Lona Hall: Land and Sea, June 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 12, 2019

Time:  1541 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1009’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0031’ W

Wind Speed: 9.0 knots

Wind Direction: N (10 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.78° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Lona in immersion suit
All dressed up (in an immersion suit) and no place to go

Science and Technology Log

You may be wondering what role technology plays in a hydrographic survey.  I have already written about how modern survey operations rely on the use of multibeam sonar.  What I have not described, and am still coming to understand myself, is how complex the processing of sonar data is, involving different types of hardware and software.  

For example, when the sonar transducer sends out a pulse, most of the sound leaves and eventually comes back to the boat at an angle.  When sound or light waves move at an angle from one substance into another, or through a substance with varying density, they bend. You have probably observed this before and not realized it.  A plastic drinking straw in a glass of water will appear broken through the glass. That is because the light waves traveling from the straw to your eye bend as they travel.

Refraction in a glass of water
Refraction in a glass of water

The bending of a wave is called refraction. Sound waves refract, too, and this refraction can cause some issues with our survey data. Thanks to technology, there are ways to solve this problem. The sonar itself uses the sound velocity profile from our CTD casts in real time to adjust the data as we collect it. Later on during post processing, some of the data may need to be corrected again, using the CTD cast profiles most appropriate for that area at that general time. Corrections that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand are simplified with the use of technology.

Another interesting project in which I’ve been privileged to participate this week was setting up a base station at Shark Point in Ugak Bay.  You have most likely heard of the Global Positioning System, and you may know that GPS works by identifying your location on Earth’s surface relative to the known locations of satellites in orbit.  (For a great, kid-friendly explanation of GPS, I encourage students to check out this website.)  But what happens if the satellites aren’t quite where we think they are?  That’s where a base station, or ground station, becomes useful. Base stations, like the temporary one that we installed at Shark Point, are designed to improve the precision of positioning data, including the data used in the ship’s daily survey operations.

power source for the base station
Setting up the power source for the base station

Setting up the Base Station involved several steps.  First, a crew of six people were carried on RA-7, the ship’s small skiff, to the safest sandy area near Shark Point. It was a wet and windy trip over on the boat, but that was only the beginning! Then, we carried the gear we needed, including two tripods, two antennae (one FreeWave antenna to connect with the ship and a Trimble GPS antenna), a few flexible solar panels, two car batteries, a computer, and tools, through the brush and brambles and up as close to the benchmark as we could reasonably get.  A benchmark is a physical marker (in this case, a small bronze disk) installed in a location with a known elevation above mean sea level. For more information about the different kinds of survey markers, click here.

Base station installers
Base station installers: damp, but not discouraged

Next we laid out a tarp, set up the antennae on their tripods, and hooked them up to their temporary power source.  After ensuring that both antennae could communicate, one with the ship and the other with the satellites, we met back up with the boat to return to the ship.  The base station that we set up will be retrieved in about a week, once it has served its purpose.


Career Focus – Commanding Officer (CO), NOAA Corps

CO Ben Evans at dinner
CO Ben Evans enjoying dinner with the other NOAA Corps officers

Meet Ben Evans.  As the Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Rainier, he is the leader, responsible for everything that takes place on board the ship as well as on the survey launches. Evans’ first responsibility is to the safety of the ship and its crew, ensuring that people are taking the appropriate steps to reduce the risks associated with working at sea.  He also spends a good deal of his time teaching younger members of the crew, strategizing with the other officers the technical details of the mission, and interpreting survey data for presentation to the regional office.

Evans grew up in upstate New York on Lake Ontario.  He knew that he wanted to work with water, but was unsure of what direction that might take him.  At Williams College he majored in Physics and then continued his education at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, completing their 3-year Engineering Degree Program.  While at WHOI, he learned about the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, and decided to apply.  After four months of training, he received his first assignment as a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Rude surveying the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.  Nearly two decades later, he is the Commanding Officer of his own ship in the fleet.

When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Evans smiled to himself and took a moment to reply.  He then described the fulfillment that comes with knowing that he is a small piece of an extensive, ongoing project–a hydrographic tradition that began back in 1807 with the United States Survey of the Coast.  He enjoys working with the young crew members of the ship, sharing in their successes and watching them grow so that together they may carry that tradition on into the future.

Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer
Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer, tracks our location on the chart


Personal Log

For my last post, I would like to talk about some of the amazing marine life that I have seen on this trip.  Seals, sea lions, and sea otters have shown themselves, sometimes in surprising places like the shipyard back in Seward.  Humpback whales escorted us almost daily on the way to and from our small boat survey near Ugak Bay. One day, bald eagles held a meeting on the beach of Ugak Island, four of them standing in a circle on the sand, as two others flew overhead, perhaps flying out for coffee.  Even the kelp, as dull as it might seem to some of my readers, undulated mysteriously at the surface of the water, reminding me of alien trees in a science fiction story.

Shark Point
Looking out over Shark Point from the base station

Stepping up onto dry land beneath Shark Point, we were dreading (yet also hoping for) an encounter with the great Kodiak brown bear. Instead of bears, we saw a surprising number of spring flowers, dotting the slopes in clumps of blue, purple, and pink. I am sensitive to the smells of a new place, and the heady aroma of green things mixed with the salty ocean spray made our cold, wet trek a pleasure for me.  


Word of the Day

Davit – a crane-like device used to move boats and other equipment on a ship


Speaking of Refraction…

Rainbow
Rainbows are caused by the refraction of light through the lower atmosphere

Thank you to NOAA Ship Rainier, the Teacher at Sea Program, and all of the other people who made this adventure possible.  This was an experience that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to share it with my students back in Georgia!

Lona Hall: Rockin’ at the NALL on Ugak, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 10, 2019

Time:  1932 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1359’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0488’ W

Wind Speed: 17.2 knots

Wind Direction: N (353 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.13° Celsius

Water Temperature: 9.44° Celsius

Lona on a launch vessel
Sitting in the sun on a launch, Rainier in the background


Science and Technology Log

For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here).  Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey.  First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.  

Point Cloud
Point Cloud: Each dot represents a lidar “ping”, indicating the presence of features above the waterline

Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart.  The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island.  The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions.  An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.

Amanda and Audrey
Amanda and Audrey discussing the locations of rocks along the shoreline

I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself.  In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations.  At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students.  No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.


Career Focus – Marine Engineer

Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997.  A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school.  The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.

Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer

Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength.  The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations.  They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.

Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job.  Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world.  He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box.  As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.


Personal Log

In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway.  I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home.  How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!

Ugak Bay
Ugak Bay (Can you spot the whale?)


Word of the Day

bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship

Q & A

Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?

Yes!  NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.

What did you eat for dinner?

This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.

(:

Lona Hall: The Comforts of Life at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 8, 2019

Time:  1630 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.2124’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0648’ W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: N (354 degrees)

Air Temperature: 9.24° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

teacher at sea lona hall On the flying bridge with the "Big Eyes"
On the flying bridge at the “Big Eyes”

Let’s talk charts.  A chart is a map that shows specific details of the shoreline and the seafloor, including depth (usually in fathoms) and notable features.  Click here to view the chart of the area, “Chiniak Bay to Dangerous Cape.”  Can you find Saltery Cove, where we are currently anchored? How about Cape Greville and Sequel Point?  The latter are located at the northern and southern ends of the area that we surveyed with the launch last Wednesday afternoon.

If you look carefully, you will see many symbols along the shoreline.  An asterisk represents a rock awash that may only be visible when the water recedes at low tide.  A series of dots represents sandy shore, while small scallop shapes and circles denote breakers and stones, respectively.  The small, filled in triangles on land show where there are cliffs or steep slopes. The symbol that looks like a stick with small branches represents kelp.  Kelp is considered a possible hazard, since it can get wrapped around the propeller of a boat.

Now move your gaze to the ocean.  The numbers that you see are depth soundings, measured in fathoms.  Recall that one fathom equals 6 feet. This means that where you see a sounding of 9 fathoms, the water is actually 54 feet deep (relative to the mean lower low water datum).  If you are looking at the area near Cape Greville, all of the soundings that you see on the chart were taken between 1900 and 1939, before the invention of multibeam sonar. There was a magnitude 9.2 earthquake on March 27, 1964 that changed the depths and shapes of the landforms.  Finally, you should not discount the effects of weathering and erosion by wave action on this area.  The dynamic nature of it all makes the work that NOAA is doing all the more important for the safety of anyone at sea.

Career Focus – Steward

With so many people and so much work being done every day, how do you ensure good morale among the crew? You make sure that they are well fed!  That’s where the Stewards Department comes in to play. I met with Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward, to learn how she and her staff take care of all of the people on the ship.  

Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward
Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward

The Stewards Department is like a sweet grandmother, spoiling her grandbabies by providing good food and other comforts to the entire Rainier family.  Stewards plan and prepare the meals, supply appropriate linens and bedding, and maintain a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of a potentially stressful work environment. Stewards work long hours in close quarters and, as Kimrie says, provide the “customer service” of the ship. Kimrie herself has worked on ships for many years.  She started out as a mess person for Chevron Shipping when her daughter left home for college. As part of the NOAA Relief Pool, Kimrie has worked on ten of NOAA’s ships, filling positions on a temporary basis until permanent employees can be found. It is clear that she has a deep understanding of the emotional needs of a ship’s crew, and she enjoys the camaraderie and cooperation that develop in this unique work environment.

Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew
Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew

This evening for dinner, I had baked salmon, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a salad, and an amazing berry pie.  Everything was prepared fresh, and I felt quite satisfied afterwards. Thank you, stewards!

Personal Log

I would like to take some time to write about the ship. Rainier is a hydrographic survey vessel. (For more information about what that means, see my last post!)  Constructed in Jacksonville Florida, and then later commissioned in 1968, Rainier is one of the longest-serving ships in NOAA’s fleet.  It is named after Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain in western Washington state.  Students might remember that this mountain is located near a continent-ocean convergent plate boundary between the North American and Juan de Fuca plates, where subduction has lead to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. Our ship’s home port is located in Newport, Oregon. Originally, however, the home port was in Seattle, Washington, and so it was christened after the iconic Mount Rainier.

NOAA Ship Rainier is 231 feet long from bow to stern.  There are six different levels, or decks, identified by the letters A-F moving upwards from the bottom of the ship.  Each deck is broken into numbered sections, or rooms.

inboard profile
Diagram of the ship, side view

To communicate a particular location, you might refer to the deck letter and section number.  You might also use the following vocabulary:

Port – the left side of the ship

Starboard – the right side of the ship

Fore – forward of the beam

Aft – behind the beam

Stern – the back end of the ship

Bow – the front end of the ship

D-Deck
Overhead diagram of the “D” Deck

My room is located on the E deck, one level below the bridge.  On the D deck we enjoy delicious, cafeteria-style meals in the mess, and we can work, read, relax, or watch movies in the lounge.  The steering takes place on the Bridge, the command center of the ship. I will highlight the bridge in a future post. Other common areas include the Plotting Room, the Holodeck, the Boat Deck, Flying Deck, and Fantail.  There is also a laundry room and even a gym! Although it can be a bit confusing at first, the ship’s layout makes sense and allows for efficiency without sacrificing the crew’s comfort.

Word of the Day

athwart – at right angles to fore and aft; across the centerline of the ship

Lona Hall: Launchin’ and Lunchin’ Near Kodiak Island, June 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019


Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 6, 2019

Time:  2000 hours

Location: Underway to Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°39.2266’ N
Longitude: 152°07.5163’ W
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Direction: NW (300 degrees)
Air Temperature: 11.37° Celsius
Water Temperature: 8.3° Celsius


Science and Technology Log

Lona on launch RA-5
Yours truly, happy on RA-5

Today I went out on a launch for the first time.  The plan was to survey an area offshore and then move nearshore at low tide, with the water at its lowest level on the beach of Kodiak Island.  Survey Techs, Carl Stedman and Christina Brooks, showed me the software applications used to communicate with the coxswain and collect data. To choose the best frequency for our multibeam pulse, we needed to know the approximate depth of the area being surveyed.  If the water is deeper, you must use lower frequency sound waves, since higher frequency waves tend to attenuate, or weaken, as they travel. We chose a frequency of 300 kilohertz for a 60 meter depth. Periodically, the survey techs must cast a probe into the water.  The Sea-bird SeaCAT CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) measures the characteristics of the water, creating a sound velocity profile. This profile can tell us how quickly we should expect sound waves to travel through the water based upon the water’s temperature, salinity, and pressure.

Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Carl Stedman deploying the probe
Carl Stedman deploying the probe

Using the sound velocity profile allows the computer’s Seafloor Information System (SIS) to correct for changes in water density as data is being collected.  Once the profile was transmitted to SIS, we were ready to begin logging data.

Imagine that you are mowing your lawn.  To maximize efficiency you most likely will choose to mow back and forth in relatively straight paths, overlapping each new row with the previous row.  This is similar to how the offshore survey is carried out. As the boat travels at a speed of about 7 knots, the Kongsberg EM2040 multibeam sonar transducer sends out and receives pulses, which together create a swath.  The more shallow the water, the wider the base of the swath.

Close up of chart
Close up of chart, showing depth gradient by color

After lunch we changed to a nearshore area closer to Kodiak Island between Sequel Point and Cape Greville. It was important to wait for low tide before approaching the shore to avoid being stuck inshore as the tide is going out.  Even so, our coxswain was very careful to follow the edges of the last swaths logged. Since the swath area extends beyond the port and starboard sides of the boat, we could collect data from previously uncharted areas without driving directly above them.  In this way we found many rocks, invisible to the naked eye, that could have seriously damaged an unlucky fisherman!


Career Focus – Able Seaman

Our coxswain driving the boat today was Allan Quintana.  

Allan, aka "Q", driving the boat
Allan, aka “Q”, driving the boat

As an Able Seaman, Allan is part of the Deck Department, which functions primarily to keep track of the ship, manage the lines and anchoring, and deploy and drive the launches.  Allan started out working for the Navy and later transitioned to NOAA. A Miami native, he told me how he loves working at sea, in spite of the long stretches of time away from his friends and family back home.


Personal Log

If you have never been on a boat before, it is a unique experience. Attempts have been made by poets, explorers, scientists, naturalists, and others throughout history to capture the feeling of being at sea.  Although I’ve read many of their descriptions and tried to imagine myself in their shoes, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.

Standing on the bow of the anchored ship, looking out at the water, my body leaning to and fro, rising and falling, I am a sentient fishing bobber, continuously rocking but not really going anywhere.  My head feels somehow both heavy and light, and if I stand there long enough, I just might fall asleep under the spell of kinetic hypnosis. The motion of the launch is different. A smaller boat with far less mass is bullied by the swells. For a new crew member like me, it’s easy to be caught off guard and knocked over, unless you have a good grip. I stand alert, feet apart, one hand clasping a rail, as the more experienced crew move about, casually completing various tasks. I wonder how long it would take to become accustomed to the boat’s rising and falling.  Would my body gradually learn to anticipate the back and forth rocking? Would I eventually not feel any movement at all?

View over the bow
A ship with a view


Word of the Day

draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull of a boat, a.k.a. the draught

The draft of NOAA Ship Rainier is 17 feet.

Lona Hall: Meeting, Greeting, and Settling In, June 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

 

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 3, 2019

Local Time: 1100 hours

Location: Alongside, JAG Shipyard, Seward, AK

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 60°05.1022’ N
Longitude: 149°21.2954’ W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE (114 degrees)
Air Temperature: 12.12° Celsius

Lona Hall on NOAA Ship Rainier
Enjoying the fresh air

Science and Technology Log

While at port in Seward, it has already been my pleasure to meet some of the people that make up the team of NOAA Ship Rainier.  My mission so far has been to learn about the different capacities in which individuals serve on board the ship and how each person’s distinct responsibilities combine together to create a single, well-oiled machine.  

The five main departments represented are the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the Hydrographic Survey Technician team, the Engineering team, the Deck department, and the Stewards.  There are also a few visitors (like me) who are here to observe, ask questions, and participate in daily operations, as possible.

Career Focus – Hydrographic Survey Technician

Today I spent some time with Survey Technician, Amanda Finn.  Amanda is one of nine Survey Techs aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician
Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician

What is hydrography?

According to the NOAA website, hydrography is the “science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.” Essentially, hydrographers create and improve maps of the ocean floor, both deep at sea and along the shoreline.  The maps, or charts, allow for safer navigation and travel at sea and are therefore very important.

(Click here to see the chart for Resurrection Bay, where the ship is currently docked.)

 

What does a Hydrographic Survey Technician do?

Technicians like Amanda are in charge of preparing systems for collecting hydrographic data, actually collecting and processing the data, monitoring it for quality, and then writing reports about their findings.  They work part of the time on the ship as well as on the smaller launch boats.

 

What kind of data do Survey Techs use?

Both the main ship and the small launches are equipped with multibeam sonar systems.  SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging. This fascinating technology uses sound waves to “see” whatever exists below the water.  Instead of sending out one sound wave at a time, the multibeam sonar sends out a fan-shaped collection, or swath, of sound waves below and to the sides of the boat’s hull. When the sound waves hit something solid, like a rock, a sunken ship, or simply the sea floor, they bounce back.  The speed and strength at which the sound waves return tell the technicians the depth and hardness of what lies beneath the ocean surface at a given location.

small vessel in the water
Small launch for near shore survey

Personal Log

It is possible to be overwhelmed in a good way.  That has been my experience so far traveling from my home in Georgia to Alaska.  The ship is currently docked at the Seward shipyard in Resurrection Bay. When you hear the word “shipyard”, you might not expect much in the way of scenery, but in this case you would be absolutely wrong!  All around us we can see the bright white peaks of the Kenai Mountains. Yesterday I stood in one place for a while watching a sea otter to my left and a bald eagle to my right. Local fishermen were not as enchanted as I was, but rather were focused on the task at hand: pulling in their bounties of enormous fish!

View near Seward shipyard
Out for a walk near the shipyard

I am similarly impressed with the order and organization aboard the ship. With over fifty people who need to sleep, eat, and get things done each and every day, it might seem like an impossible task to organize it all.  By regular coordination between the departments, as well as the oversight and planning of the ship’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, everything flows smoothly.

I think that it is worth noting here how the level of organization that it takes to run a ship like NOAA Ship Rainier should not be taken for granted.  Every individual must do their part in order to ensure the productivity, efficiency, and safety of everyone else.  As a teacher, we often discuss how teamwork is one of life’s most important skills. What a terrific real-world example this has turned out to be!

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

Did you know?

Seward is located on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska.  The name Kenai (key-nye) comes from the English word (Kenaitze) for the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina tribe.  The name of this tribe translates to “people along the Kahtnu river.” Click here for more information about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Word of the Day

fathom: a unit of length equal to 6 feet, commonly used to measure the depth of water

Lona Hall: Alaska Awaits, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: May 22, 2019

Personal Introduction

Finishing off the school year has never been so exciting as it is now, with an Alaskan adventure awaiting me!  My students are nearly as giddy as I am, and it is a pleasure to be able to share the experience with them through this blog.

In two weeks, I will leave my home in the Appalachian foothills of Georgia and fly to Anchorage, Alaska.  From there I will take a train to the port city of Seward, where I will board NOAA Ship Rainier.  For 11 days we will travel around Kodiak Island conducting a hydrographic survey, mapping the shape of the seafloor and coastline. The Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project is critical to those who live and work there, since it greatly improves the accuracy of maritime navigational charts, ensuring safer travel by sea.

Lona Hall and students in Mozambique
My Mozambican students, 2013

In the past, I have traveled and worked in many different settings, including South Carolina, Cape Cod, Costa Rica, rural Washington, and even more rural Mozambique.  I have acted in diverse roles as volunteer, resident scientist, amateur archaeologist, environmental educator, mentor, naturalist, and teacher of Language Arts, English Language, Math, and Science.

View of Mount Yonah
Mount Yonah, the view from home in northeast Georgia

I now found myself back in my home state of Georgia, married to my wonderful husband, Nathan, and teaching at a local public school.  Having rediscovered the beauty of this place and its people, I feel fortunate to continue life’s journey with a solid home base.

Lona and Nathan at beach
My husband and I at the beach

Currently I teach Earth Science at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville, Georgia.  For the last five years, I have chosen to work in the wonderfully wacky world of sixth graders.  Our school boasts a diverse population of students, many of whom have little to no experience beyond their hometown.  It is my hope that the Teacher at Sea program will enrich my instruction, giving students a glimpse of what it is like to live and work on a ship dedicated to scientific research.  I am also looking forward to getting to know the people behind that research, learning what motivates them in the work that they do and what aspects of their jobs they find the most challenging.

Did you know?

Kodiak Island is the largest island in Alaska and the second largest in the United States.  It is located near the eastern end of the Aleutian Trench, where the Pacific Plate is gradually being subducted underneath the North American Plate.

Eric Koser: Concluding Matters, July 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22-July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 17, 2018: 900 HRS

 

Weather Data From the Front Porch
Lat: 44°9.48’          Long: 94°1.02’
Skies: Clear
Wind 6 knots, 50°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: no seas!
Water temp: no precip to measure
Air Temp: 22°C Dry Bulb

 

Science and Technology Log

Hydrography matters. It allows mariners to travel safely. It allows many of the goods that arrive here in Minnesota to get here! Containers of goods arrive in Minnesota by truck and train from both coasts as well as the great lakes and by barge on the Mississippi river. Right here in Mankato, we often see shipping containers on trucks and trains. But I wonder if many people stop to consider what it takes to assure that the goods they desire arrive safely.

 

These trains carry containers that likely come from one of the coasts on a ship. The containers often transfer to semi trucks to go to their final destinations.

Intermodal Truck
Shipping containers like this one are very common on Minnesota roadways and railways!

In Minnesota, it’s very common to see containers on trucks. The more I am aware, the more often I realize there are shipping containers all around. I wonder how many people stop to consider that trip that some of the containers here on trucks have taken. I would guess that many of them have traveled on the ocean and many across international waters.

 

 

 

Intermodal Truck
Many carriers distribute merchandise via the intermodal system.

 

Seafood matters. People enjoy Alaskan fish, even here in the Midwest. Fishing boats are successful in part due to safe navigation made possible by current charts. The ledges and shoals identified by the hydro scientists on Rainier keep mariners safe, and ultimately support the commerce that many enjoy around the world.

Salmon isn't native to Minnesota!
This looks like a tasty ocean treat!

Navigation matters in many areas! All mariners in the US have free access to the latest navigational charts for inland and coastal waterways, thanks to the work of NOAA’s hydrographers aboard ships like Rainier. The updates we made in Alaska that are most pertinent to safety will be posted in a matter of weeks as “Notice to Mariners.” Here is an example. The general chart updates made by the team will be in the online charts within a year.

——-

It’s been both exciting and rewarding to be a part of this work. I’ve developed a good understanding of the techniques and tools used in basic ocean hydrography. There are so many great applications of physics – and I’m excited to share with my students.

One of the key take-aways for me is the constant example of team work on the ship. Most everywhere I went, I witnessed people working together to support the mission. In the engineering department, for example, Ray, Sara, Tyler, and Mike have to communicate closely to keep the ship’s systems up and running. More often than not, they work in a loud environment where they can’t speak easily to each other. Yet they seem to know what each other needs – and have ways to signal each other what to do.

On the bridge, one way the teamwork is evident in the language used. There is a clearly established set of norms for how to control the ship. The conn gives commands. The helm repeats them back. The helm reports back when the command is completed. The conn then affirms this verbally. And after a while, it all seems pretty automatic. But this team work is really at the heart of getting the ship’s mission accomplished automatically.

Hydro Team
Here the hydrographers work together with the cox’n to assure our launch captures the needed data.

The hydrographers aboard Rainer sure have to work together. They work in teams of three to collect data on the launches – and then bring that back to the ship to process. They need to understand each other’s notes and references to make accurate and complete charts from their observations. And when the charts are sent on to NOAA’s offices, they need to be clear. When running multibeam scanning, the hydrographer and the cox’n (boat driver) have to work very closely together to assure the launch travels in the right path to collect the needed data.

Even the stewards must be a team. They need to prepare meals and manage a kitchen for 44 people. And they do this for 17 days straight—no one wants to miss a meal! The planning that happens behind the scenes to keep everyone well fed is not a small task.

Ocean Sunset
Sunset on the ocean is an occasion in itself! Its easy to be captivated by such beauty at sea!

I look forward to sharing lots about my experiences. I have been asked to speak at a regional library to share my story and photos. I also will present at our state conference on science education this fall. And surely, my students will see many connections to the oceans!  Kids need to understand the interconnectedness of our vast planet!

Finally, I’m very appreciative of NOAA both for the work that they do and for the opportunities they provide teachers like myself to be involved!

Teacher at Sea
This Teacher at Sea has had a great experience!

 

Eric Koser: A Walk Through Ship Rainier, July 7, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018


Mission:
Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 7, 2018: 1400 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 49°11.7′          Long: 123°38.4′
Skies: Broken
Wind: 16kn at 120°
Visibility: 10+ miles
Seas:  2ft
Water temp: 15.5°C
Air Temp: 17.6°C Dry Bulb, 15.6°C Wet Bulb

Science and Technology Log

NOAA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 launch of Ship Rainier and Ship Fairweather this past spring.  These two vessels together have provided 100 years of hydrographc service.  Its amazing to consider this vessel has been cutting through the waves for 50 years!

It took a few days for me to get familiar with the layout of Ship Rainier.  Let me take you on a video tour of several sections of the ship and welcome you aboard.

First some orientation.  The decks are identified with letters – where A represents the lowest level and G is the highest level.  “A deck” is actually a collection of tanks and bilge areas…the work of the engineering team mostly takes place on B deck in the engine room.  The ship also uses numbers to address areas of the ship – starting with 01 at the bow and 12 at the stern.  This way, any location on the ship can be identified by an address.

