Heather O’Connell: Shore Party, Sumdum and Sawyer Glaciers, June 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/15/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was my first small vessel operation where we took down a base station and set up a new system on an islet next to Harbor Island. We took RA-7, a skiff that used a crane to lift it off the flying bridge of the ship and into the water. This local satellite receiver allows for a reference point for data acquisition that occurs in Alaska, where the GPS system is not as dependable as the lower forty eight states. The positioning given from this high accuracy base station, called GNSS, will assist with nautical charts developed from the Tracy Arm project once time sonar data has been collected. Since the lower forty eight states have permanent base stations with this highly accurate positioning, there is no need to set up these stations.

GPS base station

Setting up a high-accuracy GPS base station

The base stations work by comparing the satellite positioning to a theoretical ellipsoid that was generated in Canada to standardize positioning. Before this, different areas would utilize various landmarks as the reference point and this inconsistency proved challenging when comparing data internationally or even across the states. So, geodesists, scientists who study geometric shape, positioning in space and gravitational field, generated a theoretical ellipsoid. This was created by rotating the shorter axis of an ellipse to mimic the shape of the Earth. Since the poles of the Earth are flat and the equator bulges, this ellipsoid is an accurate representation. This system gives all points on Earth a unique coordinate, similar to an address, and is extremely helpful in developing nautical charts. However, the limitations of this theoretical ellipsoid include its inability to take into account the actual shape of the Earth.

Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island

Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island

While being on the skiff and learning about theoretical positioning ellipsoids, I heard a lot of talk about RA-2, one of the shoreline launches on Rainier.  I learned that in addition to a single beam sonar, this vessel also has LIDAR. LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, can be used in bathymetric data acquisition and is currently used for shoreline data on Rainier. This remote sensing technology can survey up to seventy meters of depth in coastal waters by sending out a laser. LIDAR sends out light pulses and senses the time it takes for these lasers to return to the sensor, to gather data on different land structures. LIDAR gets cloud point data and dots make up the image of the ocean floor. From this, three dimensional maps can be generated. Since the light can penetrate a canopy just like the sun, this technology is used in South America to find hidden cities under tree lines. This technology can also be mounted on planes and is most likely the future direction of shoreline data acquisition. Lasers survey the land and they get the height of different landmasses and can be used for bathymetric data or topographic data.

Sources –

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/geodesy/geo03_figure.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html

Personal Log

Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of two alpine, or tundra, ecosystem areas that ship Rainier will survey. Twenty percent of these areas are covered in glaciers and snow fields and are too cold to support trees. The coastal areas of Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of the Terror Wilderness, which is part of Tongas National Forest, the largest national coastal temperate rainforest. Observing my first glacier, Sumdum Glacier, off the coast of Harbor Island while we were at the inlet of Tracy and Endicott Arms, reminded me of a time much before humans existed.

Sumdum Glacier

Sumdum Glacier

Here, out of Holkham Bay, I experienced my first expedition in a skiff, RA-7, to remove a horizontal control base and help set up a new one.  Stepping foot on an actual landmass with all of the different living parts of an ecosystem was a treasure and it most certainly felt like a shore party, as the name suggests. I observed several calcium carbonate shells of urchins, amongst kelp, mussels, and barnacles. The shells transitioned into a forest with Devil’s Club, the only member of the ginseng family present in Alaska, with woody, prickly stems.  This shrub was growing under a Sitka Spruce forest with cone-bearing trees present among the steep rocks of granite. These trees can grow up to one hundred and seventy feet tall and can be as old as seven hundred and fifty years old in Southeast Alaska. After an exciting afternoon of a shore party, we safely returned to the ship and headed into Tracy’s Arm.

Proceeding into the Southern arm of Tracy’s Arm, I saw calves of the tidal glacier that we would soon see. The refrozen and pressurized snow became glacial ice and carved the valleys to form the deep inlets with massive granite slabs on either side of us. South Sawyer glacier was off to the East and the air seemed to get colder as we approached it. Even in the rain and weather, I couldn’t pull myself away from the incredible beauty of this inlet. After endless waterfalls, we approached Sawyer Glacier which was once big enough to cover all of Tracy’s Arm. This acted as a reminder of the Ice Age and its effect on geology.

