeam sonar. Multibeam sonar sends out numerous sound waves from directly beneath the ship on the boat’s hull that fans out its coverage over the seafloor.  This coverage is called a “swath”.  Before we leave the ship to head out on the launches we have a briefing to go over the weather, safety, and any other important information for the coxswains, scientists, or crew.  We also get a plan for the day for what polygons, or areas we have to survey.  On our way we turn on some of the expensive (and top secret!) technology called the Position and Attitude System (POS).  This technology collects the vessels motion data (roll, pitch, and yaw), that later will be incorporated into the Caris software that produces the final chart. The multibeam transmits around 512

Polygon Coverage Area for the Day

beams each second.  The frequency of the sound waves depends on the depths that we are working in.  We worked in waters that were around 50 meters deep so we used the 400 kilohertz frequency.  However, if we would have been working in deeper water we would have gone to 200 kilohertz.  By lengthening the wavelength the beams can travel into deeper water with less error or scattering.

Before we start acquiring data we make sure to have good communication with the coxswain, or driver, of the boat.  It is extremely important that there is good communication and that the coxswain can maintain their heading and speed throughout the polygon so that the data can be collected without too many errors.

Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Cast

We want to make sure we only go about 6-8 knots so that the sonar echo has time to make it back up to the receiver and we can collect good data.  The scientists also conduct a CTD cast before we start and every four hours while they collect data.  CTD stands for Conductivity (or salinity), Temperature, and Depth (pressure).  The data from the CTD can be used to calculate the speed of sound through water.  All of these factors can cause errors in the survey data so scientists need to collect this information so that the finished product has fewer errors and depths can be corrected from the sonar.  Other features that can cause errors in the data are bubbles, vegetation such as kelp, schools of fish, and the type of material that is on the sea floor.  For example, if the sea floor consists of a softer material it won’t reflect the sonar beams back as well.

To collect the survey data we basically drive the launch back and forth over our assigned polygons with the multibeam sonar.  This is sometimes called “mowing the lawn” or “painting the bottom”.  When we get to one edge of the polygon we stop logging data, turn around, and make a new swath as close as we can to the previous one and continue collecting data.  We cover around 50 nautical miles each day collecting data with the overall goal to collect the best data quality that we can during our acquisition.

As we head back to the Rainier all the computer data is downloaded from the day and is later transferred to the plot room.  This is where survey technicians add all the other information and make corrections to the data such as tides, vessel motion (POS), GPS, sound velocity from the CTD, and other programs so that the data is as accurate as possible.  Technicians still must go through and clean out “noise” which is scattering of some of the data.  The finished survey chart is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for post processing and quality assurance.

What We Surveyed Today!

Personal Log

In my last blog I wrote about how math skills are very important not only as a strong skill needed on a NOAA ship, but also as a life-long skill.  As I continue learning more about hydrography I have also found that computer skills are extremely valuable in this work environment.  Most people have basic computer skills to check email and run office programs, but out here it takes a little more.  There is quite a bit of training that the survey technicians and the NOAA Corps officers must go through to learn about all the different software that collects data and then using more software to combine them to make the finished hydro chart.  Numerous hours of collecting data, combining data, cleaning data and finishing projects all have a significant amount of work done by or at a computer.  Everyone from the captain to the junior officers must know how to use it and how to troubleshoot when things don’t work right.  It is not as easy as picking up the phone and calling customer service.  Minds among the ship must come together to solve problems when they arise.

Using the Computer to Collect Survey Data

While underway whether it is on the ship or on one of the launches the high seas are always around.  At first they made me nervous because I was afraid I would get sick.  However, it has turned out to be quite the opposite!  Whenever the seas get rough I actually start to get sleepy as we sway back and forth!  Usually, we are so busy that there isn’t time to take a nap so I’m learning to work through it.  Going along those lines of being busy, there are usually no breaks during the weekends.  In most people’s lives the weekend is time to take a break, hang out with family and friends, and sometimes do absolutely nothing at all.  Out here on a working ship this is not the case.  The NOAA ships have to meet certain deadlines and with some of their past major repairs, time has been ticking away with not much work being done.  This means when Saturdays and Sundays roll around at the end of the week we keep on working like a regular day.  I have the utmost respect for all of the crew, scientists, and officers that spend their time out here working for weeks straight.  It is not an easy lifestyle, but they are committed to it and I admire them and their strength.

Student Questions Answered

Wildlife Spotted!

Sea Otters

Humpback Whale

Sea Otter

Sea stars

Sea Urchins

Question of the day

Caroline Singler, August 13-15 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGS Healy 

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean north of Alaska in the Canada Basin
Date of Post: 16 August 2010

Follow the Leader – 13 – 15 August 2010

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 13 August 2010 Time of Day: 2100 (9:00 p.m.) local time; 04:00 UTC
Latitude: 73º0’N

Longitude: 145º3’W
Ship Speed: 3.9 knots
Heading: 1.8º (north)
Air Temperature: 2.0ºC/35ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1018.9 millibars (mb) Humidity: 100%
Winds: 3-5 Knots SW
Sea Temperature: -0.4ºC Salinity: 25.37 PSU
Water Depth:~3600 m

Ice with Ridges
Ice with Ridges

Date: 14 August 2010

Time of Day: 2105 (9:05 p.m.)
local time; 04:05 UTC
Latitude: 73º36.4’N Longitude: 146º19.21’W
Ship Speed: 4.7 knots Heading: 223º (southwest)
Air Temperature: 2.15ºC/35.88ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1022.3 mb Humidity: 92.1%
Winds: 12.2 knots SE Wind Chill: -3.1ºC/26.5ºF
Sea Temperature: -0.7 ºC Salinity: 24.84 PSU
Water Depth: 3708.6 m

Open Water and Beautiful Sky
Open Water and Beautiful Sky

Date: 15 August 2010
Time of Day: 1500 (3:00 p.m.)
local time; 22:00 UTC
Latitude: 72º56.4’N
Longitude: 150º9.0’W
Ship speed: 11.8 knots
Heading: 220º (southwest)
Air Temperature: 5.6ºC/42.2ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1015.6 mb
Humidity: 98.1%
Winds: 17.7 knots E
Wind Chill: 1.7ºC/35.1ºF
Sea Temperature: 3.9ºC
Salinity: 24.5 PSU
Water Depth:3691.1 mScience and Technology Log

The Extended Continental Shelf Project is a multi-year effort between the United States and Canada. The two countries share knowledge, resources, and information to allow greater coverage of the region and more cost effective achievement of the mission objectives. For this mission, the USCGC Healy is working in tandem with the Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker Louis S. St. Laurent, called Louis(pronounced “Louie”) for short. Healy is responsible for collecting bathymetric data and shallow subsurface imaging while Louis performs deeper subsurface imaging with her air-gun array. The instrumentation on Louis is towed behind the ship and requires a clear path through the ice; therefore, Healy’s primary responsibility when the ships are in ice is to lead and break ice for Louis. Healy opens a path and Louis follows, typically about one to two miles behind depending on ice and visibility conditions. It was foggy for most of the day on Friday as we led the way north along the first track line. The only way I knew that Louis was behind us was by watching the ship tracking chart and listening to occasional radio chatter between the two boats as the crews communicated about ice conditions. Skies cleared as we moved farther north and deeper into the ice on Saturday. Near midday, the fog lifted and there was Louis, first emerging like a ghostly image out of the fog and then, as we made the turn onto a new transect line, she was in full view. By Sunday afternoon we were heading south in open water, so Healy moved away fromLouis to conduct other business while our ice breaking services were not needed.

USCGS Healy Leading USCGS Lewis
USCGC Healy Leading CCGS Louis

USCGS Louis on Ice
CCGS Louis on Ice

While multibeam sonar allows us to “see the bottom”, subbottom profiling uses a different sound-producing system to see what is under the bottom. Geologists use the subbottom data both from Healy andLouis to estimate sediment thickness and make inferences about sediment types and structures beneath the seafloor. It makes me think of Superman’s x-ray vision! Like multibeam sonar, subbottom profilers are echosounding devices. They are active sonar systems – sound signals are transmitted and received by the instrument.
Healy’s profiler is a “chirp” system mounted inside the bottom of the ship’s hull – so called because it sounds like a bird chirping, a sound that one hears in the background throughout the ship. It releases high frequency pulses of acoustic energy that travel through the water column and (in theory) hit the seafloor and penetrate into subsurface materials to depths of tens of meters. Signals are reflected at the seafloor and at interfaces between different subsurface layers within the seafloor. The reflection of acoustic energy depends on the “acoustic impedance” of the material encountered. Acoustic impedance is related to the density of the material and the velocity of sound in that medium. Different materials have different acoustic impedance and therefore different reflectivity. The concept is similar to that of albedo when one considers the reflection of solar energy from different surfaces. A smooth, light-colored surface like a field of snow reflects a high percentage of incoming solar rays and therefore has a high albedo– hence the glare that hurts your eyes on a sunny day. Dark-colored surfaces reflect much lower percentages of incident light and therefore have low albedo. (They also absorb more energy which is why they get hotter on a sunny day.)
With subbottom profiling, sands typically reflect sound differently than mud, and layers or other structures in the subsurface result in different signal strengths returning to the receivers on the ship. The picture on the right shows an image of the raw chirp data displayed on the computer screen at the watch stander station. It does not show a lot in this state, but after processing the data will provide important information about the subsurface in the Arctic Ocean.

Chirp Display
Chirp Display

Subbottom surveying on Louis is performed with a multi-channel air gun system that is towed behind the ship. Three air guns, powered by air compressors on the ship’s deck, provide the acoustic energy source. A streamer with an array of 16 hydrophones trails behind the air guns; the hydrophones receive the return signals reflected by the seafloor and subsurface sediments. In open water, the air guns are attached to a float and hang about three to five meters below the surface, at a distance of about 100 meters behind the ship. In ice, the air guns are attached to a metal sled (depressor) that hangs below the sea surface (and hence the ice) to a depth of about 10 meters and at a distance of about 10 meters behind the ship. When fired, the air guns simultaneously emit large air bubbles into the water column. As the bubbles collapse, an acoustic pulse is produced that moves through the water. It is similar to what happens in the atmosphere when air rapidly expands and contracts as a lightning bolt passes through, creating the sound we know as thunder. The air guns generate sound at a lower frequency than the chirp system; sound at these lower frequencies penetrates deeper into the subsurface but produces lower resolution than the higher frequency chirp system. Such air gun systems can provide images to depths of several kilometers below the seafloor.

WHOI Subbottom Profiling Diagram
WHOI Subbottom Profiling Diagram

Image source: USGS Woods Hole Science CenterReferences:
USGS Woods Hole Science Centerhttp://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/operations/sfmapping/seismic.htm
NOAA Coastal Services Centerhttp://www.csc.noaa.gov/benthic/mapping/techniques/sensors/subbottom.htm

Personal Log
Saturdays are “Field Days” on Healy. No, we did not all get into boats and take a trip away from the ship or get out onto the ice. Field Day is a fancy way of saying that it is time for cleanup and inspection of common areas and personal berthing areas. All personnel on board are responsible for trash removal and cleaning of staterooms, restrooms and common living and working spaces. Anyone who is not on duty pitches in to clean the Science lounge and labs – vacuuming, sweeping, washing floors and generally putting things in order. The “trash vans” are open twice a week; everyone brings trash and recycling to two large blue bins on the port side of the 02 deck (the same deck as the science staterooms). Coast Guard volunteers work the trash vans. Healy will be at sea for another long mission after this one, so efficient trash removal and storage is critical. Healy personnel are dedicated to recycling and have an award winning recycling program on board – no small feat when it is necessary to haul it all around for months at sea. Think about that when you are tempted to complain about separating recyclables from trash at home or at school.

Since everything was neat and tidy, I decided it was a good time to show you my living space on Healy. Science staterooms are set up for three occupants, but on this trip we have two people per room. I share a room with Sarah Ashworth, a marine mammal observer; she is currently on Louis, so for now I have my own room. The room is more spacious than I expected on a ship, similar in size to a lot of college dorm rooms.

My Rack
My Rack

Space is used very efficiently. There are bunk beds; Sarah has more experience at sea than I, so she has the top bunk or “rack”.

Bunks
Bunks

Each person has a good sized locker for clothes and since there are only two of us, we each have a desk and filing cabinet, so there is plenty of storage space – more than we need for our personal belongings.

Sink and Locker
Sink and Locker

Desk Area
Desk Area

There’s nothing like a room with a view, even if they left the tape on the window the last time they painted the ship.

Sun on Water Through Porthole
Sun on Water Through Porthole

Each room has its own sink, and shares a bathroom with the adjoining room. Okay, they call it a “head” on a ship; don’t ask me why! The bathroom is small, but one does not linger when taking a “sea shower”, and there is always plenty of hot water. In case you ever wondered what a marine toilet looked like, here it is.

Shower
Shower

Marine Toilet
Marine Toilet

We headed towards Barrow on Sunday to pick up a crew member and some supplies for the Louis. There was a steady wind from the east for most of the afternoon, and the boat was rolling a little, but I was more prepared for it this time than I was the first time it happened, but I still stumble when I walk down the hall.

We have had beautiful views of ice, sea, and sky for the last few days.

Ice with cool clouds
Ice with cool clouds

Waves and sky
Waves and sky

Caroline Singler, August 3-4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea:Caroline Singler
Ship: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy

Mission: International Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea en route to Arctic Ocean
Date: 4 August 2010

In the Bering Sea – 3 & 4 August 2010

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Time of Day: 1600 (4:00 p.m.) local time; 00:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)
Latitude: 65º19’N
Longitude: 168º16’W
Ship Speed: 16.9 knots Heading: 358.1º
Air Temperature: 11.33ºC /52.38ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1009.3 millibars Humidity: 94.9%
Winds: 9.6 Knots SSE
Sea Temperature: 9.9 ºC
Water Depth:53.6 m
Science and Technology Log
Since leaving Dutch Harbor on 2 August 2010, the USCGC Healy has traveled north through the Bering Sea en route to the Arctic Ocean, where we will embark on the third year of an international effort called the Extended Continental Shelf Project. In a few days, we will rendezvous with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Louis S. St. Laurent in the Arctic Ocean. The objectives of this mission are to perform detailed bathymetric mapping of the seafloor and imaging of the subsurface and to collect physical seafloor samples in the part of the Arctic known as the Beaufort Sea and Canada Basin. I will write more about this over the next few days; in a nutshell, we want to determine the limits of the extended continental shelf in that region. Our primary role on the Healy is to serve as the lead ice breaker for the Louis so that she can collect multichannel seismic reflection data of the subsurface. At the same time, Healy will collect multibeam bathymetric data and high resolution seismic reflection data and obtain seafloor samples using a variety of dredging and coring methods. The extent of our work may be influence by sea ice conditions which can be unpredictable.One of my responsibilities on the cruise is to serve as a “Watchstander” for the geophysical data collection. Watchstanders work in pairs and are responsible for keeping an eye on the computer monitor displays of the data that is continuously collected by the multibeam sonar and “chirp” (seismic reflection) data and to call in the experts if something goes wrong. Water depths are shallow and the seafloor relatively featureless on our traverse through the Bering Sea, but the data will likely become more interesting when we reach out destination. This is the time to learn about the equipment and understand our responsibilities so that we’ll be sharp when our data collection efforts become more critical. Last year’s mission mapped a previously undiscovered seamount! My watch is from 2000 to 0000 (8 p.m. to midnight), which leaves me lots of time during the day to write, research, and wander around learning about the ship. Later in the mission I will be involved in the sampling efforts when I am not on geophysical watch.

Fog Bow
Fog Bow

Personal Log
It has been smooth sailing since leaving Dutch Harbor, and we have moved relatively quickly, slowing occasionally when the fog thickens. Foggy conditions are common in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. I went out on deck early yesterday evening to enjoy a brief period when the sun was visible above the fog, and was treated to the sight of a “fog bow”.

Puffin Check!
Puffin Check!

NOSB folks will be happy to know that my puffin is accompanying me on my journey, even when I’m on watch.

