Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)
Weather Data from Marietta, GA:
Latitude: 33.963900 Longitude: -84.492260 Sky Conditions: Clear Present Weather: Hot Visibility: 9 miles Windspeed: Less than 1 knot Temperature: Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit
It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.
As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:
Question 1: Where did you sleep?
I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!
Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?
Question 3: What animals did you see?
I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lionfound in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!
See the video below:
Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?
This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.
From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”
From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”
So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.
Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?
YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.“
Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.
Texas A & M- Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering
Wage Mariners-civil service federal employee (nonmilitary)
Do you have any plans for future education?
Currently investigating at master’s programs in Nuclear Engineering
Engineering aboard Fairweather
How did you find out about your current position at NOAA?
I met a NOAA recruiter at a job fair at Texas A & M, submitted resume and 3 weeks later I got the call! After that the lengthy background check and physical for Federal employees, I came to work at NOAA aboard Fairweather.
1) When you were a child, what was your dream career?
I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young. I looked into aeronautical engineering and attended a Federal Service academy – the United States Merchant Marine Academy. My Dad is an engineer and contractor, so I grew up on job sites and always had the mindset of math and science. I knew my career would be something in the STEM field
2) What was your
favorite subject in school?
My favorite class was
differential equations. Why I like
engineering so much is everything is one big puzzle, and differential equations
is like one big puzzle.
3) Why is what you do important to on the ship?
Engineers on ships are
essentially the lifeblood of the ship, we keep the ship moving. We are the electricians, plumbers, the
mechanics, and even the firefighters.
The ship can’t go anywhere without engineers!
4) What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is important to you?
I enjoy solving the puzzles. When something goes wrong, I enjoy finding out why something is not working and then solving the problem. That is what is so rewarding — figuring out what is wrong and fixing it!
5) Where do you do most of your work?
In the engine room. That’s where I spend my 8-hour shifts. The engineering room is on A & B deck — the 2 bottom-most levels of the ship. That is where most of the mechanisms that run the ship are located.
6) What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
A crescent wrench! Mine is handy because it can measure and tell
you the exact size of the nut which makes things a lot easier!
7) If you could invent any tool to make your
work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?
I would invent a tool
that could reach bolts at odd angles.
Like a magnetic wrench that could adjust to the size bolt head you need
and could bend around the odd angles and apply torque when I need it.
8) What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect?
I never expected to be in Alaska!
9) How could teacher help students understand and appreciate NOAA engineering opportunities?
I think it would be
valuable to have better understanding of what we engineers do! It’s a
really cool job, with a really good salary, and very few people know there are
positions like this available.
10) What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?
Every day is a little
different, you are never doing the same thing over and over again. Something is always breaking and needs
11) What was your favorite book growing up?
My favorite book
series when I was growing up was Junie B. Jones! I come from Florida and loved Jacques Cousteau.
He inspired me to become a scuba diver
12) What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
I would be still be
working on a boat!
13) Do you have an outside hobby?
I love camping and hiking, I’ve hiked 40 miles
of the Appalachian Trail and
would like to hike the rest!
When you were a child, what was your dream career?
As a child, I always wanted to draw. I was drawing constantly and I wanted to somehow make my love for creating art into a career, whether that meant being a studio artist myself or helping to teach others to make art.
2. What was your favorite (and least favorite) subject in school?
Believe it or not, science! I grew to really enjoy my science classes starting in middle school and through high school, especially participating in the science fairs. My love for science was inversely related to my love for math. I started to dread all my mathematics courses as I went through high school, and really up into my earlier college years which often made my science courses difficult. During my junior year in college I took calculus taught by a great professor and things finally clicked!
3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?
Sometime in between my junior and senior years in college, I realized I wanted to do what is I’m doing now. That’s when I was introduced to hydrography.
4. What do you enjoy the most (and the least) about your work?
I really enjoy working on the ocean and with small boats. It’s a really dynamic platform. The lifestyle that comes with living on a ship can be difficult. It’s a lot of traveling and spending time away from home.
5. Where do you do most of your work?
Most of my work is done on the ship in the Plot Room. It’s a big room on the ship where most of our processing systems live.
6. What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
A computer! Computers are used for data acquisition, processing, and delivery. Everything is done via some sort of processing/work station.
7. What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
I never thought I would be a NOAA Diver. I didn’t even know that NOAA had a dive program. Learning to be a working diver was an awesome experience and opportunity that I don’t think I would have ever had, or even would want to have outside of NOAA.
8. How could teachers help students understand and appreciate NOAA science?
Teachers could help students understand and appreciate NOAA science by sharing some of the awesome work we do that’s applicable to their classroom. NOAA is such a big administration with tons of cool science going on so by picking some interesting topics that are more relatable to their classroom audience might help engage their students.
9. What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?
When acquiring data, my favorite part of the day is the end, when the data is transferred and being processed. It’s not because the day’s over, but because I get to see all of the data we’ve collected throughout the day and remember the work that went into it. It’s also the beginning of the next stage of work for that dataset, the quality control stage.
10. What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure I would be doing anything hydrography related. NOAA has been a great learning platform for me to become the hydrographer I am now. NOAA has really taught me to appreciate ocean science.
11. Do you have an outside hobby?
My outside hobby is painting. It can be hard to find space on the ship to paint, but traveling around Alaska and being on the water always inspires me to be more creative.
12. What is your favorite animal?
Picking one is pretty difficult, but I’m really into jellyfish right now. They seem like they have a low-stress lifestyle.
13. If you could go back in time and tell your 10 year old self something, what would it be?
“Relax, being 10 is way cooler than you think.”
14. Have you traveled anywhere interesting travels while studying Geology?
I traveled to Northern India as my field study in college. We were studying the water quality and management stemming from the Ganges River. Also, most of my geology labs in college were trips to the field which often meant the beach. Traveling and being outside is an added bonus while studying geology.
Interested in learning more about Hydrography and NOAA? Check out the resources below:
Iris Ekmanis is currently a Junior Officer with the NOAA Corps.
On this Teacher at Sea mission,
Officer Ekman is currently on bridge watch, and is a training and small craft
Current Position: Junior
Deck Officer on Bridge Watch, training officer, small boats officer
3-4 other duties in addition to
Years at NOAA: 2.5 months after a 4-month basic training
College and/or specialized training:
2017 Bachelors of Marine Science from
University of Hawaii
Junior Officer Ekmanis worked as a deckhand on tourism boats, dive boats, whale watching, and worked on a small live-aboard cruise ship.
When you were a child, what was your dream career?
I wanted to be a marine biologist – but then I fell in love with being out on the water and on boats. Surrounded by the science of hydrography, I really like driving small boats and like the navigation part of my job.
2. Do you have any plans to continue your education while working for NOAA?
We get the GI bill since we are uniformed service (after 3 years with NOAA) so I’m considering a master’s in marine biology.
3. What was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject was outdoor education. I went to high school in New Zealand so there were outdoor education, whitewater kayaks, rock climbing, caving. My favorite academic subjects were biology & geography.
4. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?
I heard about NOAA in college, so I applied, I completed basic training and have been working for 2 ½ months.
5. What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is most important?
We are out here charting the seafloor to ensure safe navigation for other mariners who are traveling through the Pacific. All kinds of cruise ships, fisherman, and cargo ships travel through the Pacific and must get there safely. Also, it is important that we are researching the fault lines to learn more about earthquakes and tsunamis.
We navigate the ship to ensure safety and collaborate with the hydrotechs (hydrographic technicians) to make sure the ship’s travels are resulting in good hydrographic surveys.
6. What is the most enjoyable or exciting part of your work?
I would say it is constantly learning new skills. Every day, I’m on the bridge learning about navigation, on the launchers learning about hydrography, and the “office view” changes every day. Every single day is different, and most times wake up in a new place. I’m learning something new every day!
7. Where do you do most of your work?
Mostly on the bridge 8 hours a day, rest of the time working on computers, or my training workbooks, plotting courses, planning our next route. A lot of charting.
8. What tool do you use every day that you couldn’t live without?
Definitely the software systems that allow us to navigate, radar, etc.
9. What tool would you bring aboard to make your job easier?
Multi beam sonar that could see in front of us instead of below us, since we are in uncharted waters that would alleviate the possibility of us running into something.
10. Is there any part of your NOAA job that you didn’t expect?
The job is hands on right away, and the job is fast paced and very diverse. You started doing the jobs right away. I’m looking forward to learning more about hydro.
11. How could teachers help student understand and appreciate NOAA science?
12. What is the favorite part of your day and why?
My favorite time was in Alaska, in the launches (small boats) and navigating a vessel though the Inside Channel. Navigating through SE Alaska was beautiful! I also enjoyed seeing humpback whales and occasionally orcas.
13. What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
My favorite book series was Harry Potter when I was growing up. My idols were Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle .
14. What would you be doing if you weren’t working for NOAA?
If I didn’t work for NOAA I would definitely be doing something in the marine science field or in the maritime industry, I love boats! I would probably be working on a boat or doing something in the ocean.
15. Do you have an outside hobby?
My outside hobbies include: paddle boarding, surfing, scuba, free diving, outrigger canoes were my passion growing up, hiking, camping, anything outdoors.
16. What is your favorite animal?
Hawaiianspinner dolphin and whale sharks.
17. If you could go back in time and tell you 10-year-old self something, what would it be?
Keep pursuing your dreams, don’t take life too seriously, enjoy life and enjoy the ride.
Interested in a career as a NOAA Corps Officer like Junior Officer Ekamanis? Want to learn more? See the resource links below:
Bathymetry is defined as “the study of the “beds” or “floors” of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes.”
The term “bathymetry”
originally referred to the ocean’s depth relative to sea level, although it has
come to mean “submarine topography,” or the depths and shapes of underwater
terrain. In the same way that
topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features of land, bathymetric
maps illustrate the land that lies underwater. Variations in sea-floor relief may be depicted
by color and contour lines called depth contours or isobaths. (Click
here for source credit and more information from NOAA)
A bathymetric map looks like this (thanks Sam!):
Above are the first views of this part of the seafloor with a bathymetric map! (Color coded for depth – see the chart on the left)
Science and Technology Log:
Among the NOAA officers Navigating the ship, Hydrographic Technicians, and wage mariners aboard Fairweather, and the Teacher at Sea, there are also two guest USGS scientists: James Conrad, a research Geologist and Perter Dartnell, a physical scientist. USGS stands for United States Geographical Survey. The USGS was created by an act of Congress in 1879 and is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior.
As a Teacher at Sea, I had time to talk with these USGS scientists and learn more about Bathymetry and why it is important not only to scientists, but also how this information can be used to keep us safe.
Discussion with James Conrad research Geologist who is utilizing the science of Bathymetry among others to map the Cascadia Region of the Pacific seafloor. The USGS scientists’ focus is mapping the Cascadia Subduction Zone where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is “diving” below the North American tectonic plate. Areas of particular interest to these scientists are finding new faults, faults that are known but we have little information about, mud volcanoes and subsequent “seeps,” and the overall goal is to understand the behavior of the mega thrusts in the Cascadia Region.
the visiting scientists:
James Conrad has a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkley and a master’s degree from San Jose State and has been at the USGS for 38 years.
A conversation with Research Geologist James Conrad:
do you want students to know about Geology?
Geology is a field where
there is still so much to discover, especially if you are doing hazards research
work-like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, coastal change, and climate change
you always interested in geology?
Not as a child, but I became a geology major because I had taken an introductory course – and was guided to geology by the university.
met you on a ship-where do most of your work?
Office is in Santa Cruz, but we go out in the field 1-4 times a year for a week up to 3 weeks.
Geology is a very young
science, the fact that continents move wasn’t proven until 1963. There is very little known about the earth,
and there is so much more to discover.
Peter Dartnell has Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from Humboldt State University and a Masters of Geography from San Francisco State and has been with the USGS for 28 years.
A conversation with Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell:
does a physical scientist study?
Physical Science is a
combination of the studies earth and computer sciences using computers &
technology to study earth.
Physical Science allows you
to do everything along the scientific “study train” from data collection, interpretation,
are your publications used for?
Scientific publications from
the USGS (which is the science agency of the government) are used widely to
inform about potential geohazards and changes in the earth. We don’t make policy, but the information we
provide may be used drive policies, especially safety.
you want an aspiring physical scientist to know?
Even though you are studying
earth sciences in school, you’ll truly enjoy once you get out and start applying
what you’ve learned in the field with hands on science.
met on a ship, where is it you do most of your work?
I spend 75% of my time in the
office and 25% in meetings or traveling to study
is your favorite part of being a Physical Scientist?
Seeing part of the ocean that nobody has ever seen for the first time. We are the first ones to see these recently mapped parts of the sea floor.
types of technology you use in physical science?
We use specialized software to acquire data and analyze the data we collect.
We also use Multibeam sonar software – bathymetry and acoustic backscatter
do you think are some misconceptions about physical science?
Because we are working off shore and water covers 71% of the earth, marine geology is in its infancy — we really need to have a complete map of the sea floor which is vitally important to understand the geology of the earth. When we don’t have all of these details, we are essentially operating blind. That’s why the work that NOAA is doing is so important and the research partnerships with USGS are so valuable.
Much of the geography of the
seafloor is driven by the oil industry which is required to release their acquired
data every 25 years. A lot of the deep
penetration data is all from oil surveys. Sea floor mapping is limited for pure research
purposes due to limited resources.
Interested in learning more from
Check out these resources for students and teachers:
More about bathymetry and the NOAA and USGS mission:
I was lucky enough to attend a “Science Talk” by these USGS scientists which was titled the Subduction Zone Coastal & Marine Geohazards Project. The USGS scientists are guests aboard Fairweather like me.
The focus of the USGS research is along the 700-mile CascadiaSubduction Zone:
This area is where the Juan de Fuca plate dives below the North American Plate at an approximate rate of 1.6 inches per year.
Why is this subduction zone so important and why is NOAA Ship Fairweather out surveying the ocean floor in this area? That’s because the world’s largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along subduction zones. If we know the potential hazards, we can prepare people and potentially save lives.
To properly prepare, we need the following details:
This is why the bathymetric maps of the sea floor are important, they can help predict the area and amount of shaking that may occur during an earthquake and predict the tsunami danger zones. Then we can make decisions for building codes, infrastructure (like strength of bridges), and escape routes for Tsunamis. I took the pictures below when I arrived in Newport, little did I know how the research the Fairweather is conducting and the science of hydrography and bathymetric maps play a part in warnings like these! (See below)
Through the hydrographic surveying being conducted aboard Fairweather, the NOAA crew and USGS scientists are creating bathymetric maps which have reveled exciting new finds, such as: new seafloor faults, mapping known faults in greater detail, discovering mud volcanoes and submarine landslides, and using the water column data to discover the “seeps” which are most likely releasing methane gas. See below.
(Image Credits: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad)
When I first heard the term BATHYMETRY I had no idea how these detailed maps of the seafloor could hold so much critical information! It’s fascinating to watch this science happen right here and see the discoveries in real time.
This post begins the last week aboard Fairweather. I’m surprised about how quickly the ship has begun to feel “normal” to me. I know my way around backwards (aft) and forwards (bow) and enjoyed getting to know everyone better. Sean the IT specialist makes an amazing pot of French press coffee around 10:00 am and is kind enough to share with all. Bekah, Sam, Joe, and Michelle in Hydrography patiently answer dozens of questions and allow me to participate when possible. And the officers on the bridge answer all the questions and are very welcoming and generous with sharing information and their amazing views! Carrie and the kitchen crew make 3 amazing meals a day, and I’ve made some new workout buddies to try to stay healthy with all this wonderful food! The visiting scientists have been very nice about answering all my questions about bathymetry and geology. It’s great when you are writing and studying about geology to be able to turn around and ask a geologist a question!
I can’t believe how well I sleep on a ship! The ship is constantly rocking and for this teacher at sea, and for me, that means some seriously deep sleep. One thing I learned is to make sure all my belongings are secure before I go to bed. If you leave something unsecured, chances are they will be banging around in the middle of the night or get tossed off a shelf (not the best middle of the night surprise!). My room is very dark at night and I really don’t hear anything beyond the noise of the engines. You can barely hear the foghorn from my area towards the back of the ship which is lucky since those sleeping in the front of the ship could hear it all night! (Those friends look a little weary today.) I have to set an alarm, or I will just keep sleeping with the constant rocking motion that is so relaxing! Only 3 more nights of good ship sleep for me!
Following the excellent tutelage of the NOAA officers, hydrographers, and USGS scientists, it’s exciting to look at the screen in the hydrography lab and start a conversation about features of the sea floor that we are seeing (or seeing in detail) for the first time. On this mission, there have been new faults, mud volcanoes, and underwater canyons discovered. The science is so fascinating and so little is known about the research being conducted aboard Fairweather. I honestly had to “Google” the terms I am now so familiar with like Hydrographic survey, multi beam echo sounders, bathymetry, water column data, just to name a few.
That’s the thing about science that has been reinforced being a Teacher at Sea, no matter how much you think you know about the earth, you learn just how much we don’t know yet, and we’re just beginning to realize the vast amount that is left to discover.
Did You Know?
-The ocean covers 71% of the
earth’s surface, but we actually know more about the surface Mars than the Earth’s
ocean floor- (Credit-Peter Dartnell)
Juan de Fuca Plate is part of the famous Ring of Fire, a zone responsible for volcanic
activity, mountainous regions, and earthquake activity.
