Helen Haskell: Bottom Sampling! June 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 17, 2017

Weather Data (on day of bottom sampling –June 14th)

Wind:  27 knots from the west (110° true)

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Barometer:  1005.3 hPa

Air temperature: 9.4°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

 

Science and Technology Log 

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Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, TAS Helen Haskell, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.

If you have ever taken a look at a nautical map, other than just depths listed on it, there will be symbols and definitions that provide information to help with safety and knowledge of the area.  For example, asterix-like symbols represent rocks, and a branch-like symbol represents kelp. Also written on the maps is information about the seafloor and what it is composed of, such as gravel, sand, or bedrock.  Here in southeast Alaska, off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, much of the data that is currently on the charts was collected over 100 years ago.  Fairweather’s mission is to collect new information to allow these charts to be updated, and this includes information on the seafloor too.

The other day I was tasked with joining a survey crew to conduct bottom sampling.  The assigned bottom sample locations are provided by the Operations branch at headquarters. The sheet managers adapt the locations if they think there are better locations that will provide information for anchoring or to help characterize different regions in the area.  With less than glassy water conditions on a windy and rainy day, the boats were launched and we moved to our first sample area.

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A bottom sampler

The technology behind sampling is a little more antiquated than other parts of the research I’ve seen. It involves hooking up a self-closing scoop like device to a rope, and lowering it in to the water until it hits the seafloor.  Ideally, the trigger is released when it hits the seafloor and it closes. With closed scoops, the bottom sampler is winched up, ideally full of whatever material is located on the seafloor in that immediate location.  There were three different styles of these bottom samplers and we quickly had a firm favorite that seemed to work the best.  Easing the boat in the swell to the location, the coxswains, Dennis and Denek, would keep the boat in position so we did not tangle the rope in the motor.  We could tell from the rope going slack when the bottom sampler had hit the sea floor, and a mechanical winch made the return journey easy.

 

Dumping the contents in to a bucket we were able to see the diversity of the seafloor in just a few samples.  Occasionally rocks or shells would get stuck in the mechanism and we’d have to repeat the procedure, but overall we had tremendous success.

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Carly, Denek, the coxswain and me getting some respite from the rain

There are international protocols to follow in collecting bottom samples. These allow for communication and consistency of data on navigational charts.  In general, the main medium of the sample is described, such as sand, mud or pebbles, and an adjective used to describe it, such as broken, sticky or soft. Color is also assigned to the sample as well as appropriate size of the grains (fine, medium or coarse).  Symbols are used for all this data: For example, ‘the sample is mostly fine brown sand with mud and a little bit of broken shell’ would be written fne br S M brk Sh.  Protocols indicate that if sampling is attempted three times in one location and it doesn’t work then ‘unknown’ is documented in that location.

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Success in our sampling

At each of the sampling locations, we marked the spot on the chart and took latitude and longitude coordinates. We also documented additional observations we had about the sample, including findings that were not included as data choices. For example, in our second sampling site we found what we thought initially were mammal hairs.   Several sites later we struck ‘gold’ again, finding what appeared to be more hairs in a mud matrix. Upon reflection and discussion, it’s possible they are more likely decomposing kelp fibers.  It would be interesting to have the samples analyzed to identify what these fibers/hairs come from.   We also found whole clamshells as well as having a sample that only contained water. Our thoughts with the water only samples were that perhaps we were hitting bedrock rather than failing on obtaining any kind of sediments.  We also observed that in the more sheltered bays, the samples were very odiferous dark mud. In both of these occasions, the landscape surrounding the bay was heavily logged, and it would be interesting to see if there were correlations between the logging and the dark sediments, perhaps containing higher levels of carbon material washed in from terrestrial sources. In one of these areas, documentation from 100 years ago suggested that at that time, the seafloor was gravel.

 

Personal Log

The bottom-sampling day was challenging day weather wise, both for the coxswains and the science crew, but very rewarding.  Due to the rough seas it wasn’t a good day to collect sonar data, and on days like this, other parts of the total data collection are put in to place.  Part of our work that day was to also do crosslines (sonar data verification) but the water conditions were too hazardous in certain directions of travel, and so it was decided that we should focus on bottom samples.   To be frank, this was my favorite day as a Teacher At Sea so far. Truth be told, I was reminded that I quite enjoy sticking my hand in a bucket of mystery ‘goop’ and trying to figure out what it is composed of.  The diversity of samples was completely surprising and finding hair samples, twice, completely intriguing.  It was great also to observe upcoming OPS officer, LT Damian Manda at work logging the data, and realize again, the role technological knowledge plays a role in the success of this research. And, thank you to Coxswain Dennis Brooks for taking most of the photos for this blog entry.

