Lynn Kurth: The Ocean and Humans are Inextricably Interconnected, July 1, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  58˚03.973 N   Longitude:  153˚34.292 W

Date:  July 4, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Cloudy
Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 010
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 11.1° C (51.9° F)
Dry Temperature: 12° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1013.3 mb


Science and Technology Log

Throughout my experience as a Teacher at Sea, it has been evident that the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.  This was apparent from my very first evening in Homer when I came across an eagle poised next to its colossal nest assembled in the middle of three rusty pier pilings.  An illustration of nature conforming to our presence on the water and what we deem to be acceptable for our environment.

 

eagle
Eagle with nest located in deep water port of Homer, AK

But, humankind must sometimes accept and conform to nature.   The fishermen of Uganik Bay have built their fishing camps above the tidal line and strung out their nets where the fish traditionally run.  Most of the men and women who live here have chosen to do so because this is where the fish are found.  One such gentlemen is Toby Sullivan, a commercial fisherman, who in 1975 headed to Alaska from Connecticut to work on the Alaskan pipeline.  Instead, he found himself fishing vs. working on the pipeline and to this day is still gill-netting salmon to make a living.  Toby’s fishing camp, East Point, located on the south shore of the Uganik Bay, has had a net on the site for the past 80 years.  And, unfortunately, we drifted into that site when a strong current took us by surprise while we were gathering water quality data over the side of the small sonar vessel.  When this happened, Toby and his crew worked swiftly and diligently to secure their fishing gear while NOAA divers were summoned from the Rainier to safely help our vessel leave the area.

 

enhancedtoby
Toby Sullivan and crew work to install an additional line on their fishing set

A few evenings later, Mr. Sullivan and his crew came on board the Rainier as dinner guests and a rich discussion of hydrographic work and fishing gear followed.  He explained in detail how he sets his fishing gear and offered the idea that a radio channel be utilized between NOAA’s small vessels that are working around fishing gear and the local fisherman, in order to facilitate better communication.

 

discuss
Toby Sullivan and XO (executive officer) Jay Lomincky

As I watched the exchange of ideas between Commanding Officer E.J. Van Den Ameele and Mr. Sullivan it appeared that both men recognized that both parties were interested in Uganik Bay because the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.  The Rainier’s primary mission in Uganik Bay is to gather the necessary data to create accurate and detailed charts for navigational use by the local fisherman and other mariners.  As a commercial fisherman, Mr. Sullivan’s primary interest is to keep his gear and crew safe while continuing to make a living from the harvest of local fish.

toby
Toby Sullivan shares information about how he sets his fishing gear

Today the Rainier continues on with its mission of hydrographic work at sea using the multibeam sonar which is located on the hull of the Rainier.  The swath that multibeam sonar on the Rainier covers is similar to the swath of the multibeam sonar on the smaller boats; the coverage area depends on the depth of the water.  For example, at our current water depth of 226 meters, the swath of each pass that the multibeam sonar makes an image of  is 915 meters wide.  This evening, upon the completion of the work with the Rainier’s multibeam sonar we will depart the area and be underway for Kodiak, AK.


All Aboard!

Michael Bloom serves as as survey technician aboard the Rainier and kindly took some time with me to discuss his background and work aboard the Rainier.

DSCN0300
Survey Technician Michael Bloom completes the collection of a bottom sample in Uganik Bay

Tell us a little about yourself:

I grew up in a military family, so I was actually born in England and have lived in Florida, Nebraska, Montana, Oregon and Washington.  I went to college at Oregon State University located in Corvallis, OR and majored in earth systems with a focus on marine science.

How did you discover NOAA?:  

Ever since I was a little kid instead of having posters of bands etc… I had posters of maps.  NOAA Corps participated in career fairs at my university.  I stopped at their booth my sophomore year and again my junior and senior year to learn more about their program.  After learning more about NOAA I also focused on the marine aspect of earth science because I knew I wanted to work with them.  Initially I didn’t know about the civilian side of NOAA, so I applied for the NOAA Corps two times and wasn’t accepted into the program, although I was an alternate candidate once.  At some point, when speaking with an officer he told me to apply for a civilian position with NOAA.  So, I applied and was accepted.

I’m happy to be on the civilian side because I get to work on the science side of the operations all of the time and I get to keep my beard!

 

DSCN0393 (2)
Survey Technician Michael Bloom monitors the settings of the Rainier’s multi beam sonar

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?:

I am survey tech and my primary duties include data acquisition and data processing.  We can work to become the Hydrographer in Charge on the surveys after enough time working in the field and, if after the Field Operations Officer observes us, he feels confident that we are ready. Eventually I’d like to work for NOAA as a physical scientist, a job that would have me going out to sea several times a year but one that is primarily land based.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?:

I get paid to travel!  I go to places that people pay thousands of dollars to visit and I actually get paid thousands of dollars to go there.  I enjoy that I can see the real world application of the work that I do.  Scientists are using our data and ultimately we could be saving lives by creating such accurate charts.


Personal Log

NOAA’s website for the Rainier states that the Rainier is one of the most productive and advanced hydrographic ships in the world.  After spending two weeks working on board the Rainier, I couldn’t agree more.  However, I don’t believe that it is only the cutting-edge technology that makes the Rainier one of the best hydrographic ships in the fleet.  But rather a group of outstanding people at the helm of each of the different technical aspects of hydrography.  Hydrographic surveying has many steps before the end product, a chart, is released.  The people I met on board who are part of that process are teaching each other the subtle nuances of Rainier’s hydrographic mission in order to become even better at what they do.  I am grateful for the time that the crew and Officers have graciously given me while I have been on board.  I felt very welcome from the moment a NOAA Corps member picked me up at the airport throughout my stay on the Rainier as I continued to pepper everybody with questions.  Thank you Rainier!  I am confident that when I return to my classroom your efforts to help me better understand your work of hydrographic surveying will pay off.   You have given me the gift of new knowledge that, when shared with my students has the potential to ignite in them the same excitement and passion for science that so many of you possess.

DSCN0398 (2)
Teacher at Sea Kurth on the middle deck of the ship

Barney Peterson: Spreads Like A Ripple, July 1, 2016

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

(Soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13-28, 2016

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2016

Spreads Like a Ripple

“Yep, sounds exciting, but you teach about Pacific Salmon, so how useful is learning about Hammerhead Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico really going to be?” my friend asked.

Her reaction was not unusual. I am a 4th grade teacher with 26 years of experience in the Everett Public Schools in Washington State. I have put some serious thought into using my Teacher At Sea experiences to open eyes and minds to the world around us. I think the possibilities are endless.

My first Teacher at Sea assignment was summer 2006 aboard NOAA ship, RAINIER, on a hydrographic survey mission in the Shumagin Islands, Gulf of Alaska. From this I developed lessons on making contour maps using sticks and a sounding box. I grew my understanding of how weather systems that develop in the Gulf of Alaska influence our weather in Puget Sound. I used that knowledge to help students understand relationships between geography, weather and climate. I learned about birds, mammals and fish in the ocean food chain and inserted that learning into helping students understand the life cycle of the salmon we raise in our classroom.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to share a Teacher in the Air experience with fellow TASA Dana Tomlinson from San Diego, California. We flew with a winter storm research crew from Portland, Oregon; traveling 1800 miles out over the Pacific Ocean and back tracking developing weather systems. We created lessons that helped students understand the importance of using accurate global positioning information to follow low pressure systems as they moved across the ocean toward the west coast of North America. We put together a unit to help them understand how air pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction are measured and how that data is used to understand and predict weather patterns. My students still use those lessons as we participate in the GLOBE program, sending data in every day of the school year.

That was then, and this is now:

Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students
Field studies of salmon habitat with 4th grade students

At school, I have students use globes and inflatable Earth Balls to track from the Arctic Ocean through every other ocean and back to the Arctic without taking their pointer-fingers off ocean surface. Then they start to get it… the connections: there is really just one big ocean! We learn about the water cycle and I challenge them to explain “where the water comes from.” We learn about food webs and energy flow. Our salmon studies teach them about producers, consumers and decomposers. They get the idea of cycles and systems and how all parts must work together. They learn to consider what happens when one step of a cycle fails or one part of a system is missing. We learn about organisms labeled “indicator species” that help scientists track changes in the health of ecosystems.

True, all of this is presented with a focus on where we live in the Pacific Northwest. But…that is just one place on the edge of our one ocean. Time comes to broaden the view. There are many life cycles depending upon the continual efficient functioning of Earth’s systems. Since there is just one ocean, nothing really happens in isolation. The same kinds of events that disrupt life cycles in one place will certainly disrupt them in another.

In August I will be aboard the NOAA ship, OREGON II, in the Gulf of Mexico. Our mission is to investigate and gather data about Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and Red Snapper. They share an ecosystem and participate in the same food web. They are subject to consequences of the same environmental changes and catastrophes that happen in other parts of our ocean.

Drop a pebble into the water anywhere and ripples spread until they reach the outermost boundaries. We all share one ocean. Where does the ripple stop?

Lynn Kurth: Goodbye “Toes”, June 26, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude: N 57˚23  Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 26, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Fog
Visibility: 1 Nautical Mile
Wind Direction: 085
Wind Speed: 12 Knots
Sea Wave Height: –
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.6° C (54.7° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1008.6 mb


Science and Technology Log

As I was looking up at the stars over the ship one evening, I was thinking about the study of space and the 1980’s Teacher in Space program.  It’s difficult to believe that as of this past January it has been thirty years since the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which took the life of educator Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts.  Christa had been selected to become the first teacher in space, which offers such opportunity to learn and grow.  I admire Christa McAuliffe because of this and the fact that she recognized that the study of space offers the opportunity for discovery, innovation and investigation.

kurthblog2
Kurth at Sea (Uganik Bay, Alaska)

I love being a Teacher at Sea because the ocean is similar to space in that it is largely unexplored and offers the chance to discover, innovate and investigate.   In fact, less than 5% of earth’s ocean has been explored even though new technologies have expanded our ability to explore.  Scientists like those I am working with on the Rainier use a variety of this new technology such as satellites, complex computer programs, and multi beam sonar to explore and carry out their hydrographic work.  Over the past week, I have been fortunate to work with these scientists in Uganik Bay and gain a better understanding of how they use these technologies in their work.

DSCN0035 (2)
Out on the skiff with Chief Jim Jacobson and crew

Before the surveying work using the multi beam sonar system can begin, a small crew is sent off the Rainier in a skiff, a shallow flat-bottomed open boat, to complete near shore work.  During this work, the crew on the skiff meticulously examines the features of the coastline while comparing what they see to any available charts and other sources of information about the area.  The depth of Uganik Bay was last surveyed and charted in 1908 but the area does have some additional charting of shoreline features documented throughout the years via aerial photography and information shared by local mariners.  The skiff used for the near shore work is equipped with a GPS (global positioning system) unit and a computer program which continually maps where it travels.  The skiff moves slowly along the shoreline while circling rocks and other features (reefs, islands, kelp beds, fishing gear) in order to accurately determine their size and location.  The scientists record all of their findings on a sheet illustrating the area they are working in and enter the revisions into a computer program when they return to the Rainier.   These revisions frequently include adding features not previously documented, modifying information on existing features or suggesting possible features to be eliminated when they are not found and verified.

DSCN0112
Chief Jim Jacobson enters updated information from near shore work documented while on the skiff.

For example, one of the days while I was working with a crew on a skiff, part of our work involved verifying whether or not a series of rocks existed where they had been previously charted.  Oddly enough, when looking at the chart the formation of rocks looked like a giant left footprint.  This particular feature on the chart, was flagged for us to investigate and verify because each of the rocks that made up “the little toes” seemed to be too equally spaced to be natural features.  When we examined the area we found that there was only one rock, “the big toe”, at the top of the formation vs. a total of five.  The suggested updates to this feature were supported with the documentation of photographs and measurements.  In other words, the scientists suggested that the final revisions completed by NOAA staff in Seattle would include the “amputation” of the four “little toes” from the charts.

footblog1
Sheet used on skiff to document suggested revisions. Notice the “foot” feature?

 


All Aboard!

I have really enjoyed chatting with the people on board the Rainier because they have interesting stories to share and are happy to share them. Erin Earley, member of the engine utility crew, was one of those people who graciously gave me some of her time for an interview.

DSCN0198
Erin Earley (right) discusses ship operations with Ensign Bethany McAcy (left)

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Erin Earley from Sacramento, California and was a social worker prior to working for NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).  I enjoy water color painting, creating multi-medium sculptures, and anything to do with designing gardens.  And I love dogs, Shelties in particular.

How did you discover NOAA and what do you love the most about your job with NOAA?:

As a social worker I had a couple of young adults in the child protection system who wanted to find a different career.  When looking at career options for them I came across a maritime program for youth in Sacramento that seemed to meet their needs.  So, I went to a parent night to learn more about the program and when I heard about the rate of pay and opportunity to travel I asked if they were considering an option for adults to join the program. They said that they were and I registered for the program and began with the AB (able bodied seaman) program for deck work but after watching the Deadliest Catch I decided that wasn’t for me.  So, I decided to complete the engineering program to be qualified for engine room work.  The course work included survival work, emergency ship repair work and fire fighting skills.

I love my job with NOAA because for the most part I’m working with a small group of people, we all know our duties, and we all help each other out.  I enjoy seeing jobs get completed and things getting fixed.  And, the most important reason I love my job is that I don’t have to drive to work and dress up.  I come from Sacramento, and here I don’t have to wait for traffic coming across town and wait at Starbucks for an hour.  On a ship you become a minimalist, you learn what is important and what is not.   I love meeting new people, trying new foods and seeing new things!

DSCN0194
Erin Earley takes a sounding of a fuel tank

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

My primary responsibilities at sea include monitoring the oil levels of the equipment, making sure that everything is running properly, reporting to the engineer anything that might be a problem, making sure the bow thruster has proper fluids, and making sure there’s no excess water in any of the places.  We’re floating on a huge ocean and we want to make sure none of it’s coming in!

What kind of background and/or education do you need to have this job?

It would help to go to a maritime school and a lot of major coastal cities have these schools that offer these programs.  If you want a four year college education you could go to a maritime academy (San Francisco, New York and Baltimore ) to get a degree in mechanical engineering and then you could work on a ship or on the shore side at a port.  If you don’t want to go to a four year college you can still work in engineering but you would have to take certification courses and work your way up.  I think for a young person the adventure of working for NOAA is fun but you should always have a plan as far as where you might want to go.  Keep your options open!


Did You Know?

DSCN0185 (2)
The Rainier, Uganik Bay

The Rainier:

  • has 26 fuel tanks
  • uses 500 gallons of fuel a day while at anchor
  • uses 100 gallons of fuel each hour while underway (2400 gallons/day)
  • goes through approximately 50 lbs of beef and 30 lbs of chicken each week
  • uses 8 different kinds of milk (lactose free, soy, almond, cashew, 1%, 2%, whole, and skim)

 

 

Lynn Kurth: The Earth has One Big Ocean, June 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude: N 57˚50 Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 268
Wind Speed: 14 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft. on average
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 16° C (60.8° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1023 mb


Science and Technology Log

I’m continually searching for ways to connect what I am learning to what is relevant to my students back home in the Midwest.  So, as we left Homer, AK for our survey mission in Kodiak Island’s Uganik Bay, I was already thinking of how I could relate our upcoming survey work to my students’ academic needs and personal interests.  As soon as the Rainier moved away from Homer and more of the ocean came into view, I stood in awe of how much of our planet is covered with water.  It’s fascinating to think of our world as having one big ocean with many basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic.  The study of ocean and its basins is one of the most relevant topics that I can teach when considering the following:

  • the ocean covers approximately 70% of our planet’s surface
  • the ocean is connected to all of our major watersheds
  • the ocean plays a significant part in our planet’s water cycle
  • the ocean has a large impact on our weather and climate
  • the majority of my students have not had any firsthand experience with the ocean

 

IMG_1675
Earth’s One Big Ocean as seen from outside of Homer, AK

 

Each of the ocean basins is composed of the sea floor and all of its geological features which vary in size and shape.  The Rainier will be mapping the features of the sea floor of the Uganik Bay in order to produce detailed charts for use by mariners.  The last survey of Uganik Bay was completed in 1908 when surveyors simply deployed a lead weight on a string over the edge of a boat in order to measure the depth of the water.  However, one of the problems with the charts made using the lead line method, is that the lead line was only deployed approximately every 100 meters or more which left large gaps in the data.  Although not in the Uganik Bay, in the 1930s NOAA began using single beam sonar to measure the distance from a ship’s hull to the sea floor which made surveying faster but still left large gaps in the data. Fast forward from approximately 100 years ago when lead lines were being used for surveying to today and you will find the scientists on the Rainier using something called a multibeam sonar system.  A multibeam sonar system sends out sound waves in a fan shape from the bottom of the ship’s hull.  The amount of time it takes for the sound waves to bounce off the seabed and return to a receiver is used to determine water depth.  The multibeam sonar will allow our team on the Rainier to map 100% of the ocean’s floor in the survey area that we have been assigned.

nNTC_Hydro
Evolution of Survey Techniques (Illustration Credit: NOAA)

 

 

DSCN0006
NOAA Ship Rainier June 22, 2016 in Uganik Bay off of Kodiak Island

 All Aboard!

IMG_1814
NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux

The folks I am working with are some of the most knowledgeable and fascinating people that I have met so far on this voyage and Shelley Devereaux from Virginia is one of those people.  Shelley serves as a junior officer in the NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Corps and has been working aboard the Rainier for the past year.  The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and trains officers to operate ships, fly aircraft, help with research, conduct dive operations, and serve in other staff positions throughout NOAA.

Here is what Shelley shared with me when I interviewed her one afternoon.

Tell us a little about yourself:  I’m originally from the rural mountains of Appalachia and moved to Washington DC after college.  I lived in DC for about seven years before I joined the NOAA Corps and while in DC I really enjoyed cycling, hiking, cooking, baking and beer brewing.

