Stacey Klimkosky, July 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°08.590’N, 161°41.110’W
Weather: OVC
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind speed: 8 knts.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Sea temperature: 8.9°C
Barometric pressure: 980.0mb
Air temperature: Dry bulb=9.4°C, Wet bulb=8.9°C

Science and Technology Log 

I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler.  Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.

I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler. Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.

One of the most interesting (and fun) mornings onboard Rainier happened during our first week at sea. After doing a few days of surveying from an anchorage off SW Ukolnoi Island, we began a transit to a new anchorage off of Wosnesenski Island. On the way, we took a series of bottom samples from Rainier’s deck. The purpose of taking a bottom sample is to determine the composition of the ocean floor.  It is important to record this data and combine it with bathymetric survey data so that ships will know whether or not the area is good for anchoring. A muddy or sandy bottom is best because the anchor can take hold. A stone-covered bottom is not desirable for anchoring because the anchor cannot dig in, and, if it does, there is this risk that it could break if caught under a large stone.

Taking bottom samples is a rather simple process.  We work in teams of three on deck.  One person is in the Plot Room to record data and prepare for the next sample. On deck, a crew member operates a winch that is attached to an A-frame.  At the end of the cable is a claw-like, spring-loaded bottom sampler that is lowered into the water. As it descends, the winch operator calls out depths to one of the two people taking the sample.  The depth is relayed to the bridge via radio.  When the claw hits bottom, the springs disengage and the claws clamp shut, holding a sample.  The person in the Plot Room listens for the direction “Mark”, and marks the sample’s position on the computer program.  As the sample is raised, the winch operator calls out the depths again.  This information is radioed to the bridge along with any corrections they must make to adjust the ship’s position.  For example, “50-straight up and down” means that the sampler is at 50 meters and the cable is straight up and down (the way you want it to be). A call of “aft” or “forward” means that the cable is coming up at an angle and the bridge must help to correct this.

Once the sample is raised, it is emptied into a bucket and examined for color and composition.  This is radioed to the Plot Room and recorded.  The bottom sampler is readied for the next drop as the Plot Room directs the ship to the next location and readies the computer program for the next data input. During our bottom sampling, the data was all recorded at “g stk M”—green, sticky mud.  It had a sulfuric smell, which, if you think about all of the volcanoes in the area, makes sense.

Personal Log 

This will be my final Ship Log, as we are scheduled to pull anchor this afternoon and start our transit to Kodiak Island. I can’t believe that the end of three weeks is coming to a close.  I was talking to the CO about the number of people and/or agencies who contribute to the production of an individual chart. There are large groups—like NOAA, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, for example.  There are also smaller groups and individuals as well.  Everything from sounding depths to buoy locations to shoreline topography to notes on the locations of buildings, lighthouses and even church steeples are included.  I’ve spent some time studying the current paper chart of the area we have been surveying (#16549:  Alaska Peninsula, Cold Bay and Approaches) and the most striking feature is, of course, the absence of data in the center. I can’t wait to acquire an updated copy when it is available (some sources say, depending upon the priority, could be up to three years; although the NOAA goal is “Ping to Chart in 90 days”). Knowing that I helped to play even a very small part in helping improve navigation safety is a great feeling!

I’d like to thank the officers and crew aboard Rainier for making my Teacher at Sea experience the adventure of a lifetime!  I’ve learned so much about life at sea from new friends who have been patient and hospitable. I leave with a great respect for all of the individuals who call Rainier both work and home for eight or nine months out of the year.  They are away from husbands, wives, children, friends and pets for a long time; however, the community that they have built aboard the ship seems to offset some of the wishing for home.  Safe Sailing and Happy Hydro, my friends!

Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

Did You Know? 
If you are interested in learning more about hydrography and the work done on Rainier, here are some of my favorite links:

-NOAA’s hydrographic survey home page

-Interactive online activity about seafloor mapping

-Search for historic nautical charts and compare how they change from year to year.

Alaska Fun Facts 
Kodiak Island is, at 3,588 sq. miles, the second largest in the United States.  It is the oldest European settlement in Alaska and is known as Alaska’s “Emerald Isle”.  Before its “discovery” by Russian explorer Stephen Glotov in 1763, the island was occupied solely by the Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) people.  In 1912, Kodiak was caught in the drifting ash from the eruption of Novarupta Volcano which buried the island under 18 inches of ash.  A more recent natural disaster targeted the island in 1964, when a 9.2 earthquake struck Alaska and set off a tsunami.  This seismic sea wave virtually destroyed downtown Kodiak and its fishing fleet. Today, over 13,000 residents call Kodiak home.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 17, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°13.449’N, 161°22.745’W (Wosnesenski Island)
Weather: OVC, H (overcast, hazy)
Wind: light
Seas: 0-1’
Sea temperature: 8.3°C
Barometric pressure: 1010.8 mb
Air temperature: 12.2°C dry bulb, 11.1°C wet bulb

Here is what the feature (shipwreck) looks like on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized.  “Wk” is the abbreviation used for wreck on a nautical chart.