 

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Me and Carly at the end of the day

 

Word of the day:

Hollings Scholarship Program: this NOAA program provides undergraduate students with a ten week internship at a NOAA facility and academic assistance, as well as an orientation and symposium. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship

Fact of the day:

Backscatter is the intensity of acoustic energy received by the sonar after interacting with the seafloor. Backscatter data can be used to help determine the surface of the seafloor.  In softer areas, perhaps a surface of mud, returns a weaker signal, but a harder surface, such as bedrock returns a stronger signal.  Hollings scholar Carly LaRoche from American University is on the boat for several legs this summer and is collecting and analyzing backscatter data in the area. Bottom sampling of the area is allowing Carly to compare the backscatter data with the sediments collected to see if there are correlations.

What is this?

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(Answer from previous blog: part of the vertical struts of an old pier at a former salmon canning factory.)

Acronym of the day: Used in bottom sampling

NATSUR:  Nature of surface  -example: mud, gravel, coral

NATQUA: Qualifying terms for NATSUR -example: sticky, soft, calcareous

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Haskell: Life on a Ship, June 7, 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 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55 04.473 N

Longitude: 133 03.291 W

Wind: 9 knots from the east

Air temperature: 17C

Visibility: 10 miles

Barometer: 1004.2 hPa

Science and Technology Log

The mission of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys for nautical charting. The Fairweather does this work in the waters off the United States Pacific coast, but principally in Alaskan coastal waters. The data is collected using sonar both by the Fairweather but also using a series of smaller boats that are launched as often as possible, each with a small crew of 3-4 people. These smaller boats are able to conduct the surveys much closer to the shoreline, and spend about 8-9 hours each day surveying a specific region. Many of the waters up here have had no recent data collected, and mariners are relying on charts that may have measurements taken in the 1800’s or 1900’s when technology was very different.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather

During the field season, Fairweather spends about 210 days at sea. During the rest of the year, the Fairweather stays at her homeport, allowing the crew to work on maintenance issues, take leave, work on the data and outfit the boat for the following season. During the field season, the boat conducts different legs of the research, spending 12-20 days out at sea at a time before returning to a port to re-supply. There are six departments on the ship: Command, Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey. Each person on the ship is hired with specific duties and responsibilities.

As a government vessel, the Fairweather is also available for use during the time of war or in case of an emergency. In the event of something along these lines, the ship and the officers would be transferred to the Armed Forces of the United States.

The Fairweather is named after the tallest peak in the Fairweather range in Alaska. The ship served in Alaskan waters for over 20 years but was decommissioned in 1988. In 2004, due to increasing demand for modern surveys in Alaska, it was retrofitted and put back in to the research fleet. Previously staterooms housed up to 4 people, but after the retrofit a maximum of two people share a room. The boat can house 58 people in 24 single staterooms and 17 double staterooms. The boat itself is 231 feet in length and 42 feet wide. Its cruising speed is 13 knots, with a survey speed of 6-10 knots.   The Fairweather has 7 levels, A-G, each containing many rooms and areas essential to the mission of this ship. Wires and pipes run throughout the ship with sensors monitoring equipments, sensors ready to trigger if needed. Lower levels of the ship contain tanks, ballast and engines. Diesel, drinking water and grey water are stored in the tanks. The next three levels contain staterooms, lots of machinery and storage, the Mess, the Galley, laundry, labs, the sick bay and one deck with small boat storage. The last two levels contain the ships Navigation Bridge, the data processing center, electronics office, and lots more equipment.

Personal Log

A few days in to my journey with the ship, things are starting to make more sense. While there are still doors I haven’t opened and rooms I am sure I have not been to, I feel that I am getting a better sense of the Fairweather and how it works, the roles that people play, and a slightly better understanding of what it means for home to be a ship.