Question of the Day:
you know how many tectonic plates there are?
Did you know they are all constantly moving?
you name the Earth’s major tectonic plates?
Can you find on a map the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates that we are surveying
Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 53.055’ N 124◦ 47.003’W Windspeed: 13 knots Geographic Area: @10-15 miles off of the Oregon/California coast Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celsius Air Temperature 68◦Fahrenheit
Navigation is how Fairweather knows its position and how the crew plans and follows a safe route. (Remember navigation from the last post?) But what “drives” where the ship goes is Hydrographic survey mission. There is a stunning amount of sea floor that remains unmapped, as well as seafloor that has not been mapped following a major geological event like an earthquake of underwater volcano.
Why is Hydrography important? As we talked about in the previous post, the data is used for nautical safety, creating detailed maps of the ocean floor, setting aside areas are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines — especially subduction zones which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.
In addition to
generating the data needed to update nautical charts, hydrographic surveys
support a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging),
coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone
management, and offshore resource development. Detailed depth information and
seafloor characterization is also useful in determining fisheries habitat and
understanding marine geologic processes.
The history of hydrographic surveys dates back to the days
of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a
survey of our young nation’s coast. This began the practice and accompanying sciences
of the coastal surveys. The practice of
surveys birthed the science of Hydrography (which we are actively conducting
now) and the accompanying science of Bathymetry (which we will go into on the
next post.) This practice continues of
providing nautical charts to the maritime community to ensure safe passage into
American ports and safe marine travels along the 95,000 miles of U.S. Coastline.
Want to learn more about Hydrographic Survey history? Click on THIS LINK for the full history by the NOAA.
Scientists have tools or equipment that they use to successfully carry out their research. Let’s take a look at a few of the tools hydrographic survey techs use:
Want to learn more about the science of SONAR? Watch the video below.
On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.
The transducer on Fairweather is an EM 710- multibeam echo sounder which you can learn more about HERE.
The Transducer is located on the bottom of the ship and sends out 256 sonar beams at a time to the bottom of the ocean. The frequency of the 256 beams is determined by the depth from roughly 50 pings per second to 1 ping every 10 seconds. The active elements of the EM 710 transducers are based upon composite ceramics, a design which has several advantages, which include increased bandwidth and more precise measurements. The transducers are fully watertight units which should give many years of trouble-free operation. This comes in handy since the device in on the bottom of Fairweather’s hull!
Here is the transducer on one of the launches:
The 256 sonar beams are sent out by the transducer simultaneously to the ocean floor, and the rate of return is how the depth of the ocean floor is determined. The rate of pulses and width of the “swath” or sonar beam array is affected by the depth of the water. The deeper the water, the larger the “swath” or array of sonar beams because they travel a greater distance. The shallower the water, the “swath” or array of sonar beams becomes narrower due to lesser distance traveled by the sonar beams.
The minimum depth that this transducer can map the sea floor is less than 3 meters and the maximum depth is approximately 2000 meters (which is somewhat dependent upon array size). Across track coverage (swath width) is up to 5.5 times water depth, to a maximum of more than 2000 meters. This echo sounder is capable of reaching deeper depths because of the lower frequency array of beams.
The transmission beams from the EM 710 multibeam echo sonar are electronically stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw, while they receive beams are stabilized for movements. (The movement of the ship) What is roll, pitch, and yaw? See below – these are ways the Fairweather is constantly moving!
Since the sonar is sent through water, the variable of the water
that the sonar beams are sent through must be taken into account in the
Some of the variables of salt water include: conductivity
(or salinity) temperature, depth, and density.
Hydrographic scientists must use tools to measure these factors in sea water, other tools are built into the hydrographic survey computer programs.
One of the tools used by the hydrographic techs is the XBT or Expendable Bathy Thermograph that takes a measurement of temperature and depth. The salinity of the area being tested is retrieved from the World Ocean Atlas which is data base of world oceanographic data. All of this data is transmitted back to a laptop for the hydrographers. The XBT is an external device that is launched off of the ship to take immediate readings of the water.
Launching the XBT: There is a launcher which has electrodes on it, then you plug the XBT probe to the launcher and then XBT is launched into the ocean off of the back of the ship. The electrodes transmit data through the probe via the 750-meter copper wire. The information then passes through the copper wire, through the electrodes, along the black wire, straight to the computer where the data is collected. This data is then loaded onto a USB then taken and loaded into the Hydrographic data processing software. Then the data collected by the XBT is used to generate the sound speed profile, which is sent to the sonar to correct for the sound speed changes through the water column that the sonar pulses are sent through. The water column is all of the water between the surface and seafloor. Hydrographers must understand how the sound moves through the water columns which may have different densities that will bend the sound waves. By taking the casts, you are getting a cross section “view” of the water column on how sound waves will behave at different densities, the REFRACTION (or bending of the sound waves) effects the data.
See how the XBT is launched and data is collected below!
Videos coming soon!
The other tool is the MVP or moving vessel profiler which takes measurements of conductivity, temperature, and depth. These are all calculated to determine the density of the water. This is a constant fixture on the aft deck (the back of the ship) and is towed behind the Fairweather and constantly transmits data to determine the speed of sound through water. (Since sonar waves are sound waves.)
The sonar software uses this data to adjust the calculation of the depth, correcting for the speed of sound through water due to the changes in the density of the ocean. The final product? A detailed 3d model of the seafloor!
All of this data is run through the survey software. See screen shots below of all the screens the hydrographers utilize in the course of their work with explanations. (Thanks Sam!) It’s a lot of information to take in, but hydrographic survey techs get it done 24 hours a day while we are at sea. Amazing! See below:
Did You Know? An interesting fact about sonar: When the depth is deeper, a lower frequency of sonar is utilized. In shallower depths, a higher sonar frequency. (Up to 900 meters, then this rule changes.)
Question of the Day: Interested
in becoming a hydrographic survey tech?
See the job description HERE.
Challenge yourself — see if you can learn and apply the new terms and phrases below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
August 12th Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W Windspeed: 19mph Geographic Area: Northwest Pacific Ocean Cruise Speed: 12 knots Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit
Science and Technology Log
Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean. The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us! Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important? We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important. On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area. The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis. More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post. For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.
Science Word of the day: NAVIGATION
The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined:
process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and
following a route.
helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”
Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th:
As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe? Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.” So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be. First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!
the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat. These are not to be confused with the CO or
Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be
present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school
(if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals
1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck. The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales! The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed.
in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck. The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO
and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with
paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the
course for the ship.
The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman. The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD. Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.) The helmsman has another duty as lookout. The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.
There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions. This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!
Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?
Radar is a system
that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high
frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is
Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds. Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area. On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.
While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes. A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement. This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading.
Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.
To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.
Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only. Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles. So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.
It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too! As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station! What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?
With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)
The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship
must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below). Now the crew must plot a course to cover the
area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping. The bridge and the hydrographic survey team
collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and
timing of turns.
See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!
been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure! There is so much to take in and share with my
students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the
country! Today, we went from sunny skies
and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas! The ship is definitely moving today! I keep thinking about STEM activities to
secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship! For safety, the entire crew is tying up any
loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM
challenges to simulate this for sure!
Did You Know?
When steering a ship, an
unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the
degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30!
Question of the Day:
How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?
Thermosalinigraph: Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.
Challenge yourself: see if you can learn and apply the terms below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!
ECDIS: Electronic chart display information system
Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA? All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same. Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission. Learn more here: https://www.noaa.gov/education
I will be embarking August 12 and sailing through August 23 on a Hydrographic Survey mission from Newport, Oregon. Hydrographic Survey missions focus on mapping the seafloor in detail. I will be sharing more about that soon! To all my students (past and present), colleagues, fellow STEM enthusiasts, and friends, I hope you will follow along via these blog posts as I share this teacher adventure at sea and learn with me about the important work of NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”
Most of my time teaching is spent within the walls of the classroom, trying to prepare students for STEM careers that they (or I) have never seen. Now, as a Teacher at Sea, the dynamic will be flipped! I will learn with actual scientists about STEM careers that support NOAA’s mission and bring those experiences back to the classroom myself! I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my own knowledge and for my students who will get a front row seat to STEM careers in action.
My “classroom” for the next two weeks:
I was born in New Hampshire and moved around quite a bit growing up. My “hometown” was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I grew up in many places including South Africa. I currently live on a “pocket farm” in Powder Springs, Georgia with my husband, 3 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats. My family and I love to travel as well as camp in state and national parks.
I have always enjoyed a bit of adventure, learning rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, bungee jumping, and skydiving. My favorite adventure came at the age of 13 when I learned how to scuba dive. A new underwater world was revealed to me and I developed a deep love and respect for the ocean. I have tried to teach my children and my students the joys of outdoor adventure and the importance of stewardship. Powder Springs is about 20 miles away from the Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta. We love going to NFL Falcons’ games and MLB Braves’ games when we are not out camping!
My greatest adventure now is being a STEM teacher. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I have been a STEM teacher for my entire teaching career and love it! I see STEM everywhere and believe our students are going to do great things for the world with a strong background in STEM education. I particularly enjoy teaching Coding and 3D printing to students as well as how to use technology to create solutions to problems instead of being passive users of technology
My undergraduate work was focused in Early Childhood education, and my graduate degree in Integration of Technology into Instruction. I now teach at Sope Creek Elementary and love my 1,000+ students in our evolving STEM school. We follow the steps of the EDP or Engineering Design Process every day to solve real world problems. We especially like to integrate problem solving with technology. This practice is what drew me to the hydrographic survey projects conducted by NOAA. I am excited to learn how technology is utilized to create detailed maps of the ocean floor, and learn about the science of Bathymetry, which is the study of the “beds” of “floors” of water bodies including oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams.
Finally, it was the mission of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program is what drew me to apply for this program: The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation. The program provides a unique opportunity for kindergarten through college-level teachers to sail aboard NOAA research ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew. As a life-long learner it is difficult to access professional development. In this program, I will gain real world experience as a scientist as sea while also having an adventure at sea! I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you! Now I’m off to get my dose of vitamin sea! More soon.
Questions and Resources:
Teachers: Please reach out with questions from teachers or students and keep an eye out for resources I will be sharing in the comments section of this blog. Check out these K-12 resources available through NOAA!
Students: Have a teacher or please post your questions. Here are the answers from questions so far:
Question 1: Do you think you will end up like the Titanic?
Answer: No way! The NOAA Ship Fairweather has been conducting missions since 1967 (the ship is older than ME!). This is a 231 foot working vessel with a strengthened ice welded hull. I don’t plan on seeing any icebergs off the coast of Oregon in Pacific Ocean, so don’t worry! NOAA Ship Fairweather’s crew have some of the best professionals in the world to run their fleet, so I will be safe!
Question 2: Are you coming back? And will you have to sleep outside like a pirate?
Answer: Yes, I will be coming back! I will be away for 2 weeks and will be back in the STEM-Kurtz lab on August 26th-so you can come see me when I get back. As for your 2nd question, I will get to sleep inside in a “berth” and will have a bed and everything else I need. I do not have to sleep outside, but you know when I’m home I like to sleep outside in my hammock!
Student focus of the week: Hey 5th Grade students! You are going to be learning about constructive and destructive processes of the earth over time. Check out this document about the Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards Project Plans. My mission will link directly to what you are learning in class!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska
Date: July 23, 2019
Weather Data from Home Latitude: 41°42’25.35″N Longitude: 73°56’17.30″W Wind: 2 knots NE Barometer: 1011.5 mb Visibility: 10 miles Temperature: 77° F or 25° C Weather: Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
As you can tell from 1) the date of my research cruise and 2) my latitude and longitude, I am no longer in Alaska and I am now home. For my final NOAA Teacher at Sea post, I am pleased to show you the results of the hydrographic survey during the Cape Newenham project. The bathymetric coverage (remember that bathymetry means the topography underwater or depth to the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes) is not final as there is one more leg, but it is pretty close. Then the hard part of “cleaning up” the data begins and having many layers of NOAA hydrographers review the results before ever being placed on a nautical chart for Cape Newenham and Bristol Bay. But that day will come!
Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer
This is Klay Strand who is 2nd Engineer on the Ship Fairweather. He’s been on the ship for about a year and a half and he graciously and enthusiastically showed three of us visiting folk around the engine room towards the end of our leg. It was truly eye-opening. And ear-popping.
Before I get to the tour, a little bit about what Engineering Department does and how one becomes an engineer. There are currently nine engineers on the Ship Fairweather and they basically keep the engines running right. They need to check fluid levels for the engine (like oil, water and fuel) but also keep tabs on the other tanks on the ship, like wastewater and freshwater. The engine is on the lower level of the ship.
Klay Strand’s path to engineering was to go to a two-year trade school in Oregon through the JobCorps program. Strand then worked for the Alaskan highway department on the ferry system and then he started accruing sea days. To become a licensed engineer, one needs 1,080 days on a boat. Strand also needed advanced firefighting training and medical care provider training for his license. There are other pathways to an engineering license like a four-year degree in which you earn a license and a bachelor’s degree. For more information on becoming a ship’s engineer, you can go to the MEBA union, of which Strand is a member. On Strand’s days off the ship, he likes to spend time with his niece and nephews, go skydiving, hike, and go to the gun range.
The following photos are some of the cool things that Klay showed us in the engine room.
Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. When I tell people about the experience, what comes out the most is how warm and open the crew were to me. Every question I had was answered. No one was impatient with my presence. All freely shared their stories, if asked. I learned so much from all of them, the crew of the Fairweather. They respected me as a teacher and wondered about my path to that position. I wondered, too, about their path to a life at sea.
My first week on the ship, I spent a lot of time looking out at the ocean, scanning for whales and marveling at the seemingly endlessness of the water. Living on the water seemed fun and bold. As time went by, I could tell that I may not be cut out for a life at sea at this stage of my life, but I sure would have considered it in my younger days. Now that I know a little bit more about these careers on ships, I have the opportunity to tell my students about living and working on the ocean. I can also tell my educator colleagues about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.
Though I loved my time on the Ship Fairweather, I do look forward to seeing my West Bronx Academy students again in September. I am so grateful for all I learned during my time at sea.
Did You Know?
If you are interested in finding out about areas of the ocean that are protected from certain types of human activity because of concerns based on habitat protection, species conservation and ecosystem-based marine management, here are some links to information about Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas are defined as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” Did you know that there are over 11,000 designated MPAs around the world?
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Next post: the Engineering Department of the Ship Fairweather
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.
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
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
Science and Technology Log
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska Date: June 25, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
I wish the crew of the Fairweather, Fair winds and happy seas.
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.
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?
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.
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!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 17, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 64 42.8 N
Longitude – 171 16.8 W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb 6.2 C
Wet bulb 6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4 millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet
Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm
I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather? So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.
Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog. The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.
During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills. Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”
(Fun fact: at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio]. For example: the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard. The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name. You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).
Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel; the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship. Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters. These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !
What are the working conditions like on board?
At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet. Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to. At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.
Where do you sleep?
Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by. Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?
Generally, when sharing a stateroom, roommates will have different working shifts.
Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents ! When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.
Are there any activities?
Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.
There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.
What are the working hours like?
During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office. One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it. The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.
The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room. Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship; the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires. Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 68 38.8 N
Longitude – 166 23.8 W
Air temperature: 10 C
Dry bulb 10 C
Wet bulb 8.9 C
Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles (8.8 miles)
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1007 millibars
Cloud Height: 2 K feet
Waves: 6 feet
Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:51 pm
Physical Geography of Aleutian Islands
The Aleutian Islands are a product of a subduction zone between the North American and the Pacific Plate and known as the Aleutian Arc. Along this boundary, the Pacific Plate is being subducted underneath the North American Plate due to the difference in density. As a result, the plate heats up, melts and forms volcanoes. In this case the islands are classified as volcanic arcs. As a result of this collision, along the boundary the Aleutian Trench was formed and the deepest section measures 25,663 ft! For comparison purposes, the deepest point in the ocean is located in the Mariana’s Trench at 36,070 feet (6.8 miles)! Through the use of radioisotopic dating of basalt rocks throughout the Aleutians, geologists have concluded the formation of the island chain occurred 35 million years ago. (USGS). Today, there are 14 volcanic islands and an additional 55 smaller islands making up the island chain.
On the map above, the Aleutian Islands appear small. However, they extend an area of 6,821 sq mi and extend out to 1,200 miles! In comparison, North Carolina from the westernmost point to the Outer Banks is 560 miles, half of the Aleutian Islands. It takes roughly ten hours to drive from Murphy NC (western NC) to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since this region of the North American plate and the Pacific Plate are both oceanic plates, Island Arcs are formed. This is the same classification as the Bahamas, located southeast of Florida.
The image above depicts a cross section of the geological forces that shaped the Aleutian Islands. As the two plates collide, the oceanic crust is subducted under the lithosphere further offshore thus generating the island arcs. Unlike the west coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, there is an oceanic/continental collision of plates resulting in the formation of volcanoes further on the continental crust, hundreds of miles inland. Examples are Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helen’s which erupted in 1980.
