Victoria Cavanaugh: West of Prince of Wales Island, April 26, 2018

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

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 54° 40.914′ N
Longitude: 134° 05.229′ W
Sea Wave Height: 8-9feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: NNW
Visibility: 10 km
Air Temperature: 9.5oC  
Sky:  Partly Sunny in the AM, Cloudy in the PM

Science and Technology Log

Over the past two days, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather has been hard at work on the first major project of the season, charting the ocean floor along the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System.  The project itself will take seven days, though with two days at sea before heading to port in Ketchikan, the survey techs have been focusing on the first sheet, D00245, roughly 900 kilometers offshore in an area known as West of Prince of Wales Island.

Chart of survey area
The Survey Starts Here: Note Sheet D00245 to the Left in Blue

Fairweather is completing the survey in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which has spent the last three years researching and mapping the seafloor along the fault.  Geologists are particularly interested in this fault as little is known about the region and the seafloor here is largely unexplored.  Geologists believe that by studying the fault line and the geology of the ocean floor, they may be able to unlock secrets about the history of our oceans as well as develop new understanding of seismic activity that can keep communities safer when future earthquakes strike.

Plot room
The Plot Room: Survey Techs aboard Fairweather Can View the Data Being Collected in Real-Time

One of the reasons the USGS turned to NOAA to complete its charting efforts is because of the tremendous ocean depths.  The survey techs are using  Fairweather multibeam echosounders for the project which will take a total of seven days to complete.  Sonar pings from the ship’s transducer hit the ocean floor and bounce back to the ship, creating 2D and 3D charts of the ocean floor.  Additionally, survey techs can learn more information about the type of surface on the ocean floor (sandy, rocky, etc.)  based on the strength of the return of the sonar pings. Despite the seafloor in the area being some 15,000 years old, it has never been explored!   Thus, for the survey techs and geologists working on this project, there is a sense of pure excitement in being able to explore and discover a new frontier and help others sea what humans have never seen before.

Depth reading
1520 Meters Down: The Number at the Top Left of the Screen Shows We’re in Water Nearly a Mile Deep!

One of the geologists remarked that he was surprised to see that despite how old the ocean floor in the area is, little appears to have changed, geologically speaking in thousands of years.  Another surprise for geologists is how the fault appears to be one large, long crack.  Many other fault areas appear to be made up of lots of small, jagged, and complicated “cracks.”  Another question to explore!

Shallower depth reading
A Much More Shallow Area: Notice the Sonar Here Shows We’re Just 247 Meters Deep

Notice the colors which help survey techs see the changing depths quickly.  The green, mostly vertical lines, show the ship’s course.  To collect data, Fairweather  runs about 6 hours in one direction, before turning around to run 6 hours in the opposite direction.  This allows survey techs to gather more data about ocean depths with each turn.  In total, survey techs collected nearly 48 hours of data.  This meant survey techs working all night long to monitor and process all of the new information collected.

Bekah and CTD
Survey Tech Bekah Gossett Prepares to Launch a CTD off the Ship’s Stern

Just like on the launches during patch tests, survey techs deploy CTD’s to measure the water’s conductivity (salinity), temperature, and pressure.  This information is key in order to understand the speed of sound in a given area of water and ensure that the sonar readings are accurate.

Survey techs ready CTD
The Survey Techs Work in Rough Seas to Ready the CTD

Personal Log

View off bow
Nothing But Blue Skies in Every Direction!

In striking contrast to the beautiful coastlines that framed the Inside Passage, the last two days have provided endless blue skies mixing with infinite blue seas.  No land in sight!

Nautical chart
Finding the Survey Area West of Prince of Wales Island on a Chart
The Ship’s Radar Shows Just One Vessel Nine Miles Due East

The open ocean is challenging (huge waves make the entire ship sway constantly and gives new meaning to earning one’s “sea legs”), but far more inspiring.  I’m grateful for the glimpse into life at sea that NOAA has provided me.  There is deep sense of trust among the crew, in their collective hard work that keeps us all safe in the middle of the ocean.  There is also a wonderful sense of adventure, at being part of discovering something new.  Just as explorers have sought after new frontiers for hundreds of years, Fairweather today is charting areas still unknown to humankind.  There is something truly invigorating about watching the sonar reflect the ocean floor in a rainbow of colors, in watching as peaks and valleys slowly are painted across the monitors in the plot room and bit by bit, another sliver of science is added to the charts.  There is something particularly refreshing and exciting about seeing whales spray and play in the waves while standing on the ship’s bridge.  I’m truly grateful to all onboard Fairweather and NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program for this remarkable opportunity, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with students back at Devotion.

Wave heights
The View out a Port Window Shows Some of the More Extreme Wave Heights as Fairweather Rocks and Rolls

Did You Know?

Prince of Wales Island is one of the southernmost parts of Alaska.  Home to some 4,000 inhabitants, Prince of Wales Island is the 4th largest island in the US and the 97th largest island in the world.   Originally home to the indigenous Kaigani Haida people,  Spanish, British, and French explorers all passed by the island in the 1700 and 1800’s.  In the late 1800’s, miners came to the island looking for gold, copper, and other metals.  Today, most of the land is protected as the Tongass National Forest covers a great portion of the island.

Challenge Question #5: Devotion 7th Graders – Can you find the depths of the Charles River, the Boston Harbor, and 900 kilometers offshore the Massachusetts coast?  What sort of aquatic life exists in each area?  What does the river/seafloor look like in these areas?  Create a comic strip or cartoon showing your findings.

Kaci Heins: September 21-23, 2011

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

NOAA Ship Rainier

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Friday, September 23, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: 25 kts
Waves: 1- 2 feet
Dry Bulb: 10.3 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1002.6 millibars
Latitude: 55 degrees North
Longitude: 133 degrees West

Science and Technology

Rainier Skiff Boat

Now that there is a small window of clear weather I am able to go out on one of the small boats called a skiff.  This boat holds about 8 people max and is mainly being used to move people and equipment around to the different stations.  The night before I was scheduled to leave I learned that my task on this outing was going to be reading the tide staff every six minutes for 3 hours.  I know the initial reaction might be, “Why would you want to do that?”  Well, it is actually really important for the data that we are collecting.  When the equipment (primary benchmark, tide gauge, tide staff, orifice, etc.) was placed on Block Island this allowed the scientists to be able to know what the actual water levels would be for the launches when they head out. This in turn, is important because the height of the water levels will affect the data that is being collected on the launches (survey boats).  The first few hours started giving us pretty good data, but then we stopped getting anything at all.  We had been hit by a storm so numerous scenarios were being brainstormed so we could be prepared for anything that we might find when we got there to fix the problem.