There is a lot going on. Unlike many of the fisheries boats, where science staff works on a shift system, here on the Fairweather, much of the hydro data acquisition needs to be done on the small vessels during daylight. After the 8am meeting, boats are launched and the survey crew leave for the day. Meanwhile the rest of the scientists and survey crew works with the previously acquired data. Shift systems are in operation for most of the rest of the staff. There are always engineering projects and issues to sort out on a boat of this size, and engineers are always available and always problem solving. There are always NOAA Corps officers and deck crew on the bridge to monitor the ship and coordinate communication. From early in the morning there is always food to prepare, parts of the ship to be cleaned and decisions to be made, reviewed and modified. Somewhere around 4:30pm the survey boats return. Meal times and group meetings are places where most of the crew comes together to hear about how the day has gone and what is needed for the next day. After dinner, there is still work to be done. The day’s data needs to be processed in order for the plans for the next day to solidify. Small boats are checked after their day in the water, re-fueled and parts fixed if need be. After working hours the ship is patrolled hourly to make sure equipment is working and things are safe.

 

In between all these jobs, the crew does have down time. Those on a shift system hopefully manage to get some decent sleep, even if it is daytime. Laundry gets done. Personal emails are sent to communicate with families. Movies are watched in the lounge/conference room. Showers happen. People visit the exercise room. The ships store opens up for a while each night, allowing crew to splurge on a bag of chips or a candy bar. So, it’s a busy place. Whether it’s visible or not, there are always things going on.

 

In some very simple ways it is no different to your home or mine. There is food, shelter and water. In most other respects, it is very far removed from living on land. Most people don’t have breakfast, lunch and dinner with their work colleagues. Here we do. Most people don’t have bedrooms without windows in them. Here we do. Most people don’t have the floor swaying beneath their feet due to wave action. Here we do. And for what it’s worth, most people don’t get to look over the deck and watch curious sea otters swim by, knowing that a whale may breach any minute. Here we do.

 

 

Fact of the day:

NOAA has nine key focus areas: Weather, Climate, Fisheries, Research, Satellites, Oceans and Coasts, Marine and Aviation, Charting and Sanctuaries. NOAA employs 12,000 people worldwide, of which 6,773 are scientists and engineers studying our planet. NOAA’s roots began over 200 years ago with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey by President Thomas Jefferson. In 1870 the Weather Bureau was formed closely followed by the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. In 1970 these three organizations became the beginning of NOAA. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency

Word of the day: Knot

Knot, in nautical terms is a unit of speed.  One knot is the equivalent of going one nautical mile per hour.

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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(Previous answer: The picture is of a light and whistle that are attached to my PFD (personal flotation device).

 Acronym of the Day

MPIC: Medical Person In Charge

 

Helen Haskell: Alaska, Here I Come… May 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydro Survey

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

Date: May 22, 2017

Weather Data

If anyone has been to New Mexico, you will have experienced the blue skies, the sunshine, and a range in temperatures, with storms blowing in, and dust devils swirling sand and debris all around.  This week, in the lead up to my trip we seem to have had it all.  Snow just to the west of the city, blue skies, cooler than average temperatures for May, and sudden rainshowers.  Today however, it is 90F and the swamp cooler is being turned on for the first warm but windy day of the summer.  

Science and Technology Log

So what is a hydrographic survey?  The Fairweather is one of NOAA’s many research vessels, but unlike many of the others that focus on life in the ocean, the Fairweather conducts surveys using SONAR to examine the ocean floor. This is an aspect of ocean navigation that most of us don’t consider, but looking for changes to the ocean or river floor, as a result of plate tectonics, natural disasters, coastline changes, and even sunken vessels.  Here’s a link to more information: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/ 

Personal Log

Living in the desert Southwest, I am and I feel far from the ocean. Water is a scarcity in the desert, but when we find it we are drawn to it, even if it is a spring seeping out of the rock up a dry wash. Just a couple of weeks ago I was on a boat, a beautiful 18 foot sea kayak, paddling with some of my students at Lake Powell.  Paddling up to explore side canyons with tall orange sandstone walls rising hundreds of feet, seeing willows and cottonwoods trying to re-establish as water levels recede, I wondered where and when I would be going with NOAA Teachers At Sea. Out of internet range for a week can do wonders for the soul, but I was eager to learn about my NOAA TAS placement.  