Alpine Glaciers are prevalent throughout the mountainous region of Alaska. What about the Aleutians Islands? Today there are a few small alpine glaciers existing on Aleutian Islands. Alpine glacier on the Attu Island is one example, which is the western most island.
One truth about being at sea is don’t trust the wall, floor or ceiling. Sometimes, the wall will become the floor or the ceiling will become the wall 🙂 Lately, the seas have become this ongoing amusement park ride. Although the weather has been a bit rough, data collection continues with the ship. The weather outside is more reflective of fall and winter back in North Carolina, though we have not seen any snow flakes. After surfing the waves yesterday while collecting data, today the hydrographers are processing data collected over the past few days.
Yesterday was whale day! Early afternoon, humpbacks were spotted from the port side of the ship (left side). As the afternoon went on, humpbacks were spotted all around the Fairweather, at distances of 0.5 miles to 5 miles. Humpbacks are considered the “Clowns of the Seas” according to many marine biologists. Identifying whales can be tricky especially if they are distances greater than a few miles. Humpbacks are famous for breaching the water and putting on a show, Yesterday we did not witness this behavior, however they were showing off their beautiful flukes.
Question of the Day: Which whale species, when surfacing, generates a v shape blow?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 14, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 8.8
Dry bulb 8.8 C
Wet bulb 7 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles (10.5 miles)
Wind speed: 23 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 999 millibars
Cloud Height: 10K feet
Waves: 2 foot
Meet the Crew
It takes a lot of personnel to ensure a successful mission. There are over forty personnel onboard this ship. During the past week, I have had opportunities to get to know them.
Stephen Moulton Operations Officer (in training) LT – NOAA
How did you first get involved in NOAA?
I was in the Coast Guard Reserves for eight years with some active time and trying to go back for active duty.
While working in Silver Spring, MD working as an industrial hygienist for an engineering company, I walked by NOAA Administration and inquired about jobs, applied for NOAA Corps and was accepted into training at the Coast Guard academy in 2012. Processed out of Coast Guard into NOAA Corps as an Officer in Training.
What is your job on board the Fairweather?
Operations Officer (in training). My job is to setup ships daily plan. This includes making sure we have the equipment, personnel and a good idea as to what the weather conditions will be for successful operation. Once we collect the data at sea, my job is to ensure the data is processed and meets NOAA’s standards and that it gets compiled into the correct format for distribution to our NOAA Pacific Hydrographic Branch. This data primarily gets converted into nautical charts which is used by mariners such as cargo ships, the US Coast Guard and recreational cruise passenger ships
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love being on the water and love driving the ship, making a 200-ton vessel do what you want by using the wind and seas, and navigating around other ships.
Where do you spend most of your time?
Most time is now spent in operations, training for what the ship needs to being doing with its time and funding, keeping us on the ship’s mission, which is surveying.
How long have you been on board?
When you were in high school did you have any vision of working at sea?
No, I attended Assumption College and graduated with degree in global and environmental studies. It was tough finding a job with that degree, the only types of jobs with that degree is being a foreign officer .
What do you enjoy most abut living on board?
It makes a lot things convenient, commute to work is a walk upstairs, gym is down the stairs and meals are cooked and you have no dishes to clean. Everything you need is on board. Being able to explore the mountains and wild life in Juneau while the ship was under repair is another bonus.
What is the most challenging?
Being far from my family who are in Rhode Island with two adopted kids.
Which other NOAA ships have your served?
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, an east coast hydrographic survey from 2013 -2015 as an ensign. Spent 3 years on land as a CO-OPS handled tide gauge stations and operated small boats and traveled 4 weeks at a time for tide gauge maintenance along east coast team. Locations included Great Lakes and Puerto Rico.
Where do you see yourself in NOAA in the future?
Finishing up land assignment in Silver Spring Maryland and going out as an XO on a fisheries vessel in the Northeast such as NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow.
Simon Swart – Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician
Where did you attend college and what was your degree in?
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. BA in Environmental Science. Originally from the Cayman Islands and lived in San Francisco for ten years.
How did you get involved with NOAA?
Found out through scientific papers and knew I wanted to work with maps and applied science. I have been working aboard the Fairweather for five months.
Where is home?
San Francisco where my dad resides.
Describe your job?
It changes a lot depending on what is currently occurring. Six hour shifts on six hours off it simply depends on what is occurring in a day. While the boat launches are collecting data you are reviewing information and then process the data when it returns.
What do you enjoy most about being at sea?
Everything, love being on the water, that has a lot to do with growing up near the ocean. Every time I step outside on deck, it never ceases to amaze me with the beauty.
What are some challenges with ship life?
Living in close proximity with forty people living in close quarters.
What is your favorite place you have visited while working for NOAA?
Traveling through the Aleutian Islands. I still felt we were out far in the ocean with these beautiful islands.
Do you want to stay in the Alaskan region?
Yes, I have been wanting to traveling around Alaska since I was in high school. When I originally applied for NOAA, it did not specify Alaska.
What do you enjoy doing while you are off the ship, off duty?
It depends where the ship is located, hiking and fishing is what I enjoy most. Enjoy meeting and getting to know the local people at different ports. When returning to these ports, it is nice to get together with them and go hiking.
Sam Candio- Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician
What is your primary role?
Oversight of all the data, including the quality control and training new personnel.
Where are from?
New Jersey and attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington. And majored in BS Marine Biology. Cape Fear Community College associates degree Marine technology. This program is very good and this program has 95% job placement success. Got a job almost immediately after graduation
How did you get involved with NOAA?
I saw a job online and applied for it, always wanted to work for NOAA.
How many ships have you worked?
Have worked on board the Fairweather for three years.
What is your favorite place you have visited while on board?
Yakutat, near Juneau. There is an incredible glacier there, one of the only advancing glaciers in south east Alaska. There are eighteen thousand foot mountains in this region. It is also home to the northern most surf shop. You enjoy surfing in Alaska.
What do you enjoy the most about living on a ship?
I enjoy visiting all these remote places that few people get to see. For instance seeing the sun never setting and going to remote islands to set up remote GPS base stations.
What is your advice for anyone interested in cartography or marine biology?
Attend Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, they have a great employment success rate of 95%. Start interning / volunteering as soon as you can. The community college also has a good research vessel with lots of hands on training. I traveled on two cruises, one to Baltimore and one to Bahamas. Each cruise has a different focus such as fish identification, mapping, bottom profiling and navigation.
Kyle Mosier – Oiler
Where are you from?
Grew up in Federal Way, Washington and moved to Gig Harbor, Washington, after high school to attend college.
What is your degree in?
AA degree from Pierce College, Lakewood, Washington. Then attended Seattle Maritime Academy with a focus of Engineering.
What is your primary role on the ship?
Maintain and repair equipment on engines and clean air filters for ships air supply and staterooms, and oil changes on our generators. Also, work on a lot of special projects on board with the engineering team.
How did you you get involved with NOAA?
I heard about it during maritime school and my Port Captain had worked for NOAA and heard good things about it and then applied. They called me back for an interview over the phone and then sent me to Newport Oregon for a pre-employment physical. Then traveled to Norfolk Virginia for orientation.
What do you do while you are off duty?
I love to write and passionate about stories and writing books. First I start by brainstorming ideas from the places I have gone to and the experiences I have and the people I meet. It helps for plot and settings. This job helps me with that as we travel all over the northwest region. In one of my books I used my experience seeing glaciers and used that as an awesome setting. The types of books I write are science fiction, mystery and adventure. I have over twenty books that have been published and a series of books entitled Katrina the Angel. My newest one, Natalie and the Search for Atlantis, is a Science Fiction which is the ninth one in the “Katrina the Angel” series. It is my most proud book that I have written and the longest. Writing makes me happy and hope one day to make it a career.
What do you enjoy the most about being at sea?
What I like most is the places we have gone to such as traveling around Alaska with a great crew. Juneau, Alaska, is my favorite. It has great people and everything is within walking distance. There are many places to go hiking and places that have Karaoke.
If someone wants to go out and buy one of your novels where can they purchase one?
Kindle device or Amazon.
What do you find most challenging about being on board the ship?
Unable to go home often
Do you have any plans as to working on another NOAA ship?
No, I enjoy it on the Fairweather
Cabot Zucker – Junior Officer
Where are you from?
Coastal town called Jupiter, Florida
Where did you attend College?
Went to the University of Florida and studied Wildlife Ecology and Sustainable Development
How did you first get involved in the NOAA Corps?
I was on vacation in North Carolina and saw a job posting regarding the NOAA Corps.
What are the requirements for getting accepted into the NOAA Corps?
You need a four year degree and they like to see experience in marine science or physical science preferably and being well rounded. There is a physical and medical screening pretty much the same as the military.
What are your responsibilities?
My main responsibility is to drive and safely navigate the ship and support its mission. Other collateral duties include, damage control, small boat officer assist with ship fleet inspection and inventory management on the ship. Included with this is other administrative paper work and tasks.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really like how dynamic, challenging and a lot of responsibility. and I love the challenging work environment and how I continually learn new skills. I have been on this ship for two months.
During these two months, what is the most amazing view you have seen?
The transition through the Aleutian Islands, the scenery there includes snow covered volcanoes, intense scenery of jagged cliffs. Saw lots of whales, puffins and other sea birds.
What is some of the challenges with working on a ship?
There is constant distractions and its such a dynamic environment. Plans are constantly changing and you have to adapt and get the work done. Being away from my wife has been challenging and I will see her in December for three weeks.
What place have you visited while serving the ship that you enjoyed the most?
I enjoyed Juneau, hiking the mountain and snow fields. Visited the Mendenhall Glacier and enjoyed fishing. We caught Pinks and Chum which are both types of Salmon.
I have now been at sea for over one week. The weather for the most part has been remarkable, sunshine. Last night we sailed into a sheltered area south of Point Hope, Kotzebue Sound, as the remnants of a tropical storm spun by. The wind gusts were recorded at 30 knots and the seas peaked around 8 feet. The Fairweather handled the rough seas well and rocked me to sleep. We are sailing back to the Point Hope area to conduct more surveying during this remainder of this week. At Point Hope, the sun rises at 6:20 am and sets at 12:04 am. As each day passes, the daylight is getting shorter by 10 minutes as we head into fall. On December 21st, the sun will be directly overhead at 21 degrees south Latitude and marks is the winter solstice. Using the image below, notice that the sun is shining a 90 degree angle directly above the Earth at 21 degrees south latitude. Locate the Arctic Circle and imagine the globe spinning, what do you see or not see at the Arctic Circle during the Winter Solstice?
Question of the Day How much sunlight will Point Hope receive December 21st during the Winter Solstice?
Answer from yesterday Answer is 74% relative humidity.
Relative humidity measures how much water vapor the atmosphere can hold at a specific temperature. Relative humidity is really a measurement of comfort and that is why meteorologist use this especially during the summer months. At warmer temperatures, the atmosphere can hold large amounts of water vapor. In the south, we always relate high humidity with hot temperatures. As the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, water will cling to the nearest object, you; thus it becomes uncomfortable. However, at cooler temperatures, the atmosphere cannot hold that much water vapor, so the atmosphere can reach 100%, but it is comfortable as there simply is not a lot of water in the atmosphere.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 12, 2018
Weather data from the Bridge
Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp: 8.5 C 47 F
Dry bulb 8 Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet
Science and Technology
Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor? As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857. The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.
The light grey indicates 0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift. The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack. The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.
Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts. Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.
As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important. Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore. In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing). In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.
The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.
The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.
The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.
As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected. The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting. Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!
I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities. Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July! For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?
Question of the day. Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above? Data table below…… Answer in the next blog
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 6, 2018
Weather data from the Bridge
Wind speed 14 knots
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Barometer: 1007.5 mB
Temp: 8.5 C 47 F
Cloud Height: 10,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet
Science and Technology
The focus of the NOAA ship Fairweather is to generate and update existing maps of the ocean floor called hydrography. The ship is outfitted with state of the art mapping equipment which uses single and multibeam sonar in capturing the physical topography of the ocean floor (more on this in a future blog). The region we are mapping is located off the coast of Point Hope in north west Alaska. It takes an amazing amount of technology especially navigational tools located in the bridge to navigate the ship within this challenging region called the Chukchi Sea. There are two types of radar on the bridge used to navigate the ship using different radio frequencies, the X band and S band.
The X Band radar generates radio waves with 3 cm and 9 GHz, respectively. The radar is positioned high above the bridge and has the ability to pick up ships up to 40 miles in the distance. During the best weather conditions, officers on the bridge can see the horizon at a distance of 6 miles with the highest powered binoculars and make out other vessels out to about 14 miles. This radar extends the visual range of officers especially identifying ships that are not visible through the use of binoculars. This radar is useful for detecting smaller objects such as small boats in the vicinity of the ship, due to its ability to better resolve smaller objects.
The S Band radar generates radio waves with 9cm and 3 GHz … for context, a microwave oven operates at around 2.5 GHz; a car radio receives at 0.1 GHz (though most people think in MHz… e.g. “You’re listening to The Mountain on 105.9 (MHz)”… the lower frequency of the radio means it’s even less affected by rain and can travel even farther – both good things if you’re running a radio station). This type sound wave have longer distances between each crest. As a result, the sound wave can better track larger objects than the X band and objects at greater distances. In addition, this radar can be used to detect ships through walls of rain. This radar is used by weather forecasters to track types of precipitation, direction and severity and to identify possible rotations that could develop tornado. Another unique property of this radar is its ability to track precipitation on the other side of mountains. In this region of Point Hope, the Brooks Range is visible to the east and knowing the precipitation and direction is important for planning ship operations.
Another vital role of these radars is to track current position of the ship when anchored. By using four known coordinates of physical objects on land, in our case, the Brooks Range, located to our east, and known peninsulas are targeted. Officers will use the alidade (and compass rose) located outside the bridge to get their bearings and confirm the ships geographic coordinates. This information reveals whether the ship’s anchor is being dragged.
Geography – Point Hope is located just above the Arctic Circle; why is NOAA mapping this region? The sea ice in this region of Point Hope continues to disappear as a reflection of increased global temperatures. This has generated an opportunity for merchant ships to sail north of Canada instead of using the Panama Canal. The mapping of the ocean floor will provide mariners accurate maps resulting in safer passage.
My journey began at 6 am as my plane from the Asheville airport departed. Traveling over Alaska viewing the Rockies and glaciers from the window has been inspiring and reveals how big Alaska really is. As soon as I landed in Nome, Alaska, around 1 am eastern time, I was reminded again how important it is to be flexible when participating in any NOAA research. After meeting up with the junior officer at the airport, he informed me that the ship is leaving in two hours due to an approaching storm. Scientists conducting research on board a ship at sea are always at the mercy of mother nature. Everyone on board NOAA’s hydrographic ship Fairweather has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made my transition to life at sea smooth. The tradition of excellent food on board NOAA ships continues!!
I am looking forward to learning as much as I can during this three week adventure and bring back inspiring lessons and labs to the classroom. It is always my hope and vision to provide real world science in action to excite and encourage our students to explore and possible explore careers in science.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 25, 2018 at 10:25am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33.4146° N
Longitude: 82.3126° W
Wind: 1 mph N
Barometer: 759.968 mmHg
Temperature: 26.1° C
Weather: Mostly cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
I’m going to take you back in time to July 13, a day when a once-in-a-leg event took place. We awoke that morning to a strong breeze blowing NOAA Ship Fairweather towards the dock in Nome. Normally a breeze blowing a docked ship is fine, but that day was the start of our long awaited departure to Point Hope! 0900 was quickly approaching, and Ensign Abbott was excited for his first opportunity as conn during an undocking process! With XO Gonsalves at his side for support, he stepped up to the control center outside the bridge on the starboard side.
As you may or may not know, taking the conn is no small feat. “Conn” is an old name for the conning officer, or controller of the ship’s movement. The conning officer used to stand on the conning tower, an elevated platform where the ship’s movement could be monitored. Although the conn no longer stands on a conning tower, the name and role remain the same. The conn makes commands to the rest of the ship and, during docking and undocking, controls the two engines, two rudders, bow thruster, and the lines attaching the ship to the dock. Each part causes the ship to move in specific way and has a very important function in undocking.
ENS Abbott did a great job deciding which parts of the ship to maneuver which way and when. The process was so technical that I cannot begin to describe it. However, the persistent westerly wind just kept drifting the ship back into its docking station. Every time we got the ship positioned the way we wanted, it would push right back into its starting place. The situation turned hazardous because we had a giant barge docked in front of us, a fishing vessel docked behind us, and the wall of the dock to our starboard side. The only direction we could go without danger of crashing into something was to the left. Unfortunately you cannot move a ship side to side very far without forward or backward movement, so there are strategies for moving the ship in a forward to backward motion while simultaneously moving left or right.
In our situation, the best thing to do was to slowly back the ship out while swinging the stern end into the harbor. Once out enough to account for the westerly wind, the engines could push forward and the ship could safely exit the harbor. Unfortunately all did not go as planned and when the engines went forward, the wind pushed the ship so far towards the dock in a short amount of time that the stern narrowly missed a collision with the wall of the dock! It was a close call! The conn was unlucky in the fact that he was assigned control of the ship during weather conditions no sailor would elect, but he did his best and it was a great learning lesson for everyone!