The feature (shipwreck) on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized. “Wk” stands for wreck on the chart.

Science and Technology Log 

Throughout the day when you are on a launch collecting hydrographic survey data, there are terms and concepts that come up repeatedly—namely, low vs. high frequency and resolution.  The multi-beam sonar on the launches has dual frequencies—high and low.  This, combined with the fact that there are multiple beams instead of just one “pinging” off of the ocean bottom, allows the hydrographer to customize the technology for the conditions of the day.  Low frequency is used in deeper water.  The multi-beam is operated in high frequency in shallow water. According to my Hydrographer In Charge (HIC) on a recent survey, Barry Jackson, the depth at which you would change frequencies is about 50 meters.  Low frequency sends out fewer pings per second, but low frequency sound travels further through water.  Conversely, high frequency sends out more pings, but high frequency sound does not travel as far through the water. Therefore, high frequency gives you an image that is more precise.  Why would you want a higher quality image in shallower water?  As a navigator, it is important that the obstructions and underwater features closer to the surface be the most clear, for those are the ones that you are most likely to hit.

Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA.  (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution)  Courtesy: ENS Shultz

Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA. (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution) Courtesy: ENS Shultz

The day’s polygon (or survey area) data is also configured to be collected at a certain resolution.  Resolution, like frequency, affects the detail of an underwater feature.  The resolution also depends upon the depth of the water; however, there are more choices.  On Rainier, the resolution changes based upon depth at the following increments.  (On this mission, 4m resolution is the least.)  Note that there is some overlap. To demonstrate how applying different resolutions to the same feature can change how it is viewed, ENS Christy Shultz showed me the bathymetry (the topography of the Earth’s surface underwater) of a shipwreck surveyed in Elliot Bay, near Seattle, WA.  If you look at the corrected data for the object at 4 meter resolution and compare the same image at 2 and 1 meter resolution, you will see that as the resolution gets higher (the number actually gets lower), the image goes from being fuzzy to quite clear.

Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.

Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.

Personal Log 

There are some days when I do not go out on a survey launch.  These days are great for taking a peek around the ship to see what happens in different departments or to have safety drills and demonstrations.  Recently, we had the second of our weekly abandon ship and fire/emergency drills.  After the drills, the entire crew who was on board (not out on launches) watched a video clip about a piece of rescue apparatus called a PLT, or Pneumatic Line Thrower.  Then we all went to the fantail for a demonstration.  The PLT is a rescue device that a ship can use to get a line out to another ship or individual in distress. It uses compressed air to fire a line attached to a rocket-shaped weight. The demonstration and overall design of the PLT reminded me of a piece of historical rescue equipment familiar to many who live on Cape Cod, MA and other coastal communities–a Lyle gun.

A Lyle gun and Faking box (held the wound line)

A Lyle gun and Faking box

A Lyle gun is a small cannon that was used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service in the late 1800s to fire a lightweight line onto the mast of a sinking ship when conditions were too severe to launch a surf boat.  When the line was secured, a paddle-shaped board that contained instructions, a block and pulley and heavier lines were sent across.  After the line was secured to the mast, the lifesavers would assemble a breeches buoy to haul the sailors to safety across the raging seas. The breeches buoy was a large pair of canvas pants (breeches) secured to a life ring. A pulley system allowed the lifesavers to transfer one man at a time from ship to shore.  You can read more about lifesaving, the Lyle gun and breeches buoy here.

Did You Know? 
Rainier is like a small, self-contained floating city.  She generates her own power, treats her own waste water, and makes her own drinking water.  The ship is only limited by the amount of food and fuel on board.

Alaska Fun Facts 
As I noted in my Ship’s Log #2 on July 10, Wosnesenski Island has a herd of feral cows roaming its treeless hills and valleys.  Since then, I have been given more information about them.  The original bovines were probably brought here by the Osterback family in the early 1900s. The family lived an isolated lifestyle, raising blue fox to trade their pelts to London furriers. You can read more about one of the nine Osterback children, Lily, here.

One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion.  My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.

One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion. My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 14, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.664’N, 161°40.543’W (anchored off SW Ukolnoi Island)
Weather: OVC (overcast)
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind: 28 kts.
North Seas: 2-3’
Sea temperature: 7.8°C
Barometric pressure: 1021.0 mb and rising
Air temperature: Dry bulb=12.8°C; Wet bulb=10.0°C

This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line.  Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.

This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line. Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.