How did you discover NOAA Corps and what do you love most about your job in the NOAA Corps?

I went to Washington DC after I received my undergraduate degree in math and worked a lot of different jobs in a lot of different fields.  In time, I decided to change careers and went to graduate school for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) because I like the data management side of the degree and the versatility that the degree could offer me.  I was working as a GIS analyst when my Uncle met an officer in the NOAA Corps who talked with my Uncle about the NOAA Corps.  After that, my Uncle told me about NOAA Corps and the more I found out about NOAA Corps the more I liked it.  Especially the hydro side!  In the NOAA Corps each of your assignments really develops on your skill base and you get to be involved in a very hands on way.  Just this morning I was out on a skiff literally looking to determine what level a rock was in the water.  And, later in my career I can serve an operations officer.  So I loved the fact that I could join the NOAA Corps, be out on ship collecting data while getting my hands dirty (or at least wet!), and then progress on to other interesting things.  I love getting to be part of all the aspects of ship life and being a surveyor.   It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that what we do here has a tangible effect on the community and the public because we are making the water safer for the people who use it.

DSCN0011
NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux manages her sheets during near shore work in Uganik Bay

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

I am an ensign junior officer on a survey ship.  Survey ships operate differently than other ships in the NOAA fleet with half of my responsibilities falling on the junior officer side of ship operations which includes driving the ship when we are underway, working towards my officer of the deck certification, working as a medical officer, damage control officer and helping with emergency drills.  The other half of what I get to do is the survey side.  Right now I am in charge of a small section called a sheets and I am in charge of processing the data from the sheets in a descriptive report about the area surveyed.  So, about half science and half ship operations is what I do and that’s a really good mix for me.  As a junior officer we are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to and are expected to learn the entire science of hydrography.

IMG_1819
Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux checks the ship’s radar

What kind of education do you need to have this job and what advice do you have for young people interested in a career like yours?

You need a college degree with a lot of credits in science and/or math.  Knowing the science that is happening on the ship is important to help your understanding of the operations on the ship which helps you be a better ship operator. Realize that there are a lot of opportunities in the world that are not always obvious and you need to be aggressive in pursuing them.


Personal Log

You didn’t think I’d leave out the picture of Teacher at Sea in her “gumby suit” did you?  The immersion suit would be worn if we had to abandon ship and wait to be rescued.

IMG_1760
Teacher at Sea (TAS) Kurth Hi Mom!

 Happy Solstice!  Quirky but fun:  For the past six years I have celebrated the solstice by taking a “hand picture” with the folks I am with on the solstice.  I was thrilled to be aboard the Rainier for 2016’s summer solstice and include some of the folks that I’m with on the ship in my biannual solstice picture.

IMG_0989
Winter Solstice 2015 with Sisu (family pet) and my husband James
IMG_1820
All Hands on Deck! Summer Solstice 2016

Did You Know?

Glass floats or Japanese fishing floats are a popular collectors’ item.  The floats were used on Japanese fishing nets and have traveled hundreds and possibly thousands of miles via ocean currents to reach the Alaskan shoreline. The floats come in many colors and sizes and if you’re not lucky enough to find one while beach combing, authentic floats and/or reproductions can be found in gift shops along the Alaskan coast.

floats(2)
Japanese Fishing Floats

 

Lauren Wilmoth: Shore Party, October 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 1.92 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 58°00.411′ N
Longitude: 153°10.035′ W

Science and Technology Log

The top part of a tidal station.  In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.
The top part of a tidal station. In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.

In a previous post, I discussed how the multibeam sonar data has to be corrected for tides, but where does the tide data come from?  Yesterday, I learned first hand where this data comes from.  Rainier‘s crew sets up temporary tidal stations that monitor the tides continuously for at least 30 days.  If we were working somewhere where there were permanent tidal station, we could just use the data from the permanent stations.  For example, the Atlantic coast has many more permanent tidal stations than the places in Alaska where Rainier works.  Since we are in a more remote area, these gauges must be installed before sonar data is collected in an area.

We are returning to an area where the majority of the hydrographic data was collected several weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see a full tidal station install, but I did go with the shore party to determine whether or not the tidal station was still in working condition.

A tidal station consists of several parts: 1) an underwater orifice 2) tube running nitrogen gas to the orifice 3) a nitrogen tank 4) a tidal gauge (pressure sensor and computer to record data) 5) solar panel 6) a satellite antennae.

Let me explain how these things work.  Nitrogen is bubbled into the orifice through the tubing.  The pressure gauge that is located on land in a weatherproof box with a laptop computer is recording how much pressure is required to push those bubbles out of the orifice.  Basically, if the water is deep (high tide) there will be greater water pressure, so it will require more pressure to push bubbles out of the orifice.  Using this pressure measurement, we can determine the level of the tide.  Additionally, the solar panel powers the whole setup, and the satellite antennae transmits the data to the ship.  For more information on the particulars of tidal stations click here

Tidal station set-up.  Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.
Tidal station set-up. Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.
Rainier is in good hands.
Rainier is in good hands.

The tidal station in Terror Bay did need some repairs.  The orifice was still in place which is very good news, because reinstalling the orifice would have required divers.  However, the tidal gauge needed to be replaced.  Some of the equipment was submerged at one point and a bear pooped on the solar panel.  No joke!

After the tidal gauge was installed, we had to confirm that the orifice hadn’t shifted.  To do this, we take manual readings of the tide using a staff that the crew set-up during installation of the tidal station.  To take manual (staff) observations, you just measure and record the water level every 6 minutes.   If the manual (staff) observations match the readings we are getting from the tidal gauge, then the orifice is likely in the correct spot.

Just to be sure that the staff didn’t shift, we also use a level to compare the location of the staff to the location of 5 known tidal benchmarks that were set when the station was being set up as well.  As you can see, accounting for the tides is a complex process with multiple checks and double checks in place.  These checks may seem a bit much, but a lot of shifting and movement can occur in these areas.  Plus, these checks are the best way to ensure our data is accurate.

Micki and Adam setting up the staff, so they can make sure it hasn't moved.
ENS Micki and LTJG Adam setting up the staff, so the surveyor can make sure it hasn’t moved.
Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.
Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.
Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven't moved.
Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven’t moved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I went to shore again to a different area called Driver Bay.  This time we were taking down the equipment from a tidal gauge, because Rainier is quickly approaching the end of her 2014 season.  Driver Bay is a beautiful location, but the weather wasn’t quite as pretty as the location.  It snowed on our way in!  Junior Officer Micki Ream who has been doing this for a few years said this was the first time she’d experienced snow while going on a tidal launch.  Because of the wave action, this is a very dynamic area which means it changes a lot.

In fact, the staff that had been originally used to manually measure tides was completely gone, so we just needed to take down the tidal gauges, satellite antenna, solar panels, and orifice tubing.  The orifice itself was to be removed later by a dive team, because it is under water.  After completing the tidal gauge breakdown, we hopped back on the boat for a very bumpy ride back to Rainier.  I got a little water in my boots when I was hopping back aboard the smaller boat, but it wasn’t as cold as I had expected.  Fortunately, the boat has washers and driers.  It looks like tonight will be laundry night.

Raspberry Bay
Driver Bay

Personal Log 

The food here is great!  Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs, and they were phenomenal.  Every morning I get eggs cooked to order.  On top of that, there is dessert for every lunch and dinner!  Don’t judge me if I come back 10 lbs. heavier.  Another cool perk is that we get to see movies that are still in the theaters!  They order two movies a night that we can choose from.  Lastly, I haven’t gotten seasick.  Our transit from Seward to Kodiak was wavy, but I don’t think it was as bad as we were expecting.  The motion sickness medicines did the trick, because I didn’t feel sick at all.

Did You Know? 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) contains several different branches including the National Weather Service which is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing weather alerts.

Animal Spotting

There are sea otters everywhere!

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.
Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.

 

Cassie Kautzer: So Much to Say – So Little Time! September 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Kupreanof Strait
Date: September 2, 2014

Temperature & Weather: 12.8 ° C (55° F), Mostly Sunny, WINDY (NNW winds, 20-25 kt)

Science & Technology Log

This morning I woke up excited because it was to be our first day conducting Hydrographic Survey with the ship!  Something I didn’t realize prior to my arrival on the Rainier, not only are the launch boats set up with multibeam sonar under the hull, but so is the ship.  Having sonar on the ship is very beneficial in deep water, where the ship is able to cover a wider swath.  It was also beneficial today when the winds were high and the water a little rougher than usual and we had to cancel our launch boat data collection for safety.  (As a side note, I think it is again important to note that safety is a leading factor in operations on the Rainier.  I noticed today on the bottom of the POD (Plan of the Day), just above the rules, it says, “Operations are subject to change at any time.  NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.”)  So, with no extra risks being taken on the launches, Rainier herself set off to ‘mow the lawn’ through the depths of Kupreanof Strait!

Multibeam Sonar attached to the hull of Rainier
Multibeam Sonar attached to the hull of Rainier (NOAA.gov)
Multibeam Sonar attached to the hull of a Survey Launch
Multibeam Sonar attached to the hull of a Survey Launch (NOAA.gov)

I quickly discovered there was a bit more to keep track of when conducting hydro survey from the ship.  For starters, instead of the three computer monitors that one watches on the Launch, there were seven on the ship!  Another difference was in communication.  On a Launch, the HIC and Coxswain can communicate directly with each other.  On the ship communication takes place through walkie-talkies, because elements of data acquisition are taking place in several locations throughout the ship. The HIC and those on Survey Watch are in the Plot Room on the F-deck of the ship, logging data and monitoring all aspects of the survey.

One room closer to the bow on F-deck is the Bridge, or command center.  The Bridge is where someone is at the helm, steering the ship, and trying to follow the line of data the survey technicians have put in place.  Finally, deck hands are on the Fantail (back of the ship), prepared to drop the MVP (Moving Vessel Profiler) instead of the CTD (device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) used on the launch.  To use the CTD, the Launch has to come to a complete stop in the water.  Stopping completely in a ship as big as the Rainier is not as easy, so instead of the CTD, the MVP is deployed from the back of the ship while the ship is in motion.  Looking like a fish, the MVP trails out about 44 meters behind the ship, about 5 meters below the surface, and can be dropped to take a cast (measure the water’s sound velocity profile) as needed, all via computer control.

I (the TAS - Teacher at Sea), sit at Hydro Watch  with HSST Starla Robinson, as Rainier surveys through Kupreanof Strait
I (the TAS – Teacher at Sea), sit at Hydro Watch with HSST Starla Robinson, as Rainier surveys through Kupreanof Strait

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amidst our data acquisition today, we had a Man Overboard Drill.  The alarm bell sounded in three long blasts – the signal for man overboard.  ALL crew quickly headed to their assigned muster stations.  An announcement was made that the man overboard (Oscar, a life sized doll wearing a life jacket) was seen off the port (left) side of the ship. Within seconds of reaching my muster, the Flying Bridge, several crew had located the man overboard.  It is important once  you have eyes on the man overboard, to point directly at them, and to keep your eyes on them at all times.  Just as an example, our Field Operations Officer (FOO), Russ Quintero, had me close my eyes and spin around a couple of times.  Even with others pointing at the man overboard, it took me a couple minutes to locate him again.  I readily understood why it is important you don’t take your eyes of the person, for you may not find them again.

FOO Russ Quintero has eyes on the 'man overboard' during our safety drill.
FOO Russ Quintero has eyes on the ‘man overboard’ during our safety drill.

Within just a few minutes after the alarm, the jet boat was lowered down and deployed with a small crew, including our rescue swimmer.   Oscar was recovered and brought safely back to the ship!  Then, after the drill, the entire crew met in the mess to discuss, question, and comment.  Overall, a successful drill was completed, and I again was appreciative at the attention paid to safety for all of us aboard!

Personal Log

Tomorrow will be my last full day on Rainier while she is working underway.  I will spend my last day out on the water, on a launch boat, trying to use what I have learned to be most helpful in the acquisition of our survey data, and of course, trying to observe and enjoy all the beauty and majesty Alaska has to offer!

We will be docked again, at the US Coast Guard Base in Kodiak in a few days.  Until then, I will enjoy my adventure living on Rainier, enjoy my learning journey, and enjoy the time I have left with all of my new friends!

It was just a little bit windy today...
It was just a little bit windy today…
Proud display of colors on  the fantail.
Proud display of colors on the fantail.

Cassie Kautzer: High Tide, Low Tide , August 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Terror Bay
Date: August 30, 2014

Temperature & Weather:  10 ° C (50° F), Cloudy, Windy (NNW winds, 5-10 kt)

Science & Technology Log

NOAA ship Rainier anchored in Japanese Bay.
NOAA ship Rainier anchored in Japanese Bay.

Since my last blog, we have come and gone from Japanese Bay, and moved on to Terror Bay.  As we were coming into Terror Bay through a narrow passage, we all got a dangerous reminder about how important hydrographic survey work is.

The nautical charts used to map our route into Terror Bay showed a depth of 25 Fathoms (150 feet), at a specific point we were traveling over.  The actual depth at that point, however, was only 7 Fathoms (42 feet).  That is only one third of the depth that was charted.  The Rainier’s draft is slightly over 14 feet (the depth from the waterline to the bottom of the Rainier’s hull, or bottom), so we were safe traveling over the 7 Fathom location.  Seeing this big of a DTON (Danger to Navigation) from the nautical charts to the actual depth, however, could be a cause for alarm.  How many other measurements are wrong?  Can we safely get the ship back out of Terror Bay?  With these thoughts in mind, one Launch boat was sent out today to survey and recon (explore/inspect) Terror Bay and ensure that we have a safe path out!

While a Launch Boat surveys, many other crew members have been busy installing and leveling new tide gauges in Terror Bay.  Tides are the daily rise and fall of the oceans, caused by the Sun and Moon’s gravitational pulls on Earth’s oceans.  The difference between low tide and high tide is the tidal range.  (The world’s biggest tidal range can be observed in Bay of Fundy, Canada.  At Bay of Fundy, high tide can be as much as 53 feet higher than low tide- all in a matter of six hours.  (onegeology.org)

high tide low tide

tidal range

Gauging sea level is trickier than just sticking a ruler or tape measure in the water because ocean waters don’t have one steady level.  Tides and currents constantly flow up and down, causing tides and water levels to be very important for hydrographic survey and other work at sea.  Hydrographic surveys are conducted at all different levels of tides.  This means shoal areas, rocks, shipwrecks, and other hazards are surveyed and recorded at all different levels of tides.  After hydrographers survey an area, they bring all the recorded data back to the ship for processing.  In processing, the depth around any hazards or dangers to navigation must be corrected based on the changing water levels.  In order to determine the necessary changes due to tides, tide stations are set up near survey areas.

A tide gauge and horcon station (horizontal control) is being set up in Terror Bay.  (Photo by Barry Jackson)
A tide gauge and horcon station (horizontal control) is being set up in Terror Bay. (Photo by Barry Jackson)

To set up a tide station, a team needs to go ashore near the area to be surveyed and explore- looking for good, stable, permanent places (like bedrock) to install tide gauges and a tide staff.  After an area is identified, a team is sent to install benchmarks.  Benchmarks for tides are like those that can be found at national landmarks and mountain peaks. Tidal benchmarks are multipurpose: they provide a frame of reference to ensure the tide staff and tide gauge orifice are stable (not moving relative to the land), they allow for comparison data in later years if we return to survey or work in this area again, and they provide stability data (the Earth’s surface, including under the oceans, is constantly changing).

Senior Survey Tech Barry Jackson drill into bedrock, preparing to install a benchmark.
Senior Survey Tech Barry Jackson drill into bedrock, preparing to install a benchmark.
Here is a benchmark cemented into bedrock near the shore line.
Here is a benchmark cemented into bedrock near the shore line.

Along with installing benchmarks, a tide staff must be set up.  A tide staff is large meter stick used for both leveling of benchmarks and for taking readings on water depth over an extended period of time.  After all instruments for the tide station are set up, the tide staff must be observed for several hours.  While observing, the water level must be measured with the tide staff and recorded every six minutes.  This data will then be compared with the data gathered by the tide gauge instruments, and hopefully, will match.

Cheif Survey Tech Jim Jacobson and Assistant Survey Tech Thomas Burrow install the Terror Bay tide staff during low tide.
Cheif Survey Tech Jim Jacobson and Assistant Survey Tech Thomas Burrow install the Terror Bay tide staff during low tide.
ENS Micki Ream reads measurements from the tide staff during higher tide.
ENS Micki Ream reads measurements from the tide staff during higher tide.

While benchmarks and a tide staff are being installed, often another team is working to install the tide gauge.   Tide gauge stations are instruments used to measure the change in sea level, over time.  They are powered by solar panels and include tubing and a sensor that must be secured under the water by a dive team.  The sensor, or orifice, must be placed on the seafloor, and anchored there, where it will always be underwater, even in low or negative tide.  The sensor uses air pressure, from a pump on shore, to measure the water depth.

Dive Master ENS Katrina Poremba and Diver ENS Micki Ream work to weight down the orifice tubing and anchor the sensor to the seafloor.
Dive Master ENS Katrina Poremba and Diver ENS Micki Ream work to weight down the orifice tubing and anchor the sensor to the seafloor.

Once everything is set up, a team will do a leveling run to measure the height of the benchmarks relative to the tide staff.  Meter sticks are held level at each of the benchmarks.  One person then reads a top, middle, and bottom thread measurement from each benchmark through a special vertical level on a tripod (kind of like a telescope).   Benchmarks are measured and compared from A to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, and the primary benchmark to the tide staff.  Then, these are all read again in a backwards run to double check and hopefully close the deal.

Assistant Survey Tech Eli Smith sets up for a level run while ENS Micki Ream prepares for data collection.
Assistant Survey Tech Eli Smith sets up for a level run while ENS Micki Ream prepares for data collection.
This is the level, put on the tripod, that allows Hydrographers to take vertical thread measurements from each benchmark.
This is the level, put on the tripod, that allows Hydrographers to take vertical thread measurements from each benchmark.