I’ve seen both horned puffins and tufted puffins from the ship, and I’m beginning to be able to tell the difference, but nothing beats the show the horned puffins put on for us in Dutch Harbor. If you want to see awesome bird shots, take a look at Bill Schmoker’s journals, which you’ll find linked on the upper right side of my blog page.

Earlier this afternoon, we passed near a small island called King Island in the northern Bering Sea. There was a lot of seabird activity closer to shore, and I was fortunate to be on the Bridge watching when the marine mammal observer saw a gray whale. I got to see it surface and dive once; no time for a photo, just firsthand enjoyment of the experience.


I took a break while writing this log to go back to the Bridge as we passed through the Bering Straits. The view was the same as it was for the rest of the day, but I wanted to have the best view in the house for the experience.

Moving through the Bering Strait
Moving through the Bering Strait

Today is Coast Guard Day which commemorates the formation of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790. In honor of the occasion, the Coasties roasted a pig out on the helo (helicopter) deck and served a picnic style dinner in the Mess tonight.

Pig Roast
Pig Roast

Did You Know?
I did a search to learn more about Coast Guard Day. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Treasury Department established the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790 and “authorized the building of a fleet of ten cutters, whose responsibility would be the enforcement of the first tariff laws enacted by Congress under the Constitution.” The name “Coast Guard” was adopted in 1915.
Source: U.S. Department of Defense

Rita Larson, August 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Larson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 10 – 27, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Kasitsna Bay, AK
Date: August 13, 2009

RA-4 launch, one of the Rainier’s small boats
RA-4 launch, one of the Rainier’s small boats

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 59° 28.515′N Longitude: 151° 33.549′W
Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb : 14.4°C (46°F); Wet Bulb: 12.2°C (54°F) (Dew Point)
Visibility: 10 miles

Science and Technology Log 

The Rainer deploys launches or small boats such as the RA-4 that have different tasks assigned to them listed on the POD or the Plan of the Day. Today, our mission was to survey a section of the sea floor in Kachemak Bay. Once the survey has been completed, the raw data is processed and then is sent to other NOAA’s National Ocean Service divisions to create nautical charts of the sea floor for either updating for accuracy or created for the first time.

Each launch is equipped with multi-beam sonar devices. The crew is currently collecting bathymetric as well as backscatter data simultaneously. Backscatter data can be analyzed to categorize the bottom type of the sea floor indicating changing sediment types such as rock or mud. This information is of particular use to fisheries biologists, ecologists, and others who are interested in habitat mapping. The lead hydrographers are given a polygon region, which defines the area in which they are going to survey.  This is what ours looked like for today:

This was our chart at the beginning of the day.
This was our chart at the beginning of the day.

This is our chart after a hard days work!
This is our chart after a hard days work!

Can you see what we surveyed? Yes, you are correct if you said the purple and green-blue mixture. The first step that was taken was putting a cast in the water, which is called a CTD and stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD is used to see the changes in sound velocity all the way to the bottom.  This process is repeated at least every four hours for readings. This sound velocity data is used to correct the multi beam sonar data. The computer is able to translate the multi-beam sonar data in a 3-D image of the sea floor.

The CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.
The CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Personal Log 

I am getting used to my routine living on a ship. The main idea is respecting others and their space. Listening to others and following the rules. Asking lots of questions will help you transition easily. Following others advice. Enjoying the company you are with. Having fun on every adventure that is given to you. I am learning so much, and each day I am feeling more and more comfortable here in my new home on the Rainier. 

New Term/Phrase/Word 

Wow, I am a student here on the Rainier! I am learning new words and terms everyday. Just today I found out a FISH is not an animal, but an instrument that is towed behind a boat on a cable and “swims” through the water. One example is a Moving Vessel Profiler or a MVP. This apparatus collects the same information as the CTD; however, it collects the information in real time. It is smart to have the CTD and the MVP on the launch to compare the same data to make sure it is correct.

This is a screen that is read by the hydrographers that shows the 3-D sonar images of the bottom of the sea floor.  Today, some of our readings were more than 500ft deep. WOW!
This is a screen that is read by the hydrographers that shows the 3-D sonar images of the bottom of the sea floor. Today, some of our readings were more than 500ft deep. WOW!

When we survey a section of the sea floor that was previously surveyed that is called junctioning, or overlapping. Holidays are not the days on a calendar, but stands for “holes in the data”. That means after you survey a section of the sea floor, if there is a missed section on the computer screen you must go back and re-survey that area.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°08.590’N, 161°41.110’W
Weather: OVC
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind speed: 8 knts.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Sea temperature: 8.9°C
Barometric pressure: 980.0mb
Air temperature: Dry bulb=9.4°C, Wet bulb=8.9°C

Science and Technology Log 

I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler.  Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.
I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler. Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.

One of the most interesting (and fun) mornings onboard Rainier happened during our first week at sea. After doing a few days of surveying from an anchorage off SW Ukolnoi Island, we began a transit to a new anchorage off of Wosnesenski Island. On the way, we took a series of bottom samples from Rainier’s deck. The purpose of taking a bottom sample is to determine the composition of the ocean floor.  It is important to record this data and combine it with bathymetric survey data so that ships will know whether or not the area is good for anchoring. A muddy or sandy bottom is best because the anchor can take hold. A stone-covered bottom is not desirable for anchoring because the anchor cannot dig in, and, if it does, there is this risk that it could break if caught under a large stone.

Taking bottom samples is a rather simple process.  We work in teams of three on deck.  One person is in the Plot Room to record data and prepare for the next sample. On deck, a crew member operates a winch that is attached to an A-frame.  At the end of the cable is a claw-like, spring-loaded bottom sampler that is lowered into the water. As it descends, the winch operator calls out depths to one of the two people taking the sample.  The depth is relayed to the bridge via radio.  When the claw hits bottom, the springs disengage and the claws clamp shut, holding a sample.  The person in the Plot Room listens for the direction “Mark”, and marks the sample’s position on the computer program.  As the sample is raised, the winch operator calls out the depths again.  This information is radioed to the bridge along with any corrections they must make to adjust the ship’s position.  For example, “50-straight up and down” means that the sampler is at 50 meters and the cable is straight up and down (the way you want it to be). A call of “aft” or “forward” means that the cable is coming up at an angle and the bridge must help to correct this.

Once the sample is raised, it is emptied into a bucket and examined for color and composition.  This is radioed to the Plot Room and recorded.  The bottom sampler is readied for the next drop as the Plot Room directs the ship to the next location and readies the computer program for the next data input. During our bottom sampling, the data was all recorded at “g stk M”—green, sticky mud.  It had a sulfuric smell, which, if you think about all of the volcanoes in the area, makes sense.

Personal Log 

This will be my final Ship Log, as we are scheduled to pull anchor this afternoon and start our transit to Kodiak Island. I can’t believe that the end of three weeks is coming to a close.  I was talking to the CO about the number of people and/or agencies who contribute to the production of an individual chart. There are large groups—like NOAA, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, for example.  There are also smaller groups and individuals as well.  Everything from sounding depths to buoy locations to shoreline topography to notes on the locations of buildings, lighthouses and even church steeples are included.  I’ve spent some time studying the current paper chart of the area we have been surveying (#16549:  Alaska Peninsula, Cold Bay and Approaches) and the most striking feature is, of course, the absence of data in the center. I can’t wait to acquire an updated copy when it is available (some sources say, depending upon the priority, could be up to three years; although the NOAA goal is “Ping to Chart in 90 days”). Knowing that I helped to play even a very small part in helping improve navigation safety is a great feeling!

I’d like to thank the officers and crew aboard Rainier for making my Teacher at Sea experience the adventure of a lifetime!  I’ve learned so much about life at sea from new friends who have been patient and hospitable. I leave with a great respect for all of the individuals who call Rainier both work and home for eight or nine months out of the year.  They are away from husbands, wives, children, friends and pets for a long time; however, the community that they have built aboard the ship seems to offset some of the wishing for home.  Safe Sailing and Happy Hydro, my friends!

Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister
Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

Did You Know? 
If you are interested in learning more about hydrography and the work done on Rainier, here are some of my favorite links:

-NOAA’s hydrographic survey home page

-Interactive online activity about seafloor mapping

-Search for historic nautical charts and compare how they change from year to year.

Alaska Fun Facts 
Kodiak Island is, at 3,588 sq. miles, the second largest in the United States.  It is the oldest European settlement in Alaska and is known as Alaska’s “Emerald Isle”.  Before its “discovery” by Russian explorer Stephen Glotov in 1763, the island was occupied solely by the Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) people.  In 1912, Kodiak was caught in the drifting ash from the eruption of Novarupta Volcano which buried the island under 18 inches of ash.  A more recent natural disaster targeted the island in 1964, when a 9.2 earthquake struck Alaska and set off a tsunami.  This seismic sea wave virtually destroyed downtown Kodiak and its fishing fleet. Today, over 13,000 residents call Kodiak home.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 17, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°13.449’N, 161°22.745’W (Wosnesenski Island)
Weather: OVC, H (overcast, hazy)
Wind: light
Seas: 0-1’
Sea temperature: 8.3°C
Barometric pressure: 1010.8 mb
Air temperature: 12.2°C dry bulb, 11.1°C wet bulb

Here is what the feature (shipwreck) looks like on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized.  “Wk” is the abbreviation used for wreck on a nautical chart.
The feature (shipwreck) on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized. “Wk” stands for wreck on the chart.

Science and Technology Log 

Throughout the day when you are on a launch collecting hydrographic survey data, there are terms and concepts that come up repeatedly—namely, low vs. high frequency and resolution.  The multi-beam sonar on the launches has dual frequencies—high and low.  This, combined with the fact that there are multiple beams instead of just one “pinging” off of the ocean bottom, allows the hydrographer to customize the technology for the conditions of the day.  Low frequency is used in deeper water.  The multi-beam is operated in high frequency in shallow water. According to my Hydrographer In Charge (HIC) on a recent survey, Barry Jackson, the depth at which you would change frequencies is about 50 meters.  Low frequency sends out fewer pings per second, but low frequency sound travels further through water.  Conversely, high frequency sends out more pings, but high frequency sound does not travel as far through the water. Therefore, high frequency gives you an image that is more precise.  Why would you want a higher quality image in shallower water?  As a navigator, it is important that the obstructions and underwater features closer to the surface be the most clear, for those are the ones that you are most likely to hit.

Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA.  (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution)  Courtesy: ENS Shultz
Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA. (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution) Courtesy: ENS Shultz

The day’s polygon (or survey area) data is also configured to be collected at a certain resolution.  Resolution, like frequency, affects the detail of an underwater feature.  The resolution also depends upon the depth of the water; however, there are more choices.  On Rainier, the resolution changes based upon depth at the following increments.  (On this mission, 4m resolution is the least.)  Note that there is some overlap. To demonstrate how applying different resolutions to the same feature can change how it is viewed, ENS Christy Shultz showed me the bathymetry (the topography of the Earth’s surface underwater) of a shipwreck surveyed in Elliot Bay, near Seattle, WA.  If you look at the corrected data for the object at 4 meter resolution and compare the same image at 2 and 1 meter resolution, you will see that as the resolution gets higher (the number actually gets lower), the image goes from being fuzzy to quite clear.

Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.
Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.

Personal Log 

There are some days when I do not go out on a survey launch.  These days are great for taking a peek around the ship to see what happens in different departments or to have safety drills and demonstrations.  Recently, we had the second of our weekly abandon ship and fire/emergency drills.  After the drills, the entire crew who was on board (not out on launches) watched a video clip about a piece of rescue apparatus called a PLT, or Pneumatic Line Thrower.  Then we all went to the fantail for a demonstration.  The PLT is a rescue device that a ship can use to get a line out to another ship or individual in distress. It uses compressed air to fire a line attached to a rocket-shaped weight. The demonstration and overall design of the PLT reminded me of a piece of historical rescue equipment familiar to many who live on Cape Cod, MA and other coastal communities–a Lyle gun.

A Lyle gun and Faking box (held the wound line)
A Lyle gun and Faking box

A Lyle gun is a small cannon that was used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service in the late 1800s to fire a lightweight line onto the mast of a sinking ship when conditions were too severe to launch a surf boat.  When the line was secured, a paddle-shaped board that contained instructions, a block and pulley and heavier lines were sent across.  After the line was secured to the mast, the lifesavers would assemble a breeches buoy to haul the sailors to safety across the raging seas. The breeches buoy was a large pair of canvas pants (breeches) secured to a life ring. A pulley system allowed the lifesavers to transfer one man at a time from ship to shore.  You can read more about lifesaving, the Lyle gun and breeches buoy here.

Did You Know? 
Rainier is like a small, self-contained floating city.  She generates her own power, treats her own waste water, and makes her own drinking water.  The ship is only limited by the amount of food and fuel on board.

Alaska Fun Facts 
As I noted in my Ship’s Log #2 on July 10, Wosnesenski Island has a herd of feral cows roaming its treeless hills and valleys.  Since then, I have been given more information about them.  The original bovines were probably brought here by the Osterback family in the early 1900s. The family lived an isolated lifestyle, raising blue fox to trade their pelts to London furriers. You can read more about one of the nine Osterback children, Lily, here.

One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion.  My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.
One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion. My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.

Dan Steelquist, July 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dan Steelquist
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 6 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Latitude: 55°13.522’ N Longitude: 161°22.795’ W Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles Wind Direction: 174° true Wind Speed: 15 knots Sea Wave Height: 0-1ft. Swell Waves: N/A Water Temperature: 8.3° C Dry Bulb: 10.6° C Wet Bulb: 10.6° C Sea Level Pressure: 1021.0 mb

Science and Technology Log 

The primary mission of the Rainier is to gather hydrographic sounding data. For this leg of the summer field session, that data collection is done by a number of small launches that go out to work each day from Rainier. On a typical day four twenty-nine foot survey launches are deployed from the ship, each with an assigned area to gather data. Each launch is equipped with a multibeam sonar device that sends sound signals to the bottom and then times how long it takes for the signal to return to the receiver.  Knowing how fast the signal will travel through the water, the length of time the signal takes to leave and return to the sounder determines the depth of the water at that point.

Here I am preparing the CTD to take a cast.
Here I am preparing the CTD to take a cast.

For many years sonar devices have only been able to measure the water depth directly below a survey vessel.  Now, with multibeam sonar, survey vessels can cover a larger swath of seafloor with hundreds of depth measurements being taken at a time. Once the data is processed, a “painted” picture of the bottom surface can be generated. Once a launch is in its assigned work area, the sonar is turned on and the boat goes back and forth in a prescribed pattern to gather data on water depth, essentially providing total coverage of what the seafloor looks like in that area. The coxswain (person driving the launch) has a computer screen with a chart of the coverage area and steers the launch over the planned area. As the launch moves along the path of sonar coverage its path shows up on the screen as a different color, letting the driver know where the boat has been.

In order for data to be interpreted accurately, there are many steps in the process from data acquisition to actual placement on a nautical chart. There is one very important piece of data that needs to be gathered in the field as the launches do there work with the sonar. Sound waves can vary in speed as they travel through water, depending on certain conditions. In order for accurate depth readings to be acquired, those conditions must be known. Therefore throughout the data gathering session, hydrographers must acquire data on the condition of the water. That is where a CTD cast comes in. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, depth. Every few hours a CTD cast must be done in order to accurately interpret the data gathered by the sonar. The device is lowered over this side of the launch and allowed to sink to the bottom. As it descends, the CTD gathers data at various depths. When recovered the CTD is connected to a computer and its data is integrated with the sonar data to acquire more accurate depth readings.

Personal Log 

I’ve been on the Rainier now for twelve days. While there are certain routines on board the ship, there isn’t much routine about the work these people do. I continue to be impressed with how everyone applies their skills to their work in order for data to be gathered. Much of the area where we are working has never been charted before and much of what has been charted was done before World War II with lead lines (dropping a piece of lead attached to a line, and counting the measured marks on the line until it hits bottom). The details acquired by multibeam sonar are truly amazing. We will be here in the Pavlof Islands for a few more days and then head back to Kodiak, where I will get off the ship. Not long to go, but there is still much for me to learn!

