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:

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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.

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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.

radar screen
The other vessels in the area, and their bearing, show up on the radar.

If the radar goes down, the officers know how to plot all this on paper.

maneuvering board
On this maneuvering board, officers are trained to plot relative positions just like the radar computer does.

Below is Dave showing me the rudder controls. The rudder is set to correct course automatically. It has a weather adjustment knob on it. If the weather is rough (wind, waves, current), the knob can allow for more rudder correction to stay on course. So when do they touch the wheel? To make big adjustments when at station, or doing course changes.

rudder controls
Dave’s arm – showing me the rudder controls.

These are the propulsion control throttles – one for each propeller. They control the propeller speed (in other words, the ship’s speed).

propeller speed throttles
Here are the throttles that control the engine power, which translates to propeller speed.

bow thruster control
This controls the bow thruster, which is never used except in really tight situations, such as in port. It moves the bow either direction.

And below is the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). It prints out any nautical distress signal that is happening anywhere in the world!

GMDSS
Global Marine Distress and Safety System

And then, of course, there is a regular computer, which is usually showing the ships stats, and is connected to the network of computers throughout the ship.

checking the weather
ENS Kristin Johns checking the weather system coming our way.

In my post of March 17, I described the gyrocompass. That is what we use to determine direction, and here is a rather non-exciting picture of this very important tool.

gyrocompass
This is the gyrocompass, which uses the rotation of the Earth to determine true north.

As you can see, we have two gyrocompasses, but since knowing our heading is probably the most important thing on the ship, there are backup plans in place. With every watch (every 4 hours), the gyro compass is aligned the magnetic compass to determine our declination from true north. Also, once per trip, the “gyro error” is calculated, using this nifty device:

alidade
This is called the alidade. Using the position of the sun as it rises or sets, the gyro error can be computed and used to keep our heading perfectly accurate.

The reading off of the alidade, combined with the exact time, coordinates, and some fancy math, will determine the gyro error. (Click on a picture to see full captions and full size pictures.)

You can see that we have manual backups for everything having to do with navigation. We won’t get lost, and we’ll always know where we are!

driving the ship
Here I am, “driving” the ship! Watch out! Photo by ENS Pete Gleichauf

Back to Plankton!

These past two days, we have been in transit, so no sampling has been done. But here are a couple more cool micrographs of plankton that Pam shared with me.

invertebrate plankton
This picture shows several invertebrates, along with fish eggs. Madalyn and Andy, who are invertebrate people, got excited at this collection. The fat one, top left is a Doliolid. The U-shaped one is a Lucifer shrimp, the long one in center is an amphipod, at the bottom is a mycid, etc. There are crabs in different stages of development, and the multiple little cylinders are copepods! You can also see the baby fish inside the eggs. Photo credit Pamela Bond/NOAA

red snapper larvae
These are larval red snapper, a fall spawning fish species of economic interest. Notice the scale! You have to admit baby fish are awfully cute. Photo credit: Pamela Bond/NOAA

Interesting Fish Facts

Our main fish of interest in the winter plankton sampling are the groupers. There are two main species: gag groupers and red groupers. You can learn all about them on the NOAA FishWatch Website. Groupers grow slowly and live a long time. Interestingly, some change from female to male after about seven years – they are protogynous hermaphrodites.

red grouper
Red grouper. Image credit: NOAA

In the spring plankton research cruise, which goes out for all of May, the main species of interest is the Atlantic bluefin tuna. This species can reach 13 feet long and 2000 lbs, and females produce 10 million eggs a year!

school of bluefin tuna
School of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Photo credit: NOAA

The fall plankton research focuses on red snapper. These grow up to about 50 pounds and live a long time. You can see from the map of their habitat that it is right along the continental shelf where the sampling stations are.

red snapper
Red snapper in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Image credit: NOAA

The NOAA FishWatch website is a fantastic resource, not only to learn about the biology, but about how they are managed and the history of each fishery. I encourage you to look around. You can see that all three of these fish groups have been overfished, and because of careful management, and research such as what we are doing, the stocks are recovering – still a long way from what they were 50 years ago, but improving.

I had a good question come in: how long before the fish larvae are adults? Well, fish are interesting creatures; they are dependent on the conditions of their environment to grow. Unlike us, fish will grow throughout their life! Have you ever kept goldfish in an aquarium or goldfish bowl? They only grow an inch or two long, right? If you put them in an outdoor pond, you’ll see that they will grow much larger, about six inches! It all depends on the environment (combined with genetics).

“Adult” generally means that they are old enough to reproduce. That will vary by species, but with groupers, it is around 4 years. They spawn in the winter, and will remain larvae for much longer than other fish, because of the cooler water.

Personal Log

I’ve used up my space in this post, and didn’t even get to tell you about our scientists! I will save that for next time. For now, I want to share just a few more pictures of the ship. (Again, click on one to get a slide show.)

 

Terms to Learn

What is the difference between a nautical mile and a statute mile? How about a knot?

Do you know what I mean when I say “invertebrate?” It is an animal without a backbone. Shrimp and crabs, are invertebrates; we are vertebrates!

Sue Zupko, Destination: Calibration, September 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 41°31.3’N     Lon 071°20.8W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 010° 9kts
Sea Level Pressure 1019.8
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22°C  Air 28°

Science and Technology Log

Flexibility is the key. Our sail date was changed several times due to mechanical issues. I’m ok with that. It beats getting out in the middle of the ocean and not having things work properly. We weren’t sure exactly when the Bigelow would sail as of Thursday, but were pretty sure it would be today at 10:00 am. NOAA had me fly out to get onboard.

Arrival at airport
Arrival at airport

 

What a blessing that was. I was able to get acclimated (used to) to the ship, meet some crew members, and organize my belongings.

Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.
Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.

That is a big deal since when docked, nothing is moving. Once we got underway, the ship rocks and rolls. Pencils loose in a drawer aren’t a good idea. Where to store the flashlight? Can I find my necklace in the morning? It’s about routine. The locker (my closet) is noisy to open and close and must be kept closed when underway. Try not to forget things since you have to open that door again–and you have to hold the door since it swings and will bang. Someone is always sleeping. Right now my roommate is sleeping so I am thankful I have a quiet keyboard. She has earplugs in and told me I wouldn’t bother her. I also got to pick my berth (bed), which is on the bottom. There will be four of us in the room when everyone arrives tonight–all scientists.

So far I have had no “duties” other than blogging. When we start trawling, I will work noon-midnight. One of the scientists on my watch, Nicole, gave me a tour today and explained what I will be doing. My foul weather gear consists of heavy orange bib coveralls, a heavy yellow jacket with super long sleeves, and big rubber boots which come up to my knees. I brought inserts to go in the boots since I’ll be standing–a lot. Bought some new shoes that are slip-ons so I can get out of my foul weather gear as soon as we are done processing the fish. I learned that we probably will have over 100 trawls on this leg of the Autumn Trawl Survey and we will climb in and out of our gear often.

Let me explain a bit about how things will happen. Over the ship’s intercom, which will be heard everywhere except our staterooms, the galley, and the lounge, there is a (Bing….Bong….) “Attention on the Bigelow. Streaming….” This means the nets are being let out and will be at the bottom about 20 minutes. What can I do for 20 minutes? Help me out and vote on my poll.

The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.
The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.

As the net is let out, blue “trawl doors” attached to the net sink to the bottom, holding the net down and keeping the mouth of the net open. Now, the amount of time it takes to bring the net up varies. The net could have been 24 m down or 350 m down. When they start bringing in the net, the NOAA crew will make an announcement (Bing….Bong….)”Haul back.” They will show me how to find the depth on the equipment so I will be able to judge when to be ready. When the net comes up, the fish will be dumped on a table called a checker. If there are too many, they get dumped on the deck (called a deck tow). I hope it fits in the checker since it will be less work. Imagine picking up all those fish from the deck and putting them in containers.

Once in the checker, they will be fed to a conveyor belt which takes them into the wet lab for processing. We will sort the critters and organic “trash” into buckets by species. (I cringed at the word trash being used for wonderful creatures such as sponges and corals. However, Nicole explained that these are just not our main animals of interest. It is similar to weeds. A weed is any plant you don’t want in a specific flower bed. I love wildflowers, but they don’t always work well in my garden.)

The person in charge (called the “watch” chief) will weigh and label the fish and send the container on. Some fish will be selected for extra information. Others will be released into the sea. Animals that we keep will be for further research.

The work we are doing is very important to monitor the ocean’s health. Health to the ocean, means health to us. If the ocean isn’t healthy, we had better find out why and correct it. It’s like a nurse takes your temperature and looks at your symptoms when you are sick. We are the nurses checking on the sea. Others will analyze the symptoms and come up with a plan to correct any problems. I will give more information on our work later.

Meet the NOAA Crew

Ensign Erick Estela Gomez is originally from Puerto Rico. Most of my dealings when I boarded the ship were with him since he was the OOD, Officer of the Deck, for the weekend. In between his filling in reports and checking on the ship’s systems, we had a chance to talk. He is very personable and has a brilliant smile. Maybe his smile is infectious since he just got engaged to be married and is very happy. Added to his many abilities, he speaks four languages. He explained that he received an Environmental Science degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Most NOAA officers have a science or engineering degree or 60 credit hours in math and science. I need to check my records and see if I have that much. Maybe I could be a NOAA Corps officer.

Ensign Estela’s favorite part of his job is steering the ship. I enjoyed doing that when aboard the Pisces. It is a challenge. While he was off doing a chore, I sat in one of the two tall chairs on the bridge (operations center of ship). When he was done, he explained, very politely, that it is ship’s custom that no one except the captain sit in those chairs. He has been an ensign 1.5 years and said he will not sit in one of those as a sign of respect until he has earned it himself by being appointed to be a captain of a ship. I guess I always figured it was like Captain Kirk leaving Scotty or Spock in charge and they would sit in his chair to give orders. But, Ensign Estela has a lot of respect for earning one’s rank and will sit there when appropriate. So, no cool chair for me on the bridge now.

Ensign Estela paused to really consider what tool he couldn’t live without when doing his job since he uses a lot of important tools. He decided on radar. It can be very foggy and this tool helps avoid collisions (crashes). If he invented a tool, it would be a fog-clearing machine to be able to see smaller vessels (boats) or obstructions.

There are collateral (other) duties for him. He is responsible for inventorying all the equipment on board. Every computer. Every pillow. He also needs to make sure things are in working order. If boots wear out, he needs to order more. That means managing a lot of paper so he needs organization skills. His main duty, however, is navigation officer. He checks the tides and currents and posts all that information on a white board on the bridge. Maintaining charts, ship’s routes, and flags indicating our status are part of his job.  I enjoyed learning a bit more from Ensign Estela on plotting the course using triangles. Triangles provide a nice straight edge.

His advice to my students, and any young person, is to keep up your math and science. Don’t sit in front of the TV or computer, get outside and do things. It’s obvious he does since he bicycles, fishes, and enjoys salsa dancing for relaxation. We call this Sharpening the Saw.

Personal Log

This is the ships call sign.
This is the ships call sign.

This week my students are studying how to communicate across distances on the ocean. How do ships communicate, for example? A ship might not have a radio. Flags work. There is a flag which states what country you are from. There are flags that say you have a net or a diver in the water. There are flags which tell your call sign if you want to speak by radio. There is even a flag for every letter of the alphabet. All these flags are up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship.

Did You Know?

The ship usually uses true north for navigation. However, if that system fails, it uses magnetic north. North is 0°. That is like 90° on a coordinate grid. That is a bit confusing. We use degrees on maps all the time. Just remember that 0°N is used for navigation and wind direction.

Question of the Day 

Something to Think About

A tradition on board a ship is to remove one’s hat in the mess hall (dining area) and to not wear foul weather gear there. The mess hall was used during war as the hospital. People died on those tables and it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat. Hats are often used to show respect. People remove their hats at a ball game to sing the national anthem. Men tip their hats to acknowledge a woman’s presence. People remove their hats in eating establishments. It is good to learn a country’s or culture’s (such as a ship) customs so as not to offend someone. That is also a sign of respect. When visiting churches while a tourist in Russia, I covered my head and wore a skirt, as is their custom. On board ship, once I leave my room for my watch, I shouldn’t return until my watch is over. That means carrying my computer, cameras, notes, jacket, phone, cup, water bottle, etc. with me so I don’t disturb those asleep. It’s just like being quiet in the halls at school. Guess what? They don’t want us talking in these halls either since someone is always sleeping. It is rude to disturb others, whether it be their sleep or learning.

Suzanne Acord: Round the Clock Fun (and Learning) at Sea, March 21, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 21, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 6 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 2,275
Depth in feet: 13,650
Temperature: 25.1˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

The Bridge

Learning how to use the dividers for navigational purposes
Learning how to use the dividers for navigational purposes

The Sette crew frequently encourages me to explore the many operations that take place around the clock on the ship. I continue to meet new people who complete countless tasks that allow the Sette to operate smoothly and safely.

XO Haner explains how the radar functions
XO Haner explains how the radar functions on the bridge

NOAA Corps officers operate the bridge. The bridge is the central command station for the ship. NOAA Corps officers consistently ensure that everyone and everything on board is safe. Officers alternate shifts to monitor all radios and radar twenty-four hours a day.

They use numerous instruments to determine the ship’s location. A magnetic compass, maps, dividers, triangles, radar, a steering wheel, and visual observation are just a few of the resources used to guarantee we are on course. According to the NOAA Corps officers, the traditional magnetic compass continues to serve as one of the most reliable tools for navigation.