Survey work nearby can now begin, because hydrographers will have the appropriate tides data to make necessary corrections to the depth measurement gathered by the survey launches in the area!

Personal Log

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For My Students

Find out more about TIDES *here*

Cassie Kautzer: TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST! August 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Enroute to Japanese Bay
Date: August 27, 2014

Temperature & Weather:  10.5° C (51° F), Cloudy, Rainy

Science & Technology Log

The past week/ week and a half, docked alongside the US Coast Guard pier in Kodiak – it was easy to see people settle into a routine.  This morning, however, we are preparing to leave the Coast Guard base – there is something in the air. Without it being spoken, it is clear both the NOAA Corps officers and the wage mariners are excited to get underway.  THIS is what they signed up to do!

The Rainier is 231 feet in length, with a breadth (width) of 42 feet. She cannot be run by a single person – it takes a team, a large team, to operate her safely.  Aboard the Rainier there is a crew of NOAA Corps Officers, including Commanding Officer CDR Van Den Ameele (CO), Executive Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski (XO), Field Operations Officer LT Russ Quintero (FOO) and a number of Junior Officers. There is also a full staff of Surveyors, Stewards, Deck Hands, Engineers, a Chief Electronics Tech (ET) and an Electronics Eng. Tech (EET).  All of the people on the Rainier’s nearly 50 member crew take on more than one job and help with whatever is asked of them.  It takes a team of people to drive the ship, a team to deploy launch boats, a team to process survey data, a team level tide gauges, a team to keep the boat in good maintenance, etc…

This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier.  ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.
This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier. ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.

This morning, in preparation for getting underway, all NOAA Corps officers met for a Nav (navigation) Briefing, to go over the Sail Plan, to make sure all necessary parties were prepared and informed.  NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services in the United States.  Its commissioned officers provide NOAA with “an important blend of operational, management, and technical skills that support the agency’s science and surveying programs at sea, in the air, and ashore.” (www.noaa.gov)  The Sail Plan, prepared today by Junior Officer, ENS Cali DeCastro, includes step-by-step guidelines for sailing to our next destination.  For each location or waypoint along the route, the sail plan gives a course heading (CSE), Latitude and Longitude, distance to the that point (in Nautical Miles), the speed (in knots) the ship will be cruising at to get to that point, and the time it will take to get there.   Today we are headed to Japanese Bay, and our cruise to get there is about 98 Nautical Miles and will take us almost 9 hours.

As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) - TEAMWORK!  SAFETY FIRST!
As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) – TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST!

It is important to note that nautical miles and knots at sea are different than linear miles and miles per hour on land.  Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the Earth, and are equal to one minute of latitude.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nauticalmile_knot.html)  Think about the Earth and what it would look like if you sliced it in half right at the Equator.  Looking at one of the halves of the Earth, you could then see the equator as a full circle.  That circle can be divided into 360 degrees, and each degree into 60 minutes.  One minute of arc on the Earth is equivalent to one nautical mile.  Nautical miles are not only used at sea, but also in the air, as planes are following the arc of the Earth as they fly.  1 nautical mile = approximately 1.15 miles.  A knot is a measurement of speed, and one knot is equivalent to 1 nautical mile per hour.

It is also important to be aware of all the safety procedures on board.  There is a lot to keep track of – but the Rainier is well prepared for any kind of emergency situation.  Prior to departing the Coast Guard Base this morning, our emergency alarms and bells were tested.  Emergency bells and whistles are used during a Fire Emergency, an Abandon Ship situation, or a Man Overboard situation.

In any situation, every crew member has an emergency billet assignment.  This assignment tells you where to muster (meet), what to bring, and what to do – dependent on the situation.  For fire and emergency, abandon ship, and man overboard each person has a different assignment.  Within 24 hours of setting sail, the entire crew does safety drill practice (We did this in the early afternoon today!)  For fire and emergency both the general alarm bell and the ship’s whistle will continuously sound for ten seconds; for an abandon ship situation, seven short blasts on the ship’s whistle and general alarm bell will sound, followed by one prolonged blast; and for a man overboard there will be three prolonged blasts of the ship’s whistle and general alarm.

Safety is not only a concern in emergency situations – it is at the forefront of all operations aboard the ship.  Proper safety equipment is donned at necessary times, especially when working on deck or on the survey launches.  Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) are worn anytime equipment is being deployed or handled over the side along with safety belts and lines for those handling equipment over the side.   Every crew member is issued a hard hat and must be worn by everyone involved in recovery or deployment of boats and other equipment.   Closed toed shoes must be worn at all times by all crew and crew must be qualified to handle specific equipment. Everyone is also issued an Immersion Suit (survival suit), affectionately nicknamed a Gumby Suit!  The Immersion suit is a thermal dry suit that is meant to keep someone from getting hypothermia in an abandon ship situation in cold waters.

In my "Gumby" Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill.  This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me.  Do I look warm?  (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)
In my “Gumby” Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill. This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me. Do I look warm? (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)

Personal Log

Believe it or not – I have made a lot of connections from the Rainier to my school.  At the bottom of our daily POD’s (Plan Of the Day), the last reminder is, “Take care of yourself.  Take care of your shipmates.  Take care of the ship!”  The environment here has not only made me feel welcome, but safe as well.

I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship).  Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!
I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship). Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!

 

For my Students

Here is a wildlife update.  I saw Whales today!  I think there were Humpback Whale.  I saw quite a few blowing out near the ocean service.  I marked three in my graph because I only saw three jumping and playing in the water!

graph (2)

Some questions to reflect on…

  1. Why is teamwork important? What can you do to be a good team member?
  2. Can you make any connections between the mission and rules I am learning on the ship and the mission and rules you are learning at school?

Cassie Kautzer: It’s All About the Survey! August 24, 2014

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.

This image shows the project on the North side of Kodiak Island.  The project area is split into sheets.  Sheet 6 is highlighted in pink.  (Photo Courtesy NOAA and Project Instruction packet.)
This image shows the project on the North side of Kodiak Island. The project area is split into sheets. Sheet 6 is highlighted in pink. (Photo Courtesy NOAA and Project Instruction packet.)
This is a completed sheet from the North Kodiak project.
This is a completed sheet from the North Kodiak project.

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.

Hydro Senior Survey Tech  Brandy Geiger analyzes data and creates polygons for the sheet she is managing for the Woody Island Canal Survey.
Hydro Senior Survey Tech Brandy Geiger analyzes data and creates polygons for the sheet she is managing for the Woody Island Channel Survey.
Senior Tech Barry Jackson, Assistant Tech Dan Negrete, Senior Tech Brandy Geiger, Chief Tech Jim Jacobson, and Senior Tech Starla Robinson look over Woody Island Channel plans to prepare for survey.
Senior Tech Barry Jackson, Assistant Tech Dan Negrete, Senior Tech Brandy Geiger, Chief Tech Jim Jacobson, and Senior Tech Starla Robinson look over Woody Island Channel plans to prepare for survey.

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.

Rainier Survey Launch - RA3.
Rainier Survey Launch – RA3.
Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) Starla Robinson and Seaman Surveyor Dennis Brooks look over multibeam data together, as they safely plan next steps to survey in shoal, rocky waters.
Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) Starla Robinson and Seaman Surveyor Dennis Brooks look over multibeam data together, as they safely plan next steps to survey in shoal, rocky waters.

Personal Log

Every day is an adventure!  I so enjoy learning – and it’s a good thing – because just about everything here is new to me!

Jellyfish!
Jellyfish!
Enjoying this beautiful evening- oceanside!
Enjoying this beautiful evening- oceanside!
Assistant Survey Tech Thomas Burrow [from Rogers, Arkansas :) ] processes multibeam data brought back from the launches.
Assistant Survey Tech Thomas Burrow [from Rogers, Arkansas 🙂 ] processes multibeam data brought back from the launches.
A black sand beach on the Kodiak Coast Guard Base.
A black sand beach on the Kodiak Coast Guard Base.
Observing from the observation deck as the Rainer gets underway.
Observing from the Flying Bridge as the Rainer gets underway.

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.

A new question for you:

1) What is a polygon?

2) What experiences have you had with the ocean?

 

Cassie Kautzer: Survey Methods! August 22, 2014

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 22, 2014

Temperature & Weather:  11.5° C  (53° F), Cloudy, Rainy

Science & Technology Log

Today was ‘Day 4’ of surveying in the Woody Island Channel next to Kodiak, Alaska.  The Woody Island Channel is a very busy waterway leading ships, boats, and vessels of all sizes into Kodiak.  The problem at the moment is that much of the Woody Island Channel has shoals (shallow areas) and rocks.  This can be very dangerous, especially since the channel has not been surveyed or mapped since the 1940’s!  At that, in the 40s, surveyors were using Lead Lines to map the ocean floor.  Lead Lines were long ropes, marked with measurements, and with a weight at the end, that were thrown out to measure the depth of the water.  Lead Lines were considered very accurate for their time.  The problem with Lead Lines is that there was no way for surveyors to map the entire ocean floor–the lead line only gave a measurement of depth in one location (point) at a time.

Drawing of Lead Line Survey, formerly used to survey water depths one point at a time.
Drawing of Lead Line Survey, formerly used to survey water depths one point at a time.

Today, NOAA Hydrographers use Multibeam Echosounders.  A Multibeam Echosounder uses sonar to send out hundreds of sound pulses and measures how long it takes for those pulses to come back.  The multibeam echosounder is attached to the hull, or bottom, of the survey launches.  To find out how deep the ocean floor is in an area, depths are generated by measuring how much time it takes for each of hundreds of sound pulses to be sent out from the echosounder, through the water to the ocean floor and back again.  The sound pulses are sent out from the echosounder in an array almost like that of a flashlight.

Image shows swath of echosounding from the hull of the launch.  Different colora represent different depths. (Courtesy of NOAA)
Image shows swath of echosounding from the hull of the launch. Different colors represent different depths. (Courtesy of NOAA)

The deeper the water, the wider the swath (band of sound pulses).  The more shoal (shallow) the water, the smaller the swath.  Basically, a wider area can be surveyed when the water is deeper.  This means that surveying near shore, near rocky areas, and near harbors can be very time consuming.  These surveys do need to be completed, however, if they are in navigationally significant areas, like the Woody Island Channel that Rainier is surveying right now.

Image of hydrographic survey methods as they've changed over time.
Image of hydrographic survey methods as they’ve changed over time.

Technological advances over the years have made it more efficient and more accurate to survey the oceans.

Using multibeam sonar, the Rainier has surveyed thousands of linear nautical miles of ocean in the past couple of years.  In 2012 the Rainier was away from its home port in Newport, Oregon for 179 days–surveying 605 square nautical miles and 9,040 liner nautical miles.  In 2013 Rainier was away from its home port for 169 days – surveying 640 square nautical miles and 7,400 linear nautical miles.  It is NOAA’s goal to get 10,000 linear nautical miles surveyed each field season between all four of its Hydro ships: Rainier, Fairweather, Thomas Jefferson, and Ferdinand R. Hassler.  Several years, the Rainier has come close to this on its own!

Personal Log

I have spent the last four days out on the survey launches, gathering data, with a bunch of amazing people.  I have had the opportunity to drive a launch several times, with skilled Coxwain and Able Seaman Jeff Mays supervising me and helping me adjust to the differences in driving/steering a heavy boat versus driving my car at home.  Jeff always took back over when we got to a rocky area or area that was shoaling up quickly.  I am grateful to him, however, for the opportunity.  As with any skill that needs to be practiced, I got a little better each time I drove.  (Trying to steer in a straight line/path on the water when dealing with wind, water currents, waves, wakes from other boats, and the boats themselves is tough! At least for me.  Coxwains Dennis Brooks and Jeff Mays make it look easy, and always kept me feeling safe aboard the launch boats!)

Me, at the wheel of a survey launch.  (Photo courtesy of HST Jackson Barry)
Me, at the wheel of a survey launch. (Photo courtesy of HSST Barry Jackson )

For My Students

Below is an update on my Alaskan Wildlife sightings.  Remember, these are all animals I have been within 20 feet of (except for the bear).  Along with the wildlife in the graph below, I have also seen hundreds of birds from a distance and several romp of otter (large groups).

Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph)
Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph)

Can you help me identify the pictures below?  It can be quite difficult to identify creatures and “stuff” in the dark ocean waters.

IMG_0129IMG_0138

What is it?
What is it?

Cassie Kautzer: The Big Picture! August 19, 2014

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 19, 2014

Temperature:  14°C  (~57°F), Mostly Sunny

Science & Technology Log

Plans have changed quite a bit since I first found out I would be joining the Rainier on the next leg of their mission.  Instead of heading to Cold Bay as originally planned for today, several highly skilled crew members are preparing to join the Fairweather, the Rainier’s sister ship, and help get her back to Seattle, Washington, as she is done for the field season.  Those crew members helping out will return to Kodiak and the Rainier next week, in time to head out and survey around the other side of Kodiak Island.  Until their return, the Rainier is staying “alongside”, (or docked) at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak (the largest Coast Guard Base in the United States).

NOAA Ship Rainier at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, AK.
NOAA Ship Rainier at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, AK.

While we are alongside, however, there is plenty of work to be done!  Some survey technicians are busy processing and analyzing data from past projects and surveys, while other techs are planning and preparing a survey around the Woody Island Channel, slightly Northeast of where we are currently docked.  The Woody Island Channel is an important one to get surveyed, as most of the maritime traffic (traffic on the water) coming into Kodiak, goes through the Woody Island Channel.

We will begin that survey work tomorrow, taking out several Launch boats (Survey Launches that are about 30 feet long, are carried aboard the Rainier and able to be deployed for survey missions) to begin gathering sounding data from the ocean floor  in that area.  While the survey technicians make their plans and preparations, I found myself thinking about the big picture: Why is NOAA here?  Why do we need scientists mapping the ocean floor?

To be honest, I had never heard of Hydrography before I applied for the NOAA Teacher as Sea program.  Hydrography is the science of mapping the ocean floor. I feel that I should have been aware of this, however, because Hydrography work affects all of our lives, even if we don’t live anywhere near the ocean (like those of us that live in Arkansas!  Here is how:

  • NOAA is responsible for producing nautical charts for all of our waters, including the territories. This is approximately 3.4 million square (nautical) miles of underwater territory and 95,000 linear (nautical) miles of shoreline.
  • Looking globally, only 5% of the oceans have been mapped with modern Sonar techniques. About half of the area that is charted, is from Lead Line Soundings (some dating back to the 1800’s).  And then there are places like the Arctic, that have never been mapped.
  • Today, commerce drives the use of our oceanic highways. More than ¾ of all goods and supplies in the United States are shipped and delivered across our oceans.  More than ½ our domestic oil comes by ship as well.  And, the grain that we export to countries around the world, goes by ship!

Without accurate survey information, these commercial ships, as well as any fishing or recreational vessels, cannot safely navigate (find their way) through different ocean routes.  Running into an unexpected feature (underwater landform, rocks, an old wreck (shipwreck), or other obstructions) can be very dangerous and costly to any ship.  Without updated nautical charts (maps), boats, ships, and vessels of any size face many unknown hazards as they try to navigate safely (often with goods we need) to their destination.  The Woody Island Channel that we will be surveying this week, is just three days in Kodiak, I have seen two freight ships, a Coast Guard Vessel near 300 feet long, and many small fishing vessels travel through this passage.

So the Big Picture?

THIS… is dangerous for people, and affects global commerce, import, exports, etc.   THIS is what hydrographers don’t want to happen:

This MV Miner ran ashore on these rocks on its way from Montreal to Turkey in 2011.  This is one thing NOAA hopes to prevent with updated nautical charts from hydrographic surveys.  (Courtesty of Canada's  TheStar.Com)
This MV Miner ran ashore on these rocks on its way from Montreal to Turkey in 2011. This is one thing NOAA hopes to prevent with updated nautical charts from hydrographic surveys. (Courtesty of Canada’s TheStar.Com)

Personal Log     

The first several days in Alaska have been amazing.  While we are alongside in Kodiak, I have been able to do some exploring after work each day! I have walked along the beach and hiked up into the mountains.

Me, atop Old Woman's Mountain, Kodiak Island, Alaska.  (Courtesy of ENS Micki Ream)
Me, atop Old Woman’s Mountain, Kodiak Island, Alaska. (Courtesy of ENS Micki Ream)

Alaska is beautiful – so majestic!  I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some beautiful weather, in the high 50s, and sunny most days!  This is rather unusual, they tell me- it is usually starting to cool down and get very rainy this time of year.  I told them I must have brought the warm weather with me from Arkansas!  I am going to try and enjoy it while it lasts, as I am sure I will not luck out to spend three weeks in the sunshine!

For My Students

Check out this graph of the wildlife I have seen thus far!  I am only tracking wildlife that I have seen UP CLOSE (within 20 feet – except for the bear – it would be dangerous to get that close to a bear)!

Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph)
Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph)

Oh kids, I am also wondering if you can tell me:

1. What is the difference between SQUARE miles and LINEAR miles?

2. What kind of tools do you think Hydrographers (or Hydrographic Surveyors) need to survey and map the ocean floor?

Cassie Kautzer: Alaska or Bust! August 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Cold Bay, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2014

Personal Log

Hi! My name is Cassie Kautzer and I am writing to you from my couch in Northwest Arkansas. I am hiding inside with the air conditioning today because my thermometer shows it being 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is too hot for this former Wisconsin girl! I am finishing packing and doing some final research before I head to Alaska on August 16! (I am also very much looking forward to cooler temperatures!)

Science girl power!
Alaska or Bust! This science girl is ready!

