NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog

Meg Stewart: What’s it Like to Work on a NOAA Ship? July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: July 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54° 09.9 N
Longitude: 161° 46.3 W
Wind: 22 knots NW
Barometer: 1014.2 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 55.6° F or 13.1° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation


Careers at Sea Log, or Meet the ….

Life at sea on the Ship Fairweather, this past week and a half, with some 42  crew members, has been something I have never experienced. The closest thing that I can think of was when I was in undergraduate geology field camp, living in close quarters for weeks on end, with the same people, working together towards a goal. But I knew all of those field camp students; we were in college together. This is different. Everyone works here on the Fairweather and this is their job and their home. We’re all adults and no one knows anyone when they first come aboard. So, if you are friendly, open to people and welcoming, you can get to know some folks quickly. If you’re shy or try to ease in slowly, it may be a harder adjustment, living on a 231-foot heaving, rolling, pitching and yawing, ice-strengthened, welded steel hydrographic survey vessel. It’s a unique environment. And there are a lot of different but interesting jobs that people do here on the Fairweather. Here are but a few of the mariners on the ship.

NOAA Corps – The first group of ship crew that I’ll talk about are NOAA Corps officers.  NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (or NOAA Corps) is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services and they are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA Corps support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions.

XO Sam Greenaway
XO Sam Greenaway, the Executive Officer on NOAA Ship Fairweather

Commander Greenaway is the Executive Officer onboard Fairweather and that work entails a variety of tasks that all function under the heading “administering the ships business.” Greenaway’s number one job is as the ship’s Safety Officer and he has additional tasks that include purchase requests from the departments, lining up contractors, making sure everyone has their training up-to-date, handling human resource issues, and accounting of the ship’s finances. On the Fairweather, Greenaway is second in command. He loves being at sea and has always liked sailing, which is one of his hobbies when not on the ship. What Greenaway least expected to be doing as a NOAA Corps officer was managing people but he finds that he loves that part of the job. Greenaway has a bachelors of science degree in Physics from Brown University and a masters degree in Ocean Engineering from University in New Hampshire. 

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ENS Jeffery Calderon, Junior Officer
ENS Jeffery Calderon, Junior Officer

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon is a NOAA Corps Junior Officer and has been on Ship Fairweather for two years. Calderon was previously with the Air Force for eight years and also with the National Guard for about four years. His duties on the ship include driving small boats, doing hydrographic surveys, bridge duty on the ship, and he’s the medical officer on board. Calderon enjoys the challenges he gets with NOAA Corps and likes to manage small teams and decide priorities. He learned about NOAA Corps from his college advisor at the University of Maryland, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics.

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ENS Iris Ekmanis, Junior Officer
ENS Iris Ekmanis, Junior Officer

Ensign Iris Ekmanis is also a Junior Officer who recently completed her basic training for the NOAA Corps. She has been on Ship Fairweather for about a month and a half. She chose NOAA Corps because she wanted to utilize her degree in Marine Science (from University of Hawaii, Hilo) and had worked on boats for six years. She likes that she has been learning new things everyday, like how to pilot the ship from the bridge, learning to coxswain a launch, and learning to use the hydrographic software to collect bathymetric data. In fact, when we left the dock in Dutch Harbor at the beginning of the leg, Ekmanis had the conn, which means she maneuvered the ship through her orders to the helm (although she had plenty of people around her in case she needed assistance.)

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Survey team – The hydrographic survey team is involved in all aspects of collecting the data and generating the bathymetric surfaces that will be used to make updated nautical charts. They don’t drive the boats and ships, they run the software, take the casts that determine water salinity and temperature, tell the coxswain where to motor to next and then process the data back on Ship Fairweather.  There are six members on the survey team; here are two of them.

Ali Johnson
Ali Johnson, Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician

Ali Johnson has been a hydrographer on the Ship Fairweather for two and a half years. She told me she always knew she wanted to work in ocean science in some capacity so she earned a degree in Environmental Studies at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.  With this job, Johnson enjoys going to places that most people don’t ever get to see and one of the highlights was surveying while dodging icebergs and seeing the interesting bathymetry as a result of glacial deposits, another was seeing an advancing glacier up close. She is the hydrographer who showed me most of the ropes on the ship, the launch surveys and in the plot room.

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Michelle Wiegert
Michelle Wiegert, Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician

Michelle Wiegert has been with NOAA Ship Fairweather since last September. Although she did not lay eyes on the ocean until she was nineteen, she always knew she would do some ocean-based work.  Wiegert earned a double major in Biology and Spanish from Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado and studied Applied Science Marine Technology at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC. As a Survey team member, she loves that she is working at sea and the fact that every day is different and she is always learning new things.