Sawyer Glacier

Sawyer Glacier

During this journey through Tracy’s Arm, I saw two eagles perched on an iceberg and shortly afterwards three orca whales showing their dorsal fins and playing in the water. As XO informed me, orca whales are actually the largest species of dolphins and these carnivorous mammals can weigh up to six tons. These creatures use echolocation to communicate to their pods, and I wonder how the multi-beam sonar affects this form of communication.

Eagles on Iceberg

Eagles on Iceberg. Photo Credit: Jonathan Witmer

 

Sources  

Studebaker, Stacy. Wildflowers and Other Plant Life of the Kodiak Archipelago.

National Geographic Orcas

Did You Know?

When glacier ice melts, it is filled with air bubbles. As new layers of ice form on top of the old ice, the ice gets denser and the air bubbles get smaller. As the human eye detects the yellow and red light reflected from glacial ice, it appears a spectacular blue. Since snow is full or air bubbles, it reflects the entire spectrum of light and appears white.  

https://www.livescience.com/51019-why-is-antarctica-ice-blue.html

Sam Northern: 3… 2… 1… Deploy the Drifting Buoy!, June 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sam Northern

Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

May 28 – June 7, 2017

 Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 5, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 42°22.4’N

Longitude: -70°38.2W

Sky: Foggy

Visibility: ≥ 1 Nautical Mile

Wind Direction: 090°E

Wind Speed: 20 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 2-4 Feet

Barometric Pressure: 1008.3 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 13.3°C

Air Temperature: 12.1°C

Science and Technology Log

Drifting Buoy

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Seconds away from deploying the drifting buoy.

3… 2… 1… deploy the drifting buoy! The NOAA Office of Climate Observation established the Adopt a Drifter Program in 2004 for K-16 teachers. The program’s mission is “to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world and engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science.” By adopting a drifter I am provided the unique opportunity of infusing ocean observing system data into my library media curriculum. A drifter, or drifting buoy, is a floating ocean buoy that collects data on the ocean’s surface. They tend to last approximately 400 days in the water. Drifters allow scientists to track ocean currents, changes in temperature, salinity, and other important components of the ocean’s surface as they float freely and transmit information.

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Decorating the drifter with stickers.

The buoy is equipped with a thermistor, a drogue and a transmitter so that it can send out daily surface water temperatures and its position to an Argos satellite while it is being moved by surface currents pulling on the drogue. Soon I will receive the WMO number of my drifting buoy to access data online from the drifter. My students and I will receive a drifter tracking chart to plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves freely in the surface ocean currents. Students will be able to make connections between the data accessed online and other maps showing currents, winds, and surface conditions.

 

How to Deploy a Drifter:

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  1. Remove the plastic covering (shrink-wrapped) from the buoy on the ship.
  2. Record the five-digit ID number of the drifter inscribed on the surface float.
  3. A magnet is then removed from the buoy, which starts a transmitter (located in the upper dome) to allow data from the buoy to be sent to a satellite and then to a ground-based station so we can retrieve the data.
  4. Throw the unpacked drifter from the lowest possible deck of the ship into the sea. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents.
  5. Record the date, time, and location of the deployment as well as the five-digit ID.

GoPro footage of the drifter’s deployment

My drifter buoy was launched at 8:01 PM (20:01) on June 3rd, 2017. Its official position is 43 degrees 32.9 minutes North, 067 degrees 40.5 minutes West.

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This image shows where we deployed the buoy in the Gulf of Maine. The red and blue symbols are the buoy’s trajectory, confirming that the drifter is being tracked via satellite in real-time.

 

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Chief Scientist, David Richardson and I on the ship’s stern ready to deploy the drifter.

The WMO # associated with my drifter is 44907. To track the buoy and view data, please visit the GDP Drifter Data Assembly Center website. There, you will find instructions on how to access data via the NOAA Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC) webpage or Quality Control Tools Buoy Location and Trajectory website.  My students will have full access to our drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date) in near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the Global Drifter Program. Students can access, retrieve, and plot various subsets of data as a time series for specified time periods for any drifting buoy and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year). My students are going to be thrilled when learn they get to be active participants in NOAA’s oceanography research.

