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).

AUV PUMA
AUV PUMA

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.

Lisa Hjelm, August 4, 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 4, 2008

Science and Technology Log: The Most Productive Hydrographic Vessel in the World 

Dive team heading out to test new equipment
Dive team heading out to test new equipment

After a week at sea my days are starting to have a rhythm. I still find myself on the wrong stairway or deck, or going back for my hard hat, but not as often. Each morning I check the Plan of the Day (POD) and head to the work/lesson planned for the TAS (pronounced TAZ), Teacher at Sea. I am not the only visitor or newcomer on the NOAA Ship Rainier. There are hydrographers visiting from South Korea, physical scientists from the NOAA office in Seattle and new crewmembers. The Rainier has proved to be a welcoming environment. This log will be about my introduction to working aboard ship. The first order of business upon arriving at our anchorage at Inner Iliasik Island was safety training, and instruction in ropes handling and releasing the launches. Every person on board has a station and job in case of an emergency. Drills are frequent and thorough. Fire drills require everyone to muster and simulate response to a detailed fire scenario. After the drill there is a debriefing, so efficiency can be improved.

Everyone on board, including the Teacher at Sea (TAS), must be proficient at handling the ropes. I learned to coil and throw a rope and to tie a bowline. I use those skills each day deploying and recovering the launches. In the morning my jobs are releasing the aft hook as the launch is lowered into the water and catching the aft line and securing it in the launch. In the evening I throw the line back to the ship and secure the aft hook, so the launch can be raised onto the ship. These are straightforward but very visible jobs. Many people are on deck assisting and observing. I made a point of practicing my line handling skills. Physically releasing and recovering the launches is handled by the Deck Crew. NOAA Ship Rainier uses a gravity davit system. The launches literally slide by the force of gravity into the water. The Deck Crew ensures that the slide is controlled and safe.

The divers arrive back on board at about 9:00 pm
The divers arrive back on board at about 9:00 pm

The organization of personnel aboard NOAA Ship Rainier was initially confusing to me. I’ve gradually come to understand that personnel are organized into five groups: NOAA Corps Officers, Survey Technicians, Deck Crew, Engineering, and Stewards. Each group has basic responsibilities. NOAA Corps Officers direct operations and navigate the ship. They also work on the survey team. Survey Technicians, the science crew, are employed by the Department of Commerce to conduct hydrographic surveys. Members of the Deck Crew fit my image of true mariners. They maintain the ship, deploy and retrieve the launches, assist with navigation and drive the launches. Engineering keeps the ship running and maintains the engines in the ship and launches. The stewards manage the food supply, and the food is excellent aboard the Rainier. These descriptions are somewhat oversimplified. In reality every crewmember seems to have a wide range of skills, and there is overlap amongst the departments. A great example is the divers. There are seven or eight certified NOAA divers on this leg. They come from all departments: officers, engineering, deck and survey. The Dive Master is a member of the Deck Crew and also part of the specially trained firefighting team. Divers are required to log a dive at least once every six weeks. They have opportunities when hull inspections are required, or tide gauges must be installed. Occasionally they dive on their own time, for fun. I took pictures of a Dive Team preparing to test some new equipment.

The engine room, which is the control center of the ship
The engine room, which is the control center of the ship

In the course of almost two weeks at sea, I’ve toured the ship from bow to stern and talked with most of the people on board. It has been fascinating to investigate the engine room, listen to stories and talk with mariners of all ages. Today, the engineering group enthusiastically showed me around below decks. In their words, “this is the control center,” and indeed they have a room-sized control panel with access to engineering diagrams and controls for the whole ship. Everything was scrupulously clean and accessible by bright red walkways. I saw the boilers, generators, engines, crankshafts, and plumbing and desalination systems. The desalination system produces the fresh water we use for laundry and showers by distilling salt water.

The ship’s engines
The ship’s engines

Next, we went to aft steerage, and I saw the giant crankshaft the moves the ship’s rudder. Everyone aboard seems to have a job that is both challenging and interesting. My daily work is with the survey group as I am aboard as a scientist. Everyone in this group has a science or technology background. As in all of the organizational groups, the science party spans a wide range of ages. Many of the survey technicians are in their twenties. They plan to work for a few years and then go on to graduate school. Several of us are considerably older.  It is worth noting that everyone seems to be actively learning new skills all the time, and NOAA provides opportunities for continuing education. There are jobs on NOAA ships for High School graduates and university professors. My roommate is the Chief Steward. She has been cooking and managing provisions aboard NOAA ships for twenty-nine years. Her job has taken her all over the world.

The beach at Inner Iliasik Island is made of pebbles instead of sand
The beach at Inner Iliasik has pebbles instead of sand

Personal Log: View from the Fantail 

My personal day begins and ends with what I think of as Volcano Check. I scan the horizon in all directions for plumes of smoke or ash. Next I examine all of the nearby visible craters. Just like the ensigns on the Bridge, I am On Watch. On Fridays I verify my personal observations by checking the Alaskan Volcano Observatory website, where a weekly update on volcanic activity is posted. There you can find detailed information and images of all the active volcanoes. There are instructions for collecting and submitting ash samples. If I were an Alaskan science teacher I would be on the lookout for opportunities to collect ash samples with my students.

I may use some of my free time looking at volcanic rocks with binoculars, but I am not the only one. There are at least five people with geology degrees, and an equal number of meteorologists. Out on the fantail the line between vocation and avocation blurs. Twice I have had the opportunity to see the rocks up close, once at a beach party on Inner Iliasik Island and once on an exploratory outing on one of the smaller launches. About once a week the Rainier hosts a beach party with a bonfire. I hiked to the highest point on the island for some beautiful scenery and a close up look at what turned out to be andesitic tuffaceous rocks. On our launch ride we explored caves at Arches Point and entered Long John Lagoon to see birds and bears (unfortunately my camera battery died). The ship also has satellite TV and movies, but on a summer night most people are outside.