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Ship Stewards – The stewards are the crew members who make the three square meals a day. The food on Ship Fairweather has been outstanding and every meal seems like two or even three meals in one because the stewards offer so much variety, including vegetarian and vegan options.  There are four stewards on the Fairweather and they are all as nice as can be. Here is one of them.

Carrie Mortell, Acting Chief Cook
Carrie Mortell, Acting Chief Cook

Carrie Mortell has been a steward with the Fairweather for two years and with NOAA for fifteen. She has ten years of commercial fisheries experience in southeast Alaska and she loves the ocean. Mortell told me she feels more comfortable at sea than on land. She likes to keep busy in her downtime by reading, writing letters, crocheting, cooking & baking and drawing.

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Deck Department – The Fairweather’s Deck Department takes care of general ship maintenance, cleaning decks, painting, operating cranes, helming the ship, and coxswaining the launches. There are currently eight members of the Deck Department and I interviewed one for this post.

Eric Chandler, Able Seaman
Eric Chandler, Able Seaman

Eric Chandler has been an Able Seaman with NOAA for one and a half years. He has driven the launches, taught coxswains-in-training, been a ship medic, moved launches with a davit, repaired jammed grab samplers, and many other tasks. Chandler started working on boats in 2016 when he was a deckhand, educator and naturalist on tour boats out of Seward, AK.  He has also been a professional photographer and an auto mechanic. Chandler likes being on a ship because he sees remote places, gets to learn new skills all the time, and likes the feeling of being self-sufficient.

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Visitors to NOAA Ship Fairweather – I am a visitor to Ship Fairweather but I am not the only temporary person onboard. Here are two of the four of us who are “just passing through.”

Fernando Ortiz
Fernando Ortiz, Physical Scientist at NOAA

Fernando Ortiz has been a Physical Scientist with NOAA since 2008 and works out of Western Regional Center in Seattle, WA. He was visiting the Fairweather on the same leg is mine. NOAA Physical Scientists normally work in the office but will go on a NOAA ship at least once a year to support field operations. Ortiz will possibly do the quality control check on the data for the Cape Newenham project in the future. Ortiz has a bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Washington, Seattle WA. His advice for people looking for a similar career is to take science classes and he emphasized having Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and programming experience.

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Christine Burns, Knauss Fellow
Christine Burns, Knauss Fellow through NOAA Sea Grant

Christine Burns is visiting from Washington, DC, where she is a Knauss Fellow through NOAA Sea Grant. She is on a one-year post-graduate marine policy fellowship with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.  She wanted to see what the hydrographic research going on so came out to Dutch Harbor as part of her fellowship. Burns has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and a masters in Marine Science from the University of Georgia in Savannah, GA. As she was visiting like I was and we were both very much observers, Burns filled me in on some scholarship and internship ideas she has for high school students and those students thinking of careers and college after high school graduation. By the way, once you’re nearing the end of college or have graduated already, don’t forget that there is usually career advisory office and your alumni network at your institution. You can make connections, seek advice, ask about positions, among other important functions those offices and groups do for you.
Hollings Scholars – for current college sophomores, this is an undergraduate scholarship and internship through NOAA
EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship Program – this is the Hollings Scholarship for students attending HBCU or Minority Serving Institutions
Student Conservation Association – a good place to get work and volunteer experiences or a gap year opportunity, for people 18-35 interested in land management.
Youth Conservation Corps – a summer youth employment program that engages young people in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests, and so on.
USAJobs – this link has summer internships for college students or recent graduates.
Rotary Clubs can help students find scholarships and volunteer opportunities
Unions – you can find paid internships or educational opportunities through unions for skills such as pipefitters, electrical, plumbing, etc.

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Next post: the Engineering Department of the Ship Fairweather

Personal Log

I am impressed and awed by the people who have chosen living and working on a ship. When I first came aboard the Fairweather, I felt everything was a little cramped and the space was confined. I couldn’t figure out how to get around very well. Now, I don’t get lost as often. It isn’t easy to live and work on a ship, but there are plenty of folks on the Fairweather who happily chose it.

Meg on flying bridge
On the flying bridge near Cape Newenham

I’ve enjoyed looking out at sea as we are underway. I try to spot whales and other flying and leaping sea critters. We have one more long transit before arriving back to Dutch Harbor so I am going to head up to the flying bridge and see what I can see.

Did You Know?

The Fairweather makes its own potable water. When I was shown the engine room, I was also shown the reverse osmosis water making machine that turns sea water into fresh water. The ship never runs out!

Quote of the Day

“It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” – Sir Francis Drake

Meg Stewart: Data Acquisition on a Small Boat: Tips and Tricks, July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 9 knots SE
Barometer: 1005.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 61° F or 15.5° C
Weather: Overcast with fog, no precipitation

Fairweather in fog
The other day while on a survey launch, we came up on the Ship Fairweather as fog was rolling in.