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Drifter Diagram [Source — NOAA/AOML/PhOD]

Below is a 2-minute video from NOAA’s National Ocean Service to learn more about drifting buoys. 

Deploying my drifting buoy in 360-degress

Nautical Navigation

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NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter’s Navigational Bridge

Understanding where you are on the grid is essential when navigating a ship of any size. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter houses a major operation with 30 personnel on board. The safety of each individual is a primary concern for Commanding Officer, Lindsay Kurelja. She knows all there it is to know about navigating a marine vessel. Early mariners heavily relied on the stars and landmarks to determine their position in the sea. While celestial and terrestrial navigation techniques are still effective and used often by contemporary sailors, modern ships have GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and it lets us know where we are and where we are going anywhere on Earth. GPS is quickly becoming an integrative part of our society. It is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations.

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GPS Receiver in the Navigational Bridge

Commanding Officer Kurelja and her crew use a GPS receiver to chart Gordon Gunter’s position in the ocean. The ship receives signals from 10 satellites that are in lower orbit. Once the ship’s receiver calculates its distance from four or more satellites, it knows exactly where we are.

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Nautical Chat

Within seconds, from thousands of miles up in space, our location can be determined with incredible precision, often within a few yards of your actual location. [Source — NOAA] The satellites’ signals give NOAA officers the ship’s positioning. Then, using a nautical chart of the area in which we are cruising, the Navigation bridge team plots the latitude position and the longitude position to determine the ship’s exact location.

 

Ship’s Internet

IMG_9693.JPGSince my expedition began you might have wondered, “How is he even sending these blog posts from so far out at sea?” That is a legitimate question. One I had been asking myself. So, I went to Tony VanCampen, Gordon Gunter’s Chief Electronics Technician for the answer. You may have guessed it; the answer has something to do with Earth’s satellites. Providing internet on ships is different than on land because, well, there is no land. We are surrounded by water; there are no towers or cables.

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Gordon Gunter’s Satellite Antenna

On the deck of the ship is a fixed installation antenna that provides broadband capability. It looks like a mini water tower. The antenna sends signals about the ship’s positioning to a geostationary satellite. A geostationary satellite is placed directly over the equator and revolves in the same direction the earth rotates (west to east). The ship’s computers use the connection made between the antenna and the satellite to transfer data which the satellite in turn sends to a ground site in Holmdel, New Jersey. The site in New Jersey connects the ship to the Internet.

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Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen

Chief Electronics Technician, Tony VanCampen not only understands, installs, maintains, and repairs all the technology on board Gordon Gunter, he is an expert on all things nautical. Tony has been an asset to my Teacher at Sea experience. He takes the time to not only explain how equipment works, but he shows me where things are and then demonstrates their capabilities. Aboard Gordon Gunter, Tony runs all of the mission electronics, navigational electronics, and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Tony has been working at sea since 1986 when he joined the NAVY and reported on board the USS Berkeley. He took a short break from work at sea when he became a physical security specialist for the NAVY at a weapons station. Tony has held several roles in the NAVY and with NOAA, all have given him a wealth of knowledge about ship operations. He is dedicated to the needs of the crew, scientists, and as of late, one Teacher at Sea. I owe Tony a debt of gratitude for his assistance and kindness.

Personal Log

Out to Sea (Saturday, June 3)

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Bongo Nets Plankton Sampling

As I entered the dry lab this morning to report for duty, there was a lot of exciting chatter going on. I presumed a whale had been seen nearby or an unusual fish was caught in one of the bongo nets. While either of these situations would generate excitement, the lab’s enthusiasm was on the drifting buoy that was to be deployed today. I love how the scientists and volunteers get overwhelmed with joy for all things “science”. I had strong feelings after learning the news, as well. My emotions steered more toward worry than elation because I was the one to deploy the buoy! What if I deployed the drifting buoy incorrectly? What if it gets sucked under the ship? What if a whale eats it? Questions like these kept running through my mind all afternoon. Luckily, time spent rinsing bongo nets and preserving plankton samples kept my mind off the matter. But a voice in the back of my brain kept repeating, “What if…”

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My drifting buoy

I finally laid my worries to rest. At sunset I deployed the drifting buoy without incident! The entire event was extremely special. My buoy is now floating atop the waves of the Gulf of Maine and soon to other parts of the sea. Yes, it will be all alone on the surface, but underneath and above will be a plethora of wildlife. Even when no one is there to witness it, ocean life carries on. For my students and me, we do not have to be with the drifting buoy physically to experience its journey. The transmitting equipment will give us the opportunity to go on the same adventure as the buoy while learning new things along the way.