Science and Technology Log 

The past few days have been “typical” Alaska weather—fog, drizzle, moderate winds.  This morning I was quite surprised when I looked out my stateroom porthole.  The weather was supposed to have calmed somewhat overnight; however, it was obvious that a good blow had picked up. White caps covered the water’s surface. I was scheduled for a launch, RA-4 (each of the launches has a number 1-6, RA being the abbreviation for Rainier), but I decided not to board at the last moment.  When the launches are lowered to the side of the ship, the bow and stern (front and back) are secured with line to minimize movement.  To board the launch, you have to step across a 1-2 foot gap from Rainier to the launch. Today’s conditions amplified the heaving and pitching motion of both the ship and launch and made the distance between too far for my short legs.  I chose safety over adventure today.

As the launches continued to be deployed, Rainier began to transit from our anchorage north of Wosnesenski Island to our previous anchorage position in a small cove off the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Having the flexibility to change the ship’s direction was essential for the safe deployment of launches today.  Personnel and equipment could be protected from the force of the wind and waves (which topped 6’ at times).  Although disappointed that I did not make it onto my launch, I was given an opportunity to watch the deck crew in action. I learned that this morning’s weather was some of the worst that the crew has seen during this survey season, however, work can be completed in conditions that are more blustery than today.

As a member of a survey team, you have to put your trust in the deck crew and their talents and skills. Jimmy Kruger is the Chief Boatswain. He is in charge of the deck and its crew. In a way, he is like the conductor of an orchestra—he makes sure that each member of the crew is in the right place at the right time and that they begin their job at precisely the right moment.   As the day progressed, I began to wonder how the weather data from 0700 to 1400 (2 pm) changed, so I took a walk up to the bridge. My guess was that, although there were still whitecaps on the surface, wind speed and wave height would have decreased, since we had anchored on the south shore of one of the islands (which would serve as a buffer from the wind).  It seemed to me that the weather was so much worse this morning.  Not so. The wind speed had actually increased by a few knots, although the seas had decreased by about a foot. When I am up on the bridge, I always find something new to inquire about.  It’s a busy place—not necessarily busy with numbers of people, but with instruments, charts and readings. General Vessel Assistant Mark Knighton and ENS Jon Andvick were on the bridge.

We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.

We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.

When you are standing on the bridge with a gusty wind coming at you, you immediately think of the anchors.  Rainier’s anchors are made of steel.  They weigh 3,500 lbs. EACH!  The anchors are attached to the ship by a very thick chain.  Chains are measured in a unit called a shot. A shot equals 90 feet, and each of Rainier’s shots weighs about 1,100 lbs.  There are 12 shots per anchor. (So, can you calculate the approximate weight of the total of Rainier’s shot? How about the total length of the chain?)  The depth of this small cove is between 9-10 fathoms.  This is important in determining the scope, or ratio of the chain length to the depth of the water. According to ENS Andvick, when a vessel drops anchor, the length of the shot cannot be the exact distance between the vessel and the seafloor.  An amount of “extra” chain must be released so that some of it sits on the seafloor, producing a gentle curve up to the vessel.  This curve is called a catenary. The extra chain allows the ship move with the wind and/or waves and provides additional holding power.  If either wind or current becomes too strong for the anchor, it will drag along the seafloor.  If the ship has too little scope it will pull up on the anchor instead of pulling sideways along the sea floor. The anchor chain lies on the bottom and when the ship pulls on the anchor it must lift the heavy chain off the bottom.  If there is enough chain that the ship does not lift all the chain off the sea floor, it will lower the effective pull angle on the anchor. By increasing the scope of chain that is out, the crew is increasing the amount of weight the ship must lift off the sea floor before pulling up on the anchor.

Personal Log 

I have to say that today was kind of an emotional one for me—because I did not go out on the launch. In a way, I feel like I let my team down.  The others who went surveying on RA-4 had to do it without me.  Even though my work as a Teacher at Sea may not be as significant as that of the crew members or hydrographers, I’m feeling like I am a part of the team more and more each day. That is in contrast to being an observer (which I still do plenty of!).  As I kept busy throughout the day on the ship, I thought about RA-4 and what they were doing, what the conditions were like, if they liked what was in the lunch cooler today? I also realize and appreciate, however, that safety is the most important practice here on Rainier and when you don’t feel safe, you should never proceed.

Did You Know? 
The crew on Rainier is organized into six separate departments:  Wardroom (Officers), Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey.  There are photographs of each person on board along with their name and title posted for all to see.  They are organized by department as well as a “Visitors” section.  There are several other visitors on board besides me and Dan Steelquist (the other Teacher at Sea) including hydrography students and officers from the Colombian and Chilean Navies.