Science and Technology Log

Launch preparation
A launch getting ready to survey. The setup process takes some time and all of the preparation is necessary for accuracy in the data.
Heave, pitch, roll, and yaw describe the movements of a boat (or a plane). An inertial measurement unit reads those discrete movements. Source: wikipedia

In the last post I talked about hydrographic surveying, the software used and the multibeam echosounder on the survey boats (called launches). The software is setup in the cabin by the hydrographer in charge. It takes a good five minutes to get an accurate read from the GPS (global positioning system) receiver. Then it takes time for the IMU (inertial measurement unit) to respond and start to read the boat’s heave, pitch, roll, yaw, and heading values. 

hydrograpers
The hydrographer in charge (standing) is showing the hydrographer in training (seated) how to setup the day’s survey project using the echosounder software.
launch data storage
The four Fairweather launches have the same, high-end technology in their cabins used to collect data from the multibeam echosounder, CTD sensor, a sound speed system, and a positioning and altitude system.

Often, the launch drives in a circle eight in order for the positioning receivers to be “seen” by the satellites, as a  stationary object is more difficult to detect than one that is moving. Setting up the day’s project using the multibeam echosounder software also takes some time but all the steps need to be done properly and to the correct specifications prior to starting the sounder. If not, the locational data will be wildly off and the depths inaccurate.

Another task that must be done from the launch before starting to transect is to test the salinity and water temperature using a CTD probe, which is called a cast. I mentioned this in a previous post. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. In the general area where the launch will survey, the CTD drops slowly to the bottom of the seafloor, collecting data that will be fed into the hydrographic program. Salinity and temperature at different depths will slightly change the rate at which sound travels in water. Again, the CTD process makes the location and depths as accurate as possible and must be done.

Meg casts CTD probe
Casting the CTD probe into the survey location to get conductivity, temperature and depth readings.

Usually, the chief hydrographer sets the defined area to be transected for the day and this is usually a polygon. The launch will sweep with the multibeam echosounder the outside lines and then scan at parallel set distances between the lines, either in a roughly north-south direction or a roughly east-west direction. For this particular hydrographic project, coverage of survey lines can be spaced at about 400 meters apart or greater apart depending on the depth. Recall that the nautical chart of Bristol Bay from the last post showed soundings dotting the area. Solid bathymetric coverage is not always needed on these projects. The Cape Newenham area has proven to have gradually varying depths and is mostly quite flat so free from obvious obstructions like large boulders and sunken ships. 

Once the technology setup is complete in the cabin, the hydrographer shares the map window with the coxswain (the person in charge of steering or navigating the boat). The hydrographer sets the points and the lines so that the coxswain knows where to direct the launch. And by direct, I mean the coxswain uses compass direction and boat speed to get from place to place for the survey. And the hydrographer in charge turns the echosounder on and off when the launch is in position or out of position.

Coxswain
The coxswain navigates the survey line set by the hydrographer in charge.

Because the transects run parallel to each other and are equally spaced apart, the hydrographers call this technique “mowing the lawn,” (see video below) for they are essentially mowing the surface of the ocean while the multibeam echosounder is collecting soundings of the surface of the seafloor.

A video of someone mowing a lawn on a riding lawnmower

A day out on a launch will go from about 8:30am to about 4:30pm but sometimes an hour or so later. If the Alaskan weather is cooperating, the hydrographers want to do as much as they can while out on the launch. Once surveying is complete for the day, the hydrographer in charge has to close up and save the project. Then data get transferred to the larger workstations and shared drive on the Fairweather.

Meg on launch
Every day on the launch, at least on this leg, has been great with perfect weather. And today, the added bonus for me was the phenomenal geology as we surveyed right along the shore.


Personal Log

I’ve taken loads of photos and video while at sea. I have tried to post just those pictures that help explain what I’ve been trying to say in the text. I haven’t posted any video on here as the internet on the ship is very weak. These next photos are a tour of different parts of the NOAA Ship Fairweather.

  • view of the bridge 1
  • view of the bridge 2
  • view of the bridge 3
  • barometer

The above slide show gives an idea of what the bridge is like. The ship is steered from the bridge. All the navigational instruments and weather devices, among other tools, are found on the bridge.

