Laura Grimm: Who is driving this ship? July 18, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Laura Grimm

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 4 – July 22, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Lake Erie

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: July 18, 2022

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42 11.6’N

Longitude: 080 20.7’ W

Sky Conditions: Overcast (*)

Visibility: 10+ miles

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Wind Direction: 300 NW

Lake Temperature: 22.3 C

Wave Height: 3-4 ft.

Dry Bulb: 22.6 ᵒC

Wet Bulb: 21.3 ᵒC

Relative Humidity: 92%

A chart of abbreviations for weather terms for sky condition, intensity/proximity, descriptor, precipitation, obscuration, and other
(*) This is a chart of abbreviations that I refer to when I go the the bridge to record the weather .
a section of bathymetric data (color-coded to reflect depth) within  polygons overlaid on a political map of Lake Erie off of Presque Isle
This image shows the progress of the hydrographic survey off the coast of Presque Isle.

Science and Technology Log

The ship is driven from the Bridge.  It is the main control center of the ship.  It is driven by a variety of people and computers.  People who drive the ship include: the Commanding Officer (CO), Conning Officer (CONN), Officer of the Deck (OOD), and several helmsmen.  There are several (at least two) people on the Bridge all the time.  If Thomas Jefferson were a six-story building, the Bridge would be on the top floor.  Being on the 6th floor has its pros and cons.  Seeing, avoiding, and communicating with other boats in the area is very important.  One can see far and wide from up there!  One disadvantage is that things really rock ‘n roll up there when we are in heavy seas!

portrait photo of CO Jaskoski on bridge
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson’s Commanding Officer (CO) Jaskoski

According to a popular career website (Your Free Career Test), “A ship captain is in command of water vessels in lakes, oceans, coastal waters, rivers, or bays. They ensure the safe and efficient operations of vessels. A ship captain navigates their vessel according to weather conditions and uses radar, depth finders, radios, buoys, lights, and even lighthouses. They determine sufficient levels of oxygen, hydraulic fluid, or air pressure of the vessel.”

Are you interested in having a career as a ship captain of a seagoing vessel?  Watch the following video to see if you have what it takes!

How about a career at sea?
view of the bridge controls
The Bridge has many windows, and is filled with instruments, computers, and reference manuals.

Following are pictures of what is used to navigate and drive the ship.  Each picture is followed by a brief description.

a radar screen
Thomas Jefferson has two radars

Radar is one of the most important tools on the Bridge.  It allows us to see objects, ships, obstructions – basically anything we could run into (on the surface).  TJ has two radars.  The X-band radar is used for higher resolution pictures and things in closer range.  The S-band radar is used to see objects further away. 

The Officer of the Deck (OOD) and Conning Officer (CONN) use the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA) function of the radar to identify “targets” or other ships in the area.  It is used to track their relative motion to see which way and how fast they are headed with respect to TJ.  The ARPA calculates the closest point of approach (CPA) and time to CPA.  This tells you if there is the potential of a collision.  The result is to change course, change speed, contact the other ship, or anything to reduce the risk of a collision.

If there is the potential for a collision, the OOD or CONN may contact the vessel and make a passing arrangement.  However, since TJ is conducting operations, they may also make a Security announcement to let other vessels know their whereabouts and status. (Sécurité is French for “security” and is pronounced se-cur-i-tay.)  According to Wikipedia, “Of the three distress and urgency calls, Sécurité is the least urgent.

Sécurité: A radio call that usually issues navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, and any other warning needing to be issued that may concern the safety of life at sea yet may not be particularly life-threatening.

Pan-pan: This is the second most important call. This call is made when there is an emergency aboard a vessel, yet there is no immediate danger to life, or the safety of the vessel itself. This includes, but is not limited to injuries on deck, imminent collision that has not yet occurred, or being unsure of vessel’s position.

Mayday: This is the most important call that can be made, since it directly concerns a threat to life or the vessel. Some instances when this call would be made are, but not limited to death, collision, and fire at sea. When the Mayday call is made, the vessel is requiring immediate assistance.”

Last evening, the CONN made a Sécurité announcement because the position, direction, and speed of a dredging vessel and the TJ were at risk of a collision.  As soon as the announcement was made, the dredging vessel altered its course and the TJ slowed down a bit.  We averted the collision with a very large margin.

A close-up view of one portion of the radar readout (green and yellow numbers on a black background)
A close-up view of one portion of the radar.

Above is a close-up view of just one portion of the radar.

HDG = Heading of the ship (per gyrocompass)

SPD = Speed in knots

COG = Course over ground ***

SOG = Speed over ground ***

The yellow numbers represent degrees of latitude and longitude.

(*** These parameters are course and speed after the influence of wind and current have been taken into account.)

Speed at sea is measured in knots.  One knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour or approximately 1.15 miles per hour.

Distance at sea is measured in nautical miles.  The nautical mile is based on the Earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude.  A nautical mile is slightly longer than a mile on land, equaling 1.15 land-measured (or statute) miles.

A combination of monitors
A combination of monitors showing and Electronic Charting System (ECS) and the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS)

The lower monitor and keyboard are the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS).  It displays Electronic Navigation Charts (ENCs).  This system allows officers on deck to see where they are in real-time.  It can be updated frequently when new information regarding navigation (buoys, obstructions, depths, etc.) are charted.  It has all but replaced paper carts. 

a control panel
Search lights and communication systems

The two panels on the left control the starboard and port side searchlights.  Upper right is a fathometer.  It is the less sophisticated echo sounder used to measure depth below the keel when we are transiting (moving from place to place) and not surveying.

Lower right, you will find the intercom that is used to communicate between the Bridge and the Data Acquisition desk in the Survey room.

close-up view of a radio control panel
This communications VHF radio is set on channel 16.

This radio is used to communicate with other ships in the area.  Information to and from the US Coast Guard is also shared through this device.

computer monitor
This monitor shows where data have been collected.

This monitor shows what is going on with a software called “Hypack”.  It displays data that has been collected.  It helps hydrographers and those driving the ship to visually keep track of where data has been collected. Also, it feeds information to the autopilot which allows the ship to stay on the course while surveying, without having to steer in hand or adjust based on distance from the line.

ship's steering wheel, or helm, mounted on bridge
The ship’s wheel

This is where the Helmsman stands and steers the ship.  The Helmsman takes his/her orders from the Conning Officer.  This officer is responsible for instructing the helmsman on the course to steer. Did you know that ships have autopilot?  The helmsman steers the ship when it is turning or doing complicated maneuvers.  When the ship is traveling in long straight lines (when we are “mowing the lawn”), the helmsman turns on the autopilot affectionately called, “Nav Nav”.  It is called this because the Nav button needs to be pushed twice to activate the system. 

control panel
This panel controls the power of the main engine that turns the propeller.
control panel for the bow thruster
The bow thruster control panel

There is a small propeller on the bow called a bow thruster.  This panel controls the thruster.  It is often used when steering the ship in tight places at slow speeds.  I like to think of it as a way to “fine tune” the direction of the ship.

There are many compasses on the ship.

  • the magnetic compass that hangs from the ceiling of the Bridge.
  • LED display of main compass
  • LT Catoire looks through the gyro compass, which is mounted on the deck

How did early people navigate the oceans?

The rudder is found aft (behind) of the propeller.  Both are under the ship.  The helmsman uses the rudder to turn the ship right or left. The rudder moves using hydraulics.  The pointer on the display above moves as the rudder moves.

  • dial displaying position of rudder. currently reads: 2 degrees toward starbooard side
  • gauge attached to rudder showing a range of degrees (0-45) left and right
  • view of rudder attached to hydraulic arms

Personal Log

We have had beautiful weather during this leg of the mission.  This morning, we had a beautiful red sky at sunrise. 

sunrise over Lake Erie; wake of ship visible
Red sky in the morning?  Should I heed warning?

You may be familiar with the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.”  The Library of Congress states that this concept is also repeated in Shakespeare and in the Bible.

In Shakespeare’s play Venus and Adonis, “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field.  Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

In the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) Jesus said, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red.  And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Weather lore has been around since people have needed to predict the weather.   Several agencies (NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory, Earth Observatory at NASA, and University of Wisconsin-Madison) have studied the science behind this piece of weather lore.

According to the Library of Congress, “When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles.  This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west.  Basically, good weather will follow.

A red sunrise can mean that a high-pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east.  A morning sky that is deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere.  So, rain could be on its way.”

The beautiful sunrise + the NOAA weather report caused people to believe that we might be in for a weather change.

  • satellite weather view showing a storm system moving east from Ashtablua toward Erie
  • view over Lake Erie, all water, toward the horizon. Storm clouds and rain visible in the distance.
  • davits raising the small boat off the water
  • monarch butterfly in flight
  • view out a porthole window, covered in rain drops
  • a hand reaching to press a button on the control panel of the ship's whistle

For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 1)

Q: Where is Dewey?  Hint: Only a very important person on board is allowed to sit in this chair.

Dewey the beanie monkey sits on a leather chair
Dewey, have you gotten permission to sit there?

A: Dewey is sitting in the captain’s (Commanding Officer’s) chair in the Bridge.  CO Jaskoski gave Dewey permission to sit in the chair . . . just this once because he is so cute.

Dewey the beanie monkey sitting in the captain's chair, full view
Dewey chill’n out in the CO’s chair

For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 2)

Q: Where is Dewey?  Hint: This is used by the helmsman to drive the ship.

Dewey the beanie monkey propped up on the helm
Hang on Dewey!  I am afraid that you are too short to do the work of a helmsman.

A: Dewey is sitting on the wheel in the Bridge.  Yes, I am afraid that he is too short to do his job.

broader view of the bridge control panels, with Dewey the beanie monkey on the steering wheel or helm
Watch out all who are in front of the bow!  Dewey is trying to drive the ship.

Human-Interest Poll (HIP)

graph of responses to poll: What do you like to do in your free time while on the ship? Read (7 people), talk with family (4), work out (3), play video games (3), other (3)
Other = writing letters, napping, or planning future vacations

Questions from students:

Casey M. asked, “Have you found anything shipwrecks yet?”

LG – Whether we have found something or not, I must respond the same way. It is classified information. I am not allowed to tell you whether we have or have not found anything until I am given permission to do so.   Thank you for your curiosity.

Evelyn A. asked, “Have you seen anything that you haven’t seen before on Lake Erie. Also, what is the deepest spot you have seen so far?

LG: During this leg of the survey the deepest we have measured is 28 meters (~ 92 feet) deep.  I asked one of my shipmates and she said the deepest she has measured is 999.8 meters (3280 ft or over 1000 yards) deep.  That’s deeper than 10 football fields!

I’ve had many new experiences and have seen lots of new things on this voyage.  The one that stands out for me is that we found a shipwreck.  I cannot tell you where we found it – that’s confidential.  It was about 70 meters (230 feet) long – a little shorter than a football field.  It looked as if it had been there for a long time.

Gretta S. asked, “Do you ever miss being on land or miss your neighbors (Wink, wink)?  How was the movie night?  How tall is the ship?  Have the waves ever gotten so high you could feel the sea spray on the deck?  Have you seen both vertebrates and invertebrates?”

 LG: Yes, I miss my family, cats, and neighbors, however, this is a voyage of a lifetime!  The movie night was great.  I didn’t stay up to watch the whole movie – bedtime called.  The ship from “keel to wind birds” is about 100 feet.  Yes, the waves have gotten high enough to wash up on to the main deck – especially during a turn.  I’ve seen a lot of insects (invertebrates) but few vertebrates unless you count my fellow shipmates and some seagulls! 

Josie S. asked, “What is your favorite meal on the ship so far? How do you like sleeping on the top bunk in your room on the ship? Did you see any fish in the lake?  Are you allowed to have electronics on the ship?  I liked the picture of you and Dewey on the ship!!!!  You look happy!”

LG: My favorite meal so far has been prime rib and sweet potatoes.  I like sleeping on the top bunk because I have a porthole.  My bed is very comfy, and my roommate is nice.  I have not seen any fish in the lake; however, we see a lot of seafood in the mess hall (examples: crab legs, cod, grouper, shrimp, oysters, and salmon).  Yes, we are allowed to have electronics on the ship.  I have my cell phone, computer, a small camera for videos, and voice recorder.  We use a lot of technology!  I am happy!  This has been a wonderful learning experience in so many ways.  I cannot wait to share this experience with my students when I return to Dalton.  (P.S. I will give Dewey a hug for you.)

Janie S. said, “We were at Kelleys Island last weekend! When we were there, we saw Canada with our binoculars! Could you see Canada?  What other foods did you have on the Thomas Jefferson ship? The deepest lake out of the great lakes would be Lake Superior. And the shallowest lakes out of the great lakes would be Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.”

LG: That is very cool that you got the chance to go to Kelleys Island and see Canada.  During the day, we cannot see Canada from where we are surveying.  The Operations Officer in Training told me that if you go on the bridge at night, you can see radio towers and lights from the windmills in Canada.  We are approximately 19 nautical miles (about 22 statute miles) from the nearest point of land in Canada which is Long Point National Wildlife Area in Norfolk County, Ontario.  We stay mostly 4 to 8 nautical miles north of Presque Isle, PA.  This link will give you all sorts of information about the depths of the Great Lakes.  Did you know that Lake Superior is eight times deeper than Lake Erie! As for the part of your questions about what other foods we have on TJ – I decided just to include a panoramic picture of one of our snack shelves. Just suffice it to say that we are very well fed!

shelf stocked with snacks
A panoramic view of just one of the snack shelves!

Keep those emailed questions coming!  I love your questions! Contact me at lgrimm@daltonlocal.org.  Be sure to sign your message with your first and last name.  Farewell for now!

Jordan Findley: Doin’ Science, June 17, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2022

Weather Data

Location: 28°05.1 N, 091°53.3 W
Sky: Clear
Temperature: 85 °F
Wind: north, 5 kts.
Waves:

Track NOAA Ship Pisces

Science and Technology Log

We are continuing our path due east. We (they) have surveyed 14 different banks and dropped 102 cameras.

*NERD ALERT*

Along the way we have been collecting water samples that contain environmental DNA (eDNA), and mapping at night. Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida, is collecting water samples once daily and at additional fixed sites. She is working under Dr. Alexis Janosik, participating in a multiyear study of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and NOAA. The project’s goal is to characterize reef fish diversity in the northwest Gulf of Mexico using molecular tools and techniques.   

