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  After the pre-set recording time is up, the float on the buoy pops, and the buoy is no longer active.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

gps

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!