emergency billet
These emergency billets are for me, TAS Stewart, Meg, and it’s posted on my door. For each emergency situation, Fire, Abandon Ship, or Man Overboard, there is a bell sound and the location on the ship where I am to muster. Life at sea is all about being ready for anything.
mess
This is the mess (where we eat. And eat. And eat!) The food is fantastic but I’ve gained some pounds for sure.
Ice cream spot
Maybe this is why. Sometimes the Ice Cream Spot looks like this. Ha!
The galley
The galley
Laundry
Laundry machines available and detergent is supplied. No need to bring all your clothes. Also, sheets and towels are supplied.
Stairs
Stairs are called ladders on a ship. Makes sense to me – they’re often pretty steep. You must always hold a rail.
The Lounge
The Lounge
DVD collection
DVD collection of over 500 films
Lounge full of people
Yes, so this is the lounge and there can be meetings in here, training, movies, games, puzzles, quiet space, etc.
DVD in stateroom
Or, you can pop a DVD into a player in the Lounge, go back to your stateroom and watch. Or fall asleep. This is the original Blade Runner (which I never saw) and which I didn’t care for.
Finer things
The good folks of Ship Fairweather like to have a nice time every now and again, so they set up evenings, about once a leg, to have Finer Things. People come by, bring fine cheeses, fine chocolates, fine almonds, fine fig jelly, and fine maple sugar candy from Rhinebeck, NY, and have a fine time. And a disco ball.


Did You Know?

Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) technology that is so important for accurate hydrographic survey mapping was developed by the U.S. military. IMUs were used in the development of guided missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (and now drones), battlefield reconnaissance, and target practice.

Quote of the Day

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Grace Hopper

Meg Stewart: What Does the Seafloor Look Like? Hydrography Can Tell Us, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 1 knot N
Barometer: 1011.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 58° F or 14° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Red Sky
“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” This old mariner’s adage did NOT prove to be true when I saw this sunrise viewed from NOAA Ship Fairweather at 5:21am yesterday. It turned out to be a perfect delight for a surveying day!


What is NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program?

You may be wondering what, exactly, am I doing going “to sea” with NOAA. First off, NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and originates back to 1807 with Thomas Jefferson founding the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (as the Survey of the Coast) with a mission to provide nautical charts to the maritime community for safe passage into American ports. Over time, the Weather Bureau was added and then the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was developed. In 1970, these three agencies were combined under one umbrella organization and named NOAA, an agency that supports accuracy and precision of physical and atmospheric sciences, protection of life and property, and stewardship of natural resources. NOAA is within the Department of Commerce.

Meg on flying bridge
I am standing on the flying bridge of the Fairweather where you get a fantastic 360° view.

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program has existed since 1990, sending over 800 teachers on NOAA research cruises. The TAS mission is “to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.”  There is usually just one teacher sent per leg of a mission, that way the TAS gets full exposure to the research process and attention from the crew, scientists and staff on the ship. And it is true, everyone onboard has been friendly, helpful, welcoming, and willing to answer any question I might have, like, where is C deck? (That’s where my stateroom is located).


Science and Technology Log

Now that you understand NOAA’s mission, it should not surprise you that I am on a research cruise that is mapping a part of the seafloor that has not had detailed soundings. “Soundings” means the action or process of measuring the depth of the sea or other body of water. See the map below as that is where I am right now, in Bristol Bay. By the way, NOAA nautical charts are available for free at this NOAA site.

Bristol Bay nautical chart
The NOAA nautical chart of Bristol Bay, Cape Newenham and Hagemeister Strait. Note that where there are small numbers in the white and blue sections of the chart (that is all water), you can see the sounding depths to surface shown in fathoms. The red polygon is drawn on by me. We are working in the upper, northwest part of that “poorly mapped” section. Notice that there are essentially no soundings in that region.

When I’ve told friends, family and students that I was chosen to be on a NOAA research vessel that was compiling a detailed map of the sea floor off of Alaska, it was met with great surprise. “The ocean floor hasn’t been mapped before? How could that be?” In fact, more than 80 percent of the ocean bottom has not been mapped using modern, highly precise technologies.  But we do have a very coarse ocean floor – or bathymetric – map, created in the early 1950s by Marie Tharp using sounding data collected by the U.S. military and her collaborator Bruce Heezen. Tharp’s early map of the sea floor beautifully revealed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and added another piece of evidence in support of the theories of continental drift plate tectonics. There’s a terrific Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey episode featuring Tharp.

1977 colorized ocean floor map
This is the Tharp and Heezen (1977) colorized ocean floor map. This map is used under the Creative Commons license.

Why we need a more detailed bathymetry map than the one created by Tharp and Heezen can be explained by the original mission of the early version of NOAA. Jefferson wanted to build a “…survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States…” in order to provide safe passage of ships to ports within the navigable waters of the U.S. As the Bristol Bay chart above shows, there are still coastal areas that have limited to no data. Without detailed charts, mariners cannot know where the shallower waters are (called shoals), or rock obstructions, shifted underwater sand bars, shipwrecks, or other hindrances that cause safety concerns to the movement of boats.