So lets get started on a tour…

Often, work days start with a meeting on the Fantail of this ship. This is on the D deck – the deck with most of the common spaces on board.

Fantail
This is a diagram of the fantail.

Fantail Safety Briefing
A typical morning safety briefing before a busy day of launches.

We’ll start our walk at the base of the stairs on the starboard side of the front of the fantail.  You’ll see the green coated bollards on several decks.  These are used for tying off the ship when in port.  The large yellow tank is gasoline for the outboard motors.  It is setup to be able to jettison over the side in a fire emergency.

Next, we’ll walk in the weather tight door amidships (center) of the front of the fantail. As we walk forward, notice the scullery (dishwashing area) on the left side followed by the galley (kitchen). To the right is the crew mess (eating area). Continuing ahead, we’ll walk through the DC ready room (Damage Control) and into the wardroom (officers eating area) and lounge.

Next, we’ll start in the Ward room and proceed up the stairs to the E deck. Here we’ll walk by several officers quarters on either side of the hall. Then we’ll turn and see a hallway that goes across the E deck and is home to FOO’s (Field Operations) and XO’s (Executive Officer’s) offices.   Then we’ll step out onto the deck and walk towards the deck on the bow (the front of the ship).

Starting once again at the fantail, now we’ll proceed up the steps to the E deck.  This is the level where the davits are mounted (small cranes) that support the launches (small boats).  After passing the base of the davits, we stop into the boat shop.  This is where engineering maintains the engines of all of the launches on board Rainier.   Next we walk up to the F level and turn towards the stern to see the launches from alongside.  Notice, also, the large black crane in the center of the deck that is used for moving additional equipment and launches.  Finally, we’ll walk all the way up the port side to the fly bridge on the G level.  Here you’ll see “Big Eyes”, my favorite tool on the ship for spotting things in the distance.  As I turn around you’ll see the masts and antennas atop this ship for communications and navigation.  The grey post with the glass circle on it is the magnetic compass –  which can actually also be viewed from the bridge below with a tube that looks up from the helm position.  You might also notice this where the kayaks are stored – great for an afternoon excursion while at anchor!

Here is a quick look in the plot room that is also located on the F deck just aft of the bridge.  This is one of two places where the hydrograph scientists work to collect and process the data collected with the MBES systems.

In the front of the ship on the F deck is the bridge.  This is the control center for the ship and the location of the helm.  There is more detail on the bridge in an earlier post.  The sound you hear is a printer running a copy of the latest weather updates.

Finally, visit my C-03 stateroom.  My room has two bunks and plenty of storage for two people’s gear.  There are four staterooms in this cluster that share two heads (bathrooms).  The orange boxes on the wall are EEBDs (Emergency Escape Breathing Devices).  These are located throughout the ship and provide a few minutes of air to allow escape in the event of fire.  Notice at the top of the steps were back to the hallway and steps just outside of the lounge on D level.

The entire engineering department is not included in these videos and exists mostly on the B level.  Please see my second blog post for more detail on engineering systems and several photos!

Personal Log

Sunday, July 8, 1000 hrs.
We’re coming around the northwestern most point of Washington State this morning and then turning south for the Oregon Coast.  The ship is rolling a bit in the ocean swells.  I’ve come to be very used to this motion.  Last night we had a chance to go ashore in Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands for a few hours.  I was surprised just how ‘wobbly’ my legs felt being back on solid ground for a while.  My ship mates tell me this is how it is the first few times back ashore after being at sea!

This has been a great experience – one of plenty of learning and a real appreciation for the work accomplished by this team.  I look forward to drawing in all I can in the last day on the ocean.

Who is On Board?

Mike Alfidi
This is our cox’n Mike Alfidi at the helm of Launch RA-3.

This is augmenter Mike Alfidi.  Mike has been a cox’n (boat driver) here on Rainier for about two years now, and has quite a bit of past experience in the Navy.  Mike is a part of the deck department.  His primary duties here are driving small boats and handling equipment on the decks.  As an “augmenter,” he makes himself available to NOAA to be placed as directed on ships needing his skills.

One of the things Mike loves about his work is getting to see beautiful places like Southeast Alaska.  And, he appreciates updating charts in high traffic areas like the harbor at Pelican.  He loves to be a part of history – transitioning survey data from the old lead line to the much more accurate MBES.  One of the toughest parts, he says, is riding our rough seas and plotting in less trafficked areas.  He did a great job of piloting our launch just as the hydro scientists needed to collect the data we were after!

 

 

Eric Koser: The Impact of the Work

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Koser
Aboard Ship Rainier
June 22-July 9
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK
July 4, 2018: 1000 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 55°57.7’          Long: 133°55.7’
Skies: Clear
Wind Light and variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: <1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 14.1°C Dry Bulb, 12.5°C Wet Bulb

Pelican Harbor
The harbor at Pelican, Alaska.

The Impact of the Work
“We’re a part of history!” This notion, shared by a colleague on a launch yesterday, brings home the importance of the work of this team and NOAA’s Hydrographic Branch. Lisianski Inlet was last surveyed in 1917 by lead line! The charts of the inlet were old and not likely accurate. This week – fresh data has been collected by Ship Rainier and her launches to bring the next century of mapping tools below their shores.

Pelican Harbor in the town of Pelican, Alaska was last surveyed between 1970 and 1989.–until we surveyed it yesterday with Rainier Launch RA-3. Our team drove in and out between each of the docks in the harbor, carefully pinging sound waves off of the floor of the harbor to construct a new digital map of the bottom.

Pelican Guys
Guys on a mission…walking to pickup the HorCon.

Pelican HorCon
This is the Horizontal Control station, or HorCon, setup on the breakwater at Pelican before we took it down.

Part of our task yesterday, in addition to conducting MBES survey from our launch, was to dock in Pelican and retrieve our HorCon (a GPS reference radio setup on land that we have used there all week). As we walked through the very small town carrying two car batteries in backpacks, a pair of antennas, tripods, and other gear back to the launch – surely people were interested in what we were up to. Several people stopped to chat as we made our way from the pier, along the boardwalk, and down to the docks to go back to our launch. People asked who we were – and if we were the NOAA team that was in town. There was much appreciation expressed to NOAA for the work being done in the inlet to update the nautical charts. Here in Pelican, the water is the primary mode of transport. Accurate nautical charts provide security and safety.

 

 

 

Pelican
Here is a bit of history on the city!

Main Street, Pelican, Alaska
Main Street, Pelican, Alaska

 

Pelican
It’s a comfortable place, here in Pelican!

There are no roads to Pelican. A few cars are in town – to pull trailers and move equipment. But the primary mode of land transport is four-wheelers. The ‘main street’ is really a raised boardwalk that runs along the rocky shore – and is the heartbeat of the community.   Folks that live up or down the inlet from the town get there in small launches – there are no roads. A ferry comes to Pelican twice a month and is how cars and trucks come and go here. A seaplane comes through a few times a week—often bringing tourists in and out – and the mail. It’s a beautiful spot centered in a small inlet on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelican Seaplane
The fastest transportation in many parts of Alaska.

Pelican House
A house up the shoreline from Pelican.

Science and Technology Log

It’s mission accomplished for Lisianski Inlet!

Nautical charts are broken up into sheets. And within each sheet, areas are broken down into smaller polygons for data collection. Each launch (small boat), as well as the ship itself, can bring in multibeam data with the equipment mounted on each hull to complete plotting polygons and eventually complete sheets.

The hydrographic survey team is working away today in the plot room and on “the holodeck” of Ship Rainier (an office area on the top of the ship behind the plot room) processing the data we have collected the past several days. A combination of ship and launch multibeam data in addition to bottom samples and shoreline updates have been collected. Now the work of the scientists continues and becomes data processing.

Holideck
Part of the hydrographic team on the holodeck.

As the data is combined, it is reviewed and refined to make a complete picture of the survey area. Once the team on the ship has completed their work, the data goes to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of the Office of Coast Survey of NOAA. Here, the PHB team reviews that data again and assures it meets the specifications and standards needed to become finalized for use.

From PHB, the data is passed to two places. One is the NCEI (National Center for Environmental Information) office. They archive all of the raw and processed data including the digital surfaces themselves and the descriptive reports written by the hydrographers here.

The data also goes to the Marine Chart Division, an office of NOAA Coast Survey. Here is where the nautical charts are produced in both ENC and RNC (electronic and paper versions). It is this branch that publishes the data for use by mariners and the general public. Anyone can see the charts at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov (try the “Chart Locator”).

Nautical Chart
Here is a finished chart we are using to navigate today. Notice the two buoys in purple and green on the chart, and the narrow space between them.

Flybridge Approach
This is the view from the flybridge as we approach these same two buoys that are indicated on the chart.

 

Who is on board?

Tyanne
Tyanne Faulkes is a hydrographic scientist with NOAA.

During this leg of the trip, we have a visiting scientist from NOAA’s is here on board. Tyanne Faulkes works as a physical scientist for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA. She is a part of the team that processes the data from the hydro teams on NOAA Ship Rainier and NOAA Ship Fairweather. Her job is to assure that the data meets NOAA’s specifications–so that they can provide evidence of dangers of navigation and accurate depth information for all mariners.

Tyanne loves to be involved in making maps of the sea floor – and getting to see things others have not seen before! She loves that NOAA provides data for free to scientists around the world. Her job includes not only desk work, but also opportunities to make many mapping trips to understand where the hydro data comes from. Ms Faulkes has a bachelors degree in geography and GIS. It was a paid internship just out of college with NOAA that initially brought her to this work. And – she has a ton of fun with what she does. As a kid, Tyanne loved oceanography. Her GIS education tied well with the internship – and it all came together to take her where she is today!

Tyanne Mountains
When she’s not chasing the bottom of the oceans, Tyanne also loves to climb mountains!

She some advice to students – “Learn how to code!”

“Building Python scripts is a very powerful tool to allow us to automate the data review process. Being able to write the code – or at least understand the basic concepts that put it together – allows one to be much more efficient in your work!”

Understanding the concept of an algorithm that can save one hours of work is a very good asset. “I wish in college someone would have taught me how to do this!” One easy example is a bulk file renaming tool that the launch teams use. After collecting 50 some separate files of data in a day, this tool will take the individual file names and append any number of things to the filenames – all automatically.

Want to get involved? Next week, Tyanne and her team at NOAA’s Western Regional Center at Sand Point in Seattle, WA are hosting an annual camp for middle school and high school students! Students from across the US can apply to come to this camp each summer and have great experiences learning all about oceans and hydrography! Check it out on the web: NOAA Science Camp – Washington Sea Grant.

 

Heather O’Connell: Surveying Tracy Arm, June 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska

Date: 6/20/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°52.9’ N, 133 °38.7’ W, Sky Condition: Broken, Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: Light Variable, Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 3.9°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 17.8°C, Wet bulb: 14°C

Science and Technology Log

After the morning meeting of hearing everyone’s risk assessment before getting on the launches, I was part of the four person crew on launch RA-6. Our task for the day was to clean up the data, or collect data in places within the Tracy Arm polygon that weren’t already surveyed. We had to fill in the gaps in L and M polygons on the East point. The entire area of Tracy Arm needed to be surveyed because there are several cruise ships that are coming into this area now that Sawyer Glacier is receding and the area has not been surveyed since the late nineties. Navigation charts must be updated to ensure that the safety of the people that are visiting the area.

Launch going out to survey
Launch going out to survey

Once on the launch, the bright orange POS MV, or Positioning Orientation System Marine Vessel, must be powered to start the survey process. The new acquisition log was created as an excel spreadsheet to record the different casts along with the latitude and longitude, the maximum depth and the sound speed of the water at about approximately one meter. With all of the valuable data recorded, it is important to have a consistent system for managing all of the data so that it can be accessed and managed efficiently.

The EM-2040 Konsberg Sonar S.I.S., Seafloor Information System, program was powered on next. The EM processing unit, which is connected to the multi-beam sonar, has three lines of information when properly communicating with sonar. The right hand monitor in the launch displays the information from the sonar. Creating the file name is another crucial way of ensuring that the data can be managed properly. It is from this computer that you can manually adjust the angle of the beam swath with the sound pings.

Sonar Computer Systems
Sonar Computer Systems

Once the computers were started and communicating with each other, we completed a C.T.D. cast to obtain the sound speed profile of the water. There is also a device that measures this right on the multibeam sonar, but it is important that two devices have a similar sound speed profile to ensure data accuracy. If there is a large discrepancy between the two values, then another cast must be taken. Initially, the measuring sound speed profile at the interface was 1437.2 and the C.T.D. sound speed was 1437.8. The final algorithm that determines the depth of the water will take this information into account. Since we were somewhat close to a waterfall, the fresh water input most likely affected the sound profile of the water.

Preparing the CTD
Preparing the CTD

After viewing the data acquired in the sheet, or the assigned area of Tracy Arm to survey, Greg found areas where there were holes. He put a target on the map on the monitor on the left hand side computer. This HYSWEEP interface for multibeam and side scan sonar (which is a subset of HYPAC which is the multibeam software) screen shows a chart of the area with depths in fathoms and any rocks or shoals that would impede driving ability along with a red boat image of the vessel. This display is what the coxswain driving above also sees so that he or she is aware of what direction to travel. Once logging data, this screen also displays the beam so that you can ensure that all necessary data is being acquired. Previous surveys are depicted in a more subdued color so that you can see that the missing data is being collected. From the monitor, the survey technician must control the view of the map to be sure that it includes the targeted area, along with the path of the boat so that future obstructions can be avoided.

Multi-beam Sonar Work Station
Multi-beam Sonar Work Station

Since we were avoiding icebergs in the initial part of the clean up, we were going at about two knots. This slow pace allows for an increase in returns, nodes and soundings that increase the data density. Shallow waters take much longer to survey due to the smaller swath width. It is important to have accurate, high resolution data for shorelines since this is the area where many vessels will be traveling.  When a sonar pings, every swath, or fan-shaped area of soundings, returns five hundred soundings. Five hundred soundings times a rate of seven pings per second means there are thirty five hundred soundings per second total. This data density enhances the resolution of the maps that will be generated once the data has been processed.

Since there are sometimes safety hazards when surveying there are several different approaches that can be used to ensure the entire area is surveyed in a safe manner. Half stepping included going back over previous coverage far enough away from the hazard. Scalloping is another method which involves turning right before the rock or obstruction. This sends the beam swath near the rock without putting the vessel in danger. Some areas that were too close to icebergs could not be surveyed since it was not safe. But, this hydrographic survey was able to acquire data closer to the Sawyer Glacier than ever before. Being a part of this data collection was gratifying on many levels!

Personal Log

Seeing a white mountain goat amongst some of the most beautiful geological features that I have ever laid eyes on was another benefit of being out on the launch for the day. When a grizzly bear cub ran by a waterfall I continued to appreciate a day on the launch. Seals perched on icebergs were always a fun sight to see. And, the endless pieces of ice drifting by in the sea during our surveying never ceased to amaze me. 

Seals on an Ice Berg
Seals on an Iceberg

After a day of surveying, kayaking to a waterfall in William’s Cove and exploring proved to be another fun adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Waterfall in William’s Cove

Growing Muscle like Growing Character

The other day as I ran on the treadmill, I had a realization. While looking at the lifting weights, I realized that in order to build muscle, one must tear old muscles and rebuild new strands of protein. When these new fibers build on top of each other, muscles grow. I realized that new officers go through a similar process of developing skills and character. Junior officers come in with a two year responsibility where they learn an incredible amount. They are constantly put into new and challenging learning experiences where they tear their muscles. As they acclimate to these experiences, they build character, or muscle. The cycle repeats with subsequent occurrences.

Junior Officer ENS Airlie Pickett has a small triangle tattooed on her inner left bicep. When I asked her the significance of it, she said that the only way that you can truly understand something is to observe how it changes. In math, integrals and derivatives explain this change.

As I appreciated her tattoo, I considered that she must learn quite a lot about herself as a junior officer constantly learning new things. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to experience and observe myself in an unfamiliar surrounding on Rainier. It’s humbling to not understand the nautical terms, endless acronyms of surveying and NOAA Corps structure of life. I appreciated that all hands on Rainier made me feel welcomed, and were patient with explaining new concepts to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the Inside Passage while learning about hydrographic surveying. Living on a ship, learning about navigation and meeting all of the hard working people on Rainier has been an unique experience. Overall, this has been an incredible opportunity. Mahalo nui loa! (Thank you very much). A hui hou Rainier! (Until we meet again)!

Did You Know?

Barometers measure atmospheric pressure in millimeters of mercury or atmospheres. An atmosphere is the amount of air wrapped around the Earth and one atmosphere, atm, is the amount of pressure at sea level at fifteen degrees Celsius. As altitude increases, the amount of pressure decreases since the density of the air decreases and less pressure is exerted. A decrease in altitude increases the amount of pressure exerted and the density of the air increases.

Changes in pressure can signify weather patterns. A drop in barometric pressure means a low pressure system is coming in and  there is not enough force to blow away the weather. Weather indicative of this includes windy, cloudy and/or rainy weather. An increase in barometric pressure means a high pressure system is coming in and  cool, dry air pushes out the weather resulting in clear skies.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/barometer/

 

Eric Koser: Navigation + Hydrography = Great Charts! July 1, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018

 

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 1, 2018: 0900 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 58°06.8’          Long: 136°32.0’
Skies: Broken
Wind 10 kts at 220°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 11.6°C Dry Bulb, 10.9°C Wet Bulb

 

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, it takes a team to manipulate this ship. But first, much planning must occur to prepare for each day!

The FOO (Field Operations Officer) creates the plan for each day. Each evening, around dinner time, the FOO publishes the POD (Plan of the day) for the next day for everyone aboard. Here is a portion of July 1’s POD developed by FOO Ops Officer Scott Broo:

7.1.18 RA POD
The “Plan of the Day” for July 1, 2018. Notice the shoreline window indicates the best time for the launches to work.

Today at 0515 was M/E Online.  This is when the Engineering Department starts both 12 cylinder diesel locomotive engines–after being prepped and inspected ahead of time.

Next the Deck Department “weighed the anchor” at 0600 to get underway. Note – this term refers to when the ship holds the weight of the anchor – as it is pulled OUT of the water so we can get underway.

The principal work of Ship Rainier is hydrographic mapping. All operations here focus on creating the best charts possible of the ocean floor. As we are logging (using the MBES to take data from the ship), the plot department communicates to the bridge to indicate where they need the ship to go. The bridge can view a computer display showing the current plots the hydro team is working on – and uses this and the guidance of the hydrographic team to direct the ship. Over time, the ship covers the area of the current sheet while the hydro team captures the data from the MBES. As the process proceeds, the whole sheet gets ‘painted’ by the MBES so we have a complete chart of the bottom.

MBES Data
This display in the plot room shows the hydrographers the incoming MBES data in real time. Note the line of travel of the ship in the center pointing WestSouthWest as this sheet is ‘painted.’ Various colors represent different relative depths.

It really takes a team on the bridge to control the ship when underway. The bridge is the control room of the ship.

Bridge Location
The bridge is the room with all the windows (in the blue box) just below the fly bridge.

Imagine standing on the bridge (the room where the driving happens) and noticing who is there. From port (left) to starboard (right) we have: Navigator, Lee Helm, Helm, Lookout, and OOD.

The Bridge
Here the lookout, the JOOD (junior officer on deck), the OOD, and the helmsman (left to right) are on the bridge.

Bridge Diagram
This snippet from the ship’s plans illustrates locations of tools on the bridge.

The navigator’s job is to always be aware of where the ship is and where she is to be heading. The lee helmsperson operates the controls for the engine speed and the pitch of the props [forward or backwards]. The helmsperson turns the wheel to control the rudders or sets the helm in autopilot to steer a fixed bearing. The lookout maintains awareness of all other vessels around the ship and any potential obstacles in the ship’s path. The OOD orchestrates the whole team and is directly responsible for the motion of the ship. The OOD gives commands for any changes that are to happen to the course of the ship – and also communicates with Plot to know where they need the ship to go to create the charts.

Lee Helm
The lee helm is the control panel for the engines located on the bridge. The propeller pitch is controlled by the levers at the center. The bow thruster is controlled by the lever on the right.

The Helm
The helm is the ship’s steering control. The current bearing is show at the top and bottom and the auto pilot bearing is on the display at the center.

Radar
The radar displays what is around us. The yellow indicates land (we were anchored in a bay at the time of this photo). Radar also senses other vessels in the water. Two radar units run at two different ranges all the time.

 

 

Personal Log

 

Shoreline from Launch
This is a shoreline view from launch RA-7 as we were charting features along Lisianski Inlet.

The wildlife in this part of Alaska is great and easy to find. We’ve seen humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, eagles, gulls, deer, and bears. Last night as we were anchored at the end of the inlet I watched a grizzly bear on shore. I was able to use the large mounted binoculars on the flybridge affectionately called “big eyes” to take photos. I watched the bear move along the shore as a pair of eagles flew overhead.

Here are a few of the wildlife photos I’ve taken the past several days!

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Here is a video of the same bear lumbering along the shoreline in the evening.

Shore Bear

 

Questions to Ponder

Why do you suppose the shoreline window for launch boats to conduct hydrographic surveys matches up to the times of the lowest tide of the day?

What role does the tide play in creating accurate charts of the sea floor?

How can a ship or launch make an accurate map of the seafloor if the vessel is constantly changing pitch, yaw, and role as it moves in the waves?
[There is a system to account for this!]

Who can access the charts created by NOAA?  Anyone!
The United States is the only country to provide freely available navigational charts to anyone.  Visit charts.noaa.gov to see what these look like!

Eric Koser: Hydrography 101 – and the Tools to Make it Happen, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 28, 2018: 0900 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 57°52.59′ Long: 133°38.7′
Skies: Broken
Wind 1 kt at variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: calm
Water temp: 5.6°C

Science and Technology Log

Long Line Boat
A typical longline fishing boat. The fishing lines get spread out behind the boat from the large booms on either side.

The ultimate focus of Rainier is to assure accurate navigational charts are available to all mariners. This task is critical to the safety of many industries. About 80% of all the overseas trade in the US (by weight) is moved over water. Here in SE Alaska, it appears the largest industry is commercial fishing. Many boats fish both with nets and long lines to catch halibut, rockfish, cod, and several varieties of salmon.

Another major industry here is certainly tourism. As we conduct our work, we often see very large cruise ships. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to be in a narrow inlet surrounded by mountains, ice, and wildlife and then come across a large ship.  We passed the brand new ship Norwegian Bliss around 11 PM on our transit to Tracy Arm. This ship is 1,082 feet long, carries a crew of 2,100 people and has a guest capacity of 4,004 people! The safe navigation of all of these vessels depends upon the accuracy of charts produced by NOAA.

Norwegian Bliss
The cruise ship Norwegian Bliss as we passed her port to port in the evening.

The freely available charts offered by NOAA are created with three essential steps. First, the bulk of the depth data in this area is measured with MBES (Multi-Beam Echo Sounder). This creates a three-dimensional digital image of the bottom.

Secondly, important features to navigation that are shallow are best identified by our launches which travel along the shorelines and inspect for rocks, ledges, and other potential dangers. The locations of features are identified by GPS location and charted digitally by hydrographers on each launch.

Thirdly, bottom samples are collected by launch crews to confirm the type of material present on the bottom.

The MBES systems aboard Rainier and the launches come from Kongsberg Maritime. Two transducers (devices that transmit and receive) work in tandem. The transducer that is oriented front to back sends out an array of sound signals in a wide beam. The width of the beam on the sea floor depends directly on the depth – deeper water allows the beam to spread farther before reflecting. The transducer that is oriented side to side in the water receives a narrow swath of the ‘pings’ of sound that were transmitted. The time it takes any ping to get to the bottom and reflect back to the ship is recorded. The greater the time, the larger the depth.

MBES on a launch
This shows the position of the MBES on the bottom of one of several launches.

MBES transducers
This is the pair of MBES transducers on a launch, looking from the bow towards the stern.

Hydro Sonar
This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts an MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.

A couple of issues provide challenges to this technique. One, the speed of sound in water depends on several factors. The salinity (concentration of salt in the water),  the conductivity (how easily electricity passes through the water), and the temperature each fluctuate as the depth changes and affect the speed of the sound waves. As hydrographers receive data, the system has to account for these changes in speed to produce an accurate depth measurement. One way to do this is with a static CTD sensor. This device is lowered from the launches all the way to the bottom as it measures the speed of sound in the water.  It provides a set of three charts as the depth changes which are used to adjust the time data from the MBES accordingly. There is also a version of the CTD, called a MVP (Moving Vehicle Profiler or ‘fish’), that can be pulled behind Rainier as we are moving and take dynamic data.

Here is a NOAA article on hydrographic surveying.  Here is further explanation of MBSS.

Deploying Depth Profiler
Here the crew lowers the profiler “fish” into the water.

Speed Profiler Data
These three plots represent the speed of sound, temperature, and salinity (from left to right) vs. depth (on the vertical axis).

A second issue is GPS signal drift. Over time, the location information can shift slightly. To account for this potential problem, the scientists place a HORCON (Horizontal Control) station onshore in the area where they are mapping. I described this tool in my previous post.

Another interesting technology that is currently being developed is called “backscatter” mapping. Here scientists look not only at the time it takes the sound waves to bounce back to the transducer, but also at the quality of the return signal. Different materials on the seafloor reflect the sound differently – hard surfaces like rocks have a sound signature that is much different than soft surfaces like silt or plants. NOAA is continually improving the tools they use to learn!

Here is an example of the chart that we are updating in Tracy Arm.