Location and weather data are officially recorded in the deck log on an hourly basis. However, officers are keeping an eye on the radar, compasses, and weather conditions every moment of the day. On top of that, they are monitoring nearby marine life, boats, and potential hazards.

Teamwork: NOAA Corps officers on the bridge
Teamwork: NOAA Corps officers on the bridge

Personal Log

Marine Mammal Observation Off the Kona Coast

Ali Bayless, Our Marine Mammal Observation (MMO) Lead, has thus far organized three MMO trips out on one of the small boats. Dropping a small boat from the Sette is a task that involves excellent and efficient communication among at least a dozen crew members. The small boat is carefully dropped into the water. Boat operators and scientists then climb down a ladder in their hard hats and lifejackets to embark on their day trip. Today, I was fortunate to take part in one of these MMO expeditions. Two scientists, two boat operators, and I ventured away from the Sette for three hours in hopes of spotting and hearing marine mammals. Excitingly, we did indeed spot up to one hundred spotted dolphins and spinner dolphins.

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If you look closely at the photos, you can see round spots on the dolphins. Our MMO lead believes these are cookie cutter shark bite marks. This is an indication that cookie cutter sharks live in this vicinity. Two of our scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium are hoping to return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with live cookie cutter sharks for the aquarium’s educational exhibits. There is a good possibility that we will find these sharks in our trawl lines that will be dropped later this week.

Listening to whales using the hydrophone during small boat operations.
Listening to whales using the hydrophone during small boat operations

Science Party Interview with Jessica Chen

University of Hawaii PhD student, Jessica Chen, is working the night shift in acoustics from 16:00 to 01:00 during this IEA cruise. She displays patience and a high level of knowledge when I stopped by to pester her around 20:00. During our conversation, Jessica stated that she is from Colorado and came to Hawaii for her graduate studies. She will complete her PhD in 2015. She is interested in learning more about marine mammal behavior through acoustic monitoring and analysis.

Jessica points to the line of micronekton during a late night conversation
Jessica points to the line of micronekton during a night shift conversation

This is Jessica’s second IEA cruise. Jessica, Aimee, and Adrienne monitor our acoustic screens 24/7. In the photo above, Jessica points out the slanted line (slanting up) that represents the diel (daily) vertical migration of the micronekton. The micronekton migrate daily from around 400-500 meters up to approximately 100 meters from the surface. Many even migrate all the way to the surface. When the sun goes down, they come up. When the sun comes up, they start their journey back down to their 400-500 meter starting point. Micronekton consist of potentially billions of small organisms including larval fish, crustaceans, and jellyfish. Their behavior is not completely understood at this point, but they may be migrating at these very specific times to avoid predators.

When asked what Jessica’s long term goals are, she shares that she would like to increase personal and public knowledge of the animals in the ocean. This will allow us to better manage the ocean and protect the ocean. It is clear that Jessica truly enjoys her work and studies. She states that she especially appreciates the opportunities to see wildlife such as dolphins and whales.

Did You Know?

Cookie cutter sharks have extremely sharp teeth. Their round bite is quick and leaves a mark that resembles one that could have been made with a cookie cutter. Hence the name, cookie cutter shark.

Louise Todd, From the Bridge, September 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots

Science and Technology Log:

This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II.  Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate, and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!

The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots.  It was built in 1967.  It has two engines although usually only one engine is used.  The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf.  The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line.  My stateroom is below the water line!  Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.

The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation.  There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles.  These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys.  When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination.  The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms,  as they develop.

Radar Screen
The radar screen is on the far right

Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.

The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car.  ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes.  Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.

Charts
Navigation charts

When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line.  It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship.  While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed.  Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed.  The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back.  The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in.  The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back.  The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge.  A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!

Personal Log:

I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge!  Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus.  Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station.  We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.

The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake.  We’ve had nice weather too!  A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.

Did you Know?

The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth.  There are A, B and C stations.  A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms.  B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms.  C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms.  One fathom is equal to 6 feet.  A fathometer is used to measure the depth.

Fathometer
The fathometer is the screen on the left

Jennifer Petro: Diving into the Deep, July 10, 2013

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

Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys
Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic
Date: July 10, 2013

Weather Data
Air temperature: 28.4°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1010.20 mb
Humidity: 76%
Wind direction: 103°
Wind speed: 1.5 knots
Water temp: 27.5° C (81.5°F)
Latitude: 32 81.67 N
Longitude: 78 12.95 W

Science and Technology Log

The most integral piece of equipment on board is the ROV.  A Super Phantom S2 to be precise.  The ROV is operated by the team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW).  Dubbed by me as the “ROV Guys”, Lance and Glenn have almost 50 years of combined experience working on and operating ROVs. The Super Phantom S2 is part of UNCW’s Undersea Vehicle Program which currently consists of 2 ROVs and 1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or (AUV).  In the fall they will be adding a third ROV to their fleet.  The ROV set-up is quite impressive and centers around one key component….communication.  The ROV is tethered to the ship by an umbilical.  During each and every dive the ROV operator is in constant contact with the ROV deck.  The umbilical is either payed out over the side or brought back in according to the dive depth and that needs to also be communicated to the wench operator.  The ROV deck is constantly watching the direction and tautness of the umbilical so that it does not get overstretched or goes into the boat’s prop.  All the time the ROV driver is in contact with the bridge.  So, there is a lot of communication and it is integral in every aspect of ROV operations.

Not only are all of the people involved in ROV ops communicating but the ROV and boat are communicating

as well.  The ROV uses an integrated navigation system to provide real-time tracking of the ROV and ship to the ROV operator and the Pisces bridge for navigation.  Ship and ROV positions with ROV depth, heading and altimeter reading are logged for each dive and provided to the scientist in an Excel file. Geo-referenced .tif files can be used as background files to aid in ROV and support vessel navigation.

The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fox the transducer early in the cruise.
The vessel has a machine shop which allowed the ROV guys to fix the transducer early in the cruise.

The front of the ROV showing spot lights and camera arrays.
The front of the ROV showing spotlights and camera arrays.

The ROV can go to a depth of approximately 305 meters (1000 ft).  Our deepest dive on this cruise is 200 meters (650 ft) which is 20 atm of pressure! What does that mean? At sea level, the weight of all the air above you creates one “atmosphere” (atm) of pressure equivalent to 14.7 pounds pressing on each square inch.  In the ocean, the pressure increases very rapidly with depth because water is much denser than air. For every 33 feet  (10 meters) of depth, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere.  So at 20 atmospheres there is a lot of pressure pushing down on all sides. It is the increase in pressure that makes it difficult to do manned deep water dives and one of the reasons why the use of ROVs is so important.

As an experiment we sent styrofoam cups that we had decorated in a bag along with the ROV down to a depth of 170 meters 550 ft.  The cups shrink due to the increased pressure of the water.  The deeper you go the more they will shrink.

Styrofoams cups.  Before and after being sent down with the ROV.
Styrofoams cups. Before and after being sent down with the ROV.

Data collection:  Data is collected during each dive by the means of video recording and still camera photos.  Each camera is in a special pressure rated, water proof housing.  There is special attention given to the 7 target species (5 of which we have recorded this cruise) as well as any new or interesting species that we have seen.  This data is analyzed back in the lab.  So far we have approximately 64 hours of video and 2400 still photos.  Needless to say reviewing the data is time-consuming but a very important aspect in confirming what we see during the actual cruise.

Still photos taken with the ROVs Nikon CoolPics camera.

Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phatom ROV.
Photos taken by the still camera of the UNCW Super Phantom ROV.

Dive 2246 064 08 56 40
Hogfish

Dive 2246 046 08 41 58

Driving the ROV is much like playing a video game, only you have many more screens you have to monitor.  I did get an opportunity to drive it over sand!  According to Lance it takes about 20 hours of training to learn to drive effectively drive the ROV.  There are no simulations, all of the drive time is hands-on and in the water.

Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.
Lance Horn giving me pointers on how to keep the ROV level and on course.

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Personal Log

While I was in the Acoustics Lab speaking with the folks that do the multibeam mapping, I looked down at the probes that they use and a single word jumped out at me: “Sippican”.  I know this word from my childhood.  We used to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Al in Marion, Massachusetts which sits on Sippican Harbor off of Buzzards Bay.  Sure enough the probes are made by Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc. located in Marion, MA.  This struck me as so apropos.  My Uncle Al was a marine biologist and started a research lab in Falmouth, MA.  I would go to the lab with him and count flounder larvae for hours on end.  He was very instrumental in developing my love for marine science and I was overjoyed to have a connection, albeit small, to a man whose work I admired very much.

Robert Ulmer: Quo Vadimus? June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 55⁰47.254’, W 130⁰58.264’

(at anchor in Behm Canal at the mouth of Chickamin River)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 16, 2013

Weather conditions:  26.04⁰C, scattered altocumulus clouds, 32.91% relative humidity, 1012.18 mb of atmospheric pressure, light variable winds (speed of less than 3 knots with a heading between 26⁰ and 51⁰)

A bit of breathing room in Wrangell Narrows
A rare bit of breathing room in the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through Wrangell Narrows

Explorer’s Log:  Preparing for the transit through Wrangell Narrows

When watching a great concert, recital, or athletic event, we often forget the hours upon hours of preparation that were invested before the starting whistle or the rise of the curtain.  History remembers and recites the first few moments of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the surface of Earth’s moon, but too often neglected from that history are the many years of research, discussion, calculation, prediction, and practice by thousands of people – including Armstrong – prior to that famous “one small step,” for without those advance preparations the brilliant moment likely never would have occurred.

Photos at the top of Everest belie the training, packing, mapping, and grueling climb that precede the snapshot.  Last-minute buzzer beaters arise out of years of dribbling and shooting in empty gyms long after scheduled team workouts end.   The revolutionary insights of Copernicus and Kepler were built upon hundreds of previous models and millions of recorded observations and related calculations.  Great campaigns are waged on drawing boards long before they approach the battlefield.

Chart showing approach to Wrangell Narrows
This is the chart used during the navigational team meeting in preparation for Rainier’s approach to Wrangell Narrows.

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier the culture of preparation is omnipresent.  Posted on the door of my stateroom and carried in my pocket at all times is a billet card that delineates where I am to report and what task I am assigned in each of several emergency situations aboard ship.  Within an hour of getting underway from the port of Juneau, the alarm sounded for a fire drill, and every person aboard reported smartly to his or her assigned station.  Heads were accounted, gear was readied, and some crew members even donned full firefighting suits and deployed hoses and fans to address the fictional fire in the XO’s office.  Because every person aboard knew his or her role in advance, the ship was prepared for the drill.  And more importantly, because the entire ship participated actively in the drill, dealing with a genuine emergency, if necessary, will be more seamless and effective.

Then only ten minutes later, the alarm rang again.  This time an abandon ship drill.  As assigned, I retrieved my emergency gear and moved quickly to Muster Station 1 on the starboard bridge wing, where ACO Mark Van Waes explained in detail what would happen in the event of such an emergency.

Teamwork and Safety first
As this sign above the fantail proudly displays, NOAA Ship Rainier values teamwork and puts safety first in all operations and missions.

Leaving the dock at Juneau Port
Careful navigation requires attention to details, like avoiding this small dock while leaving Juneau Port.

Of course, most of the preparatory work aboard Rainier is not about emergency situations, but rather is focused on readying for the work of navigating and operating the ship or the scientific missions of conducting surveys and samples, and that aspect of life aboard ship is non-stop.  Everywhere around me, crew members and scientists are constantly working together, giving formal and informal trainings and lessons, offering one another ideas, insights, questions, and answers, unencumbered by the impediments of pride and arrogance that too often prevent achievement through growth.  To the left of me, a young ensign is given room to make navigational decisions, while to my right two expert hydrographers consult available data and each other while they brainstorm about technical and theoretical issues on their own horizons.

Passing Petersburg, Alaska
The entrance to Wrangell Narrows is alongside the town of Petersburg, Alaska.

Reviewing the data and documents during the mission
Scientists from the survey team review data and documents while aboard the launch.

And the gathering of minds aboard Rainier is impressive.  Today the hydrographic survey team assembled in the wardroom to talk about the upcoming week’s launches of smaller vessels to perform multi-beam sonar surveys and gather bed samples from the floor of Behm Canal.  Under the guidance of FOO Mike Gonsalves, data were shared, schedules were outlined, and every member of the team – regardless of rank or role – was encouraged to share thoughts, concerns, and inquiries relevant to preparation for the task at hand, the ultimate task of this leg of Rainier’s mission.  Like those other great events throughout history, here is yet another example of prior preparation preventing poor performance at the critical moment.  And those were not the last conferences regarding the survey launches, either.  A meeting regarding safety and other last-minute issues was held on the fantail before putting the launches out, and the various people aboard each small vessel constantly interacted to update and modify their ideas before executing their actions.

(Note:  My next blog post will be about the scientific survey launches, so stay tuned!)

The view forward through Wrangell Narrows
A panoramic view of the passage forward through Wrangell Narrows

The most impressive preparation during the past few days, though, was that of the navigational crew.  After hours of work compiling past data and available current information and building itemized route plans for passage through the potentially-treacherous Wrangell Narrows, Ensign JC Clark led a large and comprehensive meeting to discuss every bit of the upcoming traverse.  Utilizing charts, mathematics, weather forecasts, and expert opinions, the group of men and women in the boardroom created a plan of execution that considered everything from tides to local traffic, from channel depths to buoy patterns.  Adjustments were made in an air of excitement tempered by the confidence of experience, preparation, and skill.

Alidade on starboard bridge wing
This device (called an alidade) on the starboard bridge wing is used for visual bearings.