The hydrographic Survey Team on the NOAA Ship Fairweather use several 30 foot boats, called launches, with a multibeam echosounder attached to the hull (the bottom of the ship). The multibeam echosounder uses sonar and is a device useful for both shallow and deep water. In a nutshell, depth measurements are collected by calculating the time it takes for each of the sound pulses to travel from the echosounder through the sea water to the ocean floor and back again. The distance from the instrument to the seafloor is calculated by multiplying the travel time by the speed of sound through seawater, which is about 1,500 meters/second or 4,921 feet/second. Right before a hydrographic survey is started, the team collects information on the conductivity, temperature and depth of the sea water, as temperature and salinity will modify the density and change the travel time of the sonar pulses. The video below can explain the process further.

This NOAA video explains multibeam sounding and hydrographic operations.
launch with echosounder
A launch on a lift right before going out to survey. The multibeam echosounder is permanently fixed to the bottom of the hull. It’s a square, rigid box that sits flat against the hull in front of the keel.
Ali in a launch
This is Ali Johnson in the cabin of a launch. She is a hydrographic survey technician and is analyzing the multibeam echosounder data as it is being collected. The length of a launch is 32 feet, and all the technology needed for the hydrographic surveys are directly on boats in the cabin. Post-processing, or stitching the completed surveys into one comprehensive product, is done “back in the office” on Ship Fairweather.

The software used to collect the soundings is created by the multibeam echosounder manufacturer, so the collection of millions of points on a transect is seamless. Data collection runs are taken over multiple days and several “legs” or extended periods of time when the crew are all out at the same time on the Fairweather.  Following collection transects, the data are then post-processed using Caris HIPS and SIPS, which is the software that the Fairweather hydrographers use for data processing.

screen showing bathymetry
A close-up of one of the monitors that shows what the sounding data look like. By looking at these data returns, the hydrographers can tell immediately if something is not right with the equipment. The two windows that show maps colored red to yellow to blue (top right and bottom left) show the bathymetry. The red areas are shallow depths and the blue are deeper depths, relatively speaking. Also notice the window at the bottom right with a triangle and circle within the triangle; that is showing the fan-shape of the echosoundings.


Personal Log

We’ve motored to a new location, Cape Newenham, which is the name of this mission, so we will be here for about a week. When we got underway, the ship got to really rocking and my stomach could not handle it. I had one bad night but I am now fine and ship shape!

Cape Newenham is at latitude 58°N so we are up close to the Arctic Circle (66.5°N). At this time of year, there are about 5 hours of darkness per night here in Alaska, which is really cool. Compare that what we have in New York…

Anchorage v NYC
For July 11, 2019, the number of daylight hours in Anchorage, AK (closest large city to where I am now) is 18 hours and 41 minutes. Times of sunrise and sunset are also given….the sun sets at 11:25pm today! And in NYC, NY (where my school is located), you are getting four fewer daylight hours, or about 15 hours of light. Again, times of sunrise and sunset are shown. Source for both: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa
Launches and Fairweather
Launches waiting to get underway. All boats going out for surveys stay close to the Fairweather until everyone is securely in their boat, just in case of MOB (man overboard).
Fairweather anchored
This is where Ship Fairweather is anchored for the next few days, as the survey crews transect the project area. We are on the southern side of Cape Newenham. Again, the terrain is tree-less, though we are now adjacent the mainland of Alaska. I’ve seen so many types of sea birds, but the puffins are the best because they seem to not have figured out how to fly. I hear there are walrus in the area, but I haven’t spotted one as yet.


Did You Know?

You probably know that Charles Darwin was the naturalist on board the HMS Beagle which set sail on December 27,1831. Over the nearly five years the Beagle was at sea, Darwin developed his ideas on natural selection and evolution of species. But what you might not know is that the captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, was an officer in the Royal Navy, a meteorologist and hydrographer. In fact, the primary mission of the Beagle was to survey the coastline of South America and, in particular, the Strait of Magellan, at the southernmost tip. Better, more accurate charts were needed by the British government, to navigate the treacherous, rough waters of the channels. In addition, FitzRoy was a protégé of Francis Beaufort (who developed the Wind Force Scale which is still used to help explain wind speed) and both worked together to create the science of weather forecasting.


Quote of the Day

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” – Rachel Carson

Meg Stewart: Aleutian Islands, Bald Eagles, Wildflowers, and Bunkers, July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54° 59.104 N
Longitude: 166° 28.938 W
Wind: 21 knots SE
Barometer: 1006.6 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 53° F or 11.5° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

Today, we left the port at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska and headed toward Cape Newenham. The mission for the Cape Newenham project is to gather detailed ocean depth data in order to knit together a comprehensive and highly detailed surface chart of the seafloor near Cape Newenham. I will talk about that process in my next post.

view of Dutch Harbor
A view of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. The surrounding hills are volcanic, with just a thin layer of soil, and not a tree to be seen.