Garmin Route to Block Island Courtesy of Todd Walsh

We traveled from the Rainier to Block Island, which was about 19 miles away.  When we got there the tide staff was in good shape and even the antennas and GPS looked good.  However, upon further inspection they found that there were glitches in the software files that had made it stop collecting data.  Once they got it going again, my partner Starla, and I went straight to work collecting the high and low wave of the tide.  We then used this data to calculate the mean (average) of the two.  We had to collect this data every six minutes for three hours because that is the same data that the tide gauge is collecting.

Tide staff at Block Island

We had to use GPS time–which was the same as the tide gauge–and not our own watches. This is because we needed the same time stamp for the data, which allows the scientists to see that the data was collected at exactly the same time.  Scientists can then look to see if the data we collected and the data the tide gauge collected are the same or if there are errors.  Then, they can see if it was human error or if something is still wrong with the tide gauge.  These first three hours were very important for the data collection, but the scientists will continue to monitor the station every three to four days for one hour throughout the month to make sure it is collecting data properly.

Mrs. Heins Taking Tide Staff Measurements

As we collected the data, one of us would watch the clock while the other would very intently watch the tide staff.  Once it would come to the time we would have to collect the data she would say “Mark!” and that would be my cue to note the high and low of the wave against the tide staff.  I would tell her my observations up to four digits, such as 1.967 meters.  However, because we would use quick observations to collect our data, our precision would probably be only to three significant figures. Significant figures are digits of a number that carry meaning and factor  into its precision. Starla would record the data and then we would wait six minutes until the next time to make our observations. When we were done, we downloaded the data from the tide gauge, packed up the skiff, and head back to the Rainier. Overall, it was a really great day being able to collect this important data and contribute to the mission of the ship.

Heading Back to the Rainier

Personal Log

Calculating Radar Ranges on a Nautical Chart

Math, math everywhere!!  Since the first day I have been on the Rainier I have seen math being used all day, every day.  Even though I don’t specifically teach math I do integrate it within science and social studies.  However, I have heard from students, “Why do I have to learn this?” in regards to their math homework.  There isn’t always enough time in the day to give a thorough explanation of how different math skills are used in the real world.  However, from my past NASA experiences and now with NOAA on the Rainier, I am here to tell you that once you enter the real world, especially if you enter a science, math or engineering field, then you will be immersed in math.  It will become a part of your daily routine without you really realizing it.  One place where math is used constantly, and is also one of my favorite places on the ship, is the bridge.

Math is used in navigation, such as setting a course, calculating distances, speeds, and times.  I also got some practice with calculating radar ranges, which can give the officers their location based off of 3-4 points of land nearby.  GPS is being used all day, every day and there are multiple GPS systems in case one fails.  Again, the officers use this information in their calculations throughout the day while we are at sea.  When I have been collecting weather data on the bridge math is being used to calculate the wind speed and direction.

Finding an Azimuth

Then there are conversions being calculated because some of the charts are in meters, some are in feet, and some are in fathoms.  A fathom is used more for deeper water because 1 fathom equals 6 feet.  Because these are dealing with depths it is very important to make sure the conversions are correct so that the ship stays safe.  Then of course there is math used in other ways on the ship.  For example, the Executive Officer (XO) has to work with the ship’s budget, the cooks work with measurements in the galley, and the scientists work with math formulas as they process the data in their projects.

Overall, I highly encourage my students and any other young minds that are reading this to do your best in math and ask for help if you need it.  It can be an intimidating subject area at times, but if you want to work for NOAA, be a scientist, or engineer then it will be an important part of your job.  Once you have an idea of what kind of job you want to have when you get older, try to find out what kind of skills you need to have and start early.  See how the math is used in the real world, the job you are interested in, and learn how to have fun with it!

Student Questions Answered!

Animals Seen

Sea Lion

Whales (not sure of the species)

California Sea Lion

Moon Jellyfish

Question of the Day

Richard Chewning, June 6-7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Dates: June 6-7, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Snakehead Bank, Gulf of Alaska
Time: 1700 hrs
Latitude: N 56 00.390
Longitude: W 153 46.380
Cloud Cover: Overcast
Wind: 12 knots from the SE
Temperature: 7.1C
Barometric Pressure: 1016.9 mbar

Science and Technology Log

I have been impressed by the wide array of oceanographic research the Oscar Dyson is able to conduct. A few examples include biological studies of organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to massive marine mammals, collecting a variety of weather data, describing both physical and chemical characteristics of seawater (such as temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen), conducting acoustic surveys of marine life and the sea floor, and much more.

Three Saints Bay nautical chart

One of the Dyson’s ‘bread and butter’ surveys is our survey studying the distribution, biomass, and biological composition (male/female ratios and age) of walleye pollock in the Bering Sea. Walleye pollock is a very important fishery for Alaska. You have almost certainly been a part of this fishery as most fish sandwiches in fast food restaurants and fish sticks in the frozen food section of your local grocery store are Alaskan-caught pollock.

One of the Oscar Dyson’s many tools for this research is her impressive array of acoustic sensors located on the ship’s hull and centerboard. The centerboard is an extension of the hull that can be raised and lowered in the water in order to position most of the Dyson’s sensitive acoustic sensors below the bubbles often found near the water’s surface. These air bubbles interfere with sound traveling through the water and degrade the quality of the data being collected. The Dyson has six downward looking centerboard-mounted transducers, each transmitting a different frequency. Why so many frequencies? Since different types of marine organisms interact with sound waves differently producing varying acoustic signatures, the Dyson must be equipped with a variety of sensors to best characterize the variety of marine life encountered during a survey.

For example, lower frequencies are better suited for fish such as pollock and the higher frequencies are better suited for smaller organisms such as plankton. Think of transducers as a downward shining flashlight illuminating the depths of the ocean with sound rather than light.

The Dyson also has other acoustic sensors such as the ME-70 multibeam echosounder that has the unique ability to look over a much wider angle through the water. Acoustic research works on the same echo location principle that bats and marine mammals employ to find food and navigate. By sending out sound waves and measuring the time the sound takes to travel back after encountering an object, one can learn a great deal about that object’s properties such as distance, size, and movement.

Before traveling to the Bering Sea to start our pollock survey, the Dyson’s scientists must take great care to ensure that their echo-sounding equipment is calibrated correctly. Calibrating the transducers is similar in concept to tuning a piano string or zeroing a sight on a rifle. To this end, the Dyson anchored in Three Saints Bay, a sheltered bay protected from the wind, waves, and currents of the open ocean, at least theoretically. While a troublesome storm passed almost directly overhead, scientists from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) Program (part of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) located in Seattle, WA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS located in Anchorage, AK), and the Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (located in Vladivostok, Russia) worked diligently to fine tune their acoustic sensors.