And when the ship approached the town of Petersburg at the mouth of Wrangell, the preparation paid off.  Turn after turn, command after command, the teamwork was superb, and the resulting passage was seamless.  The ride was so smooth as the bridge maneuvered Rainier through the slalom in that deep and narrow fjord, that only the beautiful scenery itself was breathtaking.

Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger practicing knots
During a brief opportunity to look away from the water, Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger worked on maintaining his expert knot-tying skills.

We tend to envision genuine explorers as being people who dare to travel beyond the horizon, choosing adventure over caution every time they set out.  But the truth is that every great explorer, long before he lifts his foot for the first step of the travel, asks himself and his companions:  Quo vadimus?

Where are we going?

Pre-launch meeting on the fantail
Field Operations Officer Mike Gonsalves conducts one last survey team meeting on the fantail before the launches get underway.

The answer to that question might be a physical location, or it could just as easily be a direction.  Up that mountain.  Toward that little island.  Around the bend.  It could even be broad and metaphorical.

Sea lions basking on a buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows
The ACO pulled out the binoculars to answer his own question of why that red buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows was listing so much to the right. The tilt was because these sea lions were using the buoy to bask in the warm near-solstice sun.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

ACO Van Waes shared with me a superb insight:  The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map outlines a suggested path of travel, while the chart simply shows the traveler what things are out there.  The hydrographic survey teams and supporting scientists who work for NOAA make nautical charts so that seagoing explorers can continue the great human endeavor of creating their own maps to turn curiosity into discovery, and I am very proud to spend these weeks working and learning among the people who keep that grand tradition going forward.

So prepare yourselves, practice your skills, plan a bit, and choose a direction or two.  And then keep exploring, my friends.

Personal Log:  Father’s Day

On the day before I left Florida I cropped my hair closely and stopped shaving my face (for the first time ever), in part to minimize the need for maintenance away from home, and also as a minor-league scientific experiment to compare rates of hair growth on the face and on the crown.  After five days the chin, cheeks, and jawline seem to be winning the race.  But the most interesting datum – as so often is the case in scientific tests – is a peripheral notation:  When passing a reflective window this morning, I saw a familiar face framed by the short beard and small wrinkles at the edges of the sunglasses under the brim of my hat, but the face that I saw wasn’t my own.  This third Sunday in June, thousands of miles from home, sort of pensively half-smiling at a fleeting thought that was blending with a pretty view of the treeline off starboard, I saw the face of my dad looking back at me.  And my smile grew a bit softer and fuller when I caught glimpses of my sons in the reflection, too.

So happy Father’s Day to you three other Ulmer men who do so much to define this Ulmer boy.  I’m proud of you, and I love you guys.

And on behalf of children everywhere, happy Father’s Day to the rest of you readers who have undertaken the great task of raising kids.  Your work is important.  

Did you know?

Underway through Gastineau Channel
Underway through Gastineau Channel, outbound from Juneau

The ship’s propellers are called screws because essentially they spiral through the water to propel the boat forward by pulling water from in front and pushing it backward.  NOAA Ship Rainier has two screws, one starboard (right) and one port (left), and they spin in opposite directions to make smoother and more efficient fluid dynamics.  On this ship the screws constantly spin, but they are tilted differently to increase or decrease forward propulsion.

To increase forward vessel speed, the screws hang with a vertical profile so that the water moves horizontally backward from the boat, thus pushing the boat forward.  To decrease forward vessel speed, the screws are tilted toward a more horizontal plane, decreasing the backward push of water, and consequently reducing the ship’s thrust force.  It’s very much like holding your open, flat hand outside the window of a moving car and feeling the wind push it backward, upward, or downward, depending upon the angle of your palm relative to the car’s (and the wind’s) trajectory.  Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that every action comes with an equal and opposite reaction, and so the more directly backward the water is pushed, the more directly forward (with the same amount of force) the ship is pushed in the opposite direction.

Sue Cullumber: Navigating for Plankton – It’s a Team Effort! June 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date:  6/15/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude:  4234.645N, 6946.914W
Temperature: 15.4ºC, 60ºF
Barometer: 1011.48 mb
Speed: 9.4 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton is everywhere throughout the ocean, so how are the stations chosen and mapped?

IMG_9715
Looking over the map of our strata – photo by Cristina Bascuñán

Scientists first decide on a specific region or strata that they want to sample.  Then within this strata a specific number of stations is determined for sampling.  NOAA has developed a computer program that then randomly selects stations in the strata.  After these stations are generated, scientists play “connect the dots” to find the best route to get to all the stations. Once the route is generated adjustments are made based on time, weather and the team’s needs. These are plotted on a map and sent to the ship to see if further adjustments will need to be made.

IMG_9716
Map of our area of strata. We are currently following the red line. Many of the original stations to the east were dropped from the survey.

When the ship receives the map from the science party, they plot all the stations and make a track line to determine the shortest navigable route that they can take. Frequently the map that is originally provided has to be adjusted due to weather, navigation issues (if there is a shoal, or low area, the route may have to be changed), or ship problems. Once they come up with a plan, this has to be re-evaluated on a daily basis. For example during our survey we left four days later than planned, so many of the stations had to be taken out. Furthermore a large storm was coming in, so the route was changed again to avoid this weather. The Operation’s Officer onboard (Marc Weekley on the Gordon Gunter) speaks with the science party on a daily basis to keep the plan up to date and maintain a safe route throughout the survey.

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The Gyro Compass on the Gordon Gunter.

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The Sperry Marine – shows the location of vessels near the Gordon Gunter.

IMG_9700
Commanding Officer, Jeff Taylor, at the bridge with Ops Officer, Marc Weekley at the watch.

Ship Technology: The Gordon Gunter and all other NOAA vessels use many types of equipment to navigate the ship.  They have an electronic Gyro Compass which is constantly spinning to point to True North (not magnetic north).  This is accurate to a 10th of a degree and allows for other navigation systems on the ship to know with great accuracy what direction the ship is pointing. It also is used to steer the ship in auto pilot. When needed they can switch to manual control and hand steer the ship. They also have a magnetic compass onboard, if all electronics were to go out on the ship.  Also on the bridge are two radars, which provides position of all boats in the area and is used for collision avoidance. Underway, the Captain requires the ship to stay at least 1 nautical mile from other vessels unless he gives commands otherwise.

Once a station is reached the ship has to position itself so it will not go over the wire that is attached to the survey equipment.  Taking into consideration all of  the elements, which includes the wind speed, current weather conditions and the speed of the current, they usually try to position the boat so that the wind is on its port side.  In this way the wind is on the same side as the gear and it will not hit the propellors or the hull. The ship’s sonars determine the depth of the ocean floor and the scientists use this information to lower their equipment to a distance just above this depth.

IMG_9738
Cathleen Turner and Kevin Ryan take water samples from the Rosette.

Vocabulary:

Bow – front of the ship

Stern – back of the ship

Port – left of bow

Starboard – right of bow

Personal Log: 

Brrr… it’s cold!  To avoid the big storm we headed north to the Bay of Fundy that is located between Maine and Nova Scotia.  Seas were fairly calm, but was it cold at 9º C (48ºF), but with the wind chill it was probably closer to 5.5ºC (42ºF)!  We are now heading south so it is starting to warm up, but luckily it won’t be as hot as Arizona!

Loggerheadshark - tom
Loggerhead turtle being tracked by a Blue Shark – photo by Tom Johnson

readyfortakeoff
Shearwater trying to take off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to take photos of animals in the ocean is very difficult.  You have to be in the right place, at the right time, and be ready. Today we saw several sightings of whales, but they were in the distance and only lasted a second.  During this trip, there was also a sighting of a shark attacking a Loggerhead turtle, but by the time I got to the bridge we had passed it by.  Lately we have seen a great variety of sea birds including:  shearwaters, puffins, sea gulls, and about twenty fiver other types. Even though it can be a little frustrating at times, it is still very calming to look out over the ocean and the sunsets are always amazing!

shipinpinkandbluew
Sailing into a beautiful sunset

I can’t believe that there is only one week left for the survey.  Time has gone so fast and I have learned so much.  Tomorrow we are doing a boat exchange and some people are leaving while others will come onboard.  I will miss those people that are leaving the ship, but look forward to meeting new people that will join our team.

Did you know?  The ratio of different salts (ions) in the ocean water are the about same in all of the world’s oceans.

puffin
One of the pufffins we saw up by Maine.

Bill Lindquist: Life at Sea, May 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 6, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clear skies
10.5 C (51 F)
Wind: 4 knots out of the south

Science and Technology Log

Navigational Science

My iPhone will pinpoint my location on a highway map and lay out a course to get me wherever I need to go. Navigating by canoe from lake to lake within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) requires a map, compass, and discerning eye. The tools of navigation on board an ocean-going vessel requires far more than a phone or a map and compass, yet similarities do exist. As a guest on the bridge, I had the chance to witness the team effort put in to safely get us where we needed to be. Like canoeing, navigation begins with a map, compass, and a good plan.

Charting a track
Charting a track

A path (track) is drawn on the nautical charts with waypoints identifying track adjustments to be made. Compass headings to get from one waypoint to the next are written in.  Progress along this track is regularly noted on the chart. While paper and pencil keeps the track grounded and secure, the primary navigation on the Rainier is electronic. Digital charts created by earlier surveyors are displayed along with our location pinpointed by GPS data accessed through high power receivers atop the ship – difficult at times in these remote portions of SE Alaska surrounded by the mountains. The track penciled on paper is plotted digitally and the journey begins. The Conn officer reads the map and calls out to the helmsman the heading to take.

At the helm
At the helm

The helmsman repeats it to assure it was heard correctly and turns the ship’s wheel to the new heading noting it with a dry erase marker on a small whiteboard on the helm station. The ship’s heading is indicated by an overhead digital compass display and held steady until the next waypoint is reached. Safe navigation requires a smoothly running team. The Conn officer and helmsman continue back and forth making any necessary adjustments while a third keeps a close eye on the radar. Another scans ahead with binoculars to note any floating debris to avoid.

Keeping a sharp eye ahead
Keeping a sharp eye ahead

Depth is continuously monitored along with notations of tide and currents. Weather conditions are recorded. All operations are carefully coordinated and monitored by the assigned Officer on the Deck.

Complicating navigation in this part of Alaska is the difference between the geographic north pole and magnetic north pole. Our compasses align with magnetic north – a different place from geographic north or “true north”. All charts and maps reference true north. Failure to account for this difference leads to getting lost. In Minnesota true north and geographic north are so close the difference is seldom noticed. In this area of Alaska the difference between true north and where a compass points is approximately 17 degrees. Fortunately, the ships gyrocompasses automatically account for this difference and report headings aligned with the true north of the charts.

A majestic view off the bow
A majestic view off the bow

Following our plan, we made it today from Ketchikan to Burroughs Bay in Behm Canal. Our work plan called for anchoring in the bay and getting to work in the morning. To anchor my canoe I simply throw out a small anchor attached to a rope and am set. Successfully anchoring the Rainier required the joint work of many. Within much of the bay the waters far enough from shore were too deep to gain a sufficient hold to keep the ship in position. With the ship’s Commander in charge, we maneuvered within the bay carefully monitoring the depths to identify a suitable location finally finding a shelf that appeared would work. The drop anchor command was given and 16+ fathoms (one fathom equals 6 feet) of chain held within the confines of the ship for six months quickly reeled out raising clouds of dust. It held.

Dropping anchor
Dropping anchor

Personal Log

Life at sea

There is a palpable pulse to the floating community that must exist to live and work together on a ship at sea. The quarters are close with minimal space to roam. The ongoing work lies amidst the everyday tasks of living causing leisure time to mix with work time. The functions of the ship go on 24 hours a day. On the ship Rainier, distinct, but united groups work side by side: NOAA Corps officers, survey technicians, the maritime crew, stewards, the ship’s engineers, and the occasional Teacher at Sea. To successfully collect the terabytes of data going into the making of new and revised nautical charts, all members of the ship’s personnel must work as a cohesive whole.

I have been blessed with a warm reception from each of these groups. The ship’s Commander and an Ensign welcomed me at the airport ferry and escorted me to the ship. The Ensign helped begin to unravel the labyrinth of passageways that eventually brought me to my state room. A conversation with my roommate gave me a glimpse into the role of the NOAA Corps. A crewman caught me in my roaming and offered a guided tour of the bridge and small boats. I was given an introduction to the personal side of life at sea by another over coffee. Yet another provided an extensive introduction to the complexities of modern navigation found on the bridge.  An engineer provided a close up tour into the bowels of the engine room.  These expressions of welcome were offered freely. It was evident that each of these people are proud members of this Rainier community, living and working side-by-side on a daily basis. Life at sea isn’t for the partially committed. Each of these people give up extended months at a time away from their loved ones in their commitment to this task. I was struck by a conversation with the engineer shared over breakfast. After a break from sea life, he found he had to return to sea to satisfy the salt water coursing in his blood.

I made it. I am officially a teacher at sea. Life is good.

Lesley Urasky: June 30, 2012, Goodbye Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 30, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 29.1215
Longitude: -78.9042

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Water Temperature:
Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10 mph), Beaufort scale:  3
Wind Direction: from W-SW
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:   1,012.0 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

During our last night, I had the Third Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement, give me a tour of the engine room and fresh water system.  I can’t believe the engineers are able to work down there – the noise and heat (110°) is amazing!

Steve Clement, Third Assistant Engineer, explaining how things work in the engine room.