Fast forward to July 19. The members of the NOAA Corps new to ship docking and undocking had a brief in the conference room. They discussed all of the physics involved in the undocking from the week prior, debriefed the challenge the wind posed, and reviewed the different types of maneuvers for undocking. Then they shifted the conversation to planning for the next day’s docking maneuver. XO Gonsalves, with a vast array of unique skills in his toolbox, turned on a PlayStation game that he created for his crew to practice docking and undocking! Docking a ship is a skill with the unique problem that you cannot simply practice it whenever you want to. The only attempt offered to the crew during this leg was on the morning of July 20. It was a “one and done” attempt. Lucky for them, XO thought outside the box! With the video game, they could practice as often as they wanted to and for as long as necessary to get the skill down.
XO’s video game for practicing the docking process
The NOAA Corps getting ready to practice docking
The challenge presented to the crew was to dock and then undock the boat seen in the photo above eight different times with varying obstacles to work through. Examples of obstacles were having a small docking space, turning the boat around, and wind adding a new force to the boat. Three controllers were needed for the job. The first controller, and the little tiny person at the front of the boat, controlled the bow thruster. The bow thruster could push the boat left or right in a jet propulsion-like manner. Using the bow thruster on the port side pushed the boat right, and using the bow thruster on the starboard side pushed the boat left. The XO also assigned this person the roll of the conn, so they had to call out directions to everyone playing the game. The next person controlled the engines. This was a difficult task because there is a port and a starboard engine, and each engine can go forward or backward. The conn could give a simple order like “all ahead” or a more difficult order like “port ahead, starboard back” (trust me, that one is not easy). The last person controlled the rudders. The rudders worked in unison and could be turned right or left. The rudders can be fine-tuned in reality but in the game, due to the controller’s limitations, we used the commands of “half rudder” and “full rudder” to choose how significantly the rudders should be turned. You can see a small clip of the game in action below. Turn up the volume to hear the conn. As a reminder, the Corps members participating are learning the process, so you may hear a variety of commands as they fine tune their vocabulary to use more specific language.
On the morning of July 20, the docking process was smooth with no surprise forces at play on the ship. The NOAA Corps did an excellent job with the maneuver. As soon as we thought we would get a chance to relax, a food order arrived with 2,700 lbs of food that needed to be hauled from the top deck of the ship down to the bottom. Horizontal forces affecting the ship were no comparison to the vertical force of gravity pulling all those boxes down towards Earth, but we used an assembly line of 20 people passing boxes down the stairwell and we all ended the day with a good workout!
It seems fitting to begin my last blog with the story of undocking the Fairweather in Nome at the start of the leg. This is not the end of my Teacher at Sea journey but the start of my work, integrating my personal experience into something relevant for my students in a physical science classroom. Since returning home, I completed my first media interview about my time at sea. Ironically teaching others about myself led to my own epiphanies, namely refining my “why” to becoming an educator. I told Amanda, my interviewer, how I spent my childhood soaking my shoes in ponds trying to catch frogs, harvesting new rocks for my shoe box collection under my bed, and following the streams of water every April when snow melted away. I grew up with a curiosity for all things natural and scientific. Science classes were simply an outlet for my inquisitive mind, so it was easy to be engaged in school. Below are a few photos of me in high school, memories of times that inspired my love for the ocean. That natural wonder, excitement, curiosity I had for the world around me as a child and young adult…that’s what I want to instill in my students. My experience on the Fairweather helped me find new tools for my “teaching toolbox” and new ideas for my curriculum that I hope will inspire more students to become curious about their worlds. You’re never too old to discover the intrigue of the natural world. When you begin to understand that the purpose of science is to explain what we observe, your desire to uncover the secrets will grow!
During a dogfish shark dissection, I discovered that my shark had been pregnant
A horseshoe crab that appeared on a rocky shore in Connecticut
Measuring the length of marine organisms with calipers
The ability of a ship to make 3,000,000 lbs of weight float on water, that is intriguing. The idea of using sound waves, something we interact with constantly on land, under the water to map what we cannot see, that is amazing. Collecting an array of data that, to the untrained mind seem unrelated, and putting them together into a chart used by mariners all over the world, that is revolutionary. NOAA hydrographic ships connect science and the economy in a way not dissimilar to how I hope to connect education and career for my students. This experience inspired me in ways beyond my expectations, and I cannot wait to share my new knowledge and ideas in my classroom!
Did You Know?
The Multibeam Echosounder on the ship obtains ocean depths accurate to 10 centimeters. The average depth of the ocean is 3,700 meters, or 370,000 centimeters, according to NOAA. That is an average percent accuracy of 99.997%!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 20, 2018 at 10:14am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.275′ W
Wind: 4 knots S
Barometer: 767.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 11.8° C
Sea Surface: n/a
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
Despite a few setbacks, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather worked diligently to complete as much surveying as possible around Point Hope during this leg of the mission. Three small boats were sent out last Saturday, July 14th to each survey part of a “sheet”. A sheet is an area of ocean assigned to a hydrographer to survey and process into a bathymetric map. A bathymetric map is the colorful map produced from survey data that shows ocean depth using colors of the rainbow from red (shallow) to blue (deep). Ultimately, that sheet will be added to a nautical chart. Hydrographer Toshi Wozumi kindly showed me the progress that the ship has made towards the Point Hope survey mission below. The soundings were conducted with “set line spacing” of between 100m and 1,000m between each line in order to cover a satisfactory amount of ground in a feasible timeframe. When a more detailed map is necessary, there will be no empty space between lines and this is known as “full coverage”.
Point Hope is such a unique little piece of land. All of the light blue you see on the map above is actually fresh water from inland. Skinny slices of land separate the salty Arctic water from the fresh water. Hydrographer Christina Belton told me that this area experiences a lot of erosion. In the area we surveyed, you can see an unusually straight line between the deep blue-colored seafloor and the relatively shoal yellow- to green-colored seafloor (shoal is a synonym for shallow, but of the two it is the more common word used by hydrographers). This distinct line is a sand bar where sediment collects from erosion and water currents. I am really interested to see how the bathymetric map develops as the season goes on! Hydrographers are expecting this survey to be very flat and unexciting, but you never know what will show up!
The tiny little polygon at the bottom left of the picture above is a section of a PARS corridor. PARS is an acronym that stands for Port Access Route Studies, and these studies are initiated by the US Coast Guard when an area may be in need of routing changes or new designated routes for a number of different reasons. According to the US Coast Guard, the Eastern Bering Sea is a relatively shallow sea with depths ranging from 20 – 250 feet. This in combination with outdated nautical charts containing sparse data points can make for dangerous conditions for mariners trying to navigate in and around the Bering Sea. In addition Arctic sea ice is retreating more and more each year, and there is a growing interest in travel through the Northwest Passage, formerly covered in sea ice year round. I have heard that a cruise ship will soon travel the Northwest Passage, and tickets start at $37,000 per person. Any takers?
NOAA Ship Fairweather was tasked with surveying a small section of the PARS corridor. We worked on this project during our return trip to Nome. A bathymetric map was not prepared by the time I left the ship, so I was not able to see the data. However, this data will be a very important addition to the US Coast Guard’s maps. You may notice on the map of the proposed survey sheets that the northern border of the polygon follows a longer line. This is the International Date Line and also the border between the US and Russia. NOAA Ship Fairweather had to take special precautions to ensure we did not enter international waters without permission, so we ran a couple of soundings the short way on the edge of the polygon before changing our lines to go the long way. The short lines gave us room to turn the ship around without entering Russian waters. If you have ever mowed your lawn, running lines on the ship is just like mowing lines on your grass. When you get to the end of your yard, you need room to turn the lawn mower around before mowing in the opposite direction. In fact, hydrographers informally refer to the act of collecting data with the MBES as “mowing the lawn”!
NOAA Ship Fairweather will continue to collect data in the Point Hope region for a couple more months. The ship is projected to use 53 days at sea to finish the project. However, this time of year can be difficult for navigating the Bering Sea due to frequent storms. This work requires patience and flexibility, as I witnessed during my time on the ship. In the end, the maps and nautical charts they create will be increasingly valuable as more marine traffic will use the Arctic Ocean during the months when there is no sea ice.
This morning we docked the ship in Nome. It was a bittersweet feeling to step on land once again. I grew to enjoy waking up each morning with water in all directions. The light rocking motion in the evening helped me sleep like a baby! I learned a lot of new information in a short period of time. I also made some new friends among the Fairweather crew and the visitors. Together we endured the 12′ seas of Tuesday’s storm in addition to the Blue Nose initiation! The initiation will forever remain a Navy (and NOAA Corps) secret, but I suppose I can show you the after picture! The ceremony itself was quite a messy ordeal, so we had to rinse off before going back inside the ship. What’s the best way to rinse off at sea? You guessed it! Ice cold Arctic sea water! Not to worry though; safety was the first priority and there were no cases of hypothermia onboard. Upon completing the initiation, the 24 crew members below metamorphosed from slimy wogs to polar bears! The remaining 20 or so crew members had previously earned the name of polar bear.
One thing I learned while aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather is that living and working in the same place with the same people is a unique experience. Your work time and off time are confined to the same spaces. You are always around the same 40 – 50 people. In addition, working in remote areas means fewer modern conveniences like TV and cell phone service. You can’t go out to eat or go shopping until you arrive back in port. It’s not for everyone. What I can say though is that not a single person aboard the ship complained about any of these things! Everyone onboard has learned to adapt to the unique challenges and benefits of their workplace. There are many things to enjoy too! It was so nice not having to cook or do dishes for two weeks! You get to live more simply, which means fewer things to worry about day to day, like getting to work on time and getting to the gym/grocery store/post office/anywhere before it closes or gets too crowded. It’s also a fun place to be! Events like the blue nose initiation boost morale and give everyone fun things to plan and look forward to. I thoroughly enjoyed the mindset shift and gained an appreciation for this kind of work. I will also miss it!
Did You Know?
The most recent soundings for the coastal area north of Point Hope were taken in the 1800s when Russia owned Alaska. They were measured with lead lines, and as you can see in the Point Hope nautical chart, there was a large distance between each measurement.
Answer to Last Question of the Day
What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?
To be eligible for appointment into the NOAA Corps, you must
be a US citizen of good moral character
be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before you turn 62
have a baccalaureate degree from an institution accredited by the US Department of Education
have at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering related to NOAA’s missions
pass a mental and physical examination
be able to maintain a “secret” security clearance
be able to pass a test for illegal drug use.
US Coast Guard (2017). Appendix B – Hydrographic Quality Analysis. Bering Sea PARS. https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/PARS/Bering_Strait_PARS_Appendix_B.pdf.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 65° 15.541′ N
Longitude: 168° 50.424′ W
Wind: 10 knots NW, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer: 765.06 mmHg
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Temperature: 7.4° C
Sea Surface 7.2° C
Weather: Overcast, light drizzle
NOAA hires employees with many different career specialties. So many in fact that I cannot cover them all in one blog post. In an effort to give you a glimpse into some of the day to day happenings of the ship, I chose three different people with widely varying careers to interview today. The first is Oiler Kyle Mosier, who works in the engineering department. Next is Erin Billings, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service visiting NOAA for this leg of the mission. Finally, ENS Jeffrey Calderon who works for the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps as the Medical Person In Charge.
Oiler Kyle Mosier
What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather? “I am an oiler in the engineering department, and my job is to do maintenance work and watches when we are underway. During my work day, I complete a list of maintenance items called a SAMMS list. On a given day, I might clean strainers, air supply, or air filters. We have 5 fan rooms; fan rooms 1 and 3 go to our staterooms, so I make sure those are always clean.”
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? “An adjustable wrench. We use wrenches just about every day, so if I only had one wrench (and one tool) it would be the one that can adjust to many sizes.”
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working on a NOAA ship? “My dream job is to be a successful writer. I got started in high school just writing for fun, and I got better as I went through college. I also took an art class in college, and the teacher let me work on my own project ideas. I made my first book cover in that class, for a book called “Natalie and the Gift of Life”. I brought back my original character Natalie years later because I loved that first book so much, and I’m a much better writer now versus back then. My most recent book is “Natalie and the Search for Atlantis”.”
What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours? “Some people only get certified to be an Oiler, but I went to the Maritime Academy and got my QMED certification (Qualified Member of the Engine Department). I recommend this pathway because it qualifies you to be an electrician, oiler, junior unlicensed engineer, and work in refrigeration. You’re not stuck with one job; instead, you have many different choices for what kind of job you do.”
Tell me about what you do for a living. “I am general forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, Alaska. I produce forecasts for northern Alaska and the adjacent waters. As an organization, we forecast for approximately 350,000 square miles of land area.”
What do you enjoy most about your work? “It’s like putting all the pieces of a puzzle together. Forecasting is a lot about pattern recognition. People also rely a lot on forecasts, so I feel like my job is important for people as they plan their day, their weekend, and even their vacations.”
What parts of your job can be challenging? “When you have a lot going on and the weather is frequently changing, it can be hard to choose what area gets looked at first as well as managing the time it takes to do that. I work rotating shifts as well, so my work hours are always changing and sometimes I work 7 days in a week. I love what I do though, so there’s a trade off.”
What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours? “In order to get in to a meteorological position, you should find a way to set yourself apart from other people. Get a good foundation of science and math, but focus on something else you can bring to the table. Examples could be learning a foreign language, learning computer programming, or completing an internship or relevant volunteer position. Setting yourself apart will make you more competitive than everyone else who is applying for the same job and has the same degree as you.”
Ensign Jeffrey Calderon
What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather? “I am a Junior Officer with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. My job is administration of the ship, which is broken down into collateral duties. Each duty needs to be completed to keep the ship operating smoothly. I am the Medical Person in Charge, so I keep track of all the medicines, make sure they haven’t expired, order medical supplies, and inspect medical equipment. I can also perform CPR and first aid. I can follow a doctor’s order to administer medication, including IVs. I am also in charge of all of the keys on the ship; there are about 300. I have to get them back from people when they leave and make copies when needed. I am the auxiliary data manager on the ship. I collect weather data, inspect the sensors (anemometer, barometer, etc), and upload the data to an online system. I also drive and navigate the ship and the small launch boat.”
What do you enjoy most about your work? “I like being on a ship because I get to travel and see things that I will remember all my life. On the Fairweather, I get to see the aurora borealis, mountains, fjords, whales… things that not everyone gets to see. It also forces me to face new challenges; there’s always something I have to master and learn. I may have to fight a fire on the ship or go out on a launch and rescue somebody on the water.”
What do you miss the most when you are at sea? “I miss having a real bed. I miss the privacy too. My stateroom is a 2-person stateroom.”
What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours? “Pick a science-related path. It will be challenging, but it will be worth it in the long run. Science degrees will better prepare you for challenging careers, and it will prove to future employers that you can persevere through challenges. NOAA is also looking for people with good moral character, so stay out of trouble.”
Question of the Day What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?
Answer to Last Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?
The coldest temperature on record in Nome, Alaska is -54° Fahrenheit! Brrrr!
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 66° 24.440′ N
Longitude: 163° 22.281′ W
Wind: 17 knots SW, gusts up to 38 knots
Barometer: 758.31 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 12.2° C
Sea Surface 9.6° C
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Fairweather has a variety of assignments in different parts of the west coast each year, mostly in Alaska. They also work with many different organizations. In April of 2018, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, hired the ship to complete the last part of the survey of a fault line, the Queen Charlotte Fault, which lies west of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. This was a joint venture between the US and Canada because it is the source of frequent and sometimes hazardous earthquakes. The Queen Charlotte Fault lies between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The North American Plate is made of continental crust, and the Pacific Plate is made of oceanic crust. The two plates slide past one another, so the plate boundary is known as a transform, or strike slip, fault.
The image to the right came from the USGS. Notice the two black arrows showing the directions of the North American and Pacific plates. Strike slip faults, such as this one, have the potential to produce damaging earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault in California is another example of a strike slip fault. The Queen Charlotte Fault moves relatively fast, with an average rate of 50 mm/year as shown in the photo. The USGS explains the Queen Charlotte fault beautifully in this article.
The image below was created after hydrographers on NOAA Ship Fairweather processed the data from their survey in April. The colors show relative depth across the fault, with red being the shoalest areas and blue being the deepest areas. In the top right section, you can see Noyes Canyon. There are many finger-shaped projections, which are result from sediment runoff. Notice that the color scheme in this area does not have much orange or yellow; it basically goes from red to green. If you were to look at this map in 3-D, you would see in those areas that the sea floor dramatically drops hundreds of meters in a very short distance.
It is also worth noting what can be found in the remainder of this image. When NOAA finishes their survey, two different products are formed. The first is the colored map, which you see to the far left of the image. This is useful for anyone interested in the scientific components of the area. Mariners need the information as well, but a colored schematic is less useful for marine navigation, so nautical charts are produced (or updated) for their use. A nautical chart looks just like the remainder of this image. Small numbers scattered all over the white part of the map (ie – the water) show the depth in that area. The depth can be given in fathoms, meters, or feet, so it is important to find the map’s key. The purpose of the charts is to communicate to mariners the most navigable areas and the places or obstacles that should be avoided. The nautical charts usually have contour lines as well, which give a better picture of the slope of the sea floor and group areas of similar depth together.