Personal Log

I had a chance to take the helm yesterday! It’s interesting how sensitive the steering on this large vessel really is. The rudders are able to turn from “amidships” or their center position, up to about 35° to either side. But while traveling at about 8 knots, we tend to use a maximum of about 5° of rudder to alter the ship’s direction. While at the helm, we keep close track of the heading (compass bearing) of the ship as indicated by the gyro compass and magnetic compass on board. Then we provide steering input to hold the ship to the course ordered by the CONN. I had the chance to help steer around several icebergs as we transited into Tracy Arm. Careful attention to detail – and willingness to promptly follow commands make for success!

Helm
My opportunity to take the helm of Rainier.

I also took an opportunity to head out in a kayak from the ship where we are anchored! Two of my new colleagues and I paddled across this bay and had a great chance to look very closely at pieces of ice. The ice is really beautiful and forms many interesting shapes. The quiet of the bay – hearing only the distant waterfalls, birds, and our paddling was beautiful!

Iceberg
This piece of ice drifted through Tracy Arm from the glacier. It was temporarily ‘grounded’ on the bottom by the receding tide.

It’s crazy to consider the ice we were seeing may have been formed thousands of years ago in the glacier – and it just now melting as it floats away.

Did You Know?

President Thomas Jefferson signed a mandate in 1807 ordering a survey of the nation’s coasts. This fundamental task is always ongoing, with 95,000 miles of US Coastline.

About 90% of any floating piece of ice will be submerged below the salt water.  Because the density of frozen fresh water just slightly less than salt water, the ice floats very low in the water!  Read more here!

Who is Onboard?

I’d like you to meet HST (Hydrographic Survey Technician), Amanda Finn! Ms. Finn has been with NOAA since last September – and started working aboard NOAA Ship Rainier in October of 2017. As an HST, Amanda works with the team of hydrographers to collect MBES data from either the ship or any of the launches. Amanda graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in GeoSciences and a minor in Oceanography. At the end of her college experience, she knew that seafloor mapping was her passion but wasn’t sure how to make that into a job. But it all came together when she found NOAA through a friend of a friend!

HST Amanda Finn
HST Amanda Finn with recently acquired depth data for Lisinaski Inlet!

Amanda was performing at her first harp concert (another skill!) when she met a relation of a hydrographer who works on a NOAA ship! Based on her experience, her advice to students is: “When things don’t seem to be going the way you want, take time to focus on something else you like instead. In good time, things will work out!”

One positive challenge Amanda shares working here on a hydro ship is developing an understanding of systems integration. Many different pieces must come together to create the finished charts. The people aboard Rainier make the experience very positive!  The passion for seeking the unknown is the drive to continue!

 

Heather O’Connell: Using a Sextant, Distilling Glacial Water and Kayaking to Icebergs, June 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/18/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°55’ N, 133 °33’ W, Sky Condition: Broken, Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 10 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1023.5 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 3.9°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 15.0°C, Wet bulb: 12.0°C

Science and Technology Log

Using a Sextant

Greg Gahlinger, H.S.S.T., hydrographic senior survey technician, shared his knowledge of using a horizon sextant. He traveled to Hawaii from San Diego and back using this technology when he was in the navy. Utilizing his Cassens and Plath horizon sextant when there was an atypically sunny day in Tracy Arm allowed me to experience this celestial navigation tool. While the sextant is easy to use, the calculations for placement can be more involved.

A sextant is used for celestial navigation by finding the angle of a celestial body above the horizon. Originally, the graduated mark only measured sixty degrees, thus the derivation of the name. The angle between two points is determined with the help of two mirrors. One mirror is half silvered which allows light to pass through and this is the one used to focus on the horizon. The other mirror attached to the movable arm reflects the light of the object, such as the sun, and can be moved so that the light reflects off of the first mirror. A representation of the object, or sun, superimposed on the horizon is seen and the angle between the two objects is recorded. Angles can be measured to the nearest ten seconds using the Vernier adjustment and it is this precision that makes the sextant such a useful tool.  One degree is divided into sixty minutes or sixty nautical miles. Each degree is divided into sixty seconds.

Horizon Sextant
Horizon Sextant

To use a horizon sextant, you hold onto the arm piece and look for the reflection of the sun from the mirror and through a horizon reflection onto the scope or the eyepiece. There are several different filters that make it safe to view the reflection of the sun. After you adjust the index, the rotating part on the bottom of the sextant, you align the reflection of the disk of the sun onto the horizon. If there is no actual horizon, as was the case when we were in the fjord, then you can align the image of the sun onto a false horizon. Once the reflected sun is sitting on the horizon, you can swing the frame back and forth until the sun lies tangent to the horizon. From here, record the angular measurement and use a table to determine your position of latitude. If you have an accurate time, you can also determine longitude using another set of charts.

Taking a sight of the sun at local apparent noon with a Sextant
Taking a sight of the sun at local apparent noon with a Sextant

Salt Water Distillation

While in transit to our survey location, First Assistant Engineer Mike Riley shared the engine room with me. There is a control panel for all of the different components of the ship along with the electrical circuit board. Amongst all of the parts that contribute to making the ship function, I was interested in the two evaporators.

The two evaporators change saltwater into potable water in a desalination process. These two stage evaporators are filled with seawater that comes into the vessel via suction into sea chests. If the ship is going at full speed, 12.4 knots, which varies depending on currents and tides, the distillers will make about 500 gallons of freshwater an hour, or 3,000 gallons a day. Engine heat is used to boil the sea water for the evaporation. The water goes through a booster heater to make it even hotter before coming into the tanks. The distilled water comes from the tank next to the current generator in use.

Two Stage Evaporator
Two Stage Evaporator

The two stage distillers have a demister screen in the middle. There are about twenty metal plates with grooves between them located on both hemispheres of the spheroid shaped distiller. The plates are sealed and the metal groove space, or gaskets, between them is open. Jacket water, a mixture of coolant, or propylene glycol, and water, that is already at about one hundred and seventy degrees comes in and fills the metal plates. The jacket water is heated from the exhaust from the generator. It is further heated from going through a vacuum and turns into steam. Salt water from the salt chest comes into the space between the metal plates over the grooves.

Metal plates and gasket inside of evaporator
Metal plates and gasket inside of evaporator

The porous demister screen keeps salt water droplets from going above and the brine water collects at the bottom and goes out the ejector pump. Once the steam from the lower part of the tank heats the water and it enters the upper part of the tank, the water is cleansed and condenses on the plates. From here it goes to a tank where it is heated before being stored in another tank and then being allocated to the appropriate area. This water is used to cool the engine, flush the toilets and provided distilled drinking water while in transit.

So, currently, all on Rainier are consuming filtered artesian drinking water and showering in distilled glacier water. Ship Rainier has been consistently surpassing all expectations.

Sources

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/navigate/escapeworks.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/geodesy/geo03_figure.html

Personal Log

After dinner I decided to tag along with Able Seaman, or A.B., Dorian Curry, to kayak up close to some icebergs. Leaving the safety of the ship  docked by Point Asley, we headed towards Wood Spit Island. After about twenty minutes of paddling, I saw three distinctive spouts followed by some black dorsal fins surfacing to the northeast towards Sumdum Glacier. Orca whales were off in the distance. Soon these orca whales appeared closer and they were now about two hundred yards away. While the whales made the majestic sound of blowing bubbles in the water, I feared that they would approach the kayak. Putting the boats together in the hopes that these massive mammals would not think of us as prey seemed to be the logical thing to do.  It appeared that there was a mother and two juvenile killer whales.

Video Credit: Dorian Curry

This incredible opportunity to be so close to these creatures along with the terrifying reality that they may mistake me for a seal, proved to be an invigorating experience. The whales dove under and then once again appeared behind at a distance that was slightly too close for comfort in a kayak. At this point, I thought paddling away from these carnivorous predators would be the best approach. I paddled towards the smaller island south of Harbor Island and Round Islet, the place where the base station was set up just a few days earlier. After docking on the island shortly, I was grateful to be on shore post such a stimulating and intimidating experience.

Blue Iceberg
Blue Iceberg

Walking the kayaks over the beach and watching the channel where the Endicott Arm and Tracy Arm channels converged, proved to be a good strategy before paddling onward. A strong, circular current resulted from the two channels merging but was relatively safe due to the fact that it was ebb tide. After paddling strongly for a few minutes, smooth waters followed and I approached one of the most spectacular blue icebergs I have ever seen. The definition from all of the layers of different snowfalls that created this still existing piece of ice was truly amazing. Observing it from different angles overwhelmed me with the brilliance of this natural phenomenon. Next, I found myself paddling towards an iceberg with an eagle perched on it towards Sumdum Glacier.  Again, the different vantage points displayed various concentric circles and patterns of frozen ice accumulating over thousands of years. With only about an hour before sunset, the return journey to Rainier began and choosing to go to the west of Harbor Island to avoid the difficult channel of the now incoming tide made the return safe.

Iceberg
Iceberg

After almost four hours of paddling over a distance of about 8.4 nautical miles, or 9.6 miles, I found it difficult to use my upper body strength to ascend the ladder. Thanks to Airlie Pickett I safely stepped onto the Rainier and began to process this magnificent adventure that I had just embarked upon.

Did You Know?

Wind direction can be calculated by using a wind plotting board calculator. This dial allows you to rotate until the line matches up with the coarse bearing, then mark the wind speed on the clear dial with a grease marker, and then match this up with the angular measurement of the wind and mark this. Then, line up your two marks on a vertical line and this will provide the true wind direction.

Eric Koser: Let the Science Begin! June 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Koser
Aboard Ship Rainier
June 22-July 9
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK
June 27, 2018: 1500 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 57°52.9’          Long: 133°33.8’
Skies: Overcast
Wind 15 kts at 011°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: Calm
Water temp: 3.9°C

Science and Technology Log

Rainier Hat
This insignia cap is worn by the NOAA Corps members on the ship.

Let the science begin! We departed from Sitka about 1300 on Monday enroute for Lisianski Inlet. Getting out to sea has been a wonderful experience. Ship Rainier is truly run by a dedicated team of people. I have been able to spend quite a bit of time on the bridge – first watching and then participating with the Junior Officers on the deck. It quickly became obvious to me that this is a teaching operation. The hands on the deck represent a variety of experience levels, quite by design. More experienced NOAA Corps Officers coach Junior Officers through each procedure that happens on the Bridge. It’s a great example of a team based ‘on the job’ teaching system!

On the bridge there is always an OOD (Officer On the Deck) that is in charge of operations. This person then helps to administrate the work of the CONN (responsible for the conduct of the vessel), the helm, the lee helm, the lookouts, and the navigator. The CONN gives commands to the others on the team, which are then repeated back to assure clarity.

Chart Table
This is the chart table where the Navigator works on the bridge of the ship.

The first task I learned was to plot our course on the charts. The CO (Commanding Officer—in charge of the entire ship) selects waypoints for an upcoming course in a digital mapping suite called Coastal.   Coastal sets a series of digital paths that each include a compass bearing (direction in degrees) and range (distance in nautical miles) between each waypoint. Then the navigator takes this same series of points and plots them by hand in pencil on the series of chart {the nautical term for maps]. Each point is a pair of latitude and longitude points plotted as a small square. Given the expected cruising speed, the navigator can also estimate future positions of the ship, which are referred to as “dead reckoning” and are plotted with a half circle.

 

 

 

Sheet Route
A route that I plotted on our charts.

Coastal
A view from the Coastal software of a route.

Periodically the navigator measures the location of the ship either digitally with GPS or by measuring distances to adjacent land features with radar. A pair of dividers is used to plot these distances on the sheet as small triangles and confirm the current location of the ship. By these methods, the navigator assures the ship is on the planned track and/or adjusts the track accordingly.

The person at the helm (the steering wheel) is directed by the CONN to point the ship at the necessary bearing. As changes are needed to the bearing, the person at the helm responds to the CONN’s commands to adjust.

In Lisianski Inlet the team of hydrographers started collecting data with the multibeam sonar system around midnight Tuesday morning. As we traveled along the entire length of the Inlet overnight, this initial data was collected. When we arrived at the small town of Pelican, AK (pop. 88) a crew on a launch (small boat deployed from Rainier) traveled in and set up a HORCON (Horizontal Control) reference station. This is a high precision satellite receiver. It provides a very accurate way to measure potential drift in satellite indicated GPS over time. After taking data from the ship, the latitude and longitude are corrected with data from the HORCON.

Launch RA
This is one of several small(er) boats called “Launches” that are used for surveying.

Ship Rainier
This is a view of our ship from the launch.

After this initial work was complete at Lisianski, we began transit to Tracy Arm Fjord. While the multibeam sonar work was completed here last week, three crews deployed in launches to ‘proof’ the shoreline information on the charts. This is essentially confirming and updating the existence and location of particular features (rocks, ledges, etc).

Tracy Arm
This was the view as we approached the glacier at the end of Tracy Arm.

Launch Team
NOAA Hydrographer Amanda Finn and I together on the launch.

At this point, the hydrographers are processing much of the data obtained in the past few days. Additional data will be collected tomorrow morning. Then in the evening we’ll transit back to Lisianski to begin further work there.

Ship among ice.
The ship parked here while the launches moved closer to the ice.

Glacial Ice
The glacial ice shows a beautiful blue color.

Ice Blue
Different pieces of ice appear slightly different colors.

Personal Log

Every member of the team on this vessel has a job to do. Every member matters. The success of the entire operations depends upon the teamwork of all. There is a positive sprit among the group to work together for the tasks at hand.

I’ve been welcomed to learn to chart our course. I had an opportunity today to operate the helm (steering). I went out on a launch today to visit waters that were yet uncharted as the glacier at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord is receding. It was incredible to see not only the beauty of the ice among the water, but to also witness from afar the calving of the glacier. A rumble like thunder accompanied the crashing of two small walls of ice into the ocean below as we watched from afar.

I enjoyed capturing many photos of the ice and the wildlife among it. Many harbor seals were relaxing upon chunks of glacial ice as we traveled through the Arm. The natural beauty of this area is best represented by a few photos.

An adult seal and pup
This adult seal was watching us closely with the pup.

Ice Dog?
What can you see in this ice? Might it resemble a dog?

Did You Know?

Junior Officers in the NOAA Corps learn in a 19 week program followed by 2 weeks at sea on a tall ship called Eagle.

There are approximately 320 commissioned officers in the NOAA Corps internationally.

NOAA Operates 16 Ships and 20 Aircraft!

Eric Koser: Getting Underway! June 25, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22 – July 9, 2018


Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey

Geographic Region: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 25, 2018, 1500 HRS

Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 56°59.4’, Long:135°53.9’
Skies: Broken
Wind 19 kts at 340°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 3-4’ with swells of 2-3’
Water temp: 9.4°C

Science and Technology Log

Rainier and her sister ship Fairweather celebrated their 50th anniversary together this past March. The bell on the bow of each ship is now plated in gold to celebrate the event.

This vessel has quite a physical plant below deck maintained by the competent team in the Engineering Department. For propulsion, there are two V-12 Diesel Locomotive Engines. After bathing the valves in fresh oil, each engine is started with compressed air at the press of a button. Once up and running, the Rainier’s engines often run for several days at a time. There is no “transmission” on this vessel. Instead, the two propellers utilize what is called ‘variable pitch’. When the pitch is set to zero, the props spin but push water neither back or forward – and thus don’t force the ship to move. When the prop pitched is increased in a forward direction – up to a pitch of 10, the ship is pushed forward. Of course, this is really the water pushing the ship forward as the propellers push the water backward. A pitch of “10” means that for each single rotation of the prop, the blades will move water ten feet back. When reverse is desired, the props can each pitch back to a maximum of ‘6’. Now the water is pushed forwards by the prop so the water can push the ship backward.

Prop Pitch Control
This is the variable prop pitch control system. Notice the silver digital actuator at the top which provides an electronic signal back to the bridge.

Push to Start
This is how the Engineering Department can start the engines.

As there are two engines and two propellers, the Rainier’s crew can run one prop forwards and the other backward to turn the vessel around nearly in place. This could be called a ‘split 6’ – where one prop is pitched forward 6 to match the other prop’s pitch backward of 6.

Rainier Engines
This is one side of one of Rainier’s two V-12 Diesel locomotive engines.

Another device the crew can use to manipulate the ship in the water is called a ‘bow thruster’.   This is an open tube from port (left) to starboard (right) near the bow of the ship underwater. There is a propeller mounted in this open tube which is powered by a separate engine. The engineering team can have the bow thruster system up and running in just a matter of minutes when called on by the bridge to prepare for its use! By pushing water to one side, the water pushes the bow the other way. This is a great tool to maneuver this large vessel in tight spaces.

In addition to the two engines plus the bow thruster, there are several other important systems maintained on The Rainier. There are a pair of 4000 Watt diesel electric generators to provide electricity. There is a water purification system – to isolate salt from seawater and make clean drinking water and a wastewater treatment plant to process waste. There are air compressors to supply the ship’s systems.

There are 45 individuals on board this ship – and they pull together into five teams to make operations happen on board. The NOAA Corps is responsible for the administration and navigation of the ship. The Deck crew handles all things on the surface of the ship including handling all lines, cranes, and davits (to manipulate the launches—small boats). The Engineering Crew is responsible for all the mechanical systems on board.  The Electronics Department handles all instrumentation and wiring on the ship. The Stewards run the ever important galley – keeping the entire group well fed. All of this supports the work of the survey team of Hydrographers, the team of scientists that are mapping the sea floor.

 

Personal Log

I’ve enjoyed both finding my way around the ship and getting to know the crew. These people work as a team!

I came in early enough to enjoy a few days exploring Sitka, Alaska. This is a small port town that is really the first city in Alaska. Russians originally settled here in 1799 and eventually sold the city to the US in 1867. Sitka is a beautiful place to explore – being primarily a port for commercial and private fishing operations.

Sitka Bridge
This bridge spans the main channel in Sitka.

Sitka Harbor
This is one of Sitka’s many harbors.

We’ve just left port this afternoon [Monday] as we transit to Lisianski Strait to being the hydrographic mission of this leg. We’ll arrive there late tonight/early Tuesday morning to collect data first from the Rainier itself. The experience on the ocean has been great thus far, and I look forward to much more!

departing Sitka
Here we are departing Sitka Monday afternoon – headed to the open Pacific to transit north.

Did You Know?

Sitka is the largest city, by area, in the United States in terms of land area! It occupies 2870 square miles yet has only a population of about 9,000 people—located mostly on the port location of Sitka.

The Rainier holds about 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel that is located in several tanks below deck. The weight of the fuel serves as ballast to help keep the ship stable while at sea! Fuel can be shifted between tanks to adjust the trim [front or back tilt] and list [port or starboard tilt] of the ship.  Typically Rainier refuels when the tanks reach about half full.

Eric Koser: Welcome– Its Almost Time! June 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 25 – July 9, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of navigable waters to develop and update navigational charts. At sea June 25 – July 9, 2018.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Lisianski Strait, along the SE coast of Alaska followed by transit of the Inside Passage to home port in Newport, OR.
Date: June 21, 2018, the Summer Solstice!

Weather Data from the Bridge [okay, the front porch at home!]:

44.1589° N, 94.0177° W
Current Weather: Light Rain, 70°F (21°C)
Humidity: 79%
Wind Speed: E 15 mph
Barometer: 29.81 in
Dewpoint: 63°F (17°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Welcome!
It’s nearly time to embark on this adventure! I’ve always appreciated chances in life to explore and learn about different parts of the world. Recently I’ve enjoyed the book “One Earth, Two Worlds” by the Minnesota SCUBA diver Bill Mathies. I’m fascinated by the realm of underwater exploration. A large percentage of our planet has never even been seen by humans! NOAA’s hydrographic research vessels are in place around the world to map the ocean floor and promote safe navigation.

Science and Technology Log
I am Eric Koser and I live in southern Minnesota where I have worked with students learning about physics for 24 years. I teach at Mankato West High School, one of two mid-sized high schools in our river community of about 100,000 people. Mankato and North Mankato are the regional hub of south-central Minnesota. Our school district is home to about 9000 students K-12. Our community has particular strengths in manufacturing, education, and healthcare. Read more here at greatermankato.com!
I teach a variety of physics courses at West including AP Physics and Physics First at grade 9. I love to engage kids in learning physics by helping them to discover patterns and systems in nature. I really enjoy developing experiments and demonstrations to illustrate ideas. I also coach our YES! Team as a part of our Science Club here at West. Youth Eco Solutions is a program to support students to make positive energy and environmental based changes in their communities. These kids have tackled some big tasks – replacing styrofoam lunch trays with permanent trays, updating our building lighting’s efficiency, and systematically monitoring campus electrical usage.

Mankato West Scarlets

YESmn

Mankato Area Public Schools

Personal Log
My wife Erica and I have four kids that we love to support. They are currently ages 20, 18, 15, and 10 and always on the move. Our oldest, Josh, is an engineering and technical theater student at the U of MN. Our next, Zach, just graduated from high school and is rebuilding a small hobby farm and an 1800’s house to become his rural home. Ben is an avid photographer now working at a local photo studio shooting professionally for events. Meron is headed to fifth grade– she is our most social kid who loves being with her friends and our many pets here at home.

Team Koser
“Team Koser” – our immediate family.

Our summers often involve many days at ‘the lake’, a place we enjoy in northern Minnesota with extended family. We love to fish, swim, kayak and explore the water there. As a SCUBA diver, I’ve begun to explore below the surface of the water as well.

SCUBA MN
Lake diving in Minnesota can be chilly! – Photo by Ben Koser

MN Lake Sunset
Ben captures the last of this Minnesota lake sunset – photo by Eric Koser

This summer has also involved lots of construction on Zach’s farm as we bring a once gutted two-story house into a finished home.

MN Hobby Farm
Zach’s Minnesota Hobby Farm – photo by Eric Koser

In a few short days, I look forward to joining the NOAA Ship Rainier on a hydrographic survey of Lisianski Inlet on the SE coast of Alaska. I’ll meet up with the Ship in port at Sitka, Alaska.

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier – Photo courtesy NOAA

The Rainier is a 231 foot long ship equipped with a variety of tools to digitally map the bottom of the ocean with the goal of updating and improving navigational charts. I look forward to meeting and working alongside the experts on Rainier while I learn everything I can about the important work that they do. I look forward to bringing questions and ideas to my students and community during and after this experience!

Questions!

The Rainier design specifications list a “draft” of 14.3 feet. What does this mean?

This ship displaces 1800 tons of water. What does this mean?

How could you determine the ‘footprint’ of the ship in the sea based on these two pieces of data? What is the average area of the footprint of this ship?

Heather O’Connell: Soil Samples, Surveying and Sumdum Glacier, June 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska

Date: 6/17/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C

Science and Technology Log

I was part of the crew launched on RA-3 where I learned to turn towards a man overboard in order to ensure that the stern of the ship turns away from them. Communicating via the radio was another highlight where I was certain to follow the proper protocol.

RA- 3 Launch with Multi-beam sonar
RA- 3 Launch with Multi-beam sonar

Next, we moved onto deploying the C.T.D., conductivity, temperature and depth device to determine the sound profile of the water. The winch is a pulley system off the back of the launches that casts the C.T.D. and functions similar to a crab pot winch with an addition of a pressure bar to alleviate the weight of the thirty pound C.T.D.

Deploying the C.T.D.
Able Bodied Seaman Tyler Medley and Junior Officer Michelle Levano deploying the C.T.D.

After passing an iceberg with a seal, we began collecting soil samples with a device called a grab sampler. This was connected to the winch and went down about three hundred and thirty feet to collect a bottom sample. The first sample consisted of small shells of mostly barnacles, along with some medium grained sand and large silt submerged in solution.  The second sample was pristine clay with a slight green color created from the physical erosion of the surrounding rocks of the mountains. Soil sample data is collected and included in the data report because it can affect the sound speed of water. It can also provide useful information about the types of organisms that could live in this ecosystem, along with the types of resources available in this area.

Grab Sampler
Grab Sampler

Next, we connected with RA-6 and had a crew transfer so that I could learn how hydrographic surveying actually works. Newly certified H.I.C., hydrographer in charge, Audrey Jerauld was kind enough to share her knowledge of conducting surveying within Tracy’s Arm. Since Rainier surveyed most of the channel, RA-6 was simply collecting near shore data using the multi-beam sonar. The I.M.U., inertial measuring unit, (not to be confused with the Hawaiian imu which is an underground cooking pit) accurately records the pitch, roll, heave and yaw of the boat. This allows GPS receivers to function even when a satellite is not available. I learned that this is important since when surveying next to a steep cliff,when the satellite cannot reach the small launch, this provides an alternate, accurate means of placement. It determines a D.R., or dead reckoning based on the I.M.U. accelerators and creates a plot of where it thinks the launch is. 

deploying C.T.D.
Junior Officer ENS Collin Walker and H.S.T Audrey Jerauld deploying C.T.D.

Personal Log

The sun was shining yesterday afternoon and I loved soaking up the Vitamin D offered by the sun’s rays while practicing yoga on the flying bridge. When Junior Officer Ian Robbins invited me to go kayaking, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to explore Holkham Bay on a kayak with more maneuverability. I descended into the kayak via a rope ladder off the ship and paddled about three miles through a kelp forest to the nearby Sandy Island. Here, there were endless barnacles, urchins, starfish and kelp to explore near the shore in this inter tidal ecosystem. After pulling the kayaks up to shore and exploring land, I had the realization that with each step I was crushing more living organisms than I cared to consider. The rocks and shells soon turned to rye grass and marshland with some larger rocks.

Sunflower Star
Sunflower Star, Photo Credit: Ian Robbins

Seastar in Intertidal Zone
Seastar in Intertidal Zone

We eventually pulled the kayaks to the other side of the island and kayaked our way next to a blue iceberg. Seeing concentric circles and the intricate pattern of the frozen water crystals was a spectacular sight. Kayaking around such a beautiful natural phenomenon that has been in existence much before I have, was again, a humbling experience.

