Kainoa Higgins: Atop the Flying Bridge! June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Friday, June 20, 2014, 1500 hours

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42 ° 34.7’ N
Current Longitude: 124 ° 37.6’ W
Air Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25-30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature: 11.3 Celsius
Weather conditions: Clear Skies

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

As we exit the harbor in Eureka, CA I join Amanda Gladics of Oregon State University perched at her post on the flying bridge, scanning the surrounding surface waters for signs of seabirds and marine mammals.

Amanda- Observations
On the flying bridge Amanda Gladics scans the water for signs of marine life

Amanda earned an undergraduate degree at OSU in natural resources. Soon after, she completed a Master’s program with a focus on marine resources, also through OSU. She now serves as a faculty research assistant for Oregon State University at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

On first hearing, her role aboard the RV Ocean Starr sounds relatively simple but is actually a critical contribution to a long term survey of seabird and mammal life observed in waters along the Northern California Current. The study is an example of collaboration between the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), both NOAA entities, and Oregon State University. Amanda’s observation data, combined with the monitoring of the southern reaches of the current system, will add to the ongoing collection of information that will serve as a point of cross-reference for a host of other research initiatives including the principal mission of this cruise, the juvenile rockfish survey. In addition, the collected information furthers our understanding of the upper trophic predators of the region. The length of the time over which data has been collected by observers, 25+ years, makes for an exceptionally valuable time series.

I take a captain’s seat next to Amanda and help scan the horizon for signs of life. I quickly point out a small … black and white-ish bird … off the right side of the bow. My bird doesn’t count. Amanda tells me to imagine that our surrounding is broken into four quarters with sections I and II ahead of us on the left and right and III and IV behind us, respectively. Because the study assumes that the observer sees ALL seabirds and marine mammals possible it is important to narrow the range of scope to increase confidence. For the same reason, animals beyond 300 meters in distance do not count towards data collection either. I’m immediately critical wondering how one could possibly tell whether a bird or other was in range. Amanda reveals her trusted “rangefinder”. It’s not a fancy device – in fact, it more strongly resembles a glorified piece of kindling than anything else. Amanda explains that by taking into the account the height of her location on the ship in relation to true water level and the horizon, she can use basic trigonometry to calculate distance. When she holds the top of her rangefinder in line with the horizon she can estimate the animal’s distance away from the ship based on values she has marked on the stick. She records all observations both in writing and digitally. It goes to show that good science doesn’t always require expensive equipment. It’s not long before I begin to get the hang of it all. We soon see a small pod of harbor porpoises and not long after, a humpback whale spouts on the horizon.

Amanda’s “Rangefinder” is used to estimate how far away from the boat a sea bird or marine mammal is.

While I help to point out black-footed albatrosses here and marbled murrelets there, Amanda explains more specifically her role with the Hatfield Marine Science Center at the Oregon State University. The focus of her current research revolves around an attempt to reduce, or stop altogether, the bycatch of albatross by commercial fisheries. The process is simple and sad:

Albatross hone in on fishing boats hoping for of an easy meal → Long line fishing vessels use a series of hooks on which they attach a piece of bait (generally squid) and send down said long line into the water in series → The birds attempt to steal the bait from the hook as it leaves the boat and occasionally snag themselves → If unable to get free, they are dragged underwater with the gear and drown. It is an unintentional and seemingly unavoidable process.

Streamer lines create visual barrier against scavenging seabirds
Streamer lines create visual barrier against scavenging seabirds (photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics)

Of the 22 species of albatross in the world, 19 are considered endangered. In the North Pacific there is special concern when it comes to the short-tailed albatross of which there are less than 4,000 world-wide. In many parts of the world, fishing vessels are required to use a simple device to scare the birds away from the baited hooks: a “streamer line”. If there is hope, it is in the “streamer line”, a device extended during the release of hook lines which creates a visual barrier to the relentless albatross — keeping them out of harm’s way. Amanda and her program are currently working on testing and modifying this preventative measure so as to continue to reduce the number of fatal encounters off the West Coast.

Streamer line
Albatross and others kept at bay (photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics)

Amanda has had many adventures in her field studies but most notably recalls spending time with albatross colonies on Midway Island in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as well as a leading a two-person expedition to monitor puffin colonies and other critters in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on an uninhabited Aleutian island in Alaska.

Amanda encourages young scientists to pursue their passions and be enthusiastic. Volunteer a lot and be willing to take low-paying jobs. Look for opportunities to work close to home with local agencies and initiatives; it’s all about connecting with people in a field of study you are interested in.

