NOAA Teacher at Sea Cassie Kautzer Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier August 16 – September 5, 2014
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area of Survey: Woody Island Channel, Kodiak, Alaska Date: August 24, 2014
Temperature & Weather: 12° C (54° F), Cloudy with Drizzly Rain
Science & Technology Log
Survey work continues today (Yes- even on the weekend) in the Woody Island Channel. While it is easy for me to see why this area is navigationally significant, it made me think about how one would identify which areas need to be surveyed. The National Ocean Service compiles data and prioritizes areas in need of surveying. Examples can be seen here for NOAA’s survey priorities in and around Alaska.
Using the areas of critical priority the Hydrographic Surveys Division (HSD) writes project instructions. Project instructions include all necessary data and guidelines, including: project name, project number, assigned field unit (ship), assigned processing branch, planned acquisition time, purpose and location of survey, and necessary supporting documents. On the project instructions, the Hydrographic Surveys Division also splits the assigned survey areas into sheets, or manageable sections.
Each sheet is then assigned to a Hydrographic Survey Technician (HST), a Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician (HSST), or a NOAA Corps Officer. Usually, one person will be the sheet manager and another will be the sheet assistant. The sheet manager is often teaching and guiding the sheet assistant, to train them to be able to do this work on their own in the future. The sheet manager is also responsible for dividing the sheets into polygons. Polygons for hydro surveys are used to divide the survey into smaller sections. When planning polygons, it is important for the sheet manager to follow specific guidelines- shapes cannot just be randomly drawn on a sheet or chart. The deeper the water, the larger the polygon can be; the more shoal the area, the smaller the polygon should be. Polygons should be drawn with the ocean contours, and should be planned for launch boats to run them from offshore to nearshore. This is a safety step in that launches should be working from deeper areas up to shoaler areas near the shore. As the boats move back in forth collecting data, it is as if they are mowing the lawn. The boats always try to slightly overlap the last strip so that no data is missed. If a small spot or strip of data is missed, its like that little area of grass that didn’t get mowed. It is called a Holiday in the data, because we have to make a special trip back to gather data on that spot.
Once plans are completed, the Field Operations Officer (FOO) can plan how many survey launch boats will be deploying, who will be aboard each, and what polygons they will aim to cover each day. Aboard each launch a skilled coxswain (driver) and a Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) are needed. There is almost always a third person on board, as it is best/safest to deploy boats with one person at the bow (front), one at the stern (back) and one in the driver’s seat. Once on the water, the HIC and Coxswain have to cooperate and communicate to make an efficient and safe plan for the day.
Every day is an adventure! I so enjoy learning – and it’s a good thing – because just about everything here is new to me!
For My Students
The survey says…
*What observations did you make in trying to answer the trivia question about what I found in the water? Did you decide you saw Harbor Seal, Otter, Octopus, Plants, or Aliens?
You were actually seeing a plant/plants called kelp. Kelp is a large brown seaweed that often has a long, tough stalk. Kelp can often be found growing in and around shoal, rocky areas in the ocean. A lot of kelp in the area is a warning to boats and other vessels that shallow areas or rocky obstructions may be near by, and caution is needed.
Much like the the lab reports we do in class, hydrographers have a tremendous amount of work to do prior to going into the field. As we make the transit from Rainier’s home port of Newport to our charting location of Kodiak Island, hydrographers are working long hours in the plotting room planning their season’s work. Today’s log is about a software program called CARIS that hydrographers use to plan their project and guide data collection through the season. This morning, Ensign Micki Ream planned her season’s work in the Plot Room on CARIS. This afternoon, she walked out the plot room door and onto the bridge where she navigated Rainier through the narrow Blackney Passage of the Inside Passage. Prior to taking over the bridge, I watched as Ensign Ream as she plotted her project area for the season. She has been assigned Cape Uganik, an area of North Kodiak Island in the vicinity of Raspberry Island. The area was chosen to survey due to boat traffic and because the last survey completed was in 1908 by lead line. Here you can see the original survey report and an image of how data was collect at that time (1908 Survey of Ensign Ream’s Survey Area). Ensign Micki Ream explained that the charts were called “sheets,” because originally, they were sheets of paper, sent out with the surveyor into the field. While we still call them sheets, they are now in electronic form, just like the sheet below representing one of two project areas ENS Ream will most likely work on this summer.
Why make polygons instead of sending several launches out to your work area and tell them to start on opposite ends and meet in the middle? The polygons are a way for hydrographers to break a large amount of work into manageable tasks. Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, explains “polygons are designed based upon the depth of the water, the time it will take to complete, and the oceanographic condition, particularly speed of sound through water. Areas that are suspected to have a higher variability in sound speed will get smaller polygons to manage errors from sound speed.”
Also, imagine sending several launch boats out into a large area to work without telling them where to go. Polygons provide a plan for several boats to work safely in an area without running into each other. It allows areas to be assigned to people based upon their skills. The coxswains, boat drivers, with a lot of experience and skill, will take the near shore polygons, and the newer coxswains will take less hazardous, deeper water.
Another reason to break your sheet into polygons is to maintain team moral. By breaking a large task into small assignments people feel a sense of accomplishment. As she divided her large polygon into 30 smaller polygons, Ensign Micki Ream kept in mind many variables. First, she considers the depth of the water. The sonar produces a swath of data as the survey vessel proceeds along its course. As the water gets deeper, the swath gets wider, so you can make a bigger polygon in deeper water. As she drew her polygons, she followed contour lines as much as possible while keeping lines straight. The more like a quadrilateral a polygon is, the easier it is for a boat to cover the area, just like mowing a rectangular lawn. In her polygons, she cut out areas that are blue (shallow), rocky areas and kelp beds, because those areas are hazardous to boats. While the hydrographer in charge and coxswain (boat driver), should use best practices and not survey these areas by boat, sometimes they rely on the polygon assignment.
Once she has drawn up her plan, Ensign Micki Ream roughly measures the average length and width of her polygons and puts that data into a Polygon Time Log form that a co-worker created on Rainier last season. The form also takes into account the depth and gives an estimate of time it will take to complete the polygon. This Time Log is just one of the many pieces of technology or equipment that crew invents to make their lives and jobs easier.
The fun part of this process is naming your polygons so that hydrographers in the field can report back to you their progress. Traditional alphabetical and numerical labels are often used, but Ensign Micki Ream is naming some of her polygons after ’90s rock bands this year. Once the polygon is named, the sheet manager, Ensign Ream, develops a boat sheet for a hydrographer in charge (HIC): this is their assignment for the day. Typically, they send out three to four people on a launch, including the HIC, coxswain and an extra hand. There are always new people aboard Rainier, so there are often other people in the launch being trained. There are enough immersion suits for 4 people but ideally there are three people to help with launching the boat and completing the day’s work. Communication between the HIC and coxswain is essential to get data for ocean depths in all areas of their polygon as they determine the direction to collect data in their work area. Now, at least, the hydrographer and coxswain know where to start and stop, and are confident that their sheet manager has done her best to send them into a safe area to collect the data needed to make new charts.
Since Ensign Ream’s polygon plan is an estimate, the time to complete each polygon may be longer or shorter than estimated. Variables such as the constantly changing depth of the ocean, weather, experience and equipment of the crew collecting data, and a myriad of other variables, known and unknown, make scheduling and completing surveys a constantly moving target. There are two guarantees however: flexibility is required to work on the crew and ultimately winter will force a pause to Rainier’s work.
Spotlight on a Scientist
Although I have been on Rainier for only several days, I am blown away by the incredible skills crew members acquire in short amounts of time. Ensign Micki Ream is the perfect example: In January, 2013, she joined the NOAA Corps which provides operational support for NOAA’s scientific missions. During a six month officer training, she was trained in the basics of navigation. On June 2, 2013, she joined Rainier crew. In February, 2014 NOAA sent her to a one month Basic Hydrography School where she learned hydrography principles and how to use various software programs. Throughout her short time at NOAA, she has had significant and varied on the job training with scientific, managerial and navigational work.The rest of her skills are on the job training with an end goal of Officer of the Deck (similar to a mate in commercial sailing) and Hydrographer in Charge.
Ensign Micki Ream does have a background in science which she is putting to use every day. Originally from Seattle, she started her career with NOAA in June, 2009, after obtaining a Marine Biology degree at Stanford University. Her first position was with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Program, which provided her with an internship and scholarship to acquire a Master’s Degree, also from Stanford, in Communicating Ocean Science. Just a little over one year after coming to NOAA Corps, she is a hydrographer in training and safely navigating a very impressive ship as part of a bridge team, including highly skilled navigational experts such as Ensign J.C. Clark and Commander Brennan. Where else could you get training, experience and on the job support in so many diverse areas but with NOAA Hydro?
The food is absolutely amazing on board. Tonight’s dinner options were roast prime beef, cut to order, au jus, creamy smoked salmon casserole, farro vegetable casserole, baked potatoes with fixings, asparagus and several different kinds of cake and fruit. In the evenings, snacks are also available. My biggest challenge has been to pace myself with the the quantity of food I eat, particularly since taking long hikes after dinner is not an option. I feel very well cared for aboard Rainier.