 

I am a fifth grade teacher at Monitor Elementary in Springdale, Arkansas! I have loved MONITOR and all my little Mallards since 2008 when I had the honor of joining the Monitor Team. Monitor Elementary houses a very diverse population of around 800 students each year. This school year, I will have the pleasure of teaching science to 112 of those students, and I cannot wait to share this amazing experience with them! Since Arkansas is not a coastal state, neither my students nor I have a lot of experience with marine ecology or tidal influences. In the Paleozoic Era, however, the entire state was covered by relatively shallow ocean, the Ouachita Basin.

I applied for this wonderful learning opportunity for several reasons:

• I am like my students, I learn by DOING! I can’t take all of my students with me (though I would if I could), so I will learn and gather new information, first hand, and take back pictures, videos, stories, lessons, and activities to share with them!
• I want my students to see the bigger picture–how is our life in Arkansas affected by oceans, tides, floods, erosion?
• I want my students to see the scientific opportunities, jobs, and careers that are available to them! I want to help inspire future scientists!
• I want my girls to see women working in scientific fields!
• And… I love adventure, and exploring and learning about our beautiful world! I will not fear the unknown; I will learn and grow as I figure it out!

Whitaker Point, Hawksbill Crag Trail, Arkansas
On top of the world! I made my first visit to Whitaker Point in Arkansas this summer!

My mission this summer, from August 16 – September 5, will be a Hydrographic Survey aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s mission is to understand the Earth’s environment in order to conserve and care for marine (ocean) resources. The Rainier is “one of the most modern and productive survey platforms of its type in the world” and uses multibeam sonar systems to “cover large survey areas in a field season. The ship’s hydrographers acquire and process massive amounts of data and create high-resolution, three-dimensional terrain models of the ocean floor.”  Those models can then be used to identify obstructions and shoals along the bottom of the ocean that are dangerous for navigating ships.  (http://www.omao.noaa.gov/publications/ra_flier.pdf) Hydro ships, like the Rainier, map the ocean floor to help with safe navigation of the seas. Knowing the depth and make-up of the ocean floor surrounding Alaska will benefit all the vessels and ships, large and small, passing through the Gulf of Alaska. Activities onboard can include echosounding, tide gauge installation, shoreline surveying, verification, and mapping, and data processing.

 

NOAA ship Rainier, named for Mt. Rainier - a volcanic cone in Washington state that rises 14,410 feet above sea level.  Photo courtesy of NOAA.
NOAA ship Rainier, named for Mt. Rainier – a volcanic cone in Washington state that rises 14,410 feet above sea level. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

So what does all of that mean?? I am about to find out! NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program aims to provide me, the teacher, with real-world research experience through work with world-renowned scientists, to allow unique insights into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to our world. To this end, I truly believe the best way to learn is by getting ones hands dirty and trying to figure things out. So, on August 16 I will head to Alaska and meet up the Rainier in Kodiak, AK. On August 18 we will depart from Kodiak and head toward Cold Bay to begin our hydrographic survey mission.

Right now, I have more questions than answers: What will it be like without land beneath my feet for three whole weeks? What hours will I work? How am I going to learn all the crew members’ names? Will I get sea sick? What is echosounding? Will I get to go out on a launch? What marine life am I going to see? Will I ever want to leave Alaska? I guess I am about to find out!

For My Students

Can you find out…..?

1. How can I track the distance and speed I am traveling at while on the Rainier? (What units would I use to measure and share this information with you?)

2. When I am on the Rainier, weather information will be shared in degrees Celsius. How can I convert that information to degrees Farenheit so all of my non-science friends can understand?

“Leave a Reply” at the very bottom of this page! I am looking forward to answering (or trying to answer) your questions and sharing this epic learning adventure with you!

And of course, as Will.I.Am wrote and sang, and I kareoked to my students all year, “Reach for the Stars” and you’re sure to end up in the “Hall of Fame!”

Denise Harrington: Post Processing — Final Days, May 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 20 – May 3, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Kodiak Island

Date: May 2, 2014, 23:18

Location: 57 43.041’ N  127o 152.32.388’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 13.09C (dry bulb), Wind 1 knots @ 95o, clear, 0′ swell, balmy “crazy nice weather”  say Able Seaman Jeff Mays

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

Today’s blog is all about post processing, or “cleaning up” the data and being on night shift.  It is a balmy, sliver moon night at port here, in Kodiak.  We have come a long way in the last two weeks, during which survey crews have been working hard to finalize a Cold Bay report from last season before they devote themselves entirely to North Kodiak Island. I am in the plot room with Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Smith who is on Bridge Duty from midnight until 4 a.m. with Anthony Wright, Able Seaman.

Able Seaman Anthony Wright consults with Ensign Steven Wall about conditions on the bridge and other things.
Able Seaman Anthony Wright consults with Ensign Steven Wall about conditions on the bridge and reports “all conditions normal.”

People work around the clock on Rainier whether it be bridge watch, processing data, or in the engine room.  One thing that makes the night shift a little easier is that there is no shortage of daylight hours in Alaska: within two months, there will be less than an hour of complete darkness at night.

After watching Commander Brennan guide us north, and seeing all the work it entails,  it is a great sight to see him enjoy a 10 p.m. sunset.
After watching Commander Brennan guide us north, with all the work it entails, it is a great sight to see him enjoy a 10 p.m. sunset with his wife (by phone).

In previous blogs, I described how the team plans a survey, collects and processes data.  In this blog, I will explain what we do with the data once it has been processed in the field. Tonight, Lieutenant Dan Smith is reviewing data collected in Sheet 5, of the Cold Bay region on the South Alaskan Peninsula.  In September, 2013, the team surveyed this large, shallow and therefore difficult to survey area.  The weather also made surveying difficult.  Despite the challenges, the team finished collecting data for Sheet 5 and are now processing all the data they collected.

Cold Bay Sheet Map
Cold Bay Sheet Map.  Recall the shallow areas are shaded light blue, and as you can see much of the north end of Sheet 5 is blue.

While I find editing to be one of the most challenging steps in the writing process, it is also the most rewarding.  Through the editing process, particularly if you have a team, work becomes polished, reliable and usable.  The Rainier crew reviews their work for accuracy as a team and while Sheet 5 belongs to Brandy Geiger, every crew member has played a part in making the Sheet 5 Final Report a reality, almost.  On the left screen, Lieutenant Smith is looking at one line of data.  Each color represents a boat, and each dot represents the data from one boat, and each dot represents a depth measurement  computed by the sonar. The right screen shows which areas of the map he has already reviewed in green and the areas he still needs to review in magenta.

Dan looks for noise after midnight.
Lieutenant Smith looks for noise after midnight.

While the plot room is calm today in Kodiak, there have been times when work conditions are challenging, at best.

.

The crew continues on, despite the weather, so long as work conditions are safe.

Several days ago, Lieutenant Smith taught me the difference between a sonar ping that truly measured depth, and other dots that were not true representations of the ocean floor.  Once you get an eye for it, you kill the noise quickly.  In addition, when Lieutenant Smith finds a notable rise in the ocean floor he will “designate as a sounding.”  Soundings are those black numbers on a nautical chart that tell you how deep the water is.

This line shows three colors, meaning three boats sent pings down to the ocean floor in this area.
This line shows three colors, meaning three boats sent pings down to the ocean floor in this area.

If the line has dots that rise up in a natural way, the computer program recognizes that these pings didn’t go as far down as the others and makes a rise in the ocean floor indicated with the blue line.  It is the hydrographer’s job to review the computer processed data.  One of the differences between a map and a nautical chart is the high level of precision and review to ensure that a nautical chart is accurate.

This nautical chart went through many layers of analysis, processing and review before becoming published as a  nautical chart that can be used as a legal document.
This nautical chart of Cold Bay went through many layers of analysis, processing and review before becoming published as a nautical chart that can be used as a legal document. It may be updated after Brandy Geiger and NOAA’s hydrography work in the area is completed.
This is a topographical map of the same area, Cold Bay, that provides some information about landmarks but not necessarily the same legal standing or authority.
This is a topographical map of the same area, Cold Bay, that provides some information about landmarks but not necessarily the same legal standing or authority.

NOAA has several interesting online resources with more information about the differences between charts and maps: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/chart_map.html .

Now let’s kill some noise on this calm May evening.

In this image of a shipwreck on the ocean floor most sonar pings reached the ocean floor or the shipwreck and bounced soundings back to the survey boat.  Look carefully, however, and you see white dots, representing pings that did not make it down to the ocean floor.  Many things can cause these false soundings.  In this case, I predict that the pings bounced back off of a school of fish.  Here, the surveyor kills the “noise” or white pings by circling them with the mouse on his computer. It wouldn’t be natural for the ocean floor or other feature to float unconnected to the ocean floor, and thus, we know those dots are “noise” and not measurements of the ocean floor.

Lieutenant Smith estimates that at least half of his survey time is spent in the plot room planning or processing data.  The window of time the team has in the field to collect data is limited by weather and other conditions, so they must work fast.  Afterward, they spend long, but rewarding hours analyzing the data they have collected to ensure its accuracy and to provide synthesized information to put into a nautical chart that is easy to use and dependable. Lieutenant Smith believes that in many scientific careers, as much time or more time is spent planning, processing and analyzing data than is spent collecting data.

 

Personal Log

As we post process our data, I too, begin post processing this amazing adventure.  I am hesitant to leave: I have learned so much in these two short weeks, I want to stay and keep learning.  But at NOAA we all have many duties, and my collateral, wait–my primary duty is to my students and so, I must return to the classroom.  I will leave many fond memories and a camera, floating somewhere in Driver Bay, behind me.  I will take with me all that I have learned about the complexity of the ocean planet we live on and share my thirst to know more back to the classroom where we can continue our work. I will miss the places I’ve seen and the people I met but look forward to the road or channel of discovery that awaits me and my students.

I am also taking with me a NOAA flag, full of memories from the North Kodiak Island crew and my new friends.
I am also taking with me a NOAA souvenir flag, full of memories from the North Kodiak Island crew — my new friends.

Did You Know? The Sunflower Sea Star is the largest and fastest moving sea star travelling up to one meter per minute.

Here we taking a quick break during a tide gauge set up to look at sea stars and anemones.
Here we taking a quick break during a tide gauge set up to look at sea stars and anemones.

Below are a few photo favorites of my time at sea.

Denise Harrington: The Best Day Ever, April 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 20 – May 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 30, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

Location: 58 03.175’ N  127o 153.27.44’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 6.3C (dry bulb), Wind 5 knots @ 250o, clear, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.

In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features.  Step 1 is to determine where we are.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna and a GPS antenna that helps us determine our precise location.
In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna (square white one) that is used to transmit tide data ashore and a GPS antenna (the small white eggs shaped one) that provides the tide gauge with both position and UTC time. Photo by Barry Jackson
In this picture  Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses the GOES from various locations to determine the exact location of the tide gauge.
In this picture Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses GPS to record the positions of the benchmarks we have just set for the tide gauge. Photo by Barry Jackson
tide gauge install 023
Where we are happens to be the most beautiful place on earth. Photo by Barry Jackson

 

In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.

Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is.  Think “bath” water and metry “measure.”  When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.

As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.

Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor.  Here is a screen shot of the data we collected.  It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!

Here is the image of the trench Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered.  We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after us.
Here is the image of the sea floor canyon Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered. We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after the two scientists who discovered it.

Here I am, gathering pings.

Here I am talking with "the bridge,"  the team responsible for navigating the ship while surveyors collect data.
While collecting data, I kept in contact with “the bridge,” the team responsible for navigating the ship, by radio to ensure the ship’s safety and maximum, quality data acquisition.     Photo by Starla Robinson

 

Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water.  Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides.  The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.

The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area.  On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install.  This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.

 

Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed.  The one we installed today in Diver's Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.
Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed. The one we installed today in Driver Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data.  Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.

The earth goes around the sun in 24 hours and moon goes around the earth in a little more than 12 hours, much like these two gray sine waves. Interestingly, when you add two different waves, you get the wonky blue sine wave, with ups and downs. This combined effect of the sun and the moon (two dots) causes the ups and downs of the tide (blue wave). Graph taken from Russell, D. Acoustics and Vibration Animation, PSU, http://www.acs.psu.edu/drussell/demos/superposition/superposition.html.

 

Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart.  The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.
This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

Installing Tide Gauge Stations

Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is.   The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure.  The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water.  The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data.  This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis.  Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.

There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world.  The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia.  These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.

The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle).  During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.

Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks

Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches.  Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.

 

Why Bench Mark?

There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.

 

I installed this benchmark by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location.
I installed this benchmark in Driver Cove by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location. Photo by Barry Jackson

The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land.  The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge.  The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly.  As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.”  We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s  reference frame.  Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed.  After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!

Teacher on Land Polishing Her Benchmark Photo by Brandy Geiger
Teacher on Land
Polishing Her Benchmark
Photo by Brandy Geiger

Installing the Benchmark

Today, our beach party broke into two groups.  We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline.  We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete.  A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more.  We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification.   If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.

Tide Gauge

As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.

 

Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.
Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.  Photo by Barry Jackson

To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water.  Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team.   The dive team secured a sensor below the water.  The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days.  During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters.  Good thing they were wearing dive suits!  Photo by Barry Jackson
Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters. Good thing they were wearing dive suits! Photo by Barry Jackson

Leveling Run

After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick.  One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal.  They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height!  Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.

Observation

Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours.  Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to.  If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements.  I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do.  If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.

As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island.  I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.

Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line.  The exact measurements we collected are on the table.
The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line. The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II.  The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.

 

Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to  Floyd Pounds, an amazing cook from the south who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet.
Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to the amazing chefs aboard Rainier, including Floyd Pounds, who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet with a hint of a southern accent.

During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits.  He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.”  He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks.  For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.”  Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart.   His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.

Personal Log

Today was a special day for me for many reasons.  It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever.  Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking.  I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me.  In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently.  All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.

 

Denise Harrington: Polygon Planning, April 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 21 – May 2, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 24, 2014, 23:00

Location: 51 50.7’ N  127o 55.9’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 8.4C (dry bulb), Wind 9 knots @ 59o, overcast, light fog, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

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.

Ensign Ream's task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts.
Ensign Ream’s task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts. Challenge:  print a copy of this map and come up with 30 smaller polygons to assign to your team to survey before you scroll down to see Ensign Ream’s plan.

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.

Here is Ensign Ream's Proposal for how to complete this summer's work. How does it compare to your proposal?
Here is Ensign Ream’s Proposal for how to complete this summer’s work. How does it compare to your proposal?

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.

Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.
Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.

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.

Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90's rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas.  There is plenty of room for creativity here!
Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90’s rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas. There is plenty of room for creativity!

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?

Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.
Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.

Personal Log

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. P1000587

This is the front door to the snack freezer.  For me, the answer is clearly "No."
This is the front door to the snack freezer. For me, the answer is clearly “No.”

Denise Harrington: Getting Ready for an Adventure! March 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington

Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 6 – April 18, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island
Date: March 28, 2014

My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek rup1000004nning past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.  I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!

In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters.  Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality.  They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.

Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent!  I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.

NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on.  And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world!   NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.”  Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts.  These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat.   Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra

Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?

Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.

I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season.  It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!

 

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.
Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.
Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

 

Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!

 

Susy Ellison, So You Want to be a Hydrographer? November 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9 – 26, 2013

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area:  Carbondale, CO
Date:  November 5, 2013 

Weather:  You can go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where the Rainier is and what weather conditions they are experiencing while I am back at school in Glenwood Springs, CO.
GPS Reading: 39o 24,13146 N  107o 12.6711 W
Temp:  -8C
Wind Speed: 0
Barometer: 1026.00 mb
Visibility:  Clear 

Science and Technology Log

How do you become a hydrographer?  After spending 2 ½ weeks aboard the Rainier as a Teacher at Sea, I found that this question had as many answers as the ship had hydrographers.  In fact, if you take time to concatenate the data (obviously, I have become fond of my newest vocabulary word!), you will learn that being a hydrographer is incredibly multi-faceted and is a confluence of ocean-, cartographic-, and computer-based sciences, with some outdoor skills thrown in for good measure. 

Cdr Rick Brennan and some of the hydrographers of the future in Cold Bay, Alaska
Cdr Rick Brennan and some of the hydrographers of the future in Cold Bay, Alaska

The Rainier’s CO, Commander Rick Brennan, finished college with a degree in Civil Engineering.  In 1991, his senior year, he discovered NOAA when a professor suggested he check out the NOAA Corps during a recruiter’s visit to campus. He started as a NOAA Corps member in 1992 and has been involved in hydrographic survey work ever since.  His studies in the NOAA Corps training included coursework on ships, radar, and navigation, and led to his appointment as Commanding Officer (CO) of the NOAA Ship Rude (http://www.moc.noaa.gov/Decomm Ships/ru-index.html). This ship was NOAA’s smallest hydrography vessel at only 90’ long. 

Commander Brennan has seen many changes in hydrography during his career.  First and foremost, has been its evolution as an academic discipline.  The University of New Hampshire, based in Durham, NH, founded the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping in 1999.  Their Joint Hydrographic Center was created through a partnership between the University and NOAA.  (http://ccom.unh.edu/about-ccomjhc, http://www.eos.sr.unh.edu/) Prior to this, hydrography was part of more general courses in oceanography.  Now, you can get a Master’s Degree in Hydrography.

The last 20+ years have also seen significant changes in hydrographic technology, especially in the tools used to map the ocean floor.  Prior to 1994, hydrographic vessels were outfitted with single beam sonar, instead of the multi-beam sonar that is today’s standard.  The single beam only provided bathymetric data at a single position on the seafloor directly below the vessel, while multi-beam sonar can give us high resolution information about the seafloor across a swath of the seafloor stretching several hundred meters to either side of the vessel.  The Rainier, as NOAA’s premier hydrography vessel, was fully outfitted with multi-beam sonar by 1998. Other technological advances have included significant changes in information processing, from the days of paper tape and punch card programming, to the development of  hydrography-specific data analysis programs such as CARIS. 