Environmental DNA is a molecular tool used in aquatic ecosystems. eDNA contains DNA from all organisms in the water column. This DNA can be in the form of gametes (reproductive cells), fish scales, waste, etc. This approach is noninvasive and cost-effective, and does not require contact with the organism. Caroline collects test tubes of water, adds some magical juice that causes a chemical reaction, and the DNA begins to solidify in the test tube. You with me? THIS is real science.

Later in the lab, the eDNA is extracted and the samples are run through polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies (multiplies) genes and the sample is sent to a lab for additional science. Fancy technology makes millions of copies of the DNA. You piece it all together and use the data to assess reef fish diversity. Essentially, eDNA is like taking attendance in the reef community. Roll call.

I will leave it at that, though it’s much more complex. I am starting to remember why I avoided molecular biology.  Caroline, I’m impressed.

Meet the Science Crew

Paul Felts
Field Party Chief, Fisheries Biologist

Field Party Chief Paul Felts holds up two fish sampled during the reef fish survey

What do you enjoy most about your job? “It’s the field work that I enjoy most. I love being out on the water (in moderation), participating in the various surveys. I have been a part of so many fun surveys – reef fish, snapper longlines, trawls, plankton, and mammals. I appreciate getting a break from the desk, reviewing footage, and annotating the research. I also enjoy working with the crew and building team camaraderie.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “It’s tough to decide. I have seen all sorts of cool stuff. One mammal survey we were out on the smaller boat and a sperm whale breached about 100-200 yards from the boat. Later those whales were lying on their sides at the surface with full bellies, seemingly just resting after a meal. The giant stingray and thresher shark are up there on my favorites as well.”

Paul is the Field Party Chief. He’s been with NOAA for 21 years. As a Fisheries Biologist at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Paul studies fish populations and their impacts. He knows every fish in the sea (or at least close). Out here, Paul coordinates scientific operations. He has to be on every minute of every day, and deal with the crews’ shenanigans, yet still shows up each morning with a smile on his face, ready to take on the day.

Amanda Ravas
Fisheries Biologist

Fisheries Biologist Amanda Ravas, wearing a hard hat and a life vest, grips the side of a camera array resting on deck

What do you enjoy most about your job? “My favorite part about my job is being out in the field… as long as I’m not seasick. Because I’m still so new, I love learning all the ins and outs of the projects, seeing the species I’ve been watching on our videos in person, and hearing stories from other scientists about all the cool projects they’ve been a part of.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “The coolest animal I’ve seen while out in the field is a manta ray which followed our boat for a few minutes as we were making our transit back ashore. And I always get super excited seeing any shark species while out at sea.”

Amanda is a Fisheries Biologist at the Panama City Laboratory. She’s been with NOAA for two years. She studies fish populations and their impacts. She may be tiny, but she’s mighty. Don’t underestimate her. She knows her stuff, and knows it well, and can keep up with the best of them.

Rafael Ortiz
Program Support Specialist

Program specialist Rafael Ortiz, wearing a hard hat, life vest and gloves, holds a hook over a plastic bucket

What do you enjoy most about your job? “I enjoy being part of the NOAA Fisheries Mission at the MSLABS level. Being an administrator I find myself lucky to participate on various surveys with the scientist. I get to build a great working relationship and many friendships with them. I learn so much from them. Everything from science related topics to personnel life topics. I also feel that they have a higher respect for me than just some admin person.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with?  “Oh so many to list. I’ve seen so much diversity on these surveys that it’s hard to list. I’m always amazed at what comes out of the ocean and the thought of things I’ve not seen or will never see. I’m fascinated by the smallest to the biggest ocean animals.”

Rafael is a Program Support Specialist. He has been with NOAA for seven years. He provides oversight, technical expertise, and support to personnel and field biologists. But don’t let him fool you; he’s a biologist at heart. These scientists are lucky to have him out here at sea. He works hard, and best of all, keeps everyone in good spirits.

Kenneth Wilkinson
Electronics Technician

Electronics technician Kenneth Wilkinson, wewaring a hard hat and life vest, stands by a bandit fishing reel

What do you enjoy most about your job? “All of it. I have done just about every survey – plankton, sharks, small pelagic, reef fish, Caribbean reef fish, and more. I have worked closely with NOAA enforcement, installing vessel monitoring systems and reporting illegal fishing. Surveillance in the Keys was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being down there. Most recently, I operate NOAA drones.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with?  “The first to come to mind is the 12 ft. tiger shark during a longline survey. I also enjoyed building satellite tags and tagging sea turtles.”

Kenny is an Electronics Technician at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He has been with NOAA for 32 YEARS. He handles all the equipment from scientific to shipboard navigation and communication. What would we do without Kenny? This survey, as well as most, relies entirely on the technology. Kenny keeps us in check. I mean he’s the only one that knows what a transmissometer is.

Caroline Hornfeck
Graduate Student, University of West Florida

Graduate student Caroline Hornfreck, wearing a hard hat, life vest, and gloves, sits at a desk in the wet lab aligning sample tubes in a styrofoam holder

What do you enjoy most about your job? “What I enjoy most about being a student in this field, is always adapting and learning new skills that can help me grow as a scientist. Whether that’s in the classroom, research lab at the University of West Florida, or aboard NOAA research vessels.”

What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “One of the coolest animals I have seen is a spotted eagle ray. I hope further down in my research career I can work with elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and implement better conservation management for keystone species.”

Caroline earned her B.S. in Marine Biology at the University of West Florida. She is pursuing her Master’s at UWF. She is doing real science out here. Are you even a scientist if you don’t collect DNA? This girl is going places for real.

Personal Log

When 2 or 3 o’clock rolls around, I have to shake things up a bit. I’ve started making rounds just to say hello and see what people are up to. I remind folks that what they do is really cool. I make my way to the bridge usually once or twice to bother them a bit. This is where the ship is commanded. It looks like some sort of spaceship up here. I roam around and try to make sense of the many gadgets and screens. Take a peek out the windows. The sun reflects intensely on the water. It’s hella bright out here.

Operations Officer, LT Christopher Duffy, asks “Do you want to drive?” I look over my left shoulder, I look over my right. Oh, he’s talking to me. “Uh, yeah I do.” I have absolutely no clue what I just signed up for. He seems to think I can handle it. I get the run down. The helm is the steering wheel – check. The main engine controls the propulsion – check. Then there are the bow thrusters. From what I understand, they are basically propellers on the side of the boat. I’m not really sure. I just know they improve maneuverability.

Navigation is an art and science. They transit to specific destinations and position and maneuver the ship and make it look easy. Navigators measure the distance on the globe in degrees. If you have forgotten, like I seemed to have, like a circle, the Earth has 360°. Compasses have four cardinal points (directions), right? – North (N), East (E), South (S), and West (W). Well, turns out when you’re real official, you use degrees instead of directions. As if directions weren’t confusing enough. LT Duffy, “When I say 10° right, you do just that and confirm when you’re there.” I can handle that. “Ten right.” I work with LT Duffy to retrieve our next buoy. Huddleston keeps a careful eye. This is fuuunnnnn. “You ready for a hard right?” “Like all the way?” Seems questionable. Oh he’s serious. “Hard right rudder.” SKKKIIIIRRRRRTTTTTTT. Man this thing can move. We Tokyo drift right into position. Nailed it. LT Duffy takes control to finish positioning (I made it easy for him). I’m grinning ear to ear.

“Are you comfortable giving commands?” “Yep.” The overconfidence kicks in. First things first, CONN candy. What’s that you ask? The officers up here have a secret drawer of tasty treats that they’ve been hiding from us this whole time. Gotta have some before taking command. Wait, what am I doing? LT Duffy explains, “You’ll be giving commands to LTJG, Ariane Huddleston, while she steers.” Uhhhhhhh. I see the fear in her eyes. “Just repeat after me.” Huddleston takes the wheel and I “give commands.” It clicks. This is my time to shine. I “very well’d” the heck out of those commands. So much fun, thank you crew!

Did You Know?

You know all those horrid COVID tests you had to take? You were doin’ science right there. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests genetic material (fluid from the nasal swab). The test detects the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists use the PCR technology to amplify small amounts of RNA from specimens into DNA, which is replicated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable if present. It’s cool stuff guys.

Jordan Findley: Underway, June 10, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 10, 2022

Weather Data

Partly cloudy
Temperature: 82 °F
Wind: northeast, 10 kt.
Waves: 2 ft.

Track NOAA Ship Pisces

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish located on the U.S. continental shelf and shelf-edge of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from April 19 through June 22, 2022 (we are doing the last leg of the survey). 536 sites have been selected to be sampled with Spherical/Satellite array, bandit reels, and CTD during daylight hours and mapping at night.

CTD Operations

CTD casts will be conducted twice a day. CTD stands for conductivity (ability to pass an electrical current), temperature, and depth and it is an instrument that measures just that. The CTD is the key to understanding the physics, chemistry, and biology of the water column. The CTD will also collect water for eDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling. Organisms leave traces of their DNA in their environment (e.g. hair, skin, feces) and from that, scientists can run genetic tests to determine what species are present in a given area.

Camera Operations

Camera operations will utilize three Spherical/Satellite camera arrays. The cameras are baited and sit on the seafloor for 30 minutes. During the soak, the cameras capture footage of the biodiversity. Scientists use the footage to complete a stock assessment analysis. That data combined with other research helps scientists estimate the abundance of fish populations.

Fishing Operations

Bandit reels (basically industrial fishing poles) are deployed after cameras are retrieved. The bandit reels are set up like longlines. The line sits vertically in the water column. When the weighed end of the line reaches the bottom, a surface float is attached to the line. Ten baited hooks are evenly spaced on the bottom 20-30 ft. of the line. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species will have otoliths (ear bones) and gonads collected for age and reproductive research.

Mapping Operations

Bathymetric mapping (basically 3D mapping of the seafloor) will be conducted in and around selected sites at night with the EM 2040 sonar. Sonar emits sound pulses and detects their return after being reflected. Science is cool. A CTD cast will be conducted to obtain speed-of-sound for proper processing of data.

a bathymetric chart of Southeastern U.S. waters, from Texas to around the east coast of Florida. inshore is shallow, colored in reds and oranges, marking the continental shelf. The deepest portions of the Gulf of Mexico are still much shallower than the Atlantic waters east of Florida.
Bathymetry of the Northern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean East of Florida. Photo courtesy of NOAA Geophysical Data Center.

Personal Log

I was dropped off at my hotel at around 8 PM on Tuesday and could see the ship from the road. It sinks in. (NOT THE SHIP! – This had me laughing out loud.) This is actually happening. Suddenly there’s no time for checking in; I headed straight to the wharf, luggage in tow. Completely awestruck, like a giddy school girl, I proceed to walk up and down the length of the boat numerous times taking an embarrassing number of photos. The crew is just staring at me, I’m sure getting a kick out of this crazy tourist. A lovely gentleman (also geeked about the boat) leaned in, “cool boat, huh?”… I’M GOING ON THAT BOAT THURSDAY. Good lord, Jordan, be cool. I basically screamed in his face. He was the sweetest, and a teacher himself. “I know the trip is going to be everything you wanted.” I melt. Gee thanks, Pat.

Our departure was delayed a few hours, which gave me some time settle in and awkwardly roam the ship. This thing is massive (compared to what I know).  I believe it has seven levels. My attempts to open and close doors quickly became a comedy act for any spectators. I was introduced to my roommates at 6 AM. Ain’t nobody trying to chit-chat at 6 AM. I share a stateroom with Amanda Ravas, NOAA Fisheries Biologist, and Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida. Caroline is collecting water for eDNA sampling. They are around my age (or at least I’d like to think so), and have been so kind and helpful. It is their first time on Pisces as well, but each are experienced and very knowledgeable. They’ve made me feel right at home, and I feel are going to be a major part of my experience out at sea.  Women in science – go team!  

Operations Officer (NOAA Corps), LT Christopher Duffy, was so kind as to take me under his wing and invite me to the bridge (control room) to observe departure. This was so cool. Navigation is quite the operation. I guess now that I’ve seen it, duh, this boat is massive and the port was so busy with vessels of all sizes. Seven NOAA officers worked together to get us underway safely. Lots of standing on watch and communication involved. They were constantly shouting commands and numbers, and repeating. All confirmed communication was acknowledged with a “very well.” I found this amusing. One of my favorite lines heard while observing was, “There’s a pleasure boat on the port quarter.” “Very well.”

I will now start saying “very well” in my everyday life.

Last mention for now – I haven’t been seasick (so far)! Those that know me well know that is a major accomplishment for me. (As if I had say in the matter).

I am so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to learn from all of the crew (in every department). I am already so impressed by each of them.

Did You Know?

Well most of us do know that water and electricity make a dangerous pair; but, did you know that it’s not water itself that conducts the electricity? It’s the minerals and such dissolved in it. The saltier the water, the more electricity it conducts. Pure water is actually an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity, but you will never find pure water in nature. Whoa. I went down a rabbit hole with conductivity.

Also random, but kind of fun, the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program started in 1990, the year I was born. NOAA Ship Pisces was commissioned in 2009, the year I graduated high school.

Linda Kurtz: Navigating Fair Winds and Following Seas – Fairweather Edition, August 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/13/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 12th
Latitude & Longitude: 43 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W
Windspeed: 19mph
Geographic Area:  Northwest Pacific Ocean
Cruise Speed:  12 knots
Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius
Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit


Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean.  The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us!  Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important?  We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important.  On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area.  The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.  More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post.  For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.


Science Word of the day:  NAVIGATION

The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined: the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

synonyms: helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”


Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th

As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe?  Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.”  So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be.  First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!

On the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat.  These are not to be confused with the CO or Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school (if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals of course.) 

 1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck.   The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales!  The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed. 

2nd in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck.  The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the course for the ship.

The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman.  The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD.  Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.)  The helmsman has another duty as lookout.  The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.

Kevin Tennyson
Officer of the Deck (OOD): Kevin Tennyson
Calderon and Ostermyer
Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) Jeff Calderon and Helmsman Terry Ostermyer


There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions.  This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!

Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?

Radar is a system that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is moving. 

Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds.   Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area.  On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.

RADAR
RADAR showing other watercraft and objects that could come into contact with Fairweather, for safe NAVIGATION.
Close up of RADAR
Close up of RADAR screen showing blue lines (indicative of speed) trailing other detected objects

While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes.  A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement.  This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading. 

Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.

To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.

radio
Communication is essential for safe navigation.

Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only.  Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles.  So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.


Weather Tools:

It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too!  As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station!  What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?

Weather Data
Data from the bridge on Day 2
Weather Data Time Series
Weather Data Time Series
weather data updates
Weather data updates – the ship can NAVIGATE to avoid dangerous weather


With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)

The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below).  Now the crew must plot a course to cover the area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping.  The bridge and the hydrographic survey team collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and timing of turns. 

See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!

Cascadia Margin chart
Cascadia Margin: 1st Region the Fairweather is mapping
mapping progress
Progress mapping – navigation the survey area – colored lines indicate where the ship has been


Personal Log

It’s been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure!  There is so much to take in and share with my students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the country!  Today, we went from sunny skies and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas!  The ship is definitely moving today!  I keep thinking about STEM activities to secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship!  For safety, the entire crew is tying up any loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM challenges to simulate this for sure! 


Did You Know?

When steering a ship, an unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30! 


Question of the Day: 

How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?


New Terms/Phrases:

Thermosalinigraph:  Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.

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

ECDIS:  Electronic chart display information system

Longitude and Latitude

True North

Magnetic North


Animals Seen Today:

Dall’s Porpoise

Humpback Whale

Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA?  All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same.  Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission.   Learn more here:  https://www.noaa.gov/education

Taylor Planz: A Story of Undocking, July 25, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity

Date: July 25, 2018 at 10:25am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33.4146° N
Longitude: 82.3126° W
Wind: 1 mph N
Barometer: 759.968 mmHg
Temperature: 26.1° C
Weather: Mostly cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

I’m going to take you back in time to July 13, a day when a once-in-a-leg event took place. We awoke that morning to a strong breeze blowing NOAA Ship Fairweather towards the dock in Nome. Normally a breeze blowing a docked ship is fine, but that day was the start of our long awaited departure to Point Hope! 0900 was quickly approaching, and Ensign Abbott was excited for his first opportunity as conn during an undocking process! With XO Gonsalves at his side for support, he stepped up to the control center outside the bridge on the starboard side.

Ensign Abbott takes the conn
Ensign Abbott takes the conn during undocking with XO Gonsalves by his side

As you may or may not know, taking the conn is no small feat. “Conn” is an old name for the conning officer, or controller of the ship’s movement. The conning officer used to stand on the conning tower, an elevated platform where the ship’s movement could be monitored. Although the conn no longer stands on a conning tower, the name and role remain the same. The conn makes commands to the rest of the ship and, during docking and undocking, controls the two engines, two rudders, bow thruster, and the lines attaching the ship to the dock. Each part causes the ship to move in specific way and has a very important function in undocking.

ENS Abbott did a great job deciding which parts of the ship to maneuver which way and when. The process was so technical that I cannot begin to describe it. However, the persistent westerly wind just kept drifting the ship back into its docking station. Every time we got the ship positioned the way we wanted, it would push right back into its starting place. The situation turned hazardous because we had a giant barge docked in front of us, a fishing vessel docked behind us, and the wall of the dock to our starboard side. The only direction we could go without danger of crashing into something was to the left. Unfortunately you cannot move a ship side to side very far without forward or backward movement, so there are strategies for moving the ship in a forward to backward motion while simultaneously moving left or right.

In our situation, the best thing to do was to slowly back the ship out while swinging the stern end into the harbor. Once out enough to account for the westerly wind, the engines could push forward and the ship could safely exit the harbor. Unfortunately all did not go as planned and when the engines went forward, the wind pushed the ship so far towards the dock in a short amount of time that the stern narrowly missed a collision with the wall of the dock! It was a close call! The conn was unlucky in the fact that he was assigned control of the ship during weather conditions no sailor would elect, but he did his best and it was a great learning lesson for everyone!

Fast forward to July 19. The members of the NOAA Corps new to ship docking and undocking had a brief in the conference room. They discussed all of the physics involved in the undocking from the week prior, debriefed the challenge the wind posed, and reviewed the different types of maneuvers for undocking. Then they shifted the conversation to planning for the next day’s docking maneuver. XO Gonsalves, with a vast array of unique skills in his toolbox, turned on a PlayStation game that he created for his crew to practice docking and undocking! Docking a ship is a skill with the unique problem that you cannot simply practice it whenever you want to. The only attempt offered to the crew during this leg was on the morning of July 20. It was a “one and done” attempt. Lucky for them, XO thought outside the box! With the video game, they could practice as often as they wanted to and for as long as necessary to get the skill down.

 

The challenge presented to the crew was to dock and then undock the boat seen in the photo above eight different times with varying obstacles to work through. Examples of obstacles were having a small docking space, turning the boat around, and wind adding a new force to the boat. Three controllers were needed for the job. The first controller, and the little tiny person at the front of the boat, controlled the bow thruster. The bow thruster could push the boat left or right in a jet propulsion-like manner. Using the bow thruster on the port side pushed the boat right, and using the bow thruster on the starboard side pushed the boat left. The XO also assigned this person the roll of the conn, so they had to call out directions to everyone playing the game. The next person controlled the engines. This was a difficult task because there is a port and a starboard engine, and each engine can go forward or backward. The conn could give a simple order like “all ahead” or a more difficult order like “port ahead, starboard back” (trust me, that one is not easy). The last person controlled the rudders. The rudders worked in unison and could be turned right or left. The rudders can be fine-tuned in reality but in the game, due to the controller’s limitations, we used the commands of “half rudder” and “full rudder” to choose how significantly the rudders should be turned. You can see a small clip of the game in action below. Turn up the volume to hear the conn. As a reminder, the Corps members participating are learning the process, so you may hear a variety of commands as they fine tune their vocabulary to use more specific language.

 

On the morning of July 20, the docking process was smooth with no surprise forces at play on the ship. The NOAA Corps did an excellent job with the maneuver. As soon as we thought we would get a chance to relax, a food order arrived with 2,700 lbs of food that needed to be hauled from the top deck of the ship down to the bottom. Horizontal forces affecting the ship were no comparison to the vertical force of gravity pulling all those boxes down towards Earth, but we used an assembly line of 20 people passing boxes down the stairwell and we all ended the day with a good workout!

Personal Log

It seems fitting to begin my last blog with the story of undocking the Fairweather in Nome at the start of the leg. This is not the end of my Teacher at Sea journey but the start of my work, integrating my personal experience into something relevant for my students in a physical science classroomSince returning home, I completed my first media interview about my time at sea. Ironically teaching others about myself led to my own epiphanies, namely refining my “why” to becoming an educator. I told Amanda, my interviewer, how I spent my childhood soaking my shoes in ponds trying to catch frogs, harvesting new rocks for my shoe box collection under my bed, and following the streams of water every April when snow melted away. I grew up with a curiosity for all things natural and scientific. Science classes were simply an outlet for my inquisitive mind, so it was easy to be engaged in school. Below are a few photos of me in high school, memories of times that inspired my love for the ocean. That natural wonder, excitement, curiosity I had for the world around me as a child and young adult…that’s what I want to instill in my students. My experience on the Fairweather helped me find new tools for my “teaching toolbox” and new ideas for my curriculum that I hope will inspire more students to become curious about their worlds. You’re never too old to discover the intrigue of the natural world. When you begin to understand that the purpose of science is to explain what we observe, your desire to uncover the secrets will grow!

 

The ability of a ship to make 3,000,000 lbs of weight float on water, that is intriguing. The idea of using sound waves, something we interact with constantly on land, under the water to map what we cannot see, that is amazing. Collecting an array of data that, to the untrained mind seem unrelated, and putting them together into a chart used by mariners all over the world, that is revolutionary. NOAA hydrographic ships connect science and the economy in a way not dissimilar to how I hope to connect education and career for my students. This experience inspired me in ways beyond my expectations, and I cannot wait to share my new knowledge and ideas in my classroom!

Did You Know?

The Multibeam Echosounder on the ship obtains ocean depths accurate to 10 centimeters. The average depth of the ocean is 3,700 meters, or 370,000 centimeters, according to NOAA. That is an average percent accuracy of 99.997%!

 

Eric Koser: The Impact of the Work

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Koser
Aboard Ship Rainier
June 22-July 9
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK
July 4, 2018: 1000 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 55°57.7’          Long: 133°55.7’
Skies: Clear
Wind Light and variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: <1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 14.1°C Dry Bulb, 12.5°C Wet Bulb

Pelican Harbor
The harbor at Pelican, Alaska.

The Impact of the Work
“We’re a part of history!” This notion, shared by a colleague on a launch yesterday, brings home the importance of the work of this team and NOAA’s Hydrographic Branch. Lisianski Inlet was last surveyed in 1917 by lead line! The charts of the inlet were old and not likely accurate. This week – fresh data has been collected by Ship Rainier and her launches to bring the next century of mapping tools below their shores.

Pelican Harbor in the town of Pelican, Alaska was last surveyed between 1970 and 1989.–until we surveyed it yesterday with Rainier Launch RA-3. Our team drove in and out between each of the docks in the harbor, carefully pinging sound waves off of the floor of the harbor to construct a new digital map of the bottom.

Pelican Guys
Guys on a mission…walking to pickup the HorCon.

Pelican HorCon
This is the Horizontal Control station, or HorCon, setup on the breakwater at Pelican before we took it down.

Part of our task yesterday, in addition to conducting MBES survey from our launch, was to dock in Pelican and retrieve our HorCon (a GPS reference radio setup on land that we have used there all week). As we walked through the very small town carrying two car batteries in backpacks, a pair of antennas, tripods, and other gear back to the launch – surely people were interested in what we were up to. Several people stopped to chat as we made our way from the pier, along the boardwalk, and down to the docks to go back to our launch. People asked who we were – and if we were the NOAA team that was in town. There was much appreciation expressed to NOAA for the work being done in the inlet to update the nautical charts. Here in Pelican, the water is the primary mode of transport. Accurate nautical charts provide security and safety.

 

 

 

Pelican
Here is a bit of history on the city!

Main Street, Pelican, Alaska
Main Street, Pelican, Alaska

 

Pelican
It’s a comfortable place, here in Pelican!

There are no roads to Pelican. A few cars are in town – to pull trailers and move equipment. But the primary mode of land transport is four-wheelers. The ‘main street’ is really a raised boardwalk that runs along the rocky shore – and is the heartbeat of the community.   Folks that live up or down the inlet from the town get there in small launches – there are no roads. A ferry comes to Pelican twice a month and is how cars and trucks come and go here. A seaplane comes through a few times a week—often bringing tourists in and out – and the mail. It’s a beautiful spot centered in a small inlet on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelican Seaplane
The fastest transportation in many parts of Alaska.

Pelican House
A house up the shoreline from Pelican.

Science and Technology Log

It’s mission accomplished for Lisianski Inlet!

Nautical charts are broken up into sheets. And within each sheet, areas are broken down into smaller polygons for data collection. Each launch (small boat), as well as the ship itself, can bring in multibeam data with the equipment mounted on each hull to complete plotting polygons and eventually complete sheets.

The hydrographic survey team is working away today in the plot room and on “the holodeck” of Ship Rainier (an office area on the top of the ship behind the plot room) processing the data we have collected the past several days. A combination of ship and launch multibeam data in addition to bottom samples and shoreline updates have been collected. Now the work of the scientists continues and becomes data processing.

Holideck
Part of the hydrographic team on the holodeck.

As the data is combined, it is reviewed and refined to make a complete picture of the survey area. Once the team on the ship has completed their work, the data goes to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of the Office of Coast Survey of NOAA. Here, the PHB team reviews that data again and assures it meets the specifications and standards needed to become finalized for use.

From PHB, the data is passed to two places. One is the NCEI (National Center for Environmental Information) office. They archive all of the raw and processed data including the digital surfaces themselves and the descriptive reports written by the hydrographers here.

The data also goes to the Marine Chart Division, an office of NOAA Coast Survey. Here is where the nautical charts are produced in both ENC and RNC (electronic and paper versions). It is this branch that publishes the data for use by mariners and the general public. Anyone can see the charts at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov (try the “Chart Locator”).

Nautical Chart
Here is a finished chart we are using to navigate today. Notice the two buoys in purple and green on the chart, and the narrow space between them.

Flybridge Approach
This is the view from the flybridge as we approach these same two buoys that are indicated on the chart.

 

Who is on board?

Tyanne
Tyanne Faulkes is a hydrographic scientist with NOAA.

During this leg of the trip, we have a visiting scientist from NOAA’s is here on board. Tyanne Faulkes works as a physical scientist for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA. She is a part of the team that processes the data from the hydro teams on NOAA Ship Rainier and NOAA Ship Fairweather. Her job is to assure that the data meets NOAA’s specifications–so that they can provide evidence of dangers of navigation and accurate depth information for all mariners.

Tyanne loves to be involved in making maps of the sea floor – and getting to see things others have not seen before! She loves that NOAA provides data for free to scientists around the world. Her job includes not only desk work, but also opportunities to make many mapping trips to understand where the hydro data comes from. Ms Faulkes has a bachelors degree in geography and GIS. It was a paid internship just out of college with NOAA that initially brought her to this work. And – she has a ton of fun with what she does. As a kid, Tyanne loved oceanography. Her GIS education tied well with the internship – and it all came together to take her where she is today!

Tyanne Mountains
When she’s not chasing the bottom of the oceans, Tyanne also loves to climb mountains!

She some advice to students – “Learn how to code!”

“Building Python scripts is a very powerful tool to allow us to automate the data review process. Being able to write the code – or at least understand the basic concepts that put it together – allows one to be much more efficient in your work!”

Understanding the concept of an algorithm that can save one hours of work is a very good asset. “I wish in college someone would have taught me how to do this!” One easy example is a bulk file renaming tool that the launch teams use. After collecting 50 some separate files of data in a day, this tool will take the individual file names and append any number of things to the filenames – all automatically.

Want to get involved? Next week, Tyanne and her team at NOAA’s Western Regional Center at Sand Point in Seattle, WA are hosting an annual camp for middle school and high school students! Students from across the US can apply to come to this camp each summer and have great experiences learning all about oceans and hydrography! Check it out on the web: NOAA Science Camp – Washington Sea Grant.