Copper sphere used to calibrate the acoustic sensors
Bill and Patrick positioning spheres under the Dyson

Paul Walline, Patrick Ressler, Darin Jones, Bill Floering, and Mikhail ‘Misha’ Stepanenko worked day and night calibrating their equipment using metal spheres positioned directly under the ship.

Spheres of different sizes and materials with known acoustic signatures (such as tungsten carbide and copper) are used to calibrate the transducers.

The crew of the Dyson works around the clock as ship time is precious. The scientists work 12 hour shifts, either from 4am to 4pm (the shift to which I am assigned) or from 4pm to 4am. The acoustics lab where the data is collected and analyzed is affectionately called ‘The Cave’ as there are no portholes (windows) to tell the time of day outside.

The acoustic lab, a.k.a. “the cave”

Personal Log

I wasn’t sure when the Dyson arrived at Three Saints Bay as I had retreated to my stateroom early in the evening of the 4th as I was feeling the effects of the rolling seas. I am being berthed with the ship’s 2nd Cook, Floyd Pounds, who is also from Georgia but now calls the Dyson home.
Floyd works with the Chief Steward, Rick Hargis, who has been with NOAA for 20 years and is originally from Washington State. So far the meals have been very filling and satisfying (there is even an ice cream bar!).

My stateroom is located on the crew deck, one level below the main deck near the bow (the pointy end of the ship) on the starboard side (the right side when facing the bow). Utilizing every nook and cranny and with no wasted space, my berth is quite cozy and is surprisingly comfortable. Fortunately with the help of some seasickness medication, I soon found my sea legs and awoke feeling refreshed and hungry (always a good sign!). Seasickness comes from conflicting messages received from the inner ear and the eyes by the brain (the inner ear feels the motion of the boat rolling and pitching in the water but the eyes report a stable environment confusing the brain).

Snug as a bud in a rug
Richard, ready for a swim

A person soon observes that safety is paramount onboard the Dyson as with any NOAA vessel. For example, within 24 hours of leaving Kodiak, the entire crew conducted fire and abandon ship drills. These drills are conducted once a week and are essential for maintaining readiness in the event of an emergency. During the abandon ship drill, I was able to practice donning my survival suit just like our visiting Coast Guard kids did in Kodiak! Although the suit is designed to be quite snug to keep cold water out and to keep the body warm, I was thankful I didn’t have to put the suit to the test by going over the side. To my surprise, Chief Marine Engineer Jerome ‘Jerry’ Sheehan and ENS Russell Pate did just that, going for a dip in the frigid 7.3 degrees Celcius or ~45 degrees Fahrenheit waters! Jerry and Russell used dry suits to scuba dive under the Dyson to check the hull, the prop, and the transducers for anything out of place such as barnacles on the transducers or tangled fishing gear. The only discovery was of a piece of bull kelp snagged on one of the blades of the prop which may explain a noise that was heard on the hydrophones (microphones located under the Dyson’s hull) during our departure from Kodiak.

CO Hoshlyk overseeing recovery divers Jerry Sheehan and ENS Russell Pate

After completing our calibrations and safety operations, the Dyson sailed for a site called Snakehead Bank located 60 nautical miles southeast of Kodiak. The name comes from the bathometric profile of the seafloor of this area which resembles the head of a snake. We soon began conducting camera operations for ground-truthing sea floor composition that I will discuss in my next log!

Remnants of Nunamiut, earliest Russian settlement 1792 in three saints bay, Kodiak
Departing Three Saints Bay


Where did the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson’s name originate?


The Oscar Dyson is named for an Alaskan fisherman who was very influential in fisheries development and management in Alaska. From his days as a commercial fisherman, Oscar Dyson was a pioneer and advocate for Alaska fisherman and was very influential in the growth of this important industry. Alaska’s commercial fishing industry spans the state and includes salmon, herring, pollock, various shellfish, and various ground fish like halibut. While traveling through the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, I learned that Alaska is a land defined by water with more than three million lakes and more coastline than the rest of the United Sates combined! Alaska is also the only state in the US to have coastlines with three different oceans/seas: the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and the Bering Sea.

Rita Larson, August 19, 2009

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

Sunset over Kachemak Bay
Sunset over Kachemak Bay

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Kasitsna Bay, AK
Date: August 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 59° 28.339′N Longitude: 151° 33.214′W
Sea Water Temperature: 10°C (50°F)
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb: 11.1°C (52°F) Wet Bulb: 10.0°C (50°F)
Visibility: 5 miles

Science and Technology Log 

A launch from the Rainier
A launch from the Rainier

I would like to give a very brief explanation of how surveying becomes a nautical chart. When all the surveying launches return to the Rainier, a debriefing meeting takes place in the wardroom. All the hydrographersin-charge or “Hicks” give a short discripition of the successes and complications they had during surveying for the day. At least one night processor attends these debriefing meetings to have a good understanding of what to expect as they process this data. Some of the things the night processors are looking for are:  How many CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) casts were made from each launch? Were there any data problems, such as noisy data or gaps in coverage? Then, the night processors collect the Hypack and Hysweep data from the launches and transfer the surveys to the ship’s computers where they will process it with CARIS. The night processors use the program CARIS to convert the “RAW” information from the launches into processed data. This processed data has correctors such as tide and SVP applied to it. This is completed in the plotting room on board the Rainier. The data is then cleaned and examined for problems.

Polygons regions
Polygons regions

This process produces a smooth image depicting the water depth over the area surveyed for the sheet managers. When this is complete, the sheet manager sets up for the next day’s acquisitions and polygon plans for all of the launches. Then, this information is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Office to further examine the bathymetric data. After that, cartographers use this information to create nautical charts. The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, as well as civilian mariners use nautical charts worldwide. This entire process may takes up to a year to complete.

These are various images of data completed during night processing. (Pictures taken by Nick Mitchell.)
Various images of data completed during night processing. (Pictures by Nick Mitchell.)

Personal Log 

I am so amazed in the way the professionals from NOAA work together and share the responsibilities for the purpose of creating safety for others. By creating these nautical charts, it makes the waters of the world a safer place to be. Everyone on the ship has a meaningful purpose and it is clear to me that they take great pride in what they contribute in the mission of the Rainier. I feel like I belong here after such a short time.

Animals I Saw Today  
A bald eagle in a tree using the large binoculars nicknamed, “big eyes” from the Rainier. I also saw a sea otter.

Nautical chart of the geographical area the Rainier is surveying at this time.
Nautical chart of the area the Rainier is surveying at this time.

