Cindy Byers: On the Homefront, May 19, 2018

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 19, 2018

Weather:  It is SPRING in Wisconsin!

 

Personal Log

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 Corps mustaches

NOAA Corps Officers! Mustaches are required.

CTD Cast

Taking a CTD Cast

IMG_8844

Setting up a HorCon (Horizontal Control) Station

Dawes Glacier

Our NOAA Physical Scientist at Dawes Glacier

Bald eagle skull

A Bald Eagle skull being examined

Skiff ride

Skiff ride to a shore party

Settlers of Catan

A game of Settlers of Catan

Sam in galley

Sam, one of the stewards, in the galley

Hydrographer

Ali Johnson, Hydrographer, at work

Bekah with guide

Hydrographer Bekah Gossett looking up marine mammals

LTJG Douglas

NOAA Corps Officer LTJG Douglas on the bow

Life on the Bridge

Life on the Bridge

Kayaking

Kayaking

Glacial moraine

Me and the mountains from the glacial moraine

Cindy Byers: Mapping in the ice! May 11, 2018

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

Cindy on Flydeck

Me ready to get on a launch with a float coat and hard hat

 

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.

Starting to see ice

Starting to See Ice in Endicott Arm

launch at Dawes Glacier

A Launch at 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.

IMG_8954

Dawes Glacier

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.

ice on Endicott Arm

Ice in Endicott Arm

 

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.

Blue Ice 2

Blue Glacial Ice

blue ice

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.

green blue water Endicott

This is the green-blue water from glacial melt water

waterfall in Endicott Arm

Waterfall in Endicott Arm

 

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.

Rock Sample

Rocks and a sediment chart from a bottom sample

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

Bottom Sampler

The Bottom Sampler

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.

 

Personal Log

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!

IMG_5382

Kayaking, see the ship in the background?

IMG_5384

Three Kayakers – me in the center

Cindy Byers: Mud Volcanoes at Sea? May 6, 2018

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 6, 2018

Weather from the Bridge

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.

CynthiaByersHeadShot

Cindy Byers from the ship’s deck in Southeast, Alaska

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.

Seeps

Soundings from the Multibeam Sonar over a mud volcano.

 

Seeps

Datum from NOAA Ship Fairweather showing a seep.

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.

Mud vulcano

Mud Volcano Photo credit NOAA

 

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.

 

Personal Log

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!  

Stateroom

This is my room on NOAA Ship Fairweather

Mess

This is the” Mess” (where we eat.)

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.

Linda

Member of NOAA Corps marking our location on a chart.

 

Tomorrow I will have a chance to go off the ship on the small boats. That sounds like great fun!

 

small boat

These are the small boats used for mapping in places that the ship can not do safely.

 

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.

Sumdum Glacier

Sumdum Glacier

 

View from the ship

This is the view from the place the ship is anchored

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.

Cindy Byers : I know the MVP, and it is a fish! May 3, 2018

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 3, 2018

Weather from the Bridge:                           

A view from the bridge

A view from the bridge

Latitude: 55°09.01 N

Longitude: 134°43.6 W

Sea Wave Height: 3 feet

Wind Speed: 6 knots

Wind Direction: 170°

 

Visibility: 10+ nautical miles

Air Temperature: 9.5°C  

Sky: Complete Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

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 for Moving 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.

MVP

This is the MVP that is on the ships fantail

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.

Bringing in the Fish

Bringing in the “fish”

 

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.

Grabbing the Fish

This picture show how the fish is grabbed from the water

 

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.

The Fish Out of Water

Here is the fish out of water!

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.

 

 

 

CDT

These are two CDT’s (Conductivity, Density and Temperature) that can be used if the ship is not moving. They sure look like our Hydrolab!

 

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.

Personal Log

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/

Orca

An Orca     Photo Credit Megan Shapiro

Two Orca Whales

Two Orca Whales Photo Credit Megan Shapiro

 

Orca

Orca whale near Ketchikan, Alaska           Photo Credit Megan Shapiro

 

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.

Dall's Porpoise

A Dall’s Porpoise, courtesy of NOAA

Information about Dall’s Porpoises:

“Dall’s Porpoise (Phocoenoides Dalli).” NOAA Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 15 Jan. 2015, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/porpoises/dalls-porpoise.html.

 

Cindy Byers: Above the Queen Charlotte Fault, May 2, 2018

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.

Queen Charlotte Fault

The Queen Charlotte Fault

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.

Mapping

 

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.

Bridge Computer

The blue squiggly lines show where mapping is happening. The other colors are where we have been.

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.

Surveyors computer These five screens are used by the survey team when the multibeam sonar is in use.

These five screens are used by the survey team when the multibeam sonar is in use.

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.

Personal Log

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.