 

Eric Koser: Hydrography 101 – and the Tools to Make it Happen, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 28, 2018: 0900 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 57°52.59′ Long: 133°38.7′
Skies: Broken
Wind 1 kt at variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: calm
Water temp: 5.6°C

Science and Technology Log

Long Line Boat
A typical longline fishing boat. The fishing lines get spread out behind the boat from the large booms on either side.

The ultimate focus of Rainier is to assure accurate navigational charts are available to all mariners. This task is critical to the safety of many industries. About 80% of all the overseas trade in the US (by weight) is moved over water. Here in SE Alaska, it appears the largest industry is commercial fishing. Many boats fish both with nets and long lines to catch halibut, rockfish, cod, and several varieties of salmon.

Another major industry here is certainly tourism. As we conduct our work, we often see very large cruise ships. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to be in a narrow inlet surrounded by mountains, ice, and wildlife and then come across a large ship.  We passed the brand new ship Norwegian Bliss around 11 PM on our transit to Tracy Arm. This ship is 1,082 feet long, carries a crew of 2,100 people and has a guest capacity of 4,004 people! The safe navigation of all of these vessels depends upon the accuracy of charts produced by NOAA.

Norwegian Bliss
The cruise ship Norwegian Bliss as we passed her port to port in the evening.

The freely available charts offered by NOAA are created with three essential steps. First, the bulk of the depth data in this area is measured with MBES (Multi-Beam Echo Sounder). This creates a three-dimensional digital image of the bottom.

Secondly, important features to navigation that are shallow are best identified by our launches which travel along the shorelines and inspect for rocks, ledges, and other potential dangers. The locations of features are identified by GPS location and charted digitally by hydrographers on each launch.

Thirdly, bottom samples are collected by launch crews to confirm the type of material present on the bottom.

The MBES systems aboard Rainier and the launches come from Kongsberg Maritime. Two transducers (devices that transmit and receive) work in tandem. The transducer that is oriented front to back sends out an array of sound signals in a wide beam. The width of the beam on the sea floor depends directly on the depth – deeper water allows the beam to spread farther before reflecting. The transducer that is oriented side to side in the water receives a narrow swath of the ‘pings’ of sound that were transmitted. The time it takes any ping to get to the bottom and reflect back to the ship is recorded. The greater the time, the larger the depth.

MBES on a launch
This shows the position of the MBES on the bottom of one of several launches.

MBES transducers
This is the pair of MBES transducers on a launch, looking from the bow towards the stern.

Hydro Sonar
This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts an MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.

A couple of issues provide challenges to this technique. One, the speed of sound in water depends on several factors. The salinity (concentration of salt in the water),  the conductivity (how easily electricity passes through the water), and the temperature each fluctuate as the depth changes and affect the speed of the sound waves. As hydrographers receive data, the system has to account for these changes in speed to produce an accurate depth measurement. One way to do this is with a static CTD sensor. This device is lowered from the launches all the way to the bottom as it measures the speed of sound in the water.  It provides a set of three charts as the depth changes which are used to adjust the time data from the MBES accordingly. There is also a version of the CTD, called a MVP (Moving Vehicle Profiler or ‘fish’), that can be pulled behind Rainier as we are moving and take dynamic data.

Here is a NOAA article on hydrographic surveying.  Here is further explanation of MBSS.

Deploying Depth Profiler
Here the crew lowers the profiler “fish” into the water.

Speed Profiler Data
These three plots represent the speed of sound, temperature, and salinity (from left to right) vs. depth (on the vertical axis).

A second issue is GPS signal drift. Over time, the location information can shift slightly. To account for this potential problem, the scientists place a HORCON (Horizontal Control) station onshore in the area where they are mapping. I described this tool in my previous post.

Another interesting technology that is currently being developed is called “backscatter” mapping. Here scientists look not only at the time it takes the sound waves to bounce back to the transducer, but also at the quality of the return signal. Different materials on the seafloor reflect the sound differently – hard surfaces like rocks have a sound signature that is much different than soft surfaces like silt or plants. NOAA is continually improving the tools they use to learn!

Here is an example of the chart that we are updating in Tracy Arm.

Personal Log

I had a chance to take the helm yesterday! It’s interesting how sensitive the steering on this large vessel really is. The rudders are able to turn from “amidships” or their center position, up to about 35° to either side. But while traveling at about 8 knots, we tend to use a maximum of about 5° of rudder to alter the ship’s direction. While at the helm, we keep close track of the heading (compass bearing) of the ship as indicated by the gyro compass and magnetic compass on board. Then we provide steering input to hold the ship to the course ordered by the CONN. I had the chance to help steer around several icebergs as we transited into Tracy Arm. Careful attention to detail – and willingness to promptly follow commands make for success!

Helm
My opportunity to take the helm of Rainier.

I also took an opportunity to head out in a kayak from the ship where we are anchored! Two of my new colleagues and I paddled across this bay and had a great chance to look very closely at pieces of ice. The ice is really beautiful and forms many interesting shapes. The quiet of the bay – hearing only the distant waterfalls, birds, and our paddling was beautiful!

Iceberg
This piece of ice drifted through Tracy Arm from the glacier. It was temporarily ‘grounded’ on the bottom by the receding tide.

It’s crazy to consider the ice we were seeing may have been formed thousands of years ago in the glacier – and it just now melting as it floats away.

Did You Know?

President Thomas Jefferson signed a mandate in 1807 ordering a survey of the nation’s coasts. This fundamental task is always ongoing, with 95,000 miles of US Coastline.

About 90% of any floating piece of ice will be submerged below the salt water.  Because the density of frozen fresh water just slightly less than salt water, the ice floats very low in the water!  Read more here!

Who is Onboard?

I’d like you to meet HST (Hydrographic Survey Technician), Amanda Finn! Ms. Finn has been with NOAA since last September – and started working aboard NOAA Ship Rainier in October of 2017. As an HST, Amanda works with the team of hydrographers to collect MBES data from either the ship or any of the launches. Amanda graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in GeoSciences and a minor in Oceanography. At the end of her college experience, she knew that seafloor mapping was her passion but wasn’t sure how to make that into a job. But it all came together when she found NOAA through a friend of a friend!

HST Amanda Finn
HST Amanda Finn with recently acquired depth data for Lisinaski Inlet!

Amanda was performing at her first harp concert (another skill!) when she met a relation of a hydrographer who works on a NOAA ship! Based on her experience, her advice to students is: “When things don’t seem to be going the way you want, take time to focus on something else you like instead. In good time, things will work out!”

One positive challenge Amanda shares working here on a hydro ship is developing an understanding of systems integration. Many different pieces must come together to create the finished charts. The people aboard Rainier make the experience very positive!  The passion for seeking the unknown is the drive to continue!

 

Vickie Obenchain: Starting a Hydrographic Survey, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 26 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Alaska

Date: June 28th, 2018

Weather from the Bridge

  • Latitude: 54o 25.5’ N
  • Longitude: 134o 13.7’ W
  • Wind Speed: 13 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, Southwest
  • Temperature: 12.2 oC
  • Visibility: 10 nautical miles
  • Wave Height: 1 foot
  • Current Sky Conditions: Overcast

 

Science and Technology Log

This morning I spent some time on the bridge with the officers. NOAA Ship Fairweather is manned day and night with men and women making sure we are safely on course. While the ship is equipped with GPS, the ship is also full of experienced mariners who plot our position on paper nautical charts to help guarantee the technology is working correctly and helps the officers orient themselves with the area.  Every 15 minutes, an officer plots our position either by using GPS coordinates, radar returns, or fixed land triangulation using an alidade. This last mode of determining our coordinates, at least to me, is the most difficult. You must use 3 fixed land points on either side of the ship, determine their direction using the compass on the alidade and then using sliding protractors plot our triangulated position on the chart. Both Executive Officer (XO) Michael Gonsalves and ENS Cabot Zucker have been incredibly helpful in teaching me these different plotting techniques.

plotting our course
XO Gonsalves in the foreground and ENS Zucker in the back plotting our course.


Today we are headed to the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System. This is a strike slip fault line extending 746 miles off shore of Vancouver Island to the Fairweather range in southeast Alaska.  USGS has partnered with NOAA Ship Fairweather to help to create part of a comprehensive map of one of the fastest moving underwater tectonic plates in the world, moving of a slip rate of 2 inches a year. Over the next 24 hours they will survey the area using multibeam sonar to help complete the mapping which as taken almost 4 years to complete.

To start this, the survey team had to deploy a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) into the water. The MVP follows behind the ship and by detecting water temperature and salinity of the water, the MVP can then determine the speed of sound in water needed to accurately detect the sea floor. With this knowledge the survey team can correctly calibrate their sonar to map the sea floor. Below you will see Sam Candio and Simon Swart of the survey team deploying the MVP.

 

Next blog will cover the amazing people working with the sonar, all times of day and night to make the sea floor maps! (Stay tuned!!)

______________________________________________________________________________

Another short term visitor on this ship is a college student from Loyola University Chicago, Paul Campion, who is on board doing an internship with NOAA. Each year NOAA accepts approximately 130 college sophomores into their two-year-long Hollings internship program to give students an opportunity to take part in research, gain job experience and see what NOAA does.  While on board, Paul has been working with the survey team to learn how they do their work, as well as create his own project.  Paul has been looking at the electronic navigational charts (ENC) used today by most mariners which show the depth of the sea floor. As NOAA Ship Fairweather surveys an area, these ENC’s can then be updated with more accurate and up to date data. While some areas may remain the same, some areas may show changes or even characteristics which may not have been mapped prior and need to be highlighted.  Paul has been working to help create an efficient way to show where the ENCs are different to the new NOAA Ship Fairweather data and may need to be altered or updated.

Paul Campion
Paul Campion pointing out a beautiful glacier!

Personal Log

Since we are out in the sea, and do not have neighboring island chains around us, the boat has been tossed around a bit more and is definitely rolling around in the waves. Luckily, I have not been sick… yet. I have been taking sea sickness pills, and making sure I get plenty of fresh air, but the boat is definitely more difficult to work in. You find yourself moving both with the boat’s inertia and then having to fight against it to move. Walking uses walls and railings, sitting requires holding on to the closest counter top or nailed down object and to get into rooms you need to shove doors away from you to open them, yet hold on so they don’t swing completely away from you and slam the opposite wall. It is kind of challenging and yet amusing.

After lunch today, I went to take a shower. I was given some good advice since I had not done this when the boat was in open water. These words of advice included: Use the walls, kind of squat down to lower your center of gravity, don’t take a razor with you (nothing good will come of that), and if the soap drops be especially careful! All things I took to heart and I am glad to report I am clean, unscratched and ready for another day.

 

Heather O’Connell: Voyage through the Inside Passage, June 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: 6/9/18

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude and Longitude : 49°49.7’ N, 124 °56.8’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 5 knots, Air Temperature: 12.2°C

Science and Technology Log

Today while in transit through the Inside Passage, I learned to mark the position of the vessel from the pilot house, or Bridge of the ship, using three different methods thanks to Junior Officer Airlie Pickett. Utilizing this triangulation of data ensures accuracy in the placement of the ship on the two dimensional chart located on the port side of the bridge. This process must be completed every fifteen minutes when the ship is in motion close to small landmasses or every thirty minutes when further from land.

The first method involves choosing three different landmarks and recording the angular measurement to the body using alidades. Alidades are located on the port and starboard sides directly outside of the Bridge. When looking at your landmark, it is important to choose the easternmost or westernmost side of the body with a more prominent feature. When viewing the landmass through the alidade, there will be a bearing of the object in relation to the bridge. Once you have the measurements, use the north lines on the map as the zero degree of the protractor and mark a line with the proper angular measurement from the landmass. Repeat this process for the other two locations. Then, draw a circle within the triangle formed from the three intersecting lines along with the time to mark the placement of the ship.

Alidade on the port side of ship
Alidade on the port side of ship

Another way to mark the placement of the vessel visually is to look at the radar for three known landmarks. Record the distance to each landmark. One nautical mile equals one minute of latitude. Longitude cannot be used for distance since these values change as you approach the poles of the Earth. Use a compass to mark the appropriate distance from the scale on the perimeter of the map. Then, draw an arc with the compass from the landmass. Repeat this process for both of the other landmarks. The three arcs intersect at the current location of the vessel and should be marked with a circle and the time.

Protractor and compass
Protractor and compass used to mark the course of the ship on the chart.

The two visual methods for marking the placement of the vessel are used in conjunction with an electronic fix. The digital latitude and longitude recording  from the G.P.S, or Global Positioning System, provides the third check. This data is recorded and then charted using the latitude and longitude marks on the perimeter of the chart.

Another responsibility of the navigator is to mark on the nautical chart the approximate location of the ship moving forward. This is called D.R, or dead reckon, and it shows where you would be if you were to continue on coarse at the current speed for up to two hours.

Personal Log

As we approached the Inside Passage, a feeling of peace and serenity came over me as I viewed snow capped mountains beyond islands with endless evergreen trees. The feelings of the navigators may be different since this is a treacherous journey to traverse, although it is preferred to the open sea. The Inside Passage proves to be a great learning opportunity for new junior officers without much navigation experience. However, due to the weather issues and narrow passages, the Commanding Officer, Senior Watch Officer and Officer of the Deck have extended experience navigating the Inside Passage.

The strong currents at Seymour Narrows in British Columbia can make this voyage dangerous. This was taken into consideration and we crossed them during slack tide, the time between high and low tide, with a current of only about two knots. Tides can get as high as 15 knots during maximum ebb and flood tides. The visible circular tides, or eddies, are created from the current coming off of Vancouver Island being forced into a narrow channel. As Senior Survey Technician Jackson shared, the Seymour Narrows once had Ripple Rock, a two peak mountain, that caused several shipwrecks and was home to the largest non-nuclear explosion in North America in 1958.

Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows
Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows

As we entered the Inside Passage, islands covered in Western red cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock provided the beautiful green amongst the spectacular ocean and sky blue. These colors paint the canvas indicative of the Pacific Northwest that make my soul feel at home. The cloud covered sky could be seen in every direction. We saw moon jellyfish floating by from the flying bridge and later a group of porpoises jumping up out of the water. The watch from the deck crew would spot lighthouses and fishing boats with binoculars well before anyone with a naked eye. I observed the approaching sunset from the bow of the ship and felt gratitude for the day.

Approaching sunset in Inner Passage
Inner Passage Sunset

Did You Know?