Iceberg off Sandy Island
Iceberg off Sandy Island

Paddling back to the ship with Sumdum glacier to the right and passing through a narrow channel that lead to the beautiful golden glow of the sun about to set proved to be a perfect ending to an exciting day. Feeling amazed at the sight in every direction made me once again feel extreme gratitude for this exceptional opportunity to be around such vast beauty.

Holkham Bay Sunset
Holkham Bay Sunset

Did You Know?

Mooring line, or the rope used to tie a ship to the dock, is often made of spectra. This synthetic polymer, spectra, doesn’t stretch and is extremely strong, so much so that it can bend metal if enough tension is put on it. It is three times stronger than polyester.

Heather O’Connell: Shore Party, Sumdum and Sawyer Glaciers, June 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/15/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was my first small vessel operation where we took down a base station and set up a new system on an islet next to Harbor Island. We took RA-7, a skiff that used a crane to lift it off the flying bridge of the ship and into the water. This local satellite receiver allows for a reference point for data acquisition that occurs in Alaska, where the GPS system is not as dependable as the lower forty eight states. The positioning given from this high accuracy base station, called GNSS, will assist with nautical charts developed from the Tracy Arm project once time sonar data has been collected. Since the lower forty eight states have permanent base stations with this highly accurate positioning, there is no need to set up these stations.

GPS base station
Setting up a high-accuracy GPS base station

The base stations work by comparing the satellite positioning to a theoretical ellipsoid that was generated in Canada to standardize positioning. Before this, different areas would utilize various landmarks as the reference point and this inconsistency proved challenging when comparing data internationally or even across the states. So, geodesists, scientists who study geometric shape, positioning in space and gravitational field, generated a theoretical ellipsoid. This was created by rotating the shorter axis of an ellipse to mimic the shape of the Earth. Since the poles of the Earth are flat and the equator bulges, this ellipsoid is an accurate representation. This system gives all points on Earth a unique coordinate, similar to an address, and is extremely helpful in developing nautical charts. However, the limitations of this theoretical ellipsoid include its inability to take into account the actual shape of the Earth.

Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island
Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island

While being on the skiff and learning about theoretical positioning ellipsoids, I heard a lot of talk about RA-2, one of the shoreline launches on Rainier.  I learned that in addition to a single beam sonar, this vessel also has LIDAR. LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, can be used in bathymetric data acquisition and is currently used for shoreline data on Rainier. This remote sensing technology can survey up to seventy meters of depth in coastal waters by sending out a laser. LIDAR sends out light pulses and senses the time it takes for these lasers to return to the sensor, to gather data on different land structures. LIDAR gets cloud point data and dots make up the image of the ocean floor. From this, three dimensional maps can be generated. Since the light can penetrate a canopy just like the sun, this technology is used in South America to find hidden cities under tree lines. This technology can also be mounted on planes and is most likely the future direction of shoreline data acquisition. Lasers survey the land and they get the height of different landmasses and can be used for bathymetric data or topographic data.

Sources –

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/geodesy/geo03_figure.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html

Personal Log

Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of two alpine, or tundra, ecosystem areas that ship Rainier will survey. Twenty percent of these areas are covered in glaciers and snow fields and are too cold to support trees. The coastal areas of Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of the Terror Wilderness, which is part of Tongas National Forest, the largest national coastal temperate rainforest. Observing my first glacier, Sumdum Glacier, off the coast of Harbor Island while we were at the inlet of Tracy and Endicott Arms, reminded me of a time much before humans existed.

Sumdum Glacier
Sumdum Glacier

Here, out of Holkham Bay, I experienced my first expedition in a skiff, RA-7, to remove a horizontal control base and help set up a new one.  Stepping foot on an actual landmass with all of the different living parts of an ecosystem was a treasure and it most certainly felt like a shore party, as the name suggests. I observed several calcium carbonate shells of urchins, amongst kelp, mussels, and barnacles. The shells transitioned into a forest with Devil’s Club, the only member of the ginseng family present in Alaska, with woody, prickly stems.  This shrub was growing under a Sitka Spruce forest with cone-bearing trees present among the steep rocks of granite. These trees can grow up to one hundred and seventy feet tall and can be as old as seven hundred and fifty years old in Southeast Alaska. After an exciting afternoon of a shore party, we safely returned to the ship and headed into Tracy’s Arm.

Proceeding into the Southern arm of Tracy’s Arm, I saw calves of the tidal glacier that we would soon see. The refrozen and pressurized snow became glacial ice and carved the valleys to form the deep inlets with massive granite slabs on either side of us. South Sawyer glacier was off to the East and the air seemed to get colder as we approached it. Even in the rain and weather, I couldn’t pull myself away from the incredible beauty of this inlet. After endless waterfalls, we approached Sawyer Glacier which was once big enough to cover all of Tracy’s Arm. This acted as a reminder of the Ice Age and its effect on geology.

Sawyer Glacier
Sawyer Glacier

During this journey through Tracy’s Arm, I saw two eagles perched on an iceberg and shortly afterwards three orca whales showing their dorsal fins and playing in the water. As XO informed me, orca whales are actually the largest species of dolphins and these carnivorous mammals can weigh up to six tons. These creatures use echolocation to communicate to their pods, and I wonder how the multi-beam sonar affects this form of communication.

Eagles on Iceberg
Eagles on Iceberg. Photo Credit: Jonathan Witmer

 

Sources  

Studebaker, Stacy. Wildflowers and Other Plant Life of the Kodiak Archipelago.

National Geographic Orcas

Did You Know?

When glacier ice melts, it is filled with air bubbles. As new layers of ice form on top of the old ice, the ice gets denser and the air bubbles get smaller. As the human eye detects the yellow and red light reflected from glacial ice, it appears a spectacular blue. Since snow is full or air bubbles, it reflects the entire spectrum of light and appears white.  

https://www.livescience.com/51019-why-is-antarctica-ice-blue.html

Heather O’Connell: Misty Eyed for Misty Fjords, June 12, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/12/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 55°33.1’ N, 133 °16.1’ W
Sky Condition: Overcast
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind Speed: 23 knots
Sea Level Pressure: 1008 millibars
Sea Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 8.9°C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 12.8°C, Wet bulb: 9.6°C

Science and Technology Log

After discussing geology with resident expert Amanda Finn, I developed the following understanding of the geology of Alaska. Alaska accreted, or merged with the larger continent, from the Pacific Plate colliding with the North American plate. These shifting tectonic plates created catastrophic earthquakes and many of the rock formations that you see in Alaska today. The three thousand foot metamorphic rock mountains in Misty Fjords were most likely formed from these collisions. Initially, there were sedimentary rocks that were changed from heat and pressure into metamorphic rocks. Because the sedimentary rocks were altered, the original age of these rock structures cannot be determined.

While tectonic plates created the landmass, glaciers contributed to the structure of the mountains in Southeast Alaska, creating fjords. A fjord is a narrow inlet of the sea created by a glacial valley with steep cliffs. Seventeen thousand years ago, Misty Fjord was covered in ice. As the ice melted, long narrow inlets were created that filled with ocean water. Mineral springs and volcanic activity still exist around these areas where they are closer to fault lines. It was determined by NOAA scientists in 2013 that Misty Fjord has a sunken cinder cone volcano that must have formed after the glaciers created the fjords thirteen thousand years ago. As Amanda explains, “The disappearance of all the pressure from the overlying ice caused Earth’s crust to bounce back in the area, uplifting rock and carrying magma chambers closer to the surface, causing the volcano to form. This added traces of igneous rocks to the metamorphosed sedimentary rock in the form of quartz deposits. As more ice melted and the water level rose, the cinder cone was eventually submerged underwater.”

 

Sources 

Alaska Geology

Connor, Cathy. Roadside Geology of Alaska.

Adjusting a Compass

I met a compass adjuster who was picked up in a launch from San Juan islands who learned his skill from an apprentice. He carried a wooden box with his equipment and seemed like he arrived from another time period. I was fortunate to witness this annual ritual that compares the direction of the ship according to the magnetic compass with true magnetic North in a process known as swinging the compass  A compass adjuster observes the difference between the ship’s compass and the four cardinal and four intercardinal directions to determine the difference. Since North and South were only one degree off, the magnets on the compass did not need to be adjusted. If there were a larger discrepancy between the two values, then magnets would be moved around until the directions came into alignment.

Captain Keith Sternberg swinging the compass from the flying bridge
Captain Keith Sternberg swinging the compass from the flying bridge

A compass functions based on the Earth’s inner molten iron core which generates a magnetic field around the Earth. The needle in a compass points towards the magnetic pole, which is not necessarily the same as the geographic pole. This difference between magnetic North and true North is known as magnetic variation. In addition to magnetic variation, each ship has a magnetic fingerprint that alters the magnetic compass slightly. If welding were done with metal, especially iron, this would change the magnetic signature of the ship. The combination of compass deviation and magnetic variation alters the true bearing of the ship and must be considered when viewing the bearing of the compass.

Since a magnetic compass differs from a true bearing, NOAA Ship Rainier has two gyrocompassses that are actually used for navigation. Each of these have a wheel spinning a gyroscope which is parallel to the Earth’s center of rotation, and do not rely on magnetism but depend on the Earth’s rotation and gravity. The spinning gyroscope, based on inertia, will always maintain its plane of rotation. Since these gyrocompasses are not altered by the magnetic signature of the ship and provide a true North reading, they are utilized in navigation. The NOAA Corps navigator plans the track lines of the course of the ship based on the true North reading of the gyroscope compass and is the bearing that is observed from the bridge of Rainier. The magnetic compass acts as a backup if the vessel were to lose power.

Gyrocompass
Gyrocompass on Rainier

Sources

http://www.skysailtraining.co.uk/compass_variation_deviation.htm

https://www.marineinsight.com/marine-navigation/gyro-compass-on-ships-construction-working-and-usage/

Personal Log

As I was relaxing in the lounge about to watch Black Panther yesterday evening, a call came in requesting my presence on the Bridge. When I entered the fresh air, granite mountains with ridges full of melting snow waterfalls and a breathtaking view welcomed me. To say I was awe inspired would be an understatement. We were in Misty Fjords within the Tongass National Forest, part of the nation’s largest forest about 22 miles west of Ketchikan. Observing a sliver of this almost 17 million acre temperate rainforest with evergreen trees amongst misty clouds for a brief period of time includes a moment that I will treasure. I was happy to share this experience with other crew, survey technicians and NOAA Corps members who weren’t currently on shift. While appreciating  this beauty, I thought of a Japanese saying, “Iche-go Ich-e,” which means this moment only happens now. Observing the still glassy water reflecting the cloudy sky against green islands and three thousand foot mountains touched my soul. The enormity of the steep granite humbled me as I appreciated it in its untouched state. This pristine environment existed from a landscape formed ten thousand years ago by a massive glacier that created this geological phenomenon. Luckily, this Tongass National Forest was claimed to be a protected zone in 1978 by the president. I’m grateful for this natural beauty that invites a tranquil, peaceful feeling. When a blow spout of a whale appeared off the port side of the vessel, my elation couldn’t be contained and I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Observing Misty Fjords in the Inner Passage
Misty Fjords in the Inner Passage

 

Did You Know?

Lookouts use a coordinate plane-like reference for directions. If you are standing at the center of the Bridge, similar to the origin of a coordinate plane, then the y-axis would be dead ahead. The x-axis, or 90 degrees to the right would be beam starboard, while to the left would be beam port. To the right forty five degrees would be broad off starboard, while to the left forty degrees would be broad port. If you count the three equidistant points leading up to forty five degrees on the right hand side of the ship, you would command one off, two off or three off starboard respectively.

Heather O’Connell: Voyage through the Inside Passage, June 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/9/18

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude and Longitude : 49°49.7’ N, 124 °56.8’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 5 knots, Air Temperature: 12.2°C

Science and Technology Log

Today while in transit through the Inside Passage, I learned to mark the position of the vessel from the pilot house, or Bridge of the ship, using three different methods thanks to Junior Officer Airlie Pickett. Utilizing this triangulation of data ensures accuracy in the placement of the ship on the two dimensional chart located on the port side of the bridge. This process must be completed every fifteen minutes when the ship is in motion close to small landmasses or every thirty minutes when further from land.

The first method involves choosing three different landmarks and recording the angular measurement to the body using alidades. Alidades are located on the port and starboard sides directly outside of the Bridge. When looking at your landmark, it is important to choose the easternmost or westernmost side of the body with a more prominent feature. When viewing the landmass through the alidade, there will be a bearing of the object in relation to the bridge. Once you have the measurements, use the north lines on the map as the zero degree of the protractor and mark a line with the proper angular measurement from the landmass. Repeat this process for the other two locations. Then, draw a circle within the triangle formed from the three intersecting lines along with the time to mark the placement of the ship.

Alidade on the port side of ship
Alidade on the port side of ship

Another way to mark the placement of the vessel visually is to look at the radar for three known landmarks. Record the distance to each landmark. One nautical mile equals one minute of latitude. Longitude cannot be used for distance since these values change as you approach the poles of the Earth. Use a compass to mark the appropriate distance from the scale on the perimeter of the map. Then, draw an arc with the compass from the landmass. Repeat this process for both of the other landmarks. The three arcs intersect at the current location of the vessel and should be marked with a circle and the time.

Protractor and compass
Protractor and compass used to mark the course of the ship on the chart.

The two visual methods for marking the placement of the vessel are used in conjunction with an electronic fix. The digital latitude and longitude recording  from the G.P.S, or Global Positioning System, provides the third check. This data is recorded and then charted using the latitude and longitude marks on the perimeter of the chart.

Another responsibility of the navigator is to mark on the nautical chart the approximate location of the ship moving forward. This is called D.R, or dead reckon, and it shows where you would be if you were to continue on coarse at the current speed for up to two hours.

Personal Log

As we approached the Inside Passage, a feeling of peace and serenity came over me as I viewed snow capped mountains beyond islands with endless evergreen trees. The feelings of the navigators may be different since this is a treacherous journey to traverse, although it is preferred to the open sea. The Inside Passage proves to be a great learning opportunity for new junior officers without much navigation experience. However, due to the weather issues and narrow passages, the Commanding Officer, Senior Watch Officer and Officer of the Deck have extended experience navigating the Inside Passage.

The strong currents at Seymour Narrows in British Columbia can make this voyage dangerous. This was taken into consideration and we crossed them during slack tide, the time between high and low tide, with a current of only about two knots. Tides can get as high as 15 knots during maximum ebb and flood tides. The visible circular tides, or eddies, are created from the current coming off of Vancouver Island being forced into a narrow channel. As Senior Survey Technician Jackson shared, the Seymour Narrows once had Ripple Rock, a two peak mountain, that caused several shipwrecks and was home to the largest non-nuclear explosion in North America in 1958.

Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows
Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows

As we entered the Inside Passage, islands covered in Western red cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock provided the beautiful green amongst the spectacular ocean and sky blue. These colors paint the canvas indicative of the Pacific Northwest that make my soul feel at home. The cloud covered sky could be seen in every direction. We saw moon jellyfish floating by from the flying bridge and later a group of porpoises jumping up out of the water. The watch from the deck crew would spot lighthouses and fishing boats with binoculars well before anyone with a naked eye. I observed the approaching sunset from the bow of the ship and felt gratitude for the day.

Approaching sunset in Inner Passage
Inner Passage Sunset

Did You Know?

There are two different types of radar on the Bridge. S Band radar sends out pulses between 4 and 8 centimeters at 2-4 GHz and can go over longer distances. This is helpful to determine what is happening far from the boat. The X Band radar sends out smaller pulses of 2.5 -4 cm at 8-12 GHertz and can create a clear image of what is occurring close to the boat. Both radar systems provide useful information and must be used in conjunction with one another to have an understanding of what is happening near and far from the ship.

Source – https://www.everythingweather.com/weather-radar/bands.shtml

Heather O’Connell: Sound in Seawater and Sleeping at Sea, June 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/8/18

Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 48.15° N, Longitude: 122 ° South 58.0’  West, Visibility: 8 nautical miles, Wind: 24 knots, Temperature: 14.2° C

Science and Technology Log

I was fortunate enough to sit in on a survey orientation for new survey technicians and junior officers with Lieutenant Steven Loy. He was on Rainier as the Field Operations Officer, F.O.O., in the past and is currently here as an augmenter filling the role of Senior Watch Officer since he has navigated through the Inside Passage several times. In his two hour orientation, he shared a wealth of knowledge and discussed how multibeam sonar and ultrasounds are two opposite ends to the ultrasonic pulse spectrum.

Multibeam sonar sends out sound and measures the time it takes to return to calculate the depth of the ocean floor. The accuracy of the depth data generated from the multibeam sonar relies on the sound speed profile of the water. The combined effects of temperature, salinity and pressure generate a sound speed profile. Because of the inherent importance of this profile, there are several different ways to measure it. The sound velocity profiler measures this right at the interface of the multibeam sonar. C.T.D.s., or conductivity temperature and depth machines, measure water profile while the ship is stopped. M.V.P.s, or moving vessel profilers, take the water profile as the vessel is moving. Lastly, XBTs are expendable bathythermographs that measure temperature while the ship is in motion.

Sound is affected by different variables as it is energy that travels through a medium as a wave. Lieutenant Loy shared an informative website, The Discovery of Sound in the Sea, where I was able to enhance my understanding. Sound can travel through a liquid, such as water, a gas like air, or a solid like the sea floor. On average, sound travels about 1500 meters per second in sea water. However, the rate changes at different times of day, various locations, changing seasons and varying depths of the water. By looking at sound speed at one particular place in the ocean, you can determine how the different variables affect this sound. Usually, as depth increases, temperature decreases, while salinity and pressure increase.

A multi-beam sensor has a metal plate receiver and a transmitter perpendicular to one another. This array geometry enhances sound.  The sound velocity profiler is next to the receiver and measures right at the interface. To determine the speed of sound right where the beam is generated, sonar is used to measure speed sound across a known distance. This information is then utilized in the overall determination of the depth of the ocean floor. Once this cast is taken, the Seafloor Information System (SIS), can adjust sonar measurements accordingly.

Another way to measure the sound profile of water includes a C.T. D.  This device measures the conductivity, temperature and depth of the water. Conductivity measures the electrical current of the water. The more dissolved salt, or ions in solution, the greater the conductivity and salinity of the water. The depth of the water is directly related to the pressure of the water. Salinity, temperature and pressure affect the sound speed profile of water. This machine has a high data rate that goes up and down the water column. The titanium C.T.D. operates at a high pressure and costs about forty thousand dollars. This accurate technology can only be utilized when the boat is stopped and is used on the smaller survey launches.

C.T.D. used for sound speed profile of water
C.T.D. used for sound speed profile of water

A third method of measuring sound profile is the M.V.P., moving vessel profiler, which takes the data when the ship is moving. These are calibrated before a survey begins and are an efficient way to collect data. An expansive crane lowers the metal torpedo with the sensor off the fantail, the overhanging back part of the ship, into the water to collect the data. The fish is programmed to stop twenty meters above the ocean floor, at which point it returns to its docked position. On ship Rainier, the deck department deploys the fish with a cable wire and the plot room with the survey technicians controls the sensor.  

Boatswain Kinyon and Survey Technicians Finn and Stedman releasing the torpedo of the M.V.P. into the water
Boatswain Kinyon and Survey Technicians Finn and Stedman releasing the torpedo of the M.V.P. into the water

Another way to collect the sound profile of water with a moving vessel is to use an expendable probe. As temperature decreases, the sound speed decreases. Since temperature is the most important factor affecting the speed of sound, an X.B.T., Expendable Bathythermograph, or expendable probe created by the military. With bathy relating to depth and thermo meaning heat, this measures the temperature of the water at a cost of about one hundred dollars. These probes descend at a known rate, so, depth is a function of time.

Sources – Discovery of Sound in the Sea

Personal Log

We left port yesterday at 16:30, which has been a highlight of my NOAA Teacher at Sea Experience thus far. Before leaving port, all hands were assigned a different assignment to help with the launch. I watched the crew bring in the gangway that connects the ship to the port then disassemble it. The crew with hard hats and orange work vests took down poles and neatly tied up different sections by knotting ropes. We slowly progressed out of the port after a cargo ship passed us.  

The deck crew preparing to leave port
The deck crew preparing to leave port

Once the ship picked up speed and the ocean breeze was in my hair, I felt a new kind of freedom. With the Seattle skyline behind us and the beautiful green peninsulas in front of us, I was content to be moving forward. Everyone seemed to feel relieved once we were underway. I felt gratitude as I enjoyed watching the sunset from the flying bridge, the area of the ship above the bridge at the front of the ship.

Seattle Skyline
Seattle Skyline

After sunset, I returned to my berth, or sleeping quarters, located in the bow of the ship on the C-deck. I heard the constant white noise of the propellers that got much louder when the pitch, or angle, of them changed. This sound of seawater combined with the rocking motion of the ship lulled me to sleep on our first night at sea.

20180607_203558.jpg
Sunset

Did You Know?

Juneau, the American capital of Alaska, can only be entered by plane or boat. It is inaccessible by roads due to large mountain ranges on either side.

Heather O’Connell: Steering a Ship and Interviewing a Survey Technician, June 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7- 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast Alaska

Date: June 6, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Seattle weather is sunny, with a high near 75 with South Southwest wind 5 to 7 miles per hour and becoming calm.

Science and Technology Log

There are five different ways to steer NOAA Ship Rainier using the rudders, or vertical blades submerged in the water. All methods rely on a steering pump to activate hydraulic fluid to move the rudders. Three different methods can be done with electricity from the Bridge, or the front windowed area of the ship. The first electrical method is autopilot which simply sets the course of the ship. The second method is hand and helm which uses a wheel to steer the ship. The third method from the bridge is called non follow up and uses a dial to mark the course. The other two methods utilized occur from back of the ship, or the aft, and include the electrical powered trick wheel and manually operated hand pump steering. 

steering the ship
Junior Officer Airlie Pickett steering the ship using hand and helm

Steering allows you to follow a course and can efficiently be done by using the two rudders which are located behind the fifteen foot propellers on either side of ship Rainier. The left-hand, or port side, rudder and starboard, or right side, rudder steer the ship using water pressure. When the rudders are straight the water moving from the propeller to the rudder will keep the boat moving directly forward. When the rudder moves to the right, the back of the boat moves to the left which moves the bow of the boat to move towards the right. The rudder moves in the direction of less pressure, causing the stern and boat to move in that direction.

Trick wheel steering uses electricity to power the steering pump when steering cannot be done from the Bridge. It uses hydraulics which creates power from oil pressure to move the rudders. Rainier is a 50 year old ship that still functions on hydraulics, while most modern ships use low initial cost, simple design pneumatic which uses a compressed gas to create the fluid pressure. In order to activate trick wheel steering at the aft, a toggle pin must be removed to disconnect steering from the bridge and a gear must be put onto its thread. A sound powered phone that doesn’t require electricity operates by using the sound pressure from a person’s voice to create an electrical current which is then converted back to sound by the receiver. This allows for communication of the course to steer between the bridge and the steering aft. The instructions include a degree and a left or right rudder command.

The steering system on the ship is run on hydraulics, whether the steering originates from the bridge or the aft. There are three solenoids at the controller which change electrical power to hydraulic signals in the aft. Solenoids are also in the transmissions of cars and are coils of metal in a helix shape that act as electromagnets. The energy generated from the solenoid moves a shaft with gears that is connected to two pumps. The fulcrum connected to the navigation bar moves from the power generated by the change in pressure from the liquid. The one pump activated pushes hydraulic fluid to the rudder pumps which then move the rudders and steer the ship. Each pump has cylinders and pistons inside of it with the hydraulic fluid, or oil, that creates the change in pressure for the closed system to work.

Hydraulic steering system
Hydraulic steering system in the aft of the boat

 

Personal Log

Amanda Flinn, hydrographic survey technician, has a smile and laugh that makes you feel readily welcomed. When I first met her on Saturday in the mess room watching Game of Thrones, her friendly demeanor immediately put me at ease. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her on our walk to Pike’s Marketplace which was filled with moments of genuine laughter. Amanda is a sincere individual with a vast understanding of hydrography.

Amanda’s knowledge about surveying has been accumulated over the past eight months that she has worked on Rainier. Her passion for data processing and map generation became apparent after chatting with her in the Holodeck, the annex survey space behind the plot room on the F deck of Rainier. She shared several maps that were generated from the Channel Islands’ project that was conducted over a six to eight week time period. A highlight of her first survey in the Southern islands of California, included observing the island of basalt rock columns at Castle Rock.

Amanda Flinn
Amanda in front of a launch boat on ship Rainier

Amanda’s passion for rocks led her to study Geoscience with a minor in Oceanography at University of Connecticut. Her college experience in the state where she grew up prepared her for her current surveying position. Her responsibilities during surveys include collecting data in launches and processing data in the evenings. Amanda’s recent promotion from assistant survey technician to an H.S.T, or hydrographic survey technician, proves her competency.

Amanda learned about a job opening with NOAA after her first harp performance last June while living in New Hampshire. She serendipitously met a woman married to a survey technician on the Thomas Jefferson, another NOAA vessel that had a position opening. Since Amanda was looking for hydrographic work, she took a bus into Boston to explore the survey vessel and liked what she saw. She eagerly applied to NOAA and soon had a phone interview and was asked her ship preference. Since Amanda wanted to explore the West coast and travel to Alaska, she chose S-221, survey ship Rainier.

Amanda was hired in October and has loved her experience of sailing on a ship and being on the ocean. One of her favorite parts about surveying includes getting up close to rocks on the launches, or small boats when surveying. While some people find it challenging to be away from family, Amanda appreciates the sea exploration that takes her to natural scenery along the West coast with beautiful sunsets daily. Since she loves it so much, she can see herself continuing to call Rainier home for several more years before returning to live on land someday.