I’m not a mechanically oriented person, so Steve had to keep his explanations short; it was more of a show-and-tell tour.  The engine room, majority of equipment controlling the ship’s motion, and water treatment are located on the bottom deck of the ship.  The quantity of both electronic and mechanical equipment is mind-boggling; all the men who work in this capacity have to be proficient in so many areas so the ship can support the science missions.  Hats off to all those hard-working and talented men!

Computer screen showing the operations in the generation plant on the Pisces.

The operation of the ship can be monitored on the main distribution computer screen.  Levels of fluids and functioning of all the components are continually assessed and modifications to operation made from the control panel.

Computer screen showing current fuel consumption for each generator.

The ship uses lots of diesel fuel when it is operating at full steam (14.5 knots/hour) – around 2,500 gallons a day!  The Pisces has a tank capacity of 110,000 gallons; I’d hate to pay their fuel bill when it’s time to fill up! This quantity of fuel allows it to travel about 12,000 NM (nautical miles) or 13,800 miles; that’s a little over half-way around the Earth on one tank of fuel!

Two of the Pisces‘ generators: the one on the left is a 12-cylinder and an 8-cylinder on the right.

The propeller is located at the stern (back) of the ship.  I was able to look down through grating in the floor and see the drive shaft turning at 134 rpm.  It has a diameter of 14.1 feet; it has to be so large so that it can efficiently move the ship through the water.

Main shaft of the Pisces‘ propeller.

Lastly, I got to see the Pisces‘ water generation system.  This is as important as the ship’s engines because without fresh water, the scientists and crew members wouldn’t have drinking water as well as no water for washing or cooking.  The ship isn’t big enough to carry all the freshwater that it needs for a long cruise.  But with reverse osmosis technology, and the fact that we’re surrounded by nothing but water, fresh water is readily available.  The Pisces takes in seawater which is pumped through a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis (RO) system that creates fresh water for the Pisces.

In reverse osmosis, the salty water is forced (pumped) through membranes with very small openings.  These are so small that the ions making the water “salty” cannot pass through; the water is able to pass and after leaving the ions behind, becomes fresh water.  The RO system on the Pisces generates about 624 gallons per hour.  The tan “box” in the picture above contains all of the controls and gauges.  The long, white tube behind it contains the permeable membrane that the water is forced through.

Membrane filter in a reverse osmosis apparatus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Personal Log

It is with some sadness that my adventure as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has come to an end.  Today I said goodbye to the crew of the Pisces.  They are an amazing crew, and made my final portion of the cruise without the scientists interesting and fun.  I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about being without the scientists and seeing the ship under different circumstances (lacking a specific scientific objective), but the Pisces steamed forward with two goals in mind: retrieving the buoy (see my last posting on June 27), and arriving in Mayport in a timely manner to receive the next group of scientists as they embark on their cruise.  I’d like to invite you to continue to follow the Pisces and their new Teacher at Sea, Marsha Skoczek as she learns about Deep Sea Corals.

Pisces life preserver

On the afternoon of the 28th, we encountered a line of squalls generated by Tropical Depression Debby as she moved off the coast of Florida and into the Atlantic.  At one point, we had 40 knot (46 mph) winds and rain.  After the winds had died down a bit, I spent some time up on the bridge. Being up so high in the ship, coupled with 8-foot confused seas (waves coming in from different directions) began to make me feel seasick.  I took another meclazine (similar to Dramamine), had some saltine crackers and ginger ale, and sat on deck looking at the horizon for a while.  When even this failed to make me feel better, I crawled into bed.  I really must have been feeling poorly to miss dinner!

By next morning, the seas had calmed down dramatically, and I was feeling as good as new.  As this was our last full day at sea, I headed up to the bridge to do one last thing that the Commanding Officer told me I could do – drive the ship!  While the ship is underway, it is usually under “auto-pilot”.  A course can be entered into the computer and the ship doesn’t need anyone actively at the helm.  The Navigational Officer, Ensign Michael Doig, placed the Pisces under manual control and showed me how to steer the ship.  The Pisces is an incredibly responsive ship and can turn very quickly in just a few feet.  I was shown the current heading and the compass and tried to keep the ship on course – it was definitely much harder than it looks!  After zig-zagging back and forth, off course by about 10 degrees, I handed control back to Ensign Doig.

Lesley Urasky at the helm (aka “driving” the ship).

After this concentration zapping task, he had me plot our current position on the navigational chart and record the hourly weather information.  This included the ship’s current latitude and longitude, course heading, wind speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.

These are some of the nautical charts the Pisces used while on our cruise: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and East Coast of Florida: Approaches to St. Johns River

Lesley Urasky plotting the Pisces‘ current position

While many aspects of travel in the modern age have various computer based technologies to assist with navigation, the crew still needs to know how to find their location manually. I spent some time learning about navigation with Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate on the Pisces.  He showed me how they plot their course on a navigational chart.  Once a ship’s current location is determined, those crew members on watch will use dead reckoning to determine where they will be at a given point in time if all the current conditions remain the same (course and speed).  Peter also attempted to show me how to determine the time of sunrise/sunset for each specific location using our latitude, longitude, and an almanac.  For an interesting way to determine when sunrise/sunset (as well as moon rise/set) for your specific location, NOAA has a great website called Solar Calculator.  This site will also tell you when solar noon occurs (point where the sun is most directly overhead) and show you the path the sun takes across the sky.

Plotting our current position and using dead reckoning to project future positions.

Unfortunately, at that point in time, I wasn’t able to fully understand Peter’s directions as the seasickness was just beginning to hit me. The effects were compounded by being up on the bridge (almost the highest point on the ship) and trying to follow lines of small numbers in the almanac while the ship was being  buffeted by waves from all directions.

As my final day at sea came to a close, I spent quite a bit of time “prowling” the ship and taking pictures of all the little things that had become so “ordinary” to me.  After dinner, I climbed up to the flying deck and spent time watching the sunset with the Commanding Officer (CO), Peter Fischel.  It was a beautiful sight; one that I’ll always remember.

Sunset on the last night of the cruise.

Before I went to bed, I checked the ship’s information board to find out when we’d be arriving in Mayport, Florida.  The board holds important information and updates the crew needs to know as part of their jobs as well as other useful information.

Information board on the NOAA ship Pisces.

Last night when I went to bed, there was nothing but open ocean surrounding the ship.  When I woke up the next morning, the sun was rising and Mayport/Jacksonville, Florida could be seen along our port side (left).  It was a welcome sight after not seeing land for a few days.  However, I knew this view was also bringing my adventure to an end.  It was an amazing journey and full of wonderful experiences.  I met so many kind and knowledgeable people who I won’t soon forget.  A HUGE thank you to NOAA, the science team, and the crew members of the Pisces!

Panoramic view of the Mayport Harbor as we pull in at the end of our cruise.

Deborah Campbell: May 21st, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission:  Collecting Zebra Arc Shells and Multibeam Mapping
Geographical Area:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Monday, May 21, 2012

Teacher on land, Deborah Campbell, on Atlantic Beach near Mayport Navel Base in Florida.

Mission: Multibeam Mapping, Arc shell collections, Marine debris monitering, Fish telemetry, Acoustic receiver deployment/ maintenance

Weather Data from the Bridge: Monitoring Tropical Storm “Alberto”

Science and Technology Log

I am currently a “Teacher on Land”.  Tropical storm “Alberto” has forced our ship to dock in Florida.  I found out Saturday evening around 7:30 in the evening about the storm.  The CO (commanding officer) held a meeting in the mess deck (eating area) to inform all crew about the change in plans.  We were informed that we were heading to Florida to get away from the storm.  The plan would be to arrive in Florida at the Mayport Naval Base at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  If the storm stayed on track as predicted we would leave Florida on Monday at 5:00 p.m.

A tropical storm causes high winds ranging from 33 – 73 miles per hour, and very high waves.  There is a weather buoy located by Gray’s Reef tracking weather conditions.  The Nancy Foster is docked at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville, Florida.  Another NOAA ship, Okeanos  Explorer, is docked behind us. Okeanos Explorer was headed north to Rhode Island which is their home base , when they had to turn around. What is really cool about Okeanos is that it has a giant soccer ball which is their satellite system.

CO Holly Jablonski on bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

On the bridge of the ship, the CO (commanding officer), and her crew use the ship’s computers to monitor radar, weather, navigation, and water depth.  The ship is equipped with GPS (global positioning system).  GPS is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information.  In all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites, weather can be tracked.  The GPS system is maintained by the United States government, and can be accessed by anyone using a GPS receiver.

Personal Log

Deborah Campbell, Teacher At Sea standing on top of submarine from Brazil at Mayport Navel Base in Florida

The view of Mayport Naval Base is amazing.  This base is like a city having everything imaginable.  There is a bowling alley, a hotel, stores, restaurants, a beach, a gym, and much more.  Yesterday, we went outside the guarded gates to the beach area.  We ate at a nice restaurant.  I am now having trouble walking on land.  It feels like I am still on the ship.  Today, I walked outside the gates where the ships are to go get some pizza for lunch.  I had to show the armed Navy guards my I.D.  We walked quite a distance.  We stopped at the base exchange to buy some magazines and snacks.  On the way back, I stopped where the submarine Tikuna, from Brazil is docked.  I got to climb on top of the sub.  It was very cool.  Some of our crew from the Nancy Foster went down a very steep ladder into the sub.  We are expecting to resume activities at Gray’s Reef on Tuesday.  We are heading back around eight this evening.  Okeanos Explorer left at ten this morning, and they are reporting rough seas as they head back to Rhode Island.  The crew will continue to monitor weather conditions….

Bridge deck computer systems aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

LT Josh Slater entering submarine Tikuna

Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith
A pollock otolith.

Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart
This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.

This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

petrel
Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star

Sanddollars

Juvenile fish

Brittle stars

Sponge

Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety
These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.

David Altizio May 24-26 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Altizio
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
May 17 – May 27, 2010

NOAA ship Fairweather
Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE Alaska,
from Petersburg, AK to Seattle, WA
Dates: Monday, May 24 and Tuesday, May 25,
Wednesday, May 26

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Hassler Harbor
Time: 0800 on 5/24
Latitude: 550 13.06’ N
Longitude: 1310 27.15’ W
Clouds: Light drizzle
Visibility: 8 miles
Position: Inside Passage
Winds: Light with variable directions
Time: 0800 on 5/25
Waves: Less than one foot Latitude: 52024.5’N
Dry Bulb Temperature: 11.20C
Longitude: 128030.0’W
Wet Bulb Temperature: 10.00C
Clouds: Mostly Cloudy
Barometric Pressure: 1006.4 mb
Visibility: 10 + miles
Tides (in feet):
Winds: 10 knots from the NE
Low @ 0439 of 0.1
Waves: One to three feet
High @ 1055 of 13.1
Dry Bulb Temperature: 11.00C
Low @ 1637 of 2.2
Wet Bulb Temperature: 10.10C
High @ 2254 of 16.4
Barometric Pressure: 1009.1 mb
Sunrise: 0422
Sunset: 2105

Science and Technology Log

On Monday we were testing one of the multi‐beam sonar transmitters that had not been working properly on the Fairweather, in Hassler Harbor near Ketchikan, AK. In order to verify that the device is working properly the ship went back and forth over an area that has previously been mapped from all different directions. This is called patch testing. Ideally you are looking for no difference in the data from one test to another test.

Me,at the helm,driving the Fairweather.

Me, practicing using the line throwing device.

While on board Monday, we also practiced using a line throwing device. This piece of equipment can be used for ship to ship rescue operations, or to get a line onto a pier if needed, or for other rescue operations. The device is powered by 3000 lbs. of compressed air. Today we only fired a test line, but the real one can travel almost 200 meters. Being prepared and knowing what to do in the case of an emergency is extremely important while out at sea. Not only was I allowed to use the device, but so was anyone else on board who had not learning how to use it properly.

Marine aneroid barometer measures air pressure.

Digital anemometer showing wind speed and wind direction.

I have also been collecting and recording the weather data from the bridge of the ship. These observations are made every hour. There are many different meteorological instruments on the Fairweather. The atmospheric pressure is recorded using an aneroid barometer. The dry and wet bulb temperature readings were taken off of a sling psychrometer, just outside of the bridge. The wind direction and wind speed were taken from a digital anemometer and verified using the vectors of the wind direction and the heading of the ship. The visibility, wave height and the cloud cover are estimated visually by observing them from the bridge of the ship.

One of the ship’s officers, tracking our plot by hand on the chart.

Me taking the temperatures off of a psychrometer outside of the bridge.

I was also given the opportunity to man the helm and drive the Fairweather, for about 10 minutes as we headed south towards British Columbia, Canada. The bridge of the Fairweather has a many different screens, monitors, sensors and gauges. In order to see where we are going there are digital charts, which have our path projected on them. Also, some of the ship’s officers will verify our position along our course by hand. The depth to the bottom is determined by a fathometer, which works by using SONAR, not as complex as the multi‐beam mapping but more similar to a fish finder. In many maritime activities the depth is measured in fathoms. One fathom is approximately 1.8 meters or 6 feet. Knowing where you are and where other vessels are is extremely important.

Some of the Fairweather’s navigation systems.

Digital fathometer, measuring depth to the bottom using SONAR

The Fairweather has enough beds to hold a maximum of 58 crew members. The ships personnel is divided between: NOAA Corps officers, survey, deck, engineers, stewards,  electronics technician and visitors. There are almost 15 NOAA officers on the Fairweather, including the CO (commanding officer), XO (executive officer), FOO (field operations officer), and all the way thru captain lieutenant commander, 3rd mate, lieutenant, and ensigns. The survey group has approximately 10 people including the chief survey technician, senior, regular, and assistants.

More of the Fairweather’s navigation systems.