Dutch Harbor is a small town with a relatively deep port. The Ship Fairweather has a draft of 15.5 feet. “Draft” is the vertical length between the surface of the water and the bottom of the ship, which is called the hull. A ship’s draft determines the minimum depth of water a vessel can safely navigate and dock at a port. However, though the Fairweather has a 15.5 foot draft, the crew prefers a 20 foot depth of water at a port.

Map of Bering Sea
This overview map shows where Dutch Harbor is in relation to Alaska, the Pacific Ocean, the Aleutian Islands, the Aleutian Trench and Russia. The A-B line is shown for the cross sectional line in the next figure. Cape Newenham is out next destination.

Dutch Harbor is part of Unalaska Island, which is one of the string of Aleutian Islands. The Aleutian Islands are part of the notorious Ring of Fire that marks the edge of the Pacific tectonic plate. As the Pacific Plate moves and grinds past some plates (like along the North American Plate at the San Andreas Fault) or pulls away from other plates (like the Antarctic and Nazca plates, creating the East Pacific Ridge) or plunges beneath other plates (like the Philippine and Indian-Australian plates, where we get deep ocean depressions called the Mariana Trench and Tonga Trench, respectively), we see active volcanism (which is the “fire”) but also lots of earthquakes. The Aleutian Islands are volcanic in origin – the island chain is a volcanic arc – and are a result of oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate being subducted under the oceanic crust of the North American plate. The deep depression at this tectonic boundary – also called a subduction zone – is called the Aleutian Trench.

Aleutian Trench
Referring to the A-B line shown in the overview map above, this cross section shows the mechanics of the subduction zone at the Aleutian Trench at Unalaska Island.
Aleutian Trench tectonic map
This is a tectonic map of the Aleutian Trench area (the symbol shown as a dark black curved line indicates a subduction zone). The map shows the relative motion of the Pacific and North American plates. It is clipped from the New York State Earth Science Reference Table

Looking at a schematic drawing of the side-view, or cross section, of the Aleutian subduction zone, we can visualize what this looks like beneath the surface. The older and more dense oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate is plunging under the younger oceanic crust of the North American Plate – the more dense material sinks down or subducts – and the less dense material stays floating on top, and this process is all due to gravity. With time, as the oceanic material is drawn deeper into the subduction zone, it becomes hotter, starts to melt and then comes back up to the surface as volcanic material and a string of volcanoes forming parallel – and in this case, forming an arc – to the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.

Personal Log

Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather
Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather

I arrived at Dutch Harbor on July 6, after 14 hours and three legs of air travel. Fortunately, I made all my connections and my luggage arrived at the tiny Dutch Harbor airport. I was picked up by welcome smile for a nice person from the Ship Fairweather, got to the port and settled in to my stateroom. The “stateroom” is my sleeping quarters or room. I have it all to myself, it is very comfortable with a sink, a small bed, drawers and a closet to fit all my stuff, and there’s a TV that I haven’t yet figured out how to work.

My stateroom
My stateroom or sleeping quarters. Caution: panoramic photos make everything look larger than they really are.

Did You Know?

On my second day in Dutch Harbor, I went out with some new friends from the ship on a lovely hike on nearby Bunker Hill. I saw so many beautiful wildflowers along the trek and an enormous number of bald eagles. I had no idea that bald eagles would be so plentiful here, but they were everywhere. It was amazing! But the other interesting thing about this hike were the bunkers.  In June 1942, Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy (six months after Pearl Harbor) during World War II. At the time of the raid, Alaska was a U.S. territory, and following the bombing, the bunkers of the now-known-as Bunker Hill were built to help defend not only Alaska but the west coast of mainland U.S. And here I thought Dutch Harbor was only known for Deadliest Catch!

Quote of the Day

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” Sylvia Earle

Meg Stewart: Getting Ready for an Adventure in Alaska

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 25, 2019

Introduction

I am so excited about my upcoming experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will be on the NOAA Ship Fairweather from July 8 to 19 and will be participating on a hydrographic research cruise, one that is mapping the sea-floor in detail; more about that soon. We will embark from and return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which is part of the Aleutian Islands. If you are my current or former student, or you are a friend or colleague of mine, or you are an admirer of the Teacher at Sea program, I hope you will follow along on this ocean adventure as I post about my experiences while at sea.

Meg on catamaran
This is me on a catamaran off the coast of Barbados.

A little about me

I am originally from California. I went to the beach often to body surf and splash around, maybe sunbathe (I don’t do THAT anymore).   It was in California where I got interested in geology. I was pretty young when I experienced the 1971 San Fernando 6.5M earthquake and after that, earthquakes were a regular occurrence for me. When I moved to Hayward, California, in early 1989 to complete my bachelor’s degree in geology at California State University East Bay, I was living off-campus and had the “pleasure” of rocking and rolling through one of the longest earthquakes I every felt when the 6.9M Loma Prieta earthquake hit.  I moved on from there to the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, to earn my Master’s in Structural Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I didn’t feel any earthquakes in Nevada, but I did do my research on an active fault in southwestern Utah. I like to think of myself as a “boots-on-the-ground” kind of scientist-educator.