On the drive back to Albuquerque, NM, we pulled into the small gas station in White Mesa, near Blanding, UT.  My phone ‘beeped’ and emails came flooding in. Buried in the list of unread messages was the email from Jennifer Hammond, welcoming me back from my trip and giving me basic details  – Alaska to do hydrography…. I think perhaps I began jumping up and down at that point but you’d have to ask one of the students who was there….the reality is though, I would have been excited with any location and any science mission, but I’ve never been to Alaska and as someone who teaches geology, including bathymetry and subduction zones and other aspects of the ocean floor, this couldn’t be more relevant.

Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to increase my professional development and personal experience with learning about the ocean. Slowly I am incorporating oceanography more and more into my desert classroom. Some people ask why, when we are hundreds of miles from any coast line.  Not surprisingly there is always more to the story, beginning in New Mexico millions of years ago.  My modern desert region had several geologic episodes where it hosted inland seas, and students can visit the top of our Sandia Mountains that skirt the eastern edge of the city and find brachiopods and crinoids, fossils in the Pennsylvanian limestone and remnants of the ocean now securely seated at 10,000 feet.   The geologic connection is in fact an easy one to make. The challenge for me as a teacher is connecting my students to this modern day ecosystem so many miles away, one that many of them have not seen, or at least have not spent time with, and, in reality, have learned very little about.  Our oceans, as we know, are instrumental in the planet’s systems… Without securing a knowledge of how oceans function, we are unable to understand how Earth fully works and how our daily actions and choices have global impacts.

Back in the classroom, I shared my news with my students. In the lead up to the end of the school year we’ve been examining the website that contains information on the Fairweather, discussed SONAR, hypothesized what it would be like to live on a ship, and used Google Earth to figure out where Ketchikan and Kodiak, AK are.  Our discussions further our quest to learn more about density, buoyancy and how boats float.  A challenge was issued and students experimented trying to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy – for it to not sink or float.

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Students experiment with ways to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy

Students also began to create a list of questions that they would like me to answer while I am on the Fairweather…..stay tuned for some of the answers.

Questions about the ship and location of research Questions about living on a ship Science-related questions
How many rooms are on the ship?

How do ships not sink since they are made of metal?

Would it matter if there was a big animal under the ship?

What happens to all the sewage?

Is there a weight limit on the boat?

Who is the Captain?

What is the fastest it may go?

Will it snow where you are going and if so will it affect the boat or the research?

Does the boat sail every summer?

How many miles are you travelling?

What temperature will it be?

What are some jobs on the boat?

Is there ice in the ocean where you are going?

What does the ship’s mast do?

What is the hardest part about taking care of the boat?

How long did it take to build?

If you fall off, what do you do?

Can you take a shower?

What does the ship provide me?

When do I get to sleep on the boat?

Do we catch any of the food we eat?

How much food is brought on the ship for a voyage?

Are the seas going to be rough?

What is included in the bedroom?

How hard is it to work on the ship?

Will you have to wear dirty clothes? Do they have a washer and dryer?

Will you fish?

Will you go swimming?

How many people are traveling with you?

Do you get seasick?

Are there going to be other women on the boat?

Do the other workers get seasick?

What age could you go on a trip like this?

Do you share a room?

How does the SONAR actually work?

Does Ms Haskell get to operate the SONAR machinery?

Do you do any research about ocean life?

How accurate is the scanner?

How deep is the trench up by the Aleutian islands?

What is the deepest the ocean will be?

Will you see whales?

What is the favorite animal you have seen on the ship?

What’s it like to feel an earthquake on a ship?

Are there any sunken ships or warships like the USS New Mexico up there?

Are the oceans deeper or shallower than others?

The next month promises to be a great adventure and a fantastic way for me as a teacher to learn more current science research, to explore an area of the world I have never been, and for the ‘desert dwelling ocean rookie’ to become well acquainted with the diversity of jobs and life on a research ship.  As a ‘birder’ I hope to add new birds to my life list, maybe see a new mammal or two, and incorporate much more understanding of this part of the world into my classroom and community.  Stay tuned.  

Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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In order to check whether the tide gauge is working or not, a tidal observation needs to take place.  Over the course of several hours, the tide is measured as it rises or falls on graduated staffs and is recorded and compared to our tidal gauge data.  Credit Brian Glunz for the photo.