Amanda Midway
Amanda in her front yard on Midway Island in the Northern Hawaiian Islands (photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics)

Personal Log:

I’m not even sure it has sunk in…I am sailing off the coast of Northern California with a field research team thanks to this once-in-a-teacher’s-career NOAA opportunity. Wow. When I arrive at the ship I am immediately greeted by various members of both the ship crew and research team, all incredibly welcoming. I meet Captain Bud right away and he warmly invites me to explore the Ocean Starr and “make myself at home”. I did so right away. The first thing I did was head straight for the highest point. The view will be unprecedented! I’ve never been that high over the water. I was immediately fantasizing about whales breaching

Collection of Intro Pictures
Top left: View of the cobb trawl net on open deck at the stern. Top right: Teacher at Sea Logo (NOAA). Bottom Left: RV Ocean Starr. Bottom right: CTD device at drop point on deck.

in the sunset and dolphins riding the wake of the bow. I would later learn this top observation deck is referred to as the flying bridge. Wandering the halls I meet Toby, the right hand man of Ric, the chief scientist on the mission. He shows me to my stateroom. It’s Cozy, especially for a guy at 6’2” and 225 lbs. This is home for the next two and a half weeks.

Ric arrives and I meet the rest of the team. Everyone I meet continues to be exceptionally friendly, talkative and happy to share their focus of research and role on this cruise. It’s exciting to hear about all the different things that will be happening while I am onboard: bongo nets, box cores, trawls, CTDs, manta tows – the list goes on…

Delvan, my cabinmate, has no preference on bunk and so we let a coin toss seal our fate. I get the top. I look forward to the top because my brother and I shared bunk beds as kids and I rocked the top then as well, though I do recall the ceiling being a bit taller. I hit the sack ready to greet the sunrise and the 5:00 am departure bright eyed and bushy tailed. I sleep hard and fast.

5:30 A.M. I awake to the blast of the ship horn calling all final passengers on board. Not realizing what the sound meant in the moment, I fear I had already missed the shove off the dock. I spring out of bed and throw on deck-worthy clothes as quick as possible. We are still tied up on dock. Adrenaline is pumping in anticipation of the adventure I snag a delicious and filling breakfast. Before I know it, we’re moving. It’s begun!

Things are a bit wobbly. I grew up fishing and working off my dad’s boat in Hawai’i. That boat was 17ft. The Ocean Starr is over ten times bigger both in length and width. Its pitch and roll are slower and relatively docile in comparison but unsettling all the same. I put one foot in front of the other as I make my way up to the flying bridge. From the best view in the house, I soak in the slow ride out of the harbor and am enamored by the striking terrain of the Eureka/Arcata region in the early sunlight. As we exit the entrance to the harbor the wind and waves pick up. A few swells break the bow of the boat. The pitch and roll of the boat continues to increase as do the winds. By the afternoon winds are reaching 25 knots, approximately 30 mph. It is a windy bumpy ride. I am glad I decided to take motion sickness medication after all.

After chatting with Amanda about her role on ship and contributions to the oceanographic world on a larger scale, I decided to perform my first “TAScast” from the flying bridge and nearly lost my prized Teacher at Sea hat in the high winds. The sound quality of the video is halfway decent thanks to the $3.00 lapel microphone attached to my GoPro.

Sorting catch from various tows.
Top: Sorting catch from a mid-water trawl.  Bottom left: Megalops stage of Dungeness crab caught in the manta tow.  Bottom right:  Sifting through copious amounts of krill to find the rock fish.

We enter a holding pattern on the first afternoon due to the high winds and are unable to begin operations of any kind until the evening when the weather calms down. Once lifted, we hit the ground running and over the next 24 hours, I participate in a variety of experiences: Ken gives me a tour of the dry lab computer station where all of the data relayed from field instruments is collected. I watch Jason and Curtis drop box core sampling devices to examine the contents of the seafloor. I help Sam spot and net sea nettle jellies for gut content analysis. I also evaluate resulting footage of Curtis’s attempt to mount a GoPro in cod end of a Neuston net. So far either the camera has refused to stay in position or debris has muddled the view. We’ve recently modified the mount and will see if that footage comes out any better after the next tow. The highlight of the evening is sorting the trawl catch. Each new station promises to bring a slightly different sample of critters on board and the suspense is invigorating.