Digital readout of ship’s GPS (global positioning system) for precise latitude & longitude, speed in knots, and heading in degrees.

The deck group has 12 people and they help to maintain the deck areas, drive the launch boats, and help out in the anchoring and docking processes. There are 10 engineers who  make sure the ship is running properly. There are three stewards (cooks) who are amazing and make sure everyone is fed very well. There are 2 electronics technicians, and anywhere from two to five visitors, such as teachers at sea, technology support, mission/NOAA related personnel.

My stateroom on the Fairweather’s.

Fairweather’s store.

The Fairweather was originally commissioned in October 1968, deactivated in 1989 but a critical backlog of surveys for nautical charts in Alaska was a motivating factor to reactivate it in August 2004. The home port for the Fairweather is Ketchikan, AK and it operates mostly in Alaskan coastal waters. It is designed and outfitted primarily for  conducting hydrographic surveys in support of nautical charting, but is capable of many other missions in support of NOAA programs. The ship is equipped with the latest in hydrographic survey technology – multi‐beam survey systems; high‐speed, high‐resolution side‐scan sonar; position and orientation systems, hydrographic survey launches,  and an on‐board data‐processing server. It is 232 feet long, with a beam of 42 feet. It weighs 1,591 tons and the hull is made of welded steel. The Fairweather has a range of 6,000 autical miles, can stay at sea for 30 days, and has an average cruising speed of 12 knots.

The galley (kitchen) on the Fairweather.

Dish washing station on the Fairweather.

Mess hall (dining area) on the Fairweather.

One of the food storage areas on the Fairweather.

The staterooms on the Fairweather are fine for two people to live in. There is a bunk bed, dresser/desk area, closets, sink, small refrigerator, and a TV. The food on the Fairweather is really good, not just for being at sea, but really good with a lot of different options. There is also a small store where you can buy candy, soda and clothing with logos and images of the ship. There is a small workout room that people do use to keep active. There are three different food storage areas, one for dry goods, a refrigerated area, and a freezer. The Fairweather also has laundry facilities and a sick bay.

Laundry room on the Fairweather.

Fairweather at Customhouse Cove.

Personal Log

It is hard to believe that we are already heading south towards Seattle, WA. I have really enjoyed my time onboard the Fairweather and will never forget these experiences. Being a Teacher at Sea is amazing and I highly recommend it. I have seen so many different and new things that I can now add to my “teacher toolbox”.

On Monday, being able to learn how to use the line throwing device was very cool, but that was not the highlight of my day. I was also given the opportunity to man the helm, and drive the Fairweather for about 10 minutes. It is amazing that a ship this big is so responsive to small changes in the angle of the rudders. It was sort of like driving a really big car, in the sense that when you turn the wheel right the ship goes right and turning left makes the ship go left. There is a lot to do when at the helm. You have to make sure that we are following the correct heading, going the proper speed, not heading towards any other vessels or obstructions such as logs or other debris, and in water that is deep enough for the ship. As much fun as it was it was a little nerve racking, my palms were definitely sweaty.

Along the Inside Passage

I did have the help of four other NOAA officers to assist me and help me know what to do. It is not only up to the person at the helm to make decisions about what to do or which course to follow. The Fairweather is definitely a place where the junior officers are being trained and learning what to do in all types of situations. This aspect of helping and learning was prevalent in many aspects of what I observed while onboard the Fairweather and was great to see.

A while after I manned the helm, the seas got a little rougher as we went through Dixon entrance which marks the boundary between SE Alaska and British Columbia Canada. Here we were exposed to ocean swell from the Pacific Ocean/Gulf of Alaska. I was very glad this did not go on for too long. I made the mistake of trying to write this log while the ship was rocking and rolling a little bit. Not such a good idea. One of the officers told me to put down the computer, go out on the stern (back) of the ship, and look at land along the horizon. Being outside in the fresh air, while looking at land made me feel much better.

The sick bay on the Fairweather.

The rest of the trip towards Seattle has been very nice. The seas have not been too rough, and I am really enjoying the scenery as we go through the inside passage of British Columbia, Canada. Coming home and going back to New Rochelle High School will definitely be a change from the last two weeks. I will never forget the places, people and the science I have been exposed to in my time on the Fairweather in SE Alaska. We are now in the Puget Sound, and Seattle is almost in sight and I am ready to be home, back in New York.
Signing out, David Altizio Teacher at Sea

Christine Hedge, September 3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 3, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Latitude: 780 34’N
Longitude: 1360 59’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.
Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.

Low-Impact Exploring 

Some of my previous logs have talked about sound in the Arctic Ocean.  Sounds made by seals, whales, ice cracking and ridges forming, bubbles popping, wind, waves – these are the normal or ambient noises that have always occurred. As governments, scientists, and corporations explore the Arctic their presence will have an impact. Ships breaking ice and the seismic instruments they use to explore, add noise to the environment.  We call this man-made noise, anthropogenic noise.  Will these additional sounds impact the organisms that live here? Can we explore in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment?  The marine wildlife of the Arctic has evolved in an ocean covered by ice. But the ice is changing and the human presence is increasing.

Studies of other oceans have shown that more ship traffic means more background noise. In most regions of the Pacific Ocean the background noise has increased 3 decibels every 10 years since the 1960’s. The scientists on the Healy and the Louis are interested in minimizing their impact as they explore the Arctic Ocean.

Do No Harm – Step 1 Collect Data 

I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.
I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.

One of the ways we are listening to the noise that our own instruments make is with sonobuoys. These are devices that help us listen to how sound propagates through the ocean.  While the Louis is using airguns to collect seismic data – scientists on the Healy are throwing sonobuoys into the ocean to listen to the sound waves created by the airguns. Knowing how the sound waves from airguns travel through the water will help us to understand their impact on the environment. Sonobuoys are self-contained floating units. They consist of a salt-water battery that activates when it hits the water, a bag that inflates with CO2 on impact, a 400-foot cable with an amplifier and hydrophone (underwater microphone).

The data acquired through the sonobuoy are relayed to the ship via radio link. A receiving antenna had to be placed high up on the Louis in order to collect this data. Like many of the devices we are using to collect information, the sonobuoys are single use instruments and we do not pick them up after their batteries run out. After 8 hours of data collection, the float bag burns and the instrument sinks to the bottom. They are known as self-scuttling (self-destructing) instruments. The more we know about the sounds we make and how these sounds are interacting with the animals that call the Arctic home, the better we will be at low impact exploring.

Personal Log 

The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.
The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.

I’ve had lots of questions from students about the weather. For most of our trip, the air temperature has been around 270F and the visibility has been poor. A log fog has prevented us from seeing the horizon. We have also had quite a few days with snow and freezing rain.  Some of our snow flurries have coated the decks with enough snow to make a few snowballs and prompted the crew to get out the salt to melt the slippery spots. 

This past week we had some seriously cold days.  On September 1st, the air temperature was 160F with a wind chill of -250F. These cold days brought blue skies, sparkling snow, and beautiful crystals forming on the handrails, ropes and many other surfaces on the deck.

Ice crystals on a valve
Ice crystals on a valve

FOR MY STUDENTS: Why do you think it is foggier on warmer days? 

As we travel south we are starting to get some sunsets and sunrises.  There are a few hours of twilight between the times that the sun dips below the horizon – but no true night sky.  One of the things I miss the most is seeing stars.  I look forward to seeing the Indiana night sky in a few weeks. But until then, the gorgeous sun over the Arctic will have to do.

As the seasons change and we travel south, the sun gets lower in the sky

Arctic snowball
Arctic snowball

Christine Hedge, September 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 1, 2009

The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)
The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 800 26’N
Longitude: 1370 16’W
Temperature: 20

Science and Technology Log 

Why Are Two Icebreakers Traveling Together? 

All of the countries that have a coastline on the Arctic Ocean are trying to collect data to determine where their extended continental shelf (ECS) ends. One of the types of data needed is called seismic data.  Collecting this information involves towing a long (a kilometer or more) streamer behind the ship. It is difficult to do this well in ice-covered water.  So, the Canadians and the Americans are collecting data together. One icebreaker leads and breaks a path for the second following with the seismic streamer being towed behind.  For most of our trip together, the Healy has broken ice for the Louis S. St. Laurent. We are both collecting data – just different types with different instruments.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you name all the countries that have coastlines on the Arctic Ocean? Of which country is Greenland part? 

Why Do We Care Where Our Extended Continental Shelf Is? 

Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy
Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy

The oceans and ocean floors are rich with natural resources.  Some countries obtain much of their wealth from mining the oceans, drilling for oil or gas in the oceans, or from fish or shellfish obtained from the oceans.  Currently, a nation has the right to explore for and harvest all resources in the water and everything on or below the seafloor for 200 nautical miles beyond its shoreline. One nation can allow other nations to use its waters or charge oil companies for the right to drill in its seafloor and thus make money. But what if we could use resources beyond that 200-mile limit? That would add to a country’s wealth. If a country can show with scientific data that the continental shelf extends beyond those 200 miles they can extend their rights over:

 

1) The non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil (minerals, oil, gas)

2) The living resources that are attached to the seabed (clams, corals, scallops ) An extended continental shelf means a nation has rights to more natural resources.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at a map of the oceans. Can you find the continental shelf marked on the Atlantic coast of the United States? What types of resources can you think of that we get from the ocean and the seafloor? 

Where Exactly Is the Healy Going? 

The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.
The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.

Our trail looks random to the untrained eye but it does have a purpose.  We have been helping the Louis get good measurements of the thickness of the sediments on the seafloor.  You see there are certain features of the seafloor that help a nation identify its ECS.  One is related to depth. Another is related to the thickness of the underlying sediments.  Another is related to the place where the continental slope ends (the foot of the slope).  We have been following a path that takes us to the 2500-meter contour (where the ocean is 2500 meters deep) and following a path to measure the thickness of the sediment in the Canada Basin.  I was surprised to think that there was thick sediment on the seafloor in this area.  But, the Arctic is a unique ocean because continents surround it. It is more like a bowl surrounded by land.  As rivers have flowed into the Arctic over millions of years – layers and layers of sediment have covered the Canadian Basin.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at your maps again.  Find rivers, bays, fjords, that flow into the Arctic Ocean.  For More Information About The Extended Continental Shelf

Personal Log 

Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.
Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.

The U.S and Canada have been sharing personnel as well as sharing a science mission.  Coast Guard personnel and science party personnel have been traveling between the two ships via helicopter to share their expertise.  As the Canadian visitors come through our science lab and eat meals with us – we have had plenty of time to discuss science and everyday life. There has also been a longer-term exchange of personnel.  A scientist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been sailing on the Louis since they left Kugluktuk, Northwest Territories. Dr. Deborah Hutchinson is on the Louis to provide USGS input to scientific decisions made during the cruise.

My roommate, Erin Clark, is a Canadian Ice Services Specialist.  Erin hails from Toronto, Ontario and is staying on the Healy to exchange expertise with the American ice analysts.  It has been interesting getting to know Erin and hearing the story of her career path.  She was one of those kids in school who just couldn’t sit still in a structured classroom environment.  Erin is a visual learner – and often had a hard time proving to her professors that she understood the material as she worked on her degree in Geography.  Where other students used multi-step equations, Erin used diagrams and often didn’t “show her work”.  NOTE TO STUDENTS: Do you know how you learn best?  What is your learning style?

Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis
Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis

Erin was lucky enough to have instructors that worked with her and now she is one of about 20 Marine Services Field Ice Observers in Canada. Luckily, she has found a career that offers lots of opportunities to move around. Some of her time is spent analyzing satellite photos of ice on a computer screen, some ice observing from a ship, and some ice observing on helicopter reconnaissance trips.  She communicates what she observes about ice conditions to ships; helping them to navigate safely in ice-covered waters.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What kind of skills do you think an Ice Specialist would need to succeed in their career? 

Christine Hedge, August 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 25, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 30.150F
Latitude: 81.310 N
Longitude: 134.280W

Science and Technology Log 

This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.
This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.

A Day of Discovery… 

Today, our planned route took us near an unmapped feature on the sea floor.  A 2002 Russian contour map showed a single contour (a bump in the middle of a flat plain) at 3600 meters.  This single contour line also appeared on the IBCAO (International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean) map.  We were so close that we decided to take a slight detour and see if there really was a bump on this flat, featureless stretch of sea floor. 

The contour was labeled 3600 meters and the sea floor in the area averaged about 3800 meters so a 200 meter bump was what the map suggested.  As the Healy traveled over the area we found much more than a bump!  The feature slowly unfolded before our eyes on the computer screen.  It got taller and taller and excitement grew as people realized this might be over 1000 meters tall.  If a feature is 1000 meters or more, it is considered a seamount (underwater mountain) and can be named.  Finally, the picture was complete, the data was processed, and a new seamount was discovered. The height is approximately 1,100 meters and the location is 81.31.57N and 134.28.80W.

The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.
The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.

Why Isn’t the Arctic Mapped? 

Some areas of the sea floor have been mapped and charted over and over again with each improvement in our bathymetric technology.  Areas with lots of ship traffic such as San Francisco Bay or Chesapeake Bay need to have excellent bathymetric charts, which show depth of the water, and any features on the sea floor that might cause damage to a ship.  But in the Arctic Ocean, there isn’t much ship traffic and it is a difficult place to collect bathymetric data because of all the ice. Therefore, in some areas the maps are based on very sparse soundings from lots of different sources. Remember, older maps are often based on data that was collected before multibeam  echosounders and GPS navigation – new technology means more precise data!  

Personal Log 

This is the IBCAO.  (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean)  It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.
This is the IBCAO. (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean) It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.