Something to Think About 
How long would it take you to paint an entire house with dots from a very small paintbrush? That would be like using a lead line to gather depth information. How long would it take you to paint an entire house with a very small, narrow paint brush? That would be single beam sonar. How much time could you save by using a wide paintbrush? That would be multibeam sonar.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 14, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.664’N, 161°40.543’W (anchored off SW Ukolnoi Island)
Weather: OVC (overcast)
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind: 28 kts.
North Seas: 2-3’
Sea temperature: 7.8°C
Barometric pressure: 1021.0 mb and rising
Air temperature: Dry bulb=12.8°C; Wet bulb=10.0°C

This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line.  Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.
This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line. Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.

Science and Technology Log 

The past few days have been “typical” Alaska weather—fog, drizzle, moderate winds.  This morning I was quite surprised when I looked out my stateroom porthole.  The weather was supposed to have calmed somewhat overnight; however, it was obvious that a good blow had picked up. White caps covered the water’s surface. I was scheduled for a launch, RA-4 (each of the launches has a number 1-6, RA being the abbreviation for Rainier), but I decided not to board at the last moment.  When the launches are lowered to the side of the ship, the bow and stern (front and back) are secured with line to minimize movement.  To board the launch, you have to step across a 1-2 foot gap from Rainier to the launch. Today’s conditions amplified the heaving and pitching motion of both the ship and launch and made the distance between too far for my short legs.  I chose safety over adventure today.

As the launches continued to be deployed, Rainier began to transit from our anchorage north of Wosnesenski Island to our previous anchorage position in a small cove off the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Having the flexibility to change the ship’s direction was essential for the safe deployment of launches today.  Personnel and equipment could be protected from the force of the wind and waves (which topped 6’ at times).  Although disappointed that I did not make it onto my launch, I was given an opportunity to watch the deck crew in action. I learned that this morning’s weather was some of the worst that the crew has seen during this survey season, however, work can be completed in conditions that are more blustery than today.

As a member of a survey team, you have to put your trust in the deck crew and their talents and skills. Jimmy Kruger is the Chief Boatswain. He is in charge of the deck and its crew. In a way, he is like the conductor of an orchestra—he makes sure that each member of the crew is in the right place at the right time and that they begin their job at precisely the right moment.   As the day progressed, I began to wonder how the weather data from 0700 to 1400 (2 pm) changed, so I took a walk up to the bridge. My guess was that, although there were still whitecaps on the surface, wind speed and wave height would have decreased, since we had anchored on the south shore of one of the islands (which would serve as a buffer from the wind).  It seemed to me that the weather was so much worse this morning.  Not so. The wind speed had actually increased by a few knots, although the seas had decreased by about a foot. When I am up on the bridge, I always find something new to inquire about.  It’s a busy place—not necessarily busy with numbers of people, but with instruments, charts and readings. General Vessel Assistant Mark Knighton and ENS Jon Andvick were on the bridge.

We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.
We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.

When you are standing on the bridge with a gusty wind coming at you, you immediately think of the anchors.  Rainier’s anchors are made of steel.  They weigh 3,500 lbs. EACH!  The anchors are attached to the ship by a very thick chain.  Chains are measured in a unit called a shot. A shot equals 90 feet, and each of Rainier’s shots weighs about 1,100 lbs.  There are 12 shots per anchor. (So, can you calculate the approximate weight of the total of Rainier’s shot? How about the total length of the chain?)  The depth of this small cove is between 9-10 fathoms.  This is important in determining the scope, or ratio of the chain length to the depth of the water. According to ENS Andvick, when a vessel drops anchor, the length of the shot cannot be the exact distance between the vessel and the seafloor.  An amount of “extra” chain must be released so that some of it sits on the seafloor, producing a gentle curve up to the vessel.  This curve is called a catenary. The extra chain allows the ship move with the wind and/or waves and provides additional holding power.  If either wind or current becomes too strong for the anchor, it will drag along the seafloor.  If the ship has too little scope it will pull up on the anchor instead of pulling sideways along the sea floor. The anchor chain lies on the bottom and when the ship pulls on the anchor it must lift the heavy chain off the bottom.  If there is enough chain that the ship does not lift all the chain off the sea floor, it will lower the effective pull angle on the anchor. By increasing the scope of chain that is out, the crew is increasing the amount of weight the ship must lift off the sea floor before pulling up on the anchor.

Personal Log 

I have to say that today was kind of an emotional one for me—because I did not go out on the launch. In a way, I feel like I let my team down.  The others who went surveying on RA-4 had to do it without me.  Even though my work as a Teacher at Sea may not be as significant as that of the crew members or hydrographers, I’m feeling like I am a part of the team more and more each day. That is in contrast to being an observer (which I still do plenty of!).  As I kept busy throughout the day on the ship, I thought about RA-4 and what they were doing, what the conditions were like, if they liked what was in the lunch cooler today? I also realize and appreciate, however, that safety is the most important practice here on Rainier and when you don’t feel safe, you should never proceed.

Did You Know? 
The crew on Rainier is organized into six separate departments:  Wardroom (Officers), Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey.  There are photographs of each person on board along with their name and title posted for all to see.  They are organized by department as well as a “Visitors” section.  There are several other visitors on board besides me and Dan Steelquist (the other Teacher at Sea) including hydrography students and officers from the Colombian and Chilean Navies.

Alaska Fun Facts 

  1. Pavlof Volcano is one of the most active of Alaska’s volcanoes, having had more than 40 reported eruptions since 1790. Its most recent activity was in August 2007.
  2. You can learn more about the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula here.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Wosnesenski & Ukolnoi Islands, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.715’N, 161°40.554’W
Weather: Foggy
Visibility: < 0.5 nautical miles
Wind speed: 7knts
Swells: 0-1 ft.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Barometric pressure: 1022.8 mb
Air temperature: Wet bulb = 9.4°C; Dry bulb = 10.0°C

An example of polygons.  The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island.  Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours.  Remember, these are uncharted waters.
An example of polygons. The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours. Remember, these are uncharted waters.

Science and Technology Log 

If you have spent any time reading the Ship Logs from other Teachers at Sea, you are probably familiar with the fact that each involves a different type of work. On Rainier, we are focused on conducting hydrographic surveys. This means that we collect data on the characteristics of the ocean bottom as well as the nearby coastline.  We work seven days a week; from early morning and well into the evening.  There are six launches (30 foot aluminum boats) on Rainier, each with a multi-beam sonar attached to the bottom of the hull.  One of the launches has the capability to conduct surveys with side scan sonar. Each day, crew members work from what is called the POD (Plan of the Day). The POD is issued the evening before by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). Usually, four launches are sent out daily to collect multi-beam sonar data.  On board are the Coxswain (drives the launch); the Survey Technician (in charge of data collection), the Assistant Survey Technician (AST) and the Teacher at Sea (me).

To give you an idea of what a survey day is like, here is a brief summary.  Each day, the launch party is given a set of “polygons” to survey.  A polygon is an imaginary closed area.  You may remember this from geometry class.  The polygons drawn on the working charts generally follow the contours of the islands. It is impossible for the Survey Technicians who created the polygons on a survey area or “sheet” to know how the contours look underwater.  Why? Much of our survey work is in uncharted waters, which mean that no one has ever mapped the ocean floor in this area of Alaska. Thus, the work can be dangerous and every effort must be made to ensure the safety of all.

As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).
As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).

The coxswain begins by driving the launch near the area where we will start surveying for the day. Before we begin, we must take a CTD cast.  CTD stands for Conductivity Temperature and Depth. The water’s salinity, temperature and depth can all affect the multi-beam data.  The composition of the water column varies from location to location.  Some areas may be affected by glacial runoff and therefore be fresher and colder at the surface than others, for example.  Sound travels faster in warmer, saltier water, therefore; we must know the levels of each of these variables, as well as depth (pressure) in order to obtain an accurate set of multi-beam data.  The CTD data is applied to the multi-beam data to correct for sound speed changes through the water column.  This occurs later in Rainier’s Plot Room where all of the launch data is processed.  Casts are made every four hours or before beginning an acquisition for the day.

After the CTD data has been downloaded the coxswain begins to “mow the lawn”.  The launch is driven in lines that are as straight as possible, overlapping the previous pass a little so there are no gaps, or “holidays” between passes. As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam produces a series of pings which create a swath (a triangular shaped path of sonar beams).  The widest base of the triangular swath is on the ocean bottom with the launch at the top.  As the pings bounce back, they create various images that determine depth. The work requires constant adjustments and vigilance, since underwater features may present themselves at any time.  We do not want to hit them.  The area we were surveying when this shot was take was between 20 and 50 meters (greens and darker blues). 

By watching the swath, the technician and coxswain can determine the approximate depth below, including any features like rocks, shoals, or underwater peaks and valleys. If you use a ROYGBIV (rainbow) color scheme, the points closest to the surface(less than 8 meters) show up in red.  The more submerged the features or ocean bottom are, the more the colors move toward the deepest blue.  For example, the lightest greens begin the depth range at 20-35 meters.  This is especially helpful where there is no previous data. Can you think about why a coxswain might be very interested in knowing the places where the colors on the screen are turning from green to yellow to orange?

When a polygon is finished, it should look like it has been “painted in” with colors representing various depths and features of the ocean bottom.  After completing a polygon, the data is saved and we move on to another polygon; take a CTD cast and start the whole process all over again.  We return to Rainier by 16:30 (4:30 pm) unless weather and sea conditions are favorable, in which case the FOO can decide to run late boats until 17:30 (5:30 pm).  The data is then handed over to the Night Processing crew who apply filters and correctors to the raw data. The tide and sound velocity are the main culprits in skewing data. In addition to tide and sound, things like bubbles in the water, schools of fish and kelp beds (of which we’ve seen many) can also affect how “clean” the data is.  This is just a preliminary check. If the data is bad, we have to go out and survey the polygon again. After many days (sometimes weeks and months) of processing and checking, the data is used to create high-resolution, three-dimensional models of the ocean floor (on paper or computer).  These models will eventually leave Rainier and will be used by NOAA’s Pacific Hydrographic Branch to create nautical charts for mariner’s use.

The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second.  After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.
The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second. After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.

Personal Log 

I feel like I’ve been on Rainier for a long time, even though it’s only been six days since we left the dock in Seward. There is a definite routine established from when I wake up at 06:15 until I go to sleep around 11:00. My head is bursting at the seams with new knowledge and things to remember and keep straight.  It’s great to be a student again—everything is new.  The technology component of Rainier’s mission is nothing short of mind-bending.  How the survey technicians can keep all of the programs and how to use them straight, I don’t know.  I have pages of “cheat sheets” to use to help me remember what to click on and in what order.  Anyone who loves technology would love the job of survey technician.  This is especially true here in the Pavlofs where you might be the first person to discover an interesting underwater feature or maybe a shipwreck.  That would be “wicked cool”, as my students would say.

I have been on three different launches with three different teams. I bring this fact up because, although each team has the exact same goal in mind (collecting accurate hydrographic survey data), each individual tackles the tasks somewhat differently.  For example, one coxswain might like to maneuver the launch so that the edge of the multi-beam sonar’s swath touches the inside edge of the polygon. Another might make their first line by maneuvering the launch straight up the middle of the polygon’s edge. Another example involves how survey technicians control the parameters of the multi-beam.  Some like to adjust the settings manually and some like to use the auto pilot.

Did You NOAA (Know)? 
RAINIER is operated by officers of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniformed branches of the U.S. Government.  It can trace its roots back to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1807, signed a bill for a “Survey of the Coast”.  This eventually became the Coast and Geodetic Survey.  Men were needed to commit to long periods of time away from their families to survey the growing nation’s waterways and coastlines. Instead of using multi-beam sonar, they lowered lead weights on ropes marked off in increments to measure ocean depth called leadlines.  To watch an excellent movie on the history of NOAA and surveying, go to the website.

Alaska Fun Facts 
On the Wosnesenski Island, we have seen many feral cows.  According to some of the crew, there once was a homestead on this remote, treeless island.  When the family left the island, the cows remained.  No one takes care of them.  There are other documented feral cow herds on other islands in the Aleutian Chain, including Chirikof Island, near Kodiak Island.  Do you think you would like to live on an island that has no trees?  Why or why not?

Mary Patterson, July 2, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: July 2, 2009

When the American flag is flown on a U.S. ship it is called an “Ensign.”
When the American flag is flown on a U.S. ship it is called an “Ensign.”

Science and Technology Log 

The life of a mariner can be summed up in two words: adventurer and problem-solver. For a hydrographer, the commute to work can be filled with more danger than driving down a busy interstate highway. Perils such as whales, rocks and other boat traffic can be ultimately more dangerous than avoiding road construction debris. However, for an adventurer, it is a chance to see the world and interact with nature. These scientists go out everyday in order to make our waterways safer. They go out seven days a week, often for three weeks at a time, rain or shine. They have to know about the interactions of weather and the ocean, how to fix computer and technological equipment, survival skills, basic first aid and radio communication. They live in small, shared spaces and function as a team.

NOAA Ship Rainier’s call numbers
NOAA Ship Rainier’s call numbers

Many of the mariners I’ve met aboard the Rainier, can’t see themselves at any other kind of job! The stories they tell about how they came to be on board the Rainier suggest their adventuresome spirit. These are people used to doing things, being active and committed to making a difference in the world. For example, a seaman by the name of Hauerland is working on completing a documentary he created on the plight of homeless American Vets. Another seaman studies Japanese in order to be able to communicate with international seaman. It has indeed been a privilege to be allowed a glimpse of their world and to work beside them these last three weeks.

As we pull into port at Seward, the adventure continues for some. On their free time, some are going sky-diving, some plan 12 mile hikes to a glacier and some join in a race up and down Mt. Marathon in Seward. Living life to the fullest is what it’s all about.

Teacher at Sea Mary Patterson
Teacher at Sea Mary Patterson

Personal Log 

From the first day that I received word that I was accepted as a 2009 Teacher at Sea, I was excited to have the opportunity to work with real scientists in the field so I could share my experiences with my students. Then reality hit and I wondered if I would be seasick, if I would be able to understand what the scientists were doing, if I would find my way around the ship ok and if I would always be cold. Well, I never got sick, (thanks to the patch) the scientists explained everything they did…sometimes two or three times until I got it.  I found my way around the ship easily, and wearing layers and my giant orange float coat kept me toasty.

Never would I have imagined how quickly you could become attached and made to feel like part of a team. From the CO (Commanding Officer) who would sit and play guitar hero with the crew, to the NOAA Corp officers who answered millions of nautical questions, to the engineers who patiently explained how they kept our ship running, to the stewards who cooked favorites that kept you from being homesick, to the deckhands who made sure my short little legs got me across the great expanse of water when I leaped into the launch boats, and then taught me to drive a boat and even made me the best hot chocolate ever, and to the scientists who had to explain every step of what they were doing and then gave me chances to help (despite the fact that I could seriously mess up their data with just one mistake)… to them I say a heartfelt thank you for an opportunity of a lifetime. The only thing better than working on the Rainier is being a Teacher at Sea on the Rainier and having the chance to share this experience with my students, colleagues and friends back home.

Thought of the Day 

Science doesn’t just exist between four walls in laboratory. All scientists don’t wear white lab coats and have black-framed glasses. Science is an ever-changing, dynamic way to interpret our world. Science is EXCITING!

A final sunset through my porthole
A final sunset through my porthole

Mary Patterson, June 29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 29, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Broken clouds
Wind 6 kts
10 mi visibility
Pressure 1023.9 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 7.8 ˚C, 46˚ f Wet bulb 6.7˚C, 44˚ f
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 7.2˚C

Small “bite” on the propeller
Small “bite” on the propeller

Science and Technology Log 

During one of the launch missions of the day, one boat ran aground on an uncharted rock. Immediately, they radioed in and announced that all were safe and they were attempting to back off the rock. Another launch in the vicinity radioed in that they were available to help if needed. Safety is always a priority! The launch was able to get past the rock safely and came back to the ship to be checked out. After the boat was picked up by the gravity davits, the damages were checked out. A few bites out of the propeller and some scrapes across the keel were the extent of the damages. I discovered that extra parts such as a propeller are often kept on board for emergencies such as this. The crew switched launches and went back out to continue surveying.