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.

Susan Smith, June 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Smith
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 1-12, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Trocadero Bay, Alaska; 55°20.990’ N, 33°00.677’ W
Date: June 9, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: Dry Bulb: 12.2° (54°F); Wet Bulb: 11.1° (52°F)
Cloud Cover: Overcast 8/8
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind direction: 315, 08 kts.
Sea Wave Height: 0-1
Sea Water Temperature: 12.8°C (55°F)

A digital nautical chart
A digital nautical chart

Science and Technology Log

Question: What might an empty bottom sampler indicate? There might be a hard bottom, so it is not a good place to try to anchor.

Today we took bottom samples in ten locations. The objective of bottom sampling is to update historical data and look for good anchor locations. This chart has five locations where we took bottom samples. They are shown where the stars are. The red symbol depicts our launch driving from one point to the next.

Bottom Sampler with claw
Bottom Sampler with claw

There are many houses, and what appeared to be summer hotels, in this area, so they must have accurately charted information. When we performed our bottom sampling, the bottom sampler was affixed to a rope which we dropped over the side of the launch. Some times a weight is put on the rope so it will hit bottom with more force. After we tried three times and the claw was not closed we put a weight on and it closed from then on.When the sampler hit the bottom the claw of the sampler shut, trapping whatever was in that locale. We then brought the rope back up and opened the sampler to observe its contents.

Susan sending the sampler down with Shawn’s help
Susan sending the sampler down with Shawn’s help

We found the following materials:

  1.  43 feet deep: nothing in three tries- must be a hard bottom
  2.  50 feet deep: very densely packed green, sticky mud
  3.  47 feet deep: same as number 4
  4. 168 feet deep: big rocks only
  5. 130 feet deep: fine, green, sticky mud
  6.  47 feet deep: piece of black plastic (like a coffee stirrer), very fine black silt
  7. 37.5 feet deep: black sand with kelp
  8. 2. 168 feet deep: black, sticky mud
  9. 1. 100 feet deep: grey sand, three rocks of varying sizes
  10. small rocks Of these samples, green, sticky mud indicated the best locations for anchoring.
An ensign plotting the course
An ensign plotting the course

Personal Log 

We departed Trocadero Bay in the late morning. As we headed toward Glacier Bay for our tour on Wednesday we had our abandon ship and fire drills. When we did not complete the series of three drills (man overboard drill is the third one), I asked what the chances were of having this third drill. As it was explained to me we generally have the man overboard drill if we are ahead of our dead reckoning. When asked what that is I was told, “If we are where we are supposed to be when we are supposed to be there”. Here’s the dictionary definition of dead reckoning-  Dead Reckoning: 1. calculation of one’s position on the basis of distance run on various headings since the last precisely observed position, with as accurate allowance as possible being made for wind, currents, compass errors, etc.;’s position as so calculated.

On the chart times of arrival are written in pencil so adjustments can be made.
On the chart times of arrival are written in pencil so adjustments can be made.

This was important because were to pick up a National Park Service guide for our tour into Glacier Bay and we could not be early. A man overboard drill takes a great deal of time, because the ship must go back to its position when someone fell overboard. This entails making a huge circle with a ship that is 231 feet long, 42 feet wide, and has a displacement of 1,800 tons.  As you can imagine just the turning around alone takes a considerable amount of time.

For more information on the NOAA Ship Rainier (S-221) go here. 

Susan Smith, June 4, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Smith
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 1-12, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Trocadero Bay, Alaska; 55°20.990’ N, 33°00.677’ W
Date: June 4, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: light
Temperature 11.1 C (52 F)
Cloud Cover: FEW 1/8-2/8

A nautical chart indicating underwater cables
A nautical chart indicating underwater cables

Science and Technology Log: Bottom Sampling 

This morning I spent time in the Plot Room, and on the Fantail, involved in bottom sampling. The Plot Room has nine work stations with at least two screens per technician. The airplane symbol is the location of the Rainier and the colored dots show locations of bottom sampling areas. One purpose bottom sampling serves is to determine areas suitable for anchoring.

The clamp shell being retrieved
The clamp shell being retrieved

The chart to the right shows there is an underwater cable area (pink dotted lines) from which we cannot take samples, because it could accidently get damaged, thus rendering residents without power. The numbers shown on these When the ship takes bottom samples, from the Fantail, it uses a spring loaded clamp shell device. It is attached to an A frame and uses a winch to lower it into the sea by cable. The operator calls out the depth, using a cable counter, as it is lowered into the water and when it raised. This enables the plot room to know when a sample is coming and it verifies the information received remains accurate.  The numbers on these charts indicate water depth in fathoms (1 fathom=6 ft.). As you can see there are drastic dropoffs in some locations. 

Identifying the samples: small coarse pebbles
Identifying the samples: small coarse pebbles

If the cable is not straight down, the ship must move around it, avoiding the screws (propellers) at all costs. When the clamp hits bottom it scoops up the debris under it immediately and is brought back to the surface. When the sample arrives at the top it is shaken to release a majority of the water. Then it must be dismantled to see the solid matter inside. This is a two person job, as it is heavy and impossible to control for just one person. One holds the spring loaded clamp shell, the other takes off the sample section by pulling on either side of the device.

Identification chart for the samples
Identification chart for the samples

Because safety is always an issue the clamp must be kept from swinging once the collection unit is removed. The items found in the sampler are placed on the chart (shown to the right) to make sure identification is accurate. The chart is divided into sand, gravel, and pebbles. Each type of rock found is divided further into fine, medium, and coarse. This information is relayed to the plot room where someone labels the survey chart in the appropriate location. In the first four samples green, sticky mud was identified near the coastline of Ladrones Island, Madre de Dios Island, and on the southwestern arm of the Prince of Wales Island. These were deep areas where people are not likely to anchor their boats. In the sixth sample we were in fairly shallow water and sampled gritty sand and small pebbles.

This sample was full of sand and some pebbles.
This sample was full of sand and some pebbles.

Sometimes the water arrives only with living things in the sampler. Samples eight through ten provided us with living things. Shells with little creatures inside were found in one sampling, and in another the only item was a black sea star. Finally after three such samples in the same location we moved on to the next location. This is a somewhat tedious process when the samples do not provide a great deal of useful data. However, that in itself gives sufficient information as to what is NOT in a location. Now imagine being charged with this assignment is an area where surveys have either never been done, or it has been decades since the previous survey. Remarkably the survey charts are fairly accurate, even from when lead weights and ropes were used to survey. NOAA certainly has a daunting task when it comes to surveying Alaska.

Personal Log 

This sample had only a little black sea star!
This sample had only a little black sea star!