NOAA Ship Rainier from Inner Iliasik Island
NOAA Ship Rainier from Inner Iliasik Island
A nearby volcanic crater
A nearby volcanic crater

Lisa Hjelm, August 3, 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 3, 2008

Lowering a launch using a gravity davit system
Lowering a launch using a gravity davit system

Science and Technology Log 

This morning I awoke to my first cloudy sky. Although clouds line the horizon, the sky above is blue. The fine weather is holding steady. At 0815 three launches were deployed to continue surveying the deep water, central part of the channel. I watched them head out into open water, but today I am in the survey room observing the Survey Technicians (ST) as they process the multibeam sonar data. At the same time, the ship is underway to a new anchorage on the other side of the end of the world, or more properly, the other side of Inner Iliasik Island. After a full week I have a new perspective on this island and volcano world. I’ve learned the names of our islands, Inner Iliasik and Iliasik. From the launch I am able to orient myself by looking out at the islands, not just by looking at the map. I continue to learn more about navigation charts. Whenever I stop by the Bridge someone points out something new. Today I learned that this area was previously mapped during surveys from 1900 – 1939 and 1940 – 1969. That means that much of it was surveyed with single beam sonar just after World War II. It took twenty summer seasons to cover this area using single beam sonar.

The launch heads out to sea
The launch heads out to sea

Using modern, multi-beam sonar, NOAA Ship Rainier is the first ship to chart this area, and the survey should be completed by 2009, or less than two years from start of survey to final chart. As the ship transits to its new anchorage we are collecting bottom samples at specified locations along the way. To collect a sample, the ship stops and is maneuvered into position, so the sampler can be safely lowered. A metal container descends on a cable to the seafloor. When it hits bottom a spring loaded scoop closes and collects a bottom sample. The container is winched back to the surface, and the water drained out. Then, we open it up to see what’s inside. Today our samples have been turning up broken shells, sand and shells, pebbles and shells and sticky green mud. After the samples are logged they go right back into the sea. I collected some sand samples to dry out and examine under microscopes with students.

Bottom sampling from the ship
Bottom sampling from the ship

Bottom samples are used to investigate and confirm comments on the existing navigation chart. Examples of chart comments would be sandy, shells (s, sh), black sand (bk s), shoals, rocky, and my personal favorite, smoking volcano. Sample locations are selected to provide representative coverage of the areas that have been mapped, and the data will be used to update the charts. Soon this sample data along with reflectivity data (measured as changes in backscatter of the sound pulse that reflect the hardness of the bottom surface) from the surveys will be used to map the type of seafloor along with the shape of the seafloor. This would be similar to generating a preliminary geologic map of the seafloor. Tomorrow I expect to be back on a launch with a better understanding what goes in to compiling a navigational chart.

Personal Log: Observations from the Fantail 

Kayakers heading out to explore
Kayakers heading out to explore

Dinner is at 1700 (5:00 pm) prompt. After dinner people pursue their own activities. Some fish from the fantail. If the weather is calm, the smaller launches are used by fishing parties, and sea kayakers venture out to the islands to explore and hike. As I enjoyed the bright, warm sunlight on the fantail deck, I watched the progress of the hikers, tiny dots progressing steadily up the slope of Inner Iliasik Island. I gazed past the islands at the distant, hazy volcanoes, and spotted an ashy plume! With binoculars it was possible to see that smoke was rising from a small crater atop a conical volcano. Several of us rushed to the bridge to identify the volcano by locating it on the nautical chart. Our best guess, Dutton, which was not listed as presently erupting on the Alaskan Volcano website, http://www.avo.alaska.edu . Volcano watching is an exciting after dinner activity.

The catch of the day
The catch of the day

Lisa Hjelm, August 2, 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 2, 2008

Lowering the launch
Lowering the launch

Science and Technology Log 

Hydrographic Survey – “Mowing the Ocean” 

Science surrounds me. Everywhere I look people are practicing the skills I’ve been teaching for the past twelve years. Today, I am practicing the skills of observation and documentation. The following are my observations of hydrography in action.

Important vocabulary
Hydrographic survey or Hydrography: the measurement and description of the sea bed and coastal area. These data are used to produce navigation charts.

CTD and CTD cast: “CTD” is the abbreviated name for an instrument package that has sensors for measuring the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth of seawater. The instrument is lowered to the bottom. It collects Conductivity, Temperature, Depth and density data for the entire water column. That data is used to make corrections in the hydrographic survey data.

Multibeam sonar: By measuring the time it takes for sound waves sent from a transmitter mounted beneath the launch to bounce back, scientists determine the depth to the seafloor. Multibeam sonar systems provide fanshaped coverage of the seafloor. Because the speed of sound in water is related to conductivity, temperature and depth the CTD data is used with the multibeam sonar data.

Recovering the CTD after a cast
Recovering the CTD after a cast

The day starts at 0800 (8:00 am) on the fantail (rear, lowermost deck of the ship) with updates, detailed weather forecasts for the areas that will be mapped, and instructions from the Commanding Officer (CO), Executive Officer (XO), and Field Operations Officer (FOO). Then, wearing flotation devices and hardhats, each crew assembles to board the launches. As each launch is lowered, it is stopped even with the deck, and its crew of at least three, two hydrographers and a driver, boards. A cooler and thermoses for lunch are handed over. The launch is lowered into the water on cables and unhooked from the ship. It speeds at about 15 knots to the area to be mapped. The survey begins with a CTD cast. The CTD is lowered to the seafloor to collect data on water conductivity, temperature and depth. It is necessary to conduct a CTD scan every four hours or whenever conditions change. For example, if the launch moves to deeper water or to a different area. That done, the crew engages the multibeam echo sounder system, and at 7 knots per hour, the launch begins collecting data,“mowing the ocean.” In order to completely map the assigned seafloor area, the launch ends up making a pattern very similar to the back and forth pattern made by a lawnmower. This sounds easy enough, but it takes about a year to really learn the job. Each launch needs a three man crew. The Coxswain drives the launch and keeps the towed equipment on the grid line no matter what the seas around are doing.