A New Week (Sunday, June 4)

IMG_6696It has been one week, seven days since I first arrived on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Like the virga (an observable streak of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporates or before reaching the surface) we experienced this morning, my time aboard the ship is fleeting, too. As the days dwindle until we disembark, I find myself attempting to soak in as much of the experience as I can. Suddenly, I am looking at the horizon a little longer; I pay closer attention to the sounds made by the ship; and I pause to think about how each sample will tell us more about the Earth’s mysterious oceans. Yes, a week has passed, but now it is the first day of a new week. With two days and a “wakeup” remaining, I intend to embrace each moment to its fullest.

Just Another Manic Monday (Monday, June 5)

IMG_9728No matter the day or time, NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter runs like clockwork. Today, however, the ship seemed to be buzzing with a different kind of energy. NOAA Corps Officers and the crew have been moving around the ship with an ever greater sense of purpose. Believe me, there is never an idle hand aboard Gordon Gunter. One major factor that heavily influences the ship’s operations is the weather. The National Weather Service has issued a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine. Gale warnings mean maritime locations are expected to experience winds of Gale Force on the Beaufort scale.

Position Map June 5

Gordon Gunter’s position at mid-morning of June 5th

Tonight’s weather forecast are winds reaching 20-30 Knots with seas building to 4 to 6 feet. Tuesday’s forecast is even grimmer: winds between 25-35 Knots and waves reaching 7-12 feet. [Source — National Weather Service] Even though the weather forecast is ominous, I fear not! Having witnessed the professionalism and expertise of every crew member on board the ship, I have full confidence in Gordon Gunter.

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Cape Cod Canal

Chief Scientist and the Commanding Officer adjusted our course due to the imminent weather. We passed through the Cape Cod Canal, an artificial waterway in the state of Massachusetts connecting Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The canal is used extensively by recreational and commercial vessels and people often just sit and watch ships and boats transiting the waterway. It was indeed a joyous occasion seeing land on the starboard and port sides of the ship. The passage provided many more sites to see compared to the open ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise through the Cape Cod Canal, but inside me was the desire to one day return to the deep, blue sea.

Animals Seen

IMG_6483As you can tell, this blog post’s theme revolves around positioning and tracking. So, I decided to ask the seabird and marine mammal observers about the technology and methods they use to identify the positioning of animals out on the open ocean. Our wildlife observers, Glen and Nicholas, have a military-grade cased computer they keep with them on the flying bridge while looking for signs of birds and whales. The GPS keeps track of the ship’s position every five minutes so that a log of their course exists for reference later. When Glen or Nicholas identify a bird or marine mammal, they enter the data into the computer system which records the time and their exact GPS position. To know how many meters out an animal is, observers use a range finder.

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Range Finder

This pencil has been carefully designed according to their location above sea level which is 13.7 meters from the ship’s flying bridge where the observers keep a sharp lookout. The observers place the top of the pencil on the horizon to get accurate distances. If the bird falls between each carved line on the pencil, they know approximately how many meters away the animal is. Wildlife observers’ rule of thumb for tracking animals is called a strip transect. Strip transects are where observers define a strip of a certain width, and count all creatures within that strip. Glen and Nicholas input data on any animal they see that is within 300 meters of the ship. Providing as much information as possible about the positioning of each observed living thing helps researchers understand what is happening and where.

New Terms/Phrases

[Source — Marine Insight]

  • RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging): It is used to determine the distance and direction of the ship from land, other ships, or any floating object out at sea.
  • Gyro Compass: It is used for finding true direction. It is used to find correct North Position, which is also the earth’s rotational axis.
  • Auto Pilot: It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical system and is used to control the ship’s steering system from a remote location (Navigation Bridge).
  • Echo Sounder: This instrument is used to measure the depth of the water below the ship’s bottom using sound waves.
  • Speed & Distance Log Device: The device is used to measure the speed and the distance traveled by a ship from a set point.
  • Automatic Radar Plotting Aid: The radar displays the position of the ships in the vicinity and selects the course for the vessel by avoiding any kind of collision.
  • GPS Receiver: A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is a display system used to show the ship’s location with the help of Global positioning satellite in the earth’s orbit.
  • Record of Navigation Activities: All the navigational activities must be recorded and kept on board for ready reference. This is a mandatory and the most important log book.