There are two different types of radar on the Bridge. S Band radar sends out pulses between 4 and 8 centimeters at 2-4 GHz and can go over longer distances. This is helpful to determine what is happening far from the boat. The X Band radar sends out smaller pulses of 2.5 -4 cm at 8-12 GHertz and can create a clear image of what is occurring close to the boat. Both radar systems provide useful information and must be used in conjunction with one another to have an understanding of what is happening near and far from the ship.

Source – https://www.everythingweather.com/weather-radar/bands.shtml

Victoria Cavanaugh: Navigating the Inside Passage, April 24, 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 24, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 50° 10.002′ N
Longitude: 125° 21.685′ W
Sea Wave Height: 7 feet
Wind Speed: 5 knots or less
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility: 14 km
Air Temperature: 9oC  
Sky:  Mostly Sunny

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has begun its transit to Alaska for the heart of the field season which means transiting the famous Inside Passagea roughly two day voyage through a stretch of nearly a thousand islands between Washington State and Alaska.  The more protected waterways of the Inside Passage provided a smooth, calm ride.  I took advantage of the transit to spend more time on Fairweatherbridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.

Magnetic North v. True North
Magnetic North v. True North

One thing that quickly became clear on the bridge of Fairweather is that for many navigational tasks, the crew has at least three ways of being able to obtain needed information.  For example, navigational charts (maps) show two compasses: magnetic and true north.  The inner circle represents the magnetic compass, which in reality points 17 degrees right of true North and is dependent upon the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core.  Because the magnetic compass can be offset by the pull of the ship’s magnetic fields (the ship is made of steel, after all), Fairweather’s compass is actually readjusted each year.  During our Inside Passage transit, a specialist came aboard near Lopez Island to reset the ship’s magnetic compass.

Magnetic Compass
The Ship’s Magnetic Compass Located on the Flying Bridge (Top Deck)

Mirrors
A Series of Mirrors Allows the Crew to Read the Magnetic Compass from the Bridge

The ship’s magnetic compass is located on the flying deck, just above the bridge.  So, to be able to read the compass from the bridge, the crew looks through a series of mirrors above the helm. Notice that next to the mirrors, is a digital display that reads “78.”  This is an electrical reading from the gyrocompass.  The gyrocompass reflects “true North” also referred to as geographical North.

Gyrocompass
The Gyrocompass is Secured in a Closet on D Deck Near the Galley

Auxiliary Compass
An Auxiliary Compass, Connected to the Gyrocompass, is Located Right Off the Bridge on Both Port and Starboard

When at sea, a crew member on the bridge takes “fixes” every fifteen minutes, both day and night.  To take a fix, the crew member uses an auxiliary compass and chooses three landmarks on shore as points.  The crew member then lines up the viewfinder and records the degree of the line formed between the ship and the given point.

Focusing the auxilliary compass
The Crew Focuses the Auxiliary Compass on a Landmark on Shore. This Allows for a Reading on the Gyrocompass.

Next, the crew member plots the three points on the chart using triangles (similar to giant protractors).  The point where the three lines intersect is the ship’s current location.  Though technically, the crew could just plot two points ashore and look for where the lines intersect, but as a way of triple checking, the crew chooses three points.  Then, if a line doesn’t intersect as expected, the crew member can either retake the fix or rely on the other two points for accuracy.

Plotting the Course
The Crew Use Triangles to Plot Their Course

Verifying location
A Crew Member Uses a Compass to Verify Our Current Location, Measuring and Checking Latitude and Longitude

In addition to using the two aforementioned compasses to determine the ship’s location, the open seas often mean majestic night skies.  Some of the crew members told me they  also look to the stars and find the Big Dipper and North Star.  A central theme on the bridge is being prepared: if both compasses malfunction, the crew can still safely guide Fairweather along its course.

Original Navigation System
The Original Navigation System: The Night Sky

Location display
The Ship’s Location Also Displayed Electronically above the Helm

In addition to being able to take fixes and locate constellations in the night sky, modern day technology can make the crew’s job a bit easier.  The ship’s latitude and longitude is continually displayed by an electronic monitor above the helm via GPS (Global Positioning System).  Below, the ship’s Electronic Navigation System (ENS) essentially acts as Google Maps for the sea.  Additionally, the ENS provides a wealth of data, tracking the ship’s speed, wind, and other contacts.

Electronic Navigation System
The Electronic Navigation System – Sort of Like Google Maps for the Ship!

Next to the ENS on the bridge is the ship’s radar, which shows other vessels transiting the area.  Similar to ENS, the radar system also provides information about the ship’s speed and location.

Radar screen
The Ship’s Radar Is Yet Another Navigational Tool

Electronic Wind Tracker
The Electronic Wind Tracker above the Helm

Wind matters in navigation.  The force and direction of the wind can affect both currents and the ship’s route.  Winds may push the ship off course which is why taking fixes and constantly monitoring the ship’s actual location is critical in maintaining a given route.  The wind can be monitored by the weather vane on the bow, the electronic wind tracker above, or on the ENS below.  Additionally, a crew member demonstrates a wheel, used for calculating and recalculating a ship’s course based on the wind’s influence.

Calculating Wind and Direction
A Crew Member Holds a Wheel for Calculating Wind and Direction

Speaker System
An Old-Fashioned Speaker System on the Bridge

On the bridge, multiple ways of being able to perform tasks is not limited to navigation alone.  Communicating quickly on a ship is important in case of an emergency. Fairweather is equipped with various communication systems: a paging system, an internal telephone line, cell phones, satellite phones, etc.

Phone Systems
A Collection of Bells and Phone Systems for Contacting Various Parts of the Ship

Personal Log

Just before leaving Puget Sound, I had the chance to go kayaking for a few hours with two of the crew members.  We had great luck; not only was the water placid, but harbor seals played for nearly an hour as we paddled around one of many coves.  It was neat to see Fairweather from yet another perspective.

Kayaks
Kayaks are Secured for Seas on the Flying Bridge – The Hardest Part Is Carrying the Kayaks Up and Down Several Docks to Be Able to Launch Them

Launching Kayaks
A Bit Tricky: Launching Kayaks from a Launch

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks
Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound
Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Ready to Explore
Ready to Explore

Harbor Seals
Harbor Seals Played in the Water Around Our Kayaks

IMG_20180421_140958
Incredibly Calm Waters in Puget Sound Made for Picturesque Reflections

 

 

Did You Know?

The Inside Passage is a series of waterways and islands that stretches from Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, Washington on past Vancouver and British Columbia and up to the southeastern Alaskan panhandle.  In British Columbia, the Inside Passage stretches over more than 25,000 miles of coast due to the thousand or so islands along the way.  In Alaska, the Inside Passage comprises another 500 miles of coastline.  Many vessels choose the Inside Passage as their preferred coast as it is much more protected than the open waters of the Pacific Ocean to the immediate west.  Nonetheless, rapidly changing tidal lines, numerous narrow straits, and strong currents make navigating the Inside Passage a challenging feat.  In addition to frequent transit by commercial vessels, tugboats, and barges, the Inside Passage is also increasingly popular among cruise ships and sailboats.  On average it takes 48-60 hours to navigate.

IMG_20180424_131729
Approaching Open Waters as the Fairweather Leaves British Columbia and Enters the Alaskan Portion of the Inside Passage

Glassy Reflection
A More Protected Stretch of the Inside Passage Creates a Glassy Reflection

Crew on Anchor Watch
Crew on Anchor Watch on the Inside Passage as We Approach Seymour Narrows. Note the Weathervane on the Bow.

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage
Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Late Afternoon View
Enjoying a Late Afternoon View from Fairweather’s Fantail

Islands
Some of the Many, Many Islands along the Inside Passage

Blackney Passage
Blackney Passage

tugboat and barge
A Tugboat Pulls a Barge Near Lopez Island

 

Late Afternoon
Late Afternoon on the Inside Passage as Seen from Starboard, F Deck

Mountain view
Impossible to Get Tired of These Views!

Challenge Question #4: Devotion 7th Graders – NOAA and NASA collaborated to produce the National Weather Service Cloud Chart which features explanations of 27 unique cloud types.  Clouds can tell sailors a great deal about weather.  Can you identify the type of clouds in the ten above pictures of the Inside Passage?  Then, record your observations of clouds for five days in Brookline.  What do you notice about the relationship between the clouds you see and the weather outside?  What do you think the clouds in the pictures above would tell sailors about the upcoming weather as they navigated the Inside Passage?  Present your observations as journal entries or a log.

A Bonus Challenge. . .

Just outside the bridge on both the Fairweather‘s port and starboard sides are little boxes with two thermometers each.  What is the difference between dry and wet temperatures?  Why would sailors be interested in both measurements?

Two thermometers
Two thermometers, labeled “Dry” and “Wet”, with different readings

 

 

Staci DeSchryver: A Brief Lesson on All the Things We Deliberately Throw Over the Side of the Ship, July 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Hilo Coast, Hawaii

Date:  July 12, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Location:  22 deg 38.0 min N, 159 deg 33.9 min W

Cloudy with rain squalls all around

Visibility: 10 nmi

Wind: E @ 23 kts

Pressure: 1019.1mb

Waves: 2-3 ft

Swell:  60 degrees at 3-5 ft

Temp: 27 degrees

Wet Bulb Temp: 24 degrees

Dewpoint: 26 degrees

Relative Humidity:  96%

 

Science and Technology Log

Today, we will be exploring all of the equipment we deliberately toss over the stern of the ship.  There are a number of different audio recorders that the HICEAS and other teams use to detect various species while underway.  Chief scientist Erin Oleson gives a great perspective when she says that, “We pass through this particular area for this study only one time.  Just because we may not see or hear an animal, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there, or that it won’t come by this area at a later time.”  In order to compensate for the temporal restrictiveness of the ship being in one spot at one time, the team will periodically launch buoys over the side to continue the listening process for us.  Some buoys are designed to last a few hours, some report the information real-time back to the ship, some are anchored to the ocean floor, some drift around, and all serve different needs for the scientific team.

Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #1:  Sonobuoys

Since arriving on the ship, I have been recruited to “Team Sonobuoy” by the acoustics team for deployments!  It is my job to program and launch two sonobuoys on a set schedule created by the scientific team.   Sonobuoys are designed to pick up low-frequency sounds from 0 – 2 KHz, most often made by baleen whales.  The sonobuoy will send information back to the ship in real-time.  Once launched over the side, the sonobuoy will drift in the ocean, listening for these low frequency noises.  They are a temporary acoustic tool – lasting anywhere from 30 mins to 8 hours of time.  Most of the buoys are set to record for 8 full hours.  After the pre-set recording time is up, the float on the buoy pops, and the buoy is no longer active.  It is my job to launch two sonobuoys, and then monitor the signal coming back to the ship via VHF until we are too far away to detect the frequency coming back to us.  This usually happens between 2 and 3 miles after launch.   The recordings are sent onshore for processing.  Fun fact: sonobuoys were originally developed by the Navy to listen for enemy submarines!  The scientists thought they would be a handy tool for baleen whales, and picked up the technology.  We have deployed sonobuoys almost every evening of the cruise.

Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #2:  DASBRs

DASBRs, or Digital Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorders, are floating recorders launched at certain waypoints in the ocean.  The word “spar” simply means that the buoy floats vertically in the water.  There are two types of DASBRs, one records from 0 – 128 KHz, and one goes all the way from 0 – 144 KHz.  Now, these particular buoys get launched, but they don’t get anchored.

DeSchryver_connecting buoy to DASBR
Shannon and Jen connect the buoy to the DASBR before deployment

Inside the DASBR is a transmitter that shows the location of the buoy so that the scientific team can recover them at a later time.

DeSchryver_Eric waits DASBR
Erik waits to deploy the DASBR at the proper GPS location.

So, in effect, this is a buoy we deliberately throw off the ship only to bring it back on after a predetermined amount of time.  These recorders do not transmit back to the ship.  They store all of the data on the  DASBR, which is why recovery of the DASBRs is so important.  A DASBR that does not get recovered keeps all of its secrets as it floats along in the ocean.  We can track DASBRs real time, and they follow interesting patterns as they float freely in the ocean – some track in a given direction along with the current, while others corkscrew around in the same area.  So far, we have deployed 4 DASBRs in the first 8 days of the cruise.

Things we deliberately throw off the ship #3:  HARPS

HARPS, or High Frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, are the third type of microphone deployed off the ship.  HARPS record all sounds between 0 and 100 KHz. They last far longer than both sonobuoys and DASBRS in terms of time out on the water. They are limited not by data storage, but by battery power.  HARPS are deployed at one location and are anchored to the ocean floor.  Small yellow floats rise to the surface to alert ships and other traffic to their presence.  They are a little easier to find when it comes to recovery, since they have a GPS known location and are secured to the ocean floor, but they are a little more difficult to wrangle on to the back deck of the ship when recovered and deployed, since there is an anchor associated with them.

DeSchryver_HARP
The HARP in the Wet Lab undergoing repairs before launch.

On this cruise we have both recovered and deployed HARP systems.  The HARPS also store information within  the HARP, so recovery is important to the scientific team because the data does not get transmitted in real time back to any computers.

Things we deliberately throw off the ship #4:  Ocean Noise Sensors

There are data recorders that record the level of noise in the ocean over time.  We are currently on our way to pick one of these recorders up, complete some maintenance on it, and re-deploy it.  This will be a full day commitment for the scientific team and the crew, so I’m going to keep you guessing on this one until we actually complete this part of the operation.  We have many hands working together both on the ship and between organizations to make the ocean noise-monitoring program effective and cohesive, so this section of “Things we deliberately throw off the ship” will get its own blog post in the future as we complete the haul in, maintenance, and re-deployment.  Stay tuned.

 

Personal Log

Team.  You’ll never guess what I did.  I.  Drove. The Ship.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I drove the ship, and – AND – I didn’t hit anything while I did it!  What’s better is that I didn’t tip anyone out of their chairs while I made turns, either!  This is cause for much celebration and rejoicing among scientists and crew alike.  The Commanding Officer, CDR  Stephanie Koes invited me, “Spaz the TAS” up to the bridge for a little steering lesson two days ago, in which I happily obliged.  ENS Fredrick gave me a little mini-lesson on the onboard radar systems, which were picking up rain just off our starboard side.