Amanda became qualified in data acquisition last October and began her first round of surveying at the Channel Island Marine Sanctuary in November. A typical day out at sea when surveying includes waking up, eating breakfast, meeting on the fantail, surveying on launches all day with a break for a soup and sandwich lunch. This is followed by eating dinner and beginning evening processing. The sheet manager assigns different sections and prepares all data for the next day.

While being out in the launches and collecting data is her favorite part, Amanda also enjoys processing data. She utilizes Caris and Pydro-Explorer, software Pacific Hydrographic branch has developed for NOAA ships to remove noise from the pixelated images of the two and three dimensional maps generated from the surveys. For quality control, she completes cross lines tests and junction analysis to ensure that new and old surveys match up. Amanda worked on data processing in Newport, Oregon while the ship was dry docked in Portland for the winter season and hopes to complete the report for the Channel Island survey soon.

Amanda processing data
Amanda processing data in the Holodeck

Heather O’Connell: Understanding Hydrographic Surveying and Life on a Ship, June 4, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 4, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

This evening as I write the blog in port in Seattle, Washington, it is partly cloudy with a low of 53 degrees Fahrenheit. There are west southwest winds at 10-14 miles per hour.

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Rainier surveyed parts of Possession Sound last month and survey technicians created two and three dimensional maps with the depths of the sea floor around Everett, Washington. The 31 square nautical mile maps were developed after processing data utilizing single-beam and multi-beam sonar over a three week period. A colored depth range map was generated and superimposed onto a previous nautical map. The fact that the contour lines matched proved the accuracy of the survey. An exciting part of the Puget Sound survey proved to be a shipwreck from an Alaskan fishing boat that burned when anchored in 1982. 

Color map generated on top of previous nautical map
Color map generated on top of previous nautical map

Before completing the survey, a computer-generated polygon plan was drawn to section out the areas that each boat would cover. While Rainier has the ability to survey large areas, it was out of the water being repaired due to damage to the rudder. The four launch boats and one small shoreline ship covered the entire area. The launch boats utilized an efficient multi-beam sonar to generate the map in conjunction with a single beam sonar on a shoreline ship. The single beam sonar is located on a jet boat, rather than a boat with a propeller, which has less draft, making it a better platform for surveying in shallow water. 

Multi-beam sonar has the ability to quickly and accurately collect data on the depth of the sea floor. NOAA Ship Rainier and the four launches each have a multi-beam sonar where the transmitter sends out a sound pulse and the receiver creates a 512 beam from the returning echo of the sea floor.  The 512 beam swath, or fan shaped area of sound beams, generated from the receiver creates an image on the computer of the depth of the sea floor. The sound travels to the ocean floor and then back to the receiver in the boat, located perpendicular to the transmitter in a Mills Cross orientation. The time return, or time it takes to send out a signal and return to the receiver is then applied to an algorithm that determines the depth of the ocean floor. Things to consider in the speed of sound include the source level of the sound, the transmission loss from the sound traveling, and the noise level from other materials. Further factors that affect sound travel in the ocean include the type of sediment. Soft sediment like mud and silt absorb sound while hard materials like rock, granite and metal reflect sound energy. The tides must also be recorded and utilized to determine the actual depth of the water. All of these factors are put into the formula used for calculating sea depth.

A multi-beam sonar in the Mills Cross orientation on the underside of a launch boat
A multi-beam sonar in the Mills Cross orientation on the underside of a launch boat

Collecting data in deeper water is easier than surveying shore-line data. The near-shore data uses single resolution for more detail and the outer depth information utilizes a much higher resolution, or coarse resolution. The combined variable resolution allows for the multiple resolution image to be put on one surface, generating specific maps. Shoreline surveys have a narrow swath meaning there are closer runs that must go back and forth in order to cover the same range as a deep water survey. The multi-beam swath may only reach 8 meters when close to shore, but may be as wide as 60 meters when it can travel further into the ocean. So shallow water takes longer to survey and deeper water can be surveyed faster.

Once all of the data is collected, the points from the beam become pixels on a two dimensional or three dimensional computer generated map.  The time return charts are put into the Caris software, which is like the arc GIS of nautical maps. The software produces a map with varying depths of the ocean floor represented by different colors. Hydrographic Survey technician Amanda generated this accurate 3-D image of the shipwreck around Everett after processing the data.

Boat Wreck
Pings from multi-beam sonar become pixels in this 3-D image of the boat wreck in Possession Sound

Survey technician Amanda also shared her knowledge on removing the noise from images before generating maps. Often times, the sonar waves create some interference that doesn’t match up with the rest of the map and must be removed. Different ships survey the data using different colors so that when the maps are combined, the differences are apparent. The role of processing data is completed by survey technicians during the off season or when the ship is not actively surveying, such as when it is in port. Technicians have a one hundred and twenty day time period to complete data processing to the established specifications post survey. Data is then sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for quality control and eventual submission to the Marine Chart Division for eventual application to nautical charts. 

Personal Log

I arrived early morning on Saturday, June 2nd and after taking a taxi to the Seattle Coast Guard base, a patrolling officer brought me to Ship Rainier. I called the bridge and informed the officer on watch that I had arrived. Charlene, the A.B., or able bodied seaman, was on watch and gave me a basic tour, although I only assimilated a small portion with my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged brain. Luckily, I had haphazardly met my roommate. She showed me the tight sleeping quarters with locking drawers and cabinets to keep all things stationery, along with a small sink in the corner. The bunk consisted of two metal beds stacked on top of each other with only enough room to lay down. Since there are only two of us staying in the room for four, it is reasonably comfortable. There are two bathrooms, or heads, along with two showers located in the hall outside of bunk C-09.

After resting for quite some time, I joined Audrey and Mike, two hydrographic survey technicians, on an adventure to Pike’s Marketplace on this atypically warm Seattle afternoon. Open faced crab and wild salmon sandwiches were enjoyed overlooking the Puget Sound and the bustling market. Exploring downtown Seattle on foot proved to be a graceful way to transition to this new way of life at the port.

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Pike’s Marketplace in Seattle

On Sunday, I went for lunch with Dan and Johnny from the engineering department. These two were working hard to cut a metal plate on the stack so that they could access inside for repairs. Preparing to embark on a ship for a week in transit requires tremendous work. I have thoroughly enjoyed observing the process for this journey and look forward to leaving the port when the time comes.

Not only do I enjoy living on a ship at port, but I love learning about the different lifestyle of the Rainier crew. Some long term ship employees have Ship Rainier as their address and reside in Newport, Oregon on this ship during the off season during the winter. Oftentimes, they are out to sea for three weeks at a time during the field season, then they port for several weeks.

Today was the first day a meal was served on the ship and I came across several familiar and new faces at breakfast. After breakfast I went to the prop room and the holodeck where the officers and technicians were analyzing data. At 1300 there was an all hands meeting with an update from the Captain and Chief Officer or CO. Next, I received damage control, or D.C., from Michelle Levano who also grew up on Long Island, New York. The training included two other new junior officers, Stephanie and Harper, who studied Environmental Conservation and Aeronautical Engineering, respectively. Christopher, a new A.B. and Ray from engineering also joined us on the walk around the ship where we learned the different signals for various emergencies that might take place on the ship. I also learned where the lifeboats are located and the protocol for a man overboard, M.O.B.,or what to do if and when you have to abandon the ship.

So, all in all my time on the ship and in Seattle has had a balance between the new structure of life on a ship with the freedom to explore a city. I’m excited to experience how Rainier functions once we leave the port life on Thursday at 1300 hours. I’m also curious what it will be like to be stationed to a 231 foot vessel when I’m used to the freedom of exploring.

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Sunset from the Seattle Coast Guard Base

Did you know?

There are two types of NOAA employees on ship Rainier. There are NOAA employees and also NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps employees who wear uniforms and operate like U.S. military officers. They share the uniform of Coast Guard members and are one of the two unarmed branches of the military.

 

Heather O’Connell: Excited and Eager for Imminent Exploration, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 11 -22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: 04/26/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 19.6400° N

Longitude 155.9969° W

The current weather in Kona, Hawaii on the Big Island is 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 59% humidity. Winds from the west are coming in at 6 miles per hour or 5.2 knots as we will say on the ship. It is mostly sunny with a 20 % chance of rain.

Personal Log and Introduction

My fascination with the intricacies of the human body led me to pursue biochemistry and earn a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in 2002. While I enjoyed analyzing pharmaceuticals for Pfizer and conducting sleep research with Weill Cornell Medical College, I missed the social aspects of a profession. This prompted me to pursue teaching and I received a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University in 2007.

I began teaching at a small private school in Westchester County, New York, where I taught both middle school and high school science and founded a Habitat for Humanity club and traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students to build homes for the community.  My love of hands on tasks and community service made this an enriching endeavor.

Eight years ago, my adventurous spirit transported me from Long Island, NY to Maui, Hawaii, where I shared my enthusiasm for science with students while exploring the vast terrain, plant life and coral reefs. My next adventure brought me to Hilo on the Big Island where I was part of an enriching professional development program, Ku’Aina Pa, that taught about gardening and culture. Here is where I met my friend Ben who told me about West Hawaii Explorations Academy, W.H.E.A., an outdoor science project based school with a shark lagoon. I never knew charter schools like this existed!

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the W.H.E.A. high school team for the past five years, where I advise science projects, teach Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and an after school Chemistry class. I advise an Urchin Survey project where we monitor the population of urchins at a Marine Life Conservation District and I love providing the opportunity for students to collect real data.  We have access to deep ocean water which students have used for cold agriculture projects in the past and more recently to precipitate O.R.M. (orbitally realigned molecules) to use as a fertilizer. Some of my favorite parts about my job are learning alongside students, as I knew nothing about plumbing a marine tank before W.H.E.A., and working with such a great team! When I am teaching students how to be stewards of the land through the lens of science and math, I feel as if I am pursuing my passion in life and it fulfills me greatly.

WHEA Urchin Survey
Freshman conducting an urchin survey for their research paper.

I participated in the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute last year, where I learned to teach math through a cultural lens with environmental service work. I was inspired by a group of amazing colleagues and met Christina who told me about the NOAA Teacher at Sea opportunity. Since I love experiential learning, I eagerly completed the application and am thrilled to be embarking on this amazing opportunity.

Hikianalia Sail Picture
Cohort 9 of Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute on Oahu

I am passionate about teaching and developing culturally relevant projects that instill a sense of wonder and I seek out soul nourishing experiences like Ku’Aina Pa and the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute.  I am certain that the Teacher at Sea program will provide a profound, enriching experience that will allow me to develop meaningful curriculum to share with students and fellow educators, while allowing me to grow personally.

When I’m not utilizing my enthusiasm and creativity to instill students with curiosity and responsibility to make a more sustainable future, I enjoy exploring the beautiful Big Island by backpacking or hiking to some of its exotic locations. I also enjoy long distance running, beach yoga, any activity in or around the ocean and cooking nourishing meals.

Kona Sunset
Spectacular Kona sunset…one of my favorite parts of the day

Did you know?

Lo’ihi is the new volcanic island of Hawaii that is forming 20 miles Southeast of the Big Island. This seamount formed from volcanic activity over the hot spot currently rises 10,100 feet off of the ocean floor but is still 3,100 feet from the surface of the water.

 

Lynn Kurth: Time and Tide Wait For No Man, June 28, 2016

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  57˚57.486 N   Longitude:  152˚55.539 W  (Whale Pass)

Date:  June 28, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Overcast
Visibility: 15 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 164
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 8.3° C (46.94° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1019.6 mb


Science and Technology Log

The ocean supports many ecosystems which contain a diversity of living things ranging in size from tiny microbes to whales as long as 95 feet.  Despite the fact that I am working on a hydrographic ship, when out on a skiff or while in port, I have had the opportunity to view some of these ecosystems and a number of the species found in them.

While the Rainier was in port in Homer, I spent some time at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which, like other estuaries, is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.  An estuary, with accompanying wetlands, is where the freshwater from a river meets and mixes with the salt water of the sea.  However, there are some estuaries that are made entirely from freshwater.  These estuaries are special places along the Great Lakes where freshwater from a river, with very different chemical and physical characteristics compared to the water from the lake, mixes with the lake water.

Because estuaries, like the Kachemak Bay Estuary, are extremely fragile ecosystems with so many plants and animals that rely on them, in 1972 Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than one million estuarine acres.

ESTRE
Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

All estuaries, including the freshwater estuaries found on the Great Lakes, are affected by the changing tides.  Tides play an important part in the health of an estuary because they mix the water and are therefore are one of several factors that influence the properties (temperature, salinity, turbidity) of the water

Prior to my experience in Alaska, I had never realized what a vital role tides play in the life of living things, in a oceanic region.  Just as tides play an important role in the health and function of estuaries, they play a major role in the plants and animals I have seen and the hydrographic work being completed by the Rainier.  For example, the tides determine when and where the skiffs and multi beam launch boats will be deployed.  Between mean low tide and high tide the water depth can vary by as much as 12 feet and therefore low tide is the perfect time to send the skiffs out in to document the features (rocks, reefs, foul areas) of a specific area.

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Rock feature in Uganik Bay (actually “the foot” mentioned in previous blog) Notice tidal line, anything below the top of that line would be underwater at high tide!

In addition to being the perfect time to take note of near shore features, low tide also provides the perfect opportunity to see some amazing sea life!  I have seen a variety of species while working aboard the Rainier, including eagles, deer, starfish, dolphins, whales, seals, cormorants, sea gulls, sea otters and puffins.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to capture quality photos of many of these species, but I have included some of my better photos of marine life in the area and information that the scientists aboard the Rainier have shared with me:

Tufted Puffins:  Tufted Puffins are some of the most common sea birds in Alaska.  They have wings that propel them under water and a large bill which sheds its outer layer in late summer.

puff2

Double Crested Cormorants:  Dark colored birds that dive for and eat fish, crabs, shrimp, aquatic plants, and other marine life.  The birds nest in colonies and can be found in many inland areas in the United States.  The cormorants range extends throughout the Great Lakes and they are frequently considered to be a nuisance because they gorge themselves on fish, possibly decimating local fish populations.

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Cormorant colony with gulls

Pisaster Starfish:  The tidal areas are some of the favorite areas starfish like to inhabit because they have an abundance of clams, which the starfish love to feed on.  To do so, the starfish uses powerful little suction cups to pull open the clam’s shell.

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Teacher at Sea Kurth with a starfish that was found during a shore lunch break while working on a skiff.

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Starfish found in tidal zone

Glaucous-winged Gull:  The gulls are found along the coasts of Alaska and Washington State.  The average lifespan of Glaucous-winged Gull is approximately 15 years.

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Glaucous-winged Gull watching the multi beam sonar boat

The hydrographic work in Uganik Bay continues even though there are moments to view the wildlife in the area.  I was part of the crew on board a boat equipped with multi beam sonar which returned to scan the “foot feature” meticulously mapped by the skiff.  During this process, the multi beam sonar is driven back and forth around the feature as close as the boat can safely get.  The multi beam does extend out to the sides of the boat which enables the sonar to produce an image to the left and right of the boat.  The sonar beam can reach out four times the depth of the water that the boat is working in.  For example, if we are working in six feet of water the multi beam will reach out a total of 24 feet across. Think of the sonar as if it was a beam coming from a flashlight, if you shine the light on the floor and hold the flashlight close to the floor, the beam will be small and intense.  On the other hand, if you hold the flashlight further from the floor the beam of light will cover a wider area but will not be as intense. The sonar’s coverage is similar, part of why working close to the shore is long and tedious work: in shallow water the multi beam does not cover a very wide area.

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“The foot” feature (as discussed in previous blog) being scanned by multi beam sonar

 

thefoot
Image of “the foot” after processing in lab. The rocks are the black areas that were not scanned by the multi beam sonar.


All Aboard!

I met Angelica on one of the first days aboard the Rainier and later spent some time with her, asking questions as she worked .  Angelica is very friendly, cheerful and a pleasure to talk with!  She graciously sat down with me for an interview when we were off shore of Kodiak, AK before returning to Uganik Bay.

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Assistant Survey Technician Angelica Patyten works on processing data from the multi beam sonar

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Angelica Patyten originally from Sacramento, CA and happy to be a part of NOAA’s scientific mission!  I have always been very interested in marine science, especially marine biology, oceanography and somewhat interested in fisheries.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins.  My cousin said that when I was really young I was always drawing whales on paper and I’d always be going to the library to check out books on marine life.  I remember one of the defining moments was when I was in grade school, we took a trip to see the dolphins and orca whales and I thought they were amazing creatures.

As far as hobbies, I love anything that has to do with water sports, like diving and kayaking.  I also want to learn how to surf or try paddle boarding as well.

How did you discover NOAA?:

I just kind of “stumbled upon” NOAA right after I had graduated from college and knew that I wanted to work in marine science.  I was googling different agencies and saw that NOAA allows you to volunteer on some of their vessels.  So, I ended up volunteering for two weeks aboard the NOAA ship Rueben Lasker and absolutely loved it.  When I returned home, I applied online for employment with NOAA and it was about six months before I heard from back from them.  It was at that point that they asked me if I wanted to work for them on one of their research vessels.  It really was all good timing!

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship? 

My responsibilities right now include the processing of the data that comes in from the multi beam sonar.  I basically take the data and use a computer program to apply different settings to produce the best image that I can with the sonar data that I’m given.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?

I love the scenery here in Alaska and the people I work with are awesome!  We become like a family because we spend a lot of time together.  Honestly, working aboard the Rainier is a perfect fit for me because I love to travel, the scenery is amazing and the people I work with are great!


Personal Log:

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer’s words are so fitting for my time aboard the Rainier which is going so quickly and continues to revolve around the tides.

Lynn Kurth: Solstice at Sea!, June 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Assigned to:  NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20th-July 1st, 2016

Personal Log: 

My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work aboard NOAA Ship Rainier as a Teacher at Sea during the summer solstice.  Over the past twenty years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard research vessels on Lake Superior and the Atlantic, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad.  The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is.

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Me aboard the Oregon II for a Long Line Shark and Red Snapper Survey in 2014

Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom:  Most recently I worked with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students to improve local water quality by installing a school rain garden.  During the project students learned about the importance of diverting rain water out of the storm sewer when possible and how to do it in an effective and attractive way.  Other projects included the restoration of our riverbank last year and using a Hydrolab to monitor the water quality of the Prairie River, which runs adjacent to our school.  So, sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier to learn more about hydrography (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) seems like a most natural and logical way to move forward.

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Eighth grade science students jumping for joy during the fall testing of the Prairie River with the Hydrolab. Notice the fellow in waders holding the Hydrolab with great care!

I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from Homer, Alaska, on June 20th.  Until then I have a school year to wrap up, a new puppy to train, a project with Wisconsin Sea Grant to work on and packing to get done.  There are days I’m a bit nervous about getting everything done but when NOAA Ship Rainier casts off from the pier in Homer I will be 100 percent focused on gathering the knowledge and skills that will enhance my role as an educator of students who are part of the next generation charged with the stewardship of this planet.

IMG_1564Newest addition to our family: Paavo a Finnish Lapphund Photo Credit: Lynn Drumm, Yutori Finnish Lapphunds

 

Denise Harrington, Getting Ready for an Adventure, April 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist.  Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.

 

I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing.  In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska.  I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon.  I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts.  It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.

As an avid sea kayaker, I was able to share my deeper understanding of the ocean with fellow paddlers. Photo courtesy of Bill Vonnegut

Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!

On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions.  I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.”   When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!

Another important commercial catch is grouper.  My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon.  NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.

I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship?  Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink?  Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.

I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school.  Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

liz with a crab

 

During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries.  Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”

Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.
A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website: http://www.gma.org/surfing/sats.html#nav

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.
Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele
With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele
Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.
Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

Rebecca Loy, Does Rainier Run on Diesel or STEAM?  September 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 14, 2015

Current Location: South Arm of Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

To answer this question, Rainier runs on both diesel and STEAM.  The diesel keeps this ship running where it needs to go and the engineers are masterful at keeping this ship maintained.  The STEAM is everywhere, and I am not just talking about water steam in a pipe or in the galley.  This ship has serious Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math!!

I met with acting (Executive Officer) XO LT Adam Pfundt and acting (Field Ops Officer) FOO LT Steve Loy (even though Loy is a unique name, we are not related – but it is pretty cool that another Loy is here).  They were discussing who was going to lead certain jobs.  I learned a great deal about the process needed.  During research, an area in review is called a “sheet”.  Why do you think they call the areas sheets and not something else?  Do you think there could be some historical mariner significance?

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed
Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Like most tasks on Rainier, research begins with a geographical area being assigned to a manager, assistant plus a mentor.  They will work together as a team on their sheet until the hydrographic branch of NOAA accepts the data.  Like I mentioned in my second blog entry, this could take weeks or months after the initial data collection to complete.

I have decided to use sheet number H12692, which was just assigned to the team of  ENS Matt Bissell, manager, ENS Shelley Deveraux as assistant, and LT Steve Loy as mentor this past week.  Can you find H12692 on the photo above?

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid
ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid. Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

All team members are responsible for maintaining work logs so they can report on them.  Even here writing & communication is very important – remember this when I help you with YOUR writing!  Here is a brief overview of the duties:

Sheet Manager – this is the biggest of the jobs given.  The sheet manager is responsible for organizing the team.  This person needs to prepare the area to be studied by separating it into more manageable areas called polygon plans.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.
Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

They decide which area gets studied by the large Rainier or if a smaller launch is needed.  The smaller launches are good for areas closer to the shore or shallow areas.

The manager has to know if Rainier should use its multibeam echolocation sounder (MBES) in large runs or drag its Side Scan Sonar (SSS) behind it in the area to be studied.  Another option the manager has to decide is do they need to use the MBES or Side Scan Sonars that are mounted on the smaller launches and where should this be.

The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed.
The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed. Photo Credit: ENS Matt Bissell

ENS Bissell has a many choices to make to get the best information possible.  Looking at the polygon grid ENS Bissell organized can you pick out which areas Rainier will cover?

Managers need to attend meetings and review data that was processed the night before.  They do this to see if any problems were encountered and if an area needs to be scanned again.  The manager uses the immense CARIS HIPS and SIPS marine data processing program, prepares dive teams if needed, does more reviewing of data and organizes the pilots that take the launches closer to shore.  This is truly just a brief overview.  Sheet Manager is a very important job.

Sheet Assistant – The assistant works very hard right alongside the Sheet Manager.  This person is in training as well and will someday be a Sheet Manager.  It is important for the Sheet Manager to give the assistant guidance to learn.   The assistant needs to ask questions so they can be an effective manager in the future.  They need to set up the launches, help with polygon plans, maintain the bottom sample notebook, load charts, assist with data acquisition and follow what the manager needs them to do.

ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area.
ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area. Photo credit: Anthony Wright

Sheet Mentor – The mentor’s role is an advisor to the manager, especially if this is the first time someone is managing.  They also train the sheet assistant and work between the FOO and the management team (in this case the FOO is also the mentor).  The more the mentor can teach the assistant the easier their transition will be from assistant to manager in the future.

Once all of the extensive planning is taken care of, this team begins to collect data.  This is the actual field work that Rainier does!  I know all of you at school were most excited to hear about this!

 

 

 

Drilling for tide marker "Echo" while HAST Mike Bloom looks on.
Drilling for tide benchmark “Echo” while HAST Mike Bloom looks on. Photo credit: Chris Palmer

To begin, we went ashore in the South Arm of Uganik Bay, northern Kodiak Island and had to place a tide gauge station.  To begin the scuba divers had to place part of the equipment called the orifice under water.  This orifice holds air bubbles.  When the tide is higher and the water level is high, more bubbles will be pushed out of the orifice letting the system know that the water level is up.  The more water pressure on the orifice, the higher the tide level and the opposite is also true.  This information is sent to the satellite links where solar panels and batteries keep everything powered so people on the ship can read the data.  We also had to place tide benchmarks in five different areas near the tide station.  I helped with tide benchmark 7588 E or “Echo” which was the fifth benchmark to go in.  Due to movement in the Earth, we need to have tide benchmarks throughout the areas we are studying so when the ship returns in 30 days they will have accurate information.

Tide gauge 1788 E
Tide benchmark 7588 E

 

I worked very hard drilling into just the right rock to cement it down (I actually drilled in 4 areas before this one, but the shale kept breaking apart, LT Pfundt found this great spot with a more stable rock).  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech (HAST) Michael Bloom and I made a great team working together.  It took 1 1/2 days to place everything, survey and link the systems plus take 3 hours of observations for the tides.  During this 3 hour period the observer checks the water level on the staff every 6 minutes.  This is a lot of close observation to make sure everything is running properly!

Surveying all the tide gauges!
Surveying all the tide benchmarks!

Do you know why we would need to know when the sea rises and falls?  Sometimes it can change over 6 feet in depth – two times per day here in the Pacific!!  We need to know the levels for the charts that are being made.  The researchers are looking at updating water depths on a chart.  They will use the tide level that is lowest to be safest.  This will give boats traveling above the best depth for clearance below them.  The opposite is true if there is bridge on a chart.  The researchers will use the highest tide depth so ships can know if they can make it under a bridge.  Knowing tides is very important to chart development!  Here is some more information on Vertical Control-Tides.

Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.
Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.  See the tall stick where water measurements were taken every 6 minutes.  In the back, are the satellite up-links with the GOES and Iridium data retrieval boxes under the blue tarp.

 

Path to Rainier

Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis
Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis

Another fascinating person on board is Hydrographic Survey Technician Eli Smith.  Eli has been on Rainier for 1 1/2 years now.  He started as a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech  in May of 2014.  Originally, he graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Geology.  I was curious how he went from being a geologist in the oil fields of Denver to working on the ocean.  While he was in Denver, Eli would take soil samples.  So many samples that he was called a “Mud Logger” which is a pretty interesting term even though Eli didn’t enjoy it very much.  He did a lot of “soul searching” and realized he needed to do something else.  Between remembering an ocean based field experience in college off the coast of Hawaii and contacting a career counselor, Eli was led to NOAA.  He was pleased when he was placed on Rainier.