Did You Know?

GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 12,550 miles. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day. The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged so that users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet. [Source — NOAA]

gps

GPS Block IIR(M) Satellite [Source — NOAA]

 

Kimberly Scantlebury: NOAA and NASA – Partners in Progress, May 1, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1 – May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 1, 2017

Weather Data from the BridgeIMG_2950

It is beautiful here in Houston and Galveston, Texas: sunny, light wind, pleasant-looking clouds, and around 80 F.

Science and Technology Log

People benefit from collaboration and science is brought further, faster and better because of it. This is true of Federal agencies as well. NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have been scientific partners for decades.

A place where the important work of these Federal agencies intersects is Earth. Good Earth systems research requires a complement of remote-sensing technology, modeling, and ground truthing. This interagency partnership makes clear the need for specialized expertise in different areas, which complement each other. The results are also cost-saving. A classic example is NOAA and NASA’s work with weather, climate, and other environmental satellites. Without these our nation would not know when to evacuate due to hurricanes or tornadoes, plus so much more. There are many ways NOAA and NASA work together to give us a better “eyes in the sky.”

Satellites and other research result in massive amounts of data. This is where sophisticated computer modeling helps. Despite all of our improvements in technology, at some point you need to put people on the ground…or sea or space.   

Today I visited the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas (JSC). It is the famed headquarters of U.S. manned space flight. The facility was purposely built like a college campus to foster collaboration and innovation. Just like my upcoming trip aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, people need to go! They need to be there, whether that be space or sea, to figure out the science. No amount of satellites or computer modeling can replace what is gained by the human experience. We have pretty amazing robots now, but nothing beats good old fashioned people power. 

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The Robonaut 2. Still not as good as the real thing.

For my mission, we are looking at the abundance of fish species. There is remote sensing used as well, but we also need to fish, and get out in open water by ship. This is vital for the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The International Space Station (ISS) puts humans in space. There have been many positive effects from this work in our everyday lives such as Velcro, water recycling technology, MRI machines, cell phones, and fire fighting respirators. Working in microgravity is also bringing us one step closer to ending breast cancer.         

You can interpret the title of this blog post a few different ways. Independently and together, NOAA and NASA work to progress science. These effects have built over decades to benefit humanity and our relationship with Earth in numerous ways. The two agencies are also continuing on this journey. It remains a work in progress. Our future depends on it.

Personal Log

Yesterday was an auspicious start to my trip. The museum itself is a treat for all ages as well as the tram tours. There are two tram tours you can take at Johnson Space Center, the red and blue. A trip to JSC is definitely not complete without a tour! I took both and enjoyed the high quality audio commentary from astronauts of many missions that accompany the drive.

First stop was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. I wish I was there during the workweek to see it in action. There are mockups of the International Space Station (ISS) for training, a model Russian Soyuz space capsule (which is how our astronauts now get into space since the last shuttle retired in 2011), tests related to the future of manned space flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, manned rovers for future asteroid and Mars missions, and even a robotics playing field where high school teams compete.

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The other tour took me to the White Flight Control Room. Since 1996, this mission control center has been used for shuttle missions, ISS mission control, and is now used for simulations to train mission controllers. It was noted that the room will become one of deep historical significance when it becomes Orion Mission Control.

Both tours end at Rocket Park. It is awe-inspiring to see a Mercury-Redstone spacecraft-booster like the one that propelled New Hampshire’s own Alan Shepard into space. I stood next to a F-1 rocket engine and then it was time to see, in my opinion, the crown jewel of Rocket Park: The Saturn V (Five). Even in person it is difficult to grasp its size.

NASA Johnson Space Center deftly combines the romantic and sometimes tragic history of manned space flight with the hopes and excitement of current and future missions.

Did You Know?

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Halloween happens to be when I start teaching about space.