While horizontal control base stations are used to improve the accuracy of the positions of all points on a surface by providing a fixed known location to compare to GPS coordinates, constantly changing tides present another challenge in of its own.  With tides in the survey area ranging 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 ft.), depths can vary widely for various shallow-water hazards depending on the strength of the tide.  Consequently, accurate tide data must be recorded during the survey and in close proximity of the survey site since tides vary widely depending on topography, weather systems, and other factors.  This is where tide stations come into play and are necessary to accurately gauge the vertical level of water throughout the survey area.

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Surveying equipment is used to check benchmarks near the tide station in the upper left for any movement.  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Hannah Marshburn is recording data from the leveling process with Ensign Matthew Sharr sighting a staff held in place by Ensign Mason Carroll and Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus.

Before a survey is started in an area, a tide station can be set up within the survey area to measure local tides. The tide stations use solar cells to generate electricity to power a small compressor on land that sends air through a hose that is attached to the ocean bottom in a near-shore environment.  The tide gauge can measure how much pressure is needed to generate a bubble out the end of the hose, the greater the pressure, the deeper the water.  These pressure gradients correlate to a certain depth of water while the depth of the water is tied to a nearby benchmark of surveyed elevation.  This information is then transmitted out to tide reporting sites online.  For additional data on tide patterns, the information on tide levels can be downloaded from the gauge in refining survey data.  In order to ensure that a tide gauge is working correctly, manual tide observations are periodically made at the same location. Additionally, the benchmarks near the tide gauge go through a process called “leveling.” This is survey work that compares all of the secondary benchmarks in the area to the primary benchmark.  If none of the benchmarks have moved relative to each other, it is safer to assume that the benchmarks still represent the elevation that they were originally surveyed.  Once the survey in the area is completed, the tidal gauge is packed up to be used at another location.  Since the portion of the tidal gauge that releases the pressurized bubble is under the entire tidal water column, a dive team is required to remove the remaining equipment.  The entire tidal gauge site is returned to how it looked before the station was set up.  Only the survey benchmarks remain for future use.

Personal Log:

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From left to right Ensign Tyler Fifield charts our course while Able Seaman Godfrey Gittens has the helm with Ensign Lander Van Hoef controlling the power to propulsion.  Bridge usually has at least one officer and one deck member on watch at all times.  Ensign Fifield has been in NOAA and on the Fairweather for two years and has a background in marine safety and environmental protection.  AB Gittens spent 4 years in the Navy, 20 years on commercial and military marine contracted vessels, and has now worked for NOAA for a couple of months.  Ensign Van Hoef has a background in mathematics and has been on the Fairweather for six months.

Dear Mr. Cody,

On our cruise ship there are officers that wear uniforms who run the ship.  They also look out for the safety of everyone onboard.  They are very nice and know a lot about how to keep the ship running and get the cruise ship to each stop on our vacation.  They work with each department on the ship to make sure everything runs properly and people stay safe.  It has been a great trip to Alaska, and now we are at our last stop.  Goodbye Alaska!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and has been corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has officers, the NOAA Corps, to help run the ship and carry out NOAA’s mission by utilizing NOAA’s fleet of ships and aircraft and by staffing key land-based positions throughout the organization.  The NOAA Corps ensures that trained personnel are always available to carry out NOAA’s missions using cutting-edge science and technology.  This gives NOAA the flexibility it needs to complete many types of varied research since officers are trained to fulfill many types of missions.  This gives NOAA the ability to respond quickly to scientific and technological needs and helps retain a continuity of operations and protocol throughout the vast fleet and area of operations.  In order to be considered for acceptance into the NOAA Corp, applicants must have at least a four year degree in a field of study relating to NOAA’s scientific and technological interests.  Once accepted into the program, they go through five months of training at the United States Coast Guard Academy where they develop an understanding of NOAA’s mission, maritime and nautical skills, and general ship and boat operation skills.  After successful completion of the training, NOAA officers are placed on a ship in the fleet for three years of sea duty to begin their new career.

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Chief Electronics Technician Sean Donovan performs his daily check of communications systems on the bridge.  CET Donovan served as a naval service ground electronic technician for 11 years in the Navy and has been in NOAA for 8 months.