While data collection capabilities have changed exponentially over the past 20 years, CDR Brennan noted changes in how that data is used.  NOAA has set the industry standard worldwide for collecting hydrographic data.  Departments within NOAA are able to use that data to more than make charts. Fisheries biologists can use the detailed seafloor information in their assessments of ecosystem health and the availability of suitable prey species for all parts of the complex ocean-based food web. Shorelines are dynamic; charting plays a role in establishing baseline data in a changing world. Brennan foresees a future where navigators will view charts using a variety of platforms besides merely lines on paper; this will take educating mariners in how to utilize some of the new electronic tools that are available.

Brennan reflected that, while there have been significant advances in the field of hydrography, there is still much work to do.  NOAA publishes an annual review of its hydrographic survey goals (http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm) .  While this might not sound like the most scintillating of reads, it’s a fascinating look at the enormity of the concept of charting our coastline.  Depending on how you view coastline—is it a smoothed-out line of the coast, does it include all the ins and outs and bays, or does it include all the United States’ navigable coastline extending out 200 nautical miles—one thing is certain, there’s a lot of it.  In Alaska, alone, NOAA has identified 324,465 square nautical miles as Navigationally Significant.  The identified total for all of the United States, including the Caribbean, is 511, 051 square nautical miles.  Alaska is big!  The crew of the Rainier will have plenty of work!

Chief Surveyor Jim Jacobsen at work in the computer lab
Chief Survey Technician Jim Jacobson at work in the computer lab

Chief Survey Technician Jim Jacobson’s favorite area to survey is Southeast Alaska with its varied topography, underwater features, and interesting ports.  He should know, since he’s been a member of the Rainier’s survey crew since 1990.  Jim graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Oceanography—at that time there were no hydrography-specific programs. When he began, a large part of the training consisted of good old, OJT—on the job training, learning new skills as new equipment and techniques became available.  Needless to say, there have been more than a few changes over the past 20+ years.

Jim began his career before GPS was a part of hydrographic survey.  Setting benchmarks to establish sea levels was done using transits and theodolites, triangulating from known points on land to establish location and elevation on shore.  Information was transmitted using microwave towers that were erected on site.  Fast forward to 2013, where GPS is part of everyone’s vocabulary and the ability to know ‘exactly’ where you are is often in the palm of your hand.  The Rainier’s tide gauge stations are set using GPS units that can identify location and elevation to within centimeters.

He also began his career using single beam sonar, instead of today’s multi-beam.  While single beam doesn’t have the pinpoint accuracy that multi-beam sonar might offer, there were a few advantages.  It was a faster way to collect data, since you weren’t collecting as much information with each ‘ping’.  Thus, you could complete more ‘sheets’ (an identified area for mapping) during your time at sea.

Hydrographic survey techniques have changed over time.
Hydrographic survey techniques have changed over time.
http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html

There have been incredible advances in data analysis since Jim started on the Rainier.  Data collected each day has become more complex, requiring more hours of ‘cleaning’ to remove extraneous pings and information.  Hydrographers use increasingly complex computer software to produce charts, often spending up to 5 hours to process one hour’s data.

What’s next?  Jim imagines a future with underwater mapping done by ROVs, remotely operated vehicles, cruising the seafloor to send back terabytes of information.  ROVs are already used in a variety of information-gathering capacities, sending back high-quality video of seafloor conditions, information on water chemistry, or video of marine life from far below the surface.

Here's what hasn't changed--hydrographers work in all sorts of weather and ocean conditions!
Here’s what hasn’t changed–hydrographers work in all sorts of weather and ocean conditions!

Christi Reiser didn’t start out planning to be a hydrographer.  She has, perhaps, the most diverse resume of any of the survey team.  Christi is currently a college student, and will be receiving her BA in Geography from the University of Colorado, Denver at the end of this year.  Her hydrography career began in May, 2012 when she was hired as an intern on the Rainier, earning college credit while working for NOAA.

Christi Reiser
Christi Reiser

Since high school, Christi has earned an Associate’s Degree in Business, was employed as a saddle maker in Austria, and worked for an oil company as a mapping technician.  While all of those pathways gave her something to ponder, it was the GIS part of her mapping job that really ignited the fire that sent her back to college to pursue a degree in Geography with a focus on GIS and a minor in Environmental Science.  To further stoke that fire, Christi worked to design and pursue an internship experience that would allow her to ‘test drive’ a career combining GIS, hydrography, and life on the high seas.  Through a combination of motivation, Google-based searching, a diverse and applicable set of educational and experiential skills, and the courage to make some phone calls and take a few risks, Christi ended up on the Rainier, working as a paid intern. How cool is that?  She earns college credit, gains expertise working with challenging software and data acquisition programs and equipment, charts the uncharted ocean floor, and sees parts of Alaska that aren’t on the usual tourist’s destination list.  One of her projects during her first season on the Rainier was the creation of an online blog describing her work.  You can check it out at http://rainierinternship.blogspot.com/

Through her internship Christi has found that NOAA is one of the most education-oriented organizations she has worked for, constantly providing opportunities to learn new skills and information. She is excited to be working in a GIS-based field and considers it to be one that is ‘never-ending’, since only 4% of the sea floor has been mapped!  After graduation, her next step may be a Master’s Degree in Geography, to add more science research experience to her knowledge base.  After that?  Well, all I can say is that Christi plans to create a new job that “doesn’t even exist”.  Stay tuned.

So, the next time you’re talking to your guidance counselor about college plans, or wondering what you might want to be when and if you grow up, consider the field of hydrography.  Where else do you get to wear a life jacket to work?

Field Operations Officer  (FOO)Meghan McGovern  goes over the Plan of the Day
Field Operations Officer (FOO)Meghan McGovern goes over the Plan of the Day.  Where else do you get to wear a life jacket to work?

Personal Log

Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, it’s time to reflect on my Teacher at Sea experience.  I’ve been asked, more than once, “Did it meet my expectations”?  That’s an easy question to answer—the answer is “No, it exceeded my expectations!”  I came away from my time on the high seas with much more than just knowledge of the complexities of seafloor mapping.  As a firm believer in the concept that ‘everything is interesting’, it would be hard to point to any aspect of my trip that wasn’t something fun and interesting to learn!

The science of hydrography is amazing.  Just thinking about mapping something that you can’t actually see is an incredible concept.  I have always been fascinated with maps and the process of creating a map, but I look at those maps a little differently now, going beyond the story the map tells to thinking about how that map was made. The science of mapping has undergone many changes since those first sailors with their lead lines creating maps of harbors and shorelines.  In case you’re still wondering why hydrography and the Rainier’s mission is so important, check out this clip from a PBS special that aired in September–http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/climate-change/july-dec13/arctic_09-17.html

The teamwork, efficiency, and camaraderie on the ship were a common thread uniting each day’s activities.  Each crew member played a role in the success of the ship’s mapping mission. It took everyone from the engine room to the bridge to keep it all ‘shipshape’.  There was really no job too small—everything and everyone had a necessary role. I especially appreciated the fact that every crew member was willing to answer the myriad questions I had;  from specific questions about their job to questions about  how they ended up on the Rainier.

rainbow cb1
Perhaps we should have used some of our sonar capabilities to search for the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow!

At the end of my Teacher at Sea experience I have to conclude that NOAA is one of our country’s best kept secrets.  What other federal agency can bring you such treats as the daily weather report or tide predictions for an entire year, monitor fisheries along our coastal areas, keep track of our changing climate, or survey marine mammals? Of course, you shouldn’t forget all those nautical charts produced by the hydrographers on the Rainier. NOAA’s webpage says it all (http://www.noaa.gov/); from the ocean floor to the top of our atmosphere—and everything in-between. In a world with a rapidly changing climate I can’t think of an agency that is doing more important work.

Many thanks to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing me with this incredible learning experience.

Even the plates have the NOAA logo!!
Even the plates have the NOAA logo!!

Susy Ellison, From Dragons to Data – Mapping Our World, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 18, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge

You can also go the NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing.

GPS coordinates: 55o  12.442’ N  162o 41.735’ W
Temp:  9.6C
Wind Speed:  20.3 kts
Barometer: 994.01mb
Visibility:  grey skies, foggy

Science and Technology Log

WHERE ARE WE? HOW DO WE KNOW?

As we float about all day collecting gigabytes of data to turn into charts, there’s ample time to reflect on the art and science of cartography, or map making.  To me, maps are an elegant means for transforming the 3-dimensional landscape around us into a 2-dimensional story of our world using lines and points, geometric shapes, numbers, and a variety of colors and shadings.  It’s science, technology, engineering, math, and, as always, a bit of magic! It’s quite amazing to think about the changes in mapmaking and our expectations for information from the first hand-drawn lines on small pieces of clay or in the dirt to the concatenated gigabytes of today.

Consider some of the earliest maps that have been found.  Archaeologists have unearthed clay tablets in Babylonia that date back to 600 BC.  These hand-sized clay tablets were simple line representations of local geography.  Roman maps from around 350BC were utilized to provide information to conquering armies.  Where were they heading; which villages were going to be conquered today?

This is one of the earliest known maps.  It is a clay tablet from Babylonia. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/m/map_of_the_world.aspx
This is one of the earliest known maps. It is a clay tablet from Babylonia.
2peutinger map
Romans used maps to identify villages and towns along the routes of conquering armies.
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?group=pre-1600
3paleolithic map
Here’s an early map drawn on stone.

The earliest maps were, both literally and figuratively, flat;  they were a 2 dimensional image of a world that was believed to be flat.  That changed in 240 BC when Eratosthenes, who believed the earth to be a sphere, calculated earth’s diameter by comparing the length of noontime shadows at distant sites.  No advanced computing power was used for this calculation!  Once geographers and cartographers were united in their use of a spherical representation of the earth, the next challenge was how to project that spherical surface onto a flat page.  Ptolemy, sometime around 100 AD figured this out.  He went a step further, assigning grid coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the maps to use as identifiers.  His latitude lines, rather than expressed as degrees from the equator, were categorized by the length of the longest day—not such a bad proxy for degrees north and south and certainly an obvious change as you head north or south.  Longitude, instead of referencing the Greenwich Meridian as 0o, was set at 0 at the westernmost point that he knew.  Much of his work was not used until it was rediscovered by monks poring through manuscripts in the 1300s.  One monk was able to use the coordinates in these manuscripts to create graphic representations (maps!) of Ptolemy’s concepts.  These were printed in 1477 as a map collection known as Geographia.  It is almost mind-boggling to consider the efforts that went into this volume from its initial intellectual conception, to its rediscovery, to using some of the first printing presses to make multiple copies that were used to plan and guide some of our most amazing voyages of discovery.  Ptolemy’s concepts were further refined when Gerardus Mercator  invented a cylindrical projection representing globe on a map’s flat surface.  Each refinement both changed and enhanced our view of the planet.

Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg
Mercator solved the challenge of projecting a round earth onto a flat surface
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Mercator_World_Map.jpg

 THERE MAY BE DRAGONS

Sailors set forth with maps using these concepts for many years, seeking out new lands and new wealth for the countries they represented.  As they returned with new discoveries of continents, cultures, and meteorological conditions, they were able to replace some of the ‘dragons’ on maps with real information and add new layers of information on top of the positions of continents and oceans—an early sort of GIS (geographic information systems) process!  In 1686, Edmond Halley created a map that incorporated the prevailing winds atop a geographical map of the world.  A new layer of information that told a critical story.  For a sailor navigating using the wind, the story this map told was incredibly useful.   Further layers were placed on the surface geography as Johann Friedrich von Carpenter created the first geological map in 1778.  This map included information about what was under the surface, including soils and minerals.

Halley's map included information about global wind patterns.  Pretty important if you're on a sailboat navigating around the world!
Halley’s map included information about global wind patterns. Pretty important if you’re on a sailboat navigating around the world!
The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733
The first geological map included information about what lay below the surface
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8733

To me, perhaps one of the fundamental changes in how we represented the earth came in 1782, when the first topographic map was created.  Marcellin du Carla-Boniface added still more layers of information to our ‘flat’ surface, including contour lines that were like slices of the landscape whose spacing indicated the slope of the feature.  Suddenly, we were going from a 3-dimensional world, to a 2-dimensional image, and back to a system of symbols to represent that third dimension.  More data, more layers, more information on that one sheet held in your hand, and a more detailed ‘story’ of the landscape.  Each cartographical and technological advance has enabled us to put more information, with increasing accuracy, upon our maps.  Go one step further with this and click on Google Earth.  A 3-dimensional view on a 2-dimensional screen of 3-dimensional data. Go one more step as you use your smartphone to display a 2-dimensional image taken from a 3-dimensional Google Earth view, made using layers of information applied to a flat map image.  It’s a bit more sophisticated than the original flat clay tablet—but it basically ‘tells’ you how to get from here to there. While the complexity of our world has not actually increased, the stories we are telling about our planet have increased exponentially, as has our ability for combining datum from a variety of sources into one, tidy little package.

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

This is a small piece of the first topographic map which included elevation information about surface features
http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/

A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS
A modern topographjic map, produced by USGS

THERE MAY BE DATA!

With each new technique and layer of information our ability to tell detailed stories with maps has improved.  We can add data to our maps using colors—just look at a modern colorful weather map in USA Today if you want to see an example of this.  Early cartographers used colors and shading to depict disease outbreaks or population numbers.  Here on the Rainier, we use color variations to show relative depth as we survey the ocean floor. The final charts have lines to denote depth changes, just as lines on a land-based topographic map show changes in elevation.

So, you might be asking yourself at this point, ‘How does a history of mapping relate to mapping the coastline in SW Alaska?’ Why are we currently anchored out here near Cold Bay, Alaska?  NOAA had its beginnings in 1807 when the first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast, was established.  Since then, NOAA’s mission has broadened to include the following “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.”  We are here as part of that mission, working through their National Ocean Service.   You might not realize it, but almost every imported item you buy spent some part of its life on a ship.  While Alaska’s coastline may seem a trifle remote, if you check out a map you might notice that it’s almost a straight shot from some of the ports in Asia to the west coast of the US.

Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area
Nautical chart showing the Cold Bay area
A Google Earth image of Cold Bay
A Google Earth image of Cold Bay
Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes.  See how many pass near SW Alaska.
Take a look at this map of the major world shipping routes. See how many pass near SW Alaska.

The Alaska Maritime Ferry also passes through these coastal areas on its way to towns and villages.  While these areas are, indeed, remote, they are united by a common coastline.  The Rainier, in over 40 years of ‘pinging’ its way northward each season from Washington and Oregon, has mapped this coastline.  That, to me, is an amazing feat!

Think of where we’ve come in our ability to tell stories about our landscape and how the intersection of all those stories has played a part in creating the world in which we live.  I, for one, still delight in the most simple of maps, drawn on a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin, showing someone how to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’.  Those maps are personal, and include the layers of information that I think are important (turn left at this house, turn right at that hill, go 2 miles, etc) and that tell the story I want to tell.  We now have the ability to add endless layers to our mapping stories, concatenating ever more data to tell an amazingly precise version.  In spite of this sophistication I hope there’s still a few dragons left out there!

There still may be some dragons out there!!
There still may be some dragons out there!!

If you want to know more, here’s some of the websites I looked at while researching this information:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/#1

http://www.noaa.gov/

http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/

http://specialprojects.nos.noaa.gov/welcome.html

http://www.datavis.ca/milestones/index.php?page=introduction

 For a great cartographic mystery, check out this book:

The Island of Lost Maps;  A True Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey

Personal Log

Today’s blog blends the scientific with the personal.  Maps are both of these things; a way to categorize and document our planet in a methodical, reasoned, repeatable, and scientific manner, and a way to personalize our planet to tell a story that we want to tell.  Cool stuff to think about as we drive back and forth across our little polygon here in Cold Bay.  It puts our work into perspective and creates both a sense of its importance and its relevance to describing a piece of our planet.  Hmmmm, in my next lifetime maybe I should be a hydrographer……

Student Driver!
Student Driver!
driving 2
I might need to fine tune my driving skills before anyone really lets me be a hydrographer. Those white gaps are ‘holidays’–no data was collected. 

Susy Ellison, A Hydrographic Wonderland, September 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 13, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge
You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing
GPS Reading:  55o 15.037’ N  162o 38.025’ W
Temp: 10.44C
Wind Speed: 9.8 kts
Barometer: 1021.21 mb
Visibility:  foggy on shore

Science and Technology Log

Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland.  Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated.  Think about it.  If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane.  You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?).  Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it.   Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day.  If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion.  OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes?  Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it.  It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind).

How do you know what's down there?
How do you know what’s down there?

Challenge number one—how do you measure something you can’t see or touch with your own hands?  Long ago, sailors solved that obstacle by using a lead line; literally, a line with a lead weight attached to the end.  They would drop the weighted line over the side of their ship to measure the depth.  These soundings would be repeated to get enough data to provide a view of the bottom.  This information was added to their maps along with estimates of the horizontal aspects (shoreline features and distance from the shoreline) to create reasonably good charts that kept them off most of the underwater obstacles. A simple solution to a complex problem.  No electricity required, no advanced degrees in computer science needed, no calculus-based physics necessary.  Fast- forward to 2013 and the world of complex calculations made possible by a variety of computer-based algorithmic calculations (i.e. some darn fancy computing power that does the math for you). The NOAA Ship Rainier’s hydrographers use sound as their lead line, traveling in small boats known as launches that are equipped with multibeam sonar that send a series of sound ‘pings’ to the ocean floor and measures the time between sending and receiving the ping back after its trip to the bottom.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  If it were all that simple I wouldn’t be typing this in a room on the Rainier filled with 20 computer monitors, 10 hard drives, and all sorts of other humming and whirring electronic devices.  Not only that, each launch is equipped with its own impressive array of computer hardware.

One of the launches is lowered from the ship.
One of the launches is lowered from the ship.

So far on our survey days 2 launches have been sent out to cover identified transects.  Their onboard crew includes a coxswain (boat driver), as well as 2-3 survey technicians and assistants. Each launch is assigned a polygon to survey for the day.