We landed on the moon in 1969. The average age of NASA engineers in the Apollo program was 27. This means that when they heard President Kennedy say, “We choose to go to the moon” many were still in school!

This is one I think about every time I fly…We landed on the moon before adding wheels on luggage.

Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website: http://www.gma.org/surfing/sats.html#nav

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.

Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

Stephen Bunker: Current Drifter, 24 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 24 October 2011

Science and Technology Log

Homemade current drifter

A current drifter we lowered off the RV Walton Smith.

At a couple of stops on the cruise we dropped some current drifters overboard. These current drifters will float at the surface of the water and travel with the gulf current. On top of the drifter there is a transmitter that will send a signal to a satellite. The scientists can then track movement of these drifters and map the ocean currents.

This drifter, I learned, was simply made. The materials, except for the GPS transmitter, can be found at a local hardware store and tackle shop.

Personal Log

Scientists at work

(from left to right) Brian, Maria, Nelson & Kuan at work on the RV Walton Smith.

My cruise with the R/V Walton Smith has been exciting. It has been great to learn how science — in particular oceanography — is done. Scientists are dedicated, focused people. I can tell they love what they do.

The crew of the R/V Walton Smith are incredible. I have a lot of respect for anyone that can parallel park something the size of a house. Talk about teamwork!

To finish off, here are some sunset photos taken on the voyage.

Sunset 9/19/2011

Sue Zupko: 15 The Bandwidth Highway

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 11, 2011
Time: 1400 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.5°N 080,0°W
Present weather: 5/8 SC AC
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 034°true
Wind Speed: 12 kts
Surface Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Swell Wave Direction: –
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.3°C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.1 mb
Water Depth: 49 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Dry/Wet Bulb: 30.0°/26.5°

This blog runs in chronological order. If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take the quiz before reading this post.

One of the first questions I asked when informed that I had been selected as a Teacher at Sea was, “Can I use Skype with my students?”  Well, no.  There isn’t enough bandwidth.  I really had no idea what that term meant.  After discussing this with my chief scientist, he asked the “Powers-that-be” (I really don’t know whom he asked) if we might be able to Skype.  We received permission to communicate with some classes.  Oh, was I excited.  Now, we needed to find the classes.  My school would be out for the summer by the time I came onto the Pisces.  However, my Robotics Club mentors are very flexible and generous.  Mr. Chua, who also helps teach me about computers in my class, offered up his dining room for the Robotics Club to use to Skype.  This was very appealing to me since the kids would see a real robot in use.  Of course, the mentors enjoyed it immensely and asked lots of questions themselves.  We also had a high school class from Cary, NC signed up.  My niece, Debra Zupko, read the email telling the family to read my blog.  She asked if her 4th grade class could Skype with and and jumped on the opportunity when I said yes.  Her class communicates with the Jason Project and is interested in oceanography.  Before departure, I practiced a Skype conference call between me, the ROV crew, and two scientists.  The results were mixed.  We weren’t sure with our limited bandwidth (there came that term again) if we’d be able to do this conference call from the ship.  So, we decided to contact each class individually and do a one on one call like you normally do with Skype.

Bob up at the ceiling working with wires

Bob works with wires

I brought my webcam and computer.  Good thing.  The scientist who was going to bring this equipment did not come at the last minute and I didn’t know until I was on board.  I’m so grateful I took my equipment as a backup.  The Electronic Technician (ET), Bob, informed me when I checked in that we could practice with Skype before our scheduled meeting times. All electronic gear has to be scanned and approved before anyone can use it with the ship’s equipment.  How horrible it would be to infect the computers on the ship with something.

I emailed the teachers we would be Skyping with and set up practice times.  The first group I spoke with was Mrs. Zupko’s 4th grade class in New York.   She has to check out the equipment from the library so it wasn’t a simple process as it is in my classroom where all the gear is ready to go.   I practiced from my stateroom.  They got to see what our room is like and looked out the window at the ocean.  The oohs and aahs from the classroom helped me know this was a cool way to practice.