The photo above is a closer view of the Queen Charlotte Fault. Can you see the fault? If you cannot see it, look at the line that begins in the bottom center of the photo and reaches up and to the left. Do you see it now? On the left side of the fault lies the Pacific Plate, and on the right side lies the North American Plate. If you look even closer, you might find evidence of the plates sliding past each other. The areas that resemble rivers are actually places where sediment runoff imprinted the sea floor. If you observe closely, you can see that some of these runoff areas are shifted at the location of the fault. Scientists can measure the distance between each segment to determine that average rate of movement at this fault line.
I also wanted to briefly mention another small side project we took on during this leg. A tide buoy was installed near Cape Lisburne, which is north of Point Hope. The buoys are equipped with technology to read and communicate the tidal wave heights. This helps hydrographers accurately determine the distance from the sea surface to the sea floor. The buoy will remain at its station until the end of the survey season, at which time it will be returned to the ship.
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The tide buoy was successfully released and will remain in the Arctic Ocean until late summer or early fall.
Tide Buoy near Cape Lisburne, AK
Northwest Alaska may not be a breathtaking as Southeast Alaska, but it has sure been an interesting trip! It amazes me that small communities of people inhabit towns such as Nome, Point Hope, and Barrow (which is about as far north as one can travel in Alaska) and endure bone-chilling winter temperatures, overpriced groceries, and little to no ground transportation to other cities. Groceries and restaurant meals are expensive because of the efforts that take place to transport the food. During my first day in Nome, I went to a restaurant called the Polar Cafe and paid $16 for an omelette! Although the omelette was delicious, I will not be eating another during my last day in Nome on Friday. It is simply too expensive to justify paying that much money. I also ventured to the local grocery store in hopes of buying some Ginger Ale for the trip. Consuming ginger in almost any form can help soothe stomach aches and relieve seasickness. Unfortunately ginger ale was only available in a 12-pack that happened to be on sale for $11.99. I decided to leave it on the shelf. Luckily the ship store has ginger ale available for purchase! The ship store is also a great place to go when your sweet tooth is calling!
Did You Know? The Queen Charlotte fault was the source of Canada’s largest recorded earthquake! The earthquake occurred in 1949 and had a magnitude of 8.1!
Question of the Day As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?
Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?
When something is less dense than water it floats, and when it is more dense than water it sinks. Something with the same density as water will sit at the surface so that it lies about equal to the water line (picture yourself laying flat on the surface of a lake). Your body is over 50% water, so the density of your body is very close to the density of water and you naturally “half float”. A PFD, on the other hand, is made up of materials which have a lower density than water and they always float completely above water. When you wear a PFD, your body’s total density is a combination of your density and the PFD’s density. Therefore, the total density becomes less than the density of water, and you float!
Sources: Danny, et al. (2016). Investigating the Offshore Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System in Southeastern Alaska and its Potential to Produce Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Submarine Landslides. USGS Soundwaves Monthly Newsletter. https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 68° 22.310′ N
Longitude: 167° 07.398′ W
Wind: 3 knots W, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer: 753.06 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 10.8° C
Sea Surface 9° C
Weather: Overcast, light rain
Science and Technology Log I was in my stateroom on Friday afternoon when I heard one continuous alarm sound, followed by an announcement that white smoke had been detected on board. My first thought was Oh no! What’s wrong with the engine now??? As I walked out of my room, I noticed smoke permeating through the halls near the ceiling. My muster station was the forward mess, so I walked there to meet up with my group. Two PICs (people in charge) had already laid out a map of the ship, and they were assigning pairs of people to search different sections of the ship looking for smoke and/or hot spots on doors or walls. Each “runner” group took a radio and reported their findings, and the results were written on the map. I was runner group 4 with an intern named Paul, and we were assigned the E level just below the bridge. We saw a small amount of smoke but no hot spots. One runner group opened an escape hatch to the fan room to find smoke EVERYWHERE. After finding the source of the fire, it was put out as quickly as possible and the smoke ventilated out of the ship. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was our first fire drill.
Safety is always the first priority on all NOAA vessels. Working on a ship is much different than working on land. In the event of an emergency, everyone on board has to be prepared to be a first responder. If one serious accident happens, it could affect all 45 people on board. To ensure emergency preparedness, drills take place on a regular basis. Each drill is treated as though the emergency were happening in real life. Fire drills and abandon ship drills take place weekly, and man overboard drills and hazardous materials drills take place every three months.
An announcement to abandon ship happens as a last resort if there is no possible way to save the ship. If this were to happen, we would hear seven or more bursts of the alarm followed by an announcement. We would then grab our immersion suit and PFD (personal flotation device) as quickly as possible and meet at our muster stations. My muster station is on the port (left) side of the ship at fire station 24. There are life rafts on each side of the ship that can be deployed into the water. Right now, the water in the Arctic Ocean is a chilly 9° C. To protect ourselves from hypothermia, we must don an immersion suit within 60 seconds of arriving at our station. New people to the ship must practice this during our first few days on board.
In addition to drills, an operational risk assessment (or GAR score) is calculated for the mission each day. GAR stands for Green, Amber, or Red, and it determines whether the mission is safe to pursue that day. The GAR score consists of the following sections: resources, environment, team selection, fitness, weather, and complexity. Each section is given a rating of 1 – 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. Many of the sections are variable depending on the day, so sometimes a mission will be delayed until the weather improves, and other times assigning different personnel to the task may be enough to make the mission safe. The total score is the sum of the six sections. If the score is 45 or above (red zone), then the mission will not happen that day. If the score is between 24 and 44 (amber zone), it means extra caution is advised, and a low GAR score of 0 – 23 is green. The best case scenario is for the mission to be in the green zone.
Some other examples of safe practices on board NOAA Ship Fairweather are detailed below.
Personal Log I’m learning what it truly means to be flexible during my time with NOAA Ship Fairweather. Weather can make or break a day of surveying on the sea. The water experiences surface waves from both the wind and swell. Swells are the large waves that originate elsewhere and have a definite direction whereas the surface waves are caused by wind and are much smaller. The surface waves in combination with the swell produce a total wave height, and the NOAA Corps looks at the total wave height when deciding the plan of the day. Unfortunately, waves of up to 14′ are predicted in the Point Hope region this week, which will make it incredibly difficult to launch the small boats. Not only do the large waves create hazardous conditions on the boat, they make it harder to acquire good soundings with the MBES. If the data collected will be of poor quality, it is better to delay the mission and wait for better conditions. The poor weather in combination with the mechanical delay we experienced during the first week of the leg has made it difficult to collect very much data around Point Hope.
Not only do the large waves slow down the ship’s data collection, they make me queasy! I felt lucky coming in to the Arctic Ocean on Friday because the sea was calm and beautiful! It was almost eerily quiet. The most amazing part was that the horizon seemed to disappear as the sky and the ocean gently blurred into one. The serenity was short-lived however, and taking the small boats out Saturday morning was quite the adventure! I am so glad I brought motion sickness medication with me!
Did You Know? Did you know NOAA Ship Fairweather weights 1,591 tons? Since one ton is the same as 2,000 pounds, the ship weighs 3,182,000 pounds! The ship stays afloat, so that means the buoyant force it experiences is equal and opposite to its weight. If the buoyant force were any less, the ship would sink!
Question of the Day How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?
Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land?
These are the ones I have learned so far:
Stateroom = Dorm or bedroom
Galley = Kitchen
Mess = Dining room
Scullery = Dish washing room
Head = Bathroom
Gangway = ramp (to get off boat)
Sick Bay = doctor’s office/patient room
Do you know of any that I missed? Feel free to answer in the comments!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and Vicinity
Date: July 10, 2018 at 5:30pm
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 5 knots SW, gusts up to 12 knots
Barometer: 749.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 16.0° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 11.9° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
I arrived in Nome on Saturday, July 7th around 7:30pm. The weather was a beautiful 65° F with just a few clouds in the sky! By the time I settled in my stateroom (bedroom) and unpacked my belongings, it was raining! According to the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), Nome receives and average of 16″ of rainfall each year and 60″ of snow. Despite this fairly low rainfall total, precipitation is a frequent
occurrence in Nome. Usually, the precipitation falls as more of a light drizzle in the summer, so the accumulation over the course of a year is very small.
I am here in Nome to join NOAA Ship Fairweather on a Hydrographic Survey of the vicinity of Point Hope, Alaska. Nome is the northernmost city in Alaska with a deep enough draft dock and facilities (such as sewage disposal and fresh water) for a ship. Therefore, we will start and end our trip in Nome. The ship has been experiencing some technical difficulties, so we were not able to go underway on our scheduled day of July 9. Over the weekend, engineers discovered a leak in the exhaust from one of the ship’s engines. Left untreated, black smoke could escape into the ship and personnel could be exposed to the unhealthy fumes. As of today, the exhaust pipe has been fixed, but there are a few parts that need to be shipped to Nome to finish the job. Hopefully NOAA Ship Fairweather will be underway later this week.
Once we are underway, the trip to Point Hope will take approximately 22 hours. That means we must reserve a full day on each end of the leg (another name for the trip) for travel. In order to maximize our limited time near Point Hope, NOAA Ship Fairweather will deploy up to four 28′ boats to work at the same time. There are also enough personnel onboard to allow data to be collected on the small boats for up to 24 hours per day. Two of the four 28′ boats are shown below.
So what are these boats all doing anyways? As previously mentioned, NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats are designed for hydrographic research. “Hydro” is a prefix meaning “water”, and “graph” is a root word meaning “to write”. The boats will map the sea floor (i.e. – “write” about what is under the water) and any of its contents with sonar devices. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. The main sonar device used on this ship is a multibeam echosounder (MBES for short), which can be found on the underside of the ship as seen below. Sound waves are emitted from the front of the device, known as the transmitter. The sound waves travel through the water column, bounce off the sea floor, and then get picked up by a receiver adjacent to the transmitter.
There is a lot of math involved both before and after sound wave data is collected! The photo below is a CTD instrument, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well an object conducts electricity. This instrument is lowered through the water column, collecting data on all three parameters listed above. The speed of sound varies based on conductivity and temperature, so the sonar data can be adjusted based on the results. For each individual data point collected along the sea floor, the actual speed of sound is multiplied by half of the time it took the sound wave to travel from transmitter to receiver. Using the equation distance = rate x time, one can find the distance (i.e. – depth) of each point along the sea floor. Put a bunch of those results together, and you begin to see a map!
Sea floor maps use color to show different depths. The most shallow areas are colored with red, while the deepest areas are colored with blue. The remaining colors of the rainbow form a spectrum that allows us to see slopes. Today, we took a small boat out and surveyed the harbor where NOAA Ship Fairweather is docked. The harbor was very shallow, so every large rock in the harbor showed up as red on the map. The deeper areas showed up as blue. Hence my blog title! In my next blog, I will include pictures of maps that have recently been completed! Stay tuned!
Living on a ship that is docked in a tiny town with little to no cell phone service is fairly challenging. However, everyone on the ship finds creative solutions to keep themselves and others entertained. It is not uncommon for groups to form in the conference room to watch a movie on the big projector screen or to host a game night. There is also a fitness room onboard with plenty of exercise options! The Bering Sea and a long beach are a short, five minute walk from the ship. We had a campfire with marshmallows the first night that everyone returned to the ship from their time off. One person in our group found a whale bone on the beach! See the picture below. I spent some time walking the water line looking for sea glass. I actually found a few pieces, in
addition to a couple of rocks I thought were quite pretty! Sea glass is made from containers, bottles, and other glass objects that end up in the ocean. Over time, these objects break into smaller pieces, and the sandy and/or rocky sea floor erodes them. By the time they reach the beach, the pieces of glass have smooth edges and a translucent color. They are fun to collect as they come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes!
Did You Know? Ocean water has a high conductivity, or ability to conduct electricity, because of all of the dissolved salts in sea water. The ions that form from dissolved salts cause ocean water to be about 1,000,000 times more conductive than fresh water!
Question of the Day If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area? Make sure to use proper units, and remember that the total time is two ways and not just one way! (Answer in the next blog post)
My last few days at sea were rather exciting. Wednesday, I got to attend some medical training necessary at sea in the morning, and then in the afternoon we practiced safety drills. The whole crew ran through what to do in the case of three different ship emergencies: Fire, Abandon Ship and Man Overboard. These drills were pretty life-like, they had a fog machine which they use to simulate smoke for the fire drill. Once the alarm was triggered people gather in their assigned areas; roll was taken, firemen and women suited up and headed to the location where smoke was detected, and from there teams are sent out to assess damage or spreading of the fire, while medical personnel stood prepared for any assistance needed. The abandon ship drill required all men and women on board to acquire their life preserver and full immersion suit, and head to their lifeboat loading locations. Roll is then taken and an appointed recorder jots down the last location of the ship. Once this is done, men and women would have deployed the life rafts and boarded (luckily we did not have to). And for the man overboard drill they threw their beloved mannequin Oscar overboard in a life vest and had everyone aboard practice getting in their look out positions. Once Oscar was spotted, they turned the ship around, deployed an emergency boat and had a rescue swimmer retrieve him.
These drills are necessary so that everyone on board knows what to do in these situations. While no one hopes these emergencies will happen, knowing what to do is incredibly important for everyone’s safety.
Thursday was maybe my favorite day on board. Due to the fact that there are a handful of new personnel on board, practice launching and recovering the survey launch boats was necessary. There are 4 launch boats on top of NOAA Ship Fairweather, each equipped with their own sonar equipment. These boats sit in cradles and can be lowered and raised from the sea using davits (recall the video from the “Safety First blog a few days ago). These four boats can be deployed in an area to allow for faster mapping of a region and to allow for shallower areas to be mapped, which the NOAA Ship Fairweather may not be able to access. Since this is a big operation, and one which is done frequently, practice is needed so everyone can do this safely and efficiently.
Launch boat on a davit
Davit lowering a launch boat
Ali Johnson inside one of the launch boats
With the aid of Ali Johnson as my line coach, I got to help launch and recover two of the survey launch boats from the davits on the top of the ship into the Bering Sea. This is an important job for all personnel to learn, as it is a key part of most survey missions. Learning line handling helps to make sure the survey launches are securely held close to the ship to prevent damage and to safely allow people on and off the launch boats as they are placed in the sea. From learning how to handle the bow and aft lines, to releasing and attaching the davit hooks, and throwing lines from the launches to the ship (which I do poorly with my left hand), all is done in a specific manner. While the practice was done for the new staff on board, it was fun to be involved for the day and I got to see the beauty of the NOAA Ship Fairweather from the Bering Sea.
And I truly enjoyed being on the small launch boats. I then understood what many of the officers mentioned when they told me they enjoyed the small boat work. It’s just fun!
Me on a launch boat, taken by AB Colin Hogan
NOAA Ship Fairweather from a launch
My trip ended in Nome, Alaska, which was in and of itself an experience. Students, you will see pictures later. I am extremely thankful for the crew on board NOAA Ship Fairweather, they are a wonderful mix of passionate, fun professionals. I learned so much!
Being a Teacher at Sea is a strange, yet wonderful experience. Being a teacher, I normally spend the vast majority of my day at work being in charge of my classroom and beautiful students; leading lesson and activities, checking-in with those who need extra help and setting up/tearing down labs all day, as well as hopefully getting some papers graded. However during this experience, I was the student, learning from others about their expertise, experience and passions, as well as their challenges; being in charge of nothing. And given that I had no prior knowledge of hydrography, other than its definition, I was increasingly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm those on board had for this type of work. It drove my interest and desire to learn all I could from the crew. In fact, I often thought those on board were older than they were, as they are wiser beyond their years in many area of science, technology, maritime studies, NOAA Ship Fairweather specifics and Alaskan wildlife.
NOAA offers teachers the opportunities to take part in different research done by their ships throughout the research season as a Teacher at Sea. The 3 main types of cruises offered to teachers include (taken from the NOAA Teacher at Sea website):
Fisheries research cruises perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats.
Oceanographic research cruises perform physical science studies to increase our understanding of the world’s oceans and climate.
Hydrographic survey cruises scan the coastal sea floor to locate submerged obstructions and navigational hazards for the creation and update of the nation’s nautical charts.
I was excited to be placed on a Hydrographic Survey boat, as this is an area in my curriculum I can develop with my students, and one which I think they are going to enjoy learning about!
While I was sad to leave, and half way through had a “I wish I would have known about this type of work when I was first looking at jobs” moment (which I realize was not the goal of this fellowship or of my schools for sending me), I am super excited to both teach my students about this important work and also be a representative of this awesome opportunity for teachers. I will wear my NOAA Teacher at Sea swag with pride!
NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center have partnered up to test out an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), a programmable robotic survey boat. In two weeks, they will be deploying the ASV in the Arctic, in the Point Hope vicinity, where NOAA Ship Fairweather has been tasked to map the ocean.
There are many benefits to using the ASV for ocean mapping. First, it is able to survey in shallower waters than the launch boats, especially along coastlines. This data will be helpful to those who work on predicting storm surges and flooding for coastal communities. Second, the ASV can survey in potentially dangerous areas the launches would not be able to gain access to, such as in rocky areas or areas where there may be sandbars, that data will be helpful for smaller boats who use the area. Third, it can provide additional survey capacity in conjunction with the launches. For example, 4 launch boats could be sent out and an ASV to get an area surveyed, cutting down on the time required to accomplish missions. And lastly, if trained personnel are not available to drive or survey in a launch, this gives an additional option to the crew to accomplish the survey.