EVERY PING YOU TAKE…

Once they arrive at their assigned area, it’s time to ‘mow the lawn’—traverse back and forth systematically collecting data from one edge of your assigned polygon to the other until the entire area has been surveyed. Just in case you haven’t realized it yet, although that sounds pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Is the area shallow or deep?  Depth affects how much area each traverse can cover; the sonar spreads out as it goes downward sending it’s little pings scampering to the ocean floor. Visualize an inverted ‘V’ of pings racing away from the sonar towards the sea floor. If it’s deep, the pings travel further before being bounced back upwards.  This means that the width of each row the sonar cuts as it “mows the lawn” is wider in deeper water, and narrower in shallow.  Shallower areas require more passes with the launch, since each pass covers a more limited area than it might if the water were deeper.  As the launch motors back and forth ‘mowing the lawn’, the sonar  signature is recorded and displayed on monitors in the cabin area and in front of the driver.  Ideally, each lap overlaps the previous one by 25-50%, so that good coverage is ensured.  This requires a steady hand and expert driving skills as you motor along either over or parallel to ocean swells.  All you video gamers out there, take note–add boat driving to the repertoire of skills you might need if you want to find a job that incorporates video gaming with science!

sonar screen
One of the monitors displays the sonar. The green line is the seafloor. This image shows that the deeper the sea, the wider the swath that is covered with each pass of the launch.
Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch.  It's an art to 'mow' in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the coean's surface.
Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch. It’s an art to ‘mow’ in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the ocean’s surface.

Here’s a small list of some of the variables that need to be considered when using sonar to calculate depth; the chemistry of the water column through which you are measuring, the variability of the water column’s depth at specific times of day, the general depth (is it shallow or deep), and the movement of the measuring device itself.  So many variables!!

Starla Robinson and Randy Shingeldecker monitor our progress on the launch's computer monitors.
Starla Robinson and Randy Shingledecker set up the program that will enable them to monitor our progress

HOW FAST DOES SOUND TRAVEL?

When you’re basing your charts on how sound travels through the water column, you need to look at the specific characteristics of that water.  In a ‘perfect world’, sound travels at 1500m/second through water.  In our real world, that speed is affected by salinity (the concentration of salts), temperature, and depth (water pressure).  The survey crew uses a CTD meter to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The CTD meter is deployed multiple times during the day to obtain data on these parameters.  It is attached to a line on the rear of the launch, dropped into the water just below the surface for 2 minutes, and then lowered to near the ocean floor to collect data.  After retrieval, it’s hooked to the computer on the launch to download the data that was collected.  That data is stored in its own file to use when the data is reviewed in the evening back on board the Rainier.  This is one of the variables that will be applied to the sonar data file—how fast was the sound moving through the water?  Without this information to provide a baseline the sonar data would not be accurate.

ctd deploy 1
Randy Shingledecker gets ready to send the CTD over the side. It’s clipped into a stout line and a reel for lowering it.
ctd retrieval 1
The CTD is lowered to just above the seafloor to collect data on Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. This data will be applied to our sonar data to obtain an accurate sound speed for this area.


 

 

 

ROCKING AND ROLLING…

When you’re out on the ocean in a boat, the most obvious variable is the instability of the surface, itself.  This is called ‘attitude’.  Attitude includes changes to the boat’s orientation fore and aft (pitch), side-to-side (roll), and up and down (heave) as it is gently, and not-so-gently rocked by ocean swells and waves.  This means that the sonar is not always where you think it is in relation to the seafloor.  This is like trying to accurately measure the height of something while you, the measurer, are on a surface that is constantly moving in 3 different directions. Good luck.  Luckily for this crew of hydrographers, each boat is equipped with a little yellow box whose technical name is the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that I call the heave-o-meter, as we bob up and down on this might ocean.  This little box contains 3 gyroscopic sensors that record all those forward and backward pitches, sideways rolls, as well as the bobbing up and down motions that the boat does while the sonar is pinging away.  This information is recorded in the launch’s computer system and is applied to the sonar data during analysis back at the Rainier.

This yellow box is the IMU.  It's internal gyros capture information about the boat's pitch, roll, and heave.
This yellow box is the IMU. It’s internal gyros capture information about the boat’s pitch, roll, and heave.

TIME AND TIDE…

Now that you’ve gotten your launch to the correct polygon (using GPS data to pinpoint your location), taken CTD readings to create a sound transmission profile for your transect area, and started up the heave-o-meter to account for rocking and rolling on the high seas, it’s time to start collecting data.  Wait—there’s still another variable to think about, one that changes twice daily and affects the height of the water column.  You also have to factor in changes in the depth of the water due to tidal changes. (for an in-depth look at how tides work, check out this link: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/tides/tides01_intro.html).  At high tide, there’s a greater likelihood that subsurface obstacles will be covered sufficiently.  At low tide, however, it’s pretty important to know where the shallow spots and rocks might lurk.  NOAA’s hydrographers are charting ocean depths referenced to mean lower low water, so that mariners can avoid those low-water dangers.

You might be asking yourself, who keeps track of all that tide data and, not only that, how do we know what the tide highs and lows will be in an area where there are no other tide gauges?   NOAA has tide gauges along many coastal areas.  You can go online to http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/and find out predicted tide heights and times for any of these locations.  While we are working here in Cold Bay, we are using a tide gauge in nearby King Cove, as well as a tide gauge that the Rainier’s crew installed earlier this summer.  More data is better.

Here's the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.
Here’s the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.

What do you do if you’re surveying in an area that doesn’t have existing tide gauges?  In that case, you have to make your own gauge that is referenced to a non-moving point of known elevation (like a rock).  For a detailed description of how these gauges are set, check out NOAA TAS blogs from some of the teachers who preceded me on the Rainier. On Wednesday, I helped dismantle a tide gauge on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands that had been set up earlier this season (check out TAS Avery Martin’s July 12th posting), but had ceased to report reliable data.  Our mission on Wednesday was to find out if the station had merely stopped reporting data or if it had stopped collecting data entirely. 

Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.
Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.

When we arrived at Bird Island we found out exactly why the gauge had stopped sending data—its battery bank had fallen from one rocky ledge to another, ripping apart the connections and breaking one of the plastic battery boxes in the process.  That took a lot of force—perhaps a wave or some crazy gust of wind tore the 3 batteries from their mooring.  Since each battery weighs over 25lbs, that means that something moved over 75lbs of batteries.  Ideally, the station uses solar panels to keep the batteries charged.  The batteries power up the station so that data can be sent to a satellite. Data is also stored on site in a data logger, but without power that data logger won’t work.

This is the data logger for the tide gauge.  It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.
This is the data logger for the tide gauge. It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.

We retrieved all the equipment and will be able to download whatever data had been recorded before the system broke. The automated tide gauge is, basically, a narrow diameter air-filled tube that is underwater and set at a fixed depth with a narrow opening pointed downward to the seafloor. The pressure required to balance the air in the tube is equal to the pressure of the water column directly above the opening.  The tide gauge measures this pressure and converts it to depth.  Pressure/depth changes are recorded every six minutes—or ten times each hour. As it turns out, the damaged battery bank was only one of the problems with this station.  Problem number two was discovered by the dive team that retrieved the underwater portion of the gauge; the hose had been severed in two locations. In this case, something had caused the tube to break, so it was no longer connected to the data logger.  That must have been some storm!

ENC Carrier inspects the battery bank that inow s on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed!
ENS Carrier inspects the battery bank that rests on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed weeks ago!
The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.
The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.
The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.
The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.
The dive crew gets ready to jump in
The dive crew gets ready to jump in
Brrr, it's chilly work diving in arctic waters.  The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose
Brrr, it’s chilly work diving in arctic waters. The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose

While there, we set to work checking on benchmarks that had been set earlier in the season.  We used a transit and survey rods (oversized rulers) to measure the relative heights of a series of benchmarks to ensure accuracy. There are 5 benchmarks along the beach.  Each one was surveyed as a reference to the primary benchmark nearest the gauging station.  Multiple measurements help ensure greater accuracy.

I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.
I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.

 

I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb--perpendicular to the benchmark.  No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!
I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb–perpendicular to the benchmark. No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!

We also were tasked with checking the primary benchmark’s horizontal location.  While this had been carefully measured when it was set back in July, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t moved.  It might seem a crazy concept to think that a benchmark cemented into a seemingly immovable piece of rock could move, but we are in a region that experiences seismic events on an almost daily basis.  (You can check out seismic activity at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/) NOAA Corps Officer ENS Bill Carrier set up a GPS station at the benchmark to collect 4 hour’s data on its position, a process called HORCON (horizontal control).  Unfortunately, the winds were in charge of how much data we were able to collect that day, and blew down the station after only 3 hours! [image of station down]  Sometimes the best laid plans …..

A gust of wind blew the recording station down.
A gust of wind blew the recording station down.

 

DATA, DATA, and MORE DATA

While data collection is important, it’s what you do with the data that really gets complicated.  Data management is essential when working with so many files and so many variables. Before each launch returns to the Rainier, the day’s data is saved onto a portable hard drive.  Immediately after being hauled back up onto the ship, the data is handed off to the ‘Night Processing Team’ and hustled off to the Plotting Room (computer HQ) to be uploaded into a computer.  This is where the magic happens and an advanced degree in computer science or GIS (geographic information systems) can come in handy.  I have neither of those qualifications, but I know how to read a screen, click a mouse, and follow directions.  So, on Friday evening I was ushered into the ranks of ‘night processor’.

When each launch returns to the ship, their day's data is saved onto a hard drive.  This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.
When each launch returns to the ship, their day’s data is saved onto a hard drive. This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.

First, data is downloaded into the main computer.  Each launch’s files are called raw data files and are recorded in the launch’s acquisition logs.  Once the data is on the computer, it is important to set up what I call a ‘file tree’; the series of files that increase in specificity.  This is analogous to having an accurate list of what files live within each drawer and section of your file cabinet. These files are color-coded according to the operations manual protocols to minimize the chance of misfiling or the data.  They are definitely more organized than the files on my laptop—I might change my lackadaisical filing ways after this trip!

Once the data are placed in their folders, the fun begins.  Remember, you have files for multiple variables;  sonar, CTD casts, the IMU Heave-o-meter, and tide data.  Not only that, you have, with any luck, performed multiple casts of your CTD meter to obtain accurate data about the conditions affecting sound wave transmission within your polygon.  Now you get to do something I have never done before (and use a vocabulary word I never knew existed and one that I might try to spell in a future Scrabble game); you concatenate your CTD data.  Basically, you put the data from all your CTD casts together into one, neat little file.  Luckily, the computer program that is used does this for you.  Next, you direct the program to add all the variables to your sonar files; the concatenated CTD data, tide data, and IMU data.

 

Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.
Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and NOAA Corpsman ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.

Assuming all goes well and you have merged all your files, it’s time to ‘clean’ your data and review it to make sure there are no obvious holes or holidays in the data that was collected.  Holidays can occur if the launch was bouncing too much from side to side during data collection and show up as a blank spot in the data because the sonar was out of the water and not pinging off the bottom.  You can identify these holidays during the data collection process [holiday signature], but sometimes there are smaller holidays that show up once the data is merged and on your computer screen.  There can also be miscellaneous errant pings caused by debris in the water column.  Cleaning involves systematically searching each line of your surveyed polygon to identify and delete those ‘bad’ pings.  Kind of like photoshopping away the parts of a digital image that you don’t want in the final image.  You work methodically in a grid pattern from left to right and top to bottom to ensure that you are covering the whole file.  It sounds easy, but to a non-PC person such as myself all that right click, left click, center click stuff was a bit boggling.  The program is amazingly complex and, rumor has it, a little bit ‘buggy’ at times.

Multiple screens, multiple tasks.  I am learning the art of 'cleaning' the data--getting rid of extraneous pings.
Multiple screens, multiple tasks. I am learning the art of ‘cleaning’ the data–getting rid of extraneous pings.


After all this, guess what?!  You still don’t have a chart.  It takes almost 2 years to go from data collection to chart publication.  There’s endless amounts of data compilation, reports to be written, and quality control analysis to be completed before the final report and charts are issued.

Personal Log

So far I have spent two nights on the ship ‘in transit’, moving between ports. The other nights have been spent anchored offshore. While the first night at sea was a little bouncy, the second was, in my opinion, the wildest roller coaster ride I have ever taken.  Imagine being pulled to the top of a high roller coaster, and released to fly down to the bottom while you are lying flat in your bed.  That’s what it felt like as we motored from the Shumagin Islands to an anchorage in Cold Bay.  An endless series of up, up, ups, followed by a wild ride down, down, down. Luckily all the drawers and doors have latches that keep them from flying open—although I had a jacket hanging on a hook that seemed to hit the latch on one closet door and actually knock it open—after this happened a couple of times I gave up and put the coat on the floor and firmly shut the door.  My bathroom trash can ended up in the shower stall.  At one point I heard a loud thump in the dark—and realized my survival suit in its orange bag had fallen from the top bunk to the floor—glad I wasn’t in its way! It was time to just hang on and try not to roll out of bed.

If your chair isn't tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!
If your chair isn’t tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!
tiedown1
Strap the printer tightly to a table!
tiedown2
Don’t forget to secure the trashcans!

We finally stopped rocking and rolling around 3 in the morning.  I thought maybe I was just a bit sensitive to the rocking motion, but was comforted to find out the everyone agreed that it had been a wild night.  In fact, one of the potential ‘hazards’ for our work on Thursday was ‘lack of sleep’.

FOO Meghan Mcgovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD).  Today's identified hazards included 'Lack of Sleep'.
FOO LT Meghan McGovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD). Today’s identified hazards included ‘Lack of Sleep’.

 

After almost a week aboard the Rainier I have been impressed with the teamwork, precision, and overall efficiency which overlays all operations. This crew can get a launch loaded, lowered, and underway in less time than it sometimes takes me to record my morning attendance at school!  This is no simple feat (the boat, not the attendance!).  It reminds me of a buzzing beehive filled with activity and focused on a single task; data collection. Each day begins on the fantail (the rear of the boat) at 0800 with the FOO (Field Operations Officer) reviewing the POD (Plan of the Day) and a summary of the day’s goals, work assignments, weather, and potential hazards, prior to sending out the survey crews.

The Boatswain (bo’sun) directs the next part of this tightly choreographed activity, as the launches are lowered by their davits (small cranes), while lines and hooks are handled with an eye to safety and efficiency.  Within 5 minutes the two launches have been lowered, loaded with crew and supplies, and are on the water, buzzing away from the hive like bees to perform their daily waggle dance as they move back and forth collecting hydrographic data.

At 1630 they return to the hive, filled with the sweet nectar of hydrographic data.  Launches are lifted back onto the ship and the data is whisked off to the computer room for downloading. 5 Minutes later a survey team debrief is held to review work accomplished that day and any problems that may have come up so that plans can be made for the next day’s work.  This crew is organized!!

The NOAA Ship Rainier
The NOAA Ship Rainier

 

 

 

Susy Ellison: How Long Does it Take to Get to Kodiak, Alaska? September 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 7, 2013

Weather:
Partly cloudy at the Anchorage Airport
Lat 61.217 N, Lon 149.900 W
Temp 56F

Personal Log

Although Mapquest says ‘you can’t get there from here’, when queried about routes from Carbondale, CO to Kodiak, AK, I am sitting in the Anchorage Airport and well on my way to meeting up with the NOAA Ship Rainier.  While it’s easy to make a list of exactly how I’m getting to Kodiak (drive to Vail, CO, shuttle van to Denver, fly from Denver to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Kodiak), it’s a little more complicated to actually describe my journey to Kodiak and the Rainier.

 

Sitting in Vail waiting for the shuttle van to Denver.
Sitting in Vail waiting for the shuttle van to Denver.

I’m not sure that the journey only started when I packed my large, orange duffel bag and threw it in the car.  That bag, currently either in the underbelly of a plane or sitting in a stack somewhere in the bowels of the airport, is filled with the clothing and personal supplies I’ll need for the next 3 weeks.  Topping the list of clothing is a pair of Xtratuffs–rubber boots to keep my feet dry on the ship and when we’re on shore.  Speaking of dry, I have 2 sets of raingear; a gore-tex parka and pants for those mostly wet days, and pvc-coated nylon parka and pants for the truly wet days.  Rumor has it that it could be a bit rainy in the Shumagin Island area.  I have long underwear to keep me warm, a wool hat to keep my head toasty, and the usual assortment of jeans and t-shirts for time ‘indoors’ on the ship.

Sometimes I think this journey started while planning 3 weeks of lesson plans for my students. My mind was already on the ship as I was creating those plans and trying to link my students’ activities with some of what I will be learning during my cruise.  I created an independent study plan for students who wanted to earn science credit by following along with my blogs and reading the blogs of other teachers.  All that planning gave me ample time to think about the journey that lay ahead, and to, perhaps, already start the journey while I was sitting at my desk.

This journey to Kodiak and the Shumagin Islands certainly has some foundation in my endless perusal of the Teacher at Sea blogs this summer.  I was an avid reader of blogs from teachers aboard the Rainier, but also took time to read journals from teachers in other oceans and locations.  Since I’ve never been on a ship this was a great way to start my trip a little bit ‘early’.

Did this journey begin way back when I applied for the Teacher at Sea program?  After all, part of the application process involved envisioning how I would use this experience in my classroom.  I had been following other teacher’s cruises for many years, so it was great to have to visualize myself on a ship and what I could learn from such an experience.

But, when I really think about this journey, it might actually have started long ago, when I was a child.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that was, to put it mildly, firmly rooted in science and looking at the world as one giant science experiment.  I was taught to ‘think like a scientist’, observing the world around me and asking questions (and searching for answers) about our planet.

It comes down to a question of scale.  Is it really just a journey of 3000+ miles from Carbondale to Kodiak, or is it the sum total of days, months, or even years?  Either way, I can’t wait for this part of the journey to end and my life on the ship to begin!