Mike in white baseball cap in front of computer talking on walkie-talkie

Mike communicates with the bridge

 So, what is bandwidth?  A good analogy was used by the Survey Technician, Mike, that bandwidth is like a highway.  Highways have two directions.  I am talking about the internet highway here.  All emails, blogs, watching the news, playing online, facebook, twitter, streaming movies, ship’s data, communication, etc.  goes on this highway.  When it gets too crowded, it’s like a traffic jam and some things won’t move.  This is when you have to be mindful of others and be polite.  On ship you aren’t allowed to Skype normally (remember, we had special permission and I’ll explain that later), watch movies online such as with Netflix, work on Facebook for hours, play online games, or other things which take up a lot of bandwidth.  Email doesn’t use much so it’s a good way to communicate.  One thing the crew is allowed to use, during non-business hours, which sucks up bandwidth is the phoneline called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).  This is how people keep in contact with family.  Folks up north, such as in Alaska, don’t have access to these things very often because of where the satellite is and the ship can’t easily communicate.  So, email, but don’t plan to have immediate access.  You might have to wait until the satellite comes in sight and the server can send out the messages.

Back to the bandwidth highway.  All the NOAA ships have to share the highway to and from the satellite.  They are usually allocated 128 KB of bandwidth.  We might have purchased some extra bandwidth from the satellite company or used bandwidth allocated to a ship which is in getting repaired or something.  However they did this, we were allocated enough to Skype with the students and for this I am grateful.  Opening that up was like letting us use the carpool lane.  There is less traffic there and it is less susceptible to traffic jams.

When the high school class was speaking with us, we were actually launching the ROV.  I had the computer set up by the window and held my webcam out the window so they could see that was happening in real time.  Then, they got to speak with the scientists while the ROV was diving to the bottom.  Later, they saw footage from the bottom.  They asked some great questions of the scientists.  Perhaps one of these students will have their interest piqued and become a scientist or ROV engineer.  Maybe a teacher:)

Dave in a blue helmet and orange PFD standing outside with a joystick with the ROV in the distance

Dave uses the joystick to pilot the ROV on the surface

The Robotics Club was very interested in the ROV.  Dave Murfin, taking a break from piloting the ROV and on his way to lunch, graciously sat down and answered some questions.  I learned from Scott Mau, another ROV pilot, about creating underwater ROVs.  Bet we could use our YMCA to run them.  We also have access to some swimming pools.

Back on the bandwidth highway.  I asked Kevin Stierhoff about some pictures we were processing for the website.  I used the incorrect term and said upload when I should have said download.  These always seemed like synonyms to me.  If you have a desire to understand the difference, read on.  On the highway there is coming to your computer and going from the computer.  If you are uploading something, you are copying it from your computer.  While on the ship, these data travel on a highway to a satellite then on to Silver Spring, MD where the internet service provider is.  The server then sends it to where you want it to go.  To download, something is going into your computer.  It comes from somewhere else through Silver Spring to the satellite to your computer on the ship.  The lane for the bandwidth going to the ship is about three times wider than what is going out.  Skype is really bad on our highway since it travels in both directions, and it really hogs the lane.  It’s like one of those homes being moved on the road taking up a lane and a half or more and going slowly.   Everyone has to slow down or get off the road to make room.

FYI, I asked one of the engineers who helped build the Pisces the total length of the electrical cables are on the ship.  “Long.”  He did then give me a number.  Over 200,000 feet.  How many miles long is that?

Myriad white tubes on the sea floor

Polychaete Tubeworm Forest

Brett Hoyt, October 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Brett Hoyt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
October 8 – 28, 2006

Mission: Recovery and maintenance of buoy moorings
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific, off the coast of Chile
Date: October 19, 2006

Dan Wolfe, senior scientist at NOAA, at his workstation on board the research vessel the RONALD H. BROWN.