Yesterday, and today, allowed me the opportunity to see the technical aspects of the Rainier’s mission. Small sections of the oceans and bays are meticulously mapped and charted for use by recreational boaters, the fishing industry, large shipping companies, and the military. Without the information gleaned by the people and ships of the NOAA Corps our waters would continue to go uncharted, perhaps unused, and remain hazardous to all. I am amazed at the patience needed for this work, but it is well worth their efforts to provide the necessary tools to keep our waterways safe for everyone.

Jack on the bow
Jack on the bow

I was discussing interesting things I noticed on the Rainier with several of the officers. Did you know there are two flags we fly on the NOAA ships? There is the Jack, a flag with the 50 stars and blue field, and the Stars and Stripes, our nation’s flag. When it is flown on a ship it is called an Ensign. The Jack is flown on the Jackstaff (origin 1865-1895) located on the ship’s bow. The Ensign is flown on the fantail while in port or anchored at sea. I suppose I have now become a student of vexillology, the scholarly study of flags. 

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).


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:

Lisa Hjelm

Scott Donnelly, April 25, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
April 20-27, 2008

Mission: Assembly of Science Team and Movement of Science Gear/Equipment
Geographical Area: Coos Bay to Astoria, Oregon
Date: April 25, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 0620 Sunset: 2010
Wind: 5-10 kts
Seas: 2 ft
Rain likely

A nautical chart of the Coos Bay area
A nautical chart of the Coos Bay area

Science and Technology Log 

Longitudinal sampling continues along the Coos Bay Line. Coordinates for all measurements (twelve sampling stations total) along Coos Bay are 43O20’N, 124O27’W to 125O27’ extending 3 to 55 miles from shore and from depths of 50m (165ft) to 2,800m (9,200ft). Today was my seventh (morning) and (afternoon) eighth 4-hour shift. All went well.

Personal Log 

After the morning shift I asked my shift mate and veteran sailboat skipper Bob Sleeth to give me some pointers on how to set a nautical heading using parallel rulers. I know all about latitude and longitude but have never sat down with a nautical chart and looked at all the interesting information found on them. As a kid I watched a lot of old World War II naval films like Midway and Iwo Jima and I remember the scenes where the captain and senior officers are studying a nautical chart of the western Pacific with obvious intensity in order to plot a heading to cut off supplies for the Japanese navy or whatever. I always thought those scenes cool.

NOAA TAS Scott Donnelly charting a marine navigational heading
NOAA TAS Scott Donnelly charting a marine navigational heading

So here I am thirty years or so later, a happily married father of two and professor of chemistry, in my mind pretending the role of ship’s navigator on the famous WWII battleship USS Missouri as I consult with Capt. Stuart Murray in setting a heading to Tokyo Harbor with General of the Army Douglas MacArthur on board, making last-minute preparations for the surrender of the Empire of Japan ending World War II. I guess I can blame all the fresh ocean air I’ve taken in the past week for such a fantasy.

About mid-morning after a deep sleep I went to the flying bridge (observation deck) located above the ship’s operations bridge to watch the true masters of the sky- the albatross- glide effortlessly just inches above the glassy, mirrored ocean surface. The albatross rarely flaps its wings when flying. Rather, the albatross conserves its energy for its long distance oceanic travels by using the uplift from the wind deflected off ocean waves. Their long, slender, aerodynamically efficient wing structure allows the albatross to stay aloft for hours at a time. They soar in long looping arcs. They indeed are a grand spectacle to observe.

View from the McARTHUR II flying bridge
View from the McARTHUR II flying bridge


Ginger Redlinger, July 23–25, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ginger Redlinger
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 15 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Baranof Island, Alaska
Date: July 23–25, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 150°
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height:  none
Seawater Temperature: 14.4° C
Sea level Pressure: 1015.9 millibars (mb)
Temperature: 15.5° C

Mariner Word of the Day: Geodesy 

Geodesy is the science of measuring and monitoring the size and shape of the Earth and the location of points on its surface.

Survey Tech Boles holds a Navigational Chart developed by NOAA that also includes Hydrographic survey data
Survey Tech Boles holds a Navigational Chart developed by NOAA that also includes Hydrographic survey data

Science and Technology Log: Charts vs. Maps 

The RAINIER returned to the Gulf of Esquibel to gather a few more swaths of data to complete their survey of this area.  The ship is anchored in Steamboat Bay and several boats are out gathering data around the shoals in the area to identify navigational hazards. Tomorrow I will be on one of those boats – I can’t wait!

Since I am on the ship today, I can tackle a bigger question in my journal entry.  This question popped into my head (it didn’t hurt : ) when I was talking with the data processing crew. I want to know what the difference is between charts and maps? Based on the attention to detail that the RAINIER pays to the collection and quality of data to put into their charts I knew it had to be very different from maps!  I am figuring there is a clear distinction that is important for everyone to know since we all use maps at some point for driving, cycling, hiking, or boating. I will begin to tackle this question now, but a fuller, more rigorous explanation will evolve as I develop lessons to support this TAS assignment!  Let’s start with some basic information:

What is the difference between a chart and a map? 


  • Has special unique characteristics including a very detailed and accurate representation of the coastline, which takes into account varying tidal levels and water forms, critical to a navigator.
  • is a working document used to plot courses for navigators to follow in order to transit a certain area It takes into account special conditions required for one’s vessel, such as draft, bottom clearance, wrecks and obstructions which can be hazardous. Way points are identified to indicate relative position and points at which specific maneuver such as changing courses, must be performed.
  • provide detailed information on the area beneath the water surface, normally not visible to the naked eye, which can and is very critical for the safe and efficient navigation.


  • emphasize landforms, including the representation of relief, with shoreline represented as an approximate delineation usually at mean sea level.
  • is a static document, which serves as a reference guide. A map is not, and cannot be used to plot a course. Rather it provides a predetermined course, usually a road, path, etc., to be followed. Special consideration for the type of vehicle is rarely a consideration. Further, maps provide predetermined points-road intersections-to allow one a choice to change to another predetermined direction.
  • merely indicate a surface path providing no information of the condition of the road. For instance a map will not provide information on whether the road is under repair (except when it is a new road) or how many potholes or other obstructions it may contain. However the driver is able to make a visual assessment of such conditions.

Source of the above information? You guessed it – NOAA! Here is the website.