Rosalind Echols: Cool Science on the Ship and Final Reflections on My Rainier Adventure, July 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rosalind Echols
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 30, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Sometimes in school you hear, “You’ll need this someday.” You have been skeptical, and (at times) rightfully so. But here on the Rainier, Avery and I encountered many areas in which what we learned in school has helped us to understand some of the ship operations.

How does a 234 ft. ship, like the Rainier, float?

If you take a large chunk of metal and drop it in the water, it will sink. And yet, here we are sailing on a large chunk of metal. How is that possible? This all has to do with the difference between density (the amount of mass or stuff contained within a chunk of a substance) and buoyancy (the tendency of an object to float). When you put an object in water, it pushes water out of the way. If the object pushes aside an amount of water with equal mass before it becomes fully submerged, it will float. Less dense objects typically float because it doesn’t take that much water to equal their mass, and so they can remain above the water line. The shape of a ship is designed to increase its buoyancy by displacing a greater quantity of water than it would as a solid substance. Because of all the empty space in the ship, by the time the ship has displaced a quantity of water with equal mass to the ship itself, the ship is still above water. As we add people, supplies, gasoline and so on to the ship, we ride lower. As evidenced by the sinking of numerous ships, when a ship springs a hole in the hull and water floods in, the buoyancy of the ship is severely compromised. To take precaution against this, the Rainier has several extra watertight doors that can be closed in case of an emergency. That way, the majority of the ship could be kept secure from the water and stay afloat.

How does a heavy ship like the Rainier stay balanced?

Another critical consideration is the balance of the ship. When the ship encounters the motion of the ocean, it tends to pitch and roll. Like a pendulum, the way in which it does this depends largely on the distance between the center of gravity of the ship (effectively the point at which the mass of the ship is centered) and the point about which it will roll. Ships are very carefully designed and loaded so that they maintain maximum stability.

Boat stability diagram
Boat stability diagram

Ballast is often added to the hulls of ships for the following reasons:

  • to help keep them balanced when there is not enough cargo weight
  • to increase stability when sailing in rough seas
  • to increase the draught of the ship allowing it to pass under bridges
  • to counteract a heavy upper deck like that of the Rainier, which itself contains 64, 000 pounds of launches.

Ballast comes in many forms and historically rocks, sandbags and pieces of heavy metal were used to lower a ship’s center of gravity, thus stabilizing it. Cargo ships, when filling up at port, would unload this ballast in exchange for the cargo to be transported.  For example, in the 1800s, the cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia were made with the abandoned ballast of ships. Today water is used as ballast, since it can be loaded and unloaded easier and faster. Most cargo ships contain several ballast tanks in the hull of the ship.

Cargo ship with several ballast tanks
Cargo ship with several ballast tanks

It is thought that the capsizing of the Cougar Ace cargo ship bound for the west coast of the US in 2006, was caused by a ballast problem during an open-sea transfer.  The ship was required to unload their ballast in international waters before entering US waters to prevent the transfer of invasive species carried by the stored water. The result of the Cougar Ace snafu: 4, 700 Mazdas scrapped and millions of dollars lost. Oops!

Couger Ace capsized in open ocean
Cougar Ace capsized in open ocean

Because the Rainier is not loading and unloading tons of cargo, they use a permanent ballast of steel rebar, which sits in the center of the lower hull. Another source of ballast is the 102, 441 gallons of diesel which is divided between many gas tanks that span the width and length of the ship on the port and starboard sides.  These tanks can be filled and emptied individually.  For stability purposes the Rainier must maintain 30% of fuel onboard, and according to the CO, the diesel level is usually way above 30% capacity. The manipulation of the individual diesel tank levels is more for “trimming” of the boat which essentially ensures a smoother ride for passengers.

Where does all the freshwater come from for a crew of 50?

If only humans could drink saltwater, voyages at sea would be much easier and many lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, salt water is three times saltier than human blood and would severely dehydrate the body upon consumption leading to health problems such as kidney failure, brain damage, seizures and even death.  So how can we utilize all this salt water that surrounds us for good use?  Well, to avoid carrying tons of fresh potable water aboard, most large ships use some type of desalination process to remove the salt from the water.  Desalination methods range from reverse osmosis to freeze thawing to distillation. The Rainier uses a distillation method which mimics the water cycle in nature: heated water evaporates into water vapor, leaving salts and impurities behind, condensing into liquid water as the temperature drops. This all is happening inside a closed system so the resulting freshwater can be kept.  To speed up this process, the pressure is lowered inside the desalinator so the water boils at a lower temperature.  Much of the energy needed to heat the water comes from the thermal energy or waste heat given off by nearby machines such as the boiler.

Desalinator in the Rainier engine room
Desalinator in the Rainier engine room

Distillation purifies 99% percent of the salt water and the remaining 1% of impurities are removed by a bromine filter.  The final step of the process is a bromine concentration and PH check to ensure the water is potable. The bromine should be about .5 ppm and the PH between 6.8-7.2.

Daily water quality log
Daily water quality log

Everyday the Rainer desalinates 2500 gallons of saltwater to be used for drinking, cleaning and showering. The toilets, however, use saltwater and if you are lucky like me, you can see flashes of light from bioluminescent plankton when flushing in darkness. It’s like a plankton discotec in the toilet!

How does the chicken cross the road when the road is moving?

The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map tells you which way to go and a nautical chart just tells you what’s out there and you design your course.  Thus, navigating on the ocean is not as simple as “turn left at the stop sign,” or “continue on for 100 miles”, like directions for cars often state. Imagine that the road beneath you was moving as you drove your car. In order to keep following your desired course, you would need to keep adjusting to the changes in the road. That’s a lot like what happens in a ship. If you want to drive due west, you can’t simply aim the ship in that direction. As you go, the ship gets pushed around by the wind, the currents, and the tides, almost as if you drove your car west and the road slid up to the north. Without compensating for this, you would end up many miles north of your desired location. If you have a north-going current, you have to account for this by making southward adjustments. In a physics class, we might talk about adding vectors, or directional motion; in this case, we are considering velocity vectors. When you add up the speed you are going in each direction, you end up with your actual speed and direction. In the ship we make adjustments so that our actual speed and direction are correct.

Which way to the North Pole?

Did you know that when you look at a compass, it doesn’t always tell you the direction of true north? True north is directly towards the North Pole, the center of the Earth’s axis of rotation which passes directly to the true south pole. However, compasses rely on the location of the magnetic pole which is offset somewhat.

Compass showing true north and magnetic north
Compass showing true north and magnetic north

The combination of the solid iron core and the liquid iron mantle of the Earth create a magnetic field that surrounds the Earth (and protects us from some really damaging effects of the sun). If you visualize the Earth like a bar magnet, magnetic north is located at an approximate position of 82.7°N 114.4°W, roughly in the middle of northern Canada. If you stood directly south of this point, your compass would point true north because true north and magnetic north would be on the same line of longitude. However, as you get farther away from this west or east, the North indicated by your compass is more and more offset.

The magnetic poles of the earth
The magnetic poles of the earth
Earth showing true and magnetic poles
Earth showing true and magnetic poles

Our navigational charts are made using “true” directions. Because of our location in Alaska, if we were steering by compass, we would have to offset all of our measurements by roughly 14° to account for the difference in true and magnetic north. Fortunately, due to the advent of GPS, it is much simpler to tell our true direction.

Why so much daylight and fog?

Every hour, the crew of the Rainier measures the air temperature, sea water temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity. Aside from keeping a record of weather conditions, this also allows the National Weather Service to provide a more accurate weather forecast for this geographical region by providing local data to plug into the weather prediction models.

Hourly weather log
Hourly weather log

Weather in the Shumagin Islands could be very different from that of the nearest permanent weather station, so this can be valuable information for mariners. In our time out here, we have experienced a lot of fog and cool temperatures (although the spectacular sunshine and sunsets of the past few days make that seem like a distant memory). One reason for this is our simultaneous proximity to a large land mass (Siberia, in far-east Russia) and the ocean. Cool air from the land collides with warm waters coming up from Japan, which often leads to fog.

Currents of the Pacific
Currents around Alaska

However, because we are pretty far north, we also experience a lot of daylight (although not the 24-hour cycles so often associated with Alaska). At this time of the year, even though the Earth is farther away from the sun that it is in our winter season, the axis of the Earth is tilted toward the sun, leading to more direct sunlight and longer hours of illumination.

Earth's orbit around the sun
Earth’s orbit around the sun

One slightly bizarre fact is that all of Alaska is on the same time zone, even though it is really large enough to span several time zones. Out in the west, that means that sunset is in fact much later than it otherwise should be. Our last few spectacular sunsets have all happened around 11pm and true darkness descends just past midnight.  I have on several occasions stayed up several hours past my bedtime fishing on the fantail or getting distracted wandering around the ship because it is still light out at 11pm!

Rosalind and Avery at sunset
Rosalind and Avery (with Van de Graaf generator hair) at sunset

Personal Log:

After roughly a week back on land, I have already been inundated with questions about life on the Rainier, the research we were doing, the other people I met, and so on. It occurs to me that as challenging as it was to embark on this journey and try to learn as much as possible in three weeks, perhaps the greater challenge is to convey the experience to friends, family, and most importantly, my students. How will I convey the sense of nervousness with which I first stepped from the skiff to land, trying not to fall in the frigid north Pacific? What will I do in my classroom to get my students as excited about learning about the ocean and diving into new experiences as I was on this trip? How will I continue to expand on the knowledge and experiences I have had during my time on the Rainier? At the moment, I do not have excellent answers to these questions, but I know that thinking about them will be one of the primary benefits of this extraordinary opportunity.

For the moment, I can say that I have deepened my understanding of both the value and the challenge of working in collaboration with others; the importance of bringing my own voice to my work as well as listening to that of others; and the extent to which new experiences that push me out of my comfort zone are incredibly important for my development as an individual. I genuinely hope that I can develop a classroom environment that enables this same learning process for my students, so that, like the science I discussed above, they aren’t doing things that they will, “need some day,” but doing things that they need now.

Finally, I will say that I am finishing this trip even more intrigued by the ocean, and its physical and biological processes, than I was before. When one of the survey techs declared, “This is so exciting! We are the first people ever to see the bottom of this part of the ocean!” she wasn’t exaggerating. Even after my time on the Rainier, I feel like I am only beginning to scratch the surface of all of the things I might learn about the ocean, and I can’t wait to explore these with my students. I look forward as well to the inevitable research that I will do to try to further solidify my understanding and appreciation of the world’s oceans.

I leave with fond memories of a truly unique 18 day voyage aboard the most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform in the world: her majesty, the NOAA Ship Rainier. Thank you lovely lady and thank you Rainier crew for making this Teacher at Sea adventure so magical!

The most striking sunset of our voyage.
The most striking sunset of our voyage.

Avery Marvin: Cool Science on the Ship and final Reflections of My Rainier Adventure, July 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 30, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Sometimes in school you hear, “You’ll need this someday.” You have been skeptical, and (at times) rightfully so. But here on the Rainier, Rosalind and I encountered many areas in which what we learned in school has helped us to understand some of the ship operations.

How does a 234 ft. ship, like the Rainier, float?

If you take a large chunk of metal and drop it in the water, it will sink. And yet, here we are sailing on a large chunk of metal. How is that possible? This all has to do with the difference between density (the amount of mass or stuff contained within a chunk of a substance) and buoyancy (the tendency of an object to float). When you put an object in water, it pushes water out of the way. If the object pushes aside an amount of water with equal mass before it becomes fully submerged, it will float. Less dense objects typically float because it doesn’t take that much water to equal their mass, and so they can remain above the water line. The shape of a ship is designed to increase its buoyancy by displacing a greater quantity of water than it would as a solid substance. Because of all the empty space in the ship, by the time the ship has displaced a quantity of water with equal mass to the ship itself, the ship is still above water. As we add people, supplies, gasoline and so on to the ship, we ride lower. As evidenced by the sinking of numerous ships, when a ship springs a hole in the hull and water floods in, the buoyancy of the ship is severely compromised. To take precaution against this, the Rainier has several extra watertight doors that can be closed in case of an emergency. That way, the majority of the ship could be kept secure from the water and stay afloat.

How does a heavy ship like the Rainier stay balanced?

Another critical consideration is the balance of the ship. When the ship encounters the motion of the ocean, it tends to pitch and roll. Like a pendulum, the way in which it does this depends largely on the distance between the center of gravity of the ship (effectively the point at which the mass of the ship is centered) and the point about which it will roll. Ships are very carefully designed and loaded so that they maintain maximum stability.

Boat stability diagram
Boat stability diagram

Ballast is often added to the hulls of ships for the following reasons:

  • to help keep them balanced when there is not enough cargo weight
  • to increase stability when sailing in rough seas
  • to increase the draught of the ship allowing it to pass under bridges
  • to counteract a heavy upper deck like that of the Rainier, which itself contains 64, 000 pounds of launches.

Ballast comes in many forms and historically rocks, sandbags and pieces of heavy metal were used to lower a ship’s center of gravity, thus stabilizing it. Cargo ships, when filling up at port, would unload this ballast in exchange for the cargo to be transported.  For example, in the 1800s, the cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia were made with the abandoned ballast of ships. Today water is used as ballast, since it can be loaded and unloaded easier and faster. Most cargo ships contain several ballast tanks in the hull of the ship.

Cargo ship with several ballast tanks
Cargo ship with several ballast tanks

It is thought that the capsizing of the Cougar Ace cargo ship bound for the west coast of the US in 2006, was caused by a ballast problem during an open-sea transfer.  The ship was required to unload their ballast in international waters before entering US waters to prevent the transfer of invasive species carried by the stored water. The result of the Cougar Ace snafu: 4, 700 Mazdas scrapped and millions of dollars lost. Oops!

Couger Ace capsized in open ocean
Cougar Ace capsized in open ocean

Because the Rainier is not loading and unloading tons of cargo, they use a permanent ballast of steel rebar, which sits in the center of the lower hull. Another source of ballast is the 102, 441 gallons of diesel which is divided between many gas tanks that span the width and length of the ship on the port and starboard sides.  These tanks can be filled and emptied individually.  For stability purposes the Rainier must maintain 30% of fuel onboard, and according to the CO, the diesel level is usually way above 30% capacity. The manipulation of the individual diesel tank levels is more for “trimming” of the boat which essentially ensures a smoother ride for passengers.

Where does all the freshwater come from for a crew of 50?

If only humans could drink saltwater, voyages at sea would be much easier and many lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, salt water is three times saltier than human blood and would severely dehydrate the body upon consumption leading to health problems such as kidney failure, brain damage, seizures and even death.  So how can we utilize all this salt water that surrounds us for good use?  Well, to avoid carrying tons of fresh potable water aboard, most large ships use some type of desalination process to remove the salt from the water.  Desalination methods range from reverse osmosis to freeze thawing to distillation. The Rainier uses a distillation method which mimics the water cycle in nature: heated water evaporates into water vapor, leaving salts and impurities behind, condensing into liquid water as the temperature drops. This all is happening inside a closed system so the resulting freshwater can be kept.  To speed up this process, the pressure is lowered inside the desalinator so the water boils at a lower temperature.  Much of the energy needed to heat the water comes from the thermal energy or waste heat given off by nearby machines such as the boiler.

Desalinator in the Rainier engine room
Desalinator in the Rainier engine room

Distillation purifies 99% percent of the salt water and the remaining 1% of impurities are removed by a bromine filter.  The final step of the process is a bromine concentration and PH check to ensure the water is potable. The bromine should be about .5 ppm and the PH between 6.8-7.2.

Daily water quality log
Daily water quality log

Everyday the Rainer desalinates 2500 gallons of saltwater to be used for drinking, cleaning and showering. The toilets, however, use saltwater and if you are lucky like me, you can see flashes of light from bioluminescent plankton when flushing in darkness. It’s like a plankton discotec in the toilet!

How does the chicken cross the road when the road is moving?

The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map tells you which way to go and a nautical chart just tells you what’s out there and you design your course.  Thus, navigating on the ocean is not as simple as “turn left at the stop sign,” or “continue on for 100 miles”, like directions for cars often state. Imagine that the road beneath you was moving as you drove your car. In order to keep following your desired course, you would need to keep adjusting to the changes in the road. That’s a lot like what happens in a ship. If you want to drive due west, you can’t simply aim the ship in that direction. As you go, the ship gets pushed around by the wind, the currents, and the tides, almost as if you drove your car west and the road slid up to the north. Without compensating for this, you would end up many miles north of your desired location. If you have a north-going current, you have to account for this by making southward adjustments. In a physics class, we might talk about adding vectors, or directional motion; in this case, we are considering velocity vectors. When you add up the speed you are going in each direction, you end up with your actual speed and direction. In the ship we make adjustments so that our actual speed and direction are correct.

Which way to the North Pole?

Did you know that when you look at a compass, it doesn’t always tell you the direction of true north? True north is directly towards the North Pole, the center of the Earth’s axis of rotation which passes directly to the true south pole. However, compasses rely on the location of the magnetic pole which is offset somewhat.

Compass showing true north and magnetic north
Compass showing true north and magnetic north

The combination of the solid iron core and the liquid iron mantle of the Earth create a magnetic field that surrounds the Earth (and protects us from some really damaging effects of the sun). If you visualize the Earth like a bar magnet, magnetic north is located at an approximate position of 82.7°N 114.4°W, roughly in the middle of northern Canada. If you stood directly south of this point, your compass would point true north because true north and magnetic north would be on the same line of longitude. However, as you get farther away from this west or east, the North indicated by your compass is more and more offset.

The magnetic poles of the earth
The magnetic poles of the earth
Earth showing true and magnetic poles
Earth showing true and magnetic poles

Our navigational charts are made using “true” directions. Because of our location in Alaska, if we were steering by compass, we would have to offset all of our measurements by roughly 14° to account for the difference in true and magnetic north. Fortunately, due to the advent of GPS, it is much simpler to tell our true direction.

Why so much daylight and fog?