Alaska Fun Facts 

  1. Pavlof Volcano is one of the most active of Alaska’s volcanoes, having had more than 40 reported eruptions since 1790. Its most recent activity was in August 2007.
  2. You can learn more about the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula here.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Wosnesenski & Ukolnoi Islands, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.715’N, 161°40.554’W
Weather: Foggy
Visibility: < 0.5 nautical miles
Wind speed: 7knts
Swells: 0-1 ft.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Barometric pressure: 1022.8 mb
Air temperature: Wet bulb = 9.4°C; Dry bulb = 10.0°C

An example of polygons.  The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island.  Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours.  Remember, these are uncharted waters.

An example of polygons. The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours. Remember, these are uncharted waters.

Science and Technology Log 

If you have spent any time reading the Ship Logs from other Teachers at Sea, you are probably familiar with the fact that each involves a different type of work. On Rainier, we are focused on conducting hydrographic surveys. This means that we collect data on the characteristics of the ocean bottom as well as the nearby coastline.  We work seven days a week; from early morning and well into the evening.  There are six launches (30 foot aluminum boats) on Rainier, each with a multi-beam sonar attached to the bottom of the hull.  One of the launches has the capability to conduct surveys with side scan sonar. Each day, crew members work from what is called the POD (Plan of the Day). The POD is issued the evening before by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). Usually, four launches are sent out daily to collect multi-beam sonar data.  On board are the Coxswain (drives the launch); the Survey Technician (in charge of data collection), the Assistant Survey Technician (AST) and the Teacher at Sea (me).

To give you an idea of what a survey day is like, here is a brief summary.  Each day, the launch party is given a set of “polygons” to survey.  A polygon is an imaginary closed area.  You may remember this from geometry class.  The polygons drawn on the working charts generally follow the contours of the islands. It is impossible for the Survey Technicians who created the polygons on a survey area or “sheet” to know how the contours look underwater.  Why? Much of our survey work is in uncharted waters, which mean that no one has ever mapped the ocean floor in this area of Alaska. Thus, the work can be dangerous and every effort must be made to ensure the safety of all.

As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).

As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).

The coxswain begins by driving the launch near the area where we will start surveying for the day. Before we begin, we must take a CTD cast.  CTD stands for Conductivity Temperature and Depth. The water’s salinity, temperature and depth can all affect the multi-beam data.  The composition of the water column varies from location to location.  Some areas may be affected by glacial runoff and therefore be fresher and colder at the surface than others, for example.  Sound travels faster in warmer, saltier water, therefore; we must know the levels of each of these variables, as well as depth (pressure) in order to obtain an accurate set of multi-beam data.  The CTD data is applied to the multi-beam data to correct for sound speed changes through the water column.  This occurs later in Rainier’s Plot Room where all of the launch data is processed.  Casts are made every four hours or before beginning an acquisition for the day.

After the CTD data has been downloaded the coxswain begins to “mow the lawn”.  The launch is driven in lines that are as straight as possible, overlapping the previous pass a little so there are no gaps, or “holidays” between passes. As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam produces a series of pings which create a swath (a triangular shaped path of sonar beams).  The widest base of the triangular swath is on the ocean bottom with the launch at the top.  As the pings bounce back, they create various images that determine depth. The work requires constant adjustments and vigilance, since underwater features may present themselves at any time.  We do not want to hit them.  The area we were surveying when this shot was take was between 20 and 50 meters (greens and darker blues). 

By watching the swath, the technician and coxswain can determine the approximate depth below, including any features like rocks, shoals, or underwater peaks and valleys. If you use a ROYGBIV (rainbow) color scheme, the points closest to the surface(less than 8 meters) show up in red.  The more submerged the features or ocean bottom are, the more the colors move toward the deepest blue.  For example, the lightest greens begin the depth range at 20-35 meters.  This is especially helpful where there is no previous data. Can you think about why a coxswain might be very interested in knowing the places where the colors on the screen are turning from green to yellow to orange?

When a polygon is finished, it should look like it has been “painted in” with colors representing various depths and features of the ocean bottom.  After completing a polygon, the data is saved and we move on to another polygon; take a CTD cast and start the whole process all over again.  We return to Rainier by 16:30 (4:30 pm) unless weather and sea conditions are favorable, in which case the FOO can decide to run late boats until 17:30 (5:30 pm).  The data is then handed over to the Night Processing crew who apply filters and correctors to the raw data. The tide and sound velocity are the main culprits in skewing data. In addition to tide and sound, things like bubbles in the water, schools of fish and kelp beds (of which we’ve seen many) can also affect how “clean” the data is.  This is just a preliminary check. If the data is bad, we have to go out and survey the polygon again. After many days (sometimes weeks and months) of processing and checking, the data is used to create high-resolution, three-dimensional models of the ocean floor (on paper or computer).  These models will eventually leave Rainier and will be used by NOAA’s Pacific Hydrographic Branch to create nautical charts for mariner’s use.