I also learned of the existence of the many GPS positioning systems and navigation systems onboard.  The NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, or OMAO, is not lost on system redundancies.  From what I can surmise, there are two of everything on the bridge in order to ensure the NOAA OMAO’s number one priority – safety. Everything on the bridge has a backup, or in many instances, a preferential option for each officer responsible for the bridge at any given time.  Some systems are fancy and new, while others maintain tradition on the bridge.  For example, a bell will still chime every half hour to remind the watch stander to record weather data on the bridge and a navigational fix on a paper chart.  ENS Fredrick says that the bell is an older maritime system, but is very handy when things get busy on the bridge –  the bell ringing is a perfect audio cue for him to stop what he’s doing and get to the logbook to record the weather.

Turning a giant ship sounds difficult, but in reality, it’s really difficult.  The actual act of turning doesn’t take much – a simple flip of a switch to take the ship off what I termed “cruise control” and a turn of the wheel (which by the way looks exactly like a smaller version of the ship wheels you see in all of the fabulous movies – I’m looking at you, Goonies) and an eye on the bearing angle (the compass direction in which the ship is headed).  But here’s the real issue – this moving city technically has no brakes.   So as the ship begins to turn, the driver has to pull the rudder back in the opposite direction before the bearing angle is reached, otherwise the bearing angle gets overshot.  If you turn the wheel too far one way or the other too quickly, the ship responds by  “leaning into” the turn at a steep angle.

DeSchryver_driving ship
This is me not running in to things while steering the ship with ENS Fredrick!

This sounds like it might be fun until the chef downstairs rings the bridge and chews the driver out for making the cheesecake fall off the galley countertop.  Then the driver must take the heat for ruining the cheesecake for everyone else on the ship waiting quite impatiently to eat it.  Thankfully, I tipped no cheesecakes.  That would make for a long month onboard being “that guy who turned the ship too hard and ruined dessert for everyone.”  I’m pretty sure had I not had the direction of ENS Fredrick as to when and how far to turn the rudder, I’d be in the dessert doghouse.

Another fabulous part of turning the ship is that I got to use the radio to tell the flying bridge (and anyone else who was listening) that I had actually turned the ship and it was correctly on course.  Luckily I had been listening to the radio communication for a few days and put on my best radio voice to make said announcements.  I think my performance was middling to above average at least, and fully qualified to speak on the radio without sounding too unfortunate at best.  However, there was one element of driving the ship that made me terrified enough to realize that I probably am not quite ready to hack the job – everything else that is going on up on the bridge while you are keeping the ship on-course.

Watch standers are notoriously good at keeping data.  They record every move the ship makes.  If the mammal and bird team go off effort due to weather or too high of a Beaufort state, the bridge records it.  They also record when they go back on effort. They log every turn and adjustment the ship makes.  They log every time we deploy a CTD or any kind of buoy.  I watched the watch stander on the bridge take a phone call, make a turn, log the turn, put the mammal team off-effort, put the mammal team back on-effort, take a request on the radio and record weather data all in a span of about two minutes.  It seemed like everything was happening all at once, and he managed it all like it was just another day in the office.  For him, it was.

To be a member of the NOAA OMAO means that you must be willing to learn, willing to make mistakes, willing to follow orders, willing to be flexible, and willing to be one heck of a multi-tasker.  I, for one, went quickly cross-eyed at all of the information processing that must happen up on the bridge during an officer’s shift. Thankfully, I didn’t go cross-eyed while I was trying to turn the ship.  That would have been bad, especially for cheesecakes.  I’m thinking that if I play my cards right, I can enlist as a “backup ship driver” for future shifts on Oscar Elton Sette.  I figure you never know when you might need someone fully unqualified to steer a giant moving city in a general direction for any given amount of time.  But I think I can do it if I do it like the NOAA Corps – taking everything one turn at a time.

Cetacean and Fish Species Seen:

Risso’s Dolphins

Striped Dolphins

Melon-Headed Whales

Blainsville Beaked Whales

Sperm Whale

False Killer Whales

Kogia – unidentified (These are either pygmy Sperm Whales or Dwarf Sperm Whales)

Flying Fish

Wahoo or Ono (Ono in Hawaiian means “tasty” – the name was confirmed as I enjoyed a few pieces of Ono sashimi last night at dinner)

 

Seabirds spotted as of July 14:

White Necked Petrel

Juan Fernandez Petrel

Hawaiian Petrel

Black-Winged Petrel

Cook’s Petrel

Pycroft’s Petrel

Bulwer’s Petrel

Wedge-Tailed Shearwater

Christmas Shearwater

Newell’s Shearwater

Band-rumped Storm Petrel

Red-Tailed Tropic Bird

White-Tailed Tropic Bird

Masked Booby

Brown Booby

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A juvenile Red-Footed Booby takes a two day rest on Sette‘s Mast.

A juvenile Red-Footed Booby who has taken up residence on the mast of the ship for two full days and pretends to fly from the mast – highly entertaining.

 

Red-Footed Booby

Great Frigatebird

Brown Noddy

Sooty Tern

Grey-Backed Tern

White Tern

Ruddy Turnstone

Sanderling

Japanese Quail

 

 

Helen Haskell: Data Acquisition Through Small Boat Surveying, June 12, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West of Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 12, 2017

Weather Data:

Temperature: 13°C

Wind 12 knots, 230° true

10 miles visibility

Barometer: 1016 hPa

90% cloud cover at 2000 feet

Location:  Dall Island, AK  54° 54.5’N  132°52.1W

 

Science and Technology Log:

The role of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys in order to acquire data to be used in navigational charts. While the Fairweather has sonar equipment and collects lots of data in transit, much of the data collected on a daily basis is by using smaller boats, with a rotating crew of 3-4 people per boat. The Fairweather will sail to the research area and drop anchor, and for multiple days crews will use these smaller vessels to collect the raw data in an area.

 

“Sonar” was originally an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging, but it has become a word in modern terminology. The boats contain active sonar devices used by the NOAA scientists to calculate water depth, document the rocks, wrecks and kelp forests, and in general, determine hazards to boats. Ultimately their data will be converted in to navigational charts – but there is a significant amount of work and stages to be undertaken to make this a reality.

Attached to the small boats are Kongsberg Multi Beam Echo Sounders (MBES). These devices emit sound waves in to the water. The waves fan out and reflect off the bottom of the sea floor and return to the MBES. Based on the time it takes for the MBES to send and receive the sound waves, the depth of the sea floor can be calculated. As the boat moves through the water, thousands of pieces of data are collected, and collectively a picture of the sea floor can be built.

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The pink line is the sea floor

It sounds simple, right? But I am beginning to understand more about the complexities that go in to a project of this scope. It would seem simple perhaps, to drive a boat around, operate the MBES and collect data. As I have quickly come to understand, there is a lot more to it.

As mentioned before, due to the weather conditions in the geographic area of study and routine maintenance, the Fairweather has a field season, and a dry dock season. During the non-field season time, data is analyzed from the previous seasons, and priorities and plans are made for the upcoming seasons. Areas are analyzed and decisions made as to which regions the Fairweather will go to and sheets are determined. A sheet is a region within the project area. Each sheet is broken up in to polygons. On any given day, one small boat will cover 1-3 polygons, depending on the weather, the complexity of the area, and the distance of travel from the Fairweather.

 

There are many parameters that the scientists need to consider and reconfigure to acquire and maintain accurate data collection. A minimum density of soundings (or ‘pings’) is required to make sure that the data is sufficient. For example, in shallow waters, the data density needs to be a minimum of five soundings per one square meter. At a greater depth, the area covered by the five soundings can be 4 square meters. This is due to the fact that the waves will spread out more the further they travel.

A coxswain will drive the boat in lines, called track lines, through the polygon. As the data is collected the ‘white chart’ they are working with begins to get colored in. Purple indicates deepest water. Green and yellow mean it’s getting less deep. Red indicates shallow areas, and black needs to be avoided. In the pictures below you can begin to see the data being logged visually on the map as the boat travels.

 

Make an analogy to mowing a lawn. There are areas of most lawns where it is easy to push the lawnmower in straight lines, more or less. The same can be said for here, to some extent. In the deeper waters, not close to shore, the boats can ‘color in’ their polygon using relatively wide swaths that allow the sonar data to overlap just slightly. Every time the boat turns to go back in the opposite direction, the MBES is paused, and then started again once the boat is in position, making a new track line. Close to the shore, referred to as near shore, there are usually more hazards. In these areas, speed is slowed. Due to the increased potential of rocks and kelp beds in an unknown area, the boats do something called half-stepping, in-effect overlapping the ‘rows’ – think about re-mowing part of that section of lawn, or mowing around tree trunks and flower beds. As a visual image comes up on the screen, the coxswain and the hydrographers can determine more where their next line will be and whether they should continue surveying that area, or if there are too many hazards.

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Data aquisition

Full coverage needs to be achieved as much as possible. At times this does not happen. This can be as the result of several factors. Kelp increases the complexity of data collection. Kelp often attaches to rocks, and there are large ‘forests’ of kelp in the areas being surveyed. As the sonar also ‘reads’ the kelp, it’s not possible to know the true location, size and depth of the rock the kelp is attached to, and in some instances, to determine if the kelp is free floating.

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Kelp

Steep slopes, rocks and kelp can also create ‘shadows’ for the MBES. This means that there are areas that no sounding reached. If possible the survey team will re-run a section or approach it from another angle to cover this shadow. At times, the rocky areas close to shoreline do not allow for this to be done safely.  A holiday is a term used by the survey crew to describe an area where data did not register or was missed within a polygon or sheet. During data collection, a day may be dedicated for boats to return to these specific areas and see if the data can be collected. On occasion, weather conditions may have prevented the original crew from collecting the data in the first place. Equipment malfunction could have played a role, as could kelp beds or hazardous rock conditions.

Survey crews are given several tools to help them navigate the area. Previous nautical charts are also superimposed on to the electronic chart that the surveyors are using. While many of these contain data that is out of date, it gives the crew a sense of what hazards in the area there may be. Symbols representing rocks and kelp for example are shown. The Navigable Area Limit Lines (NALL) are represented by a red line that can be superimposed on the map. Any area closer to shore than the NALL is not required to be surveyed.

 

 

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The red line is the Navigable Area Limit Line. Areas inland of this line do not need to be surveyed, as they are known to be entirely non-navigable.

On occasion, surveying will discover a Danger to Navigation (DTON). This might include a rock close to the surface in a deeper water area that is not shown on any map and which may pose imminent danger to mariners. In these instances these dangers are reported upon return to the Fairweather, and information is quickly sent to the Marine Chart Division’s Nautical Data Branch.

During the course of the day, the scientists are constantly checking the data against a series of parameters than can affect its accuracy. Some of these parameters include temperature, salinity of the water and the tide levels. More about these parameters will be discussed in later blog postings.

Personal log

The first part of the day involves the stewards getting coolers of food ready for the survey crew who will be gone all day. The engineers have fixed any boat issues from the previous day and re-fueled the boats and the deck crew have them ready to re-launch. A GAR score is calculated by the coxswain and the crew, to determine the level of risk for the days launch. The GAR score examines the resources, environment, the team selection, their fitness, the weather and the mission complexity. Each factor is given a score out of 10. Added up, if the total is 23 or less, the mission is determined ‘low risk’, 24-44 is ‘use extra caution’, and greater than 45 is high risk. On the first day I went on a boat, as a first timer, the GAR score was a couple of points higher in the ‘team selection’ section as I was new.

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Operational Risk Assessment Form

Another fascinating aspect of this research is the equipment on the ship needed to launch these small boats. Huge winches are needed to hoist the boats in and out of the water. Deck crew, with support from the survey crew are responsible for the boat hauling multiple times a day, and the engineers are on hand to fix and monitor the equipment.

After my first day out on the small boats, the data acquisition began not only to make more sense, but also my understanding of the complex factors that make the data collection feasible began to broaden. I had naively assumed that all the work was done from the Fairweather and that the Fairweather would be constantly on the move, rather than being anchored in one location or so for a few days. As we journeyed around small islands covered in Sitka spruce, I watched constant communication between the survey crew and the coxswain on the small boats. The survey crew are constantly monitoring the chart and zooming in and out so that the coxswain can get a better and safer picture of where to take the boat.   As well as watching the monitors and driving the boat, the coxswain is also looking ahead and around for hazards. There is a significant number of large floating logs ready to damage boats, and on occasion, whales that the boat needs to stay away from. It is a long day for all the crew.

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Bekah and Sam monitor the incoming data to communicate quickly with Nick, the coxswain.

Aside from learning about the data acquisition being on the small boat, one of the joys was to be closer to some of the wildlife. While I will go in to more detail in later entries, highlights included catching glimpses of humpback whales, families of sea otters, and harbor seal pups.

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Yes, I got to drive…in the purple area.

Fact of the day: 

While animals, such as bats, have been using sonar for thousands or millions of years, it wasn’t until the sinking of the Titanic that sonar devices were invented and used for the locating of icebergs.  During World War I, a French physicist, Paul Langévin, developed a tool to be able to listen for submarines. Further developments lead to sonar being able to send and receive signals. Since then, major developments in sonar technology have led to many different applications in different science fields.

Word of the day: Nadir

On small boat surveys, nadir is the term used to describe the ocean floor directly below the boat. It is the low point below the boat.   

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).

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(Answer from previous blog: part of a section of a dumbbell from the Fairweather workout room)

 

Acronym of the Day

HIC: Hydrographer In Charge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Northern: 3… 2… 1… Deploy the Drifting Buoy!, June 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sam Northern

Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

May 28 – June 7, 2017

 Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 5, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 42°22.4’N

Longitude: -70°38.2W

Sky: Foggy

Visibility: ≥ 1 Nautical Mile

Wind Direction: 090°E

Wind Speed: 20 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 2-4 Feet

Barometric Pressure: 1008.3 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 13.3°C

Air Temperature: 12.1°C

Science and Technology Log

Drifting Buoy

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Seconds away from deploying the drifting buoy.

3… 2… 1… deploy the drifting buoy! The NOAA Office of Climate Observation established the Adopt a Drifter Program in 2004 for K-16 teachers. The program’s mission is “to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world and engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science.” By adopting a drifter I am provided the unique opportunity of infusing ocean observing system data into my library media curriculum. A drifter, or drifting buoy, is a floating ocean buoy that collects data on the ocean’s surface. They tend to last approximately 400 days in the water. Drifters allow scientists to track ocean currents, changes in temperature, salinity, and other important components of the ocean’s surface as they float freely and transmit information.

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Decorating the drifter with stickers.