Driving the launch as we “mow the ocean.”
Driving the launch as we “mow the ocean.”

The two hydrographers take turns scanning and tweaking four computer screens that are monitoring data collection. The towed instruments are collecting real time data that has to be checked and stored. All of this work is conducted in a relatively small boat, in the open ocean. When you add that component, you quickly realize that this is not only exciting science by a true adventure at sea. These crews are highly trained professionals. The launch drivers are senior members of the Deck Crew and are very experienced mariners. So far, I have worked with a ferry driver, a commercial fisherman, and an outward bound instructor. I tried driving the launch for a little while on my first day out. With no experience at all, I found it quite difficult to keep the launch headed along the line. Any deviation of the towed instruments from their prescribed grid path causes missed spots called “holidays.” “Holidays” can be caused by other things as well such as unexpected software crashes or gaps caused when data points have to be removed during processing. For complete survey coverage, the launches must return to remap “holidays.” These are therefore holidays for the equipment not the hydrographers.

Inner Iliasik Island
Inner Iliasik Island

Hydrographers have both technical skills and nautical skills. Many of them are officers on the Rainier. They troubleshoot whenever the software malfunctions and fix anything that breaks on the ship during the workday.  I looked in the toolbox, and yes, there is duct tape. The launch crew also assists in deploying and retrieving the launches from the ship. This is an exciting and challenging job in an extraordinarily beautiful environment.  After the launches return and are recovered, the hydrographers immediately meet to report on the day’s work. Each team leader makes a report and any problems with data logging and equipment are documented and discussed. The Field Operations Officer (FOO) uses this information to plan for the next day. And last but not least, if you’ve read this far, you are wondering how the Teacher at Sea fits into this. Each day the Teacher at Sea becomes more proficient at her tasks. I am provided with training, and my understanding is growing. But, on that first day, my day of “shock and awe,” I spent my time taking pictures, asking questions, investigating my personal flotation device and standing aft (in the back of the boat) to avoid seasickness. Additional time was spent practicing standing steadily and walking around the small boat. In other words, I spent the day “getting my sea legs. “

Personal Log 

Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister
Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

The second full day at sea we continued our transit to the survey area. Bright sunshine ignited an endless parade of snowy volcanoes. Off the bow, whale spouts dotted the horizon, and puffins bobbed and clumsily took off flashing their orange feet like small flags. At 2100 (9:00 pm), with the day still bright, nearly everyone gathered as the ship dropped anchor in a small bay at what appeared to be the end of the world. Two smooth, lawn-green islands connected by an isthmus marked the boundary. Beyond, on a hazy, distant horizon were the outlines of volcanoes. Behind, loomed the pointed, snowy Pavlof volcanic peaks. Perhaps Robert Frost was right.

SOME say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. – Robert Frost

Lisa Hjelm, July 29, 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: July 29, 2008

As soon as we pulled away from the pier the incredible beauty of Alaska began to unfold all around us.
As soon as we pulled away from the pier the incredible beauty of Alaska began to unfold all around us.

Science and Technology Log 

We set sail at precisely 1300, in bright sunshine. Once we were underway everyone was busy. The gangplank and onshore equipment were stowed away. Survival suits, hardhats and lots of instructions were handed out to the newcomers. Before I knew it I had been in and out of a survival suit and knew my job and location in case of fire or any other possible emergency. I made sure I knew where my lifeboat was as well (#7). This is after all my first adventure at sea. As soon as possible I stationed myself on the Bridge where I spent most of my time during the transit from Kodiak to our work site at the Pavlof Islands. I was very interested in learning about the navigation of the RAINIER, but initially I was distracted by the islands, volcanoes and wildlife to be seen in every direction. Puffins, with their funny orange feet, were everywhere and in one of the narrow passages I saw at least ten sea otters. As we moved beyond Kodiak Island we frequently saw the spouts of whales. Our transit time was 32 hours at 13 knots, so I did get to spend time observing the Bridge in full operation.

Scenery in transit
Scenery in transit

There were always at least three people at work on the Bridge, usually more. Everyone worked a four hour shift, and they were alert, attentive, observant, and busy every minute of that time. The ship’s position was updated on a nautical chart every 15 minutes as was the weather log. I noticed there was a NOAA cloud identification chart posted on the wall, the same one I use in my classroom. Two Ensigns were responsible for directing the ship, monitoring radar, speed, weather, our exact location, updating the chart and using binoculars to scan the horizon in all directions. A member of the Deck Crew was at the helm steering the boat and providing a third set of eyes scanning the horizon in all directions.  There was constant communication amongst the three of them about what they were seeing and doing. We saw and monitored the progress of many fishing trawlers, an occasional log and whales. Whales were most easily spotted by their spouts and the RAINIER shifted course slightly whenever necessary to avoid them.

The Captain was on the Bridge whenever we went through narrow passages, and she was called when fishing boats got within a certain distance of the RAINIER. It was exciting to see people collecting data and using all of the skills taught in science. I was seeing science in action. It was absolutely clear that everyone knew his or her job and did it well. As a result, my first night at sea, I slept like a baby, rocked by the waves.