 

Victoria Cavanaugh: West of Prince of Wales Island, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

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.

Chart of survey area

The Survey Starts Here: Note Sheet D00245 to the Left in Blue

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.

Plot room

The Plot Room: Survey Techs aboard Fairweather Can View the Data Being Collected in Real-Time

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 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.

Depth reading

1520 Meters Down: The Number at the Top Left of the Screen Shows We’re in Water Nearly a Mile Deep!

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!

Shallower depth reading

A Much More Shallow Area: Notice the Sonar Here Shows We’re Just 247 Meters Deep

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.

Bekah and CTD

Survey Tech Bekah Gossett Prepares to Launch a CTD off the Ship’s Stern

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.

Survey techs ready CTD

The Survey Techs Work in Rough Seas to Ready the CTD

Personal Log

View off bow

Nothing But Blue Skies in Every Direction!

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!

Nautical chart

Finding the Survey Area West of Prince of Wales Island on a Chart

Radar

The Ship’s Radar Shows Just One Vessel Nine Miles Due East

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.

Wave heights

The View out a Port Window Shows Some of the More Extreme Wave Heights as Fairweather Rocks and Rolls

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.

Victoria Cavanaugh: Navigating the Inside Passage, April 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 24, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 50° 10.002′ N
Longitude: 125° 21.685′ W
Sea Wave Height: 7 feet
Wind Speed: 5 knots or less
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility: 14 km
Air Temperature: 9oC  
Sky:  Mostly Sunny

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has begun its transit to Alaska for the heart of the field season which means transiting the famous Inside Passagea roughly two day voyage through a stretch of nearly a thousand islands between Washington State and Alaska.  The more protected waterways of the Inside Passage provided a smooth, calm ride.  I took advantage of the transit to spend more time on Fairweatherbridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.

Magnetic North v. True North

Magnetic North v. True North

One thing that quickly became clear on the bridge of Fairweather is that for many navigational tasks, the crew has at least three ways of being able to obtain needed information.  For example, navigational charts (maps) show two compasses: magnetic and true north.  The inner circle represents the magnetic compass, which in reality points 17 degrees right of true North and is dependent upon the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core.  Because the magnetic compass can be offset by the pull of the ship’s magnetic fields (the ship is made of steel, after all), Fairweather’s compass is actually readjusted each year.  During our Inside Passage transit, a specialist came aboard near Lopez Island to reset the ship’s magnetic compass.

Magnetic Compass

The Ship’s Magnetic Compass Located on the Flying Bridge (Top Deck)

Mirrors

A Series of Mirrors Allows the Crew to Read the Magnetic Compass from the Bridge

The ship’s magnetic compass is located on the flying deck, just above the bridge.  So, to be able to read the compass from the bridge, the crew looks through a series of mirrors above the helm. Notice that next to the mirrors, is a digital display that reads “78.”  This is an electrical reading from the gyrocompass.  The gyrocompass reflects “true North” also referred to as geographical North.

Gyrocompass

The Gyrocompass is Secured in a Closet on D Deck Near the Galley

Auxiliary Compass

An Auxiliary Compass, Connected to the Gyrocompass, is Located Right Off the Bridge on Both Port and Starboard

When at sea, a crew member on the bridge takes “fixes” every fifteen minutes, both day and night.  To take a fix, the crew member uses an auxiliary compass and chooses three landmarks on shore as points.  The crew member then lines up the viewfinder and records the degree of the line formed between the ship and the given point.

Focusing the auxilliary compass

The Crew Focuses the Auxiliary Compass on a Landmark on Shore. This Allows for a Reading on the Gyrocompass.

Next, the crew member plots the three points on the chart using triangles (similar to giant protractors).  The point where the three lines intersect is the ship’s current location.  Though technically, the crew could just plot two points ashore and look for where the lines intersect, but as a way of triple checking, the crew chooses three points.  Then, if a line doesn’t intersect as expected, the crew member can either retake the fix or rely on the other two points for accuracy.

Plotting the Course

The Crew Use Triangles to Plot Their Course

Verifying location

A Crew Member Uses a Compass to Verify Our Current Location, Measuring and Checking Latitude and Longitude

In addition to using the two aforementioned compasses to determine the ship’s location, the open seas often mean majestic night skies.  Some of the crew members told me they  also look to the stars and find the Big Dipper and North Star.  A central theme on the bridge is being prepared: if both compasses malfunction, the crew can still safely guide Fairweather along its course.

Original Navigation System

The Original Navigation System: The Night Sky

Location display

The Ship’s Location Also Displayed Electronically above the Helm

In addition to being able to take fixes and locate constellations in the night sky, modern day technology can make the crew’s job a bit easier.  The ship’s latitude and longitude is continually displayed by an electronic monitor above the helm via GPS (Global Positioning System).  Below, the ship’s Electronic Navigation System (ENS) essentially acts as Google Maps for the sea.  Additionally, the ENS provides a wealth of data, tracking the ship’s speed, wind, and other contacts.