The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second.  After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.

The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second. After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.

Personal Log 

I feel like I’ve been on Rainier for a long time, even though it’s only been six days since we left the dock in Seward. There is a definite routine established from when I wake up at 06:15 until I go to sleep around 11:00. My head is bursting at the seams with new knowledge and things to remember and keep straight.  It’s great to be a student again—everything is new.  The technology component of Rainier’s mission is nothing short of mind-bending.  How the survey technicians can keep all of the programs and how to use them straight, I don’t know.  I have pages of “cheat sheets” to use to help me remember what to click on and in what order.  Anyone who loves technology would love the job of survey technician.  This is especially true here in the Pavlofs where you might be the first person to discover an interesting underwater feature or maybe a shipwreck.  That would be “wicked cool”, as my students would say.

I have been on three different launches with three different teams. I bring this fact up because, although each team has the exact same goal in mind (collecting accurate hydrographic survey data), each individual tackles the tasks somewhat differently.  For example, one coxswain might like to maneuver the launch so that the edge of the multi-beam sonar’s swath touches the inside edge of the polygon. Another might make their first line by maneuvering the launch straight up the middle of the polygon’s edge. Another example involves how survey technicians control the parameters of the multi-beam.  Some like to adjust the settings manually and some like to use the auto pilot.

Did You NOAA (Know)? 
RAINIER is operated by officers of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniformed branches of the U.S. Government.  It can trace its roots back to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1807, signed a bill for a “Survey of the Coast”.  This eventually became the Coast and Geodetic Survey.  Men were needed to commit to long periods of time away from their families to survey the growing nation’s waterways and coastlines. Instead of using multi-beam sonar, they lowered lead weights on ropes marked off in increments to measure ocean depth called leadlines.  To watch an excellent movie on the history of NOAA and surveying, go to the website.

Alaska Fun Facts 
On the Wosnesenski Island, we have seen many feral cows.  According to some of the crew, there once was a homestead on this remote, treeless island.  When the family left the island, the cows remained.  No one takes care of them.  There are other documented feral cow herds on other islands in the Aleutian Chain, including Chirikof Island, near Kodiak Island.  Do you think you would like to live on an island that has no trees?  Why or why not?

Stacey Klimkosky, July 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 7, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 57°36969N, 154°41.154W
Weather: Overcast, Foggy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind: North 17 knots Swells: 2-3’
Waves: 1-2’
Barometric pressure: 1021.4 mb
Air temperature: Wet bulb=10.6°C; Dry bulb=10.6°C

Science and Technology Log 

The Rainier’s a heavy ship!

The Rainier’s a heavy ship!

Finally we are underway, having pushed off of the dock in Seward around 1500 on Monday, July 6. The cruise time to the area where RAINIER and her crew will be conducting hydrographic surveys is approximately 40 hours.  The distance is 519 nautical miles.  (One mile on land = 0.869 nautical miles, so 1nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles).  Thus far, we have traveled approximately 240 nautical miles in a time of 19 hours—just about ready to finish passing Kodiak Island to the port (left) side.

In the meantime, there is plenty to do aboard— learning about the many aspects of safety aboard a working vessel being the most important.  NOAA personnel new to the ship and guests watched a variety of safety videos as well as received our safety gear. My closet, which was fairly empty yesterday morning, is now stuffed with a survival suit (a.k.a. The Gumby Suit); a Float Coat (a warm orange coat that provides both buoyancy and warmth if you “go into the drink”, or fall overboard) and an inflatable safety vest that I will wear whenever I am working inside the cabin on one of the launches once the surveys begin.  We also had our abandon ship and fire drills. It’s very similar to the fire and safety drills we do in school.  Everyone has a specific place to meet (muster) and some have specific jobs to do or items to bring.  Like the sign on the fantail of the ship says: TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST!

Alaska has many jagged volcanic mountains.

Alaska has many jagged volcanic mountains.

I’ve also had time to begin speaking to different members of the crew—their responsibilities, how they arrived on RAINIER, and what the hydrographic surveys will be like.  One of the most interesting conversations was with Steve Foye, a Seaman Surveyor.  Steve told me that RAINIER is scheduled for a complete mid-life repair after this year’s survey season is completed in September.  RAINIER will then go into dry dock and the repairs and changes will begin.  The entire inside of the ship will be gutted and remodeled.  While all of that is going on, a decision has to be made—where will RAINIER’s homeport be?  Steve brought up quite an interesting point: a port that has brackish (part salt/part fresh) water is better for the ship.  Why? When a ship is at sea for long periods of time, creatures such as barnacles cement themselves to the hull.  It’s essential to remove them; however, the process is costly—both in time and money. Having moving fresh water along the ship’s hull while docked for the “off season” will eliminate the barnacles. But there’s another problem—after a winter docked in fresher water, algae and plant material starts to grow where the barnacles once were.  Solution? Begin a new survey season and sail the ship in salt water.  The plant material is then eliminated, but guess what starts to come back?  An interesting example of a cycle.