On Rainier, Eli works a great deal up in the Plotting room or in another room called the “Hologram Room” where survey techs also work.  Currently, he is a sheet manager for sheet H12691.  This sheet includes Viekoda Bay and Terror Bay.  You can see his area in the photo above.  Eli has been  hard at work doing his own polygon plot and preparing plans for his sheet.  He is also part of the Tides Team placing tidal gauges in areas that are being studied.

When Eli is not working, he has his bike on board and likes to ride that when he can.  He is also a hiker and snowboarder.  I appreciate Eli spending some time with me telling me about himself and all your help on shore.  Thank you!

 

Personal Log

Being on this ship is like being part of a hard working family.  People are all over this ship.  I have come to appreciate the true gift that this crew gave me with my own stateroom, head and starboard side porthole.

I even have my own head!
I even have my own head!

Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.
Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.

I found out the room they gave me is called the “Princess Suite.”  I  learned this name comes from using the initials PS for the visiting Physical Scientists who often come aboard.  I extend an apology to visiting NOAA physical scientist Adam Argento.  You will learn about Adam in a future blog.  He did not get to sleep in the wonderful “Princess Suite” on this trip.

Rebecca Loy, DC means Damage Control! September 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 13, 2015

Current Location: transitioning between Shelikoff Strait and Uganik Bay, North Kodiak Island, Alaska

As I mentioned earlier, safety is top priority here on Rainier.  The crew is required to have safety drills within 24 hours of leaving port.  This includes drills such as Fire and Emergency drills, Man Over Board (MOB) drills and Abandon Ship drills.

When I arrived I was quickly told how to find 2 ways out of my cabin.  My cabin also has a device called an EEBD – Emergency Escape Breathing Device that will allow me to breathe for 10 minutes in a smoky corridor if needed.  Each and every cabin has these and they are also in various places around the ship.

All new crew and visitors are given a thorough safety briefing before we leave port.  We started by doing some paperwork and discussing what everything means.  Then, ENS Danial Palance took us around the ship and showed us the important areas.  He made sure I could find my safe places to report to since I am so new to the ship.

My Rainier safety card
My Rainier safety card

Every person, including me, has a job during an emergency.  Each person is given a “bunk card” that is held near your sleeping bunk.  It lists the three main emergencies we practice and where each person reports to.

Fire and Emergency Drills – the ship’s whistle will blow for a long 10 second blast when there is a fire or other emergency.  Go ahead and slowly count to 10 to see how long it is – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3…

This will definitely get your attention!   If it is a drill it will be announced.  If not, it will say this is an emergency.  My job is to get to the “BRAVO station” which is on the Fantail or back of the ship near the boat shop.  My primary duty is to “assist as directed” if help is needed.   All over the ship are stations for the firefighters. What I find most interesting is these are not people they bring on board specifically… it is the crew you see around you who have also trained to be Firefighters and Advanced Firefighters!  ENS Palance is one of them!

The fire station in the mess hall.
The fire station in the mess hall.

Also throughout the ship you can see Fire Stations and fire extinguishers, fire alarm boxes, radios for communication.  Some of the areas with more dangerous items (like paint or the machine shop) are labeled “CO2 PROTECTED SPACE”.  I was most curious about this.  What do you think CO2 and fires have in common?  If you answered that fires need oxygen to burn and CO2 will put a fire out then you are correct.  In one area of the ship there are many large canisters with CO2 in them.  If there is a bad fire in one of the CO2 protected spaces, someone can send the CO2 to that area and put the fire out.  It will remove all the oxygen from the space.

Man Over Board drills – On a ship if someone falls into the water you will hear the whistle blow for 3 long blasts.

Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.
Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.

If you are the person who saw this, you will need to keep your eye on the person and let others know.  Everyone has a station for this as well.  My job is to report to the “Flying bridge” on top of the ship and be a lookout and help as needed.  The ship has many orange safety rings that can be throw overboard to someone.  There are also two rings with smoke signals attached that can be released from both port (left side) and starboard (right side) of the ship.  We learned how to release those as well.  Rainier has to do monthly drills for MOB.  They don’t actually put someone in the water for this, it is usually a buoy or it could be “Oscar” the medical mannequin (He must be Rainier’s version of “Buster” from the show Mythbusters).

In my survival suit!
In my survival suit!

Abandon Ship drills – Being out on the cold waters of Alaska and leaving this ship is a scary thought, but it needs to be practiced.  Everyone has their own Survival Suits to wear for these drills.  Check me out with mine!!  We also need to bring long sleeved shirts, warm hats and flotation devices with us.  I will be reporting to Liferaft #4 on the port side of the ship with Liferaft #3 on the starboard side as back up.  My indoor meeting place is in the Wardroom and, again, I assist as directed.  If we have to leave the ship, people have jobs to go get the EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the SART is a Search and Rescue Transponder and the GMDSS which are Global Maritime Distress Safety Signal.  All of these will help the Coast Guard rescue us!!

I have had my training, and you know what needs to be done.  Now, time for the real drills at sea!!!

Suddenly, we hear a long 10 second whistle… it was the drill for fire and emergency.  Everyone quickly went to their assigned areas.  There was a fire near the mess hall and the fire team was on the job!!  ENS McKay and AB Wright worked on putting the fire out.  Below are some pictures of them in their fire gear!

ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.
ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.

AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.
AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire drill turned into an Abandoned Ship drill.  Calmly and quickly, everyone gathered their survival suits, a warm hat, long sleeved shirt and their PFD (personal floatation device) and went to their station.  Everyone had to put their survival suits on.  ENS McKay was my group leader and he had to help me with mine.  He was incredibly fast putting his on and gave me some great pointers on being quicker in a real emergency.

Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits!
Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits! Photo Credit: Eli Smith

ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine.
ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine. Photo Credit: Eli Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While safety drills are important.  I hope we will never have to do this for real!

Path to Rainier

This crew is truly an incredible bunch.  I thought it would be interesting for others to see how people ended up working here.   While I would like to highlight everyone, I could only pick a few.

The first person I want everyone to meet is Able Seaman (AB) Lindsey Houska.  Lindsey is one of the deck hands on Rainier.   I wanted to know what path led her to this unique work place.

With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele
With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Lindsey started with a degree in Economics from South Dakota State University and worked in Montana for the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture) for 4 1/2 years.  She realized she wanted to get a bit more out of life than working at a desk.  She sold her house and car, stored her belongings with her parents and went to Indonesia to volunteer instructing farmers on better growing practices.  This was the beginning of her life adventures!  After 3 months living in Indonesia and 5 months traveling other areas of Southeast Asia, she headed out to Australia.  This incredibly hard working woman did a few jobs but ended up working on a commercial fishing vessel catching prawns on the West Coast of Australia.  Later, she got a job in Seattle and South East Alaska as a deck hand on a luxury yacht.  Realizing she had a love of positive environmental practices she wanted to do more for the world in general.  This is when Lindsey applied to work for NOAA.  NOAA are true stewards of the ocean!

On Rainier, Lindsey has been a very busy deck hand for nearly 2 years.  She loves working with all the other deck hands and they have an amazing camaraderie with each other.   I learned so much more about her job when we sat down together.  Lindsey is a trained fire fighter, has been to radar school and even has her captain’s license for smaller vessels.  She works hard with boat deployment, maintenance on the weather deck, inport bridge watch for security and anchor watch so the ship stays in place when it is at anchor.  She also works the cranes, does lookout on the flying bridge and can be a helmsman steering the ship.

In her free time, Lindsey can be found reading, working out in the gym on board, meditating for some quiet time and she also has a bicycle on board that she likes to ride when the ship is in port.  When I asked Lindsey what she did to reduce stress on the job, she said having a good sense of humor with colleagues goes a long way.  They also enjoy time in port together and having meals together.  This amazing woman has traveled all over the world including most of Southeast Asia, all over Australia and New Zealand.  She has been to Europe, Mexico, British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada.  Incredibly, but not surprising as I get to know her, many of the areas Lindsey backpacked to on her own!

I am truly impressed by this lady; how hard she works and how kind she has been to me.  Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me get to know you better!

Personal Log

So true!
So true!

TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST   Three words that I have discovered run Rainier.  I am incredibly impressed by the teamwork, communication, hard work and commitment to our oceans that is evident here.  The umbrella over all of this is an even bigger obligation to safety.  Above I have highlighted just a bit of what makes this ship work in regard to safety.  In future blogs you will read more about this topic when you learn about the people here.   Needless to say, even though we will be out in very big, deep waters and in narrow bays with tall mountains, I feel incredibly safe in the hands of this reliable crew.

Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.
Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.

Rebecca Loy, Land, Sea and Flexibility! September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 9, 2015

Current Location: Women’s Harbor, U.S. Coast Guard Base, Kodiak, Alaska

Science Log

Kodiak, Alaska is amazing and NOAA Ship Rainier is even more so.  When I arrived I learned that we were going to be in port for a few days.  Instead of leaving on Tuesday, September 08, 2015 we are scheduled to leave on Saturday.  Early in my planning and training I learned that FLEXIBILITY is very important and it has proven to be true.

NOAA TAS 2015 005
Rainier with the rising sun behind it at Women’s Bay

During this time at port, the entire crew is very busy with ship activities.  I thought this would be the perfect time to give some background on this amazing ship!  Here is a link to more detailed information Rainier information flyer.  An even more detailed, “let the geek out” link is   Rainier special details.

Rainier is named after Mount Rainier in Washington State and was put to work in 1968.  Do the math, how old is Rainier this year?  Rainier is a long 231 foot ship.  The breadth (width) is 42 feet and the draft, or how far down it sits in the water is 14 feet.  One of the most interesting facts about this vessel is the ice strengthened hull.  Rainier is one tough ship!!

To keep this unique ship running so well it has an incredible crew.  I have learned that there are 7 main areas of work.  I am only going to give a general overview so everyone can understand a little bit more about what happens here.  I will go into more detail with future blogs.

Wardroom – This is what the NOAA uniformed officers are called.  They can be seen wearing their blue uniforms.  The hydrographic officers have a more interesting job than the officers on other NOAA vessels because they act not only as officers getting the ship where it needs to go safely, but they also work right alongside the survey scientists making tidal observations and coastal maps.

The Rainier Officers working in the Plotting Room
Rainier Officers working in the Plotting Room

It makes a lot of sense for the people who are researching and creating the very important coastal maps to understand them.  There is no one better than the men and women who work with them every day!

Survey – These are the scientists who work with the officers to collect the data.  Collecting the data is just the beginning.  Once the data is collected they begin analyzing data and putting it to work.  Similar to students who have classwork, they get assignments that need to be met and deadlines to get the work done.  It can take weeks and months for the data to be put together to make the charts.

Engineering – The engineers are the inner working of the ship.  They are the men and women who keep Rainier going strong!  While here, there is a constant hum of mechanical parts (later the engines will be going and we will hear and feel those).

Just one of many areas the engineers work. This is an organized machine shop for repairs/fabricating.
Just one of many areas the engineers work. This is an organized machine shop for repairs/fabricating.

Everywhere you look inside the ship you can see something that the engineers are responsible for maintaining.  On my tour, I was amazed from top to bottom of the fans, gears, plumbing, wires, generators, motors, hydraulics, engines, heating/cooling, launch maintenance, refrigeration, distillers for water plus so much more that needs to be kept going.  As you can see, this is also a very busy department!

Deck – While the engineers maintain the inside of the ship, the deck crew maintains the outside or what is called the “weather deck”.   Here you will see the massive crane on the back of the ship and two smaller cranes at the front.

The large crane at the stern (back) of the ship.
The large crane at the stern (back) of the ship.

They work the two large anchors and the “windlass” or winch to pull them up along with the smaller launches (boats) that are attached to the ship and the davits (hoists) to put them in and out of the water.  The deck crew also make sure the ship is moored (tied up) properly plus so much more.

EET and ET – These are the two smallest departments, but they are needed to keep everyone working.  The EET is the electronics engineering technician.  He is an electrician that takes care of all the wiring throughout the ship.  The Rainier EET has been here for over 20 years.  The ET is the electronics technician and he builds, maintains and programs the computers and servers that are needed to run Rainier.

Steward – Have you heard the term “laughter is the best medicine?”  Here on Rainier the food is the best medicine and what keeps this crew connected and happy!

The incredibly clean and efficient galley on the Rainier
The incredibly clean and efficient galley on Rainier

The galley (kitchen) is incredibly clean, organized and delicious!  The selection of food has been healthy, varied and with just the right amount of sweet treats.  They are up very early and work later to keep this crew fed.  Every department has to come through here so they are the true backbone of the ship!

As I get to know the ship and crew more, I am continually amazed at the people here, how they communicate and work together and it all runs so smoothly.  I am looking forward to our upcoming adventures doing research around Kodiak Island.

Personal Log

Being chosen for this experience is a great honor for me.  I was here for only 24 hours and I had already seen so much of this beautiful area.  I was fortunate enough to get here the night before Labor Day so the crew and I had the day off.

One of the harbors in Kodiak, AK
One of the harbors in Kodiak, AK

I walked around the harbor town of Kodiak and then went hiking to Abercrombie State Park.  This now incredibly beautiful area of moss draped trees, cliffs and black rock/sand beaches was once a World War II gun site.  I saw the massive guns, the lookout that was half buried in the rock and the searchlight shelter.  Due to the northern site, there are times that the sun is not out for long so they had big searchlights that were rolled out of the structure to search for planes and ships out in the Pacific Ocean.  While there I got to see the resident Bald Eagles and other wildlife (no Kodiak bears yet but I keep looking).

Later, I was able to head to the southern shore of Kodiak Island to see where people surf on Surfer Beach.  Again, the sand is very dark and the waves were incredible.  I didn’t think Alaska was an area for surfing, but it is very popular.

The incredible Surfer Beach!
The incredible Surfer Beach!

After looking at Surfer Beach I was taken over to the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska.  I was able to let my Space Geek out.  Too bad I didn’t have my Blue Flight Suit, I could have had my picture taken there.  This is an active launch pad for launches over the Arctic.  They had an explosion here in November, 2014 (no one was hurt thankfully) so it is being repaired before more launches can take place.

An interesting sign at the Pacific Spaceport Alaska.
An interesting sign at the Pacific Spaceport Alaska.

On the ship, the crew is incredibly welcoming and helpful.  I am gradually learning my way around and how things work.  Off the ship, I used the time to connect with the local Kodiak High School and their award winning robotics team.  They are doing some pretty amazing things here with STEAM in this small coastal town.

More adventures to follow as we head out and I become a true Teacher At Sea, not just a Teacher In Port!

Lauren Wilmoth: Strange Sea Creatures, October 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 16, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 7.32 °C
Wind Speed: 9.2 knots
Latitude: 57°44.179′ N
Longitude: 152°27.987′ W

Science and Technology Log

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.
ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

Wednesday, I went on a launch to do bottom sampling and cross lines.  Wednesday was our last day of data acquisition, so the motto on the POD (Plan of the Day) was “LEAVE NO HOLIDAYS! If in doubt, ping it again!”  Bottom sampling is pretty straight forward.  We drive to designated locations and drop a device that looks a little like a dog poop scooper down into the water after attaching it to a wench.  The device has a mechanism that holds the mouth of it open until it is jarred from hitting the bottom.  When it hits the bottom, it snaps closed and hopefully snatches up some of the sediment from the bottom.  Then, we reel it up with the wench and see what’s inside.

We took 10 bottom samples and most were the same.  We had a fine brown sand in most samples.  Some samples contained bits of shell, so we documented when that was the case.  At one location, we tried for samples three times and every time, we got just water.  This happens sometimes if the sea floor is rocky and the device can’t pick up the rocks.  If you try three times and get no definitive answer, you label the sample as unknown.  Two times we got critters in our samples.  One critter we found was an amphipod most likely.  The second critter was shrimp/krill-like, but I don’t know for sure.  Cross lines are just collecting sonar data in lines that run parallel to the previous data lines.  This gives us a better image and checks the data.

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Survey Tech Christie and Me on our bottom sampling launch.

Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staff observations at Terror Bay.
Staff observations at Terror Bay.

Thursday, we closed out the tidal station at Terror Bay. This entailed doing staff observations, a tidal gauge leveling check, and then break down everything including completing a dive to remove the orifice.  Since I have already taken part in a tidal gauge leveling check, I was assigned to the staff observations and dive party.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for staff observations you just record the level of the water by reading a staff every six minutes for three hours.  We did this while on a boat, because the tide was pretty high when we got started, so we wouldn’t be able to read the staff if we were on shore.  Again, the reason we do staff observations is so we can compare our results to what the tidal gauge is recording to make sure the tidal gauge is and has been working properly.

While doing staff observations, I saw a small jellyfish looking creature, but it was different.  It had bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is what we have, where one side is more or less the same as the other side.  Jellyfish have radial symmetry which means instead of just one possible place you could cut to make two side that are the same, there are multiple places you can cut to make it the same on each side.  Also, the critter was moving by flopping its body from side to side which is nothing like a jellyfish.  I had to figure out what this was!  In between our observations, Jeff, the coxswain, maneuvered the boat so I could scoop this guy into a cup.  Once we finished our staff observations, we headed to the ship.  I asked around and Adam (the FOO) identified my creature.  It’s a hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina).  Nudibranches are sea slugs that come in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes.

Bilateral versus radial symmetry.

The hooded nudibranch.
The hooded nudibranch.

ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

After a quick return to the ship, we headed back out with a dive team to remove the orifice from underwater. Quick reminder: the orifice was basically a metal tube that air bubbles are pushed out of.  The amount of pressure needed to push out the air bubbles is what tells us the depth of the water. Anyways, the water was crystal clear, so it was really neat, because we could see the divers removing the orifice and orifice tubing.  Also, you could see all sorts of jellyfish and sea stars.  At this point, I released the hooded nudibranch back where I got him from.

Jellyfish!
Jellyfish!

Just as we were wrapping up with everything.  The master diver Katrina asked another diver Chris if he was alright, because he was just floating on his back in the water. He didn’t respond.  It’s another drill! One person called it in on the radio, one of the divers hopped back in the water and checked his vitals, and another person grabbed the backboard. I helped clear the way to pull Chris on board using the backboard, strap him down with the straps, and pull out the oxygen mask. We got him back to the ship where the drill continued and the medical officer took over. It was exciting and fun to take part in this drill.  This was a very unexpected drill for many people, and they acted so professional that I am sure if a real emergency occurred, they would be prepared.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.
Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Personal Log

Sadly, this was most likely my last adventure for this trip, because I fly out tomorrow afternoon. This trip has really been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learned and have a great appreciation for what it takes to make a quality nautical chart. I am excited about bringing all that the Rainier and her crew have taught me back to the classroom to illustrate to students the importance of and the excitement involved in doing science and scientific research. Thank you so much to everyone on board Rainier for keeping me safe, helping me learn, keeping me well fed, and making my adventure awesome!  Also, thank you to all those people in charge of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program who arranged my travel, published my blogs, provided me training, and allowed me to take part in this phenomenal program.  Lastly, thank you to my students, family, and friends for reading my blog, participating in my polls, and asking great questions.

Did You Know? 

1 knot is one nautical mile per hour which is equal to approximately 1.151 miles per hour.

Challenge:

Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: “Wreckish looking rock?” October 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 4.4 °C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Latitude: 57°56.9′ N
Longitude: 153°05.8′ W

Science and Technology Log

Thank you all for the comments you all have made.  It helps me decide what direction to go in for my next post.  One question asked, “How long does it take to map a certain area of sea floor?”  That answer, as I responded, is that it depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, how deep the water is and how flat the floor is in that area.

To make things easier, the crew uses an Excel spreadsheet with mathematical equations already built-in to determine the approximate amount of time it will take to complete an area.  That answer is a bit abstract though.  I wanted an answer that I could wrap my head around.  The area that we are currently surveying is approximately 25 sq nautical miles, and it will take an estimated 10 days to complete the surveying of this area not including a couple of days for setting up tidal stations.  To put this in perspective, Jefferson City, TN is approximately 4.077 sq nautical miles.  So the area we are currently surveying is more than 6 times bigger than Jefferson City!  We can do a little math to determine it would take about 2 days to survey an area the size of Jefferson City, TN assuming the features are similar to those of the area we are currently surveying.

Try to do the math yourself!  Were you able to figure out how I got 2 or 3 days?

Since we’re talking numbers, Rainier surveyed an area one half the size of Puerto Rico in 2012 and 2013!  We can also look at linear miles.  Linear miles is the distance they traveled while surveying.  It takes into account  all of the lines the ship has completed.  In 2012 and 2013, Rainier surveyed the same amount of linear nautical miles that it would take to go from Newport, Oregon to the South Pole Station and back!

Area we are currently surveying.
Area we are currently surveying (outlined in red) with some depth data we have collected.

Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.
Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.

Monday, I went on a launch to collect sonar data.  This is my first time to collect sonar data since I started this journey.  Before we could get started, we had to cast a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) instrument.  Sound travels a different velocities in water depending on the salinity, temperature, and pressure (depth), so this instrument is slowly cast down from the boat and measures all of these aspects on its way to the ocean floor.  Sound travels faster when there is higher salinity, temperature, and pressure.  These factors can vary greatly from place to place and season to season.

Imagine how it might be different in the summertime versus the winter.  In the summertime, the snow will be melting from the mountains and glaciers causing a increase in the amount of freshwater.  Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, so it mainly stays on top.  Also, that glacial runoff is often much colder than the water lower in the water column.  Knowing all of this, where do you think sound will travel faster in the summertime?  In the top layer of water or a lower layer of water?  Now you understand why it is so important to cast a CTD to make sure that our sonar data is accurate.  To learn more about how sound travels in water, click here.

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I’m driving the boat.

After casting our CTD, we spent the day running the sonar up and down and up and down the areas that needed to be surveyed.  Again, this is a little like mowing the lawn.  At one point, I was on bow watch.  On bow watch, you sit at the front of the boat and look out for hazards.  Since this area hasn’t been surveyed since before 1939, it is possible that there could be hazards that are not charted.  Also, I worked down in the cabin of the boat with the data acquisition/sonar tuning. Some important things to do below deck including communicating the plan of attack with the coxswain (boat driver), activating the sonar, and adjusting the sonar for the correct depth.  I helped adjust the range of the sonar which basically tells the sonar how long to listen.  If you are in deeper water, you want the sonar to listen longer, because it takes more time for the ping to come back.  I also adjusted the power which controls how loud the sound ping is.  Again, if you are surveying a deeper area, you might want your ping to be a little louder.

Eli working the sonar equipment.
Eli working the sonar equipment.

Tuesday, I helped Survey Tech Christie Rieser and Physical Scientist Fernando Ortiz with night processing.  When the launches come back after acquiring sonar data, someone has to make all that data make sense and apply it to the charts, so we can determine what needs to be completed the following day.  Making sense of the data is what night processing is all about.  First, we converted the raw data into a form that the program for charting (CARIS) can understand.  The computer does the converting, but we have to tell it to do so.  Then, we apply all of the correctors that I spoke about in a previous blog in the following order: POS/MV (Position and Orientation Systems for Marine Vessels) corrector, Tides corrector, and CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) corrector.  POS/MV corrects for the rocking of the boat.  For the tides corrector, we use predicted tides for now, and once all the data is collected from our tidal stations, we will add that in as well.  Finally, the CTD corrects for the change in sound velocity due to differences in the water as I discussed above.

After applying all of the correctors, we have the computer use an algorithm (basically a complicated formula) to determine, based on the data, where the sea floor is.  Basically, when you are collecting sonar data there is always going to be some noise (random data that is meaningless) due to reflection, refraction, kelp, fish, and even the sound from the boat.  The algorithm is usually able to recognize this noise and doesn’t include it when calculating the location of the seafloor.  The last step is manually cleaning the data.  This is where you hide the noise, so you can get a better view of the ocean floor.  Also, when you are cleaning, you are double checking the algorithm in a way, because some things that are easy for a human to distinguish as noise may have thrown off the algorithm a bit, so you can manually correct for that. Cleaning the data took the longest amount of time.  It took a couple of hours.  While processing the data, we did notice a possible ship wreck, but the data we have isn’t detailed enough to say whether it’s a shipwreck or a rock.  Senior Tech Jackson noted in the acquisition log that it was “A wreckish looking rock or a rockish looking wreck.”  We are going to have the launches go over that area several more times today to get a more clear picture of is going on at that spot.

H12662_DN195_2804 This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.
This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.

Personal Log 

Monday was the most spectacular day for wildlife viewing!  First, I saw a bald eagle.  Then, I saw more sea otters.  The most amazing experience of my trip so far happened next.  Orcas were swimming all around us.  They breached (came up for air) less than 6 feet from the boat.  They were so beautiful!  I got some good pictures, too!  As if that wasn’t good enough, we also saw another type of whale from far away.  I could see the blow (spray) from the whale and a dorsal fin, but I am not sure if it is was a Humpback Whale or a Fin Whale.  Too cool!

Bald Eagle Sighting!
Bald Eagle Sighting!

Sea otter
Sea otter

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Orca!

Very close orca!
Very close orca!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? 

Killer whales are technically dolphins, because they are more closely related to other dolphins than they are to whales.

Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 3.82 °C
Wind Speed: 6.1 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb's Cove.  Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.
Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

The launch that I participated in on Tuesday was awesome!  We went to an area called Thumb’s Cove.  I thought the divers must be crazy, because of how cold it was.  When they returned to the boat from their dive, they said the water was much warmer than the air.  The water temperature was around 10.5°C or 51°F while the air temperature was hovering right above freezing.  One diver, Katrina, took an underwater camera with her.  They saw jellyfish, sea urchins, and sea stars.