While those benefits are the goal of using ASV’s in the future, this summer’s mission with the ASV is to allow people to get acquainted with the robot, work out issues with software and the robot itself, and see how effective this tool is. The crew will practice deploying and recovering the robot. While robots can make jobs easier and possibly even safer for humans, until it is tested, you are never sure if they will actually be helpful. Robots in general tend to be finicky, have no sense of danger, and are not be able to work when waves are too high. Additionally, sometimes how we presume something will work in theory plays out differently in practice. I see this in my classroom all the time when the first and fourth graders are working with their robots and inventions, so trial and error is important, especially with a new tool. However, with any luck, this will serve as an excellent resource for the future of ocean hydrography.
How do you keep spirits high in Alaska, on a research vessel?
The crew on NOAA Ship Fairweather seems to have the right idea when it comes to keeping moral high. As I have said before, living and working in the same smallish space can have it challenges. Yet this ship has been doing scientific hydrographic research for 50 years, and has people on board who love their job and this small community. So how do they do it? I have learned a few of their ways.
They are a super welcoming community. They accept each other, and the different perspectives people bring to the job, and make each other feel appreciated. This welcoming attitude plays well for those who visit, as well.
They have Carrie, a chef who makes three delicious meals a day with her fellow stewards. She uses quality foods, remembers everyone’s likes and dislikes, and cheerfully greets everyone as the come into the mess line. Everyone on board looks forward to meals and especially her desserts! From cookies, carrot cake, puddings to even cheese cake; she is keeping everyone a bit spoiled- especially me!
They have a gym on board. There are machines, weights, group challenges and goal setting going on. Working out helps people have an outlet for their stress and any pent up energy. Also, it can help you feel better after having a bit too much dessert one night!
There is a ship store, which stocks essentials, candy, people’s favorite sodas, and some ship memorabilia. And let’s be honest, sometimes you need a Diet Coke, M&M’s, or a Zip Fizz to help you get 41,000% of your daily B12! All profits go into the staff’s moral fund. This can get used for the staff to have extra snacks, excursions and community evenings on the boat.
They have a Moral, Wellness and Recreation committee (MWR). This group of 5 individuals plan and put on community events some evenings while at sea, excursions while in port and support other community gathering events.
General community gatherings take place regularly. While I have been on board, there have been movie and TV show nights where people gather in the lounge and watch together. A board game evening where those interested gathered to battle each other at Settlers of Catan. A Rock Band evening where even I found myself singing and playing guitar with officers, visitors and the CO and XO of the ship.
There is a Finer Things Club where people listen to classical music, light fake candles, share candies, cheeses and other items not on the ships menu with one another. And just have some nice, classy relaxation time with one another.
They have access to a huge collection of movies; both old and brand new. This creates much excitement and joy for many. In addition to that, there is an extensive board game collection, model planes that can be built and puzzles for those who prefer quieter evenings.
They celebrate holiday and maritime events in a big way! The MWR club decorates the ships common areas for such events, and works overtime to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. From drawing decorative hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, carving pumpkins for Halloween and making red white and blue rag tapestries for Independence Day; even though they are at sea, they are not missing out!
Everyone helps out when one department needs it. This helps create unity among the staff and for everyone to get to know each other better. Those in Survey help out the Deck Department for docking and launching, and if someone gets sick or a department is low in personnel, they sign up to help out that department.
Today is my last full day on the ship, so I will be posting one more blog when I return home. My experience has been so enlightening about NOAA, hydrography, Alaska, and life on a ship! I can not wait to share this with all of you, my students! For those of you still reading along this summer, this is the path we have taken from Juneau to Nome, AK. I unfortunately will not be continuing on with NOAA Ship Fairweather as they venture farther north, but am so impressed with their dedication and skill in making our coastlines safe for both the mariners in the area and the environment.
I am writing my personal log first this time, because I am just in awe of the beauty around me. We pulled in to Kodiak, AK on Sunday to pick up an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) which will be used later in the summer, and to refuel. The scenery here is just amazing, I spent the day on the Flying Bridge (the highest point I am allowed to stand) and just took in the sun, scenery and beauty. The water was a crystal royal blue, the mountains a bright green topped with white snow; and as we finally pulled out, fascinating sea life appeared all around us. From jellyfish, sea otters, porpoises, whales and puffins; it was beautiful. While I was not fast enough with my camera when an animal decided to grace my presence, here are some pictures of the scenery.
Views of the Gulf of Alaska
Views of the Gulf of Alaska
Views of the Gulf of Alaska
Science and Technology Log
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers of the NOAA Corps work hard to keep our ship on course and accomplish the ship’s mission. The ship has a wide range of officers; senior officers who are within a few years of retirement, officers who have worked on multiple assignments and are working their way up the ranks to one day being a commanding officer (CO) of their own ship, down to junior officers who have just joined NOAA a few months ago and are still learning all they need to know to be a part of this amazing team. They are an incredible example of respect, self discipline, perseverance and teamwork.
Today, the newer junior officers had a chance to take part in a docking and launching ship simulation. The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines. The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions. The officers yelled out the commands and the other players responded accordingly, much like they would do as an Officer on Duty. The ship on the screen then would move as it would in the sea. Junior officers could then see how a ship would respond to their calls. Docking and launching are done very little once on a mission, so junior officers might not get too many chances to practice this important skill. This seemed to get everyone a bit involved.
The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines.
The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions.
Every few years, officers rotate between ship deployments and land assignments. While an officer may really love their current assignment or position, this change in location and assignment allows them to learn new skills and develop as NOAA officers. NOAA’s commitment to science and technology has attracted some of the most passionate and scientifically-minded individuals to this career path; developing their skills and challenging them to grow within their field seems to be something NOAA has excelled at. On board NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers are constantly learning, pushing or supporting each other and following a chain of command with the highest respect. I am constantly impressed with their knowledge of the ship, the engines, native sea life, navigational skills, safety protocols, survey planning (yes they do surveys, too!) and patience, especially with a very interested and inquisitive Teacher at Sea.
NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniform services in our country. NOAA’s mission has a scientific focus, so all officers have an undergraduate degree in a scientific field and some level of science expertise. While many are excited to join this amazing team, there are some challenges outside the work itself. A ship assignment is not the easiest of jobs; to be in a self-contained area which serves as both your work and your home, one that may offer you little privacy and connections to the outside world when cell service is not available or wifi is slow, and yet together they lift each other up, help each other succeed and move past disagreements quickly, as they are all going through some of the same issues.
I have spent some time talking to a few of the newer officers about why they joined NOAA Corps. They are all so passionate about their job, yet, only one of them, when they were in middle school or high school, even thought this would be where they are today. For time and space reasons, not to mention for my students’ attention spans, I will paraphrase a few of them below.
What was appealing about joining NOAA Corps?
-I really wanted to go to sea, and do science. I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. – ENS Kevin Tennyson
-NOAA Corps moves you around every few years, between land and sea assignments. This allows you to never get stagnant in your skills, you are always learning. – LT Steve Moulton
-Before this I was in the Coast Guard reserves and working on my science graduate degree, and this seemed like a good next step. What cemented it for me was when I got to go to Antarctica for some research on a ship for 37 days, it made me realize this was what I wanted to do. -ENS William Abbott
What are the best days like on the ship and in NOAA Corps?
-Driving the ship in cool places and in interesting, challenging passes. – ENS Patrick Lawler
-I like doing the small boat surveys; small boat operations and data collection, and getting diving practice in when possible. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler
-Just being on the bridge, orienting yourself with where you are, and figuring out the big picture when it comes to the ship. – ENS William Abbott
-Being on the bridge with your co-workers, figuring things out together, it can be really fun. -ENS Jeff Calderon
What challenges are there to working on the ship and in NOAA Corps?
-It can be a lot of pressure to perform your job well. You are responsible for those on board. – ENS Kevin Tennyson
-Being on a ship for so long, it starts to feel small, and you miss things like gardening and just the land in general. – ENS Linda Junge
-There is a lot of electronic equipment to become acquainted with and know how to work without thinking about. – ENS Cabot Zucker
What are you looking forward to in your NOAA Career?
-My next assignment is in Maryland, I’ll be doing small boat surveys and mapping in the Chesapeake Bay. It will be nice to be closer to home. – ENS Patrick Lawler
– Hopefully getting sent to Antarctica, they have a station there. It would be cool to work there for a bit. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown
-Hopefully going to dive school. I also like that throughout this job I will be constantly learning. – ENS Cabot Zucker
-I hope to be getting into pilot training/flight school within a few years.- ENS Jeff Calderon
What did you want to be growing up or what did you see yourself doing when you were older?
-Totally wanted to be a baseball player… or I guess something with Marine Biology or Marine Science, doing field research. – ENS Patrick Lawler
-Was very interested in being a pilot for a bit of a time. Sometimes I was unsure, but definitely knew I wanted to travel! – ENS Linda Junge
-I wanted to be on a ship, my Mom and Godmother worked on ships, this was kind of where I saw myself. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown
– The stereotypical mad scientist. Yep, that’s what I thought. – ENS Kevin Tennyson
Is there anything else you would tell someone about this job, in particular some adorable science loving, students who maybe have not heard much about this type of career?
-This is a lot of fun! It’s a good mix of science, active and outside work, and you get to see the world. –ENS Kevin Tennyson
– I definitely did not know about this growing up! I would say to look at Maritime Academies for those who might be interested. There are a lot of ship jobs out there that pay well and offer you fun interesting work that is not behind a desk. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler
– A ship is a cool environment to work in, not just for NOAA, any ship job can be great. If you are interested in research options to more exotic or isolated places, employers like those who have ship work skills. Those people can usually be resourceful and diffuse stressful situations; because, well you have to be able to. And it’s cool… so why not be on a ship? – ENS Linda Junge
– This job is all about adventure, it will definitely challenge you! – LT Steve Moulton
One last thing:I got a very short video of some porpoises, check them out!
The last two days have been surveying days. With the MVP (described in the last blog) deployed, the survey team got to work. This ship uses multibeam sonar which is affixed below the ship. Since surveying can be done at all times of day, 3 teams were created to do Survey Watch; each team worked two 4 hour blocks during the day to make sure the data was collected correctly. I was luckily placed on one of the teams, working the 3:30-7:30pm shift and the 3:30-7:30am shift. While these may not be the most normal of work day times, especially the latter, I was excited to be included and experience how work gets done on this ship.
I was teamed up with two amazing female scientists and surveyors on Survey Watch, Megan Shapiro and Ali Johnson.
Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation. She has a love for whales and that is what brought her to Alaska, as she used to work in Seward, Alaska as a deck hand and naturalist on whale watching excursions. To NOAA’s luck, this is where Megan learned about NOAA Ship Fairweather and its hydrographic mission. Megan joined the ship about three month ago and has gotten tons of on the job training to help her learn how to map the sea floor.
Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College. She learned about NOAA and its work with sonar while she was volunteering at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia. NOAA was actually using sonar in the preserve to help learn about diurnal fish migrations and predator prey relationships in the area.
While on Survey Watch, Megan and Ali monitor the ships sonar readings along the sea floor, deploy the MVP continuously throughout the trek to gather up to date data, and make sure the information is being recorded correctly. They work along side the officers to monitor the ship’s course to make a full coverage map of the area, which means having the ship go back and forth, like a lawn mower might do in your yard, until all pieces of an area are mapped. And then once all the sonar soundings are in, weeks of processing that data starts. They use correctors for the data, such as: tides, roll and pitch of the boat, sound speed, and position, to then help create the most accurate representation of the sea floor.
I wanted to know more about these amazing scientists. NOAA Ship Fairweather is a fairly large ship which can hold approximately 50 people, Megan and Ali are two of the only five women who work onboard.
What is the most rewarding part of this job?
Megan: Probably knowing that the work I am doing is going to be making the nautical charts used by mariners all over the world, it’s cool to know I am taking part in that.
Ali: I like the high quality and accuracy of data we provide, it allows for others to use the data in other applications, such as tsunami and hurricane planning, hazard mitigation and in other facets of NOAA.
What are some of the perks working for NOAA and on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
Megan: Getting to travel to new places and getting to meet a lot of new people, many of which are like minded.
Ali: We get to travel and gain access to remote areas of the world which are stunning. I like being out on the water as well. Additionally, we get access to new release movies before they hit stores, so that’s pretty nice, too!
What are some of the challenges to this type of work?
Megan: It’s hard staying in touch with friends and family since the ship is normally out of cell service range and the wifi can be slow. Additionally, I miss cooking! While the ship offers us great cooked meals, I sometimes miss cooking for myself.
Ali: One of the biggest challenges is just being away from cities. If we wanted to go to the east coast, or home for a long weekend, its kind of hard. It is a 17 hour trip, from Juneau, with all the connections.
What have been some of the coolest or most memorable moments on the job?
Megan: While processing the data for an area known as Tracy Arm, my coworker and I discovered a previously unknown underwater trench! When we were looking at the area during processing, the area looked like it had a cut or dip in the surface. Once it was 3-d imaged you could see the trench. It was pretty cool.
Ali: Last year, a fishing/crabbing vessel, F/V Destination, went down in February with six on board. NOAA Ship Fairweather was passing through the area in June, and it had yet to be found. Since we were in the last known area of the vessel the Coast Guard asked us if we could spend a day or two in the area and use our sonar to see if we could help find it. We had only planned on spending one day looking since we were on our way to the Arctic, but when that day was done we decided to do one last pass and on the 26th hour the sonar ended up finding it. It was nice to be able to provide the families with closure.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Megan: I wanted to be a zoo keeper! Or really anything with animals, I thought about being a teacher, too.
Ali: I knew I wanted to do something with the oceans. Originally I wanted to work with ocean animals, possibly mammals or cephalopods.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Megan: Hopefully, having a farm by the ocean where I can have lots of dogs. I would love to have an Irish Wolf Hound, Collie and a Borzio in particular. Maybe get my masters in Marine Biology and continue studying whales.
Ali: Maybe I’ll be retire from NOAA by then and look into starting a nonprofit for the ocean. I’ll probably live somewhere warm and tropical; maybe lead a dive school to get others interested in the ocean, as well. And I’ll have some dogs, too!
I keep finding myself outside the ship to view the Alaskan coastline or to scope for animals. It is truly beautiful here. So far I have been lucky enough to see quite a few whales, sea lions, porpoises and sea birds including albatross. It is a bit cold, so I can only be outside for a little bit, but I find the time completely worth it. Soon my time will be up and I want to be able to remember this experience and the Alaskan beauty I am in.
This morning I spent some time on the bridge with the officers. NOAA Ship Fairweather is manned day and night with men and women making sure we are safely on course. While the ship is equipped with GPS, the ship is also full of experienced mariners who plot our position on paper nautical charts to help guarantee the technology is working correctly and helps the officers orient themselves with the area. Every 15 minutes, an officer plots our position either by using GPS coordinates, radar returns, or fixed land triangulation using an alidade. This last mode of determining our coordinates, at least to me, is the most difficult. You must use 3 fixed land points on either side of the ship, determine their direction using the compass on the alidade and then using sliding protractors plot our triangulated position on the chart. Both Executive Officer (XO) Michael Gonsalves and ENS Cabot Zucker have been incredibly helpful in teaching me these different plotting techniques.
Today we are headed to the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System. This is a strike slip fault line extending 746 miles off shore of Vancouver Island to the Fairweather range in southeast Alaska. USGS has partnered with NOAA Ship Fairweather to help to create part of a comprehensive map of one of the fastest moving underwater tectonic plates in the world, moving of a slip rate of 2 inches a year. Over the next 24 hours they will survey the area using multibeam sonar to help complete the mapping which as taken almost 4 years to complete.
To start this, the survey team had to deploy a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) into the water. The MVP follows behind the ship and by detecting water temperature and salinity of the water, the MVP can then determine the speed of sound in water needed to accurately detect the sea floor. With this knowledge the survey team can correctly calibrate their sonar to map the sea floor. Below you will see Sam Candio and Simon Swart of the survey team deploying the MVP.
MVP, Moving Vessel Profiler
Sam and Simon deploying the MVP
Survey technicians Sam Candio and Simon Swart view the MVP controls
Next blog will cover the amazing people working with the sonar, all times of day and night to make the sea floor maps! (Stay tuned!!)
Another short term visitor on this ship is a college student from Loyola University Chicago, Paul Campion, who is on board doing an internship with NOAA. Each year NOAA accepts approximately 130 college sophomores into their two-year-long Hollings internship program to give students an opportunity to take part in research, gain job experience and see what NOAA does. While on board, Paul has been working with the survey team to learn how they do their work, as well as create his own project. Paul has been looking at the electronic navigational charts (ENC) used today by most mariners which show the depth of the sea floor. As NOAA Ship Fairweather surveys an area, these ENC’s can then be updated with more accurate and up to date data. While some areas may remain the same, some areas may show changes or even characteristics which may not have been mapped prior and need to be highlighted. Paul has been working to help create an efficient way to show where the ENCs are different to the new NOAA Ship Fairweather data and may need to be altered or updated.