Electronic Navigation System

The Electronic Navigation System – Sort of Like Google Maps for the Ship!

Next to the ENS on the bridge is the ship’s radar, which shows other vessels transiting the area.  Similar to ENS, the radar system also provides information about the ship’s speed and location.

Radar screen

The Ship’s Radar Is Yet Another Navigational Tool

Electronic Wind Tracker

The Electronic Wind Tracker above the Helm

Wind matters in navigation.  The force and direction of the wind can affect both currents and the ship’s route.  Winds may push the ship off course which is why taking fixes and constantly monitoring the ship’s actual location is critical in maintaining a given route.  The wind can be monitored by the weather vane on the bow, the electronic wind tracker above, or on the ENS below.  Additionally, a crew member demonstrates a wheel, used for calculating and recalculating a ship’s course based on the wind’s influence.

Calculating Wind and Direction

A Crew Member Holds a Wheel for Calculating Wind and Direction

Speaker System

An Old-Fashioned Speaker System on the Bridge

On the bridge, multiple ways of being able to perform tasks is not limited to navigation alone.  Communicating quickly on a ship is important in case of an emergency. Fairweather is equipped with various communication systems: a paging system, an internal telephone line, cell phones, satellite phones, etc.

Phone Systems

A Collection of Bells and Phone Systems for Contacting Various Parts of the Ship

Personal Log

Just before leaving Puget Sound, I had the chance to go kayaking for a few hours with two of the crew members.  We had great luck; not only was the water placid, but harbor seals played for nearly an hour as we paddled around one of many coves.  It was neat to see Fairweather from yet another perspective.

Kayaks

Kayaks are Secured for Seas on the Flying Bridge – The Hardest Part Is Carrying the Kayaks Up and Down Several Docks to Be Able to Launch Them

Launching Kayaks

A Bit Tricky: Launching Kayaks from a Launch

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Ready to Explore

Ready to Explore

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals Played in the Water Around Our Kayaks

IMG_20180421_140958

Incredibly Calm Waters in Puget Sound Made for Picturesque Reflections

 

 

Did You Know?

The Inside Passage is a series of waterways and islands that stretches from Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, Washington on past Vancouver and British Columbia and up to the southeastern Alaskan panhandle.  In British Columbia, the Inside Passage stretches over more than 25,000 miles of coast due to the thousand or so islands along the way.  In Alaska, the Inside Passage comprises another 500 miles of coastline.  Many vessels choose the Inside Passage as their preferred coast as it is much more protected than the open waters of the Pacific Ocean to the immediate west.  Nonetheless, rapidly changing tidal lines, numerous narrow straits, and strong currents make navigating the Inside Passage a challenging feat.  In addition to frequent transit by commercial vessels, tugboats, and barges, the Inside Passage is also increasingly popular among cruise ships and sailboats.  On average it takes 48-60 hours to navigate.

IMG_20180424_131729

Approaching Open Waters as the Fairweather Leaves British Columbia and Enters the Alaskan Portion of the Inside Passage

Glassy Reflection

A More Protected Stretch of the Inside Passage Creates a Glassy Reflection

Crew on Anchor Watch

Crew on Anchor Watch on the Inside Passage as We Approach Seymour Narrows. Note the Weathervane on the Bow.

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Late Afternoon View

Enjoying a Late Afternoon View from Fairweather’s Fantail

Islands

Some of the Many, Many Islands along the Inside Passage

Blackney Passage

Blackney Passage

tugboat and barge

A Tugboat Pulls a Barge Near Lopez Island

 

Late Afternoon

Late Afternoon on the Inside Passage as Seen from Starboard, F Deck

Mountain view

Impossible to Get Tired of These Views!

Challenge Question #4: Devotion 7th Graders – NOAA and NASA collaborated to produce the National Weather Service Cloud Chart which features explanations of 27 unique cloud types.  Clouds can tell sailors a great deal about weather.  Can you identify the type of clouds in the ten above pictures of the Inside Passage?  Then, record your observations of clouds for five days in Brookline.  What do you notice about the relationship between the clouds you see and the weather outside?  What do you think the clouds in the pictures above would tell sailors about the upcoming weather as they navigated the Inside Passage?  Present your observations as journal entries or a log.

A Bonus Challenge. . .

Just outside the bridge on both the Fairweather‘s port and starboard sides are little boxes with two thermometers each.  What is the difference between dry and wet temperatures?  Why would sailors be interested in both measurements?

Two thermometers

Two thermometers, labeled “Dry” and “Wet”, with different readings