On the Fairweather NOAA Corp officers help run and manage the ship and launch boats.  They navigate the ship and stand watch on the bridge.  They work with the other departments to ensure that the mission is accomplished and everyone remains safe during the mission.  On a hydrographic survey ship such as the Fairweather, Corps officers commonly have the position of sheet manager for hydrographic survey regions as collateral duties allowing them the opportunity to plan the logistics of hydrographic survey areas and learn how to use software associated with hydrographic data collection and analysis. Additionally, officers will be assigned to other scientific missions as they arise since the Fairweather will participate in a variety of scientific projects throughout the year.

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Able Seaman Carl Coonce controls the hydraulic system that is picking up a launch boat from a survey mission.  AB Coonce has been in NOAA for 12 years.  He was also on the NOAA ships Albatross and Bigalow.  He has been on the Fairweather for five years.  He started out in NOAA as a second cook and then a chief steward, but he wanted to learn more about ships; so, he made the move to the deck department commenting, “When you go out on deck, all differences are set aside.  We lookout for each other.”

A hydrographic ship such as the Fairweather requires many departments to work together  including the NOAA Corps officers to accomplish the mission.  There is the deck department and engineering department and the steward department as I have discussed their role in previous posts.  However, there are also electronic technicians that assist the survey in all of its technological aspects including the ship’s servers, electronics, radar, and communication systems.  Since technology plays a critical role in the collection and analysis of data, a hydrographic ship depends on these systems to carry out its scientific research.

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Acting Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician John Doroba prepares a boat launch for another portion of the hydrographic survey.  ACHST Doroba is the lead survey technician for this leg.  He has a background in geography, physical science, and information systems with a decade of work experience in and out of NOAA relating to surveying and related technology.

The survey department does the bulk of the collection and analysis of hydrographic data.  Depending on experience and education background, someone in survey may start out as a junior survey technician or assistant survey technician and advance up to a survey technician, senior survey technician, and possibly a chief survey technician.  With each step more years of experience is required because a greater amount of responsibility comes with each position concerning that survey.  Survey technicians generally need to have a background in the physical sciences or in computer science.  Technology and physical science go hand-in-hand in hydrographic survey work by applying and analyzing scientific data through the lens of advanced technology and software.  One needs to be capable in both areas in order to be proficient in the survey department.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Steve Eykelhoff collects hydrographic data during a launch.  HAST Eykelhoff has a background in geology and hydrology.  He has worked on many mapping projects including mapping the Erie Canal and the Hudson River.

It really comes down to people working together as a team to get something done.  In the case of the Fairweather, all of this talent and dedication has been brought together in a team of NOAA Corps, engineers, deck, survey, technicians, and stewards to carry out a remarkable array of scientific work safely and efficiently.  This team is always ready for that next big mission because they work together and help each other.  Yes, Dillion, my time here on the Fairweather is also drawing to a close.  I have enjoyed the three weeks onboard and have learned a lot from a very friendly and informative and driven crew.  I thank all of those who were willing to show me what their job in NOAA is like and the underlying concepts that are important to their careers.  I learned a great deal concerning NOAA careers and the science that is carried out onboard a NOAA hydrographic ship.  Thank you!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the United States consisting of more than 300 officers that operate NOAA’s fleet of 16 ships and 9 aircraft.

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A. a ship  B. a hydrographic survey  C. a NOAA vessel  D. a final farewell to an amazing ship and crew

You should already know the answer if you have been following this blog!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an azimuth circle.  The Fairweather has an azimuth circle onboard.  While it is not typically used for navigation, it is yet another technology that remains as a holdover from earlier seafaring times and as a potential navigation tool available when all modern equipment has failed.  The azimuth circle can be used to measure the position of a celestial body for navigation purposes or to get a bearing on an object visible from the ship.)

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.

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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.)

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 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 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N
Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W
Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)
Water Temp: 14˚C (58˚F)
Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Wind Speed: 6 kts (7 mph)
Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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“Killing dots” or manually flagging data points that are likely not accurately modeling hydrographic data is only the beginning of a very lengthy process of refining hydrographic data for new high-quality nautical charts.  Credit Hannah Marshburn for the photo.