Gravity Davits
Gravity Davits

After all launches return, there is a daily survey meeting where each HIC (Hydrographer in charge) reports what they accomplished that day and any problems they had with weather, computers, hardware, software or boat issues. Many times, this turns into a great discussion and problem-solving opportunity. This is a true community of scientists communicating and sharing ideas. The group tries to understand a problem so that it is not repeated. Especially after today, I can truly understand the importance of the work this ship and its crew does every day. We saw a tug towing a barge and several fishing boats in the area today. I can only imagine what could happen if they were to run aground. The survey work being done in this area is essential for mariners. Other work done aboard the ship today included taking bottom samples from the seafloor as we moved to another anchorage. This task required communication from the bridge to the fantail (back of the boat) and the fantail to the plot room and the plot room to the bridge.  For the first shift, I worked in the plot room.  I used the Hypack software that shows an electronic navigation chart to tell the bridge where we wanted the next sample to take place.

Collecting seafloor samples
Collecting seafloor samples

The bridge navigated to that location and gave the fantail permission to sample the seafloor. The scientists on the fantail operated a claw-like device to collect the seafloor samples. As they lowered the claw, they radioed to the plot room to tell us how far down it was in 25 m increments. When it reached bottom, I marked that spot on the computer. Then, the fantail radioed as the claw came back up to the surface and finally, what was in the sample. The scientists on the fantail used a chart to identify the size and type of particles found. I made notes as to what was found in the sample on the electronic navigation chart. My partner used Caris Notebook to enter the attributes of the seafloor surface. Then, it was my job to show the bridge, via the electronic navigation chart, where the next target was located. Most of the seafloor we sampled was identified as green, sticky, mud. However, one sample held worms and another held some fine gravel and some broken shells. My next shift was down on the fantail, collecting the samples. This was a great time to dig in the mud! My final shift was back in the plot room logging in the samples.

Personal Log 

Collecting seafloor samples
Collecting seafloor samples

I was initiated into the bottom sample crew with a swath of mud smeared on my face. Later, I realized what a great sea mud mask I could have and wished I’d kept a bucket full of that mud! As we completed our transit to our next anchorage, I spent some time on the bridge. As the conning officer called out instructions, the helmsman and the EOT (Engine Order Telegraph) officer repeated the instruction and ended with “Aye.” I asked if they really had to say “Aye” and ENS Reed explained to me that “Aye” is a confirmation that they have understood the direction given. For example, If the direction was engines full ahead, and you did not say “Aye,” it would mean that the engines were already at full ahead.

Another interesting thing I found on the bridge was the words “left” and “right” on plaques attached beside the front windows on the bridge. I thought for sure that these incredibly smart mariners would know their right from their left without a visual reminder. Again, I was told that it has to do with safety and communication. Think about the times you were driving and you told someone to take a right and they went left by accident. On the ship, the order is given to go right and the helmsman looks at the plaque and turns correctly. This is crucial for stressful situations such as a whale crossing your path or narrow passages etc.

Did You Know? 

The EOT (Engine Order telegraph) term dates back to when a pilot wanting to change speed would “ring” the telegraph on the bridge, moving the handle to a different position on the dial. This would ring a bell in the engine room and move their pointer to the position on the dial selected by the bridge. The engineers would move their handle to the same position to signal their acknowledgment of the order, and adjust the engine speed accordingly. This term is still used today even though the bridge can control the engines from their control panel. The same is true of the phrase, “steam ahead.” Even though few modern ships are steam powered, it is a phrase that has come into common usage.

Hydrographer in Charge, Ian Colvert, and me with my “initiation” mud mask!
Hydrographer in Charge, Ian Colvert, and my “initiation” mud mask!

Mary Patterson, June 28, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 28, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Few clouds
Wind 10 kts
10 mi visibility
Pressure 1024 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 8.3˚ C, 47˚f Wet bulb 6.7˚ C, 44˚f
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 7.8˚C

Science and Technology Log 

One of two main diesel engines
One of two main diesel engines

Today, I got to take a tour of the engine room. The first thing I noticed was how amazingly clean the forty-year old engines are kept. This is definitely a crew that takes pride in keeping their ship shipshape! There are two diesel engines. Each engine is about the size of a small car. There are twenty fuel tanks scattered throughout the ship. The Rainier does not carry any extra ballast, so the fuel tanks are often leveled and balanced for ballast. The Rainier can hold up to 107,000 gallons of fuel. Whew! I definitely would not want to pay that fuel bill! The ship can go through 120 gallons of fuel an hour. Oil is recycled using an oily water separator that can hold 1,700 gallons.  

Electrical control panel
Evaporator distiller

The engineering department also maintains the water evaporative distillers. These two evaporators can produce up to 7,000 gallons of freshwater (from saltwater) a day. The saltwater is heated to its boiling point and the evaporating freshwater is then cooled and collected. Normal consumption of freshwater for the ship is 3,500 gallons a day. Everyone tries to take quick showers. Toilets are flushed using saltwater. Faucets on the sink limit water usage by having to be held in the on position. You can’t just let water run from the faucet.  All of the electrical systems for the ship are monitored in the engineering control room. In an emergency, they can even control the steering of the ship.

An incinerator on the ship also takes care of some of the wastes produced. In the mess hall areas, there are labeled bins for recycling plastics, mixed paper and burnables. Those items that are burnable get incinerated while we are out at sea. Not only does the engineering crew take care of the ship’s main engines, they also maintain and troubleshoot the six launch engines as well.

Personal Log 

Electrical control panel
Electrical control panel

One of the first things I noticed in the engine room was the safety signs and equipment. No one could enter the area without hearing protection and I spotted several eye wash stations like ones we use at school. There were handrails and clear walkways and everything had labels. It’s great to see things we emphasize at school about safety are in the “real world” too.

Thought of the Day 

For this 18 day voyage, how much freshwater was consumed?

Eye wash station
Eye wash station

 

Mary Patterson, June 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 24, 2009

Sunset in the Pavlof Islands
Sunset in the Pavlof Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast
Wind Light
6 mi visibility
Pressure 1009.1 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 6.7˚ C Wet bulb 6.7˚ C
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 6.1˚ C 42˚ F

Science and Technology Log 

Once the data has been collected by the survey boats, it needs to be processed into meaningful information. The data from the boats is called raw data and it is saved onto a thumb drive. The assistant survey tech takes the thumb drive and loads the data into the computers on the ship. From here, the raw data is imported into a software program called CARIS Hips and Sips. CARIS is the primary hydrographic data processing software. It is used to:

  • Merge all sensor data into a common reference frame
  • Apply various correctors to sounding data
  • Edit sounding data in both time and spatial domain
  • Create gridded surfaces (BASE. CUBE)
  • Review side scan data and select contacts
  • Prepare data deliverables for the hydrographic branches 

Flying through the surface in 3D
Flying through the surface in 3D

The night processors apply correctors for variables that can affect the data such as tides, sound velocity, true heave and TPE (total propagated error). Then they can generate a surface of the sea floor. Finally, they must look for flyers; data points that are inconsistent with the statistical model. This is where the technology is so cool! The software enables you to view the surface in 3D. Using your mouse, you can literally fly over and under your surface. The night processors add their comments to the acquisition log and create a tiff file to show the sheet managers the coverage for the day. A detailed report about the area surveyed (DR) is written and submitted. The Descriptive Report (DR) is the written record of the survey work completed in an area. It accompanies and complements the digital data. Our survey area will not be completed during this leg of the trip. After some import time in Seward, AK for the Fourth of July, the Rainier will return to the Pavlof Islands to continue their survey. After data acquisition is complete and data has been reviewed aboard the ship to ensure it meets requirements, it is signed off by the Captain, the Chief Survey Tech, the Sheet Manager, and the FOO (Field Operations Officer).  When the sheets are completed, they are sent to the Pacific Hydrological Branch in Seattle, WA.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 8.42.55 PMThere, they will complete quality control analysis of the data and either accept or reject the survey sheet. They look for any data that is inconsistent with the required Specification and Deliverables. If the data does not meet specification, the area will likely need to be surveyed again. When the data is accepted by the branch they will further process the data to highlight important features and then send the survey sheet to the cartographers at the Marine Charting Division (MCD). The cartographers use the data submitted to place additional soundings and navigation hazards onto the US Navigation charts. A navigational hazard is generally defined as anything 1 meter shoaler than surrounding depths in water less than 20 meters deep. Currently, it may take years for a survey to be charted and reach the mariner. Critical corrections (such as DToNs -Danger to Navigation) or high priority areas can be updated more quickly.

Practicing my launch driving skills
Practicing my launch driving skills

Personal Log 

I’ve noticed that marine measurements are not consistent in their use of one system. Some measurements are in meters, some in feet, some in fathoms and some in ancient mariner terms such as shots. Since we “speak only metric,” in my class, I asked why mariners don’t stick to just one system of units.  The explanation I received makes sense. Navigation of the seas is a world-wide occurrence. Crews aboard vessels are often multi-national. Using a system that is accepted world-wide makes sense.

One of Rainier’s launches
One of Rainier’s launches

Each day I go out on the launch, I feel more a part of the team. I can comfortably cast and log data on the launch computers. I am starting to understand more about running the sonar. Each day, I get to practice my boat driving skills. Thanks especially to coxswain Foye, I have even completed a starboard side pick up for a man overboard drill! As always, safety is a key component. We practice drills on board as well as on the launches. On the launches, we do radio and iridium phone check-ins periodically. You can keep track of where we are by using Shiptracker.

Word of the Day Shot: 90 feet of chain; used to describe how much anchor chain to let out.

Mary Patterson, June 17-19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 17-19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast
Wind 15 kts
8 mi visibility
Pressure 999.5 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 6.7 C Wet bulb 5.6 C
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 6.7C, 44 F

Here I am getting ready to cast the CTD.
Here I am getting ready to cast the CTD.

Science and Technology Log 

While the weather holds, we head out on the launches to survey areas that are not charted or were last charted probably back in the time of Captain Cook. After the boats are lowered using gravity davits, 4 boats head out to survey. Upon reaching the survey area, the first thing that gets done is a casting. This consists of lowering the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) unit into the water at the surface for 2 minutes for calibration. Then it’s lowered to the sea floor (taking measurements as it goes) and brought back up to the surface with a winch and a pulley system. The sensor unit is cabled to the computer and the data is downloaded. This is a vital step in interpreting the sonar data. Since saltwater conducts electricity differently based on the salt concentration, using the CTD gives the hydrographer information about sound velocity at different depths.

Velocity of sound is most affected by temperature, which is also measure by the CTD.  Next, the hydrographer decides whether to use the high or low frequency transmitter depending on the depth. The hydrographer uses a lower frequency for deeper water.  Casting is often done again after lunch since temperatures can change, especially at the surface. Alaska is known for the confluence of fresh and salt water at the surface due to melting glaciers and fresh water runoff. The MVP (moving vessel profile), is another device used for sound velocity. It looks like a torpedo and it’s towed behind the boat allowing for continuous casting.

The shape of a plane has more points than a boat so is a good way to use points to line up a survey transect.
The shape of a plane has more points than a boat so is a good way to use points to line up a survey transect.

The plane you see on the picture is used instead of a boat because of the position of the GPS sensor relative to the shape. The coxswain can make the plane pivot on a point as they line up on a line to survey. On the survey, the map is broken down into polygons. Each sheet manager gets a sheet with their polygons to survey. Surveying consists of the coxswain driving the boat as they watch the computer screen. As they drive, the screen shows in real-time a swath of color indicating the swath of the beams. After surveying, the boats return to the ship and are hoisted back up onto the davits. All survey techs meet in the wardroom to discuss what happened on their survey. The Captain and FOO (Field Operation Officer) ask questions about what was surveyed and any problems they had with any equipment. This is a true community of scientists who share data and knowledge.

Worksheet with polygons completed
Worksheet with polygons completed

Personal Log 

We load the launches at 8:00 am and complete surveys until noon.  We break for lunch and unpack the ice chest packed by the cooks for us. It’s always a surprise to see what we have! Then we continue surveying until about 4:00 pm when we return back to the ship. I have had the opportunity to cast the CTD unit into the water, drive the launch and collect the data on the computers. The coxswains make driving the boat following the lines on the computer look so easy! Especially in rough seas, the coxswains do an amazing job of helping the survey techs collect data. Again, good communication is a key! I’ve also seen how the techs have to problem- solve on a daily basis.

One day we got into the launch and the engine wouldn’t start and the coxswain had to troubleshoot the problem. Another day, several boats had problems with their CTD units and they had to repeat trials several times. When you are 12 miles away from the nearest help, it’s crucial to have good problem-solving skills. After dinner, there’s time to finish writing journals, do laundry, fish off the fantail, watch a movie, play guitar hero or exercise in the gym area. Then, it’s time for bed and the day will start over again. If you are not on a survey launch, you work in the night processing lab compiling the data collected by the survey techs during the day’s launch. This includes applying various filters to clean up the “noise” or fuzziness from the sonar. The coolest part is seeing the data in three dimensions. After the data is cleaned up, the sheet managers write up a descriptive report that gets sent to Pacific Hydrographic Branch. This ship is a great example of a system: there are many separate parts that when combined with other parts, complete a task. 

Pavolf and Pavlof’s Sister are active volcanoes.
Pavolf and Pavlof’s Sister are active volcanoes.

Each night at 10 pm, fellow Teacher at Sea –Jill Stephens and I go to the bridge and collect weather data that is transmitted directly to NOAA. Although the days have started off hazy and grey, by evening we often see sunshine that lasts until 11:00 pm. This part of Alaska is breathtaking! I love watching the volcanoes, Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, in different types of light.

Animals Seen 

Whales, Puffins, and Sea gulls.

New Word of the Day 

Cavitation: The sudden formation and collapse of low-pressure bubbles in liquids by means of mechanical forces, such as those resulting from rotation of a marine propeller. 

Mary Patterson, June 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 16, 2009

The sonar processor and computers
The sonar processor and computers

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast
Wind 19 kts
4-6 ft seas, 9-11 ft swells
10 nautical mile visibility
Sea Temp 6.1◦ C
Sea level air pressure 1001.0 mb
Dry Bulb 8.9 Wet Bulb 8.3

Science and Technology Log 

The day was spent in 17 hours of transit to our survey location. During the day the seas turned heavy with 4-6 foot seas and 9-11 foot swells. Even some of the crew and seaman had to hold onto the walls as they walked. The ship definitely rocked and rolled! This was a great test of the trans-derm scop patch to prevent sea-sickness. I was so surprised that it worked so well.

ET John Skinner checked my computer to be sure it was virus free and then set up access to the ship’s email and internet. The ship receives internet through a satellite signal. All ship personnel have to take a computer security test in order to login to the ship’s network.

The Rainier sails through 10-foot swells!
The Rainier sails through 10-foot swells!

After completing my computer safety module, John took me and fellow Teacher at Sea, Jill Stephens, on a quick tour of the launch boats and described the technology installed on them. Each 29 foot launch boat is worth more than a million dollars with all the equipment aboard. John showed us the sound velocity meter, the high and low frequency multibeam echosounder transducers to send and receive the signal, and the computers that collect and store the data. (I’ll explain more about how these work in my next journal). Each boat also has GPS (Global Positioning System), Iridium satellite phone, AIS ship identification (Automatic Identification System that broadcasts in the VHF frequency), marine RADAR, VHF marine radio, fathometer, compass, life raft, fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems.

Here we see the low-frequency multibeam sonar on the left and the high-frequency multibeam sonar on the right.
Here we see the low-frequency multibeam sonar on the left and the high-frequency multibeam sonar on the right.

