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

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

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 24, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology Log

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

Magnetic North v. True North

Magnetic North v. True North

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

Magnetic Compass

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

Mirrors

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

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

Gyrocompass

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

Auxiliary Compass

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

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

Focusing the auxilliary compass

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

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

Plotting the Course

The Crew Use Triangles to Plot Their Course

Verifying location

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

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

Original Navigation System

The Original Navigation System: The Night Sky

Location display

The Ship’s Location Also Displayed Electronically above the Helm

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

Electronic Navigation System

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

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

Radar screen

The Ship’s Radar Is Yet Another Navigational Tool

Electronic Wind Tracker

The Electronic Wind Tracker above the Helm

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

Calculating Wind and Direction

A Crew Member Holds a Wheel for Calculating Wind and Direction

Speaker System

An Old-Fashioned Speaker System on the Bridge

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

Phone Systems

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

Personal Log

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

Kayaks

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

Launching Kayaks

A Bit Tricky: Launching Kayaks from a Launch

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Approaching Fairweather in Kayaks

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Wide Open Waters of Puget Sound

Ready to Explore

Ready to Explore

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals Played in the Water Around Our Kayaks

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Incredibly Calm Waters in Puget Sound Made for Picturesque Reflections

 

 

Did You Know?

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

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

Glassy Reflection

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

Crew on Anchor Watch

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

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Snowy Peaks Along the Inside Passage

Late Afternoon View

Enjoying a Late Afternoon View from Fairweather’s Fantail

Islands

Some of the Many, Many Islands along the Inside Passage

Blackney Passage

Blackney Passage

tugboat and barge

A Tugboat Pulls a Barge Near Lopez Island

 

Late Afternoon

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

Mountain view

Impossible to Get Tired of These Views!

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

A Bonus Challenge. . .

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

Two thermometers

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

 

 

Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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

Dear Mr. Cody,

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

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?111_0918 (2)

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

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

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

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Can You Guess What This Is?

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

The answer will be provided in the next post!

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

David Babich, July 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 13, 2006

Weather Data 
WX Cloudy, fog
Wind  NW 20 kts
Sea 6ft
Temp 50’s

The Shumagin Islands’ spectacular scenery

The Shumagin Islands’ spectacular scenery

Science and Technology 

For the past 30 hours the FAIRWEATHER has been on route back to port. We had beautiful weather most of the way back, which made it perfect for whale watching. Yesterday evening, many of the crew made their way out to the ship’s bow to watch at least 8-10 humpback whales swimming around the ship. It seemed like everywhere you looked, you saw another whale spout. It was quite exciting, as we all were snapping pictures trying to get the perfect shot. Unfortunately, they were just a little too far away. Later in the evening, the ship stopped to let some of the crew (those with valid fishing licenses) get a chance to do a little fishing. Several had good luck in catching halibut, before the ship had to continue on the voyage back to port. The FAIRWEATHER arrived back at port today at 11:00am. This gives the officers and crew time to prepare for tomorrow’s Fleet Inspection.

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Able Seaman Emily Evans 

More spectacular scenery.

More spectacular scenery.

Emily works in the Deck Department where she is responsible for a variety of duties. She is in charge of cleaning and general maintenance of the ship as well as operates cranes, stands bridge and anchor watch, and pilots the small boats (she drove the survey launch I was on). Not a position you might expect from someone with a B.S. degree in Physics!

Emily grew up in New York, close to Lake Ontario, and raced sailboats competitively. After college, Emily soon realized she wanted to get back to what she loved doing – sailing. She spent the next five years working on sailboats, primarily teaching environmental science classes aboard educational vessels and sailing skills. But she wanted to work with serious boat people. After discounted shipping out commercially, feeling it wouldn’t be stimulating enough, she looked into NOAA. It became a perfect fit!

Able Seaman Emily Evans is relaxing in the ship’s mess hall.

Able Seaman Emily Evans is relaxing in the ship’s mess hall.

Working for NOAA has everything Emily was looking for – a serious, science oriented experience that has a lot of variety and opportunities. She actually heard about NOAA through her older brother, Ben. Ben happens to be the Field Operations Officer on the RAINIER. So it is very comforting to know she has family close by. Emily loves being on the water and driving the small boats. She feels very fortunate to be able to see parts of the country like Alaska that very few people get a chance to see. For now, she is just savoring her time aboard ship. She is studying to get certified for the survey department which will provide many more opportunities for her in the future.

Personal Log 

I’ve had a wonderful ten days in Alaska!  I want to thank everyone at NOAA and especially the officers and crew of the FAIRWEATHER for allowing me to join them for this leg of their hydrography season.  The knowledge I’ve gained from this experience will be shared with my students for years to come!

The NOAA ship FAIRWEATHER off the coast of the Shumagin Islands.

The NOAA Ship FAIRWEATHER off the coast of the Shumagin Islands.