In the last post, I talked about how we collect the hydrographic data.  The process of hydrographic data collection can be a challenge in of itself with all of the issues that can come up during the process.  But, what happens to this data once it is brought back to the Fairweather?  In many ways this is where the bulk of the work begins in hydrography.  As each boat files back to the ship, the data they bring back is downloaded onto our servers here on the ship to begin processing.  Just the process of downloading and transferring the information can be time consuming since some data files can be gigabytes worth of data.  This is why the Fairweather has servers with terabytes worth of storage to have the capacity to store and process large data files.  Once the data is downloaded, it is manually cleaned up.  A survey technician looks at small slices of hydrographic data and tries to determine what is the actual surface of the bottom and what is noise from the multibeam echosounder.  Leaving too many false data points in the slice of hydrographic data may cause the computer software to adjust the surface topography to reach up or below to something that in reality does not exist. The first phase of this is focused on just cleaning the data enough to prevent the hydrographic software from recognizing false topographies.  Even though the data that does not likely represent accurate hydrographic points are flagged and temporarily eliminated from the topographic calculation, the flagged data points are retained throughout the process to allow for one to go back and see what was flagged versus what was retained. It is important to retain this flagged data through this process in case data that was thought to be noise from the echosounder really did represent a surface feature on the bottom.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sam Candio is using a three dimensional viewer to clean the hydrographic data collected from that day’s launches.

Once this process is complete, the day’s section is added to a master file and map of the target survey area.  This needs to happen on a nightly basis since survey launches may need to be dispatched to an area that was missed or one in which the data is not sufficient to produce quality hydrographic images.  Each launch steadily fills in the patchwork of survey data; so, accounting for data, quality, and location are vitally important.  Losing track of data or poor quality data may require another launch to cover the same area.  After the survey area is filled in, refinement of the new map takes place.  This is where the crude cleanup transitions into a fine-tuned and detailed analysis of the data to yield smooth and accurate contours for the area mapped.  Data analysis and processing are the parts of hydrographic work that go unnoticed.  Since this work involves many hours using cutting-edge technology and software, it can be easy to underappreciate the amount of work survey technicians go through to progress the data through all of these steps to get to a quality product.

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (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,

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A friendly humpback is keeping our survey launch company as we map our assigned polygon.

I know what you mean about the wildlife.  I am seeing wildlife all over the place too.  On our transit to our survey site from Juneau, I saw numerous marine mammals: hump back whales, dolphins, and killer whales.  On our last survey launch, we had two humpbacks stay within site of the boat the entire morning.  They are remarkable creatures.  Whenever we locate a marine mammal, we fill out a marine mammal reporting form allowing various interests to use these reports to estimate the population size and range of these animals.  The waters off the Alaskan coast are full of marine life for a reason.  It is a major upwelling area where nutrients from the ocean bottom are being forced up into the photic zone where organisms such as phytoplankton can use both the nutrients and sunlight to grow.  This provides a large amount of feed for organisms all the way up the food chain.  This area is also known for its kelp forests.  Yes, if you were on the sea bottom in these areas dominated by kelp, it would look like a forest!  Kelp are a very long- and fast-growing brown algae that provide food and habitat for many other marine organisms.

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Kelp forests form on relatively shallow rocky points and ledges allowing for the holdfasts to form and latch onto the bottom giving the resulting algae growth the opportunity to toward the surface to collect large amounts of sunlight for photosynthesis.

Did You Know?

The RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounders found onboard the survey launches use a 200 kHz or 400 kHz sound frequency.  This means the sound waves used fully cycle 200,000 or 400,000 times per second.  Some humans can hear sounds with pitches as high as 19 kHz while some bat and dolphin species can hear between 100 and 150 kHz.  No animal is known to have the capability to audibly hear any of the sound waves produced by the multibeam onboard our survey boats.  Animals that use echolocation tend to have much higher hearing ranges since they are using the same premise behind acoustic mapping in hydrography but to detect food and habitat.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a marker buoy  B. a water purification system  C. an electric bilge pump  D. a CTD sensor

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was A. a search and rescue transponder.  If a launch boat were to become disabled with no means of communication or if the boat needs to be abandoned, activating a search and rescue transponder may be the only available option left for help to find someone missing.  When the string is pulled and the cap is twisted, a signal for help is sent out in the form of 12 intense radar screen blips greatly increasing the odds for search and rescue to find someone in a timely manner.  The radar blips become arcs as a radar gets closer to the transponder until the radar source gets within a nautical mile in which the arcs become full circles showing rescue crews that the transponder is nearby.)