Since we are out in the sea, and do not have neighboring island chains around us, the boat has been tossed around a bit more and is definitely rolling around in the waves. Luckily, I have not been sick… yet. I have been taking sea sickness pills, and making sure I get plenty of fresh air, but the boat is definitely more difficult to work in. You find yourself moving both with the boat’s inertia and then having to fight against it to move. Walking uses walls and railings, sitting requires holding on to the closest counter top or nailed down object and to get into rooms you need to shove doors away from you to open them, yet hold on so they don’t swing completely away from you and slam the opposite wall. It is kind of challenging and yet amusing.
After lunch today, I went to take a shower. I was given some good advice since I had not done this when the boat was in open water. These words of advice included: Use the walls, kind of squat down to lower your center of gravity, don’t take a razor with you (nothing good will come of that), and if the soap drops be especially careful! All things I took to heart and I am glad to report I am clean, unscratched and ready for another day.
Current Sky Conditions: 99% Cloud over made up of mainly stratus clouds, with a consistent drizzle
Science and Technology Log
I joined the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Juneau where it has been undergoing upgrades to its propulsion control. Due to these upgrades, yesterday and today the ship has been conducting sea trials to learn how the new upgrades work, train their crew on them and to make sure everything is calibrated accurately before we head out to sea and continue on the ship’s mission.
NOAA Ship Fairweather is a 231 foot long hydrographic (hydro meaning “water”, graphic meaning “drawing”) survey ship which helps map the sea floor and update nautical maps using sonar. A communications specialist contracting for NOAA, Gina Digiantonio, said it best (I will paraphrase her here): Would you jump into a body of water not knowing how deep it was? Or would you want to know you weren’t going to get hurt? This is the same thing ships and vessels have to plan for; will they run aground, hit rocks, is it safe enough for them to get through? By knowing the depth of the sea floor, mariners can avoid dangerous and expensive accidents to both their vessels and the environment.
This research is done not only with NOAA Ship Fairweather, but with the help of 4 smaller boats, or launches, on board. Each launch is equipped with its own sonar equipment which when all in use, help get large areas of the sea floor mapped at once. Below you can watch one of these 8 ton launches being lowered into the Juneau harbor.
This work is incredibly important. Some nautical charts in the area date back to before the 1900’s with lesser bottom coverage and some areas in use are not mapped at all. With the forecast of complete loss of summer sea ice by 2050 in the Northwestern Alaska area, and with that the increase in commercial vessel traffic; the need for accurate maps to ensure safety of all vessels and the surrounding environment is important work.
Since I am a visitor on the NOAA Ship Fairweather; I, along with a few other visitors and new employees, took part in a safety orientation in case of emergencies. We learned where life vests and life boats are located, where to go in case of an emergency and what calls are used to notify those on the ship, as well as the procedures associated with each situation. Additionally, we had to practice getting into an immersion suit in case we had to abandon ship. These are full body wet suits which are waterproof and help prevent hypothermia. Mine was a bit big, so I was given a smaller one. You can see me modeling a larger one here:
I got to Juneau a day before the ship was set to start sea trials so I was able to visit Mendenhall Glacier which is about 12 miles outside of Juneau with two other visitors of NOAA Ship Fairweather. As many glaciers are retreating around the globe, I felt lucky to go visit this one!
The 13 mile glacier stops at the Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years. Evidence of the glaciers movement is seen on the rocks, as they are polished from where miles of heavy ice has slid over them, over time. This glacier has been retreating for the last 500 years and in doing so it has made new ecosystems around Juneau. These ecosystems include: a wetland for migrating birds, Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through (pictured below). The glacier’s retreat is noticeable from pictures taken over time at the visitor center.
Lat: 33.4146° N Long: 82.3126° W
Air Temperature: 23.3° C
Wind Speed: 6.1 Knots
Wind Direction: West
Conditions: Mostly Cloudy, 69% humidity
Welcome to my blog! My name is Taylor Planz, and I am so honored to be a Teacher at Sea this season! My passions in life besides education are my family, my cats, the mountains, and, of course, the ocean! In college I studied Oceanography and conducted undergraduate research in Chemical Oceanography where I explored phosphate dynamics in estuarine sediments. I went on multiple afternoon research cruises as part of my undergraduate degree, but I have never been on a ship overnight before now. I married my husband Derrick in 2014 on the beach, a childhood dream of mine. We got married on the Gulf of Mexico in Destin, Florida.
In the fall I will be teaching Physical Science and Forensic Science to juniors and seniors at Harlem High School in rural Harlem, GA. In the past, I taught middle school science and this year will be my first year in a high school classroom. I am excited to teach a new age group this fall as there are many big decisions students must make during these critical high school years. I hope that my experience with NOAA Teacher at Sea will inspire at least one student to pursue science, and maybe even ocean science, as a career! There is so much out there to be explored in the ocean, atmosphere, landscape, and even space!
Alaska is about to be the 34th state I have visited in my life! I never really understood how far away it was until my flights for this trip were booked. After departing Atlanta, Georgia, I will land briefly in Portland, Oregon and then Anchorage, Alaska before arriving in Nome, Alaska. From there, I will board NOAA Ship Fairweather for Point Hope. The flights and layovers alone will take 16 hours! It is quite amazing how far the United States stretches!
NOAA Ship Fairweather will be my home for 12 days next month where I will help conduct a hydrographic survey of the Point Hope region in northwestern Alaska. We will be so far north that we may cross the Arctic Circle! Only 30% of this region’s ocean floor has ever been surveyed, and those surveys need updating because they took place in the 1960s. Updated and new surveys will be vital for the continued safe navigation of the ever-increasing maritime traffic, especially because the size of the vessels navigating the local waters continues to grow.
Science and Technology Log
Most of the blog posts I write onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather will tie back to physical science, so today I would like to discuss some earth science! Point Hope, AK is located at 68.3478° N latitude and 166.8081° W longitude. As you may know, Earth is divided into 90° of latitude per hemisphere, so 68° is pretty far north! In comparison, Harlem, GA is located at 33.4146° N latitude and 82.3126° W longitude.
What is significant about a region’s latitude? Latitude affects many things including sunlight distribution, seasons, and climate. For most of us in the United States, we know that summer days are long and winter days are short (in reference to hours of sunlight per 24 hour day). In Alaska the effect is much more dramatic! Parts of Alaska experience 24 hours of daylight around the summer solstice in June and 24 hours of darkness around the winter solstice in December. Not only are the daylight hours much different than what most of us experience, the concentration of sunlight that reaches Alaska is different too.
No matter which hemisphere you live in, as your latitude increases away from the equator (0° latitude) the amount of sunlight that reaches you decreases. The sun has to travel a longer distance through more of Earth’s atmosphere to reach you. As the light travels, it becomes more diffuse and less of it reaches its final destination: the Earth’s surface. The less direct sunlight makes those places feel cooler throughout the year than places like Ecuador, which is close to the equator and gets direct sunlight year round. Regions closer to the equator also do not get the long summer days and long winter nights because their daylight hours average around 12 hours per day year round.
It’s a common misconception to think that Earth is closer to the Sun in the summer and farther in the winter. If this were true, summer would start in June all over the world! Instead, the Earth’s tilt (at 23.5°) determines which hemisphere is pointing towards the Sun and that hemisphere experiences summer while the other experiences winter. As latitude increases, the seasonal effect becomes more dramatic. In other words, the difference between summer and winter is more and more noticeable. That is why warm, tropical places near the equator stay warm and tropical year round.
With all of this important science to consider, my 12 days in Alaska will definitely be an adjustment! I purchased an eye mask to help me to get restful sleep while the sun shines around me close to 24 hours per day. In addition, I will be packing plenty of layers to stay warm during the cool days and cold nights. In Georgia, most summer days reach temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity. In contrast, Alaskan days on the water will reach 50s-60s on average.
Did You Know?
NOAA Ship Fairweather was built in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-1960s, and its home port today is on the opposite side of the country in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Question of the Day
How many hours of daylight did you experience in your home state during the summer solstice on June 21? Nome, Alaska had 21 hours and 21 minutes of daylight!
Hello, my name is Vickie Obenchain and I am the K-5 science specialist and 6-8 middle school science teacher at the Saklan School in Moraga, California. I was an outdoor environmental educator before becoming a classroom teacher and found water ways fascinating, as they can show you the health of an area, see human impact and also connect so many areas of the world and environments. Now in the classroom, as my school is very close to the San Francisco Bay, water and ocean topics are always a discussion in my science classes.
Tomorrow, I leave for northwest Alaska to take apart in oceanic research on board NOAA Ship Fairweather. I will be working with NOAA scientists to help map the ocean floor around Alaska to help boats maneuver along those water ways, as most commerce comes either by boat or plane. Accurate up to date data is necessary to help also with storm surges and wave modeling.
NOAA Ship Fairweather (Courtesy of NOAA)
I am very excited to take part in this research. Being chosen to be a Teacher At Sea and learn along other scientists, take part in important research and travel to an area I have never seen before excites me to think of what all learning opportunities I will be able to bring back to my classroom. Most of all, I am excited to share with my students what a scientist’s life may look like; as they may get inspired themselves.
The weather in Alaska looks like it is in the 50’s and 60’s during the day and down into the 40’s at night, so I am packing a bit warmer clothes then I have been wearing the last week. Along with my awesome new NOAA Teacher At Sea swag I received to make me feel like one of the gang.
Greetings from Western North Carolina. My name is Tom Savage, and I am a high school Science teacher at the Henderson County Early College on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, NC. I currently teach Chemistry, Earth Science, Physical Science and coach our Science Olympiad Team.This is my fourteenth year teaching and ninth year teaching at the early college.
Exactly three years ago, I was preparing for my first NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage aboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. During that mission, we conducted a cetacean (whale) inventory off the coast of New England in a region called Georges Bank. It was a trip of a lifetime and it had a profound impact on my teaching and my students. As a result, students in my physical science classes are now identifying whales species based on their sound acoustics. In addition, I began a new elementary outreach program, “Young Scientist.” Through activities, elementary children are exposed to the many sounds marine mammals produce for communication. Embedded within these lessons is the the marine mammals that reside in our oceans and NOAA’s mission in safe guarding these fragile ecosystems. Collaboration continues today with acoustician scientist Genevieve Davis, from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, located in the small scientific community of Woods Hole on Cape Cod.
I was very excited and honored to be chosen for another “once in a lifetime adventure,” two in one lifetime! This year I will be assisting with a hydrographic survey in and around the inside passages of southeast Alaska on NOAA Ship Fairweather! The goal of the survey is to map the ocean floor through the use of SONAR for the purpose of updating nautical charts. Using sound waves for mapping will compliment my marine mammal lesson plans. On this mission, we will be deploying a drifter buoy in which students will be tracking during the year as it will be transmitting realtime locations.
I have always had a fascination with the oceans. During the summer of 2013, I spent a week with eighteen other science teachers from across the county, scuba diving within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This week long program was sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and NOAA. This exceptional professional development provided an opportunity to explore, photograph and develop lesson plans with a focus on coral reefs. I also learned about how important the Gulf of Mexico is to the oil industry. I had the opportunity to dive under an abandoned oil platform and discovered the rich, abundant animal life and how these structures improve the fish population.
Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked for six years in the GIS (Geographic Information System) field collecting, developing and designing maps for many purposes; ocean floor mapping is not on the list. I also worked for five years as a park ranger at many national parks including the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Acadia. Working at these national treasures was wonderful and very beneficial to my teaching.
Providing young adults with as many experiences and career possibilities is the hallmark of my teaching. During the year, I arrange a “Discover SCUBA” at the local YMCA. Students who have participated in this have gone on to become certified. In the fall I have offered “Discover Flying” at a local airport, sponsored by the “Young Eagles” program. Here students fly around our school and community witnessing their home from the air. A few students have gone on to study various aviation careers.
The most difficult part of being at sea for such a long time is missing my family. They all enjoy the ocean! I have been diving with my son since he was 12 and this summer my daughter will earn her junior certification.
I look forward to sharing this adventure with you! Please send any questions that you may have and I will respond in a timely manner.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13, 2018
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 19, 2018
Weather: It is SPRING in Wisconsin!
I got home this week from an absolutely amazing experience on NOAA Ship Fairweather! I arrived so excited to share what I have learned with students and other teachers alike! I went to school 30 minutes before the end of the day bell when I arrived. I felt like I was welcomed back like a hero! My students and the staff were happy to see me, and I was very happy to see them! I got lots of hugs and high fives. It was especially exciting to hear that the students had enjoyed and learned from my blog. They especially liked to learn what I had eaten!
I was able to share some pictures and stories this week as our year winds down. I have begun organizing my photos and have plans with the staff to give a presentations to all the 4-8 grade students in the fall. Ideas are flowing through me about how I will incorporate my new knowledge and experiences into my different curriculums. There is so much potential!
I have not stopped talking about my experience with people in and out of school. I love having so many experiences to share. The people of NOAA Ship Fairweather where so willing to teach me about hydrography and ship life. I have strong memories of people asking if I wanted to try doing something, or calling me over to explain something they were doing. I, of course, hopped in and tried everything I could! I got to drive the ship on my first morning! I also was able to drive the launches! (Thanks Colin!) I learned so much about being a hydrographer thanks to all the surveyors! What a wonderful group of people. I could thank everyone really, the deck crew, the engineers, the stewards, the NOAA Corps officers, and the great leadership of the XO and CO. I was able to learn from all of them. Everyone always made me feel like they had time to teach me how to do things, and to answer questions. It is exciting to be in a place with so many talented educators!
This is a trip that will influence how I approach my teaching and my everyday life. I will never forget the kindness and caring of NOAA Ship Fairweather personnel, or the beauty and splendor of SE Alaska!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 11, 2018
Weather from the Bridge:
Latitude:57°43.3 N Longitude:133°35.5 W Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 5 knots Wind Direction: variable Visibility:3 nautical miles Air Temperature: 11.5°C Sky:100% cloud coverage
Science and Technology Log
The area that NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying is Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. These are fjords, which are glacial valleys carved by a receding (melting) glacier. Before the surveying could begin the launches(small boats) were sent up the fjords, in pairs for safety, to see how far up the fjord they could safely travel. There were reports of ice closer to the glacier. Because the glacier is receding, some of the area has never been mapped. This is an area important for tourism, as it is used by cruise ships. I was assigned to go up Endicott Arm towards Dawes Glacier.
Almost as soon as we turned into the arm, we saw that there was ice. As we continued farther, the ice pieces got more numerous. We were being very careful not to hit ice or get the launch into a dangerous place. The launch is very sturdy, but the equipment used to map the ocean floor is on the hull of the boat and needs to be protected. We were able to get to within about 8 kilometers of the glacier, which was very exciting.
The launches have been going out every day this week to map areas in Tracy Arm. I have been out two of the days doing surveying and bottom sampling. During this time I have really enjoyed looking at the glacial ice. It looks different from ice that you might find in a glass of soda. Glacial ice is actually different. It is called firn. What happens is that snow falls and is compacted by the snow that falls on top of it. This squeezes the air out of of the snow and it becomes more compact. In addition, there is some thawing and refreezing that goes on over many seasons. This causes the ice crystals to grow. The firn ends up to be a very dense ice.
Glaciers are like slow moving rivers. Like a river, they move down a slope and carve out the land underneath them. Glaciers move by interior deformation, which means the ice crystals actually change shape and cause the ice to move forward, and by basal sliding, which means the ice is sliding on a layer of water.
The front of a glacier will calve or break off. The big pieces of ice that we saw in the water was caused by calving of the glacier. What is also very interesting about this ice is that it looks blue. White light, of course, has different wavelengths. The red wavelengths are longer and are absorbed by the ice. The blue waves are shorter and are scattered. This light does not get far into the ice and is scattered back to your eyes. This is why it looks blue.
Meltwater is also a beautiful blue-green color. This is also caused by the way that light scatters off the sediment that melts out of the glacial ice. This sediment, which got ground up in the glacier is called rock flour.
Mapping and bottom sampling in the ice
NOAA Ship Fairweather has spent the last four days mapping the area of Tracy Arm that is accessible to the launches. This means each boat going back and forth in assigned areas with the multibeam sonar running. The launches also stop and take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts. These are taken to increase the accuracy of the sound speed data.
Today I went out on a launch to take bottom samples. This information is important to have for boats that are wanting to anchor in the area. Most of the bottom samples we found were a fine sand. Some had silt and clay in them also. All three of these sediment types are the products of the rocks that have been ground up by ice and water. The color ranged from gray-green to tan. The sediment size was small, except in one area that did not have sand, but instead had small rocks.
The instrument used to grab the bottom sediment had a camera attached and so videos
were taken of each of the 8 bottom grabs. It was exciting to see the bottom, including some sea life such as sea stars, sea pens and we even picked up a small sea urchin. My students will remember seeing a bottom sample of Lake Huron this year. The video today looked much the same.
I have seen three bears since we arrived in Holkham Bay where the ship is anchored. Two of them have been black. Today’s bear was brown. It was very fun to watch from our safe distance in the launch.
I have really enjoyed watching the birds too. There are many waterfowl that I do not know. My students would certainly recognize the northern loons that we have seen quite often.
I have not really talked about the three amazing meals we get each day. In the morning we are treated to fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, made to order eggs, potatoes, and pancakes or waffles. Last night it was prime rib and shrimp. There is always fresh vegetables for salad and a cooked vegetable too. Carrie is famous for her desserts, which are out for lunch and dinner. Lunches have homemade cookies and dinners have their own new cake type. If we are out on a launch there is a cooler filled with sandwich fixings, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, trail mix, hummus and vegetables.