Every hour, the crew of the Rainier measures the air temperature, sea water temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity. Aside from keeping a record of weather conditions, this also allows the National Weather Service to provide a more accurate weather forecast for this geographical region by providing local data to plug into the weather prediction models.

Hourly weather log
Hourly weather log

Weather in the Shumagin Islands could be very different from that of the nearest permanent weather station, so this can be valuable information for mariners. In our time out here, we have experienced a lot of fog and cool temperatures (although the spectacular sunshine and sunsets of the past few days make that seem like a distant memory). One reason for this is our simultaneous proximity to a large land mass (Siberia, in far-east Russia) and the ocean. Cool air from the land collides with warm waters coming up from Japan, which often leads to fog.

Currents of the Pacific
Currents around Alaska

However, because we are pretty far north, we also experience a lot of daylight (although not the 24-hour cycles so often associated with Alaska). At this time of the year, even though the Earth is farther away from the sun that it is in our winter season, the axis of the Earth is tilted toward the sun, leading to more direct sunlight and longer hours of illumination.

Earth's orbit around the sun
Earth’s orbit around the sun

One slightly bizarre fact is that all of Alaska is on the same time zone, even though it is really large enough to span several time zones. Out in the west, that means that sunset is in fact much later than it otherwise should be. Our last few spectacular sunsets have all happened around 11pm and true darkness descends just past midnight.  I have on several occasions stayed up several hours past my bedtime fishing on the fantail or getting distracted wandering around the ship because it is still light out at 11pm!

Rosalind and Avery at sunset
Rosalind and Avery (with Van de Graaf generator hair) at sunset

Personal Log:

Well friends, I said a bittersweet goodbye to the Rainier and its incredible dynamic crew. I am sad to have left but am also excited to return home to the Oregon Coast to begin planning for this school year. I look forward to incorporating my newfound knowledge and unique experience at sea into the classroom.  I am still amazed at the breadth and diversity of information that I learned in just under 3 weeks. From learning how to steer the ship to acquiring and processing survey data to puffin reproduction, the list goes on. I never stopped asking questions or being curious.  And the Rainier crew was always there to graciously answer my questions.  I am grateful for all that they taught me and for the kindness and patience they consistently showed me.

When I asked Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, what he most enjoyed about his job, he responded “The people.” He said he enjoys seeing the personal and professional growth of individual crew members.  It is not hard to see that the Rainier crew is pretty amazing.  They are an extremely dedicated group of individuals whose passion for their profession supersedes living a “normal life”. Each one of them has an interesting story of how they got to the Rainier and many of them sacrifice family time and personal relationships to be aboard the ship for months at a time.

Beyond the scientific knowledge attained, I leave this ship with a few important life reminders.

1) Be patient with yourself, your own learning style, with others around you and the task at hand. Authentic science is messy and exhausting. Ship life attracts unique personalities.

2) Don’t forget about the big picture and why you are here in the first place. “Mowing the lawn” day in and day out can seem mundane but all of those data points together will compromise the updated nautical chart which will ensure safe mariner travel for a multitude of ships.

3) Teamwork is key to any complex operation. This not only means working together but always being willing to lend a helping hand and sharing your particular knowledge with fellow crew members.

4) Appreciate, observe and protect the natural beauty that surrounds us.  Cultivate this awareness in others. Our livelihood as a species depends on our interaction with the environment.

This is my second to last blog post. Stay tuned for an exciting last entry about my extended stay in Kodiak, Alaska (post Rainier) where I explored the unique cultural and historical facets of this vibrant fishing port. Note: This next post will involve bears, a seal skin kayak, a behind the scenes fish factory tour, orcas, reindeer sausage and fossils!

For now, I leave with fond memories of a truly unique 18 day voyage aboard the most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform in the world: her majesty, the Rainier. Thank you lovely lady and thank you Rainier crew for making this Teacher at Sea adventure so magical!

The most striking sunset of our voyage.
The most striking sunset of our voyage.

Susy Ellison: Dreaming of the Cool North, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  July 22, 2013

In September I will be heading north for 3 weeks as a NOAA Teacher at Sea (TAS).  Right now it’s over 90F outside and I am happily visualizing wearing layers of fleece and waterproof raingear on the deck of the NOAA Ship Rainier assisting with hydrographic survey work along the South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands.

How am I preparing for my experience?  First and foremost, it’s important to actually practice blogging and communicating using the TAS website.  Since this is the platform that will enable me to communicate with my coworkers, students, and all of you out there in the blogosphere, it’s important to learn how to manipulate all the nuances of electronic communication.  Second, I need to learn about the work I will be involved in during my TAS cruise.  Third, since I will be gone during the school year, I need to design lessons and unit plans that will enable students and staff at school to follow along during my experience.  Finally, since it’s still summer vacation, I need to make sure that I get out there!!

A visit to Niagara Falls

I am Susy Ellison, a teacher at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, CO.  Yampah is a public, alternative high school serving students from 4 school districts.  Our students come to us for a variety of reasons, although most are united in their search for a high school experience that helps them identify and pursue their passions while providing information in a relevant, hands-on manner.  I am the sole science teacher for our school, responsible for teaching earth, life, and physical science classes, as well as taking students outdoors for weeklong trips in the nearby mountains and deserts. My passion is environmental literacy, creating connections between people and their planet.  My students will tell you that, no matter what class they are taking, they learn about the planet and how their actions matter.

If you’ve been a good follower of the TAS blogs, you will already know that there have been 4 teachers cruising along on the Rainier (2 of them are on the ship right now).  I have been following their blogs to learn about the science and daily life aboard the ship.  It is exciting to know that there are still places that need to be mapped. I am looking forward to gaining firsthand knowledge of the mapping technology that is used. The one thing that I have noticed is always mentioned in their blogs, besides the science, is the fact that no one is malnourished onboard the ship!

In the coming weeks I will be designing lesson and unit plans for my science classes so that they will be able to follow along while I am at sea. Since Yampah takes an integrated approach to education, I am also creating lessons that our math, language arts, and social studies teachers will be using to add a little hydrographic science to their classes.  The lessons will revolve around the theme of ‘Mapping Our World’, which just happens to be this year’s theme for Earth Science Week.

Finally, my preparations include having an action-packed summer vacation.  I am lucky enough to live in western Colorado, close to mountains, rivers, and deserts.  I have spent part of the summer floating rivers in Utah and Idaho with my husband and friends.  Now, as the waters ebb, I am heading to the mountains for some altitude-adjustment and hiking.  The wildflowers are lovely, and the high-elevation hiking helps me beat the heat (and stay in shape!).

My husband in the dory he built.
My husband in the dory he built.
Floating in my kayak on the Green River
Floating in my kayak on the Green River
I have a wonderful 'backyard'!
I have a wonderful ‘backyard’!

Stay tuned as my cruise approaches for more of my preparations and, perhaps, some glimpses of the lessons I will be preparing for my students.

Avery Marvin: Beaming With Excitement – Sound Waves and the Sea Floor, July 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (Ship Tracker)
July 8-25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 19, 2013

Current Location: 54° 49.684 N, 159° 46.604 W

Weather Data from the Bridge: Foggy and overcast, wind 21 knots, air temperature: 11.5° C

Science and Technology Log:

As the fog horn sounds every two minutes and we sail solitary through the ocean, we are now in full swing surveying the Shumagin Islands, between and around Nagai, Bird, and Chernabura Islands. Unlike the old-time surveyors who used lead lines (lead weight attached to a long string), we are using a multibeam sonar system, which enables us to gather a large quantity of very accurate data in a more efficient and timely fashion.

3D sea floor
Processed sonar data showing 3D image of the sea floor.

Sonar, (SOund Navigation And Ranging) uses the principle of sound wave reflection to detect objects in the water. Just as our eyes see the reflection of visible light off of the objects around us to create a visual image, when a sound wave hits something, it reflects off that “thing” and returns to its starting point (the receiver). We can measure the time it takes for a pulse to travel from the Sonar device below the boat to the ocean floor and then back to the receiver on the boat. Using a simple distance=speed * time equation, we can get the water depth at the spot where each beam is reflected.

The skiff that we use for the shoreline activities discussed in the last post has a single-beam sonar system that directs a pulse straight down beneath the hull to get a rough depth estimate. However, for our hydrographic work on the ship and launches, we use a multibeam system that sends 512 sound pulses simultaneously towards the sea floor over a 120° angle. When many sound waves or “beams” are emitted at the same time (called a pulse) in a fan like pattern (called a swath), the reflected information creates a “sound picture” of the objects or surface within that swath range. The actual width of this swath varies with the depth, but with 512 beams per pulse, and sending out between 5-30 pulses every second, we acquire a lot of data. If you piece together many swaths worth of data you get a continuous topographical or physical map of the ocean floor, and thus the depth of the water. For more information about the specific sonar system used aboard the Rainier and its launches, check out the ship page or the NOAA page about their hydrography work.

Multibeam
Graphic showing an example of the multibeam swath below a launch. Notice how the swath gets wider as the depth increases.
Multibeam data
Cross section of sea floor data showing dot or “ping” for each multibeam measurement. Notice how many individual measurements are represented in this one section.
Swath data
Cross section of sea floor data. Each color represents data from one swath. Notice the overlap between swaths as well as the width for each one.
3D floor image
Processed sonar data showing 3D image of the sea floor.

In order to understand the complexities of sonar, it is important to understand the properties of sound. Sound is a pressure wave that travels when molecules collide with each other. We know that sound can travel in air, because we experience this every day when we talk to each other, but it can also travel in liquids and solids (which whales rely on to communicate). As a general rule, sound travels much faster in liquids and solids than in air because the molecules in liquids and solids are closer together and therefore collide more often, passing on the vibration at a faster rate. (The average speed of sound in air is about 343 meters every second, whereas the approximate speed of sound in water we have been measuring is around 1475 meters every second). Within a non-uniform liquid, like saltwater, the speed of sound varies depending on the various properties of the saltwater at the survey site. These properties include water temperature, dissolved impurities (i.e. salts, measured by salinity), and pressure. An increase in any of these properties leads to an increase in the speed of sound, and since we’re using the equation distance = speed * time equation, it is crucial to consistently measure them when seeking depth measurements.

CTD Data
Data from CTD showing temperature vs. sound speed from one data set. Notice how the temperature and sound speed seem correlated.

To measure these properties, a device called a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) is used. Conductivity in this acronym refers to the free flowing ions in salt water (Na and Cl, for example), which are conductive and the concentration of these ions determines the salinity of the water. The CTD measures these three properties (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) so the speed of sound in the water can be calculated at every point in the water column

To use the CTD, lovely humans like Avery and I will drop it into the water (it is attached to a winch system) at the area where we are surveying and as it travels to the sea floor, it takes a profile of the three saltwater properties mentioned before. Back in the computer lab, software takes this profile data and calculates the sound velocity or speed of sound through the water in that region.  As a crosscheck, we compare our profile data and sound velocity figures obtained at the site to historical measured limits for each property. If our measurements fall significantly outside of these historical values, we might try casting again or switch to a different CTD. However, because we are surveying in such a remote area, in some cases, data outside historical limits is acceptable.

CTD graphs
Graph of our sound speed vs. depth data showing comparison to historical data.

Given that we are trying to determine the water depth to within centimeters, variations in the sound speed profile can cause substantial enough errors that we try to take a “cast” or CTD reading in each small area that we are gathering data. The software the survey team uses is able to correct automatically for the sound velocity variations by using the data from the CTD. This means that the depth profile created by the sonar systems is adjusted based on the actual sound velocities (from the CTD data) rather than the surface sound speed. We are also able to account for speed changes that would cause refraction, or a bending of the beam as it travels, which would otherwise provide inaccurate data about the location of the sea floor.

Avery lowers the CTD into the water for a "cast". The CTD needs to sit in the water for a few minutes to acclimate before being lowered for a profile.
Avery lowers the CTD into the water for a “cast”. The CTD needs to sit in the water for a few minutes to acclimate before being lowered for a profile.
Avery successfully hauls in the CTD out of the water.
Avery successfully hauls in the CTD out of the water.

Personal Log:

You can’t go to Alaska without fishing its waters, rich with a variety of delectable fish species.  So I decided to get my Alaskan recreation fishing license and try my hand at it on the fantail (stern) of the Rainier, while we were anchored in Bird Island cove. Carl VerPlanck, an experienced fisherman with arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger, had coached me on the best jigging techniques for catching a halibut and with my eyes (and mind) on the prize I followed his instructions diligently.  It paid off as I landed several fish my first night on the fantail, with one halibut being a true keeper. John Kidd, NOAA Corps. Officer, gaffed my meaty fish over the steep rail of the Rainier and hauled it aboard.  He was impressed with my catch (and hidden fishing talent), stating “This is the biggest fish caught so far this season.” Woohoo! Most impressive was the amount of meat the fish yielded (4 large filets) which I proudly donated to the kitchen and John. (Three big filets to the kitchen and one filet to John for his camaraderie, the use of his high-tech rod set-up and filleting skills). The following night, we all ate delicious baked Pacific Halibut filets, coated in a creamy Caesar glaze, prepared by chef-extraordinaire, Kathy. It’s pretty cool that I got to feed the ship!!

Avery's meaty catch, a Pacific Halibut.
Avery’s meaty catch, a Pacific Halibut.
John Kidd (NOAA Officer) filleting my halibut
John Kidd (NOAA Corps. Officer) filleting my halibut
Look at all that meat!
Look at all that meat!
4 large fillets from the halibut
4 large fillets from the halibut

This was my first time catching a halibut and after close examination (and dissection) of this large, rather bizarre looking flatfish I became very intrigued and had several questions: How and why do the eyes migrate to one side?  How do you tell the age of a halibut? What does the word “halibut” mean?

Like any good scientist, I proceeded to find the answers to these questions, and in doing so, learned many more interesting tidbits about Halibut. (The other species of halibut is the Atlantic Halibut which is very similar to the Pacific Halibut and is named as such for the ocean it occupies.)

So lets start with the name “halibut.” It’s origin is Latin (hali=haly=holy, but=butt=flat fish) and literally translates to “holy flat fish” because it was popular on Catholic holy days. Now what’s with the eye migration and why are both eyes on the same side? Well to understand this question thoroughly we must look at the conditions under which the halibut is born. Female halibut are sexually mature at age 12, spawning from November to March in deep water (300-1500 feet). Depending on their size, females release several thousand to several million eggs which are fertilized externally by the males. After the eggs are fertilized by the males, they become buoyant and start to float up the water column, hatching into free floating larva at about 16 days.  As the larva mature, they continue to rise to the surface. At this larval stage they are upright, like any other “regular” fish, with one eye on each side of their head. This eye placement makes sense, considering they are in the open ocean with water on all sides of them.  When at or near the surface, the larvae drift towards shore by ocean currents. As they get closer to shore and at about 1 inch in length, they undergo a very unique metamorphosis in which the left eye moves over the snout to the right side of the head. At the same time their left side fades in color eventually becoming white and their right side becomes a mottled olive-brown color. By 6 months, they are ready to settle to the bottom in near shore areas, hiding under the silt and sand, with just eyes exposed. Their mottled side will be face up, blending into their surrounds and their white side will face down, creating a “countershading” coloration, which helps keep them hidden from predators.

From halibut larvae to adult halibut. Notice the migration of the left eye to the right side and the pigmentation at the last stage.
Halibut development: from halibut larvae to adult halibut. Notice the migration of the left eye to the right side and the pigmentation at the last stage.

The Pacific Halibut I caught was by no means a monster or “barn door” as the huge ones are called. But it also was not a “chicken”, slang for a small halibut. Female halibut can reach lengths of 8 feet and a weight of 500+ pounds. Males rarely exceed 100 pounds.  Halibut are generally not picky eaters and will pretty much eat anything that lives in the ocean.  Carl joked that a halibut would even eat an old shoe dangling from a fishing pole.

I was surprised to learn that halibut can live as long as 55 years.  Scientists can accurately age a halibut by counting the rings in their ear bone or “otolith”, similar to dating a tree using its annual growth rings. So next time you catch a halibut and plan on keeping it, try to find the ear bone, grab a microscope and age the fish. If that fails, don’t forget to cut the cheeks out of the halibut (along with the 4 regular meaty fillets), for I am told that is the best part to eat. 🙂

Halibut otolith or ear bone that can be used to age the fish by counting the rings under a microscope
Halibut otolith or ear bone that can be used to age the fish by counting the rings on the otolith (under a microscope).

Fun factoid: Sonar works a lot like the echo sounding of a bat, and its development was partially prompted by the Titanic disaster.

Rosalind Echols: Beaming With Excitement – Sound Waves and the Sea Floor, July 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rosalind Echols
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (Ship Tracker)
July 8-25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 19, 2013

Current Location: 54° 49.684 N, 159° 46.604 W

Weather Data from the Bridge: Foggy and overcast, wind 21 knots, 11.5° C

Science and Technology Log:

Foggy islands
View from the launch while gathering our multibeam sonar data.

As the fog horn sounds every two minutes and we sail solitary through the ocean, we are now in full swing surveying the Shumagin Islands, between and around Nagai, Bird, and Chernabura Islands. Unlike the old-time surveyors who used lead lines (lead weight attached to a long string), we are using a multibeam sonar system, which enables us to gather a large quantity of very accurate data in a more efficient and timely fashion.

3D sea floor
Processed sonar data showing 3D image of the sea floor.

Sonar, (SOund Navigation And Ranging) uses the principle of sound wave reflection to detect objects in the water. Just as our eyes see the reflection of visible light off of the objects around us to create a visual image, when a sound wave hits something, it reflects off that “thing” and returns to its starting point (the receiver). We can measure the time it takes for a pulse to travel from the Sonar device below the boat to the ocean floor and then back to the receiver on the boat. Using a simple distance=speed * time equation, we can get the water depth at the spot where each beam is reflected.

The skiff that we use for the shoreline activities discussed in the last post has a single-beam sonar system that directs a pulse straight down beneath th