Personal Log 

After dinner, the first POD (Plan of the Day) was posted. This is produced by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). I excitedly found my name on Launch # 5. Our mission tomorrow will be to find a safe anchorage for the ship on the south side of Ukolnoi Island. We will be surveying ocean floor that has not ever been charted before. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into the ship’s routine here. Breakfast is at 7:00 am, lunch at 12 noon and dinner at 1700 (5:00PM). After dinner, I visit the Bridge and see the many instruments used to guide the ship safely. My favorite piece of equipment is the Clearview screen, or “rain spinner”. It has two pieces of glass that spin and keep the windshield clear of rain.

The Clearview screen, also called a “rain spinner”
The Clearview screen, also called a “rain spinner”

I learn that all the weather data is taken here on the bridge and then submitted to NOAA for their meteorological database.  Next, I visit the chart room where the survey techs process the data collected by the launches. Tonight, they are anxiously planning the areas to survey tomorrow. The people on the ship are so very interesting and friendly. It’s great to hear their stories of how they came to the ship and how much they enjoy the work they do.

Did You Know? 

Sergio Taguba, our Steward, has been on the Rainier the longest of anybody? He’s been here for 36 years!

Lisa Hjelm, August 12, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 12, 2008

Chief Boatswain outlining the day’s work to crewmember
Chief Boatswain outlining the day’s work to crewmember

Science and Technology Log 6: Looking Ahead 

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ships were tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crews the data could be lost. 

We’re into our last two work days before Rainier begins the transit back to Homer, AK. The weather has indeed changed. The skies are shifting, shades of gray, and this afternoon the winds may kick up to 15 knots. Spits of rain hit your face when you venture on deck. It could be a rough day on the launches. A few people picked up seasickness medication on the way to the morning meeting on the fantail. After fifteen days of work the faces of the crew of the Rainier are taking on determined, tired looks.  These are the final days of the 2008 season in the Pavlof Island area.

Even with an end in sight no one is gearing down. There is still plenty to do. The crew is preparing the ship for an upcoming inspection and an open house during “Hydrapalooza”, a gathering of hydrographers in Homer, AK. The officers are preparing for the 36-hour return transit. The survey technicians are putting finishing touches on their final survey sheets and reports for this area. There is activity and some excitement everywhere. Perhaps due to the extended period of fine weather, work is ahead of schedule. Today, the launches are surveying a new sheet that wasn’t scheduled until 2009. They’ve named this one SNOW: white uncharted territory.

Okeanos Explorer, image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration
Okeanos Explorer, image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

After three days working evenings on Night Processing, I am still learning the procedure. There are many steps involved in processing the sonar data. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on SNOW data. It was exciting to be the first person to see the bathymetry of uncharted seafloor. It is amazing to think that only 1% of the world’s oceans have been mapped. The future for aspiring hydrographers looks bright. And that brings me to the topic of my final Teacher at Sea Science log: what’s in store for the future. Talking with the crew, observing and listening to stories, two projects that people on the Rainier are or will be involved with captured my interest: Okeanus Explorer and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, (AUVs).

In 2008, NOAA will commission an ocean exploration ship, Okeanos Explorer. It’s currently in Seattle, WA which is, coincidentally, the homeport of the Rainier. Rainier’s Chief Steward suggested that I read about the Okeanos Explorer because it has an interesting educational mission. That seemed like a great idea, and I discovered that the Chief Boatswain from the Rainier will be moving to the Okeanos Explorer when it is deployed. So, I looked it up at, “Okeanos Explorer: A New Paradigm for Exploration”, where I found the following information. The Okeanos Explorer will be dedicated to exploring the world’s oceans with a threefold mission: deep water mapping; science class remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations; and real-time ship to shore transmission of data. Scientists, educators, students and the Chief Boatswain from the Rainier will be participants in ocean exploration in much the same way that I was part of project SNOW (see above).

AUV PUMA
AUV PUMA

Through ship personnel there is also a connection between NOAA Ship Rainier and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). Recently, I talked with a visiting Survey Technician who was programming as he spoke. The keyboard seemed an extension of his fingers. His regular job in Silver Spring, MD turned out to be in research for developing and improving AUVs. AUVs are unmanned, underwater robots that can use their sensors to detect underwater mines, objects of archaeological interest or for mapping the seafloor. This was fascinating to me, and I asked many questions.  Last summer, 2007, I had followed the day-by- day log of the Icebreaker Odin in the eastern Arctic Ocean. On this expedition two AUVs, named PUMA and Jaguar, were used to explore and map below the ice on the Gakkel Ridge. In part their mission was to search for hydrothermal plumes or vents. AUVs and their potential are probably as interesting to ocean explorers as the Mars Rover is to NASA scientists. I found out more about NOAA’s role in exploration with AUVs at “AUVfest 2008: Navy Mine-Hunting Robots help NOAA Explore Sunken History”.  

Personal Log 6: Back on the Bridge, Headed Home 

An AUV demonstrates its ability to sense and respond to its surroundings.
An AUV can sense and respond to its surroundings.

As we transit from the survey area to Homer, AK, I have time to reflect on what I will take away from this experience. Again, I am pleasantly interrupted by trips to the Bridge to look at whale spouts and the endless display of volcanic mountains, islands and sea. We’ve made a stop en route for the anglers aboard, and I periodically race back to the fantail for photos of fish, and fishermen and women. But, my thoughts keep returning to, how to make an experience like this real for students. I believe that a research experience and interaction with scientists can make an impression on a student that will last a lifetime. I want students to ask questions and be able to find the resources to answer them. On this voyage I have learned how scientists map the seafloor, and like NOAA I am interested in finding even more ways to use the data.  The Hydrography branch of NOAA recognizes that seafloor maps are a valuable resource that can have multiple uses in addition to producing nautical charts for safe surface navigation. They are looking for ways to, Map It Once: Use Many Times. I had in mind something catchier like, Hydrographic Survey: Ocean Window, but the thought is the same. I like the idea of something called Hydrographic Survey Highlights.

Students could see seafloor discoveries or mysteries from the most recent surveys, and then use NOAA resources to discover what they are or what seafloor features they represent. A good example would be the images of the volcanic plume surveyed by the Fairweather in Dutch Harbor, AK this summer. Another question I have had while surveying the seafloor around Pavlof Volcano is, “Is it glacial, or is it volcanic?” Perhaps I will use one of those topics for a lesson plan when I get back.

I want to close my Teacher at Sea logs by saying that I have had the time of my life, and am willing to come back again if the Rainier ever needs me.

Here are some resources for looking at hydrographic survey data:

hjelm_log6e
Lisa Hjelm

Lisa Hjelm, August 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 9, 2008

A survey technician night processing on the Rainier
A survey technician night processing on the Rainier

Science and Technology Log: Ping to Chart … 

For the past three days I have been Night Processing. That may sound confusing, so I’ll explain. Instead of going out to sea to collect data, I have been processing the data that comes in from the launches. I can’t begin my job for the day until the evening. Survey technicians rotate between collecting and processing data. This science log will summarize the steps that go into turning raw hydrographic data into a navigational chart. Beginning right after dinner, three, four or five, (depending on how many launches were out that day) survey technicians get right to work processing data. CTD casts are used to calculate sound velocity throughout the water column. Night processors take that sound velocity data and apply it as a correction to the raw bathymetry data collected by the launch. Next, the raw data is corrected for the heave of the boat (wave action), and finally for the influence of tides. Then all of this corrected data is merged, and a preliminary base surface (seafloor surface) is created for the bathymetry data.

A preliminary bathymetry chart posted in the Mess.
A preliminary bathymetry chart posted in the Mess.

To check the preliminary base surface, it is viewed with the corrected raw data overlaid. The night processor scans each line of the merged data and looks for anomalies, variations from the norm that might have skewed the base surface. This scan is a time-consuming process. To an outsider it looks a little bit like playing a computer game. Each survey line is divided into small increments and scanned in cross section. Any obviously anomalous data points are highlighted and eliminated. Once the day’s charted area has been scanned and cleaned, the new data is merged with other days’ work. Gradually, building day by day, an entire work area is charted.  To make this process manageable over a sizable area, the survey is divided into sections. Each survey technician is responsible for a section, or sheet. When all of the data has been collected and reviewed, the survey technician writes a scientific report that discusses any data quality  issues, and the work that was done. Other information collected, such as bottom sample data, is included in the scientific report. The sheet is compared with the existing, current chart and also with the bordering sheets. The completed field sheet is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch (PHB) in Seattle where it is reviewed and checked for quality. Finally, the sheet is sent to the Marine Charting Division (MCD) in Silver Spring, MD. The Marine Charting Division chooses the actual soundings that will appear on the chart and publishes it.

An important exception to this step by step process occurs when a danger to navigation is discovered. Dangers are fast tracked, and the information is released to the public almost immediately.

The current chart on the Bridge. The red circle indicates the area in the bathymetric map to the left.
The current chart on the Bridge. The red circle indicates the area in the bathymetric map above.

Personal Science Log: There Ought to be Vents 

Each year my sixth grade science students at Crossroads Academy use one of the NOAA Ocean Explorer Expedition websites for a research project. The students ask a question, and then use NOAA resources to answer the question and write a lab report. This is a challenging project for sixth grade students, so I think some of my students will enjoy reading about how I have used the Teacher at Sea experience to “practice what I preach.”

Vocabulary: Hydrothermal vents -places on the seafloor where warm or hot water flows into the ocean. They are found in areas where there is volcanic activity. The hot, acidic fluids may carry dissolved metals that can precipitate to form ore deposits.

Pavlov Island volcano on the Alaska peninsula
Pavlov Island volcano on the Alaska peninsula, AK Observatory Program

I must confess that along with my Mission from NOAA to perform the duties of a Teacher at Sea (TAS), I came aboard Rainier on a mission of my own. I came to see volcanoes, and even more specifically, I dreamed of discovering volcanic activity or active hydrothermal venting on the seafloor. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in ore deposits that form at vents.

Before becoming a teacher, I mapped and studied ore deposits that formed millions of years ago. It would be very exciting to find evidence of an active vent here in Alaska. That evidence might be: cone shaped or cratered features on seafloor bathymetry maps; floating pumice; gas bubbling on the sea surface; local seawater color changes; and seismic activity (Carey and Sigurdsson, 2007).  By searching the NOAA Vents website I was able to confirm that anomalous values detected by the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth sensor) instrument (described in log 2) can also be used to help locate hydrothermal vents. Prior to the cruise, I researched the geology of the area as best I could without knowing the exact location of our work area. When I arrived at Rainier, I knew there would be active volcanoes nearby, and I was ready to go.

Approximate area of the current survey with nearby volcanoes indicated.
Approximate area of the current survey with nearby volcanoes indicated, Observatory Program

So far I haven’t seen evidence of hydrothermal venting, no floating pumice, discolored or bubbling water, and the Alaska Volcano Observatory, hasn’t reported seismic activity here within the last month. I have learned how to take a CTD cast, observed volcanic and glacial features in the local landscape, and studied the preliminary bathymetry posted on a chart in the Mess. I am not disheartened nor dissuaded from my quest. In fact, I am encouraged by news from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Newsletter for the weeks of July 21 through August 4, 2008 where I read the following report.

Oscar Dyson and Fairweather:  In late June, Oscar Dyson responded to a request from the Office of Coast Survey to investigate a reported area of discolored water outside Dutch Harbor. Dyson confirmed the discoloration during a transit and took a water sample that suggested a possible plankton bloom.  OCS and OMAO then tasked Fairweather to investigate the anomaly during a scheduled transit. Fairweather personnel also confirmed the discolored water, and surveyed the area with the ship’s hull-mounted multi-beam echosounder systems. This revealed a group of small mounds rising a few meters off the seabed in about 100 meters of water directly below the area of discolored surface water. The sonar trace indicated that at least one of these features appeared to be actively emitting a plume of fluid or material. Based on a chartlett produced from the scan, OCS does not believe that these features pose any hazard to surface navigation.  These results have been shared with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Volcano Observatory, as well as NOAA’s National Weather Service, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Rainier and I are only about 200 miles east of active hydrothermal vents. I have resisted the urge to shout, “Turn the ship around and head west!” After all, when compared to the vast territory that is Alaska, Dutch Harbor is right next door.

References: Carey, Steven, and Sigurdsson, Haraldur. 2007. Exploring submarine arc volcanoes. Oceanography, 20, 4: 80-89.

To learn more about discovering hydrothermal vents and to watch a submarine volcanic eruption, check out the websites below.

Lisa Hjelm, August 4, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 4, 2008

Science and Technology Log: The Most Productive Hydrographic Vessel in the World 

Dive team heading out to test new equipment
Dive team heading out to test new equipment

After a week at sea my days are starting to have a rhythm. I still find myself on the wrong stairway or deck, or going back for my hard hat, but not as often. Each morning I check the Plan of the Day (POD) and head to the work/lesson planned for the TAS (pronounced TAZ), Teacher at Sea. I am not the only visitor or newcomer on the NOAA Ship Rainier. There are hydrographers visiting from South Korea, physical scientists from the NOAA office in Seattle and new crewmembers. The Rainier has proved to be a welcoming environment. This log will be about my introduction to working aboard ship. The first order of business upon arriving at our anchorage at Inner Iliasik Island was safety training, and instruction in ropes handling and releasing the launches. Every person on board has a station and job in case of an emergency. Drills are frequent and thorough. Fire drills require everyone to muster and simulate response to a detailed fire scenario. After the drill there is a debriefing, so efficiency can be improved.

Everyone on board, including the Teacher at Sea (TAS), must be proficient at handling the ropes. I learned to coil and throw a rope and to tie a bowline. I use those skills each day deploying and recovering the launches. In the morning my jobs are releasing the aft hook as the launch is lowered into the water and catching the aft line and securing it in the launch. In the evening I throw the line back to the ship and secure the aft hook, so the launch can be raised onto the ship. These are straightforward but very visible jobs. Many people are on deck assisting and observing. I made a point of practicing my line handling skills. Physically releasing and recovering the launches is handled by the Deck Crew. NOAA Ship Rainier uses a gravity davit system. The launches literally slide by the force of gravity into the water. The Deck Crew ensures that the slide is controlled and safe.

The divers arrive back on board at about 9:00 pm
The divers arrive back on board at about 9:00 pm

The organization of personnel aboard NOAA Ship Rainier was initially confusing to me. I’ve gradually come to understand that personnel are organized into five groups: NOAA Corps Officers, Survey Technicians, Deck Crew, Engineering, and Stewards. Each group has basic responsibilities. NOAA Corps Officers direct operations and navigate the ship. They also work on the survey team. Survey Technicians, the science crew, are employed by the Department of Commerce to conduct hydrographic surveys. Members of the Deck Crew fit my image of true mariners. They maintain the ship, deploy and retrieve the launches, assist with navigation and drive the launches. Engineering keeps the ship running and maintains the engines in the ship and launches. The stewards manage the food supply, and the food is excellent aboard the Rainier. These descriptions are somewhat oversimplified. In reality every crewmember seems to have a wide range of skills, and there is overlap amongst the departments. A great example is the divers. There are seven or eight certified NOAA divers on this leg. They come from all departments: officers, engineering, deck and survey. The Dive Master is a member of the Deck Crew and also part of the specially trained firefighting team. Divers are required to log a dive at least once every six weeks. They have opportunities when hull inspections are required, or tide gauges must be installed. Occasionally they dive on their own time, for fun. I took pictures of a Dive Team preparing to test some new equipment.

The engine room, which is the control center of the ship
The engine room, which is the control center of the ship

In the course of almost two weeks at sea, I’ve toured the ship from bow to stern and talked with most of the people on board. It has been fascinating to investigate the engine room, listen to stories and talk with mariners of all ages. Today, the engineering group enthusiastically showed me around below decks. In their words, “this is the control center,” and indeed they have a room-sized control panel with access to engineering diagrams and controls for the whole ship. Everything was scrupulously clean and accessible by bright red walkways. I saw the boilers, generators, engines, crankshafts, and plumbing and desalination systems. The desalination system produces the fresh water we use for laundry and showers by distilling salt water.