The buoy is equipped with a thermistor, a drogue and a transmitter so that it can send out daily surface water temperatures and its position to an Argos satellite while it is being moved by surface currents pulling on the drogue. Soon I will receive the WMO number of my drifting buoy to access data online from the drifter. My students and I will receive a drifter tracking chart to plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves freely in the surface ocean currents. Students will be able to make connections between the data accessed online and other maps showing currents, winds, and surface conditions.

 

How to Deploy a Drifter:

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  1. Remove the plastic covering (shrink-wrapped) from the buoy on the ship.
  2. Record the five-digit ID number of the drifter inscribed on the surface float.
  3. A magnet is then removed from the buoy, which starts a transmitter (located in the upper dome) to allow data from the buoy to be sent to a satellite and then to a ground-based station so we can retrieve the data.
  4. Throw the unpacked drifter from the lowest possible deck of the ship into the sea. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents.
  5. Record the date, time, and location of the deployment as well as the five-digit ID.

GoPro footage of the drifter’s deployment

My drifter buoy was launched at 8:01 PM (20:01) on June 3rd, 2017. Its official position is 43 degrees 32.9 minutes North, 067 degrees 40.5 minutes West.

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This image shows where we deployed the buoy in the Gulf of Maine. The red and blue symbols are the buoy’s trajectory, confirming that the drifter is being tracked via satellite in real-time.

 

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Chief Scientist, David Richardson and I on the ship’s stern ready to deploy the drifter.

The WMO # associated with my drifter is 44907. To track the buoy and view data, please visit the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center website. There, you will find instructions on how to access data via the NOAA Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC) webpage or Quality Control Tools Buoy Location and Trajectory website.  My students will have full access to our drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date) in near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the Global Drifter Program. Students can access, retrieve, and plot various subsets of data as a time series for specified time periods for any drifting buoy and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year). My students are going to be thrilled when learn they get to be active participants in NOAA’s oceanography research.

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Drifter Diagram [Source — NOAA/AOML/PhOD]
 

Below is a 2-minute video from NOAA’s National Ocean Service to learn more about drifting buoys. 

Deploying my drifting buoy in 360-degress

Nautical Navigation

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NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter’s Navigational Bridge

Understanding where you are on the grid is essential when navigating a ship of any size. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter houses a major operation with 30 personnel on board. The safety of each individual is a primary concern for Commanding Officer, Lindsay Kurelja. She knows all there it is to know about navigating a marine vessel. Early mariners heavily relied on the stars and landmarks to determine their position in the sea. While celestial and terrestrial navigation techniques are still effective and used often by contemporary sailors, modern ships have GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it lets us know where we are and where we are going anywhere on Earth. GPS is quickly becoming an integrative part of our society. It is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations.

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GPS Receiver in the Navigational Bridge

Commanding Officer Kurelja and her crew use a GPS receiver to chart Gordon Gunter’s position in the ocean. The ship receives signals from 10 satellites that are in lower orbit. Once the ship’s receiver calculates its distance from four or more satellites, it knows exactly where we are.

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Nautical Chat

Within seconds, from thousands of miles up in space, our location can be determined with incredible precision, often within a few yards of your actual location. [Source — NOAA] The satellites’ signals give NOAA officers the ship’s positioning. Then, using a nautical chart of the area in which we are cruising, the Navigation bridge team plots the latitude position and the longitude position to determine the ship’s exact location.

 

Ship’s Internet

IMG_9693.JPGSince my expedition began you might have wondered, “How is he even sending these blog posts from so far out at sea?” That is a legitimate question. One I had been asking myself. So, I went to Tony VanCampen, Gordon Gunter’s Chief Electronics Technician for the answer. You may have guessed it; the answer has something to do with Earth’s satellites. Providing internet on ships is different than on land because, well, there is no land. We are surrounded by water; there are no towers or cables.

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Gordon Gunter’s Satellite Antenna

On the deck of the ship is a fixed installation antenna that provides broadband capability. It looks like a mini water tower. The antenna sends signals about the ship’s positioning to a geostationary satellite. A geostationary satellite is placed directly over the equator and revolves in the same direction the earth rotates (west to east). The ship’s computers use the connection made between the antenna and the satellite to transfer data which the satellite in turn sends to a ground site in Holmdel, New Jersey. The site in New Jersey connects the ship to the Internet.

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Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen

Chief Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen not only understands, installs, maintains, and repairs all the technology on board Gordon Gunter, he is an expert on all things nautical. Tony has been an asset to my Teacher at Sea experience. He takes the time to not only explain how equipment works, but he shows me where things are and then demonstrates their capabilities. Aboard Gordon Gunter, Tony runs all of the mission electronics, navigational electronics, and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Tony has been working at sea since 1986 when he joined the NAVY and reported on board the USS Berkeley. He took a short break from work at sea when he became a physical security specialist for the NAVY at a weapons station. Tony has held several roles in the NAVY and with NOAA, all have given him a wealth of knowledge about ship operations. He is dedicated to the needs of the crew, scientists, and as of late, one Teacher at Sea. I owe Tony a debt of gratitude for his assistance and kindness.

Personal Log

Out to Sea (Saturday, June 3)

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Bongo Nets Plankton Sampling

As I entered the dry lab this morning to report for duty, there was a lot of exciting chatter going on. I presumed a whale had been seen nearby or an unusual fish was caught in one of the bongo nets. While either of these situations would generate excitement, the lab’s enthusiasm was on the drifting buoy that was to be deployed today. I love how the scientists and volunteers get overwhelmed with joy for all things “science”. I had strong feelings after learning the news, as well. My emotions steered more toward worry than elation because I was the one to deploy the buoy! What if I deployed the drifting buoy incorrectly? What if it gets sucked under the ship? What if a whale eats it? Questions like these kept running through my mind all afternoon. Luckily, time spent rinsing bongo nets and preserving plankton samples kept my mind off the matter. But a voice in the back of my brain kept repeating, “What if…”

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My drifting buoy

I finally laid my worries to rest. At sunset I deployed the drifting buoy without incident! The entire event was extremely special. My buoy is now floating atop the waves of the Gulf of Maine and soon to other parts of the sea. Yes, it will be all alone on the surface, but underneath and above will be a plethora of wildlife. Even when no one is there to witness it, ocean life carries on. For my students and me, we do not have to be with the drifting buoy physically to experience its journey. The transmitting equipment will give us the opportunity to go on the same adventure as the buoy while learning new things along the way.

A New Week (Sunday, June 4)

IMG_6696It has been one week, seven days since I first arrived on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Like the virga (an observable streak of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporates or before reaching the surface) we experienced this morning, my time aboard the ship is fleeting, too. As the days dwindle until we disembark, I find myself attempting to soak in as much of the experience as I can. Suddenly, I am looking at the horizon a little longer; I pay closer attention to the sounds made by the ship; and I pause to think about how each sample will tell us more about the Earth’s mysterious oceans. Yes, a week has passed, but now it is the first day of a new week. With two days and a “wakeup” remaining, I intend to embrace each moment to its fullest.

Just Another Manic Monday (Monday, June 5)

IMG_9728No matter the day or time, NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter runs like clockwork. Today, however, the ship seemed to be buzzing with a different kind of energy. NOAA Corps Officers and the crew have been moving around the ship with an ever greater sense of purpose. Believe me, there is never an idle hand aboard Gordon Gunter. One major factor that heavily influences the ship’s operations is the weather. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine. Gale warnings mean maritime locations are expected to experience winds of Gale Force on the Beaufort scale.

Position Map June 5
Gordon Gunter’s position at mid-morning of June 5th

Tonight’s weather forecast are winds reaching 20-30 Knots with seas building to 4 to 6 feet. Tuesday’s forecast is even grimmer: winds between 25-35 Knots and waves reaching 7-12 feet. [Source — National Weather Service] Even though the weather forecast is ominous, I fear not! Having witnessed the professionalism and expertise of every crew member on board the ship, I have full confidence in Gordon Gunter.

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Cape Cod Canal

Chief Scientist and the Commanding Officer adjusted our course due to the imminent weather. We passed through the Cape Cod Canal, an artificial waterway in the state of Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels and people often just sit and watch ships and boats transiting the waterway. It was indeed a joyous occasion seeing land on the starboard and port sides of the ship. The passage provided many more sites to see compared to the open ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise through the Cape Cod Canal, but inside me was the desire to one day return to the deep, blue sea.

Animals Seen

IMG_6483As you can tell, this blog post’s theme revolves around positioning and tracking. So, I decided to ask the seabird and marine mammal observers about the technology and methods they use to identify the positioning of animals out on the open ocean. Our wildlife observers, Glen and Nicholas, have a military-grade cased computer they keep with them on the flying bridge while looking for signs of birds and whales. The GPS keeps track of the ship’s position every five minutes so that a log of their course exists for reference later. When Glen or Nicholas identify a bird or marine mammal, they enter the data into the computer system which records the time and their exact GPS position. To know how many meters out an animal is, observers use a range finder.

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Range Finder

This pencil has been carefully designed according to their location above sea level which is 13.7 meters from the ship’s flying bridge where the observers keep a sharp lookout. The observers place the top of the pencil on the horizon to get accurate distances. If the bird falls between each carved line on the pencil, they know approximately how many meters away the animal is. Wildlife observers’ rule of thumb for tracking animals is called a strip transect. Strip transects are where observers define a strip of a certain width, and count all creatures within that strip. Glen and Nicholas input data on any animal they see that is within 300 meters of the ship. Providing as much information as possible about the positioning of each observed living thing helps researchers understand what is happening and where.

New Terms/Phrases

[Source — Marine Insight]

  • RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging): It is used to determine the distance and direction of the ship from land, other ships, or any floating object out at sea.
  • Gyro Compass: It is used for finding true direction. It is used to find correct North Position, which is also the earth’s rotational axis.
  • Auto Pilot: It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical system and is used to control the ship’s steering system from a remote location (Navigation Bridge).
  • Echo Sounder: This instrument is used to measure the depth of the water below the ship’s bottom using sound waves.
  • Speed & Distance Log Device: The device is used to measure the speed and the distance traveled by a ship from a set point.
  • Automatic Radar Plotting Aid: The radar displays the position of the ships in the vicinity and selects the course for the vessel by avoiding any kind of collision.
  • GPS Receiver: A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is a display system used to show the ship’s location with the help of Global positioning satellite in the earth’s orbit.
  • Record of Navigation Activities: All the navigational activities must be recorded and kept on board for ready reference. This is a mandatory and the most important log book.

Did You Know?

GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 12,550 miles. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day. The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged so that users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet. [Source — NOAA]

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GPS Block IIR(M) Satellite [Source — NOAA]

 

Cathrine Prenot: Why Math Matters. July 29, 2016.

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cathrine Prenot
Aboard Bell M. Shimada
July 17-July 30, 2016

Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem

Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA

Date: Thursday, July 29, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat: 4901.93N (We’re in Canada!)
Lon: 12651.64W
Speed: 5.7 knots
Windspeed: 34.2 deg/knots
Barometer: 1018.10 mBars
Air Temp: 15.0 degrees Celsius
Water Temp: 13.92 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

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Panoramic view of the back deck of the Bell M. Shimada from the wet lab.

There is a book on the bridge of most sailing vessels called “The American Practical Navigator.” Most people call it Bowditch, for short. It is a thick tome, and has an insane wealth of information in it, as Nathanial Bowditch vowed to “put down in the book nothing I can’t teach the crew.” He evidently thought his crew could learn anything, as Bowditch is an encyclopedia of information. You can find distances to nearby planets, how magnetic fields change around iron vessels, what to do if you are lost at sea, what mirages are, and rules to navigate around hurricanes. It’s been updated multiple times since Bowditch’s version in 1802, but one fact has remained. There is math—oodles and oodles of geometry and algebra and calculus—on every page. In fact, a lot of the Bell M. Shimada runs on math—even our acoustic fishing is all based on speed and wavelengths of sound.

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Screenshot from the Bell M. Shimada’s Acoustics Lab showing the visual rendition (left to right) of 18,000Hz, 38,000Hz, and 120,000Hz.  The ocean floor is the rainbow wavy line 250-450meters below.  This was transect #38; we fished the red/orange splotches approx 150 meters deep.  They were all hake!

Sonar was first used in World War I to detect submarines, and began to be used to sense fish soon after the war ended, with limited success. Sonar advanced rapidly through World War II and fishermen and scientists modified surplus military sonar to specifically detect ocean life. Since sound will bounce off “anything different than water,” we can now use different frequencies and energy to determine an incredible amount of information on a fish’s life. We can “try to tell what kind of fish, where they are, map vertically what they do, and determine their density.” The chief scientist, Dr. Sandy Parker-Stetter says it best. “My job is to spy on fish.” In my opinion, Sandy seems good enough to be in the Acoustics CIA. Click on Adventures in a Blue World; Why Math Matters, to learn all about fish spying and other reasons you should pay attention in algebra class.

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Why Math Matters.
Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Why Math Matters.

 

Personal Log

Life onboard continues to be interesting and fun. The wind has picked up a bit, which has translated into higher seas. I tried to film the curtains around my rack last night opening and closing of their own accord, but every time I’d pick up the camera, they’d stop. I did get a few seconds of some wave action outside the workout room; riding a bike is now much easier than running on the treadmill. Pushups are insanely easy when the ship falls into the waves, and ridiculously difficult when rising.

Porthole video.

I’ve also been involved in a chemical spill drill (that does say drill), and was lucky to be given the helm for a brief moment on the Bell Shimada.

Staging a chemical spill for the crew's spill drill
Staging a chemical spill for the crew’s spill drill

Prenot at the Helm
Prenot at the Helm

 

Did You Know?

NOAA has been around since 1970! Thanks to our great Survey Tech Kathryn Willingham for keeping our science team working so seamlessly. Well… …and making it fun too.

Kathryn
Kathryn Willingham

 

Resources: 

Ocean frequencies: explore sound in the ocean.
Check out this great TED talk about the importance of mathematics at sea.

Spencer Cody: What Remains Unseen, June 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 16˚C (60˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,013 hPa (1,013 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

106_0507 (2)
Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus is cataloguing all of the discreet hazards and objects by location and by photographic evidence that will be available for the new nautical charts once the survey is complete.