View of the Bridge, in transit from Kodiak to Pavlof Islands, AK
View of the Bridge, in transit from Kodiak to Pavlof Islands, AK

Personal Log 

When I arrived in Kodiak it was cool and drizzly. Patches of snow were visible on the tops of nearby hills and lilacs were just beginning to bloom, very different from NH weather in late July. Our lilacs bloom on Memorial Day. A van from the ship picked me up and Ensign Anna-Liza Villard-Howe showed me to my bunk and gave me a quick tour of the ship. After practicing climbing into and out of an upper bunk and stowing my stuff, I spent some time investigating on my own. My first impression was that NOAA Ship RAINIER was similar to Hogwarts, lots of narrow passageways and staircases that moved around when I wasn’t looking. Now that I’ve been aboard for a couple of days, I know it’s only the ship that moves, not the staircases, and I’ve learned the way to my favorite place so far, the Bridge.

Ensign updating the chart
Ensign updating the chart
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lisa Hjelm, learns the ropes
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Lisa Hjelm, learns the ropes

Gary Ledbetter, July 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 22, 2008

Weather from Bridge 
Winds W/NW 10-15 building to 20
Partly Sunny, High 55 F
Seas 2-4 feet

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter, helps prepare the CTD for a cast.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter, helps prepare the CTD for a cast.

Science and Technology Log 

Navigation 

Take a close look at some of the electronic communication and navigation equipment in the picture above. Which one do you think is the most important?  Well, it’s probably not in this picture.  Depending on who you ask you will get a different answer as to which piece of equipment is the most important.  One would think with the advancements in electronics, it would be the GPS, or some other piece of high tech equipment.  Although the most important piece is related to some of the high tech equipment, the instrument itself is not even close to being on the list of the latest and greatest technological equipment – it’s the compass; more specifically the gyro compass.

History 

Unlike many things we may feel are rather mundane, the gyrocompass has an interesting history. Apparently taking a patent out for something that doesn’t work is not a new phenomenon because the gyrocompass was patented in 1885 (only about 20 years after the end of the Civil War) by Geradus van den Bos…. and yes, it didn’t work! Four years later, Captain Author Krebs designed an electronic gyroscope for use aboard a French submarine. Then, in 1903, Hermann Anschutz-Kaempfre refined the gyrocompass, applied for and also was granted a patent. Five years later, in 1908, Anschutz-Kaempfre, with the help of Elmer Ambrose Sperry did more research on the compass and was granted an additional patent in both Germany and the United States.  Then things started to heat up.  Sperry, in 1914, tried to sell this gyrocompass to the German Navy and Anschutz-Kaempfre sued Sperry for patent infringement.  As happens today, the attorneys got involved and various arguments were presented.  Now it even gets more interesting – Albert Einstein got involved.  First, Einstein agreed with Sperry and then somewhere during the proceedings, Einstein had a change of heart and jumped on the Anschutz-Kaempfre bandwagon.  The bottom line?  Anschutz-Kaempfre won in 1915.

A myriad of navigation equipment exists aboard the RAINIER.
A myriad of navigation equipment exists aboard the RAINIER.

So What? 

OK, this history is all well and good, but what does a gyrocompass do that any regular compass can’t do? In a nutshell, a gyrocompass finds true north, which is the direction of the Earths rotational axis, not magnetic north – the direction our Boy Scout compass pointed.  Another factor of the gyrocompass is that it is not affected by metal such as the ships hull.  Put your Boy Scout compass next to a large metal object and see what happens.  Also remember one thing:  When you tried to find magnetic north with a Boy Scout compass, you had to hold it very, very still. Try reading a regular compass aboard a ship that is not only moving through the water, but is being tossed about by the waves and currents of the ocean.  The gyrocompass addresses this concern also. Without going into a lot of detail (and yes there are a lot of details, even about a compass) friction causes torque, which makes the axis of the compass to remain perpendicular.  In other words as the ship rolls and pitches, torque makes the axis of the compass to remain perpendicular to the earth. You then have an instrument that can read true north in nearly all weather conditions.

The electronic gyrocompass aboard the RAINIER
The electronic gyrocompass aboard the RAINIER

Definition 

Torque: A turning or twisting force

Personal Log 

I was a victim!  I was a victim of NOAA!  In fact, I was a very, very willing victim!  NOAA’s safety record is very high and they conduct numerous safety drills to maintain that record and to insure the safety of all aboard. On July 20th I was asked if I wanted to play the “victim” in an upcoming safety drill.  Of course I jumped at the chance. I was to play an unconscious fire victim with broken bones. After I staged the “accident” the various medical and fire suppression teams came to my rescue. These drills are very serious part of NOAA’s operation and are taken seriously by the crew – but that didn’t mean I didn’t have fun in the process!!

Gary plays the part of the “victim” during a safety drill on the RAINIER.
Gary plays the part of the “victim” during a safety drill on the RAINIER.

Gary Ledbetter, July 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 15, 2008

Weather from Bridge 
Winds SE/E @ 5 knots
Temperature:  High 45 degree F
Seas 1-3 feet

This is the Reson Sea Bat 7125, the type of sonar on the bottom of one of the RAINIER’s launches.
This is the Reson Sea Bat 7125, the type of sonar on the bottom of one of the RAINIER’s launches.

Science and Technology Log 

Sonar 

Sonar, which is short for sound navigation and ranging, is a system that uses sound to communicate, navigate, detect other vessels, and determine the depth of the water.  A hydrographic survey ship, such as the RAINIER, extensively uses sonar on their survey boats.

A Very Brief History 

Using sound to detect objects is nothing new. In fact man has been using it for hundreds of years. Even before man was using sound, bats use their own form of sonar (more commonly referred to as radar) for navigation.  As early as 1490 Leonardo Da Vinci inserted a tube in water, put his ear to the tube and reportedly was able to detect vessels.  Not surprisingly, the use of the “echo locate” system was given a big boost following the Titanic disaster of 1912.  The British Patent Office gave English meteorologist Lewis Richardson, the world’s first patent for an underwater echo ranging devise within one month of the sinking of the famous ship.