The cereal and milk is always available for snacks, along with fresh fruit, ice cream, peanut butter, jelly and different breads. Often there are granola bars and chips. It would be hard to ever be hungry!
Latitude: 57 43.3 N Longitude: 133 43.3 Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 2 knots Wind Direction: 202 Visibility: 8 Nautical Mines Air Temperature: 14 C Sky: High Cirrus Clouds
Science and Technology Log
When I first learned that I would be on NOAA Ship Fairweather, one of the possible sites, I was told, was a survey including a mud volcano. I did not know anything about mud volcanoes. I knew about ice volcanoes on moons in our solar system, but not about mud volcanoes. NOAA Ship Fairweather found evidence of the methane seeps coming from mud volcanoes, while surveying the Queen Charlotte fault last season. A seep is where gases from below the surface comes out. The area surveyed the first week I was on the ship was just north of the seeps. I wanted to know more so I could share this information. Here is a little background.
In 2015 geologists found a 700 foot gas plume and a couple other active mud cones along the Queen Charlotte – Fairweather fault. Although this fault is not in a highly populated area, it is very active. In the area where the geologists were surveying, liquid natural gas plants and a busy port were close by. They already knew of earthquakes along the fault and that an earthquake in the area today could cause a landslide and generate tsunamis on shore. Older mapping done in the area showed past landslides. But the 2015 survey was looking for the “seeps.”
Scientists first noticed the methane plume coming from the area near the fault. The seep was from an underwater mud volcano. A mud volcano does not have to be made of igneous rock like a traditional volcano. It is formed from gases and mud creating a volcano shaped cone.
Geologists have questioned whether these mud volcanoes may provide a lubricant that could actually lessen the friction on the fault in the area. It would cause the tectonic plates of area to slowly creep along.
NOAA Ship Fairweather also found these seeps during a mapping of the ocean floor along the fault. Below on the right are the plumes of gas rising from the sea floor. Look how high they are rising. Also notice the fan shape on the right. That shows the width of the multibeam sonar at this depth. The colored area on the left are also from NOAA Ship Fairweather’s multibeam sonar with the blues being deeper areas of the seafloor and green to yellow to red getting more shallow. The circled areas show where the seeps were found while the fault line was being mapped.
Life under the sea?
At these seeps, geologists have also found animals that live off of the nutrients of chemosynthetic bacteria. This is bacteria that, instead using the energy of the sun (photosynthesis,) to make energy, they use the materials that come from thermal vents in the ocean floor.
What are other geologic wonders of the area?
First of all there are hot springs! I learned about these hot springs from several of the people on NOAA Ship Fairweather. They report it to be a fun place to visit for a little well deserved time off. There are many hot springs in other areas of Southeast Alaska too. It is a draw for tourists to the area. The hot springs are produced because water seeps down a crack in the Earth’s surface and gets heated, then the super-heated water rises to the surface.
The geology of rock types of the area are also a wonder. It is actually quite complicated, the landscape and seafloor features have been influenced by glaciation, volcanism and plate tectonics, and these geologic influences are still present today. The surveying on NOAA Ship Fairweather is vital to the understanding of the geology that shaped the area. The clues that are beneath the sea help geologist begin to understand southeast Alaska’s dynamic past, and help to predict the geologic future.
After one week on the ship I feel like I just might have to stay! The surveying is really interesting and the views are amazing. When I first arrived I was confused by the passageways and ladder wells on the ship, but now it seems so easy!
I have discovered a few of my favorite places! I love my small room with its own port hole. I really enjoy all of the meals and having time to talk to everyone onboard. People come from all over the US and do a variety of jobs on the ship.
Tomorrow I will have a chance to go off the ship on the small boats. That sounds like great fun!
Did you know?
We just got to a new area with glaciers. The one we could photograph today is Sumdum Glacier. It sounds like a really funny name. It is a Native American word meaning, the sound glaciers make when they are calving, which is what it is called when ice falls off of them.
Some information from:
“Active Mud Volcano Field Discovered off Southeast Alaska.” Eos, 30 Nov. 2015, eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska.
NOAA Ship Fairweather uses a multibeam sonar to map the ocean floor. Sonar stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. This ship’s multibeam sonar sends sound (acoustic energy) to the seafloor in a fan shape, and then listens for the echos. The speed sound travels is vital to knowing the depth the sound has traveled to. Sound travels about 1500 meters per second in seawater. This is much faster than in air where it travels at about 340 meters per second. Sound speed is an important consideration in ocean floor mapping.
What factors influence the strength of acoustic return? (sound back to the ship)
Spreading – As the sound energy gets farther from its source (the bottom of the ship) and after it hits its target, the sound wave gets weaker. This is why you can hear someone standing next to you better than somebody on the other side of a room.
Absorption – The energy of the wave heats up the molecules of water it goes through because of friction and loses energy. This is also the reason you can hear someone standing next to you better than somebody on the other side of a room.
Ambient Noise – . This refers to the fact that the fish, (towed behind the ship) the ship, and wave action are also producing sound sources of their own. The sound “signal” needs to be extracted from this “noise”.
Target Strength – If the seafloor is muddy, some of the energy of the sound beam will be absorbed and less will be sent back to the ship. If it is a rocky bottom, the sound energy scatters in different directions and a weaker signal returns.
How is the sound speed measured?
When you hear MVP in sports? MVP means Most Valuable Players, but on NOAA Ship Fairweather the MVP stands forMoving Vessel Profiler. The MVP consists of a small crane on the fantail (the back deck on the ship) that pulls what is called a FISH! The MVP has a computer controlled winch that can be used while the ship is moving.
The surveyors (marine technicians) call to the bridge to ask if they can, “take a cast.” This means they will lower the “fish” to get readings and learn the speed of sound for the area. The bridge, which is where the boat is steered from, will respond that they may cast, only if it is safe. Our last “cast” measured the water column down to 217 meters as we were travelling at 6 knots (about 7 miles per hour.) The ship does not drop the “fish” while it is travelling at a high speed because that puts too much tension on the cable.
The fish is the instrument that is pulled behind the ship, that collects data. The fish is actually a science instrument, much like the Hydrolab that we use at school. It is a CTD, and is used to measure conductivity, temperature and pressure. This data allows the CTD to measure the speed of sound.
Conductivity is a measurement of the ability of water to conduct an electrical current. The dissolved salts in the water are the conductors of the electricity. The salts, as you may remember, come from the breakdown of rocks and are carried by rivers to the ocean. These “salts” are electrically charged ions, mostly in the form of sodium and chlorine. So, the conductivity measures the salinity (saltiness) of the ocean. This is very important, because the salinity affects the speed of sound. Since the sonar is sending sound to the bottom of the ocean, conductivity or salinity measurements are very important.
As sound travels through different densities (caused by the salinity) it causes refraction. You have seen refraction when you put a straw in a glass of water. The straw appears to bend. So the salinity of the water needs to be measured using the conductivity instruments in order to account for different densities caused by the salinity levels.
Temperature also affects the density of the water. Colder water is more dense than warmer water. Remember when we studied how colder air is more dense than warmer air?
Since salinity and temperature change with depth, the CDT also measures depth. All three of these instruments together help determine the speed of sound through the water. Since the sonar uses sound to map the ocean floor, measuring the speed of sound is vital for collecting good data.
The speed of sound generally increases with an increase of temperature, salinity or pressure.
Did you know?
Datum – a noun meaning a piece of information, while data is plural.
Swath – a fan shaped area created by the sound beams
Transducer – where sound leaves from.
Receiver – where the sound comes back to.
One of the most exciting things about being at sea, is seeing animals. On our first day out we were lucky to see a pod of orcas whales (killer whales.) Since then, someone on board reported the whales and got information back from NOAA Fisheries about whales they could identify from the pictures sent. We found out that whale A4, named Sonora, and one of her four offspring A46, named Surf, were part of pod A5 which is a group that usually is in the water near British Columbia, but sometimes can be found in southeast Alaska, where we are right now. One male, named A66, was identified by the pictures. He was born in 1996! Look for more information about this pod here http://cetacousin.org/wild-database/orcas/northern-resident-orcas/ or http://orcinusorca.nl/
Today we saw group of Dall’s porpoise. They are very fast moving porpoise. They are found in the Northern Pacific Ocean in groups of 2-20 and can live 15-20 years. Individuals are about 7-8 feet long.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13, 2018
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 2, 2018
Weather From the Bridge
Latitude: 54°41.2 N
Longitude: 134°15.3 W
Sea Wave Height: 5 feet
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 330°
Visibility: 2 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 9.9°C
Sky: Complete Cloud Cover
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Fairweather is now 46 miles off the southeast coast of Alaska, mapping the ocean floor over a fault. This a transform boundary, so it is a strike slip fault. It is the boundary between the North American and Pacific plates. The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) has hired NOAA to survey the ocean floor in this area called the Queen Charlotte fault. The entire section of the fault is called the Queen Charlotte – Fairweather fault (named for Mount Fairweather, just like the ship’s name.) It runs for over 1,200 kilometers from Yakatat, Alaska to the north and British Columbia to the south. This is a part of a long fault along this plate boundary that is called the San Andreas fault when it is on land in California
The last time this particular area was surveyed was for the creation of navigational charts, between 1900 and 1938, but without accuracy or data density that the multibeam sonar being used today has. Once this portion is surveyed, the entire fault will have been mapped. The mapping has been done by the USGS, the Canadian Geologic Survey, and NOAA.
The photo above shows the features of the sea floor. It is set on top of a navigational chart. You can see the numbers on the old chart that represent depth reading. The data collected today shows depth for the entire area mapped and the features on the sea floor.
Looking at what NOAA Ship Fairweather has already mapped, the fault is very distinct as are the channels that have been offset by past seismic activity. These channels were created from runoff as the glaciers receded from this area 17,000 years ago. Using the offset measurements and the time since the canals where formed, scientists have given a slip rate of 5.5 centimeters per year to this area of the fault. This makes it one of the fastest moving continental – ocean transform boundaries.
NOAA ship Fairweather has sonar that was built for detecting hazards for surface navigation, but it is capable of surveying to several kilometers in depth. The survey team has figured out how map at these great depths up to 2,100 meters. It involves going slowly over the area, and gathering richer data by going over part of the previous survey lines. This is much like painting a wall, where the painter overlaps their brushstrokes so there are not gaps in the coverage. The multibeam solar is also directed in a narrow band, at this depth, for more accurate data.
Why do you think this information is wanted by geologists?
The fault has produced at least seven earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 7. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake was generated from this fault near British Columbia in 1949. To date, it is the largest Canadian earthquake recorded. In 1958, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake above Lituya, Alaska created a massive underwater landslide which produced a tsunami sending water 525 meters (1700 feet feet) up a mountainside. More recently in 2012, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake was measured from this fault, and in 2013, Craig, Alaska was hit with a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.
Scientists want to know more about this fault, which could cause further damage to areas of southeast, Alaska. From the seabed mapping, geologists hope to better understand the slip rate and the intervals between earthquakes.
I have been so impressed with the people on NOAA Ship Fairweather. Everyone has been so welcoming and kind. This small group of people living in small quarters could be difficult for many people, but everyone here is so enthusiastic about the mission and their jobs. They are very open to sharing what they know with me, including explaining the science and technology of the equipment and how the ship functions.
It has been really fun learning about this fault and the surrounding underwater topography. Being able to see the sea bottom as we continue over it is amazing!
I am so happy I will get a chance to share this science with my students. I hope they noticed, as they read this post, the highlighted terms and concepts that we learned this year about faults and earthquakes.
Did you know?
I found a term that was new to me, tectonic geomorphology. It is the study of the interaction between active plates and land process, and how these shape landscapes.
Information used in this post can partly from:
“A Closer Look at an Undersea Source of Alaskan Earthquakes.” Earth and Space Science, vol. 99, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1–6.
Latitude: 54° 40.914′ N
Longitude: 134° 05.229′ W
Sea Wave Height: 8-9feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: NNW
Visibility: 10 km
Air Temperature: 9.5oC
Sky: Partly Sunny in the AM, Cloudy in the PM
Science and Technology Log
Over the past two days, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather has been hard at work on the first major project of the season, charting the ocean floor along the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System. The project itself will take seven days, though with two days at sea before heading to port in Ketchikan, the survey techs have been focusing on the first sheet, D00245, roughly 900 kilometers offshore in an area known as West of Prince of Wales Island.
Fairweather is completing the survey in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which has spent the last three years researching and mapping the seafloor along the fault. Geologists are particularly interested in this fault as little is known about the region and the seafloor here is largely unexplored. Geologists believe that by studying the fault line and the geology of the ocean floor, they may be able to unlock secrets about the history of our oceans as well as develop new understanding of seismic activity that can keep communities safer when future earthquakes strike.
One of the reasons the USGS turned to NOAA to complete its charting efforts is because of the tremendous ocean depths. The survey techs are using Fairweather‘s multibeam echosounders for the project which will take a total of seven days to complete. Sonar pings from the ship’s transducer hit the ocean floor and bounce back to the ship, creating 2D and 3D charts of the ocean floor. Additionally, survey techs can learn more information about the type of surface on the ocean floor (sandy, rocky, etc.) based on the strength of the return of the sonar pings. Despite the seafloor in the area being some 15,000 years old, it has never been explored! Thus, for the survey techs and geologists working on this project, there is a sense of pure excitement in being able to explore and discover a new frontier and help others sea what humans have never seen before.
One of the geologists remarked that he was surprised to see that despite how old the ocean floor in the area is, little appears to have changed, geologically speaking in thousands of years. Another surprise for geologists is how the fault appears to be one large, long crack. Many other fault areas appear to be made up of lots of small, jagged, and complicated “cracks.” Another question to explore!
Notice the colors which help survey techs see the changing depths quickly. The green, mostly vertical lines, show the ship’s course. To collect data, Fairweather runs about 6 hours in one direction, before turning around to run 6 hours in the opposite direction. This allows survey techs to gather more data about ocean depths with each turn. In total, survey techs collected nearly 48 hours of data. This meant survey techs working all night long to monitor and process all of the new information collected.
Just like on the launches during patch tests, survey techs deploy CTD’s to measure the water’s conductivity (salinity), temperature, and pressure. This information is key in order to understand the speed of sound in a given area of water and ensure that the sonar readings are accurate.
In striking contrast to the beautiful coastlines that framed the Inside Passage, the last two days have provided endless blue skies mixing with infinite blue seas. No land in sight!
The open ocean is challenging (huge waves make the entire ship sway constantly and gives new meaning to earning one’s “sea legs”), but far more inspiring. I’m grateful for the glimpse into life at sea that NOAA has provided me. There is deep sense of trust among the crew, in their collective hard work that keeps us all safe in the middle of the ocean. There is also a wonderful sense of adventure, at being part of discovering something new. Just as explorers have sought after new frontiers for hundreds of years, Fairweather today is charting areas still unknown to humankind. There is something truly invigorating about watching the sonar reflect the ocean floor in a rainbow of colors, in watching as peaks and valleys slowly are painted across the monitors in the plot room and bit by bit, another sliver of science is added to the charts. There is something particularly refreshing and exciting about seeing whales spray and play in the waves while standing on the ship’s bridge. I’m truly grateful to all onboard Fairweather and NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program for this remarkable opportunity, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with students back at Devotion.
Did You Know?
Prince of Wales Island is one of the southernmost parts of Alaska. Home to some 4,000 inhabitants, Prince of Wales Island is the 4th largest island in the US and the 97th largest island in the world. Originally home to the indigenous Kaigani Haida people, Spanish, British, and French explorers all passed by the island in the 1700 and 1800’s. In the late 1800’s, miners came to the island looking for gold, copper, and other metals. Today, most of the land is protected as the Tongass National Forest covers a great portion of the island.
Challenge Question #5: Devotion 7th Graders – Can you find the depths of the Charles River, the Boston Harbor, and 900 kilometers offshore the Massachusetts coast? What sort of aquatic life exists in each area? What does the river/seafloor look like in these areas? Create a comic strip or cartoon showing your findings.
Latitude: 50° 10.002′ N
Longitude: 125° 21.685′ W
Sea Wave Height: 7 feet
Wind Speed: 5 knots or less
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility: 14 km
Air Temperature: 9oC
Sky: Mostly Sunny
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Fairweather has begun its transit to Alaska for the heart of the field season which means transiting the famous Inside Passage, a roughly two day voyage through a stretch of nearly a thousand islands between Washington State and Alaska. The more protected waterways of the Inside Passage provided a smooth, calm ride. I took advantage of the transit to spend more time on Fairweather‘s bridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.
One thing that quickly became clear on the bridge of Fairweather is that for many navigational tasks, the crew has at least three ways of being able to obtain needed information. For example, navigational charts (maps) show two compasses: magnetic and true north. The inner circle represents the magnetic compass, which in reality points 17 degrees right of true North and is dependent upon the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core. Because the magnetic compass can be offset by the pull of the ship’s magnetic fields (the ship is made of steel, after all), Fairweather’s compass is actually readjusted each year. During our Inside Passage transit, a specialist came aboard near Lopez Island to reset the ship’s magnetic compass.