An example of one type of chart made from Hydrographic survey data
An example of one type of chart made from Hydrographic survey data

Charts and maps are clearly different.  Now lets look at the science behind creating charts. The science is called Hydrography.  (I found the next set of information on this site) Hydrography is “the science which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of bodies of water and their land areas.” (CDR Gerd Glang – Chief, Hydrographic Surveys Division)  To paraphrase: Special emphasis is placed on elements that affect safe navigation.  Side scan sonars are often deployed to detect submerged dangers to navigation. Hydrographic data are collected and processed with specialized computer systems that store data in digital form and generate graphic displays. Charts must include enough hydrographic detail in order to adequately depict the bottom topography and portray the least (lowest) depths over critical features. (Like rocks that your boat will hit if you don’t know they are there!) This paragraph describes exactly what we are doing here in Alaska! 

Navigational charts contain accurate and reliable information about features that assist ships in their travel. It can take up to two years to create a navigational chart! There are multiple sets of data that are used to ensure the charts are accurate.  Just think about the data I have discussed so far. There are ELAC sonar readings of the deep water. The RAINIER takes ELAC readings in the deeper waters off the coastline, and the smaller boats take ELAC readings of the deeper waters closer to shore where navigational hazards to the RAINIER are present.  This is also data the smaller boats using RESON sonar readings of shallower waters, the gathering of tide gauge readings, and the measurement of GPS benchmark levels.

While it is unusual for both the RAINIER and the smaller boats to be surveying at the same time, it helped complete this project in good time.  Usually, the six smaller research boats complete the survey work while the RAINIER serves as a command, logistics, and data processing center.  Layers upon layers of data from all the boats and ship go into making charts. Like I said before, it can take up to two years to complete a chart with all the new survey information. While charts are being developed, sometimes new information becomes available that is critical to navigators, like a new hazard. This information is communicated immediately and notices are sent out monthly so mariners can update their charts.  NOAA has set a goal to move from survey to chart in 90 days – based on the amount of time it takes to gather data safely, this will be challenging! But if newer technologies can provider quicker turn around time it will speed up the process.

I watched the careful and deliberate review of data gathered by multibeam sonar, and as with any technology, there are limitations.  Human oversight, review, and careful analysis of the data are important links between the gathering and use of the survey.

Survey Tech Krynytzky reviews ELAC data
Survey Tech Krynytzky reviews ELAC data

A note of interest pertaining to navigational charts

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson created the US Coast Guard & Geodetic Survey Office in 1807? (1807 – 2007… NOAA is celebrating its 200th anniversary!). The US Coast Guard & Survey Office was the first scientific agency of the United States government.  The Coast Survey Office and the USGS benchmarked, mapped, and charted the United States as it grew, and now there are multiple agencies providing data that describe a global model. This mathematical model is called Geodesy (Pronounced Ge-oh–des- see.) It has helped us understand the actual shape of the earth – it is not a perfectly round sphere, it is an oblate spheroid squashed down at the poles and bulging a bit at the equator!  The Geodesy group is developing and refining a mathematical model that starts from the center of the earth and works its way out in to solar system.  It takes into account the movement of the earth around the sun, and the sun within the spiral of the galaxy.  As the entire unit of our solar system moves, subtle changes to the tides occur. It seems that this occurs on a nineteen-year cycle.  Being able to track data over time at different locations – satellites, sonar readings, survey readings, etc. help us understand changes from the earth’s core, to the surface (tectonic plates, sea floor and land formations), and the oceans tides. It is quite amazing to think that a mathematical model can take all of that into account. Learn more here.

Think about how important it was to back in Thomas Jefferson’s day to understand navigation to and from the United States.  For example, how to travel in order to trade and discover where to develop ports, and where not to!  Think now about how important it is to understand how changes in earth impact human activity – trade, recreation, where to build homes away from storm zones, flooding, etc. What are safe numbers of fish to harvest so they can replenish?  With the melting of the polar caps, imagine how important knowing how the mean high and low tides will change.  The Tide Gauge survey that we completed in Dorothy Cove was last done in 1924!  The work of NOAA, its’ agencies and that of the RAINIER are very important.

In the week since I have boarded this ship, the RAINIER and it’s crew have surveyed 462 Nautical miles, checked tide gauge data, reviewed data from the surveys to ensure their quality, and planned the next stage of their journey. In 2006, 1,464 Square Nautical Miles (SNM) were surveyed. There are 21,660 SNM that are considered critically important and have yet to be surveyed. See the 2007 Hydrographic Survey Priorities Report for more information.

Personal Log: Food equals Happiness 

I have yet to talk about the food, and since my students love to eat I have to let them know how well fed I am on this ship! Imagine keeping sixty people of various taste-preferences happy. This is job of the cooks and stewards in charge of feeding and providing stores to the crew. I have never had such a variety of food before!  There are always two or three choices or combinations of foods for every meal in hopes of making everyone happy.  Fresh soups every night! There are fresh vegetables cooked just right – never over cooked! The salad bar and the ice cream freezer are always available (and a banana sundae with two or more ice cream types, chocolate sauce and chopped nuts is a great dessert. My favorite end of the day treat is “Foye Hot Coco” – a recipe he shared with me. If you meet him, be sure to ask him to teach you how to make it!)  Over the week I have had the choice of barbeque ribs, prime rib, beef tips, roast veal, chicken, different varieties of rice, different styles of potatoes, and a host of tasty vegetarian dishes (yams masala, gado gado, pesto wraps). (Did I mention the gravies – they are delicious!)  There are six different types of hot sauce and a host of condiments!  Fresh fruit is always available (pineapple, mango, melons, grapes, cherries, you name it!)  There are fresh made desserts every night and fresh-baked cookies during break times. All the water, coffee, juices, Nesquick, hot coco, tea, etc. that you could want.)  I haven’t even started to talk about breakfast and lunch –there are treats galore- at least six kinds of cereal- and I will be lucky to leave this ship at the same weight as when I climbed aboard. There are even special occasions – like when Raul caught a 50-pound halibut the other day and donated it to our dinner one night.  He made his own homemade batter and deep-fried pieces of halibut so we could have fish tacos!  They were awesome! (Guacamole and mango salsa on top!)  Floyd, Sergio, and Raul know how to keep us happy, healthy, and keep our bellies full!

The other really cool thing I have learned about here is satellite radio! I have got to get it installed in my boat, camper, truck, heck even the lawn tractor! The sound quality and choice of programming (without commercials) is incredible!  Speaking of music, there are two really cool bands I have learned about on this trip – Great Big Sea, and Flogging Molly (which my students who love My Chemical Romance will really enjoy!)

Question of the Day

Topic 1: Are there internship opportunities for students who are interested in exploring careers in navigation, charting, mapping, computer sciences, Officer Corp, etc? How many NOAA agencies are there?

Topic 2: What geometric theorem can you use to determine the length of an unknown side? Hint: Hypotenuse.

Topic 3: What other expeditions and scientific endeavors did Thomas Jefferson initiate? 