Personal Log 

It’s great to finally be a Teacher at Sea!  Not a Teacher on a Plane, or Teacher on a Train, or Teacher at Port.  I’ve been waiting a long time for this to get underway.  Thus far, the entire experience has been new.  I’ve had the opportunity to see some amazing scenery—the landscape is so different from that of Cape Cod, Massachusetts! Jagged volcanic mountains literally rise up from the water.  I’ve also seen some wildlife including bald eagles, otter, Dahl sheep, Arctic terns and a moose on the Alaska Railroad train that I took from Anchorage to Seward. We also passed three glaciers. The glacial melt off causes nearby lakes and streams to take on a milky light green color.

As far as being on the ship, this is my first at sea experience. I’m finding that it really reminds of my first days of college—living in close quarters; trying to get into a routine with a roommate; learning where things are and how schedules operate; figuring out the hierarchy of individuals. The constant movement is also something new.  I actually had a couple of fun rides in my bunk during the night!  I wonder if that’s what a Nantucket sleigh ride felt like. (A Nantucket sleigh ride, for those who don’t know, is a term from whaling days.  After a whale was harpooned, it would often take off, pulling the small boat of men behind it until the whale tired.)

Did You Know? 

  1. The NOAA ship RAINIER is 231 feet overall. Her cruising speed is 12.5 knots and she can travel a range of 7000 nautical miles!  Medium sized survey ships are customarily named for a prominent geographic feature in the ship’s area. RAINIER’s namesake is Mount Rainier, a volcanic cone that rises 14, 410 feet above sea level in Washington State’s Cascade Range.
  2. Today, sunrise was approximately 0520 and sunset will be at 2314 (that’s 5:20am and 11:14 pm—plus the light lingers for awhile)  Imagine falling asleep at 10:00pm when the sun is still shining!
  3. You can follow the ship’s course by taking a look at the NOAA Ship Tracker . Click on RAINIER (RA).

Alaska Fun Facts 

  1. Seward, AK is located on Resurrection Bay, the northern-most ice-free bay in the US.  It was founded in 1902 by the surveyors of the Alaska Railroad as the ocean terminus of the railroad. Originally a gold rush encampment, the famous Iditarod Trail that miners took into the mountains began here.  To the east, Mount Marathon rises up 3,022 feet.  Every 4th of July, hundreds of runners scurry up and down Marathon to see who can claim bragging rights for a year.
  2. This year, Alaska celebrates its 50th birthday. One of its original names was Alyeska (AlYES-ka), an Aleut word that means “great land”.

Lisa Hjelm, August 12, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 12, 2008

Chief Boatswain outlining the day’s work to crewmember

Chief Boatswain outlining the day’s work to crewmember

Science and Technology Log 6: Looking Ahead 

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ships were tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crews the data could be lost. 

We’re into our last two work days before Rainier begins the transit back to Homer, AK. The weather has indeed changed. The skies are shifting, shades of gray, and this afternoon the winds may kick up to 15 knots. Spits of rain hit your face when you venture on deck. It could be a rough day on the launches. A few people picked up seasickness medication on the way to the morning meeting on the fantail. After fifteen days of work the faces of the crew of the Rainier are taking on determined, tired looks.  These are the final days of the 2008 season in the Pavlof Island area.

Even with an end in sight no one is gearing down. There is still plenty to do. The crew is preparing the ship for an upcoming inspection and an open house during “Hydrapalooza”, a gathering of hydrographers in Homer, AK. The officers are preparing for the 36-hour return transit. The survey technicians are putting finishing touches on their final survey sheets and reports for this area. There is activity and some excitement everywhere. Perhaps due to the extended period of fine weather, work is ahead of schedule. Today, the launches are surveying a new sheet that wasn’t scheduled until 2009. They’ve named this one SNOW: white uncharted territory.

Okeanos Explorer, image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Okeanos Explorer, image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

After three days working evenings on Night Processing, I am still learning the procedure. There are many steps involved in processing the sonar data. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on SNOW data. It was exciting to be the first person to see the bathymetry of uncharted seafloor. It is amazing to think that only 1% of the world’s oceans have been mapped. The future for aspiring hydrographers looks bright. And that brings me to the topic of my final Teacher at Sea Science log: what’s in store for the future. Talking with the crew, observing and listening to stories, two projects that people on the Rainier are or will be involved with captured my interest: Okeanus Explorer and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, (AUVs).