Matt from Earth Resources Technology working on one of the survey launches
Matt from Earth Resources Technology working on one of the survey launches

Sonar usually plays an important part when we watch World War II war movies depicting the Navy hunting enemy submarines.  These depictions were more than just Hollywood.  In fact, the British were ahead of the U.S. in sonar technology even prior World War I.  In 1916 Canadian physicist Robert Boyle took along with AB Wood, under the direction of the British Board of Invention and Research, produced a prototype for active sound detection in 1917.  This was really secret stuff! In fact it was so secret that the word used to describe that early work, called “supersonics”, was changed to ASD’ics. This term eventually morphed into ASDIC.  It even gets more interesting.  The Admiralty made up a story that ASDIC stood for “Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committee.  Many people today still think that’s what ASDIC means even no committee with this name has even been found in the Admiralty archives.

It seems like we Americans always have to change the name of something, (you history buffs know that Britain had something called the wireless… but we changed it to radio) so we did the same thing with ASDIC.  We changed it to SONAR, primarily because it was closely related to RADAR. The name change became official in 1948 with the formation of NATO’s standardization of signals. Thereafter, ASDIC was changed to SONAR for all NATO countries.

The lines you see make up the grid the survey boats follow. The ones scratched out are the ones we have completed.
The lines you see make up the grid the survey boats follow. The ones scratched out are the ones we have completed.

So Just What Is This Sonar…? 

There are two basic types of sonar: Active and Passive.  We’ll briefly discuss passive first.  Passive listens without transmitting.  It is used to determine the absence or the presence of something – primarily in the water.  To come directly to the point it is detecting any sound that comes from a remote location.  Listening to those sounds helps identify the sound.  (Back to Hollywood: remember the scene in nearly any navy warfare movie when the sonar operator of the ship is talking with the captain:  “it sounds like a X4IY9, Class H2 Russian sub, Captain). The sound of the sub was not being produced in any form from the ship, but from a remote location – the sub. Now you have an idea of passive sonar.

Active Sonar 

Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat
Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat

Active Sonar creates a “ping”. This ping travels through the water until it strikes something; it then bounces back. The bouncing is called reflection, or an echo.  The ping is created, normally, electronically. When the ping is transmitted it travels through the water, strikes an object and bounces back (the echo). This time is measured and converted into range (distance) by knowing the speed of sound. Sounds pretty simple, right?  Unfortunately numerous variables can affect the time it takes for the echo to return such as salt content (sounds travels faster through salt water than fresh water), the density of the water, and even the temperature of the water. Then there is the “noise”, or other disturbances in the water: fish, seaweed, dirt, trash, etc., that effect an accurate measurement.  All of these variables have to be taken into consideration by the survey technicians and scientists.

The survey boats from the RAINIER use different types of sonar. The sonar on the boat I was recently on is called the Reson SeaBat. Instead of simply one “ping”, it produced a swatch of 128 degrees consisting of 256 pings across the ocean floor.  It then transmits these pings back to the boat.  Think in terms of a triangle, with the top of the triangle being the sonar unit on the boat. The sonar transmits the pings across the ocean floor and sends back numerous signals instead of just one.

Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat
Yours truly trying his hand at driving the boat

Personal Log 

Yesterday I was aboard survey boat (called a launch) RA 4.  These boats are deployed and retrieved each morning and night. On the ocean each boat follows a predetermined grid across the ocean much like mowing your lawn.  Deploying the boats, retrieving the boats, and following the grid looks really simply until you do it yourself, and then you realize how difficult it really is.  I guess when you watch experts do something, they make it look easy.  The sea was nearly mirror smooth.  Although it was cloudy and cool, there was little or no rain or wind. This makes the process much easier as well as more enjoyable.  Tim, a NOAA Ensign was operating the onboard computer system that kept track of the sonar readings.  I was able to try my hand at driving the boat and operating the computer.  I’m not going to talk about how well I did, but as I said before, they make their job look so easy!

Gary Ledbetter, July 7, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Gary Ledbetter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 25, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 7, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds SE/E @ 10 knots
Drizzle, Seas 1-3 feet
Temperature: High 45 degree F.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Gary Ledbetter

Background 

The Office of Coast Survey (OCS) is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that conducts hydrographic surveys. In short, they measure the depth and bottom configuration of bodies of water using sonar technology. From these measurements our nation’s nautical charts are developed to assist in safe navigation of the United States waters.  Additionally the surveys also locate and publish sea-floor materials that may inhibit safe ocean travel such as pipeline and cables, shipwrecks, and other obstructions. NOAA hydrographic surveys have also been instrumental in locating the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane, and EgyptAir flight 990. OCS has conducted over 10,600 surveys since it began in the early 1900s. *

Science & Technology Log 

If you are like me, you probably thought that sonar was simply aimed at the bottom of the ocean and a graph-like image came back. Well, this is essentially true – but there is a lot more to it than that.  Prior to even using that technology, another research tool must be used: The CTD recorder.  “CTD” means, Conductivity-Temperature-Depth recorder. This instrument measures either directly or indirectly such factors as temperature, saline, and density.

ENS Junior Officer Christy Schultz preparing to lower the CTD Recorder, which sits  in the metal cage in front of her
ENS Junior Officer Christy Schultz preparing to lower the CTD Recorder, which sits in the metal cage in front of her

Although measuring these characteristics are not new (Benjamin Franklin did some of these measurements as far back as the 18th century), the methods of taking these measurements have drastically changed. The present technology was developed in the 1960’s where the instrument itself is placed in the water it is measuring.  The instrument then takes a continuous measurement of conductivity, temperature and depth, which are recorded continuously.  These measurements are taken up to 24 times per second.  That kind of speed creates a very high-resolution description of the water being tested. When the instrument is measuring conductivity, it is simply discovering how easily electricity passes through the water sample being tested.  Since electricity passes through water more easily with a higher salt content; the more easily electricity is passed, the higher the salt content.