Mike Laird, August 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 4, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 50.8 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.0 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Light Airs
Wind Speed: Light Airs
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.0 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

The day begins early with launches leaving at 7:00.  The reason for the early start is that two launches (RA1 and RA2) are doing shoreline work.  Shoreline work must be done at lower low tide (in an area in which there are diurnal tides – two flooding periods and two ebbing periods – the lower low tide is the lower of the two ebbing periods), and on this day, the tidal window for this tide period is from 7:10 to 12:30.  The work along the ocean/land transition is done when the water level is at its lowest point so there is increased confidence that all features are observed and accounted for.

I have been assigned to launch RA2 and will have an opportunity for the first time to observe exactly how the shoreline surveys are conducted.  The work entails confirming existing map data from three sources: 1) the cartographic features file which is composed of data collected from aerial surveys (the photographs are used to create a map on which the shoreline and off shore features are shown); 2) LIDAR – a relatively new technology in which an aerial survey is conducted using lasers; and 3) existing nautical charts.

Confirming the data entails running the shoreline and comparing the actual shoreline and buffer (the water in a zone of between thirty and fifty meters just offshore) to what appears on the map.  A feature confirmation requires a visual observation of the feature.  As features are observed, a notation is hand written on a hard copy of the map.  Later, the notations will be input into the ship’s computer.

In addition to noting known features, features not currently shown are recorded on the map along with their location and depth.  In some cases, features shown on the map cannot be located. In these situations, a notation is made and a reason (too much kelp, water to deep, etc) is given. This signals the sheet manager that further investigation is required. If the water in the area is safe (the original boat conducting the survey is equipped with a single beam sonar system and will determine the water depth and then scan the area running in a star pattern searching for obstructions), one of the launches equipped with a multibeam echo sounding system will be sent in to do a 100% floor scan to confirm the feature.  If the area is not safe, a dive team will be sent in to do the confirmation.  Shoreline work is a bit more dynamic than the deepwater work – the crew must constantly be aware of what is happening with the surf as rocks can suddenly appear!

Personal Log 

The food onboard the RAINIER is quite tasty with a wide range of options available at every meal.  Starting off the day with breakfast (served 0700-0730), the most important meal of the day, choices include: eggs to order, fried, scrambled, poached, or boiled; omelets: cheese, minced ham, or vegetarian; french toast; hot cakes; waffles; fresh fruit: cantaloupe, pineapple, honeydew melon, mango; some type of meat: ham, bacon, sausage, Spam; cold cereal, coffee, tea, juice, milk.

Selections for today’s lunch (served from 1200-1230) were: Entrées: homemade gumbo soup, grilled fillet of catfish/tartar sauce, hot roast beef sandwich, mushroom and cheese quesadillas. Side Dishes: diced brown potatoes, steamed rice, steamed fresh cauliflower.  Dessert: chilled jello/whip cream. Drinks: water, juice, milk, lemonade or grape flavored drink, coffee.

Today’s dinner (served from 1700-1730) is a fantail (kind of like the ship’s back porch) cookout. Salads: pasta, potato, and another salad I’m note sure what it was; Entrees: BBQ – steaks, ribs and sausage, fried chicken; Side dishes: egg rolls, french fries, and pot stickers; Drinks: water and assorted juices. A real feast!

Sena Norton, July 7, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 7, 2004

Location: In transit to Shumagin Is. Via Shelikof Strait
Latitude: 57 43.2 N
Longitude: 154 58.4 W
Visibility: 10+
Wind Direction: 280 degrees
Wind Speed: 18 kt
Sea wave height: 2-4 ft
Swell wave height: 2-4 ft at 210 degrees
Seawater temperature: 10.6 C
Sea level pressure: 1020.1 mb
Cloud cover: PC 2/8
Weather: 12.2 C, sunny with moon visible straight off bow

Science and Technology Log

I learned about the NOAA Nautical Charting Program today. A nautical chart shows the marine environment in a visual format for navigation purposes primarily. Any mariner needs to have an ability to use fixed points to plot a course and know/avoid any underwater or other hazards along the way. Most charts show hazards, natural and dredged channels, water depth and other features that are needed for safe navigation. The National Ocean Services marine Chart Division is in charge of 1,000s of charts. Most mariners use these charts along with the U.S. Coast Pilot when ever they are out. When changes are charted a new chart is made. From the time the NOAA Ship RAINIER makes their readings it takes between 3-5 years to be produced in chart format and readily made available. New charts are asked to be made for uncharted, poorly charted or changed areas. The three hydrographic ships that NOAA maintains do on average 50 charting runs a season for updates. However, with the current backlog of changes only 200-300 items are updated a year. The cycle of a update goes as follows: first chart users relay needs, second the Hydrographic Surveys Division prioritizes the resources and produces survey instructions, third, a NOAA field unit travels to the location and conducts the hydro survey, fourthly, the data is examined at a on shore branch and prepared for application on new chart and finally the Marine Chart Division is complied and printed. NOAA is not the only team member on this mission; other important organizations provide data for new charts. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide dredge and channels depths, U.S. Coast Guard maintains navigational aids, GPS beacons and other communication sources, while the Photogrammetry unit of NOAA complies aerial photos for shoreline and landmark additions.

The bridge is an important part of the overall ship function. The ship is driven from this location, the progress made is plotted and recorded and hourly logs are kept with various location and condition data. I take my condition and location directly from the ships log when I write these logs. Today there were a few ships on the radar and the officers wanted to make visual contact with them. I got to keep a lookout for the one off the port/south side of the ship with binoculars. The helm is where the ship is driven from and is kept on course with direction relation to the nautical chart and heading. Small adjustments have to be made from time to time to keep the correct bearing due to changed in sea swell and wind direction. The bridge is always manned 24 hours a day because of the importance of what is done there. We are making about 13 knots today with a friendly wind and hope to be anchored in the Shumagin Is. by tomorrow. We will commence the ships hydro at 0300 tomorrow morning to begin the surveying of the area.

