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.