It is still very foggy. We are about 625 miles north of Alaska and plowing through ice that is 1-2 meters thick.  This time of year it is the melt season.  Increased evaporation means more water in the atmosphere and more fog.  Even though we are usually in water that is 90% covered by ice (REMEMBER 9/10 ice cover?) we rarely have to back and ram to get through.  It is noisier lately and the chunks of ice that pop up beside the ship are more interesting to look at.  There are blue stripes, brown patches of algae and usually a thin layer of snow on top.

I cannot send a current sound file because of our limited bandwidth on the Healy. When we are this far north it is difficult to get Internet access. But, if you would like to hear what it sounds like when the Healy is breaking ice, click on this link  from a past trip through Arctic sea ice.

Sea Ice at 810N after the Healy has broken through
Sea Ice after the Healy has broken through

Kristin Joivell, July 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 1, 2009

To me, the beach on Big Koniuji Island looks very similar to the beaches at the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
To me, the beach on Big Koniuji Island looks very similar to the beaches at the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Position: In transit to Kodiak, Alaska
Clouds: mostly cloudy
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: 7 knots
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 10.5 dry bulb
Temperature: 8.7 wet bulb
Barometer: 1026.5

Science and Technology Log 

The NOAA training materials define hydrography as “the science of measuring and describing the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their uses for the purpose of navigation.” The definition describes the project that I’ve been helping with on the Fairweather, but it doesn’t mention everything that is involved in the journey or all the components that must come together to have a successful project.

TAS Joivell displays some of the kelp found on the beach at Big Koniuji Island.  The tube like part is full of air and the leaves feel like plastic.
TAS Joivell displays some of the kelp found on the beach at Big Koniuji Island. The tube like part is full of air and the leaves feel like plastic.

Different departments on the ship all contribute to the project.  Though each department has its own focus, they are all essential to the ship’s well being. The officers all work together to navigate the ship and decide how to gather the data without putting anyone at risk.  The survey team gathers, processes, and analyzes data. The deck department contributes to the upkeep of the ship.  Engineers make sure the ship’s engines keep it moving through the water.  The electronics technician makes sure that the many computer systems are working correctly.  The stewards make sure that everyone’s food needs are met.  It’s up to everyone on board to contribute in their own way to make the journey significant and meaningful.

A great movie from NOAA that describes the history of surveying in the United States is called “The Surveyors:  Charting America’s Course” and can be watched online here. The first scene shows the ocean waves and a quote from John F. Kennedy that states, “Knowledge of the ocean is more than a matter of curiosity.  Our very survival may hinge upon it.”  I was encouraged to watch this movie on one of my first days onboard and it really set the stage for the work I was to help with.  The work that I assisted with on the Fairweather is going to be used to help ships travel safely through previously uncharted or incompletely charted waters.  I gained a respect for the crew’s mission from the first day on and am proud that I play my small part in it.

You can see the lake on Big Koniuji Island on the right.  I am calling it “Muck Lake” because of the large amounts of sediment on the bottom.  You can see a small part of the sandy beach off to the left.
You can see the lake on Big Koniuji Island on the right. I am calling it “Muck Lake” because of the large amounts of sediment on the bottom. You can see a small part of the sandy beach off to the left.

Personal Log: 

One of the best things about being on this ship is the opportunity to explore new places. But, I wasn’t expecting to be able to see a beach and swim in a lake in Alaska!  Before leaving the Shumagin Islands for Kodiak, we had the opportunity to visit Big Koniuji Island one final time. To me, the beach at Big Koniuji Island looks similar to the beaches at the Outer Banks, North Carolina because it has white sand, dunes, and driftwood. I went beach combing and found sand dollars and kelp all over the beach. I collected some sand to add to my collection at home.  Some brave crew members even went swimming in the ocean near the island!

One of the crew knew about a lake on the island and organized a hiking trip to visit it. We hiked over a ridge through some thick brush and weeds to get to the lake, but it was worth it.  The lake water was so clear you could see the bottom from almost everywhere.  The water was also much warmer than the ocean which encouraged more people to swim in it.  I tried out the swimming conditions and soon found that the entire bottom of the lake was covered with at least 2 feet of muck.  Every time you tried to move your arms through the shallow waters of the lake, you hit a pile of cold, gooey muck.  Even though it was kind of disgusting, the swim was still worth it.  I most likely will never be back to the Shumagin Islands to try it again, so this was my one chance to swim in a lake on an island in Alaska. This lake is unnamed, so I am naming it Muck Lake in honor of the piles of muck at the bottom.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
NOAA ships travel to many different places in their journeys.  There are countless opportunities listed on the internet where you can apply to travel to different countries for volunteer work.  One organization that I have noticed is the World Society for the Protection of Animals.  Their website has a section about volunteering abroad where you can do work with animals in many different countries.  The Peace Corps is another organization where there are opportunities to do worldwide work, but you need to be able to dedicate at least 27 months to the experience.  Working with AmeriCorps is similar to the Peace Corps, but the work is conducted in the United States for variable amounts of time.  Habitat for Humanity has sites both in the United States and internationally. Earthwatch Worldwide works with scientists to solve international problems.  Some of these programs cost money and some are free, but all do important work around the world. If you have the time to dedicate to any of these opportunities, you should investigate further.

Kristin Joivell, June 30, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 29-30, 2009

This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.
This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.

Weather Data From the Bridge:   
Position: North of Big Koniuji Island
Clouds: mostly clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: calm Waves: 0 feet
Temperature: 12.0 dry bulb
Temperature: 10.0 wet bulb
Barometer: 1023.2

Science and Technology Log 

Since the ship is operating in waters that there is not much information about, verifying current charted information is important.  Before launches are sent into a new area to collect data, shoreline verification is an operation that must be completed.  First, existing charts and new pictures of the coastline taken from a plane are used to determine a rough estimate of the shoreline.  Then, the shoreline verification team is sent into the area in a small boat.  The boat’s course is determined based on a buffer zone of the mean high water line on shore so that it can avoid any known, previously charted hazards. The boat travels a set path just outside of this buffer zone while logging information about bottom depths and looking for dangers to navigation.

Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation.  The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.
Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation. The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.

Sometimes hazards are found that are not charted on existing maps.  So, the team must identify these hazards and log their specific locations. An advanced GPS device is used along with a compass to determine the location of the hazard from the boat. The hazards are logged on a computer to record their positions.  Then, that information is used to both warn the other survey boats from the Fairweather working in the area, and to update new editions of the charts. Sometimes hazards that are currently charted are found in a different location. Once in a while, charted hazards are not even there at all!  All of this new information about hazards is also added to the new editions of charts. It’s somewhat terrifying to think that current charts sometimes have mistakes on them that could affect travelers so negatively. Checking what is on the bottom of the ocean is also important information.  To anchor a ship, some materials are more desirable than others. For example, hard rock is not as desirable as mud or sand because the anchor will just drag along hard rock and not catch as well. So, bottom sampling is another important operation that must be completed so that ships can anchor safely and properly.

Retrieving the bottom sampler.  It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside.  Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.
Retrieving the bottom sampler. It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside. Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.

To take a bottom sample, a scoop is deployed from a small boat or the ship.  The scoop has an automatic trigger that closes it when it hits the bottom of the ocean.  Then, you pull the bottom sampling device back up to the boat or ship and open the scoop. Observations about gathered materials are made on the computer.  There are all kinds of designations to specify the nature of the materials gathered.  Many of the samples we gathered were fine sand, but some included medium gravel, soft coral, and broken shells.  A few samples even included sea stars and a sponge!

The most difficult part about bottom sampling is that you have to pull the line up from the ocean floor with the bottom sampler attached.  The bottom sampler is a heavy, metal object so, pulling up all the line and the sampler from over 100 feet below gives you a workout.  Rotating positions on the boat helped especially since there were four of us on board.  That way, everyone’s arms had a chance to rest through three turns until it was your next turn to haul up the line and bottom sampler. I liked bottom sampling a lot because it was a surprise every time the sample was brought back up the boat. Also, it gave me a chance to look at some of the creatures that live in the ocean in Alaska. Seeing the sea stars and the sponge were the highlights of the day.

Personal Log 

This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.
This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.

Free time is a priceless commodity on the ship.  Everyone works to complete many tasks each day. Sometimes unexpected events occur that interfere with regular schedules. The Plan of the Day even has a disclaimer on it that states: “Tasks are subject to change at any time.  And they will.” So, when a person has free time and isn’t catching up on sleep, choosing an activity is difficult. Movies are shown each night and the computers are internet capable, but sometimes it’s good to get out on deck or off the ship instead of sitting in a room on board.

One of the things you can do on the ship in your free time is go fishing. You need an Alaska fishing license to do this, so I like to watch the licensed fishermen on board and examine their fish before they are released back into the ocean.  It’s interesting to see how many different kinds of fish are caught on the ship. In just the past few days, people have caught halibut, flounder, and cod.  Someone even recently caught a red octopus eating a baby crab!  Unfortunately, I missed that catch by about 10 minutes.  Comparing the freshwater fish that I know to these saltwater fish is a great free time activity.

Panning for gold on Herendeen Island.  The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.
Panning for gold on Herendeen Island. The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.

Another free time activity that is popular is going ashore to hike and explore. We sometimes even have the opportunity to build a fire on the shoreline. There is a lot of driftwood available, but the lack of garbage on the beaches never stops surprising me.  There are none of the common waste materials that you find commonly on the beaches in the Northeastern United States. However, there are some plastic materials like bottles and bags.  One plastic bottle found even had Korean fishermen use plastic fishing floats, but the glass ones are much older and looked for to use for decorations. The crew suggested that I look for them, but I didn’t find any at all.

Panning for gold is also something that can be done while ashore.  I assisted a fellow crew member on the quest for gold, but we were unsuccessful.  The rocks in the area have mica in them, so the streams are full of glittery chips.  These looked to me like gold, and I thought we had struck it rich, but I was wrong.  Standing in the cold stream and searching for gold nuggets is something that I will definitely remember for a long time.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 

You can explore the types of water organisms in your area like a NOAA crew member.  If you are planning on fishing, make sure you have the correct fishing license for your area.  Rivers are great places to start because you don’t need a boat to fish on them; you can just fish from the riverbank. Also, if you don’t want to fish, you can examine the macroinvertebrates that live under rocks. In the rivers and streams in Central Pennsylvania where I’m from, you can find mayfly and stonefly nymphs, caddisfly larvae, and water pennies in abundance.  The Pennsylvania Fish Commission has lots of great materials available to help with identification of organisms.  Looking at water from lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds under a microscope is also an interesting experience. You can learn a lot about the health of your area’s watershed by examining the organisms in the water.

Gary Ledbetter, July 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log 

Navigation 

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

History 

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

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

So What? 

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

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

Definition 

Torque: A turning or twisting force

Personal Log 

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

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

Chuck Gregory, August 14, 2007

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: New York Harbor
Date: August 14, 2007

“For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”  ~Thomas Jefferson

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Here’s the Plan of the Day (POD):
Sunrise = 0605h Sunset = 1956h 0000h
Ship at Sandy Hook, NJ anchorage 0700h
Took first Dramamine 0745h
Launch safety brief (Survey) 0800h
Deploy Launches (3101 & 3102) – I’ll be on the 3102 0830h
At first station of the day (somewhere between Coney Island, NY and Sandy Hook, NJ). Boot up computer systems and deploy multibeam. 0930h
Debug computer systems and we’re ready to track 1210h
Lunch and second Dramamine 1745h
Retrieve launches

Tides for Sandy Hook Low @ 0339h (-0.2 ft.) & 1543h (0.2 ft.); High @ 0938h (5.1 ft.) & 2145h (5.4 ft.). Currents in Sandy Hook Channel Ebb: 0041h (1.7 kts.), 1257h (1.6 kts.); Flood: 0640h (2.0 kts.) & 1851h (2.2 kts.). Weather from Sandy Hook to Fire Island AM: N winds 10-15 kts., seas 2-3 ft.; PM: S winds 5-10 kts., seas 2-3 ft.

One of the two 31 foot launches aboard the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.  These launches are used to do the hydrographic survey work - side scan sonar and multibeam echo sounder - in coastal areas.
One of the two 31 foot launches aboard the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON. These launches are used to do the hydrographic survey work – side scan sonar and multibeam echo sounder – in coastal areas.

Today was a full day. After going to bed early (2030h) and rising early (0530h), I continued to bang away at my e-mails.  The internet connection on the ship is dial up and quite slow. Or is it my understanding of computers that’s slow?!?! Probably the latter. Either way, I’m finding it frustrating to communicate with the ship’s computers.  I’ll work on this tomorrow when I have the time. Breakfast was cereal and an English muffin.  Then I got ready for the 0745h safety briefing and launch deployment.  All went quite smoothly as I did my best to stay out of the way. Teamwork is huge on a vessel like the THOMAS JEFFERSON, and I was impressed by the teamwork effort to deploy and retrieve both launches. After the launch we were on our first station within 30 minutes.  We had to deal with the customary computer snafu, but it was quickly fixed and we were soon doing our tracklines.  Back and forth, east and west, forth and back, and west and east.  Bill was at the wheel, Taylor was at the computers, Megan G. assisted with both, and I just watched, asked questions, learned, and helped out wherever possible.

Chuck studying some of the side-scan sonar (SSS) data as it is relayed from the SSS 'towfish' to the launch's computer.
Chuck studying some of the side-scan sonar (SSS) data as it is relayed from the SSS ‘towfish’ to the launch’s computer.