The ship’s engines
The ship’s engines

Next, we went to aft steerage, and I saw the giant crankshaft the moves the ship’s rudder. Everyone aboard seems to have a job that is both challenging and interesting. My daily work is with the survey group as I am aboard as a scientist. Everyone in this group has a science or technology background. As in all of the organizational groups, the science party spans a wide range of ages. Many of the survey technicians are in their twenties. They plan to work for a few years and then go on to graduate school. Several of us are considerably older.  It is worth noting that everyone seems to be actively learning new skills all the time, and NOAA provides opportunities for continuing education. There are jobs on NOAA ships for High School graduates and university professors. My roommate is the Chief Steward. She has been cooking and managing provisions aboard NOAA ships for twenty-nine years. Her job has taken her all over the world.

The beach at Inner Iliasik Island is made of pebbles instead of sand
The beach at Inner Iliasik has pebbles instead of sand

Personal Log: View from the Fantail 

My personal day begins and ends with what I think of as Volcano Check. I scan the horizon in all directions for plumes of smoke or ash. Next I examine all of the nearby visible craters. Just like the ensigns on the Bridge, I am On Watch. On Fridays I verify my personal observations by checking the Alaskan Volcano Observatory website, where a weekly update on volcanic activity is posted. There you can find detailed information and images of all the active volcanoes. There are instructions for collecting and submitting ash samples. If I were an Alaskan science teacher I would be on the lookout for opportunities to collect ash samples with my students.

I may use some of my free time looking at volcanic rocks with binoculars, but I am not the only one. There are at least five people with geology degrees, and an equal number of meteorologists. Out on the fantail the line between vocation and avocation blurs. Twice I have had the opportunity to see the rocks up close, once at a beach party on Inner Iliasik Island and once on an exploratory outing on one of the smaller launches. About once a week the Rainier hosts a beach party with a bonfire. I hiked to the highest point on the island for some beautiful scenery and a close up look at what turned out to be andesitic tuffaceous rocks. On our launch ride we explored caves at Arches Point and entered Long John Lagoon to see birds and bears (unfortunately my camera battery died). The ship also has satellite TV and movies, but on a summer night most people are outside.

NOAA Ship Rainier from Inner Iliasik Island
NOAA Ship Rainier from Inner Iliasik Island

A nearby volcanic crater
A nearby volcanic crater

Lisa Hjelm, August 3, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 3, 2008

Lowering a launch using a gravity davit system
Lowering a launch using a gravity davit system

Science and Technology Log 

This morning I awoke to my first cloudy sky. Although clouds line the horizon, the sky above is blue. The fine weather is holding steady. At 0815 three launches were deployed to continue surveying the deep water, central part of the channel. I watched them head out into open water, but today I am in the survey room observing the Survey Technicians (ST) as they process the multibeam sonar data. At the same time, the ship is underway to a new anchorage on the other side of the end of the world, or more properly, the other side of Inner Iliasik Island. After a full week I have a new perspective on this island and volcano world. I’ve learned the names of our islands, Inner Iliasik and Iliasik. From the launch I am able to orient myself by looking out at the islands, not just by looking at the map. I continue to learn more about navigation charts. Whenever I stop by the Bridge someone points out something new. Today I learned that this area was previously mapped during surveys from 1900 – 1939 and 1940 – 1969. That means that much of it was surveyed with single beam sonar just after World War II. It took twenty summer seasons to cover this area using single beam sonar.

The launch heads out to sea
The launch heads out to sea

Using modern, multi-beam sonar, NOAA Ship Rainier is the first ship to chart this area, and the survey should be completed by 2009, or less than two years from start of survey to final chart. As the ship transits to its new anchorage we are collecting bottom samples at specified locations along the way. To collect a sample, the ship stops and is maneuvered into position, so the sampler can be safely lowered. A metal container descends on a cable to the seafloor. When it hits bottom a spring loaded scoop closes and collects a bottom sample. The container is winched back to the surface, and the water drained out. Then, we open it up to see what’s inside. Today our samples have been turning up broken shells, sand and shells, pebbles and shells and sticky green mud. After the samples are logged they go right back into the sea. I collected some sand samples to dry out and examine under microscopes with students.

Bottom sampling from the ship
Bottom sampling from the ship

Bottom samples are used to investigate and confirm comments on the existing navigation chart. Examples of chart comments would be sandy, shells (s, sh), black sand (bk s), shoals, rocky, and my personal favorite, smoking volcano. Sample locations are selected to provide representative coverage of the areas that have been mapped, and the data will be used to update the charts. Soon this sample data along with reflectivity data (measured as changes in backscatter of the sound pulse that reflect the hardness of the bottom surface) from the surveys will be used to map the type of seafloor along with the shape of the seafloor. This would be similar to generating a preliminary geologic map of the seafloor. Tomorrow I expect to be back on a launch with a better understanding what goes in to compiling a navigational chart.

Personal Log: Observations from the Fantail 

Kayakers heading out to explore
Kayakers heading out to explore

Dinner is at 1700 (5:00 pm) prompt. After dinner people pursue their own activities. Some fish from the fantail. If the weather is calm, the smaller launches are used by fishing parties, and sea kayakers venture out to the islands to explore and hike. As I enjoyed the bright, warm sunlight on the fantail deck, I watched the progress of the hikers, tiny dots progressing steadily up the slope of Inner Iliasik Island. I gazed past the islands at the distant, hazy volcanoes, and spotted an ashy plume! With binoculars it was possible to see that smoke was rising from a small crater atop a conical volcano. Several of us rushed to the bridge to identify the volcano by locating it on the nautical chart. Our best guess, Dutton, which was not listed as presently erupting on the Alaskan Volcano website, http://www.avo.alaska.edu . Volcano watching is an exciting after dinner activity.

The catch of the day
The catch of the day

Lisa Hjelm, August 2, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 2, 2008

Lowering the launch
Lowering the launch

Science and Technology Log 

Hydrographic Survey – “Mowing the Ocean” 

Science surrounds me. Everywhere I look people are practicing the skills I’ve been teaching for the past twelve years. Today, I am practicing the skills of observation and documentation. The following are my observations of hydrography in action.

Important vocabulary
Hydrographic survey or Hydrography: the measurement and description of the sea bed and coastal area. These data are used to produce navigation charts.

CTD and CTD cast: “CTD” is the abbreviated name for an instrument package that has sensors for measuring the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth of seawater. The instrument is lowered to the bottom. It collects Conductivity, Temperature, Depth and density data for the entire water column. That data is used to make corrections in the hydrographic survey data.

Multibeam sonar: By measuring the time it takes for sound waves sent from a transmitter mounted beneath the launch to bounce back, scientists determine the depth to the seafloor. Multibeam sonar systems provide fanshaped coverage of the seafloor. Because the speed of sound in water is related to conductivity, temperature and depth the CTD data is used with the multibeam sonar data.

Recovering the CTD after a cast
Recovering the CTD after a cast

The day starts at 0800 (8:00 am) on the fantail (rear, lowermost deck of the ship) with updates, detailed weather forecasts for the areas that will be mapped, and instructions from the Commanding Officer (CO), Executive Officer (XO), and Field Operations Officer (FOO). Then, wearing flotation devices and hardhats, each crew assembles to board the launches. As each launch is lowered, it is stopped even with the deck, and its crew of at least three, two hydrographers and a driver, boards. A cooler and thermoses for lunch are handed over. The launch is lowered into the water on cables and unhooked from the ship. It speeds at about 15 knots to the area to be mapped. The survey begins with a CTD cast. The CTD is lowered to the seafloor to collect data on water conductivity, temperature and depth. It is necessary to conduct a CTD scan every four hours or whenever conditions change. For example, if the launch moves to deeper water or to a different area. That done, the crew engages the multibeam echo sounder system, and at 7 knots per hour, the launch begins collecting data,“mowing the ocean.” In order to completely map the assigned seafloor area, the launch ends up making a pattern very similar to the back and forth pattern made by a lawnmower. This sounds easy enough, but it takes about a year to really learn the job. Each launch needs a three man crew. The Coxswain drives the launch and keeps the towed equipment on the grid line no matter what the seas around are doing.

Driving the launch as we “mow the ocean.”
Driving the launch as we “mow the ocean.”

The two hydrographers take turns scanning and tweaking four computer screens that are monitoring data collection. The towed instruments are collecting real time data that has to be checked and stored. All of this work is conducted in a relatively small boat, in the open ocean. When you add that component, you quickly realize that this is not only exciting science by a true adventure at sea. These crews are highly trained professionals. The launch drivers are senior members of the Deck Crew and are very experienced mariners. So far, I have worked with a ferry driver, a commercial fisherman, and an outward bound instructor. I tried driving the launch for a little while on my first day out. With no experience at all, I found it quite difficult to keep the launch headed along the line. Any deviation of the towed instruments from their prescribed grid path causes missed spots called “holidays.” “Holidays” can be caused by other things as well such as unexpected software crashes or gaps caused when data points have to be removed during processing. For complete survey coverage, the launches must return to remap “holidays.” These are therefore holidays for the equipment not the hydrographers.

Inner Iliasik Island
Inner Iliasik Island

Hydrographers have both technical skills and nautical skills. Many of them are officers on the Rainier. They troubleshoot whenever the software malfunctions and fix anything that breaks on the ship during the workday.  I looked in the toolbox, and yes, there is duct tape. The launch crew also assists in deploying and retrieving the launches from the ship. This is an exciting and challenging job in an extraordinarily beautiful environment.  After the launches return and are recovered, the hydrographers immediately meet to report on the day’s work. Each team leader makes a report and any problems with data logging and equipment are documented and discussed. The Field Operations Officer (FOO) uses this information to plan for the next day. And last but not least, if you’ve read this far, you are wondering how the Teacher at Sea fits into this. Each day the Teacher at Sea becomes more proficient at her tasks. I am provided with training, and my understanding is growing. But, on that first day, my day of “shock and awe,” I spent my time taking pictures, asking questions, investigating my personal flotation device and standing aft (in the back of the boat) to avoid seasickness. Additional time was spent practicing standing steadily and walking around the small boat. In other words, I spent the day “getting my sea legs. “

Personal Log 

Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister
Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

The second full day at sea we continued our transit to the survey area. Bright sunshine ignited an endless parade of snowy volcanoes. Off the bow, whale spouts dotted the horizon, and puffins bobbed and clumsily took off flashing their orange feet like small flags. At 2100 (9:00 pm), with the day still bright, nearly everyone gathered as the ship dropped anchor in a small bay at what appeared to be the end of the world. Two smooth, lawn-green islands connected by an isthmus marked the boundary. Beyond, on a hazy, distant horizon were the outlines of volcanoes. Behind, loomed the pointed, snowy Pavlof volcanic peaks. Perhaps Robert Frost was right.

SOME say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. – Robert Frost

Gary Ledbetter, July 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 22, 2008

Weather from Bridge 
Winds W/NW 10-15 building to 20
Partly Sunny, High 55 F
Seas 2-4 feet

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter, helps prepare the CTD for a cast.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter, helps prepare the CTD for a cast.

Science and Technology Log 

Navigation 

Take a close look at some of the electronic communication and navigation equipment in the picture above. Which one do you think is the most important?  Well, it’s probably not in this picture.  Depending on who you ask you will get a different answer as to which piece of equipment is the most important.  One would think with the advancements in electronics, it would be the GPS, or some other piece of high tech equipment.  Although the most important piece is related to some of the high tech equipment, the instrument itself is not even close to being on the list of the latest and greatest technological equipment – it’s the compass; more specifically the gyro compass.

History 

Unlike many things we may feel are rather mundane, the gyrocompass has an interesting history. Apparently taking a patent out for something that doesn’t work is not a new phenomenon because the gyrocompass was patented in 1885 (only about 20 years after the end of the Civil War) by Geradus van den Bos…. and yes, it didn’t work! Four years later, Captain Author Krebs designed an electronic gyroscope for use aboard a French submarine. Then, in 1903, Hermann Anschutz-Kaempfre refined the gyrocompass, applied for and also was granted a patent. Five years later, in 1908, Anschutz-Kaempfre, with the help of Elmer Ambrose Sperry did more research on the compass and was granted an additional patent in both Germany and the United States.  Then things started to heat up.  Sperry, in 1914, tried to sell this gyrocompass to the German Navy and Anschutz-Kaempfre sued Sperry for patent infringement.  As happens today, the attorneys got involved and various arguments were presented.  Now it even gets more interesting – Albert Einstein got involved.  First, Einstein agreed with Sperry and then somewhere during the proceedings, Einstein had a change of heart and jumped on the Anschutz-Kaempfre bandwagon.  The bottom line?  Anschutz-Kaempfre won in 1915.

A myriad of navigation equipment exists aboard the RAINIER.
A myriad of navigation equipment exists aboard the RAINIER.

So What? 

OK, this history is all well and good, but what does a gyrocompass do that any regular compass can’t do? In a nutshell, a gyrocompass finds true north, which is the direction of the Earths rotational axis, not magnetic north – the direction our Boy Scout compass pointed.  Another factor of the gyrocompass is that it is not affected by metal such as the ships hull.  Put your Boy Scout compass next to a large metal object and see what happens.  Also remember one thing:  When you tried to find magnetic north with a Boy Scout compass, you had to hold it very, very still. Try reading a regular compass aboard a ship that is not only moving through the water, but is being tossed about by the waves and currents of the ocean.  The gyrocompass addresses this concern also. Without going into a lot of detail (and yes there are a lot of details, even about a compass) friction causes torque, which makes the axis of the compass to remain perpendicular.  In other words as the ship rolls and pitches, torque makes the axis of the compass to remain perpendicular to the earth. You then have an instrument that can read true north in nearly all weather conditions.

The electronic gyrocompass aboard the RAINIER
The electronic gyrocompass aboard the RAINIER

Definition 

Torque: A turning or twisting force

Personal Log 

I was a victim!  I was a victim of NOAA!  In fact, I was a very, very willing victim!  NOAA’s safety record is very high and they conduct numerous safety drills to maintain that record and to insure the safety of all aboard. On July 20th I was asked if I wanted to play the “victim” in an upcoming safety drill.  Of course I jumped at the chance. I was to play an unconscious fire victim with broken bones. After I staged the “accident” the various medical and fire suppression teams came to my rescue. These drills are very serious part of NOAA’s operation and are taken seriously by the crew – but that didn’t mean I didn’t have fun in the process!!

Gary plays the part of the “victim” during a safety drill on the RAINIER.
Gary plays the part of the “victim” during a safety drill on the RAINIER.

Gary Ledbetter, July 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 15, 2008

Weather from Bridge 
Winds SE/E @ 5 knots
Temperature:  High 45 degree F
Seas 1-3 feet

This is the Reson Sea Bat 7125, the type of sonar on the bottom of one of the RAINIER’s launches.
This is the Reson Sea Bat 7125, the type of sonar on the bottom of one of the RAINIER’s launches.

Science and Technology Log 

Sonar 

Sonar, which is short for sound navigation and ranging, is a system that uses sound to communicate, navigate, detect other vessels, and determine the depth of the water.  A hydrographic survey ship, such as the RAINIER, extensively uses sonar on their survey boats.

A Very Brief History 

Using sound to detect objects is nothing new. In fact man has been using it for hundreds of years. Even before man was using sound, bats use their own form of sonar (more commonly referred to as radar) for navigation.  As early as 1490 Leonardo Da Vinci inserted a tube in water, put his ear to the tube and reportedly was able to detect vessels.  Not surprisingly, the use of the “echo locate” system was given a big boost following the Titanic disaster of 1912.  The British Patent Office gave English meteorologist Lewis Richardson, the world’s first patent for an underwater echo ranging devise within one month of the sinking of the famous ship.