Dan Wolfe, senior scientist at NOAA, at his workstation on board

Weather from Bridge 
Visibility:  12nm(nautical miles)
Wind direction:  130º
Wind speed:  20 knots
Sea wave height: 5-7ft
Swell wave height: 3-4 ft
Sea level pressure: 1020.4 millibars
Sea temperature:  19.4ºC or 66 ºF
Air temperature:  19.2ºC or 66ºF
Cloud type: cumulus, stratocumulus

The Scientists 

Today we will be interviewing Dan Wolfe, a senior meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA for short.  Standing an imposing 6’3”, it seemed only fitting that our next scientist should be studying the heavens.  Mr. Wolfe is a 30-year veteran of NOAA and has been a scientist for the past 31 years.  Mr. Wolfe entered the Coast Guard in 1969 immediately after graduating high school.  He was initially assigned to the Coast Guard icebreaker “Glacier” transferring to the oceanographic unit where he staged scientific experiments.  He traveled to the Arctic and it was there that he discovered his soon to be life long passion for the atmosphere and all that is in it. Mr. Wolfe was a trained scuba diver while stationed on the Glacier. After leaving the Coast Guard he attended Metropolitan State College where he earned his degree in meteorology.  He has the distinction of being the first student to graduate in meteorology at this college.  It was while at Metropolitan College that Mr. Wolfe became a coop student working for NOAA. After earning his degree he went to work for NOAA as a meteorologist where for the next 30 years he has become one if its leading atmospheric scientists.  After seven years on the job he decided that he wanted to know more and enrolled at Colorado State University where he earned his masters degree.

This is a radiosonde, which measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds as it passes through the atmosphere and radios its data back to the scientist.

This is a radiosonde, which measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds as it passes through the atmosphere and radios its data back

Mr. Wolfe is one of the few individuals who has worked in BOTH the Arctic (North) and the Antarctic (South) (not just Antarctica but actually at the South Pole). His work has taken him to the depths of the Grand Canyon and to the Arctic more times than he cares to remember.

One of his more exciting job assignments with NOAA is managing a 1,000-ft research tower just off of I25 north of Denver Co.  When I asked Mr. Wolfe what message he would like to give to upcoming scientists he replied, “Kids should seek out paid/or unpaid internships while in high school. Look for internships within your community in careers that you think you might like.  This gives you the opportunity to try a job before investing money and time in college in a future you may not enjoy. If you try a job and discover you don’t like it, try something else until you find something you do like.  Be sure to give the job a chance though.”

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mr. Hoyt, releasing a radiosonde off the aft deck

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mr. Hoyt, releasing a radiosonde

The Machine 

One important scientific instrument used by a meteorologist is the radiosonde (pronounced radio sond). This device measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds by utilizing the global positioning satellite system.  The radiosonde is battery activated then secured to a large helium balloon.  It is then released where it begins its ascent into the upper atmosphere, measuring humidity, temperature, and pressure sending these data back to the scientist via a digital radio frequency. Depending on the balloon used, these radiosondes can obtain heights in excess of 6 miles. The atmospheric data collected on this cruise will be shared with other scientists to help improve global weather computer models.

The Experiment 

There is no experiment as these data are transmitted via satellite link immediately after the flight is finished to the National Center for Environmental Prediction to be fed into their continuously running forecast models.

Classroom Activities 

Elememtary K-6: 

Ask the students, “What is weather?”  “Why is it important to predict the weather?” Have the students take a piece of drawing paper and divide it into four equal parts.  In each part have the students draw and color four different types of weather common to where they live.  Example could be sunny, rainy, partly cloudy, and snow.

Middle School:  

Why do we use calibrated thermometers to measure air temperature?   Ask students to answer on paper whether the classroom is hot, warm, cool, or cold and to estimate the actual temperature of the room.  Then compare the students’ answers to the actual temperature.  Then discuss the importance of a “standard.”  Without this “standard” scientists around the world would have no way of communicating what the atmosphere is doing.

Please examine the High School for more activities

High School: 

Everyday we hear on the radio, television, or newspaper that it will be sunny, partly cloudy, partly sunny, etc.  How do meteorologist arrive at this? Today we will learn how.

Divide the sky into eight parts.  Examine each part and count how many squares have clouds. There is no hard and fast rule on what to do with partially filled boxes

No squares having clouds-Clear or Sunny 

One to two squares having clouds-Mostly Clear or Mostly Sunny 

Three or four squares having clouds-Partly Cloudy or Partly Sunny 

Five, Six, or Seven squares having clouds-Mostly Cloudy 

Eight squares having clouds-Overcast or Cloudy Take the sky photo below and print it out. Draw a grid like the one above on top of the sky photo. Have the students write down what they think the day is.  Then compare the student’s answers. Is this an exact science?

Have your teacher take photos of the weather in your area and do your own.

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