To help matters, the day was beautiful: warm, light breeze, and subsiding seas. I couldn’t have asked for better weather. Three times during our day we stopped to do a CTD cast. They use a SBE 19Plus Seacat with a stainless cage and tethered to a line.  After two minutes of acclimating at the surface, Taylor would lower the CTD to the bottom and lift it back onto the boat. Then a computer cable was attached to the CTD, the CTD software booted up, and the data downloaded. Taylor and Megan taught me a lot about the launch computers and even let me attend to them for about an hour.  Setting up the computer programs for the SSS Fish and the MultiBeam Echo Sounder (MBES) was complicated to this novice, thus the initial delay.  There are screens to view the data as it is coming in from the side scan and another for the multibeam.  There are screens to view the files as they are filling with data, screens to view the launch’s tracks, and screens to measure heave, pitch, and roll.  And it was all fed into an on-board memory.  Wow!

The 3102 was strong, but cramped for four adults.  There were two comfortable seats on the boat – one for the coxswain and one for the survey tech – but we made the most out of every available space. Lunch was last night’s chicken made into sandwiches (not bad!), chips, chili, fruit, water, and cookies. There was other food to munch on and I found it hard not to eat with the sea air and full sun beaming down upon us.  So much for my “food plan.”  

Today I learned the importance of understanding computers, well planed navigation, and teamwork.  The tracklines were well laid out and followed.  Bill and Megan did a good job of maneuvering us around lower New York Harbor, as there were several recreational and commercial craft moving across the water.  At no time were we in any danger. The day went smoothly and there was even a time of boredom after lunch when the launch was on course, the data was streaming in, and the weather was hot and sunny. Life was good!

We returned to the THOMAS JEFFERSON at 1745h tired and starved! After a full day at sea that was one of the best meatloaf dinners I’ve ever had!!!  After dinner I returned to the ship’s computers, but continue to be frustrated as I try to get to my e-mails.  Tomorrow my sole mission is to meet with engineer Eric and tap his computer expertise.  For now I think I’ll call Roxann and go to bed early and do a little ‘Cannery Row’ reading.

Candice Autry, August 7-12, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Candice Autry
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 7 – 18, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Atlantic
Date: August 7 -12, 2006

“Ships have many pieces of complicated equipment!” 

The NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON awaits a necessary part for the crane that lifts the fast rescue boat, then we set sail
The NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON awaits a part for the crane that lifts the fast rescue boat, then we set sail

Personal Log 

Hello, greetings from Teacher at Sea Candice Autry.  I teach science to middle school students at a wonderful school called Sheridan School in Washington, DC.  I have been given the great opportunity to sail with the crew on the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON. Our cruise has been delayed several days due to unforeseen problems with some of the complex and necessary equipment on the ship.  It is important to be flexible with any kind of change, so these past few days have given me the opportunity to explore the ship as we wait for final repairs. The objectives of this particular ship primarily involve hydrographic surveys.  Hydrography is the science that has to do with measuring and describing physical characteristics of bodies of water and the shore areas close to land. Thanks to hydrographic surveys, ships, ferries, pleasure boats, and other vessels can safely navigate in busy waters without hitting any obstructions on the bottom of a harbor.

A functioning crane on the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON lifts the necessary fast rescue boat (FRB) aboard.
A crane lifts the necessary fast rescue boat aboard.

Hydrographic surveys can also locate submerged wrecks in deep waters; examples include unfortunate events such as shipwrecks out at sea as well as plane crashes over the ocean. These surveys are done by using technology that involves side scan sonar and multi-beam sonar technology. The combination of these two types of technologies can create a clear picture of a barrier on the ocean floor and the depth of the obstruction.

The THOMAS JEFFERSON holds several smaller boats including two launches (one launch is visible in the picture, it is the gray boat) that have this sonar technology located underneath the vessel. The instrument that collects data is often called a “fish.”  The data can be seen on a computer screen so that the surveyors can view the data being collected.  Once we reach our destination, we will use these launches, one equipped with a fish that uses multi-beam sonar technology and the other with a fish that uses side scan sonar to create a chart of what is on the bottom of a very busy harbor!

Seaman Surveyors Doug Wood and Peter Lewit interpret hydrographic data in the survey room
Seaman Surveyors Doug Wood and Peter Lewit interpret hydrographic data in the survey room

Staterooms are comfortable and cozy!
Staterooms are comfortable and cozy!

One of the workrooms aboard the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.
One of the workrooms aboard the NOAA Ship THOMAS JEFFERSON.

 A closer look at the navigational equipment on the bridge
A closer look at the navigational equipment on the bridge

Jacquelyn Hams, July 29, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 29, 2006

TAS Jacquelyn Hams helps prepare lines on a boat
TAS Jacquelyn Hams helps prepare lines on a boat

Weather
Partly cloudy
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind direction: 250
Wind speed: 140 knots
Sea Wave height: 1 ft.
Seawater temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1024.3 mb
Temperature dry bulb: 13.3 degrees C
Temperature wet bulb: 11.1 degrees C

Science and Technology Log 

At 0900 all new personnel including Teachers at Sea participated in deck training.  Deck training consists of learning basic sailing knots and handling lines for launching the boats. Deck training lasted from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. with 1/2 hour for lunch. One of the first things I learned is the difference between handling lines on a recreational boat and a ship. Recreational boaters always lock a knot when you tie up at a dock. Ships never lock a knot because the lines are much heavier and they need to loosen lines quickly. Recreational boaters tidy lines and make clever loops and swirls.

Ships demand utility and want lines hanging in places that are easy to access.  I also practiced another way to tie a bowline! A bowline is a basic knot that is taught as many different ways as there are people who tie them. It is important that everyone learn safety procedures and participate in lowering and raising the boats. Most of the survey work is done from boats while the RAINIER is anchored. I feel slightly uneasy walking around the deck of the boats.  Even though there are sufficient hand holds, I am ever vigilant and aware of how cold the water is!

Personal Log 

Here are some stunning photos taken from the RAINIER anchorage at Porpoise Harbor.  These photos were taken after 9 p.m.

View of Nagai Island from Porpoise
View of Nagai Island from Porpoise

View of Nagai Island from Porpoise Harbor
View of Nagai Island from Porpoise Harbor

 

Jacquelyn Hams, July 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 28, 2006

Haystack rock formation
Haystack rock formation

Weather Data
Weather: Clear/Fog Drizzle
Visibility: 2 nm
Wind direction: 245
Wind speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave height: 0-1 ft.
Seawater temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1021.7 mb
Temperature dry bulb: 11/7 degrees C
Temperature wet bulb: 11.1 degrees C

Red rock outcrop on Popofi Island
Red rock outcrop on Popofi Island

Personal Log 

Today I took a launch to Sand Point on Unga Island with crew members to pick up another crew member and some groceries.  I have not seen an Alaskan town since Kodiak and am curious to see how different Sand Point may be.  The ride took approximately 2 hours and we passed more spectacular geology and scenery. Sand Point is a tiny Alaskan fishing village on Unga Island.  It is picturesque, off the tourist path, and full of friendly people. So far the two towns I have seen in Alaska (Kodiak and Sand Point) are very clean and uncluttered. There have been two major earthquakes, many minor earthquakes, and tsunamis in the Aleutian Islands, so it is no surprise that tsunami evacuation routes are well marked.

Columnar basalt
Columnar basalt

Entrance to the harbor at Sand Point
Entrance to the harbor at Sand Point

Tsunami Evacuation route sign in Sand Point
Tsunami Evacuation route sign in Sand Point

Brown algae in Sand Point Harbor
Brown algae in Sand Point Harbor

Breakwater at Sand Point Harbor
Breakwater at Sand Point Harbor

Jacquelyn Hams, July 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 27, 2006

TAS Jacquelyn Hams at the helm of the NOAA Ship RAINIER
TAS Jacquelyn Hams at the helm of the NOAA Ship RAINIER

Weather Data 
Weather: Partly cloudy
Visibility: 10+ nm
Wind direction: LT
Wind speed: AIRS
Sea wave height: 0 ft.
Swell waves direction: 160
Swell waves height: 1 ft
Seawater T: 9.4 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1025.9 mb
Temperature Dry bulb: 11.01 degrees C
Temperature Wet bulb: 10.0 degrees C

Science and Technology Log 

ENS Sam Greenaway, RAINIER’s Navigation Officer and Kenneth Keys, RAINIER Deck Utilityman and Helmsman, gave me a lesson in navigation. I steered the ship for approximately two hours during which time I completed several turns. I learned that it is very important to steer the ship along the survey lines so that data quality is not distorted.  A few of the navigation instruments used on the RAINIER are shown below.

Rudder angle indicator
Rudder angle indicator

Gyrocompass repeater (top) and rudder angle order indicator (bottom)
Gyrocompass repeater

Fathometer
Fathometer

Electronic Chart System display
Electronic Chart System display

                                             

 Personal Log 

We are passing many of the smaller islands that make up the Shumagins. The fog has lifted and the RAINIER is approaching Porpoise Harbor, the anchoring spot for the night. The Shumagin Islands are part of the Aleutian Islands Arc system and formed by volcanic activity.  The islands provide a scenic backdrop of dramatic peaks and snow capped summits. We anchor at Porpoise Harbor off Nagai Island.

Lesson of the Day: Navigation

Terms of the Day: Rudder, fathometer

Bonus question:  What is a fathometer?

Recommended reading:  The American Practical Navigator, Bowditch Publication #9

Mitrofina Island
Mitrofina Island

View from porpoise harbor
View from porpoise harbor

Jacquelyn Hams, July 26, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: July 26, 2006

Hydrography survey lines in green
Hydrography survey lines in green

Weather Data
Weather: Partly cloudy
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind direction: 275
Wind speed: 20 knots
Sea Wave height: 2.3 ft.
Swell waves direction: 225
Swell height: 4.5 ft.
Seawater temperature: 10.0 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1008.9 mb
Temperature dry bulb: 10 degrees C
Temperature wet bulb: 9.4 degrees C  

Science and Technology Log 

The mission of the day is to conduct a hydrographic survey from the RAINIER around the Semidi and Chirikof Islands.  This requires the crew to determine the sound speed of the water column, in order to correct depths measured by the ship’s multibeam sonar for refraction. To determine the sound speed profile, the RAINIER uses a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) sensor called a SEACAT.

Bathymetry along survey area
Bathymetry along survey area

A CTD is an instrument that is deployed from a vessel to detect and record properties of seawater as it is lowered through the water column. The principle measurements are conductivity, temperature, and pressure. From these measurements depth and salinity can be derived.  Sound speed is computed from depth, salinity, and water temperature. To take a sound speed cast, the ship or launch is maneuvered into a position such that the line or wire on which the CTD is lowered will not end up tangled in the propeller. The SEACAT is secured to a winch wire or line. The sensor is exposed and the instrument is turned on.

The SEACAT is placed just below the water’s surface for two minutes to allow the sensor to obtain its initial readings. The SEACAT is lowered one meter per second through the water column until it reaches the seafloor. Then it is hoisted back to the surface. As the instrument runs through the water column, the sensor obtains conductivity, temperature, and pressure data.

Distant ship
Distant ship

Once the SEACAT is aboard, it is connected to a computer and the sensor data is downloaded using a special program. A survey technician or junior officer uses the program to analyze the data. If the data looks reasonable, the launch or ship will begin or continue to acquire soundings.

Personal Log 

Early this morning, the RAINIER encountered tanker traffic. The Polar Eagle is a tanker ship that was headed toward the RAINIER. Following communications between RAINIER officers on the bridge and Polar Eagle officers, the Polar Eagle passed around the stern of the RAINIER so that RAINIER could stay on course and continue surveying. Around 1600, Aghiuk Island was visible from the bridge.  This is a dramatic island with jagged volcanic peaks. At 1815, as the RAINIER survey continued, we had a magnificent view of Mt. Chiginagak (snow covered) on the Alaskan Peninsula.

Aghiuk Island
Aghiuk Island

Lesson of the Day: Surveying

Terms of the Day: Conductivity, cast, hydrography, sounding

Bonus question:  Explain how depth is determined given conductivity, temperature and pressure data.

Recommended reading:   RAINIER website 

Snow covered Mt. Chiginagak on the Alaskan Peninsula
Snow covered Mt. Chiginagak on the Alaskan Peninsula

Jacquelyn Hams, July 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 10, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: July 25, 2006

ENS Sam Greenaway, RAINIER Navigation Officer
ENS Sam Greenaway, Navigation Officer

Science and Technology Log 

Weather
Clear, Cloudy
Visibility: 6 nm
Wind: Light
Wind speed:  AIRS
Sea wave height: 0-1
Swell Waves: Direction 160
Swell height: 2 ft
Seawater T: 9.4 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  997.8 mB
Temperature dry bulb: 10 degrees C
Temperature wet bulb: 10 degrees C

After breakfast, I went to the Pilot House to learn navigation procedures on the RAINIER.  ENS Sam Greenaway, RAINIER’s Navigation Officer showed me the Sail Plan for the ship. I was amazed at the details in the Sail Plan – a far cry from the typical recreational boaters sail plan!

ENS Greenaway also explained the procedures that NOAA follows to report the weather. Weather data is recorded by the ship every hour on the bridge and a Big Weather forecast is reported by the ship to the National Weather Service every six hours using GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The crew uses books and a computer program to report conditions to the National Weather Service. The “Observing Handbook #1 is a reference providing information on the types of weather conditions at sea.

page from the NWS Observing Handbook.  Note that the identification data and meteorological data are in Morse Code.
Page from the NWS Observing Handbook. The identification data and meteorological data are in Morse Code.