Matt from Earth Resources Technology working on one of the survey launches
Matt from Earth Resources Technology working on one of the survey launches

Sonar usually plays an important part when we watch World War II war movies depicting the Navy hunting enemy submarines.  These depictions were more than just Hollywood.  In fact, the British were ahead of the U.S. in sonar technology even prior World War I.  In 1916 Canadian physicist Robert Boyle took along with AB Wood, under the direction of the British Board of Invention and Research, produced a prototype for active sound detection in 1917.  This was really secret stuff! In fact it was so secret that the word used to describe that early work, called “supersonics”, was changed to ASD’ics. This term eventually morphed into ASDIC.  It even gets more interesting.  The Admiralty made up a story that ASDIC stood for “Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committee.  Many people today still think that’s what ASDIC means even no committee with this name has even been found in the Admiralty archives.

It seems like we Americans always have to change the name of something, (you history buffs know that Britain had something called the wireless… but we changed it to radio) so we did the same thing with ASDIC.  We changed it to SONAR, primarily because it was closely related to RADAR. The name change became official in 1948 with the formation of NATO’s standardization of signals. Thereafter, ASDIC was changed to SONAR for all NATO countries.

The lines you see make up the grid the survey boats follow. The ones scratched out are the ones we have completed.
The lines you see make up the grid the survey boats follow. The ones scratched out are the ones we have completed.

So Just What Is This Sonar…? 

There are two basic types of sonar: Active and Passive.  We’ll briefly discuss passive first.  Passive listens without transmitting.  It is used to determine the absence or the presence of something – primarily in the water.  To come directly to the point it is detecting any sound that comes from a remote location.  Listening to those sounds helps identify the sound.  (Back to Hollywood: remember the scene in nearly any navy warfare movie when the sonar operator of the ship is talking with the captain:  “it sounds like a X4IY9, Class H2 Russian sub, Captain). The sound of the sub was not being produced in any form from the ship, but from a remote location – the sub. Now you have an idea of passive sonar.

Active Sonar 

Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat
Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat

Active Sonar creates a “ping”. This ping travels through the water until it strikes something; it then bounces back. The bouncing is called reflection, or an echo.  The ping is created, normally, electronically. When the ping is transmitted it travels through the water, strikes an object and bounces back (the echo). This time is measured and converted into range (distance) by knowing the speed of sound. Sounds pretty simple, right?  Unfortunately numerous variables can affect the time it takes for the echo to return such as salt content (sounds travels faster through salt water than fresh water), the density of the water, and even the temperature of the water. Then there is the “noise”, or other disturbances in the water: fish, seaweed, dirt, trash, etc., that effect an accurate measurement.  All of these variables have to be taken into consideration by the survey technicians and scientists.

The survey boats from the RAINIER use different types of sonar. The sonar on the boat I was recently on is called the Reson SeaBat. Instead of simply one “ping”, it produced a swatch of 128 degrees consisting of 256 pings across the ocean floor.  It then transmits these pings back to the boat.  Think in terms of a triangle, with the top of the triangle being the sonar unit on the boat. The sonar transmits the pings across the ocean floor and sends back numerous signals instead of just one.

Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat
Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat

Personal Log 

Yesterday I was aboard survey boat (called a launch) RA 4.  These boats are deployed and retrieved each morning and night. On the ocean each boat follows a predetermined grid across the ocean much like mowing your lawn.  Deploying the boats, retrieving the boats, and following the grid looks really simply until you do it yourself, and then you realize how difficult it really is.  I guess when you watch experts do something, they make it look easy.  The sea was nearly mirror smooth.  Although it was cloudy and cool, there was little or no rain or wind. This makes the process much easier as well as more enjoyable.  Tim, a NOAA Ensign was operating the onboard computer system that kept track of the sonar readings.  I was able to try my hand at driving the boat and operating the computer.  I’m not going to talk about how well I did, but as I said before, they make their job look so easy!

Gary Ledbetter, July 7, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 7, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds SE/E @ 10 knots
Drizzle, Seas 1-3 feet
Temperature: High 45 degree F.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter

Background 

The Office of Coast Survey (OCS) is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that conducts hydrographic surveys. In short, they measure the depth and bottom configuration of bodies of water using sonar technology. From these measurements our nation’s nautical charts are developed to assist in safe navigation of the United States waters.  Additionally the surveys also locate and publish sea-floor materials that may inhibit safe ocean travel such as pipeline and cables, shipwrecks, and other obstructions. NOAA hydrographic surveys have also been instrumental in locating the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane, and EgyptAir flight 990. OCS has conducted over 10,600 surveys since it began in the early 1900s. *

Science & Technology Log 

If you are like me, you probably thought that sonar was simply aimed at the bottom of the ocean and a graph-like image came back. Well, this is essentially true – but there is a lot more to it than that.  Prior to even using that technology, another research tool must be used: The CTD recorder.  “CTD” means, Conductivity-Temperature-Depth recorder. This instrument measures either directly or indirectly such factors as temperature, saline, and density.

ENS Junior Officer Christy Schultz preparing to lower the CTD Recorder, which sits  in the metal cage in front of her
ENS Junior Officer Christy Schultz preparing to lower the CTD Recorder, which sits in the metal cage in front of her

Although measuring these characteristics are not new (Benjamin Franklin did some of these measurements as far back as the 18th century), the methods of taking these measurements have drastically changed. The present technology was developed in the 1960’s where the instrument itself is placed in the water it is measuring.  The instrument then takes a continuous measurement of conductivity, temperature and depth, which are recorded continuously.  These measurements are taken up to 24 times per second.  That kind of speed creates a very high-resolution description of the water being tested. When the instrument is measuring conductivity, it is simply discovering how easily electricity passes through the water sample being tested.  Since electricity passes through water more easily with a higher salt content; the more easily electricity is passed, the higher the salt content.

The CTD normally uses a thermistor: a platinum thermometer, or a combination of these to measure temperature.  The accuracy is quite amazing:  greater than 0.005 degrees Celsius. Last, but not least, the CTD measures pressure.  This pressure is measured in decibars.  Depth and pressure are directly related.  In other words, if you are at 340 meters below the surface, the meter will indicate about 350 decibars (dbars). Once all these measurements are taken, they can either be stored in the actual instrument or they can be transferred to a computer when the CTD is withdrawn from the ocean. OK, you may say, this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with mapping the ocean floor (the technicians call this, “mowing the ocean”)?   The simple answer:  All these conditions affect the speed of sound.  Therefore when the sonar “pings” the computer will compensate for variables (temperature, density and salinity); this creates a more accurate reading of the ocean depth at any particular spot. **

Personal Log 

I am discovering that hydrographic surveys are both simplistic, and complex.  Simplistic in terms that the survey boats simply follow a pre-established grid and collect computerized data.  They collect this data by following a pre-determined grid much like someone mowing their lawn.  In fact the surveyors call it “mowing the ocean”.  However, the interpreting of this data is the job of several engineers and engineer technicians which may take several hours or possibly all night.

*Information obtained from NOAA website, ** Information obtained from the CTD website

Terry Welch, July 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: S/SE 15-20
Precipitation: clearing
Temperature:  High 47 Seas 1-3’

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

Science and Technology Log 

Today, we are in transit to Seward after surveying the Pavlof Island area for the past week.  We cut our surveying down a day due to incoming weather.  The RAINIER made good headway and we stayed ahead of the storm.  The seas never seemed all that bad in the last 12 hours and today we have sun! I spent some time observing what the ensigns (ENS) and crew do on the bridge while underway. There are always 2-4 people on a “watch” and they continually monitor navigation instruments, weather, and look for any possible obstructions like boats out there. A “watch” lasts four hours.

The RAINIER uses two different kinds of radar to track vessels or land around us. The ensigns also observe through binoculars a lot.  When I was at the bridge, there were two larger fishing vessels ahead of us. The radar tracks how far a boat is in nautical miles from us, their speed and direction headed.  Many larger boats and ships carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which allows the exchange of ship data such as identification, position, course and speed, with nearby ships. GPS (Global Positioning System) plays an important role in their navigation also and is tied into theequipment.

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER
RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

The ensigns and captain also plan out our routes using maps, compasses, and straight edges.  Plotting our course is done the old fashioned way – paper and pencil. Below is ENS Schultz plotting our course. I spent a little time in the plotting room, where the hydrographic crew cleans up the data that has been collected during the day. I mentioned in an earlier log that the Multibeam SONAR system collects sounds waves, casually called “pings” that are bounced off the ocean floor and are sent back to the system.  How well these transmissions are sent and received depends on several physical factors of the water including water depth, temperature, salinity and conductivity.  I was a little stumped on how all of these factors play a roll in understanding the data and Ian, the Hydrographer Tech, reminded me about Snell’s Law, which describes how waves refract differently through different mediums.  There are a couple of short QuickTime movies on the NOAA education website that show Multibeam sonar at work.  Click here.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.
ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

The “casts” we took every few hours with the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument help the software determine the speed of sound by applying Snell’s Law, more or less, and make corrections for the differences in the water layers. It’s interesting to note that the first layer of water may have much less salinity than deeper water due to stream flow into the ocean.  In a column of water:  as the temperature increases, sound speed increases; as the pressure increases, sound speed increases; and as salinity increases, sound speed increases.  For more info on Snell’s Law and sound waves, go here.

Personal Log 

The CTD instrument
The CTD instrument

The sun came out for most of the day today, which enabled me to see the wonderful mountains around here.  We are transiting through the Shelikof Straight just north of Kodiak and south of the Alaska Peninsula.  We should be in Seward in the morning.

Questions of the Day: 

  1.  How do sounds waves travel through water differ from light waves?
  2. What is the speed of light and speed of sound?
  3. Is the speed of sound different in salt water rather than fresh water?

Animals Seen Today: Porpoises along the bow

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight
The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

Terry Welch, June 28, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 28, 2008

A self-contained breathing apparatus
A self-contained breathing apparatus

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: West/Southwest/10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle, clearing
Temperature:  High 48
Seas 1-3’

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday, I was able to go out on a launch and continue with the hydrographic survey around Belkofski Point with Ensign (ENS) Tim Smith as the Hydrographer in charge (HIC), Jodie, our Coxswain, and Fernando, a Hydrographer in training.  They use a lot of acronyms here on the ship that I’m learning.  We worked a long day until about 5:30 p.m. since the weather was nice and seas calm. The weather can change quickly in this area, so the survey team tries to work as much as possible when it’s nice out.

Ship Log 

A 10-minute air supply system
A 10-minute air supply system

Captain Don Haines and the crew are very safely conscious and we have already practiced several drills and we have a morning safely meeting before going out on the launches. On the first day out, I was issued a hard hat, survival suit (sometimes called a Mustang suite), life vest or PFD (personal floatation device) and float jacket.  When boarding the launches in the morning, we don the float jacket and hard hat. Once the launches are in the water and we have moved safely away from the Rainier ship, we can switch to our life vests (PFD), which are more comfortable to wear on the small boats.

Drills:  We practiced three drills while in route (or transit) to the Pavlof Islands; man-overboard, abandon ship, and fire. There is a different ship bell ring pattern for each event. When theses drills or event occur, all hands (crew) meet (muster) at a pre-assigned location.  The person in charge at our muster locations marks off if we are there. This system of accountability ensures that all personal is accounted for and safe.

The fire drill was interesting to me since I’m a volunteer fire fighter/EMT on Whidbey Island where I live. They use much of the same equipment as we do to fight fire including bunker gear (fire pants/coat/helmet), SCBA’s (self-contained breathing apparatus) and masks.  One of the crew demonstrated how to put on the SCBA and mask. Another safety air supply device is called an OCENCO EEBD. These 10 minute air supply systems are located all over the ship and would give someone enough clean air to exit the ship if an accident occurred.

Engine Room Tour 

Josh gave me a tour of the engine room and explained the basics of how the ships power is produced and maintained.  From a control room, the ship’s engine controls can be monitored by computer.  Every hour, the crew inspects the engine and support components and ensures that everything is running smoothly.  The area was loud, so we wore protective earplugs and it was also very clean considering all the oil that is used in the system. 

Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine
Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine 

Desalination System: Another interesting aspect of the ship is how the process water.  All fresh or potable water is made from salt water in an apparatus called an “Evaporator”.  Salt water is pumped into the evaporator and heated up to about 175 degrees.  Because it’s under pressure, the water boils at this lower temperature instead of the usual 212 degrees. The heat comes from generators that help create the electricity on the ship.  So, the whole system is very efficient.  Large 8000 gallon storage tanks hold the fresh water afterwards.  The evaporator produces about 500-550 gallons of fresh water per hour, so there is always plenty to use and it tastes good. 

Evaporator
Evaporator

Personal Log 

It was very informative for me to get a tour of the engine room today and learn how the ship’s power is produced.  Josh has the job of an “Oilier” and is only 23 years old.  He had an interest in welding and mechanics and has a high school degree.  Garret is the “First Engineer” and also has a high school degree. Both men enjoy working for NOAA and explained that many men and women learn skills on the job.  They stressed that you don’t need a college degree to work for NOAA, but it helps to have an aptitude for the job they are interested in such as working the engines.

Aleutian Islands
Aleutian Islands

Yesterday, several of us were able to scout out an abandoned settlement near to where the Rainier is anchored after dinner.  It is called “Native Village of Belkosfski”. Originally built for the fur trade in the 1860’s, it later became home to native Americans There were several old wooden structures and one larger cement and brick building that was the school.  Judging from the date on one of the food items in a kitchen, this area was inhabited in the early 1980’s last.  It’s amazing to see that many structures were still standing given the harsh climate around here.  More information can be found here. The teacher who taught there in the 60’s/70’s talks about his life there.

Dust and ash spew from the volcano .
Dust and ash spew from the volcano

Habitat Log 

According to the Global Volcanism Program, Pavlof volcano erupted in August 2007. NOAA’s satellite imagery recorded ash plumes and lava spewing from Pavlof and lahars or mudflows occurred.  The attached pictures are from Global Volcanism’s website, listed on the next page.

Questions of the Day: How do volcanoes shape the southeast strip of Alaska?  How active are they and why are they active?

Animals Seen Today: 

  • One young Grizzly bear
  • Humpback whales

Another map indicating the location of Pavlof
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof

Terry Welch, June 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 27, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: N10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle
Temperature:  High 51
Seas 2-4’

One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.
One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship RAINIER is currently anchored off of Cove Bay, near the Pavlov Islands, just east of the Aleutian Islands. Our mission is to conduct a hydrographic survey around these islands and collect data on what the ocean floor looks like, which will be used to update marine navigational charts. All marine vessels including, commercial, recreational and government vessels use these charts to navigate around the waters safely, so having reliable, updated charts is very important.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.

Using Multi-beam SONAR that is mounted to the bottom of several small skiffs or “launches”, surveyors leave the RAINIER and head out to assigned areas.  From there, they survey the ocean floor in “lines” that traverse back and forth in the assigned area, much like an aerial surveyor would do when mapping an area by airplane.  Sending these small launches out to survey is much more efficient and cost effective since several boats can cover different areas every day. The launches are operated by a Coxswain who follows predetermined lines and the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) sits at a computer and gathers the data from the sonar system.  SONAR uses sound waves that are emitted at regular intervals from the boat and bounce down to the ocean floor and back up. Physical factors such as salinity (saltiness), temperature, and conductivity of the ocean water affect the system, so a special instrument called a CTD is lowered into the water every four hours to gather this data and input it into the system.  How salty is the ocean in this area?  It varies in this area between 14.5 – 14.9%.

A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at Volcano Bay.
A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at
Volcano Bay.

Personal Log 

The day was quite enjoyable and a big learning curve for me.  There are a lot of boat terms that I’m learning along with the hydrographic science we do.  I’m happy to see that there are many women who work on the ship at all levels from basic seamen (ABS – or Able Bodied Seaman), cooks, to NOAA officers who navigate and run the ship. Women appear to make up 25+% of this crew.  All crew have been very helpful and informative. A personal highlight was seeing six Grizzly or brown bears today from our launch boat. A mother and her three cubs hung out on the beach for a while. My camera does not have the best telephoto lens, but you can see a rough picture of them below. It must be a good year for bears seeing that the mother had triplets.  When food is more scarce, bears will have less cubs in a season.