In 2008, NOAA will commission an ocean exploration ship, Okeanos Explorer. It’s currently in Seattle, WA which is, coincidentally, the homeport of the Rainier. Rainier’s Chief Steward suggested that I read about the Okeanos Explorer because it has an interesting educational mission. That seemed like a great idea, and I discovered that the Chief Boatswain from the Rainier will be moving to the Okeanos Explorer when it is deployed. So, I looked it up at, “Okeanos Explorer: A New Paradigm for Exploration”, where I found the following information. The Okeanos Explorer will be dedicated to exploring the world’s oceans with a threefold mission: deep water mapping; science class remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations; and real-time ship to shore transmission of data. Scientists, educators, students and the Chief Boatswain from the Rainier will be participants in ocean exploration in much the same way that I was part of project SNOW (see above).

Through ship personnel there is also a connection between NOAA Ship Rainier and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). Recently, I talked with a visiting Survey Technician who was programming as he spoke. The keyboard seemed an extension of his fingers. His regular job in Silver Spring, MD turned out to be in research for developing and improving AUVs. AUVs are unmanned, underwater robots that can use their sensors to detect underwater mines, objects of archaeological interest or for mapping the seafloor. This was fascinating to me, and I asked many questions.  Last summer, 2007, I had followed the day-by- day log of the Icebreaker Odin in the eastern Arctic Ocean. On this expedition two AUVs, named PUMA and Jaguar, were used to explore and map below the ice on the Gakkel Ridge. In part their mission was to search for hydrothermal plumes or vents. AUVs and their potential are probably as interesting to ocean explorers as the Mars Rover is to NASA scientists. I found out more about NOAA’s role in exploration with AUVs at “AUVfest 2008: Navy Mine-Hunting Robots help NOAA Explore Sunken History”.  

Personal Log 6: Back on the Bridge, Headed Home 

An AUV demonstrates its ability to sense and respond to its surroundings.

An AUV can sense and respond to its surroundings.

As we transit from the survey area to Homer, AK, I have time to reflect on what I will take away from this experience. Again, I am pleasantly interrupted by trips to the Bridge to look at whale spouts and the endless display of volcanic mountains, islands and sea. We’ve made a stop en route for the anglers aboard, and I periodically race back to the fantail for photos of fish, and fishermen and women. But, my thoughts keep returning to, how to make an experience like this real for students. I believe that a research experience and interaction with scientists can make an impression on a student that will last a lifetime. I want students to ask questions and be able to find the resources to answer them. On this voyage I have learned how scientists map the seafloor, and like NOAA I am interested in finding even more ways to use the data.  The Hydrography branch of NOAA recognizes that seafloor maps are a valuable resource that can have multiple uses in addition to producing nautical charts for safe surface navigation. They are looking for ways to, Map It Once: Use Many Times. I had in mind something catchier like, Hydrographic Survey: Ocean Window, but the thought is the same. I like the idea of something called Hydrographic Survey Highlights.

Students could see seafloor discoveries or mysteries from the most recent surveys, and then use NOAA resources to discover what they are or what seafloor features they represent. A good example would be the images of the volcanic plume surveyed by the Fairweather in Dutch Harbor, AK this summer. Another question I have had while surveying the seafloor around Pavlof Volcano is, “Is it glacial, or is it volcanic?” Perhaps I will use one of those topics for a lesson plan when I get back.

I want to close my Teacher at Sea logs by saying that I have had the time of my life, and am willing to come back again if the Rainier ever needs me.

Here are some resources for looking at hydrographic survey data:

hjelm_log6e

Lisa Hjelm

Lisa Hjelm, August 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Hjelm
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 28 – 15, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: August 9, 2008

A survey technician night processing on the Rainier

A survey technician night processing on the Rainier

Science and Technology Log: Ping to Chart … 

For the past three days I have been Night Processing. That may sound confusing, so I’ll explain. Instead of going out to sea to collect data, I have been processing the data that comes in from the launches. I can’t begin my job for the day until the evening. Survey technicians rotate between collecting and processing data. This science log will summarize the steps that go into turning raw hydrographic data into a navigational chart. Beginning right after dinner, three, four or five, (depending on how many launches were out that day) survey technicians get right to work processing data. CTD casts are used to calculate sound velocity throughout the water column. Night processors take that sound velocity data and apply it as a correction to the raw bathymetry data collected by the launch. Next, the raw data is corrected for the heave of the boat (wave action), and finally for the influence of tides. Then all of this corrected data is merged, and a preliminary base surface (seafloor surface) is created for the bathymetry data.

A preliminary bathymetry chart posted in the Mess.

A preliminary bathymetry chart posted in the Mess.