The RAINIER uses the information in the Observing Handbook to identify and record weather conditions on a form in the “Ship’s Weather Observations” publication, which contains a key to the Morse Code symbols. The RAINIER participates in NOAA’s Volunteer Observing Ships (VOS) program. The VOS program collects weather and oceanographic data from ships at high seas where observations from fixed instruments are limited.

The RAINIER acquires and reports these data in the SEAS (Shipboard Environmental Date Acquisition System) format, for transmission to NOAA’s Weather Service via satellite using the AMVER (Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue) system. This program is voluntary but all satellite transmission costs anticipated are paid by NOAA and the United States Coast Guard. The data are used by the National Weather service to ensure that high seas forecasts will be timely and accurate as possible. RAINIER reports weather observations by AMVER/SEAS four times per day (0000, 0600, 1200 and 1800 GMT). Weather data are encoded in a system called “Ship Synoptic Code FA 13-X which allows very specific information about the conditions observed by the ship to be transmitted as efficiently as possible.

After leaving the Pilot House, I met with Lt. Ben Evans, RAINIER Operating Officer and Acting Executive Officer who explained the mission of this leg of the cruise. The final destination for this leg is Nagai Island which is located approximately in the center of the Shumagin Islands.  Along the way, the survey team will conduct a Hydrography survey for the Semedi Islands and Chirikof Islands.   Lt. Evans explained that shipping traffic was picking up in the area and accurate charts are not available for the area. The last chart of the area is dated 1914. The mission for this leg is to produce a new chart for the area and find hazards for ships.

In the late afternoon, fire and abandon ship drills were held.  These drills are held once a week so that crew and visiting personnel know their reporting stations on the ship for a fire emergency and for a lifeboat if necessary. After the drills, the sun came out.  We have been riding some steady swells today and many of us have taken medicine to combat sickness so the sun is a welcome sight.

Lesson of the Day: Weather

Terms of the Day: Leg, swells, bridge, GMT

Bonus questions:  What is the significance of wet bulb and dry bulb temperature?

Recommended reading:   1.Coast Pilot #9 by NOAA; 2. Observing Handbook #1 – Marine Surface Weather Observations by National Weather Service; Mariners Weather by William P. Crawford, Norton Nautical Books.

Lisa Kercher, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 24, 2006

Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.
Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.

Science and Technology Log

The crew is working hard to finish sheet B, which is full of completed polygons, with a few remaining to be worked on. Launch 1018 went to work on three of those areas today. Captain Ron drove us to our destination and ENS Wendy Lewis started the computer system. Two of the areas we were assigned were low water areas that can only be navigated by an experienced cox’n. Good thing Ron was heading up our boat. He is as experienced as they come. To start our work we had to lower our transducer, which enables us to send out sonar beams that bounce off the ocean floor. Those beams bounce back to show the shape of the ocean floor.  We deployed our CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device three different times to get accurate readings on the conditions of the ocean that might affect our data collection. Surprisingly, we completed our assignment early and got to head in for lunch.

Humpback whales breach near the ship
Humpback whales breach near the ship

Personal Log 

Today was whale day! Captain Ron promised me whales and he delivered even before we heading out this morning.  As we stood on the fantail of the ship for the morning meeting, Ron pointed out a humpback breeching off in the distance!  Then as we cruised at 8 knots surveying our area, a large humpback put on a great show for us!  He surfaced again and again, showing off his immense tail fins. What a large splash he made!  I was able to watch him for nearly thirty minutes and captured some great video of the spectacular scene.  I had yet to see the grand prize of Alaskan marine life: the Orca, but whale day wasn’t over yet. As we idled off the northwest corner of Andronica Island completing our data for the day, a small pod of orcas came to play between our boat and the coast. I could see the white patch on their side and their characteristic dorsal fin. I was so thrilled!  Again, I had an amazing day out in the Alaskan seas. Am I really going to have to leave here?!?

Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island
Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island

Lisa Kercher, June 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

 My title for the day was “Gadget Girl.”    I assisted the survey team by finding the bearing and horizontal distance  to the feature in question.
My title for the day was “Gadget Girl.” I assisted the survey team by finding the bearing and horizontal distance to the feature in question.

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 23, 2006

Science and Technology Log

This trip is just so amazing! It blows my mind that I keep having more and more exciting days and great adventures! What if work really was like this?!?! These people have great jobs! Boats left at 6:30 this morning, but we were back just in time for lunch. ENS Jon French, survey technicians Stephanie Mills and Grant Froelich, and I boarded the Ambar 2302, which is a small open craft and headed to a location called The Haystacks and Whaleback: two interesting islands.  We were doing shoreline survey, which is basically going in to verify or disprove what an airplane has already surveyed from above. This is called LIDAR (laser imaging detection and range). There are areas marked that might have a feature such as a rock that we have to check out and basically make sure it is there! I got to be gadget girl and when we found something, we had to log it by tracking it on a DGPS (differential global positioning system) satellite system, taking a picture, determining the bearing and finding the horizontal distance with a laser. The DGPS system is much more accurate than a standard GPS system.  As the other survey techs manned the computer and DGPS system I had to quickly do the other three things.  I had all three gadgets hanging from my neck and had to use them to give the techs the precise readings. Talk about nervous!

 Jon and Stephanie work on the data from the cabin of the Ambar boat.
Jon and Stephanie work on the data from the cabin of the Ambar boat.

Personal Log 

Stellar Sea Lions sun and play on Whaleback.
Stellar Sea Lions sun and play on Whaleback.

I saw two bald eagles on the top of one of the Haystacks and two more on Whaleback. They were so pretty.  I captured some short video of them flying.  Video on the boat is a little tricky though as I learned today…too much up and down motion! Then I saw a cute little seal quickly scurry for the water as we scared him from his spot on the rocks and also a sea otter and one big behemoth sea lion! He barked and smiled at us as we passed.  Then on Whaleback, which was a sea lions heaven, just a small short island that looked like the top of a whale’s back surfacing out of the water (hence the name), I saw about 40 more sea lions! They were noisy and smelly, but so cool. I watched them move like they were doing the worm. And they fought with each other and barked and splashed in the water. We watched them for 30 minutes as we were finishing our work, taking a break and snacking, before we headed back.  On the way back, like I said, the waves were fierce.

One behemoth sea lion smiles at us as we  drive by!
One behemoth sea lion smiles at us as we drive by!

After getting lifted off the boat and getting nailed back down and slamming my back and tailbone! I decided to ride the rest out in the cabin. As I made my way back there Grant, my tour guide of spotting whales, pointed out some HUMPBACKS! Yippee. We idled and watched them surface and resurface. They were very, very far away, but looked so huge, so I can’t image what they would have looked like close up! They jumped so high and straight out of the water and splashed so hard back down. There might have been three or four! Soooooo awesome!  So that was my day.  Again, so amazing! I loved it! I then took a long hot shower when we returned, followed by a yummy lunch and a long nap! This stuff is tiring! Working over the summer and teachers just don’t go together!

Question of the Day 

The tides determined our window for collecting shoreline data today.  We were given the time window of 5:30 to 10:30 am. This is the time during the day when there is a negative tide. This makes it much easier for boats to see features in the water that would not normally be exposed during a high tide situation. The west coast experiences semidiurnal tides. This is different from the tides on the east coast, which are called diurnal.  Can you describe the differences between the two types of tides?

Bald eagles
Bald eagles

Lisa Kercher, June 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Grant shows me the ropes of driving the boat
Grant shows me the ropes of driving the boat

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 21, 2006

Science and Technology Log

Launch 1018 set out just after 8:00 am this morning. I was teamed with FOO (Field Operations Officer) Jennifer Dowling, SST (Senior Survey Technician) Grant Froelich, and ENS Wendy Lewis.  We began our day by doing something called a PATCH TEST. This test is done to determine the allowable error of the data that is collected when moving the boat back and forth over a target such a rock just below the water’s surface. The test includes a pitch test, a roll test and a heading test. Each test collects information about the boat as it makes its way through the water.

I work hard to pull in the CTD which was resting about 150 feet below on the ocean floor.
I work hard to pull in the CTD which was resting about 150 feet below on the ocean floor.

As we passed over the large rock that we were observing under the water, a clear picture of it popped up on the screen in front of us. It was neat to see an underwater picture of a feature that was collected using echo sounding. The MBES (multi beam echo sounder) transducer is able to send out hundreds of signals and receive them back to create an accurate picture of things below the water’s surface.  It is quite amazing.

Midway through the day we returned to the FAIRWEATHER to a picnic lunch on the fantail. This was a fun way to send time bonding with the team I was working with that day. We then set out again for more hydrography work on the SW point of Cape Devine. I was able to do a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) cast all by myself.  I had carefully watched others deploy the CTD throughout the week and I had assisted on several aspects of the cast, but I was excited to be able to put what I had learned into practice. The CTD has to be turned on for three minutes to warm up, and then it must sit in the water for two minutes just below the surface to properly calibrate.  After that it is time to lower it to the bottom of the ocean floor to gather data, followed by quickly pulling it back to the boat. It is definitely fun, but hard work at the same time. The CTD device is by no means light! So today I drove the boat!  Ok, really I just sat in the driver’s seat while SST Grant Froelich taught me how he operates the vessel.  We weren’t even moving!

A beautiful day in Alaska
A beautiful day in Alaska

Personal Log 

Today is World Hydrography Day and what an amazing day for it! This is by far my best day here so far! They just keep getting better and better! Absolutely beautiful weather in Alaska today! Clear skies, sun, and warm temperatures made my outlook on the day wonderful! I saw my first whale today! It was amazing. There were two off the bow of our boat during the launch. I only saw a small part of their bodies and their puffs of water from their blowholes, but it was my first sighting and what I had been waiting for!  I also captured some amazingly beautiful pictures of two very large bald eagles resting on the navigation light on Andronica Island. Then to top it all off, when we returned from our launch and settled down to eat dinner, someone reported whales directly off the stern of the FAIRWEATHER playing in the Korovin Bay. I snapped some pictures as I watched them surface again and again.  I am in awe of the exquisite wildlife that is all around me here in Alaska!

Two whales play in the Korovin Bay, just off the stern of the FAIRWEATHER.  What a treat!
Two whales play in the Korovin Bay, just off the stern of the ship. What a treat! 

Question of the Day 

The bald eagles in Alaska are abundant. Unfortunately this wasn’t always the case. The population of bald eagles decreased in the past. Fortunately now the numbers of bald eagles are on the rise again. What chemical has been linked to the decrease in the bald eagle population? What was done about the use of this chemical in order to attempt to raise the numbers of bald eagles again?

Two bald eagles sit on the top of the navigational light on Andronica Island.  A beautiful scene as we took a break from our work!
Two bald eagles sit on the top of the navigational light on Andronica Island. A beautiful scene as we took a break from our work!

Lisa Kercher, June 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Emily pulls in the CTD.
Emily pulls in the CTD.

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 19, 2006

Science and Technology Log

The morning began at 7:00 with a delicious breakfast to fuel me up for what lie ahead. I was on the POD (plan of the day) to go out on a small launch boat.  How exciting! My only hesitation was knowing that I would be out on a small boat for 8 hours and I might just have to pee!  Regardless of my worriers, shortly after the 8:00 safety briefing, Launch 1010 was put in the water and myself, ENS Jonathan French, and boatmen Emily Evans and Ron Walker boarded with our gear for the day! We headed south of Andronica Island, where the FAIRWEATHER had been anchored for the night, and began our hydrography work. Each launch is equipped with the same technology that the FARIWEATHER has, making it easy to collect more data at one time.  As we located the polygon where we were assigned to work, we dropped the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device into the water.

Jon and Emily watch the computers to monitor our work
Jon and Emily watch the computers to monitor our work

Jon and Emily quickly processed the data and then we began making passes through the polygon collecting data from the bottom of the ocean using the MBES (multi beam echo sounder) that is located on the underside of the boat. This equipment provides a picture of what the ocean floor looks like and locates any features such as rocks and rough terrain by bouncing beams of sound to the bottom of the ocean floor and then receiving them back. The speed at which the beams return and the length at which they travel is combined with the data that is collected from the CTD to get an accurate representation of the surface of the ocean bottom. I was able to run the equipment for a short time as Jon looked over my shoulder. It was  not too difficult! I was excited to learn later that night, after our work was processed that we collected very clean data that they survey team was very happy with! Good work team!

 I work the computer system, logging data as we cruise through our polygon
I work the computer system, logging data as we cruise through our polygon

Personal Log 

I could not believe how absolutely gorgeous it was in Alaska today! The skies were clear, the wind was calm and the temperature was warmer than it has been since arriving here! I even got to sunbathe on the launch for a short while as we cruised back to the FAIRWEATHER at the end of our workday. I got to see lots of wildlife on the launch and on Andronica Island.  While surveying today and yesterday we had to travel at precise speeds to acquire the most accurate data. While on Launch 1010 today we surveyed at 8 knots, completed our roll test at 7 knots, and yesterday while surveying on the FAIRWEATHER we cruised at 10 knots. Convert each of these speeds to miles per hour to get a better idea of how fast were we moving through the water in each instance.

Stellar Sea Lions sun on a small island southwest of Andronica Island.
Stellar Sea Lions sun on a small island southwest of Andronica Island.

A black oystercatcher comes close to our campfire on Andronica Island.  We were invading his habitat.
A black oystercatcher comes close to our campfire on Andronica Island. We were invading his habitat.

The remains of a sea urchin were washed up on the beach of Andronica Island.
The remains of a sea urchin were washed up on the beach of Andronica Island.

Lupine, a beautiful purple flower, grew wild all over the banks of Andronica Island.
Lupine, a beautiful purple flower, grew wild all over the banks of Andronica Island.