Question of the Day:  Does the ocean salinity (how salty it is) change ocean to ocean and within different depths?

New Terms/phrases:   Coxswain – is the skipper in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. Hydrography – the science of measuring and mapping the ocean floor. Hydrographer – a person who gathers data on ocean floor features. CTD – Instrument which collects physical characteristics in the sea water including conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth.  This data helps correct for the difference in the speed of sound waves.  Sound speeds of sonar vary with depth, temperature and saltiness of the water.   SONAR – Sound Navigation And Ranging – similar to echolocation that marine mammals use.

Animals Seen Today: 

  • Six Grizzly bears (a mother bear, her three cubs on one beach and two other bears near by).
  • Two Bald Eagles
  • Sea otters
  • Halibut 

Matt Lawson, June 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge as of Wednesday 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature: Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat
One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

Science and Technology Log 

Out to Launch! 

June 10: At 7:50 am CO Haines met with everyone involved in today’s launches to talk about the work, weather and safety. Acting FOO Smith covered the particulars of the survey work each launch boat would be conducting. Chief Boatswain Kruger briefly reminded us about safety and being in your positions at the right times, then the order in which the launches would depart from the ship. Very shortly after 8am, we climbed aboard RA-#4 (RAINIER launch boat #4) and were lowered into the water. All six launch boats are similar to each other in that they are about 30 feet long, have built-in diesel engines, a cabin, and a canopy over the coxswain’s wheel.  They are housed upon gravity davits, which are not the latest in technology, but very durable and reliable.  More modern davits use hydraulic systems and they require fewer deckhands to operate. It appears to me that each system has its advantages. Today, we mainly used the side scan sonar system on that boat to survey some of the rocky off shore areas of Biali Rock.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.
RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

The weather was pretty good except that the waves were 6-7 feet tall, making it a little rough for the new guy. Amy Riley, Lead Survey Technician, invited me below deck to see the work she and Grant were doing. Basically, they had a computer with three monitors, showing the current GPS map of where we were, the scanning in real time and a 3-D image of the ocean floor as it was being processed. The job here for the technicians is to monitor the computers as they accumulate data that will later be processed. But this is not yet the end product.  The processed data is finally sent ashore where NOAA cartographers will create the actual charts used for navigation.  Even though quite a number of other things were going on in other smaller windows, I’m not above admitting I didn’t fully understand it all!  I was allowed to take the tech’s chair for a while and we did 4-5 passes with me in control of the system.  Somehow, I managed not to crash us into anything!

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued.  Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert
The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued. Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Later, I sat in on the survey de-briefing in the wardroom.  This meeting takes place every day immediately after the last launch returns to the ship.  Everyone involved in the launches participates in this meeting.  While everyone is given an opportunity to speak about the day, the lead survey technician for each launch specifically makes an official report on accomplishments, areas of interest or concern, problems and/or issues that need to be addressed before the next set of launches departs. I found this part of the day just as interesting because it created a summary for the entire day’s mission.

Personal Log 

Drill or No Drill? 

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.
NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

While out on the launch, we were able to catch a little of the radio chatter.  It’s always good to listen to the radio, even when it doesn’t pertain to you.  It keeps you in the know and alert to possible hazards in your path. I’m adding “listening to the radio” as a rule on my “to do” list, and I’m about to give you a good example as to why.  As we listened, it sounded like a “Man Overboard” drill was taking place on the ship. Ha, ha.  Better them than us.  However, the more we listened, we began to realize we were really missing the event of the day.  Apparently, two fishermen were out on a fairly old boat when they began to sink. We don’t know the cause, just that it was going down fast. They were able to get out only one mayday call. However, RAINIER’s bridge was able to pick up on and respond to the call.

Despite the fact that much of the ship’s personnel were out on launches, a sufficient rescue team was mustered and conducted a flawless rescue mission.  The two fishermen were in their emergency immersion or “Gumby suits” and had not suffered too much when they were picked up.  After allowing them time to rest and somewhat recover from shock, they were taken to the nearest port.   I had read how NOAA vessels frequently play vital roles in various rescue missions, but being here when it happens makes a much bigger impression.  Today proved just how easily things can get hairy out here and  how important it is to know how to handle emergency situations.  Drills and safety meetings occur regularly on RAINIER, and once again, came in very helpful.

Ian Colvert, a NOAA Survey Technician was on board RAINIER when the rescue mission took place. He is credited for the rescue pictures.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.
Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Not Yet a Salty Dog 
I have to diverge a little here.  Operating a computer on a wildly thrashing boat was indeed a new experience in and of itself, as well as a point of hilarity for the Lead Technician, Amy, who’s been doing this for a long time.  Just working the mouse was like riding Ferdinand the Bull after being stung by an unfriendly bee. Anyway, after an hour of this, I began to get seasick.  Yes, the new experiences just keep coming!  At the risk of using too many analogies in one paragraph, I will say sea sickness pretty much just feels as if you’ve been traveling in the back of a tired old Chevy Impala being driven through very hilly country roads by a driver who should’ve had his/her license taken away 35 years ago.  Basically, puke city. I had to return to the deck where I could see the horizon and let my brain make sense of things again.  Recovery was a slow process in 6-7 foot waves, but I did eventually manage and was normal again long before we returned to the relative steadiness of the ship.

Sailing/Nautical terms for all you land lovers:

  1. FOO – Field Operations Officer
  2. SONAR – SOund Navigation Ranging – technology which uses sound to determine water depth.
  3. Side scan SONAR – a category of SONAR that is used to create an image of a large area of the sea floor. This type of SONAR is often used when conducting surveys of the seafloor in order to create nautical charts for navigation.
  4. Gravity Davit – davit system which relies on the weight of the boat to lower it into the water.
  5. GPS – Global Positioning System – a mechanism which uses satellite systems to determine location.
  6. Coxswain the helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
  7. Manual Floatation Device – any life jacket that must be activated by the wearer (usually a rip cord and air canister system) to make it buoyant.
  8. Positive Floatation Device – a life jacket that does not require manual activation and is designed to keep the wearer’s head above water.
  9. Immersion Suit – a full body suit which functions as a positive floatation device.  Used in emergency situations, such as abandoning ship.  The insulation and water proofing of these suits are important factors in colder waters.
  10. Muster – to gather.
  11. Bridge – sometimes called a pilot house, the place from which the ship is steered.  This is the heart of ship operations.

Animals Seen Today 
No new ones, but it was still exciting to see so many.  Even though the somewhat higher waves kept me busy with the challenge of standing up, I did notice a large colony of starfish hanging on some rocks in calm waters.

“Did You Know?” 

  • There are cold water corals which grow in the Alaskan waters.
  • The Gulf of Esquibel (pronounced “es-ki-bell”) was originally named by Fransisco Antonio Maurelle about May 22,1779 in honor of Mariano Nunez de Esquivel, the surgeon of the ship La Favorita.
  • Alaska itself was purchased by the United States from Russia in 1867.
  • Prior to its sale to the U.S., the Russians referred to it as “Russian America.”

Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Matt Lawson, June 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 9, 2008

Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.
Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: Longitude: 50° 17.89’ North (N) Latitude: 134° 24.68’ West (W)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature:  Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

Science and Technology Log 

Arrival evening and day one were spent mostly getting oriented with the ship, safety procedures, as well as a quick visit into Juneau before sailing out. Safety is the foremost concern in every scientific field of study. Since we’re on the ocean, there is a lot to be aware of and how to handle potentially disastrous situations. Therefore, we new arrivals were fitted and familiarized with a number of safety gear.  First were the positive floatation devices. These just look like orange coats, but they’re heavily insulated and highly buoyant.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.

They’re always worn as a precaution when boarding launch boats and in any other similar situations. In the unlikely event that you would fall into the water, you’d already be wearing a life jacket.  We were also fitted with our immersion suits.  These are whole body suits and are only worn in cases of emergencies, such as abandoning ship.  There are emergency escape breathing devices (EEBD) hanging in convenient locations everywhere on the ship in case of fire. Hard hats were issued for wearing in work areas. A manual floatation device was also issued for wearing once you’re off on a launch, so long as you are in the cabin of the boat.  Even these vests have a built in air canister, which can inflate the vest by pulling a cord located on the front. Last, but not least are the launch boats, which would be our first means of escape from a sinking ship.  To back those up are the inflatable rafts, which open upon contact with the water. Jim Kruger, Chief Boatswain, briefed us about all these issues and supervised the fitting of our gear.  

Sailing terms for all you land lovers:

  1. Bow – the very front of the ship
  2. Stern – the very rear of the ship.
  3. Forward – nearer the front of the ship
  4. Aft – toward the back of the ship
  5. Port side – as you’re facing the front, the left side.
  6. Starboard side – as you’re facing the front, the right side.
  7. Hydrography – the science of the measurement, description, and mapping of the sea bottom and tidal mudflats, as well as the positions of stationary objects at sea (both below and above the water’s surface), with special reference to navigation.
  8. Commanding Officer (CO) – the officer in charge of the ship.
  9. Executive Office (XO) – the officer second in charge of the ship.
  10. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boe-sun”) – the primary person responsible for the boats, sails rigging, anchors, and cables.
  11. Electronics Technician (ET) – the primary person responsible for all telecommunications, computers, and other electronics on board the ship.
  12. Davit – a crane that projects over the side of stern of a ship and is used as a joist; a pair of davits is used to carry and launch/recover small boats such as a survey launch.
  13. Launch – a boat, typically less than 30 feet, used to conduct surveys.
  14. Hull – the frame or body of a ship, boat, or buoy.
  15. Latitude – the distance north or south of the equator of a point on the Earth’s surface; and imaginary line that runs east-west and ranges from 0-90 degrees north and 0-90 degrees south.
  16. Longitude – the distance east or west of the Prime Meridian of a point on the Earth’s surface; an imaginary line that runs north-south and ranges from 0-180 degrees east and 0-180 degrees west.
  17. Chart – a map designed to assist navigation by air or sea.
  18. NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  NOAA falls under the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for prediction and research of weather and climate-related events, charting the sea and skies, and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coast and marine resources.

Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.
Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.

Personal log 

June 8th 

The captain of Alaska Airlines flight 59 announced our upcoming descent into Juneau.  I looked out the window. The mountains poked their snow capped peaks through the clouds.  It was my first ever glimpse of Alaska.  As we descended, we momentarily disappeared into the white.  Then things cleared up and an awe inspiring sight appeared.  Juneau and the surrounding mountains were there. My gaping mouth and “Cheshire Cat” grin were seemingly permanent.  I had no idea it would be this beautiful. Christy Shultz, (Junior Officer/JO) met Mark Friedman, (fellow Teacher At Sea/TAS) and me at the airport. We rode in a van with two other NOAA employees, Amy & Mike Riley back to where the RAINIER was docked.

Upon arrival at the ship, Christy gave all the new arrivals the grand tour.  Wow, what a nice ship! The personnel aboard keep this place looking spotless.  RAINIER was built in 1967 and launched in 1968. Many adjustments have been made over time to meet changing needs and she has taken them all gracefully from what I can see. At this time, RAINIER is carrying 6 launch boats (metal hulled with canopies) and two skiffs (smaller, open top, with an outboard motor). Each vessel, including RAINIER herself, is equipped with various forms of sonar technology for hydrographic charting. Hydrography is RAINIER’s main objective, specifically around the coastline of the Gulf of Alaska, and this is what we are to do for the next two weeks.

RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow
RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow

We were introduced to a large number of rooms, and access to most of them is very casual. Basically, one should read labels on doors, and if it’s locked, don’t go in. Anyway, There are two main passageways: amid and athwart ship.  The crew’s mess is in the very center of the ship.  The decks are ordered alphabetically, A-F with A at the bottom and the Fly bridge on top. My quarters/stateroom, which I share with Able Bodied Seaman, Joe Normand, is in a small section of C Deck accessed by a ladder way.  Ladder ways are sort of a hybrid between stairs and ladders. There are three staterooms in this section, each containing four bunks. Joe and I have the run of our stateroom for this leg of RAINIER’s ’08 journey. Near the front, of course, is the bridge, officers’ quarters, offices, (CO, XO, ET, and others) officers’ mess, and wardroom.

Orientation and dinner aboard ship finished, newly acquainted friends, Matt, Adam, Fernando, & Mark conversed and talked about what our jobs and duties would be in the coming days.  We were all very tired from traveling, but we knew we had to get our bodies aligned with the time zone, so we didn’t allow ourselves to sleep too early. Instead, we chose to watch movies in the wardroom.  I’m guessing on other ships, this room is normally reserved for officers only, but we were told teachers and other visiting professionals usually commandeer it for themselves.

June 9th 

Today was sailing day. There were more people and there was a definitely different buzz about the ship than yesterday as crew and officers alike went about the business of preparing for departure. We new arrivals worked to complete orientation: safety videos, drills and online tech safety training. At 3:45, (1545) the gang plank was pulled aboard, ropes were untied, and by 4pm, (1600) we were off.  Most importantly . . . the food here is great!  The cooks do a terrific job. They all have their specialties and they seem to love what they’re doing.

“Did You Know?” 

  • When referring to the air and oceans, mapping is actually called “charting.”
  • Alaska experiences all four seasons and is not completely covered in ice and snow.
  • Rainforest ecosystems can be found in Alaska.
  • Desert ecosystems can be found in Alaska.

Chuck Gregory, August 24, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chuck Gregory
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 12 – 24, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: New York Harbor
Date: August 24, 2007

THOMAS JEFFERSON Interviews

The Questions

  1.  Name and rank (or job title).
  2.  How long have you been working for NOAA and what did you do prior to working for NOAA?
  3.  How did you “find” NOAA?
  4.  Describe your job on board the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.
  5.  What is the best part of your job?
  6.  What is the worse part of your job?
  7.  Immediately after my Teacher At Sea Internship I plan to turn my experience into a Hollywood blockbuster. What person do you want to act as you in this movie?

Interview #1: Commanding Officer (CO) Tod Schattgen 

  • CO Schattgen has worked for NOAA for 22+ years
  • Before NOAA, the CO graduated from the University of Missouri at Rolla with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.
  • He “found” NOAA by attending a NOAA recruiting session during his senior year at the University of Missouri at Rolla. [He obviously liked what he heard and saw!]
  • His job as CO is to safely and effectively operate a world class hydrographic survey ship and provide quality data in a timely manner to our customers.
  • The best part of his job is the people, mission and driving the ship.
  • The worst part of his job is the politics.
  • The actor he would like in his role as CO would be Nicole Kidman.

Interview #2: Field Operations Officer (FOO) Chris VanWestendorp 

  • Chris has been with NOAA for almost 2 years.
  • Prior to joining NOAA, Chris spent 6.5 years in the Navy as a submarine officer aboard the SSN Oklahoma City. He chose not to stay in the Navy and began looking for other job opportunities. While getting his degree in Marine Science and working as a NROTC instructor at Savannah State University, Chris befriended a NOAA Corp Officer who encouraged him to look into the NOAA Corp.  At first Chris had no idea what the NOAA Corp was, but, after doing a little homework, he became interested enough to apply.
  • Now, Chris is third in command of the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.  He is in charge of the ship’s survey operations: planning the logistics of a hydrographic survey, data management (acquisition and processing), managing the Survey  Department personal, and he has indirect oversight of the Junior Officers.
  • The best part of Chris’ job as FOO is the challenges he faces on a daily basis while at sea. In addition, Chris enjoys doing something that he and the general public can actually see once the product is final.
  • Ironically, the worst part of Chris’ job can also be the challenges he faces on a daily basis while at sea. These challenges can make for hectic times and difficult decision making.
  • Chris would like Val Kilmer to play his role as FOO aboard the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.  [However, he feels the ship’s personnel would vote for William Shatner instead.]

Interview #3: NOAA Corp Ensign/Junior Officer Megan Nadeau 

  • Megan has been with NOAA for 1.5 years.
  • After high school, Megan took classes for