The CTD normally uses a thermistor: a platinum thermometer, or a combination of these to measure temperature.  The accuracy is quite amazing:  greater than 0.005 degrees Celsius. Last, but not least, the CTD measures pressure.  This pressure is measured in decibars.  Depth and pressure are directly related.  In other words, if you are at 340 meters below the surface, the meter will indicate about 350 decibars (dbars). Once all these measurements are taken, they can either be stored in the actual instrument or they can be transferred to a computer when the CTD is withdrawn from the ocean. OK, you may say, this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with mapping the ocean floor (the technicians call this, “mowing the ocean”)?   The simple answer:  All these conditions affect the speed of sound.  Therefore when the sonar “pings” the computer will compensate for variables (temperature, density and salinity); this creates a more accurate reading of the ocean depth at any particular spot. **

Personal Log 

I am discovering that hydrographic surveys are both simplistic, and complex.  Simplistic in terms that the survey boats simply follow a pre-established grid and collect computerized data.  They collect this data by following a pre-determined grid much like someone mowing their lawn.  In fact the surveyors call it “mowing the ocean”.  However, the interpreting of this data is the job of several engineers and engineer technicians which may take several hours or possibly all night.

*Information obtained from NOAA website, ** Information obtained from the CTD website

Terry Welch, July 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: S/SE 15-20
Precipitation: clearing
Temperature:  High 47 Seas 1-3’

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

Science and Technology Log 

Today, we are in transit to Seward after surveying the Pavlof Island area for the past week.  We cut our surveying down a day due to incoming weather.  The RAINIER made good headway and we stayed ahead of the storm.  The seas never seemed all that bad in the last 12 hours and today we have sun! I spent some time observing what the ensigns (ENS) and crew do on the bridge while underway. There are always 2-4 people on a “watch” and they continually monitor navigation instruments, weather, and look for any possible obstructions like boats out there. A “watch” lasts four hours.

The RAINIER uses two different kinds of radar to track vessels or land around us. The ensigns also observe through binoculars a lot.  When I was at the bridge, there were two larger fishing vessels ahead of us. The radar tracks how far a boat is in nautical miles from us, their speed and direction headed.  Many larger boats and ships carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which allows the exchange of ship data such as identification, position, course and speed, with nearby ships. GPS (Global Positioning System) plays an important role in their navigation also and is tied into theequipment.

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER
RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

The ensigns and captain also plan out our routes using maps, compasses, and straight edges.  Plotting our course is done the old fashioned way – paper and pencil. Below is ENS Schultz plotting our course. I spent a little time in the plotting room, where the hydrographic crew cleans up the data that has been collected during the day. I mentioned in an earlier log that the Multibeam SONAR system collects sounds waves, casually called “pings” that are bounced off the ocean floor and are sent back to the system.  How well these transmissions are sent and received depends on several physical factors of the water including water depth, temperature, salinity and conductivity.  I was a little stumped on how all of these factors play a roll in understanding the data and Ian, the Hydrographer Tech, reminded me about Snell’s Law, which describes how waves refract differently through different mediums.  There are a couple of short QuickTime movies on the NOAA education website that show Multibeam sonar at work.  Click here.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.
ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

The “casts” we took every few hours with the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument help the software determine the speed of sound by applying Snell’s Law, more or less, and make corrections for the differences in the water layers. It’s interesting to note that the first layer of water may have much less salinity than deeper water due to stream flow into the ocean.  In a column of water:  as the temperature increases, sound speed increases; as the pressure increases, sound speed increases; and as salinity increases, sound speed increases.  For more info on Snell’s Law and sound waves, go here.

Personal Log 

The CTD instrument
The CTD instrument

The sun came out for most of the day today, which enabled me to see the wonderful mountains around here.  We are transiting through the Shelikof Straight just north of Kodiak and south of the Alaska Peninsula.  We should be in Seward in the morning.

Questions of the Day: 

  1.  How do sounds waves travel through water differ from light waves?
  2. What is the speed of light and speed of sound?
  3. Is the speed of sound different in salt water rather than fresh water?

Animals Seen Today: Porpoises along the bow

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight
The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

Terry Welch, June 28, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 28, 2008

A self-contained breathing apparatus
A self-contained breathing apparatus

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: West/Southwest/10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle, clearing
Temperature:  High 48
Seas 1-3’

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday, I was able to go out on a launch and continue with the hydrographic survey around Belkofski Point with Ensign (ENS) Tim Smith as the Hydrographer in charge (HIC), Jodie, our Coxswain, and Fernando, a Hydrographer in training.  They use a lot of acronyms here on the ship that I’m learning.  We worked a long day until about 5:30 p.m. since the weather was nice and seas calm. The weather can change quickly in this area, so the survey team tries to work as much as possible when it’s nice out.

Ship Log 

A 10-minute air supply system
A 10-minute air supply system

Captain Don Haines and the crew are very safely conscious and we have already practiced several drills and we have a morning safely meeting before going out on the launches. On the first day out, I was issued a hard hat, survival suit (sometimes called a Mustang suite), life vest or PFD (personal floatation device) and float jacket.  When boarding the launches in the morning, we don the float jacket and hard hat. Once the launches are in the water and we have moved safely away from the Rainier ship, we can switch to our life vests (PFD), which are more comfortable to wear on the small boats.

Drills:  We practiced three drills while in route (or transit) to the Pavlof Islands; man-overboard, abandon ship, and fire. There is a different ship bell ring pattern for each event. When theses drills or event occur, all hands (crew) meet (muster) at a pre-assigned location.  The person in charge at our muster locations marks off if we are there. This system of accountability ensures that all personal is accounted for and safe.