Question of the Day:

How far is a fathom? 6 feet
How many people are on board? 74 crew/officers 5 visitors / 79 total

Day Activities:

  • Interviewed Chief Yeoman Paul and discussed his role/responsibilities on the ship. He in charge of bills, keeping track of expenses, ordering fuel and stores, personnel changes and promotions, a liaison between crew and command and manages expenses overall.
  • Visited the bridge and interviewed various officers and crew about bridge processes and equipment.
  • Wrote down some possible classroom curriculum options.
  • Discussed curriculum with fellow TAS, read some NOAA research and PR.
  • Downloaded some important pictures for use in curriculum/reports from ships computer network.
Personal Log
The night was a little rough with the swell height and wind direction and speed. They call my room the anti-gravity chamber and every once in awhile I could tell why. Today the rocking and rolling is much better and at times I think that I have my sea legs back. It is still unique to walk around on a ship that is bobbing; you get a different feeling when the deck is not where your foot thought it should be. I have put much thought into what I can turn this experience into as far as curriculum goes and my fellow TAS and I have been bouncing some ideas off of each other. There is much to say about the value of sharing this experience with a colleague as well as having the chance to discuss in general with that same colleague. I think that there is a professional connection being made thanks to the NOAA Teacher At Sea program! The science behind the survey process with help and that is a main goal to learn about, however there is something more to this experience that I haven’t put my finger on yet…give it some time…something that the sea is very well trained at allowing you to have.

For now,

Diane Stanitski: Day 7, August 17, 2002

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Diane Stanitski

Aboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana

August 16-30, 2002

Day 7: Saturday, August 17, 2002
Time: 0700 military time (based on a 24-hour time schedule)

Latitude: 21°14.715’North (N) Cruising just south of the Big Island of Hawaii visible this morning from the port (left) side of the ship when facing forward
Longitude: 157°57.378’West (W)

Weather Observations taken from the bow of the ship with Shippensburg University’s hand-held Kestrel 3000 instrument:

Air Temperature: 27°C (80.6°F)
Average Wind Speed: 6.3 knots (7.3 mph)
Cloud Cover: 8/10 with mostly altocumulus (middle level, puffy) and cirrocumulus (high level, puffy) clouds
Precipitation in previous 24 hours: 0 cm (0 inches)
Relative Humidity: 89%
Dew Point Temperature: 24.8°C (76.6°F) Relatively calm seas; beautiful sunrise; Porpoises spotted on the port (left) side of the ship

Quote written on the Plan of the Day (POD) posted outside the Main Mess (meal) area: “All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.”
– Benedict Spinoza

After a restful night’s sleep on my upper bunk, I awoke ready for a new day! It struck me as I was lulling into a peaceful sleep that my mattress felt just like a waterbed. I thought that I was rolling around on a bowl of jello, a neat feeling which made me relax. I am fortunate that I haven’t experienced any seasickness yet. A few others haven’t been so lucky. Michelle, our fearless Medical Officer on board, has distributed medication for seasickness to those needing it. It is recommended that you breathe in fresh air and watch the horizon for a while if ever you feel queasy.

After touring the outer decks of the ship watching the sun rise above the morning clouds on the horizon, I stopped to speak with crew member Roger Stone who said that every day is slightly different because the sky is always changing. He recalled seeing a white rainbow at night under a full moon. I had never heard of this so I’m intrigued about what would cause such a remarkable feature.

Breakfast was interesting because I spoke with Rachel, a Cadet, and Steve, our Field Operations Officer (FOO) who received a degree in Meteorology at the University of Nebraska. We discussed Steve’s research and he said that I could come up to the bridge to take weather observations anytime. Yahoo! For some reason beyond me, weather obs are not everyone’s favorite activity of the day. Rachel taught me the difference between a pitching and rolling boat. She said that a pitching boat rocks front to back (up and down), while a rolling boat rocks side to side. She is currently taking a course requiring that she write a complete report of all of her activities while on board. I hope to learn many things from her, including celestial navigation — how to find your way using the stars. Can’t wait!

I learned from Steve that the reason it was a bit rocky in the ship last night was due to our travels through currents emerging from between the Hawaiian Islands. The currents disturbed the forward motion of the boat. Unknown to me, currents are named for the direction toward which they flow, unlike winds, which are named for the direction from which they blow. So, if ocean currents and winds are moving in the same direction, they have opposite directional names – very interesting!

I spent part of the day organizing my thoughts regarding my upcoming lesson plans. There are so many exciting ideas generated each day by the scientists as we talk. I will definitely interview the scientists on the ship about their current research as well as use the opportunity to describe the many mechanical and electronic sensors on board to everyone watching the webcasts. Please let me know what you would like to know more about and I’ll try to include it in a future webcast.

John pointed out flying fish on the port side of the boat today. They are quite small and it is believed that they fly to flee from whatever is gaining on them. They don’t have great ability to determine direction and they stay in the air for just a few seconds before splashing into the water again.

Our location and the weather observations at 1300 today were:
Latitude: 18°37.8’N
Longitude: 155°23.7’W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm) which is about the greatest distance you can see due to the curvature of the earth
Wind direction: 060 (on a 0-360° scale) which means ENE
Wind speed: 19 kts
Sea wave height: 5-7′
Swell wave height: 6-8′
Sea Water Temperature: 26.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1015.0 mb
Dry bulb temperature: 26.2°C
Wet bulb temperature: 23.5°C

Sarah and Rachel gave me a tour of the ship’s bridge this afternoon. They discussed every aspect of their job and it was fascinating! They have radar on the ship to detect nearby ships and severe weather. On the front panel of the bridge there is an automatic pilot system for the ship. There are also throttles for the main engines, which allow us to travel at approximately 10-12 kts under ideal conditions. The bow thruster controls movement of the front of the ship from left to right. They described radio communication procedures with other ships, explained who has right of way when two ships are merging, and provided details about the nautical charts used during each journey. I made the mistake of calling nautical charts “maps” and was politely corrected. I will place this new term in my memory bank for future reference. I also was privy to a chart showing our upcoming transit line with waypoints approximately every 200 miles. The ship remains in a straight path until a certain point where a slight change of direction is made, otherwise, the bearing would constantly change as the ship’s path slowly curved.

After a workout and excellent meal of chicken stirfry, cauliflower, rice and pecan pie prepared by Helen and Doretha, I met with John who informed me that there would be a deployment of a test buoy tomorrow around 0900 and that he would like to videotape me on the buoy before it’s sent out to sea to explain the instrumentation on the mast. Earlier today I met with Dave and Paul, our Chief Scientists on board, and they explained the entire array of sensors and the purpose behind the buoy. It will be deployed and removed during this trip with data collected every few seconds and stored in a datalogger on the mast. During the return voyage of the KA to Honolulu in late September the buoy will be removed from the water and the data analyzed immediately following the trip. A compass comparison test and a buoy motion monitor test will be conducted. A specially engineered tube containing 3 different compasses and an accelerometer will enable the pitch, roll, and yaw of the buoy to be determined. As of yet, I believe that these movements on the buoy are unknown.

Today’s question: What is the pitch, roll, and yaw of a ship? Be the first to answer and I’ll acknowledge your response in my next log. I’ll write again tomorrow after a peaceful night under the millions of visible stars above.

Peace to all and to all a good night,