To check the preliminary base surface, it is viewed with the corrected raw data overlaid. The night processor scans each line of the merged data and looks for anomalies, variations from the norm that might have skewed the base surface. This scan is a time-consuming process. To an outsider it looks a little bit like playing a computer game. Each survey line is divided into small increments and scanned in cross section. Any obviously anomalous data points are highlighted and eliminated. Once the day’s charted area has been scanned and cleaned, the new data is merged with other days’ work. Gradually, building day by day, an entire work area is charted.  To make this process manageable over a sizable area, the survey is divided into sections. Each survey technician is responsible for a section, or sheet. When all of the data has been collected and reviewed, the survey technician writes a scientific report that discusses any data quality  issues, and the work that was done. Other information collected, such as bottom sample data, is included in the scientific report. The sheet is compared with the existing, current chart and also with the bordering sheets. The completed field sheet is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch (PHB) in Seattle where it is reviewed and checked for quality. Finally, the sheet is sent to the Marine Charting Division (MCD) in Silver Spring, MD. The Marine Charting Division chooses the actual soundings that will appear on the chart and publishes it.

An important exception to this step by step process occurs when a danger to navigation is discovered. Dangers are fast tracked, and the information is released to the public almost immediately.

The current chart on the Bridge. The red circle indicates the area in the bathymetric map to the left.

The current chart on the Bridge. The red circle indicates the area in the bathymetric map above.

Personal Science Log: There Ought to be Vents 

Each year my sixth grade science students at Crossroads Academy use one of the NOAA Ocean Explorer Expedition websites for a research project. The students ask a question, and then use NOAA resources to answer the question and write a lab report. This is a challenging project for sixth grade students, so I think some of my students will enjoy reading about how I have used the Teacher at Sea experience to “practice what I preach.”

Vocabulary: Hydrothermal vents -places on the seafloor where warm or hot water flows into the ocean. They are found in areas where there is volcanic activity. The hot, acidic fluids may carry dissolved metals that can precipitate to form ore deposits.

Pavlov Island volcano on the Alaska peninsula

Pavlov Island volcano on the Alaska peninsula, AK Observatory Program

I must confess that along with my Mission from NOAA to perform the duties of a Teacher at Sea (TAS), I came aboard Rainier on a mission of my own. I came to see volcanoes, and even more specifically, I dreamed of discovering volcanic activity or active hydrothermal venting on the seafloor. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in ore deposits that form at vents.

Before becoming a teacher, I mapped and studied ore deposits that formed millions of years ago. It would be very exciting to find evidence of an active vent here in Alaska. That evidence might be: cone shaped or cratered features on seafloor bathymetry maps; floating pumice; gas bubbling on the sea surface; local seawater color changes; and seismic activity (Carey and Sigurdsson, 2007).  By searching the NOAA Vents website I was able to confirm that anomalous values detected by the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth sensor) instrument (described in log 2) can also be used to help locate hydrothermal vents. Prior to the cruise, I researched the geology of the area as best I could without knowing the exact location of our work area. When I arrived at Rainier, I knew there would be active volcanoes nearby, and I was ready to go.

Approximate area of the current survey with nearby volcanoes indicated.

Approximate area of the current survey with nearby volcanoes indicated, Observatory Program

So far I haven’t seen evidence of hydrothermal venting, no floating pumice, discolored or bubbling water, and the Alaska Volcano Observatory, hasn’t reported seismic activity here within the last month. I have learned how to take a CTD cast, observed volcanic and glacial features in the local landscape, and studied the preliminary bathymetry posted on a chart in the Mess. I am not disheartened nor dissuaded from my quest. In fact, I am encouraged by news from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Newsletter for the weeks of July 21 through August 4, 2008 where I read the following report.

Oscar Dyson and Fairweather:  In late June, Oscar Dyson responded to a request from the Office of Coast Survey to investigate a reported area of discolored water outside Dutch Harbor. Dyson confirmed the discoloration during a transit and took a water sample that suggested a possible plankton bloom.  OCS and OMAO then tasked Fairweather to investigate the anomaly during a scheduled transit. Fairweather personnel also confirmed the discolored water, and surveyed the area with the ship’s hull-mounted multi-beam echosounder systems. This revealed a group of small mounds rising a few meters off the seabed in about 100 meters of water directly below the area of discolored surface water. The sonar trace indicated that at least one of these features appeared to be actively emitting a plume of fluid or material. Based on a chartlett produced from the scan, OCS does not believe that these features pose any hazard to surface navigation.  These results have been shared with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Volcano Observatory, as well as NOAA’s National Weather Service, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Rainier and I are only about 200 miles east of active hydrothermal vents. I have resisted the urge to shout, “Turn the ship around and head west!” After all, when compared to the vast territory that is Alaska, Dutch Harbor is right next door.

References: Carey, Steven, and Sigurdsson, Haraldur. 2007. Exploring submarine arc volcanoes. Oceanography, 20, 4: 80-89.

To learn more about discovering hydrothermal vents and to watch a submarine volcanic eruption, check out the websites below.