The fire drill was interesting to me since I’m a volunteer fire fighter/EMT on Whidbey Island where I live. They use much of the same equipment as we do to fight fire including bunker gear (fire pants/coat/helmet), SCBA’s (self-contained breathing apparatus) and masks.  One of the crew demonstrated how to put on the SCBA and mask. Another safety air supply device is called an OCENCO EEBD. These 10 minute air supply systems are located all over the ship and would give someone enough clean air to exit the ship if an accident occurred.

Engine Room Tour 

Josh gave me a tour of the engine room and explained the basics of how the ships power is produced and maintained.  From a control room, the ship’s engine controls can be monitored by computer.  Every hour, the crew inspects the engine and support components and ensures that everything is running smoothly.  The area was loud, so we wore protective earplugs and it was also very clean considering all the oil that is used in the system. 

Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine
Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine 

Desalination System: Another interesting aspect of the ship is how the process water.  All fresh or potable water is made from salt water in an apparatus called an “Evaporator”.  Salt water is pumped into the evaporator and heated up to about 175 degrees.  Because it’s under pressure, the water boils at this lower temperature instead of the usual 212 degrees. The heat comes from generators that help create the electricity on the ship.  So, the whole system is very efficient.  Large 8000 gallon storage tanks hold the fresh water afterwards.  The evaporator produces about 500-550 gallons of fresh water per hour, so there is always plenty to use and it tastes good. 

Evaporator
Evaporator

Personal Log 

It was very informative for me to get a tour of the engine room today and learn how the ship’s power is produced.  Josh has the job of an “Oilier” and is only 23 years old.  He had an interest in welding and mechanics and has a high school degree.  Garret is the “First Engineer” and also has a high school degree. Both men enjoy working for NOAA and explained that many men and women learn skills on the job.  They stressed that you don’t need a college degree to work for NOAA, but it helps to have an aptitude for the job they are interested in such as working the engines.

Aleutian Islands
Aleutian Islands

Yesterday, several of us were able to scout out an abandoned settlement near to where the Rainier is anchored after dinner.  It is called “Native Village of Belkosfski”. Originally built for the fur trade in the 1860’s, it later became home to native Americans There were several old wooden structures and one larger cement and brick building that was the school.  Judging from the date on one of the food items in a kitchen, this area was inhabited in the early 1980’s last.  It’s amazing to see that many structures were still standing given the harsh climate around here.  More information can be found here. The teacher who taught there in the 60’s/70’s talks about his life there.

Dust and ash spew from the volcano .
Dust and ash spew from the volcano

Habitat Log 

According to the Global Volcanism Program, Pavlof volcano erupted in August 2007. NOAA’s satellite imagery recorded ash plumes and lava spewing from Pavlof and lahars or mudflows occurred.  The attached pictures are from Global Volcanism’s website, listed on the next page.

Questions of the Day: How do volcanoes shape the southeast strip of Alaska?  How active are they and why are they active?

Animals Seen Today: 

  • One young Grizzly bear
  • Humpback whales
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof

Terry Welch, June 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 27, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: N10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle
Temperature:  High 51
Seas 2-4’

One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.
One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship RAINIER is currently anchored off of Cove Bay, near the Pavlov Islands, just east of the Aleutian Islands. Our mission is to conduct a hydrographic survey around these islands and collect data on what the ocean floor looks like, which will be used to update marine navigational charts. All marine vessels including, commercial, recreational and government vessels use these charts to navigate around the waters safely, so having reliable, updated charts is very important.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.

Using Multi-beam SONAR that is mounted to the bottom of several small skiffs or “launches”, surveyors leave the RAINIER and head out to assigned areas.  From there, they survey the ocean floor in “lines” that traverse back and forth in the assigned area, much like an aerial surveyor would do when mapping an area by airplane.  Sending these small launches out to survey is much more efficient and cost effective since several boats can cover different areas every day. The launches are operated by a Coxswain who follows predetermined lines and the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) sits at a computer and gathers the data from the sonar system.  SONAR uses sound waves that are emitted at regular intervals from the boat and bounce down to the ocean floor and back up. Physical factors such as salinity (saltiness), temperature, and conductivity of the ocean water affect the system, so a special instrument called a CTD is lowered into the water every four hours to gather this data and input it into the system.  How salty is the ocean in this area?  It varies in this area between 14.5 – 14.9%.

A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at Volcano Bay.
A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at
Volcano Bay.

Personal Log 

The day was quite enjoyable and a big learning curve for me.  There are a lot of boat terms that I’m learning along with the hydrographic science we do.  I’m happy to see that there are many women who work on the ship at all levels from basic seamen (ABS – or Able Bodied Seaman), cooks, to NOAA officers who navigate and run the ship. Women appear to make up 25+% of this crew.  All crew have been very helpful and informative. A personal highlight was seeing six Grizzly or brown bears today from our launch boat. A mother and her three cubs hung out on the beach for a while. My camera does not have the best telephoto lens, but you can see a rough picture of them below. It must be a good year for bears seeing that the mother had triplets.  When food is more scarce, bears will have less cubs in a season.

Question of the Day:  Does the ocean salinity (how salty it is) change ocean to ocean and within different depths?

New Terms/phrases:   Coxswain – is the skipper in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. Hydrography – the science of measuring and mapping the ocean floor. Hydrographer – a person who gathers data on ocean floor features. CTD – Instrument which collects physical characteristics in the sea water including conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth.  This data helps correct for the difference in the speed of sound waves.  Sound speeds of sonar vary with depth, temperature and saltiness of the water.   SONAR – Sound Navigation And Ranging – similar to echolocation that marine mammals use.

Animals Seen Today: 

  • Six Grizzly bears (a mother bear, her three cubs on one beach and two other bears near by).
  • Two Bald Eagles
  • Sea otters
  • Halibut 

Barney Peterson, August 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 30, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind :  light airs
Seawater temperature: 10.5°C
Sea level pressure:  1002.2 mb
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Nagai Island cliffs rising steeply from the water
Nagai Island cliffs rising steeply from the water

Science and Technology Log 

The Aleutian Range is a chain of mountains extending 1600 miles west from Mt Spurr, opposite Anchorage on Cook Inlet, to Attu Island at the northern edge of the Pacific Ocean. There is something like 80 active volcanoes in the range which forms the northern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. That would be exciting enough if it was the whole story of the land here, but there is even more.  Earthquake activity in the last 100 years has proven that movement along the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust continues to shape the land. As we sailed out of Seward on Resurrection Bay for a brief stop near the entrance to Prince William Sound, islands rose steeply out of the ocean, covered with thick evergreen trees from shoreline to summit.  The exposed shoreline was mainly cliffs and the beaches were slim and rocky.  The landscape looked like little chunks of the Pacific Northwest that I am used to seeing.

White sand beach and dunes on Nagai Island.
White sand beach and dunes on Nagai Island.

That all changed as we turned west and moved out through the Shelikov Straight on our way to our survey site at Nagai Island. Suddenly the only familiar feature was the color of the rocks! The islands pointed straight up from the water’s edge.  Most cliffs were rocky and broken with folds and bends in the bands of color. Some rocks were cross-hatched with breaks and gouges that showed how hard the sea and the weather have worked to break them down.  The crowns of these islands looked smooth and green with no tall evergreen trees in sight. Just when I had adjusted to seeing cobbled beaches and abrupt cliffs, we discovered a beautiful white sand beach backed by wind-formed dunes and covered with driftwood. At this point the weather cleared, the skies turned blue, and the beach was reflected in clear aquamarine blue waters that reminded me of the Caribbean.

We worked our way around Nagai Island, surveying water depths and noting how the cliffs that rose above the water seemed to plunge downward below the surface at the same angles we saw above it.  When there were rocks on the bottom, they were big, chunks that had broken off from the cliffs above and tumbled out as far as their weight could carry them.  Our bottom surveys showed areas of thick black mud and shell, made from weathering and erosion of the cliffs at the water’s edge.

Olga Island rising abruptly from the sea.
Olga Island rising abruptly from the sea.

Farther out the chain we stopped at Dolgoi Island in the Pavlof Islands group. Here the islands were even more barren looking.  Not even scrub alder shrubs seemed able to survive on the slopes and few flowers bloomed in the thick mat of mosses and heath that covered the crowns of the peaks.  These islands were more rounded at the tops with some softer contours, but just as abrupt as they poked above the sea.  The beaches at Dolgoi and Olga Islands were mostly large boulders covering just a few meters before sea grasses and then thick low brush took over. We sailed east again, back to Mitrofania Island; a place that looks like it hasn’t changed since dinosaurs roamed the earth!  Here the cliffs were abrupt, high, and split by deep cuts.  Every possible surface was covered by bright green brush.  The waters around the island were full of shoals and the cliff bases were laced with caves and cracks. Sudden breaks in the sharp cliffs showed where larger streams have worn away softer rocks to form valleys as they plunged to the sea. These gentler slopes allow pools and drops in the stream that are perfect for spawning salmon and developing juveniles before they head into the ocean. Small bays at the mouths of streams have captured coarse black sand to form narrow beaches.  Beaches that didn’t have the protection of bays were long strips of rounded rock, driftwood, and sea grasses.

TAS Peterson exploring the shoreline of Mitrofania Island by kayak.
TAS Peterson exploring the shoreline of Mitrofania Island by kayak.

So what have I learned about the geologic processes that formed this area?  Well I know that we saw fossils in some of the rocks.  Fossils are not something one would expect to find in volcanic rock. Much of the rock in the exposed cliffs shows thick bands of color in strange folds and twists.  The soil on the islands is not deep and rich.  Excepting for the one white sand beach that we saw, most sand was course and black echoing the color of the rocks around it. I did a little research in the ship’s library to clarify the geology for my own understanding. According to Introductory Geography & Geology of Alaska, a textbook published in 1976 and written by L.M. Anthony and A.T. Tunley, this is the scoop:*

Flanking the igneous cones of the Aleutian Range are uplifted sediments, mostly marine, dating back to Paleozoic time…rich in fossils and petroleum bearing shale….the Aleutian Range area consists of many high and active volcanoes of Cenozoic age that have uplifted adjacent sedimentary rock of relatively older age. 

And as for the soil and vegetation, Anthony and Tunley write: Lithosolic soil is characterized by recent and imperfect weathering…rocky soils with thin, irregular coverings of soil material. Some support only lichens and mosses.  Better-developed lithosols have heath shrubs and dwarf trees growing on them…These soils are also common to fresh moraines, beach sands, windblown dunes, and volcanic ash deposits.  In Alaska, lithosols are found in the Alaska Range, Brooks Range, Coastal Range, and on Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands. Elsewhere they are found in the Andes, Alps, and in the mountains of Asia. 

To me, all of that means that the volcanoes in the Aleutian Range represent relatively young features on the surface that have forced their way up through the older layers of rock. Those older layers can be seen clearly in the folded and bent sides of the island cliffs. Earthquakes continue as the tectonic plates slip over and under each other and the volcanoes that rumble to life along the edges of those active plates release pent-up heat and pressure from deep within the earth.

Credits: Introductory Geography and Geology of Alaska, Anthony, Leo Mark, and Tunley, Arthur “Tom”, Polar Publishing, Anchorage, 1976