Uncovering potential dangers to navigation often requires more that acoustic equipment to adequately document the hazard.  Many hazards are in water that is shallow enough to potentially damage equipment if a boat were to be operating in that area and may also require special description to provide guidance for those trying to interpret the hazard through nautical charts and changing tides.  This is one of the key reasons so much planning must be placed into assigning survey areas determining the size and extent of polygons for mapping.  Depending on the complexity of the area’s structures, the polygon assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch.  Near-shore objects may require a smaller boat to adequately access the shallow water to move in among multiple hazards.  This is where a smaller boat like the Fairweather’s skiff can play a role.  The skiff can be sent out to map where these near-shore hazards are using equipment that that will mark the object with a GPS coordinate to provide its location.  Additionally, a photograph of the hazard is taken in order to provide a greater reference to the extent of the object and what it looks like above or below the water.  This information is collected and catalogued; so, the resulting nautical chart will have detailed resources and references to existing nautical hazards.

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Ensign Pat Debroisse covers nautical hazards such as rocks and kelp indicated throughout a very shallow and hazardous inlet.

Nautical hazards are not the only feature found on charts.  Nautical charts also have a description of the ocean bottom at various points throughout the charts.  These points may indicate a rocky bottom or a bottom consisting of silt, sand, or mud.  This information can be important for local traffic in terms of boating and anchoring and other issues. In order to collect samples from the bottom, a launch boat drops a diving probe that consists of a steel trap door that collects and holds a specimen in a canister that can be brought up to the boat.  Once the sample is brought up to the boat, it is analyzed for rock size and texture along with other components such as shell material in order to assign a designation.  This information is collected and catalogued so that the resulting nautical chart update will include all of the detailed information for all nautical hazards within the survey area.

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Bottom samples are taken with a heavy steel torpedo-shaped probe that is designed to sink quickly, dive into the ocean bottom, clamp shut, and return a sample to the boat.  Credit Ensign Joseph Brinkley for the photo.

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

The food on the cruise ship is great. They have all of our meals ready and waiting.  There are many people who prepare and serve the food to us to make our trip enjoyable.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The food onboard the Fairweather is also very good.  Much of the work that they do happens so early in the morning that most never see it take place.  Our stewards take very good care of us by providing three meals a day, snacks, and grab bag lunches for all of our launches each day.  They need to start early in morning in order to get all of the bagged lunches for the launches prepared for leaving later that morning and breakfast. They start preparing sandwiches and soup for the launches at 5 AM and need to have breakfast ready by 7 AM; so, mornings are very busy for them.  A morning snack is often prepared shortly after breakfast for those on break followed by lunch and then an afternoon snack and finally dinner.  That is a lot of preparation, tear down, and clean up, and it all starts over the next day.  The steward department has a lot of experience in food preparation aiding them in meeting the daily demands of their careers while preparing delicious and nutritious food that the crew will enjoy.

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What are you doing at 5:15 in the morning?  Mornings are very busy for the steward department preparing lunches for the day’s hydrographic launches and breakfast for the entire crew.  From left to right, Chief Steward Frank Ford, Chief Cook Ace Burke, Second Cook Arlene Beahm, and Chief Cook Tyrone Baker.

106_0477 (2)
Chief Steward Frank Ford is preparing a delicious mid-morning snack for the crew.

Frank Ford is the chief steward. He has been in NOAA for six years.  Before joining NOAA he had attended culinary school and worked in food service for 30 years in the restaurant and hotel industry.  “I try to make meals that can remind everyone of a positive memory…comfort food,” Frank goes on to say, “Having good meals is part of having good morale on a ship.”  Frank and the others in the steward department must be flexible in the menu depending on produce availability onboard and available food stores as the mission progresses.

 

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Chief Cook Tyrone Baker helps prepare breakfast.

Tyrone Baker is the chief cook onboard. He has been in NOAA for 10 years and has 20 years of food service experience in the Navy.  Ace Burke has been with NOAA since 1991 and has served in many positions in deck and engineering and has been a steward for the last 15 years.  He came over from the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson to help the steward department as a chief cook. Arlene Beahm attended chefs school in New Orleans.  She has been with NOAA for 1 ½ years and started out as a general vessel assistant onboard the Fairweather and is now a second cook.

 

Did You Know?

Relying on GPS to know where a point is in the survey area is not accurate enough.  It can be off by as much as 1/10 of a meter.  In order to increase the accuracy of where all the points charted on the new map, the Fairweather carries horizontal control base stations onboard.  These base stations are set up on a fixed known location and are used to compare to the GPS coordinate points.  Utilizing such stations improves the accuracy of all points with the survey from 1/10 of a meter of uncertainty to 1/100 of a meter or a centimeter.

Can You Guess What This Is?109_0609 (2)

A. an alidade  B. a sextant  C. an azimuth circle  D. a telescope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was D. a CTD.  A CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor is needed for hydrographic surveys since the temperature and density of ocean water can alter how sound waves move through the water column. These properties must be accounted for when using acoustic technology to yield a very precise measurement of the ocean bottom.  The sensor is able to record depth by measuring the increase of pressure, the deeper the CTD sensor goes, the higher the pressure.  Using a combination of the Chen-Millero equation to relate pressure to depth and Snell’s Law to ray trace sound waves to the farthest extent of an acoustic swath, a vertical point below the water’s surface can be accurately measured.  Density is determined by conductivity, the greater the conductivity of the water sample running through the CTD, the greater the concentration of dissolved salt yielding a higher density.)

Nikki Durkan: Navigating the high seas, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.5
Sea Temp (deg C): 11.1
Air Temp (deg C):  11.4

Meet:  Ensign Nate Gilman NOAA Corps Officer

Qualifications:  Master of Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College, Certificate in Fisheries Management from Oregon State University, Bachelors in Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College

Hails from:  Olympia, Washington

Photo Credit:  NOAA
Ensign Nate Gilman, Photo Credit: NOAA

What are your main responsibilities?  Nate is the ship Navigation Officer and Junior Officer On Deck. He not only drives the ship and carries out all the responsibilities that come with this job, but is also responsible for maintaining the charts on board, setting waypoints and plotting our course (manually on the charts and on the computer).  If an adjustment to our course is necessary, Nate must work with the scientific party on board to replot the transects.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Driving the ship, of course!  

Do you eat fish? **This is roughly how my conversation with Nate went on the subject of fish consumption: I don’t eat bugs. (He is referring to shrimp and lobster) – I thought I loved shrimp cocktail, now I know that I love cocktail sauce and butter, so celery and bread are just fine.

Aspirations?  Nate hopes to be stationed in Antarctica for his land deployment (NOAA Corps Officers usually spend two years at sea and three on land).  Ultimately, he wants to earn his teaching certificate and would be happy teaching P.E., especially if he can use these scooters, drink good coffee, ski, and surf.

Science and Technology Log

I spend much of my time on the bridge where I can learn more about topics related to geography and specifically navigation. This is also where I have easy access to fresh air, whale, bird, and island viewing, and comedic breaks. A personality quality the NOAA Corps officers all seem to share is a great sense of humor and they are all science nerds at heart!

Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Our Executive Officer, LT Carl Rhodes, showed me several pieces of equipment used to navigate and communicate at sea – the sextant, azimuth ring, and Morse code signaling lamp. Because the sextant relies on triangulation using the sun, moon, or stars – none of which we have seen often, the sextant is a beautiful, but not currently used piece of equipment for us on this trip. The majority of our navigation relies on GPS triangulation; however, the officers still need to mark on the charts (their lingo is to “drop a fix on”) our position roughly every 30 minutes just in case we lose GPS connection. Morse code is a universal language still taught in the Navy and NATO (they install infrared lights to avoid detection). Alternatively, on the radio English is King, but many of the captains know English only as a second language. Think you get frustrated on customer service phone calls? The NOAA Corps Officers actually go through simulations in order to prepare them for these types of issues. During one instance, the language barrier could have caused some confusion between LT Carl Rhodes and the ship he was hailing (the man had a thick Indian accent) but both were quite polite to each other, the other captain even expressed thanks for accommodating our maneuvers.  All the Officers attend etiquette classes as part of their training in NOAA Corps and I just read in their handbook that they must be courteous over the radio.

Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) - we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans.
Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) – we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans due to traffic.

Shipping with ships:  80% of our shipping continues to be conducted by sea and many of the ships we encounter here are transporting goods using the great circle routes. These routes are the shortest distance from one point on the earth to another, since the Earth is a spinning sphere, the shortest routes curve north or south toward the poles.  Look at your flight plan the next time you fly and you will understand why a trip from Seattle to Beijing involves a flight near Alaska. Airplanes and ships use great circle routes often and Unimak pass is a heavily trafficked course; however, ships also adjust their plans drastically to avoid foul weather – the risk to the cargo is calculated and often they decide to take alternative paths.

Look at a chart of the Aleutian Islands and you will quickly gain insight into the history of the area. On one chart, you will find islands with names such as Big Koniuji, Paul, Egg, and Chiachi, near Ivanof Bay and Kupreanof Peninsula. The Japanese and Russian influence is quite evident.  NOAA has other ships dedicated to hydrographic (seafloor mapping) surveys. The charts are updated and maintained by NOAA; however, in many cases, the areas in which we are traveling have not been surveyed since the early 1900s. Each chart is divided into sections that indicate when the survey was last completed:

  • A   1990-2009
  • B3 1940 – 1969
  • B4 1900 – 1939

An easy way to remember: When was the area last surveyed? B4 time. I told you they like their puns on the Bridge!

Flathead Sole - How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!
Flathead Sole – How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!

Personal Log

Maintaining fitness while at sea can be a challenge, and I am thankful the ship has a spin bike because trying to do jumping jacks while the boat is rocking all over is quite difficult, I am probably getting a better ab workout from laughing at myself.  Pushups and situps are an unpredictable experience – I either feel like superwoman or a weakling, depending on the tilt of the ship which erratically changes every few seconds.  Ultimately, I am finding creative ways to get my heart pumping – I do my best thinking while exercising!

One of my most valuable take-aways from this experience is my broadened perspective on those who choose to serve our country in the military and the varied personalities they can have.  Most of the individuals on board the ship year round have experience in the military and I have now met individuals from NOAA Corps, Coast Guard, Airforce, Army, Marines, and the U.S. Publice Health Service.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to meet them!

Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.
Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.

Did you know?  Saildrones are likely the next big step for conducting research at sea.  These 19 foot crafts are autonomous and have already proved capable of sailing from California to Hawaii.  Check out this article to learn more:  The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around The World 

Julia West: This Is What Drives Us, April 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission:  Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 3/31/2015; Time 2000; clouds 25%, cumulus and cirrus; Wind 205° (SSW), 15 knots; waves 1-2 ft; swells 1-2 ft; sea temp 23°C; air temp 23°C

Science and Technology Log

You’re not going to believe what we caught in our neuston net yesterday – a giant squid! We were able to get it on board and it was 23 feet long! Here’s a picture from after we released it:

giand squid
Giant Squid!

April Fools! (sorry, couldn’t resist) The biggest squid we’ve caught are about a half inch long. Image from http://www.factzoo.com/.

Let’s talk about something just as exciting – navigation. I visit the bridge often and find it all very interesting, so I got a 30 minute crash course on navigation. We joked that with 30 minutes of training, yes, we would be crashing!

From the bridge, you can see a long way in any direction. The visible range of a human eye in good conditions is 10 miles. Because the earth is curved, we can’t see that far. There is a cool little formula to figure out how far you can see. You take the square root of your “height of eye” above sea level, and multiply that by 1.17. That gives you the nautical miles that you can see.

So the bridge is 36 feet up. “Really?” I asked Dave. He said, “Here, I’ll show you,” and took out a tape measure.

Dave measuring height
ENS Dave Wang measuring the height of the bridge above sea level.

OK, 36 feet it is, to the rail. Add a couple of feet to get to eye level. 38 feet. Square root of 38 x 1.17, and there we have it: 7.2 nautical miles. That is 8.3 statute miles (the “mile” we are used to using). That’s assuming you are looking at something right at sea level – say, a giant squid at the surface. If something is sticking up from sea level, like a boat, that changes everything. And believe me, there are tables and charts to figure all that out. Last night the bridge watch saw a ship’s light that was 26 miles away! The light on our ship is at 76 feet, so they might have been able to see us as well.

Challenge Yourself

If you can see 7.2 nautical miles in any direction, what is the total area of the field of view? It’s a really amazing number!

Back to navigation

Below are some photos of the navigation charts. They can be zoomed in or out, and the officers use the computer to chart the course. You can see us on the chart – the little green boat.

navigation chart
This is a chart zoomed in. The green boat (center) is us, and the blue line and dot is our heading.

In the chart above, you’ll see that we seem to be off course. Why? Most likely because of that other ship that is headed our direction. We talk to them over the radio to get their intentions, and reroute our course accordingly.

navigation chart 2
Notice the left side, where it says “dump site (discontinued) organochlorine waste. There are a lot of these type dump sites in the Gulf. Just part of the huge impact humans have had on our oceans.

When we get close to a station, as in the first picture above, the bridge watch team sets up a circle with a one mile radius around the location of the station. See the circle, upper center? We need to stay within that circle the whole time we are collecting our samples. With the bongos and the neuston net, the ship is moving slowly, and with the CTD the ship tries maintain a stationary position. However, wind and current can affect the position. These factors are taken into account before we start the station. The officer on the bridge plans out where to start so that we stay within the circle, and our gear that is deployed doesn’t get pushed into or under the boat. It’s really a matter of lining up vectors to figure it all out – math and physics at work. But what is physics but an extension of common sense? Here’s a close-up:

setting up for station
Here is the setup for the station. The plan is that we will be moving south, probably into the wind, during the sampling. See the north-south line?

How do those other ships appear on the chart? This is through input from the AIS (Automated Information System), through which we can know all about other ships. It broadcasts their information over VHF radio waves. We know their name, purpose, size, direction, speed, etc. Using this and the radar system, we can plan which heading to take to give the one-mile distance that is required according to ship rules.

As a backup to the computer navigation system, every half hour, our coordinates are written on the (real paper) navigation chart, by hand.

Pete charting our course
ENS Pete Gleichauf is writing our coordinates on the paper navigation chart.

There are drawers full of charts for everywhere the Gunter travels!

Melissa and the nav charts
ENS Melissa Mathes showing me where all the navigation charts are kept. Remember, these are just backups!

Below is our radar screen. There are 3 other ships on the screen right now. The radar computer tells us the other vessels’ bearing and speed, and how close they will get to us if we both maintain our course and speed.