Meg teaching
Teaching graduate students about digital mapping.

My work and life experiences are such that for five years after grad school, I was a staff geologist at a large environmental consulting company. I loved that job and it took me all around the U.S.  One of the assignments I had was to manage a mapping project involving data from New York and New Jersey harbor area. From that experience I became interested in digital mapping (known as Geographic Information Systems or GIS) and switched careers. I went to work at a small liberal arts college as the GIS support person within the instructional technology group. In addition to helping teach professors and college students how to work with the GIS software, I helped teach about use of social media in teaching, use a mobile devices for data collection, integrating alternative assessments like using of audio and video, and I maintained two computer labs. While I was involved in those two different careers, I gained some adjunct teaching experiences at several different colleges and grad schools, teaching geology, environmental science and GIS.

Meg at University of the West Indies
At the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies

Another professional experience that I’ve had that I am most proud of is I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010 to Barbados. My family and I lived in Barbados for a year while I was worked with the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) I taught GIS to graduate students, I worked with some of the students on research projects, I traveled to Belize as a field assistant on a field studies trip with faculty members and CERMES students, and I had the privilege of working on a marine-based, community-driven mapping research project with a then PhD student (who has since earned her degree). My part of the project was to take the spatial data, organize it and create a user-friendly Google Earth KML file. She and I got to travel around St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, teaching community members about the work, the available data, and how to access the Google Earth project file. 

New York state fossil
Behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, checking out the official state fossil of New York, Eurypterus Remipes.

In 2015, I re-tooled yet again and was accepted into a challenging yet rewarding education program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 15 months, I learned how to teach with artifacts, took graduate courses in all manner or earth and space subjects, of course, had classes in pedagogical approaches, had two in-residence teaching experiences at area schools, all the while in the amazing AMNH, home of Night at the Museum. 

Meg and students at AMNH
These are two of my ninth graders checking out a piece of kimberlite with a diamond sticking out. We’re at AMNH in the Hall of Planet Earth.

Now as a public high school educator, teaching Earth Science to 9-12 graders in the Bronx, I have a strong foundation in the solid earth topics like plate tectonics, rocks and minerals, and geologic time. But Regents Earth Science class in New York also involves oceanography, meteorology, climate science and astronomy. 

Meg snorkeling
Yes, this is me, actually in the sea at Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island in the Grenadines.

What compelled me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is what motivates me throughout my other life decisions: I wanted to push against my boundaries and my limitations. I have always had a healthy respect for the sea, which was mixed in with a little fear. I saw the movie Jaws when I was young and impressionable, so I never really wanted to venture too far into the water beyond the waves. I didn’t even want to swim in lakes for fear of what might be traversing through the murky unknown. As I’ve aged, I’ve certainly grown less fearful of the water. I’ve traveled on sailboats and catamarans, I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, I’ve jumped into waters with nurse sharks and stingrays! But as a teacher who feels like she’s missing some key knowledge of her curriculum – oceanography – I want to challenge myself to learn-while-doing as I have the privilege of being selected to be a Teacher at Sea. I cannot wait!

Tom Savage: Farewell Fairweather and the Drifter Buoy, August 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 23, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  87  43.9 N
Longitude – 152  28.3  W
Air temperature: 12 C
Dry bulb   12 C
Wet bulb  11 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 2 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1011.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 2000 K feet
Waves: 0 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm

 

Science and Technology Log

Today we deployed the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather off the southeast coast of Kodiak Island Alaska, at 3:30 pm Alaskan time zone. The buoy will be transmitting its location for approximately one year. During this time, students will be have the opportunity to logon and track its progress.

This project is very exciting for many of my students at the Henderson County Early College and elementary students at Atkinson Elementary (Mills River, NC) and Hillandale Elementary (Henderson County, NC) that have participated in my “Young Scientists” program.  Prior to my journey to Alaska, I visited those elementary schools introducing them to the mapping that we were going to collect and the important mission of NOAA.  As part of this outreach, students designed stickers that I placed on the buoy prior to deployment yesterday.  In addition, Ms. Sarah Hills, a middle school science teacher from the country of Turkey, is also going to track its progress.

An interesting note: my “Young Scientists” program was inspired in 2015 after participating in my first Teacher at Sea trip on board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni coordinator Jenn Annetta and Emily Susko for supporting this effort!

 

Drifter buoy

Deploying the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather – Photo by NOAA

All schools are welcome to track its current location. Visit the following site  http://osmc.noaa.gov/Monitor/OSMC/OSMC.html. In the upper left hand corner enter the WMO ID# 2101601 and then click the refresh map in the right hand corner.