David Babich, July 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 11, 2006

Weather Data 
WX Cloudy, fog
Wind  NW 25kts
Sea 8ft
Temps 50’s

The Ambar boat leaves the FAIRWEATHER for the shore.

The Ambar boat leaves the FAIRWEATHER for the shore.

Science and Technology 

Today was the last full day of hydrography before heading back to port. The ship planned to take full advantage of the time.  Starting off at 8:15, the small Ambar boat aboard the FAIRWEATHER was launched. The Ambar is about 20 feet long with a shallow reinforced hull to make it ideal for getting even closer to shore than the survey launches. The Ambar’s mission is to check for hazards close to shore that were previously detected. While the Ambar is out working the coastline, the FAIRWEATHER continued surveying in the deeper water, making it a very productive day.

The Ambar boat heads out to see if certain hazards detected by LIDAR were accurate. Several days ago, the FAIRWEATHER welcomed aboard a senior hydrographic surveyor, James Guilford, from the Tenix LADS Company. He was here to support his product – LIDAR. NOAA works with several independent companies that uses a different hydrographic technology called LIDAR. LIDAR is a laser that is used from planes rather than boats. These planes generally fly at between 1,200 and 2,300 feet along mainly coastline, to survey those difficult areas that are hard to reach by boat. The LIDAR can generally reach water depths of 20-25 feet and can be used 24 hours a day. The only drawback is that the LIDAR has trouble penetrating the water surface when there are obstructions like heavy kelp areas or whitewater. However, between data collect from the boats and planes, NOAA can create a very complete survey of an area.

Commander Beaver stands next to a coast guard rescue helicopter at their base in Kodiak, Alaska.

Commander Beaver stands next to a coast guard rescue helicopter at their base in Kodiak, Alaska.

Personal Log 

I have been amazed at how smoothly the ship operates 24 hours a day. It can be a bit overwhelming watching the crew head to their posts and rotating through the mess hall throughout the day. At first, I found life at sea a bit of an adjustment, but then you fall into a routine and it becomes easier.  As a visitor to the ship, it can be a bit hard because you have no set role. Those crew members new to the ship that have a specific job seem to quickly adjust. I don’t know if I would ever make a very good sailor, but it is fun to get a little taste of what it is like at sea.

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Commander Andrew Beaver

The FAIRWEATHER recently underwent a change of command. Commander Andrew Beaver officially took command in June of 2006. The FAIRWEATHER is fortunate to have been assigned such an experienced commander. However, you would never have expected it based on his upbringing. Commander Beaver was born and raised on a 180 acre farm in Iowa, where his family raised corn, soybeans, and pigs.  In fact, he could easily have followed his father’s footsteps and become a farmer.  However, he went on to Iowa State where he graduated from Agriculture Engineering. After graduating, jobs were not readily available, so Commander Beaver pursued the NOAA corps. It provided many unique opportunities and he took to life on a ship right away.

Before joining the FAIRWEATHER, Commander Beaver was assigned to a variety of posts including service with the NOAA Diving Program office, Navigation, Field Operations and Executive officer of the WHITING, and also Commander of the NOAA ship RUDE. Commander Beaver and his family are delighted to be here in Alaska.  Everyone is very nice and his home port in Ketchikan even reminds him of the small towns in Iowa where he grew up. His family loves the beauty and wildlife of Alaska.  He feels it’s a wonderful place to bring up a family.

He is enjoying the new challenges of his new job and getting to know the ship’s crew.  The surveying has been different because the coastline is more sheer in Alaska, whereas on the east coast it tends to be more gradual.  He loves the fact that there is a lot less boat traffic on the water and that the remoteness of his survey work forces the ship to be more self-sufficient.

NOAA provides employees a variety of opportunities.  Commander Beaver always enjoyed knowing that every 3-4 years he can move on and try something different.  He would encourage any student interested in the math and sciences to look into employment opportunities like those found with NOAA.  NOAA allows you to “make a difference in the world” and you would be “doing something that your parents and grandparents would be proud of”!

David Babich, July 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 9, 2006

A Humpback whale breeching off the FAIRWEATHER’s stern.

A Humpback whale breeching off the stern.

Weather 
WX Rain Wind ESE 20 kts
Sea 14ft Temps  50’s

Science and Technology 

The ship has been on “24-hour Ship Hydro” all day, and for the foreseeable future.  When the weather is a bit rough, like we have now, we can not send out the smaller boats to survey areas closer to shore. This rougher weather, however, is not a problem for the well-built FAIRWEATHER.  Each day, the navigational officer and the survey technicians decide what area in the deeper water needs surveying.  This area is then further broken up into smaller, more manageable polygons.  Each small polygon is created based on the expected depth of the sea.  They try to make the smaller polygons of similar depths.  The FAIRWEATHER can then can pass over these areas using similar radar to that used on the smaller survey launches, except radar more appropriate for deeper water. The FAIRWEATHER can continue this mapping of the ocean bottom around the clock for many days in a row.  When the weather starts to calm down, the ship will then return to more off-shore surveying.