The ride to and from the cove was quite bouncy, but I enjoyed being part of this mini-adventure!  Later that day, we did what is called DC (Damage Control) familiarization.  Basically, we practiced what do in case of an emergency.  We were given a pipe with holes in it and told to patch it with various objects like wooden wedges.  We also practiced using a pump to pump water off of the ship if she were taking on water.  Safety drills are also routine around here.  It’s nice to know that everyone expects the best, but prepares for the worse.  I feel very safe aboard Rainier.

Seastar from Katrina Poremba from the dive at Thumb's Cove.
Sea star and anemones taken by diver Katrina Poremba at Thumb’s Cove.

This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area.  We will be working near the red x.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area. We will be working near the red x.

Today, I got a chance to meet with the CO (Commanding Officer), and he explained the navigational charts to me.  Before the ship leaves the port, there must be a navigation plan which shows not only the path the ship will take, but also the estimated time of arrival to various points along the way.  This plan is located on the computer, but also, it must be drawn on a paper chart for backup.

This illustrates again how redundancy, as I discussed in my last blog post, is a very important part of safety on a ship.  Every ship must have up-to-date paper charts on board.  These charts get updated with the information collected from the hydrographic surveys.  The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet which is why Rainier‘s mission of mapping the ocean is so important.  There are many areas in Alaska where the only data on the depth of the water was collected before sonar technology was used.  In fact, some places the data on the charts comes from Captain Cook in the 1700s!  If you look at the chart below the water depth is measured in fathoms.  A fathom is 6 feet deep.  Places that are less than 1 fathom deep have a 05 where the subscript indicates how deep the water is in feet.

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One of the nautical charts that will help Rainier navigate back to its home port in Newport, Oregon. Notice the ocean depth marked in fathoms.

CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

Today, I also spoke with the AFOO (Acting Field Operations Officer), Adam, about some work that he had been doing on Rainier‘s sister ship NOAA Fairweather.  One project they are working on is connecting hydrographic data to fish distribution and abundance mapping.  Basically, they want to find out if it is possible to use sonar data to predict what types of fish and how many you will find in a particular location

They believe this will work, because the sonar produces a back scatter signature that can give you an idea of the sea floor composition (i.e. what it is made of).  For instance, they could tell you if the sea floor is rocky, silty, or sandy using just sonar, as opposed to, manually taking a bottom sample.  If this hydrographic data is integrated with the data collected by other NOAA ships that use trawl nets to survey the fish in an area, this would allow NOAA to manage fisheries more efficiently.  For example, if you have map that tells you that an area is likely to have fish fry (young fish) of a vulnerable species, then NOAA might consider making this a protected area.

Personal Log

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.
Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

On Tuesday, I had a little extra time in the afternoon, so I decided to ride my bike down to the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Seward.  There were Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus), Puffins (Genus Fratercula), Pacific Salmon (Genus Oncorhynchus) and much more.  I really appreciated that the SeaLife Center focused on both conservation and on organisms that live in this area.  A local high school even had their art students make an exhibit out of trash found on the beach to highlight the major environmental issue of trash that finds its way to the ocean.

Can you think a project we could do that would highlight a main environmental concern in Eastern Tennessee?  I also thought is was really interesting to see the Puffins dive into the water.  The SeaLife Center exhibit explained about how Puffin bones are more dense than non-sea birds.  These higher density bones are an adaptation that helps them dive deeper.

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center
Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

I officially moved into the ship today.  Prior to that, I was staying at a hotel while they were finishing up repairs.  We are expected to get underway on Friday afternoon.  I am staying in the princess suite!  It is nice and cozy.  I have all of the essentials.  I have a desk, bunk beds, 2 closets, and one bathroom (head).

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward Alaska
Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward, Alaska

My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed "The Princess Suite."
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed “The Princess Suite.”

 

Did You Know? 

Junior Officers get homework assignments just like you.  At the navigation briefing today, the CO (Commanding Officer) told the Junior Officers what that they needed to review several documents before going through the inside passage (a particularly tricky area to navigate).  He is expecting them to lead different parts of the next navigation briefing, but he isn’t going to tell them which part they are leading until right before. Therefore, it is important that they know it all!  It’s a little like a pop quiz and presentation in one.

Word of the Day

Bathymetry – the study of the “beds” or “floors” of bodies of water.

Lauren Wilmoth: Introductions, October 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 0.77 °C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Our departure from Seward was originally scheduled for today, but the ship is having some repairs done, so our expected departure is now Wednesday or Thursday.  In case you were wondering, this doesn’t delay my return date.  Regardless of the fact that we are not underway, there is still so much to learn and do.

Yesterday, I met with Christie, one of the survey techs, and learned all about the Rainier’s mission.   The main mission of the ship is to update nautical charts.  Up-to-date charts are crucial for safe navigation.  The amount of data collected by Rainier if vast, so although the main mission of the Rainier is updating nautical charts, the data are also sent to other organizations who use the data for a wide variety of purposes.  The data have been used for marine life habitat mapping, sediment distribution, and sea level rise/climate change modeling among other things.  In addition to all of that, Rainier and her crew sometimes find shipwrecks.  In fact, Rainier and her crew have found 5 shipwrecks this season!

 

This is what a shipwreck looks like to the sonar. This is a picture of a shipwreck found by another NOAA hydrographic ship. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Simplified, hydrographic research involves sending multiple sonar (sound) beams to the ocean floor and recording how long it takes for the sound to come back.  You can use a simple formula of distance=velocity/time and divide that by two because the sound has to go to the floor and back to get an idea how deep the ocean is at a particular spot.  This technique would be fine by itself if the water level weren’t constantly fluctuating due to tides, high or low pressure weather systems, as well as, the tilt of the ship on the waves.  Also, the sound travels at different speeds according to the water’s temperature, conductivity and depth.  Because of this, the data must be corrected for all of these factors.  Only with data from all of these aspects can we start to map the ocean floor.  I have attached some pictures of what data would look like before and after correction for tides.

 

This shows the advantages of using multibeam sonar to complete surveys. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Hydrographic data with correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie.
Hydrographic data with correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie.

Hydrographic data without correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie
Hydrographic data without correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie

I was also given a tour of the engine room yesterday.  Thanks, William.  He explained to me how the ship was like its own city.  In this city, there is a gym, the mess (where you eat), waste water treatment, a potable (drinkable) water production machine, and two engines that are the same type of engines as train engines.  Many of my students were interested in what happens to our waste when we are aboard the ship.  Does it just get dumped into the ocean?  The answer is no.  Thank goodness!  The waste water is exposed to bacteria that break down the waste  Then, salt water is used to produce chlorine that further sterilizes the waste.  After those two steps, the waste water can be dumped.  The drinking water is created by evaporating the water (but not the salt) from salt water.  The heat for this process is heat produced by the engine.  William also explained that there are two of everything, so if something fails, we’ll still be alright.

Me working out at the Rainier gym.
Rainier’s gym

Rainier's back-up generator.
Rainier’s back-up generator 

Personal Log

Sunday, I drove from Anchorage to Seward.  The drive was so beautiful!  At first, I was surrounded by huge mountains that were vibrant yellow from the trees whose leaves were turning.  Then, there was snow!  It was actually perfect, because the temperature was at just the right point where the snow was melted on the road, but it had blanketed the trees.  Alaska is as beautiful as all of the pictures you see.  The drive should have been about 2.5 hours, but it took me 3.5 hours, because behind each turn the view was better than the previous turn, so I had to stop and take pictures.  I took over 100 pictures on that drive.  Once I arrived in Seward, I was given my first tour of the ship and then I had some time to explore Seward.

TeacheratSea 074
One of the views on my drive from Anchorage to Seward

 

Trying on my survival (gumby) suit
Trying on my survival (gumby) suit

Yesterday (the first official day on the job), I learned so much.  Getting used to the terminology is the hardest part.  There are acronyms from everything!  Immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and I have been immersed in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) language.  There is the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer), FOO (Field Operations Officer), TAS (Teacher at Sea or Me!), POD (Plan of the Day) and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I also had to learn all of the safety procedures.  This involved me getting into my bright red survival suit and learning how to release a lifeboat.

Today, I am going on a dive launch.  The purpose of this launch is to help some of the divers get more experience in the cold Alaskan waters.  I will get to ride on one of the smaller boats and watch as the Junior Officers scuba dive.

Did You Know? 

NOAA Corps is one of the 7 branches of the U.S. uniformed services along with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC).

Denise Harrington: The Best Day Ever, April 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 20 – May 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 30, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

Location: 58 03.175’ N  127o 153.27.44’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 6.3C (dry bulb), Wind 5 knots @ 250o, clear, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.

In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features.  Step 1 is to determine where we are.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna and a GPS antenna that helps us determine our precise location.
In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna (square white one) that is used to transmit tide data ashore and a GPS antenna (the small white eggs shaped one) that provides the tide gauge with both position and UTC time. Photo by Barry Jackson

In this picture  Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses the GOES from various locations to determine the exact location of the tide gauge.
In this picture Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses GPS to record the positions of the benchmarks we have just set for the tide gauge. Photo by Barry Jackson

tide gauge install 023
Where we are happens to be the most beautiful place on earth. Photo by Barry Jackson

 

In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.

Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is.  Think “bath” water and metry “measure.”  When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.

As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.

Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor.  Here is a screen shot of the data we collected.  It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!

Here is the image of the trench Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered.  We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after us.
Here is the image of the sea floor canyon Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered. We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after the two scientists who discovered it.

Here I am, gathering pings.

Here I am talking with "the bridge,"  the team responsible for navigating the ship while surveyors collect data.
While collecting data, I kept in contact with “the bridge,” the team responsible for navigating the ship, by radio to ensure the ship’s safety and maximum, quality data acquisition.     Photo by Starla Robinson

 

Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water.  Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides.  The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.

The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area.  On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install.  This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.

 

Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed.  The one we installed today in Diver's Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.
Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed. The one we installed today in Driver Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data.  Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.

The earth goes around the sun in 24 hours and moon goes around the earth in a little more than 12 hours, much like these two gray sine waves. Interestingly, when you add two different waves, you get the wonky blue sine wave, with ups and downs. This combined effect of the sun and the moon (two dots) causes the ups and downs of the tide (blue wave). Graph taken from Russell, D. Acoustics and Vibration Animation, PSU, http://www.acs.psu.edu/drussell/demos/superposition/superposition.html.

 

Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart.  The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.
This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

Installing Tide Gauge Stations

Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is.   The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure.  The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water.  The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data.  This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis.  Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.

There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world.  The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia.  These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.

The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle).  During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.

Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks

Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches.  Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.

 

Why Bench Mark?

There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.

 

I installed this benchmark by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location.
I installed this benchmark in Driver Cove by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location. Photo by Barry Jackson

The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land.  The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge.  The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly.  As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.”  We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s  reference frame.  Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed.  After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!

Teacher on Land Polishing Her Benchmark Photo by Brandy Geiger
Teacher on Land
Polishing Her Benchmark
Photo by Brandy Geiger

Installing the Benchmark

Today, our beach party broke into two groups.  We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline.  We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete.  A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more.  We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification.   If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.

Tide Gauge

As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.

 

Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.
Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.  Photo by Barry Jackson

To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water.  Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team.   The dive team secured a sensor below the water.  The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days.  During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters.  Good thing they were wearing dive suits!  Photo by Barry Jackson
Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters. Good thing they were wearing dive suits! Photo by Barry Jackson

Leveling Run

After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick.  One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal.  They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height!  Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.

Observation

Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours.  Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to.  If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements.  I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do.  If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.

As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island.  I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.

Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line.  The exact measurements we collected are on the table.
The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line. The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II.  The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.

 

Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to  Floyd Pounds, an amazing cook from the south who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet.
Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to the amazing chefs aboard Rainier, including Floyd Pounds, who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet with a hint of a southern accent.

During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits.  He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.”  He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks.  For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.”  Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart.   His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.

Personal Log

Today was a special day for me for many reasons.  It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever.  Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking.  I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me.  In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently.  All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.

 

Denise Harrington: Polygon Planning, April 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 21 – May 2, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 24, 2014, 23:00

Location: 51 50.7’ N  127o 55.9’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 8.4C (dry bulb), Wind 9 knots @ 59o, overcast, light fog, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

Much like the the lab reports we do in class, hydrographers have a tremendous amount of work to do prior to going into the field.  As we make the transit from Rainier’s home port of Newport to our charting location of Kodiak Island, hydrographers are working long hours in the plotting room planning their season’s work. Today’s log is about a software program called CARIS that hydrographers use to plan their project and guide data collection through the season.  This morning, Ensign Micki Ream planned her season’s work in the Plot Room on CARIS.  This afternoon, she walked out the plot room door and onto the bridge where she navigated Rainier through the narrow Blackney Passage of the Inside Passage.   Prior to taking over the bridge, I watched as Ensign Ream as she plotted her project area for the season.  She has been assigned Cape Uganik, an area of North Kodiak Island in the vicinity of Raspberry Island.  The area was chosen to survey due to boat traffic and because the last survey completed was in 1908 by lead line.  Here you can see the original survey report and an image of how data was collect at that time (1908 Survey of Ensign Ream’s Survey Area). Ensign Micki Ream explained that the charts were called “sheets,” because originally, they were sheets of paper, sent out with the surveyor into the field.  While we still call them sheets, they are now in electronic form, just like the sheet below representing one of two project areas ENS Ream will most likely work on this summer.

Ensign Ream's task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts.
Ensign Ream’s task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts. Challenge:  print a copy of this map and come up with 30 smaller polygons to assign to your team to survey before you scroll down to see Ensign Ream’s plan.

Why make polygons instead of sending several launches out to your work area and tell them to start on opposite ends and meet in the middle? The polygons are a way for hydrographers to break a large amount of work into manageable tasks. Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, explains “polygons are designed based upon the depth of the water, the time it will take to complete, and the oceanographic condition, particularly speed of sound through water.  Areas that are suspected to have a higher variability in sound speed will get smaller polygons to manage errors from sound speed.”

Also, imagine sending several launch boats out into a large area to work without telling them where to go. Polygons provide a plan for several boats to work safely in an area without running into each other.  It allows areas to be assigned to people based upon their skills.  The coxswains, boat drivers, with a lot of experience and skill, will take the near shore polygons, and the newer coxswains will take less hazardous, deeper water.

Another reason to break your sheet into polygons is to maintain team moral.  By breaking a large task into small assignments people feel a sense of accomplishment. As she divided her large polygon into 30 smaller polygons, Ensign Micki Ream kept in mind many variables. First, she considers the depth of the water.  The sonar produces a swath of data as the survey vessel proceeds along its course.  As the water gets deeper, the swath gets wider, so you can make a bigger polygon in deeper water. As she drew her polygons, she followed contour lines as much as possible while keeping lines straight.  The more like a quadrilateral a polygon is, the easier it is for a boat to cover the area, just like mowing a rectangular lawn. In her polygons, she cut out areas that are blue (shallow), rocky areas and kelp beds, because those areas are hazardous to boats.  While the hydrographer in charge and coxswain (boat driver), should use best practices and not survey these areas by boat, sometimes they rely on the polygon assignment.

Here is Ensign Ream's Proposal for how to complete this summer's work. How does it compare to your proposal?
Here is Ensign Ream’s Proposal for how to complete this summer’s work. How does it compare to your proposal?

Once she has drawn up her plan, Ensign Micki Ream roughly measures the average length and width of her polygons and puts that data into a Polygon Time Log form that a co-worker created on Rainier last season.  The form also takes into account the depth and gives an estimate of time it will take to complete the polygon.  This Time Log is just one of the many pieces of technology or equipment that crew invents to make their lives and jobs easier.

Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.
Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.

The fun part of this process is naming your polygons so that hydrographers in the field can report back to you their progress.  Traditional alphabetical and numerical labels are often used, but Ensign Micki Ream is naming some of her polygons after ’90s rock bands this year. Once the polygon is named, the sheet manager, Ensign Ream, develops a boat sheet for a hydrographer in charge (HIC):  this is their assignment for the day. Typically, they send out three to four people on a launch, including the HIC, coxswain and an extra hand. There are always new people aboard Rainier, so there are often other people in the launch being trained.  There are enough immersion suits for 4 people but ideally there are three people to help with launching the boat and completing the day’s work.  Communication between the HIC and coxswain is essential to get data for ocean depths in all areas of their polygon as they determine the direction to collect data in their work area.  Now, at least, the hydrographer and coxswain know where to start and stop, and are confident that their sheet manager has done her best to send them into a safe area to collect the data needed to make new charts.

 

Since Ensign Ream’s polygon plan is an estimate, the time to complete each polygon may be longer or shorter than estimated.  Variables such as the constantly changing depth of the ocean, weather, experience and equipment of the crew collecting data, and a myriad of other variables, known and unknown, make scheduling and completing surveys a constantly moving target.  There are two guarantees however:  flexibility is required to work on the crew and ultimately winter will force a pause to Rainier’s work.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Although I have been on Rainier for only several days, I am blown away by the incredible skills crew members acquire in short amounts of time.  Ensign Micki Ream is the perfect example:   In January, 2013, she joined the NOAA Corps which provides operational support for NOAA’s scientific missions.  During a six month officer training, she was trained in the basics of navigation. On June 2, 2013, she joined Rainier crew. In February, 2014 NOAA sent her to a one month Basic Hydrography School where she learned hydrography principles and how to use various software programs. Throughout her short time at NOAA, she has had significant and varied on the job training with scientific, managerial and navigational work.The rest of her skills are on the job training with an end goal of Officer of the Deck (similar to a mate in commercial sailing) and Hydrographer in Charge.

Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90's rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas.  There is plenty of room for creativity here!
Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90’s rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas. There is plenty of room for creativity!

Ensign Micki Ream does have a background in science which she is putting to use every day.  Originally from Seattle, she started her career with NOAA in June, 2009, after obtaining a Marine Biology degree at Stanford University.  Her first position was with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Program, which provided her with an internship and scholarship to acquire a Master’s Degree, also from Stanford, in Communicating Ocean Science. Just a little over one year after coming to NOAA Corps, she is a hydrographer in training and safely navigating a very impressive ship as part of a bridge team, including highly skilled navigational experts such as Ensign J.C. Clark and Commander Brennan.  Where else could you get training, experience and on the job support in so many diverse areas but with NOAA Hydro?

Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.
Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.

Personal Log

The food is absolutely amazing on board.  Tonight’s dinner options were roast prime beef, cut to order, au jus, creamy smoked salmon casserole, farro vegetable casserole, baked potatoes with fixings, asparagus and several different kinds of cake and fruit. In the evenings, snacks are also available.  My biggest challenge has been to pace myself with the the quantity of food I eat, particularly since taking long hikes after dinner is not an option. I feel very well cared for aboard Rainier. P1000587

This is the front door to the snack freezer.  For me, the answer is clearly "No."
This is the front door to the snack freezer. For me, the answer is clearly “No.”

Denise Harrington: If Hydro Means Water and Graphy Means Writing, What Is Hydrography? April 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 21 – May 2, 2014

 

Project: North Coast of Kodiak Island

Weather Data from the Bridge at 15:20

Wind: 11 knots

Visibility: 10+ nautical miles

Weather: Clear

Depth in fathoms: 66.1

Temperature: 9.8˚ Celsius

Latitude: N 48˚13.15 Longitude: W 123˚21.04

Science and Technology Log

My first log will be mostly about setting sail and the breadth of skills which each crew member is required to possess when working in hydrography, which is the science of surveying and charting bodies of water or seafloor mapping.  Later, I hope to zoom in on the crew, scientists, and tools they use. Meetings….a time to get together with co-workers and catch up, and get a little work done. Not at NOAA: at 8:00 a.m. on April 21, Lieutenant Commander Holly Jablonski, Executive Officer called a meeting to let junior officers know the ship would be sailing at 12 p.m. Originally scheduled to depart on March 28, Rainier could not leave unless positions of highly qualified crew were filled, and difficult to replace parts were found and installed. Potentially hazardous ocean conditions would have delayed the departure another day so Officers were pleased the ship would depart. Members of the Junior Officer team proceeded to list off work they must complete to have the ship ready to sail in the next two hours, equipment to deliver, test and secure, and inspections to complete. Not a word was wasted. Within five minutes the meeting ended and each officer quickly returned to their many collateral duties. Ensign Katrina Poremba gave me a tour of the ship as we updated emergency billets, critical information that informs crew of their responsibilities during drills and actual emergencies. Before long, we were underway. Families of crew members wished them farewell, fair winds and following seas. As the ship pulled away, I entered the bridge, where Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, and others were sailing the ship out of Newport Bay.

NOAA families see their loved ones off wishing them fair winds and following seas.
NOAA families see their loved ones off wishing them fair winds and following seas.

On the bridge, officers eyed a crabbing boat in “The Jaws,” the jetties at the entrance to Yaquina Bay, and mentioned that it did not appear to be making progress. With twelve foot swells, at 13 second intervals, the bar is a bit rough and it seems to me to be a risky place for a boat to turn around, but this is what the crabber did. Maybe it was too rough for them today, but now we had to pass them in a narrow passage with shifting depths. Lieutenant Junior Grade Bart Buesseler mentioned that Rainier’s hull is 16 feet deep and that a 2.5 million dollar piece of multi-beam sonar equipment sits at its lowest point of the hull. This is some of the best mapping equipment in the world. On the bridge, about seven officers and helmsmen maneuvered the ship around the crab boat in the narrow passage. An alarm sounded, signaling a low depth warning. I wondered about the wisdom of placing such expensive equipment in such a vulnerable position. Later I learned that the sonar equipment is protected by a steel shell called a gondola, but also that the equipment must be placed at this deepest location of the hull to maximize smooth sonar transmission and reception.  Like the sonar equipment, I feel protected in the capable hands of Rainier crew. As each alarm sounded, several of the six officers moved to a variety of locations on the bridge to collect data about all variables, water depth, the distance to the crab boat, angle and speed of travel, swell and breaking waves. The crabber passed us uneventfully, and within seconds, we had breaking 12 foot waves on both sides. Avoiding hazards as we passed safely though the bar reminded me why accurate nautical charts, based upon reliable data, are necessary tools for all vessels. Gathering the data to create accurate charts is Rainier’s project this season.

Commanding Officer Rick Brennan, Executive Officer Holly Jablonski, Junior Officer Micki Ream and Junior Officer Bill Carrier are all part of the team that gets us safely across the bar.
Commanding Officer Rick Brennan, Executive Officer Holly Jablonski, Junior Officer Micki Ream and Junior Officer Bill Carrier are all part of the team that gets us safely across the bar.

Multibeam Sonar System
Multibeam Sonar System

After navigating us through the bar, several officers left and Starla Robinson, a senior survey technician joined us on the bridge to make sure we were collecting new information about the ocean depth as we travel north.

Surveying Computer Program
Surveying Computer Program

Rainier has a Multibeam Sonar System and a Rolls-Royce Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) 200 sound speed acquisition system used to collect large amounts of data and make high resolution maps of the ocean floor. The sonar equipment gathered information represented on two screens on the bridge and multiple screens in the plot room, sending down pings through the water that bounce back up.  Based upon the time it takes for the sound to return to the ship, the equipment measures the ocean depth. As a senior survey technician, it is Starla’s duty to coordinate between Field Operations Officer Quintero, “FOO,” and the crew on the bridge to follow a track line measuring ocean depth. She invited me into the plot room where many large computer screens display rainbow colored images of the ocean floor. There were divots in the rainbow image which Starla explains could be thermal vents, and blue dots, which could be schools of fish. Another unexplained change in the ocean floor caught her attention.  She market that spot on the chart with a caption, “look later.” She said with a smile it might be a shipwreck that she planned on checking out that evening.

As we travel north on the map, the yellow swaths indicate areas already surveyed. Rainier’s current survey data is represented in black. This surveying is much like mowing the lawn, you want to travel in a track that matches the edge of a previous route and does not overlap significantly. All surveyors and officers spent time focusing on the collection of this data until the afternoon of our second day of travel, when we entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the route is heavily traveled and well surveyed making additional data collection unnecessary.

Teacher at Helm Watch Out Crab Pots!
Teacher at Helm
Watch Out Crab Pots!–Photo by Anthony Wright!

In the past, ocean depth was measured with a lead line dropped into the water until it hit bottom.

Image courtesy of NOAA at http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html
Image courtesy of NOAA at http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html

Now, scientists use sonar or sound pings reflecting off the ocean floor, to measure depth much more efficiently. Several years ago, the Rainier crew surveyed an area of the Columbia River Bar in 1 ½ months might have taken 50 years worth of work under the old, lead line methodology. In addition, with the sonar method, scientists see the ocean floor in much greater detail, which no longer appears like dots, but instead comes back in a three dimensional image.

In this photo, the area without highlighting (red) shows how much surveying one boat does off the small boat in shallow water.  The shallower the water, the more time consuming the survey becomes.
In this image, the area without tracking marks appears bright red and shows how much surveying one boat completes in shallow water. The shallower the water, the more time consuming the survey becomes.

The track line survey on our route north is ancillary to the crew’s primary mission: to collect hydrographic data around Kodiak Island. This map shows where the crew will work this year, collecting depth measurements and reviewing data for accuracy.

Sheet Assignments for  2014 Season
Sheet Assignments for 2014 Season

I will be telling you more about sheet assignments and the review process later. Then survey technicians and officers file a report which becomes part of a new nautical chart, including areas identified as dangers to navigation.

Every conversation on board seems to include math and science. Johnny Brewer, a junior engineer who helps keep the ship moving forward, spoke of the need for everyone on board to have a good understanding of Algebra and Trigonometry, for anything from mixing paint to ship stability. A half hour later, on the bridge, the officers are discussing trigonometric formulas relevant to the length of anchor line. Many crew spoke of the training, testing and sea days NOAA provides so that crew members continue to develop a broad range of skills and move forward in their careers whether they are Stewards, Engineers, Survey Technicians or Officers. It is clear that math, science, technology and cross training for everyone play an important role in the daily lives of this NOAA crew.