The last day at sea, crew members had the opportunity to fish from the ship in a region called the “Eight Ball,” which is a shoal just of to the southwest of Kodiak Island.  Within ten minutes, the reels were active hauling in Halibut.  I have never seen fish this big before and Eric reeled in the biggest catch weighing around 50 lbs! Alaska is a big state with big fish!

Halibut

Eric hauling in his catch! Photo by Tom

Personal Log

This is my last day on board the Fairweather. For three weeks I witnessed a young NOAA Corps crew orchestrate an amazing level of professionalism and responsibilities to ensure a productive mission. While on board and I met new friends and I have learned so much and will be bringing home new lessons and activities for years to come.  The crew on board the ship has been very warm, patient and very happy to help answer questions. I am very honored to be selected for a second cruise and have enjoyed every minute; thank you so much!  As we sailed into Kodiak Island, witnessed an eye catching sunrise, wow!

Kodiak Sunrise

Sunrise, Kodiak Island – photo by Tom

 

I wish the crew of the Fairweather,  Fair winds and happy seas.

Tom

Tom Savage: What Other Scientific Data is Collected Besides Ocean Floor Mapping? August 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  55   44 N
Longitude – 165  23.04  W
Air temperature: 8 C
Dry bulb   8 C
Wet bulb  8 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 9 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1008.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 1 feet

Sunrise: 7:10 am
Sunset: 11:01 pm

 

Science and Technology 

There are other data being collected besides ocean floor mapping using the Bottom sampler.  Ocean floor samples are collected at many positions along the track line.

This is quite a gizmo, at the end is a metal scoop that collects soil samples once it hits the ocean floor. On both sides of the pole near my right hand, there is two underwater lights that is activated prior to deployment and a GoPro placed in a waterproof compartment.  The camera is operated from a wireless connection and the remote control device  is attached by Velcro to your wrist, just like a watch.  The device weighs around 35 pounds.

Bottom Sampler

Bottom Sampler – photo by Megan Shapiro

Once the sample is retracted and emptied on the deck, the size of the aggregate is measured using a scale and recorded. Why is this information useful ?  This data will be used used by mariners when assessing the best place to deploy an anchor. An ocean bottom containing a muddy composition is preferred as it helps to keep in place both the anchor and chain. Below is a sample we retrieved off of Point Hope, Alaska.   Using the bottom sample below, what are your thoughts, is this an ideal located to drop anchor?

Ocean Sample Scale

Bottom sample compared to Ocean Sample Scale ~ photo by Tom

 

Dropping an anchor for a ship is not a 5 minute job.  I recall fishing with my cousin in his small boat when I was in elementary school; we would arrive at an ideal location to catch lake bass and toss our anchor overboard. It was nothing fancy, a large plastic bucket filled with sand.  With the rope attached, we lowered the bucket “anchor” tie it off with some slack and for the most part it kept us from moving.  Anchoring a large 1,500 ton ship requires around 30 minutes to secure and the ocean depth would determine the amount of chain to use.  The anchor weighs 3,000 lbs and 400 – 700 feet of chain is deployed; this depends on the ocean depth. This brings the total weight of anchor and chain to around 48,000 pounds.  The anchor itself does not secure the ship, it is the combined weight of the chain and anchor.  After the chain is deployed, officers monitor the ships movement to ensure the anchor is not dragging using ECDIS, which uses a GPS feed that tracks the ship’s movement. Interesting fact, the Fairweather can hold 100,000 gallons of fuel, for ship stability purposes the fuel supply never gets below 40,000 gallons.

Personal Log

During the past few days, the sea has been a bit rough, but I love it especially at night, falling asleep is so much easier. It looks like Wednesday, I will be deploying the drifter buoy, stay tuned there will be an entire blog dedicated to it, including how to login and track its movement!. So far on this cruise I have not been able to view the constellations at night, the big obstacle is the fog.  Remember, the sun sets at around 11:30 pm and because of our latitude, it does not get very dark at night.  The other big issue has been the weather the past few days, mostly overcast and fog. As we transit to Kodiak Island, the weather forecast does not mention much about the sun, though we are in Alaska on the water!

Something else interesting to note; recall a few blogs ago I discussed relative humidity as a comfort gauge? It is the dew point temperature that meteorologist use for predicting rainfall, if the dew point temperature is 75 and the air temp is 76 F near the surface rain is almost guaranteed. Cruising in the Unga Strait within the Aleutian Islands today, the cloud deck is roughly currently at 1,000 feet. It is at that location where the dew point and air temperature match and cloud formation begins. This is what we call the LCL, lifting condensation level.

Last night I was talked into played the bass guitar for the first time, playing with the band on board.  They brought me up to par quickly, it was fun! I left the singing to the professionals, our deck hand Kyle and the XO (Executive Officer) Mike!

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom