Samantha Adams: Day 1 – Things You Never Think About, July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Monday 24 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 21o22’N, 157o57’ W. Ship speed: 0 knots. Air temperature: 82oF. Humidity: 74%.Wind speed: 8 knots. Wind direction: East-South-East. Sky cover: Broken.

Science and Technology Log:

One of the first things you learn to do as a teacher is to plan for things to go wrong. When you put a lesson together, you try to identify potential problem areas, and then try to figure out how you could address those problems when they do arise, or try to avoid them altogether. One of the next things that you learn is that the biggest problem is invariably going to be something you never anticipated being a problem at all. Deploying a research buoy, it turns out, works essentially the same way.

Bird Wire

WHOTS stations are massive, self-contained buoys, designed to stay at sea for up to eighteen months, collecting data the entire time. There are redundant systems on top of redundant systems. Multiple meteorological instruments, measuring exactly the same thing, sprout from the buoy’s tower like misshapen mushrooms. If one instrument fails, there is always another — to ensure that, no matter what, the data is collected. And surrounding it all, like the spines of a porcupine, is the bird wire.

Anything that floats on the ocean winds can be a perch for birds, and the WHOTS buoys are no exception. I’ve been told that after a year at sea, the buoy is absolutely disgusting. I’ve seen some of the mess New York City pigeons can create, and I’m willing to bet that what I’m imagining cannot even come close. I’ll find out for myself later this week, when we retrieve the WHOTS buoy that was deployed last year! 

Ick factor aside, birds (and their waste products) pose a real danger to the instruments on the buoy’s tower. If something is pecked or perched on or — use your imagination — otherwise damaged, the instruments may record corrupted data, or no data at all. Which is why there are redundant systems, and why Monday morning was spent making the buoy look like a porcupine. But wait! There’s more! It turns out all bird wire is not created equal. All of the spikes are made of stainless steel, but the spikes can be mounted on different things. Bird wire with a stainless steel base is more effective at repelling birds (because the spikes are closer together)… but the spikes have to be welded into the base, which magnetizes the bird wire. And if this wire is placed the instruments, it can affect their internal compasses and, in turn affect the data the bird wire is intended to protect! Bird wire with a plastic base is less effective (because the spikes are further apart), but much safer for the buoy’s instruments.

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Cayenne Pepper, Copper and Things Covered in Tape

The tower of the WHOTS buoy isn’t the only thing that is absolutely disgusting after spending a year at sea. Everything that spends the year below the surface of the ocean (which will be described in a post later this week) comes back absolutely disgusting, too. And it’s not as though it can all just be thrown away. Of particular importance are the instruments attached under the buoy and about every 10 meters (down to 150 meters) along the buoy’s mooring line. All of these instruments must be returned to the manufacturer for calibration (to make sure they were working properly). But there’s a catch — they must be returned clean! Which means that everything that has been growing on them while they’ve been under water must be scrubbed, scraped or peeled off. To make the job easier, the search is always on for ways to keep things from growing on the instruments in the first place. This is called antifouling.

One antifouling method is painting. There are specialized antifouling paints available, but they can be toxic. So the paint that covers the exterior of the buoy contains cayenne pepper (!), which has proven to be as effective as specialized paint, but is much safer. Another antifouling method used on many of the instruments under the buoy involves replacing some stainless steel components with specially made copper ones, as copper also naturally impedes growth. And a third method that’s very popular is simply to cover the instruments with a layer of electrical tape, which can just be peeled off — no scrubbing or scraping involved!

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MicroCats covered in black electrical tape. Notice the bracket on the top of each instrument — they are custom-made, out of copper, to make the cleaning process that much easier when the buoy is retrieved next summer.

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Instruments on the bottom of the buoy. Once deployed, these instruments will be approximately three feet under water, which is why so much copper is used.

Personal Log:

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“You’re lucky you weren’t here when we had to load for three months!”

Throughout the day, refrigerated trucks pulled up on the dock next to the Hi’ialakai. They were not full of delicate scientific instrumentation, but something just as vitally important to the cruise — food! The same crane that had been used to hoist instruments on board was also used to carry pallets of food from the dock to the deck of the ship. Then it was passed from hand to hand (by members of the ship’s crew, the science team, the ship’s officers, and the Teacher at Sea) all the way down to the galley’s refrigerators and freezers. The ice cream was handled with particular care — no surprise there!

 

 

Did You Know?

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s acronym — WHOI — has a pronunciation! You can say it like “hooey”. Or “whoo-ey!” It means the same thing either way!

Marsha Lenz: Getting Closer, June 6, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 8 – 28, 2017

 

Mission: MACE Pollock Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 6, 2017

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Packing important gear

Personal Log

My bags are packed and I am now waiting here in Seattle for the shuttle to take me to the airport to continue my journey to Kodiak, Alaska to meet up with the NOAA crew. I didn’t realize that getting to Kodiak would include 4 flights and 2 days of travel (I guess that’s one of the drawbacks of living behind the Redwood Curtain).

My mind is full of questions as I mentally prepare myself for the next three weeks aboard the Oscar Dyson. It has been a month of preparations not only for my classroom, my family, but more important, for myself. Will I get seasick? How am I going to utilize what I learn on the sea back in the classroom? Will my students make it to the end of the school year without me? (Of course they will!) Will my own kids manage on their own? Will I be helpful and useful to the crew on the ship?

Between making sub plans, packing up my classroom for the end of the year, making sure that my house was stocked with groceries for my kids, and packing for what I think I will need on this research cruise, I have managed to set aside time to read the, “2015 Results of the Acoustic-Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock in the Gulf of Alaska” from the last NOAA research cruise in that area.

As I was reading about the various troughs, islands, straights, and bays in which the surveys were conducted, I realized that my geographical knowledge of Alaska was very limited. I was not able to visualize where these locations were. I quickly got an “old school” paper map of the state and was then able to track the locations and follow the path of the survey. I was beginning to get the big picture. I realized that I never before had actually looked UP CLOSE at an actual state map of Alaska. There is so much there! I had no idea that the Aleutian Islands were within the Alaska Maritime National Refuge. There are so many small islands! Every time I looked at the map closer, I discovered new details that I missed before.

I quickly shared my newfound knowledge and enthusiasm with my students. We talked about what kind of ecosystems there might be around so many bays, straights and islands. They asked questions about what kinds of animals lived there and wanted to know how many people there are, whether there was a lifeboat on the ship, where the kids go to school, and how they get to the airport. We discussed what it would be like being in Alaska on the summer solstice. They asked more about the seasons and why it stays bright for so long during the day that far north. They were curious about so many little things, however the most frequently asked question that I got was, “Ms. Lenz, are you going to come back?”   Of course, I am!

What started as a personal inquiry for me turned into a great classroom discussion for my students and a way for them to begin to understand where I am actually going a bit better. Though I was not able to answers all of their questions (yet), I now feel that I have a greater responsibility to them to come back with some answers to their questions.

Robert Ulmer: Quo Vadimus? June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 55⁰47.254’, W 130⁰58.264’

(at anchor in Behm Canal at the mouth of Chickamin River)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 16, 2013

Weather conditions:  26.04⁰C, scattered altocumulus clouds, 32.91% relative humidity, 1012.18 mb of atmospheric pressure, light variable winds (speed of less than 3 knots with a heading between 26⁰ and 51⁰)

A bit of breathing room in Wrangell Narrows

A rare bit of breathing room in the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through Wrangell Narrows

Explorer’s Log:  Preparing for the transit through Wrangell Narrows

When watching a great concert, recital, or athletic event, we often forget the hours upon hours of preparation that were invested before the starting whistle or the rise of the curtain.  History remembers and recites the first few moments of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the surface of Earth’s moon, but too often neglected from that history are the many years of research, discussion, calculation, prediction, and practice by thousands of people – including Armstrong – prior to that famous “one small step,” for without those advance preparations the brilliant moment likely never would have occurred.

Photos at the top of Everest belie the training, packing, mapping, and grueling climb that precede the snapshot.  Last-minute buzzer beaters arise out of years of dribbling and shooting in empty gyms long after scheduled team workouts end.   The revolutionary insights of Copernicus and Kepler were built upon hundreds of previous models and millions of recorded observations and related calculations.  Great campaigns are waged on drawing boards long before they approach the battlefield.

Chart showing approach to Wrangell Narrows

This is the chart used during the navigational team meeting in preparation for Rainier’s approach to Wrangell Narrows.

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier the culture of preparation is omnipresent.  Posted on the door of my stateroom and carried in my pocket at all times is a billet card that delineates where I am to report and what task I am assigned in each of several emergency situations aboard ship.  Within an hour of getting underway from the port of Juneau, the alarm sounded for a fire drill, and every person aboard reported smartly to his or her assigned station.  Heads were accounted, gear was readied, and some crew members even donned full firefighting suits and deployed hoses and fans to address the fictional fire in the XO’s office.  Because every person aboard knew his or her role in advance, the ship was prepared for the drill.  And more importantly, because the entire ship participated actively in the drill, dealing with a genuine emergency, if necessary, will be more seamless and effective.

Then only ten minutes later, the alarm rang again.  This time an abandon ship drill.  As assigned, I retrieved my emergency gear and moved quickly to Muster Station 1 on the starboard bridge wing, where ACO Mark Van Waes explained in detail what would happen in the event of such an emergency.

Teamwork and Safety first

As this sign above the fantail proudly displays, NOAA Ship Rainier values teamwork and puts safety first in all operations and missions.

Leaving the dock at Juneau Port

Careful navigation requires attention to details, like avoiding this small dock while leaving Juneau Port.

Of course, most of the preparatory work aboard Rainier is not about emergency situations, but rather is focused on readying for the work of navigating and operating the ship or the scientific missions of conducting surveys and samples, and that aspect of life aboard ship is non-stop.  Everywhere around me, crew members and scientists are constantly working together, giving formal and informal trainings and lessons, offering one another ideas, insights, questions, and answers, unencumbered by the impediments of pride and arrogance that too often prevent achievement through growth.  To the left of me, a young ensign is given room to make navigational decisions, while to my right two expert hydrographers consult available data and each other while they brainstorm about technical and theoretical issues on their own horizons.

Passing Petersburg, Alaska

The entrance to Wrangell Narrows is alongside the town of Petersburg, Alaska.

Reviewing the data and documents during the mission

Scientists from the survey team review data and documents while aboard the launch.

And the gathering of minds aboard Rainier is impressive.  Today the hydrographic survey team assembled in the wardroom to talk about the upcoming week’s launches of smaller vessels to perform multi-beam sonar surveys and gather bed samples from the floor of Behm Canal.  Under the guidance of FOO Mike Gonsalves, data were shared, schedules were outlined, and every member of the team – regardless of rank or role – was encouraged to share thoughts, concerns, and inquiries relevant to preparation for the task at hand, the ultimate task of this leg of Rainier’s mission.  Like those other great events throughout history, here is yet another example of prior preparation preventing poor performance at the critical moment.  And those were not the last conferences regarding the survey launches, either.  A meeting regarding safety and other last-minute issues was held on the fantail before putting the launches out, and the various people aboard each small vessel constantly interacted to update and modify their ideas before executing their actions.

(Note:  My next blog post will be about the scientific survey launches, so stay tuned!)

The view forward through Wrangell Narrows

A panoramic view of the passage forward through Wrangell Narrows

The most impressive preparation during the past few days, though, was that of the navigational crew.  After hours of work compiling past data and available current information and building itemized route plans for passage through the potentially-treacherous Wrangell Narrows, Ensign JC Clark led a large and comprehensive meeting to discuss every bit of the upcoming traverse.  Utilizing charts, mathematics, weather forecasts, and expert opinions, the group of men and women in the boardroom created a plan of execution that considered everything from tides to local traffic, from channel depths to buoy patterns.  Adjustments were made in an air of excitement tempered by the confidence of experience, preparation, and skill.

Alidade on starboard bridge wing

This device (called an alidade) on the starboard bridge wing is used for visual bearings.

And when the ship approached the town of Petersburg at the mouth of Wrangell, the preparation paid off.  Turn after turn, command after command, the teamwork was superb, and the resulting passage was seamless.  The ride was so smooth as the bridge maneuvered Rainier through the slalom in that deep and narrow fjord, that only the beautiful scenery itself was breathtaking.

Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger practicing knots

During a brief opportunity to look away from the water, Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger worked on maintaining his expert knot-tying skills.

We tend to envision genuine explorers as being people who dare to travel beyond the horizon, choosing adventure over caution every time they set out.  But the truth is that every great explorer, long before he lifts his foot for the first step of the travel, asks himself and his companions:  Quo vadimus?

Where are we going?

Pre-launch meeting on the fantail

Field Operations Officer Mike Gonsalves conducts one last survey team meeting on the fantail before the launches get underway.

The answer to that question might be a physical location, or it could just as easily be a direction.  Up that mountain.  Toward that little island.  Around the bend.  It could even be broad and metaphorical.

Sea lions basking on a buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows

The ACO pulled out the binoculars to answer his own question of why that red buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows was listing so much to the right. The tilt was because these sea lions were using the buoy to bask in the warm near-solstice sun.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

ACO Van Waes shared with me a superb insight:  The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map outlines a suggested path of travel, while the chart simply shows the traveler what things are out there.  The hydrographic survey teams and supporting scientists who work for NOAA make nautical charts so that seagoing explorers can continue the great human endeavor of creating their own maps to turn curiosity into discovery, and I am very proud to spend these weeks working and learning among the people who keep that grand tradition going forward.

So prepare yourselves, practice your skills, plan a bit, and choose a direction or two.  And then keep exploring, my friends.

Personal Log:  Father’s Day

On the day before I left Florida I cropped my hair closely and stopped shaving my face (for the first time ever), in part to minimize the need for maintenance away from home, and also as a minor-league scientific experiment to compare rates of hair growth on the face and on the crown.  After five days the chin, cheeks, and jawline seem to be winning the race.  But the most interesting datum – as so often is the case in scientific tests – is a peripheral notation:  When passing a reflective window this morning, I saw a familiar face framed by the short beard and small wrinkles at the edges of the sunglasses under the brim of my hat, but the face that I saw wasn’t my own.  This third Sunday in June, thousands of miles from home, sort of pensively half-smiling at a fleeting thought that was blending with a pretty view of the treeline off starboard, I saw the face of my dad looking back at me.  And my smile grew a bit softer and fuller when I caught glimpses of my sons in the reflection, too.

So happy Father’s Day to you three other Ulmer men who do so much to define this Ulmer boy.  I’m proud of you, and I love you guys.

And on behalf of children everywhere, happy Father’s Day to the rest of you readers who have undertaken the great task of raising kids.  Your work is important.  

Did you know?

Underway through Gastineau Channel

Underway through Gastineau Channel, outbound from Juneau

The ship’s propellers are called screws because essentially they spiral through the water to propel the boat forward by pulling water from in front and pushing it backward.  NOAA Ship Rainier has two screws, one starboard (right) and one port (left), and they spin in opposite directions to make smoother and more efficient fluid dynamics.  On this ship the screws constantly spin, but they are tilted differently to increase or decrease forward propulsion.

To increase forward vessel speed, the screws hang with a vertical profile so that the water moves horizontally backward from the boat, thus pushing the boat forward.  To decrease forward vessel speed, the screws are tilted toward a more horizontal plane, decreasing the backward push of water, and consequently reducing the ship’s thrust force.  It’s very much like holding your open, flat hand outside the window of a moving car and feeling the wind push it backward, upward, or downward, depending upon the angle of your palm relative to the car’s (and the wind’s) trajectory.  Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that every action comes with an equal and opposite reaction, and so the more directly backward the water is pushed, the more directly forward (with the same amount of force) the ship is pushed in the opposite direction.