Physical Scientist Megan Palmer takes a break before her survey watch begins.

Physical Scientist Megan Palmer takes a break before her survey watch begins.

Personal Log 

While out in deeper water, I’ve enjoyed standing on the bridge watching and looking out over the ocean. Today we were fortunate to see humpback whales playing in the waters close to the boat. First, you spot the waterspout shooting out over the water’s surface. Then if you’re lucky, about a minute later you’ll see the whale breech, or jump out of the water.  When a whale breeches, a cheer is heard from everyone in the bridge, as it’s a special show for even the experienced sailor.  The two types of whales most common in the area are Minke and Humpback whales, but I’m still holding out hope I’ll see some Orca’s!

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Physical Scientist Megan Palmer Megan is one of three physical scientists currently aboard ship. She actually works at NOAA’s home office in Seattle but rotates out to ships several times each year. She is currently spending six weeks on the FAIRWEATHER and earlier in this year spent a month out at sea in Hawaii with another NOAA ship. Her role on the FAIRWEATHER varies. She’s primarily here to offer support wherever needed. She helps review survey’s, train employees, helps facilitate communication between the ship and home office, as well as increase her own awareness of what goes on aboard ship.

At an early age, Megan wanted to be an architect.  However, she was always interested in the math and sciences.  In college at Frostburg State she greatly enjoyed taking environmental classes which eventually led her to a degree in geography. It wasn’t long before Megan found a position with NOAA and has been very happy ever since. She loves being on water, although she admits it can sometimes be a love/hate relationship. At times you just want off the boat.  But the ability to use her geography background and the many opportunities NOAA offers employees, really excites her about this job.

For those girls thinking about a possible career with NOAA, Megan says, “Go for it. Don’t be intimidated by math and science courses.”  After all, one third of the personnel aboard the FAIRWEATHER are female, including women in the deck department, officers, survey department, and scientists!

David Babich, July 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 7, 2006

Physical Scientist Martha Herzog monitors data being received from the survey launch’s sonar.

Physical Scientist Martha Herzog monitors data being received from the survey launch’s sonar.

Weather Report 
WX some rain, patchy fog
Wind NW 15kt
Sea 2-4 ft
Temp low 60’s

Science and Technology Log

Today was yet another exciting experience out at sea.  I was aboard one of two survey launches sent out to survey designated areas around Andronica Island in the Shumagin Islands.  These 30-foot boats weigh a substantial 6-7 tons, making it a comfortable ride in and out of the waters around the island. Each boat is equipped with the latest sonar equipment to accurately map the ocean bottom. Surprisingly, most of the area was last surveyed in 1953, and some areas weren’t surveyed since the 1920’s! Once we arrived at our starting point, we sent down a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device. This device tells the survey technicians the conditions of the water, to accurately interpret the sonar.

A raft of Steller Sea Lions sunning themselves off the Shumagin Islands.

A raft of Steller Sea Lions sunning themselves off the Shumagin Islands.

We ended up taking several CTD readings throughout the day, to make sure the conditions in the water haven’t changed.  Once the CTD readings were done, the survey launch proceeded to conduct the survey of the designated areas. Before we left the FAIRWEATHER, we were given small areas around the island to survey. The survey launch goes back and forth over these areas, generally parallel to shore. It is much like mowing your lawn. As the launch goes over the area, it sends out sonar beams down to the ocean floor.  By recording how quickly the beams bounce off the ocean floor and return to the launch, the computers can determine how deep it is.  It will clearly identify any places where shallow rocks or other obstacles may be a hazard.  This survey will make it safe for other boats to navigate around the area without any surprises.

Teacher at Sea Dave Babich sits on Survey launch with Steller Sea Lions in background.

Teacher at Sea Dave Babich sits on Survey launch with Steller Sea Lions in background.

Personal Log 

Throughout the day, I marveled at the beauty of the lush, but rocky islands surrounding us.  These islands are home to millions of birds, the most entertaining being the puffin.  Often the survey launch will startle some puffins floating on the water, sending them in all directions. Unfortunately with their fat, little bodies, it can be quite a chore for them to get airborne. When the water is choppy, many times they fly right into waves, unable to rise above them!  However, once in the air they are quite maneuverable. The highlight of the day, however, was passing a low, flat, rocky outcrop with a raft of Steller Sea Lions sunning themselves in the late afternoon. The size of some of the male sea lions was extraordinary. They didn’t seem to mind us driving past at first, but something evidently spooked them.  About half the sea lions jumped into the ocean with amazing speed. It is hard to imagine animals that large moving so quickly!

After a day on the water, I had new appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the scientists and survey technicians that collect and analyze all the data. It is challenging work and a tribute to the dedication of the NOAA personnel aboard the FAIRWEATHER.