 

Personal Log

My son Martin delivering me to Rainier just in time for a beautiful sunset.
My son Martin delivering me to Rainier just in time for a beautiful sunset. Photo by Jeff Mays

Reconnaissance by Kayak.  Photo by Joseph Jones
Reconnaissance by Kayak.  Photo by Joseph Jones

Several crew spoke of the transit as an opportunity for some down time. Yet seeing how the crew multitasks constantly, all day and night, I wonder what the day will look like when we begin our hydro work in Alaska. Okay, maybe there is a little down time: here is a shot of me, Engineer Patrick Price and Starla Robinson, surveying by kayak the nooks and crannies of Canoe Island in the San Juan Islands. DID YOU KNOW? Newer ships hold effluent but because Rainier is a relatively older ship, it has a marine sanitation device (MSD) that separates sodium and chloride, making a chlorine solution from our waste, and sanitizing the effluent for discharge. To learn more about what happens in the MSD, here is a fun chemistry experiment you can try:  http://integratedscienceathome.blogspot.com/2011/04/splitting-saltwater.html .

Second grade hot science topic: in the sight glass, orange is detergent, white is emulsion and brown is ...gross.
Second grade hot science topic: in the sight glass orange is detergent, white is emulsion and brown is …gross.

Denise Harrington: Getting Ready for an Adventure! March 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington

Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 6 – April 18, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island
Date: March 28, 2014

My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek rup1000004nning past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.  I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!

In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters.  Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality.  They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.

Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent!  I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.

NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on.  And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world!   NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.”  Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts.  These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat.   Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra

Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?

Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.

I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season.  It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!

 

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.
Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.
Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

 

Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!

 

Avery Marvin: Is it an Island or Just an Ink Blot? July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 16, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.8’ N, 160° 09.5’ W

Weather on board: Overcast skies with a visibility of .5 nautical miles, South wind at 18 knots, Air temperature: 10°C, Sea temperature: 7.2°C, 1-2 foot swell

Science and Technology log: Shoreline Verification

When you think of a shoreline, you might think of a straight or curved “edge” made of sandy beaches that gradually retreat into deeper and deeper water.  In the Shumagin Islands, a sandy cove is a rare occurrence and a place for a beach party! Towering, jagged cliffs patched with Artic moss and blanketed by a creeping fog are the typical “edges” here.  Below the cliffs in the water, lie sporadic toothed rocks and beds of dense rooted bull kelp, swaying with the current. As I sit on the edge of the skiff (small dingy-like boat), which gently trudges along the outside of the protruding rocks, I think to myself “Is this what Ireland is like?” or is this a world unto its own-untouched and solitary? Whatever it is, this place evokes an ethereal mood and you really feel like you are in one of the most remote places in the world.

Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island
Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island

Navigating through Bull Kelp bed
Navigating around Bull Kelp bed

Picture of skiff offshore
Picture of skiff offshore

Remote it is and that is why we are here. These are for the most part, uncharted or poorly documented waters and shorelines and in this post, I am going to talk about the shoreline aspect.  Besides taking bathymetric data (depth data), hydrographic ships like the Rainier must also verify that the shorelines of various land-masses are portrayed accurately and that all necessary “features” are documented correctly on nautical charts.  Features include anything that might be a navigational hazard such as rocks, shoals, ledges, shipwrecks, islets (small islands) and kelp beds. For shoreline verification, a 19 foot skiff is used for maneuverability and shallow water access. This boat will go out during the “shoreline window”, when the tide is the lowest, with the hopes that if there is a dangerous feature present, it will be visible above the water. In the best case scenario, we can investigate the shoreline fully with the skiff before sending in the bigger launches to survey the area with the sonar, so that we know they won’t hit anything.

Shoreline verification crew

Shoreline verification crew. From left: Randy (Coxswain), John (NOAA Corps. Officer), Chief Jacobson (Chief Survey Tech), Avery (Teacher at Sea)

Shoreline verification crew hard at work
Shoreline verification crew hard at work. From left: Randy (Coxswain), John (NOAA Corps. Officer), Chief Jacobson (Chief Survey Tech), Steve (NOAA Corps. Officer)

The main goal of the scientists aboard the skiff is to establish a “navigational area limit line” (NALL). This is a boundary line delineating how far off shore the launch boats should remain when they are surveying.  This boundary line is obtained in one of three ways:

1) presence of a navigational hazard such as a dense kelp bed or several protruding rocks

2) a depth of 4 meters

3) distance of 64 meters to shore

Whichever of these is reached first by the skiff will be the navigational area limit line for the launches.  Here in the Shumagins, kelp beds and rocks have been the boundary line determinant and often these hazards are in water that is deeper than 4 meters because we have been encountering these before we get within 64 meters of the shoreline.

While scientists are determining the NALL, they are also verifying if certain features portrayed on older charts are in fact present and in the correct location. Using navigational software on a waterproof Panasonic Toughbook, they bring up a digitized version of the old chart of a specific survey area. This chart depicts features using various symbols (asterisk=rock above water, small circle=islet). This software also overlays the boat’s movement on top of the old chart, allowing the boat to navigate directly to or above the feature in question.

Shoreline map 1
Shoreline map showing course of skiff, shoreline buffer, and feature for examination.

Shoreline map 2
Shoreline map showing charted location of islet and the actual location of islet determined by the skiff.

If the feature is not visually seen by the human eye or the single beam sonar on the skiff, it will be “disproved” and a picture and depth measurement will be taken of the “blank” location. If the feature IS seen, more data will be recorded (height of feature above the water, time of day observed, picture) to document its existence.  This same verification procedure is used for newfound features that are not present on the old charts.  All of this data is written on a paper copy of the chart and then back in the “dry lab”(computer lab), these hand-written notes are transferred to a digital copy of the chart.

Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question
Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question

Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site Note: Kelp buffer are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet
Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site. The black box corresponds to the area from the previous picture above.
Note: Kelp buffers are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet. The three southernmost rocks (marked by red asterisks) inside the black box were disproved.

On the two shoreline verification adventures I went on, many rocks and islets were disproved and several new features were found. Most of the new features were rocks, islets or large kelp beds.  It is important to note that if scientists find a new feature which is a serious present navigational hazard (ex. Shipwreck, huge jutting rock or shoal far offshore) it will be marked a DTON (Danger to Navigation) and communicated to mariners within a short time frame. Other less significant features take 1-2 years to appear on updated nautical charts.

For some survey areas, the Rainier uses aircraft-acquired LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) to get an initial idea of various features and water depths of a shoreline area. (This is a service that is contracted out by NOAA.) LiDAR data is obtained by a plane flying over an area at 120 mph, emitting laser beams to the water below. Like SONAR, LiDAR measures the time it takes for the laser beam to return to its starting point. Using this measured time and the speed of light, the distance the light traveled can be obtained, using the equation distance = speed*time, accounting for the fact that it travels through air and then water.  Because light travels much faster than sound, the plane can travel significantly faster than a boat and a large area can be surveyed faster.  Unfortunately LiDAR can only be used in clear, calm water because light is easily reflected by various solids (silt in the water, floating wood), specific color wavelengths (ex. White foam on ocean surface) and absorbed by biological specimens for photosynthesis (ex. Surface bull kelp).  LiDAR surveys do reduce the time hydrographers spend at a shoreline site thus increasing the safety and efficiency of an operation.  As with any data acquisition method, it must be cross-checked by another method and in this case because of the obvious downsides, it is used as a guide to shoreline verification.

Map of island showing LIDAR data.
Map of island showing LiDAR data. The skiff does shoreline verification outside the orange line that outlines the island. Everything inside this orange island was surveyed by the LIDAR airplane. The three orange features circled in red on the southeast section of the island, need to be re-surveyed by the skiff. Different colors show various depths. (Green is more shallow than light blue.)

After spending several days “disproving” a lot of rocks and islets that were clearly not present in their identified location, we started to wonder why someone would have thought there was a specific feature there. One possibility is that it was just an ink blot on the original chart, made by accident (from a fountain pen), and then interpreted as a rock or islet in the process of digitizing the chart. It’s better to be safe than shipwrecked! Another possibility is that these features were “eyeballed” in their documented location, and thus were present but just in the wrong spot.  Lastly because of limitations previously mentioned, LiDAR occasionally mis-reports features that are not present. Fortunately, our current survey methods use sophisticated navigational technology and several cross-checks to minimize data errors.

After shoreline verification has been completed, launches can survey the ocean floor (using SONAR) outside the boundary (NALL) that was established by the skiff. Each launch will be in charge of surveying specific polygons (labeled by letters and names). The picture above shows the polygon areas which are outlined in light orange (most are rectangles). I will talk more about SONAR and surveying on the launch in my next post. 🙂

Personal log:

I have been on the skiff two times now helping with the shoreline verification process. After the second time around and a chat with the XO Mike Gonsalves, my understanding of this process is more fine-tuned. It feels good to reach this point and it reminds me of the need to be patient, diligent and okay with the unknown when learning something new. I, like my students, often seek answers and a deep understanding of complex topics immediately and if this doesn’t happen I can get frustrated with myself. I have been more self-forgiving aboard the Rainier because I know I will be exposed to the same topic or process once again either in a different format or with a different set of crew members. I am also surrounded by a group of tolerant people who continually answer my questions with grace and peak my interest with new ideas.  This repetition of content and supportive network is crucial for any learning environment, whether it be on a ship or in a classroom.  Additionally, I have been given several small but important tasks which make me feel like a part of this group and complex operation.  This empowerment inspires me to learn more and continue contributing. Building a successful classroom community is no different than what is going on here on the Rainier. All students need to have a stake in their learning and a purpose for coming to class each day.

One of my small tasks aboard the skiff during the shoreline verification was to take pictures of the various features (rocks, islets etc.) that needed to be examined.  In some cases, it was important to photograph specific biological features that had an effect on navigation.  For example, when rounding the SE side of Chernabura Island we came across a large Stellar Sea Lion rookery inhabiting a small rocky islet. The male proudly stood in the center, surrounded by about 50 females.  As seen in the picture, this was a hefty male who easily weighed upwards of 1200 pounds. (Males can get as big as 2,500 pounds.)  During the breeding season (June-August), the male will fast and often won’t leave his reproductive rookery site. His primary focus is to defend his territory and spread his genes! Even though male Stellar Sea Lions are polygamous, they do not force the females into a harem but rather control the boundaries around their physical territory where within, the females reside.  The most successful rookery territories, not surprisingly are small rocky islands which can remain stable and productive for up to two months.

Stellar sea lion reproductive rookery
Stellar sea lion reproductive rookery

After researching about the Stellar Sea Lion, I learned that the western stock which resides in the Aleutian Islands is listed as an endangered species (since the 1970’s populations have declined by 70-80%). The cause for this is complex and has been attributed to a range of factors including: overfishing of sea lion prey (ex. Herring, Pollock), predation by Orca whales, shooting by fisherman, and disease.  Interestingly, a few native Alaskan communities are still permitted to hunt Stellar Sea Lions for subsistence (survival) purposes.

Stellar Sea Lion Range   Note, the two different stocks (Western and Eastern)
Stellar Sea Lion range

Fun factoid: The Stellar Sea Lion was named after the naturalist, George Wilhelm Stellar who first discovered the species in 1741 while part of Bering’s tragic voyage across the uncharted North Pacific.

Robert Ulmer: The Journey of a Lifetime, July 1, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 58⁰03.866’, W 147⁰10.219’

(transiting westward across the Gulf of Alaska toward Kodiak Island)

 

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  July 1, 2013

Weather conditions:  10.88⁰C, 4 – 6 nautical miles of visibility through steady rain under a gray ceiling of low clouds, 92.28% relative humidity, 1005.24 mb of atmospheric pressure, wind speed 15.2 knots with a heading of 273⁰

 

Brown bear
This brown bear was eating while wandering along the shoreline of Red Bluff Bay. Do you think that the bear’s travel through forests and streams in search of food is an exploration or just another day at work? (Photo courtesy of Acting CO Mark Van Waes)

Explorer’s Log:  The journey of a lifetime

In 1968, NOAA Ship Rainier was commissioned in North Florida, and today she journeys westward across the Gulf of Alaska in a two-plus-day transit toward Kodiak Island, a beautiful passage between episodes of important work filled with good tales amid sublime scenery, but not a particularly unusual chapter among the forty-five years of her long and storied life.

In 1968, I was born in North Florida, and today I journey westward across the Gulf of Alaska in a two-day-plus transit toward Kodiak Island, a beautiful passage between episodes of important work filled with good tales amid sublime scenery, but not a particularly unusual chapter among the forty-five years of my long and storied life.

More than merely a pretty coincidence, there is a lesson in that bit of non-Euclidean parallelism.

Lighthouse and last land while leaving Icy Strait for the Gulf of Alaska
This is the last outcropping of land (mostly rocks) when leaving from Icy Strait into the Gulf of Alaska. If you look closely, you can see the lighthouse and communication station on the widest rock island.

Sometimes I hear talk of this or that “journey of a lifetime,” a label assigned to some exotic period of someone’s travel, usually to an unfamiliar geographic locale, and I am saddened by the label, at least in that context.  That set of words – journey of a lifetime – implies a pinnacle, an unmatchable moment, an unrepeatable level of excitement or happiness or liberation or engagement.  So, I wonder with melancholy, what happens next and for the rest of that person’s lifetime?  By that very announcement, it seems that the speaker is confining his future, limiting the potential flight of every moment ahead by a ceiling built before, doomed thenceforth to looking always backward for comparison instead of forward for the chance of equal or greater altitudinous joy, though likely in another setting.

LTJG Manda pauses from work to appreciate the scenery
Lieutenant Junior Grade (promoted today!) Damian Manda pauses from his work to appreciate the scenery of Lake Baranof…

Lake Baranof
… which is a beautiful sight and well-worth the moment of hesitation.

Undoubtedly, these three weeks in Alaska have provided me visual feasts that have never been available to me before and may never cross my eyes again – mountains, glaciers, icebergs, whales, otters, bears, albatrosses, sea lions, seals….  But I’ve seen just as much that is new and wonderful within the conversations among my shipmates, in the excitements about their scientific insights, and in the shared quiet musings with them along narrow walks through the woods, and those experiences very likely will resonate more across the pages of my future chapters than any visual spectacle will matter.

And after four and a half decades, I’m not ready to close my passport or retire my hiking boots, either.  I intend to take trips to all sorts of new places, looking with open eyes and seeking new perspectives, tasting new flavors and learning new steps along the way.

But just as importantly, I also will return to places I’ve been many times – at home, at work, in the cozy comfort of familiar surroundings – with the intention of seeing something new as often as I can.  Every year on my birthday, I sit alone for a few minutes and read The Emperor’s New Clothes to remind my comfortable self that truth and wisdom aren’t owned exclusively by the trappings of age, power, or previous experience, and that fresh eyes often see things that are difficult to envision through jaded lenses.  At the beginning of each new lap around the sun, perhaps I’m at the same relative location where I stood a year earlier, but I hope that I am, at the same moment, in a very different place than I was.

Maybe that’s why I love the classroom so much:  the ever-changing cast of new characters who take me with them as they explore places that I thought I’d been before.

Entering the Gulf of Alaska
Entering the Gulf of Alaska

Long before the Emerald Isle became the vibrant economy and site of many travel launches and destinations, some wise and long-forgotten Irishman first offered a lovely toast that still is oft-recited in places of gathering:  May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and may the rains fall soft upon your fields until we meet again.  Even when most of the people of Ireland typically traveled only a few miles from home in a lifetime and, even then, primarily by foot and within the insulated boundaries of their home island, the kindest and warmest of wishes for one’s friends and family began with the recognition that all of the minutes of a lifetime are, in fact, a grand journey, to be lived intentionally and with robust and enthusiastic appreciation for the infinite gift of opportunities to explore.  From that vantage, the phrase, “journey of a lifetime,” becomes dynamic and broad, encompassing every moment of one’s own passage across the wide gulfs and the soaring mountains, the magnificent glaciers and the tranquil bays, the treks across and the travels through, the mornings and the evenings, the ideas and the dreams.

My Jewish friends offer in Hebrew the sentiment more simply, but grounded in the same value of living intentionally:  L’chaim.  To life!  The opportunities are to be cherished and celebrated, for life is not a spectator sport.

Watching the tide go out
Collecting data about tide levels can be tedious work, making it easy sometimes to lose sight of the tremendous beauty nearby.

In a few days, I will return to Florida and the schedule of usual life.  Lesson plans, grocery shopping, soccer practice, commuting to work…  The vital thing, I suppose, is to remember what I’m writing during this voyage after I return to that other set of voyages.  There are moments when everyone thinks that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, when we yearn to escape the daily routine.  Sometimes I become inundated with the day-to-day activities of my life and forget to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Florida that draws tourists from around the world or to celebrate the sounds of joyous laughter and learning among the students in my classroom.  I know that sometimes the same thing happens aboard Rainier, as the scientists and crew so intently focus on the critical and demanding work at hand that they occasionally are nonplussed by the awesome sights passing outside the portholes.  More than a week of staring at the same mountains along Chatham Strait, and now hour after hour of endless water as we cross the Gulf, from time to time the views from the rail understandably seem to fade into the background behind the data and the computer screens and the deadlines for the workers here, just like they do for the people in my jobs at home.

Measuring tidal changes
This tidal staff was almost completely submerged when we began recording data (every six minutes, measured to the centimeter) a few hours earlier.

But – especially when the days seem long and the tasks seem mundane for want of change – we must remember that, through the eyes of a person outside the routine, both the work and the setting can seem amazing.  Teaching young people about chemistry, mapping the floor of the sea… important and fun stuff!  Think about how excited elementary school students become about every job on Career Day and about every new experience when they are allowed to get their hands dirty and let their inner scientists, explorers, and artists thrive.  Crew members aboard Rainier have asked about my daily work activities with the same interested excitement that I’ve asked them about theirs, so clearly the phenomenon isn’t unavailable once we grow older.  The trick is to remember that the adventure always is happening, wherever we go, whatever we do, if only we pay attention to it.  Travel when you can.  But keep journeying in other ways even when you cannot travel.

Keep exploring, my friends
Keep exploring, my friends

And always, kind readers, may the road rise up to meet you, and may your journey of a lifetime be exactly that.  Keep exploring, my friends.

Did you know?

The spinning iron-and-nickel core of planet Earth acts as a giant magnet, and its magnetic fields not only protect us from potentially dangerous electromagnetic radiation from our sun and other stars, but they also pull the magnetic needles on our compasses.  However, magnetic north and geographic north generally are not in the same place, making navigation with a compass very difficult.  Geographic north is an agreed-upon point about which Earth’s axis spins (except for some wobbling), and that direction is the north referred to on most maps of locations on Earth’s surface.  Magnetic north, though, changes regularly, primarily driven by the spinning outer core layer of the planet, but also affected by several local conditions (like magnetized rocks in Earth’s crust, electric currents in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, and ocean currents).  Currently, Earth’s magnetic north pole (disregarding local compass variations) is moving eastward from Canadian territory toward Russia at a rate of more than thirty miles per year, and NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center provides updated information about magnetic declination for public use.

I live in Florida, which is so far south of both the magnetic north pole and the geographic north pole, that following a compass needle northward only takes me a small angle from the “true north” indicated on a map of the region, and so I can sight and aim for objects on the horizon once I’ve chosen an heading to walk when hiking in my home state.  In Southeast Alaska, though, the current angle between magnetic north and geographic north is approximately 20°, and so a navigator who uses a compass to determine north and then chooses to aim his travel toward a distant mountain in order to maintain a constant bearing might not just miss his mark by a few yards, but rather might be aiming for entirely the wrong mountain on the map!

Magnetic declination on compass rose near Kenai Peninsula
On this nautical chart showing the waters of the Gulf of Alaska near Kenai Peninsula, the compass rose designates geographic (“true”) north with the red star and also shows the local magnetic declination of more than 20 degrees eastward with the red arrow.

To address the variation in magnetic north, the electronic navigation devices on NOAA Ship Rainier employ a gyroscopic compass with mechanisms that always point the compass toward geographic north.  However, the bridge also has and uses a traditional magnetic compass in case the electronic gyroscopic compass fails.  Every time that a bridge officer gives new heading orders to the helmsman, the officer says something like, “Steer course 1-3-5,” and once the helmsman has turned the ship toward a heading of 135° (measured clockwise from the gyroscopic compass’s true north line), the officer will call, “Steady 1-3-5; checking 1-1-3.”  The second number is the heading on the magnetic compass, announcing that number so that bridge crew members will hear the magnetic-compass heading in case of electronic failure of the gyroscope, and to audibly drive home with each such order the compass variation that must be accounted for when using charts of the local waters.  Note that well-made navigational charts usually display both true (geographic) north and magnetic north, as well, like in the photo above.

Katie Sard: Introductory Post, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Sard
25 days until I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013


Misson: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of the cruise:  Alaska Peninsula
Date:  July 3, 2013

 

Personal Log

Hello from Newport, Oregon!  I cannot begin to explain how excited I am for my upcoming Teacher at Sea (TAS) experience on the NOAA Ship Rainier. I have the privilege of working in a coastal community at Isaac Newton Magnet School (INMS) here in Newport.

Yaquina Bay Bridge
Although I don’t typically get to walk across the bridge each day on my commute, this is me as I made my way over the Yaquina Bay Bridge for the first time by foot!

I teach Integrated Science to blended classes of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  My daily drive to work consists of looking out across the Pacific Ocean and passing over the Yaquina Bay Bridge.  My students are one of a kind, and their budding interests in science motivate me to continue my own scientific education.

I moved to Oregon in June of 2011 with my husband so that he could pursue a PhD position at Hatfield Marine Science Center through Oregon State University.  We moved here from Chautauqua County in Western New York State.  Although I grew up on the “East Coast”, it wasn’t until moving to Oregon that I really began to appreciate our Ocean and what it means to be a member of a coastal community.  Ever since our move I’ve been on a mission to discover all that I can about the Ocean in order to help my students appreciate what an amazing resource it truly is.  While I was attending a teacher workshop recently, I read the following quote by David Sobel that said, “Give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”  The demands of the upcoming generations are enormous, and I am dedicated to making sure that my students grow to be scientifically literate citizens of our world.  I know that my TAS experience will help me to help my students love their planet!

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program is giving me the opportunity to continue my scientific education, and to bring my knowledge back to my students, colleagues, and community members.  The ship’s mission will be to do hydrographic surveys out around the Shumagin Islands, and in and around Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula.

NOAA Survey Plans
Here is a map that I found to help me understand where exactly I will be visiting.

I’m nervous, excited, and eager for my journey to start as I’ve never been on a ship of this size, and I’ve never been out on the ocean for this duration of time.  Be sure to check out the link to the Ship to get more information on the NOAA Ship Rainier.

In the upcoming month before my cruise I will be traveling back to my home town in New York with my husband Nick and my dog Luna.

Lost Creek State Park
My husband Nick, my dog Luna, and myself at Lost Creek State Park near our house in Newport.

We will spend several weeks there before heading back cross-country on the 40+ hour road trip.  The next time you hear from me will be when I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier!  I hope that you help to shape my experience by interacting with my via this blog while I am aboard the ship!

Did You Know?

  • The NOAA Ship Rainier is named for Mount Rainier which is the tallest peak in the state of Washington.  It is the fourth tallest peak in the United States.

Here are a few interesting fishermen’s superstitions that I will keep in mind as I begin my journey:

  • It is bad luck to look back once your ship has left port.
  • It is said that disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your left foot first.

Robert Ulmer: Know Your Surroundings, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 15–July 3, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak
Log date:  June 28, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.038’, W 134⁰20.908’ (southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Weather conditions:  13.53⁰C and falling, scattered cumulus clouds with intermittent light rainfall, 81.05% relative humidity, 1019.55 mb of atmospheric pressure, breezy with gusts of wind out of the NNW at 10 to 15 knots

Explorer’s Log:  The layout of the ship

An explorer who doesn’t make himself familiar with his new surroundings is truly no explorer at all, and he might just as well stay home.  Why would you venture forth if not to witness the events and items along the way?

The "big eyes" on the flying deck with the anchor deck visible below
Keep your eyes open.  There’s so much to see everywhere!

For the past few days, NOAA Ship Rainier has been continuing its mission to complete a detailed and thorough survey of the sea floor along Chatham Strait, a channel used by many nautical vessels in their transit of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.  So, aside from noticing the appearance and disappearance of some rock features in the rising and falling tides and the daily incremental reduction of snow as it melts on the high mountaintops nearby in the relative warmth of early summer, most of what I see from the deck of the ship and from the smaller launch vessels is the same topography in every direction that I’ve seen for the past week, along with occasional clouds, whales, otters, birds, and other boats.  The scenery beyond the rails is very beautiful, but the temporary respite from faster passage to any new geographic destination also has given me a chance to take a few photos of the space around me:  the ship herself.

http://wp.me/pyu3c-7JC
Using the shadow cast by a gnomon in one city while the sun reflected straight up from the bottom of a well in another city, along with alternate interior angles and a proportion, Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE. Image by Dr. John H. Lienhard, University of Houston.

However, instead of writing nautical miles* of text to talk you through a verbally descriptive tour of the entire vessel, I’ve posted a bunch of captioned photos that will give you some view of what I see while wandering around my current home away from home.

Before we begin the tour, a brief note:  In case you’ve ever wondered (as I have!), a nautical mile is a unit of length approximately equal to one minute (1/60 of a degree, and there are 360 degrees in a circle) of latitude measured along any meridian or about one minute of arc of longitude measured at the equator.  Because our understanding of the exact shape of Earth has evolved from a perfect circle into that of an ellipsoid since Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of his perfectly round model of the planet (