Though some on board are struggling to adapt, I am just fine when it comes to motion sickness. That being said, I am slightly regretting not having a bit more of an opinion on the bunk situation because getting in and out of a top bunk on a rocking ship can be challenging. Those are the only moments where I feel a bit…uneasy; the moments when I have to engage physically and mentally when I am half asleep in tight quarters. Taking showers and standing still enough to use the bathroom are also incredibly taxing. Though the ocean was placid all of yesterday, the seas picked up overnight and I recall a bit of tossing and turning that was out of my control. I am also adjusting to my shift which has modified since the beginning of the cruise. Originally the thought was that I would work noon – midnight but because I want to catch more of the trawl catches, which only happen on the night shift, I’ve begun working from about noon – 2:00 am catching a nap here and there if necessary and we have the time.

I sit here finalizing my thoughts as my computer and chair slide back and forth across the table and floor and I see the horizon appear and disappear out the porthole across from me and I love every minute of it! I can’t wait to share more of my experience with you!

Our first sunset at sea

Critter Spotting Report:

Seabirds: Common Murre, Sooty Shearwater, Western Gull, Black-Footed Albatross, Immature Gull, Northern Fulmar, California Gulls, Pink-Footed Shearwater, Heerman’s Gull, Buller’s Shearwater, Cassin’s Auklet, Caspian Tern, Marbled Murrelet.

Marine Mammals: Humpback Whale, Blue Whale, Stellar Sea Lion, Harbor Porpoise.

Specimens in Trawl Haul #166: Krill, Northern lampfish, Blue lanternfish, Sergestid Shrimp, California Headlight Fish, Pyrosome, Gonatid Squid, Pacific Sanddab, Rex Sole, Stoplight Loosejaw, Blacktip Squid, Various Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Chiroteuthis squid, Pacific black dragonfish, Longfin dragonfish

A Stoplight loosejaw complete with photophore spotlights and unhinged jaw
A Stoplight loosejaw complete with photophore spotlights, angler appendage and unhinged jaw

Something to think about:

Where 5,280 ft. is equivalent to 1 statute (standard) mile, 1 nautical mile is equivalent to 6,000 ft. Perhaps when one says, “Go the extra mile!” they might instead say, “Go the nautical mile!”


TAScast:  From the Flying Bridge

Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly, September 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship David Jordan Starr
September 8-22, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitats (LUTH) Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean –San Francisco to San Diego
Date: September 15, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 3720.718 N Longitude: 12230.301
Wind Direction: 69 (compass reading) NW
Wind Speed: 12.0 knots
Surface Temperature: 15.056

Computer generated images showing acoustic scattering during the day
Computer generated images showing acoustic scattering during the day

Science and Technology Log 

A lot of physical science is involved in oceanographic research.  An understanding of wave mechanics is utilized to obtain sonar readings. This means that sound waves of certain frequencies are emitted from a source.  The concepts to understand in order to utilize acoustic readings are:

  1. Sound and electromagnetic waves travel in a straight line from their source and are reflected when they contact an object they cannot pass through.
  2. Frequency is defined as the number of waves that pass a given point per second (or another set period of time).  The faster the wave travels, the greater the number of waves that go past a point in that time. Waves with a high frequency are moving faster than those with a low frequency. Those waves travel out in a straight line until they contact an object of a density that causes them to reflect back.
  3. The speed with which the waves return, along with the wavelength they were sent at, gives a ‘shadow’ of how dense the object is that reflected the wave, and gives an indication of the distance that object is from the wave source (echo sounder). As jellyfish, zooplankton and other organisms are brought up either with the bongo net or the trawl net, examinations of the acoustic readings are done to begin to match the readings with organisms in the area at the time of the readings.  On the first leg of the survey, there were acoustic patterns that appeared to match conditions that are known to be favorable to jellyfish.  Turtle researchers have, for years, observed certain characteristics of stretches of ocean water that have been associated with sea nettle, ocean sunfish and leatherbacks. Now, by combining acoustic readings, salinity, temperature and chlorophyll measurements, scientists can determine what the exact oceanographic features are that make up ‘turtle water’.
Computer generated images showing acoustic scattering at night.
Computer images of acoustic scattering at night.

Acoustic data, consisting of the returns of pulses of sound from targets in the water column, is now used routinely to determine fish distribution and abundance, for commercial fishing and scientific research. This type of data has begun to be used to quantify the biomass and distribution of zooplankton and micronekton. Sound waves are continuously emitted from the ship down to the ocean floor. Four frequencies of waves are transmitted from the echo-sounder.  The data is retrieved and converted into computerized images. Both photo 1 and photo 2 give the acoustic readings. The “Y” axis is depth down to different depths, depending on the location.  The frequencies shown are as follows for the four charts on the computer screen; top left is 38kHz, bottom left is 70 kHz, top right is 120kHz and bottom right is 200 kHz.  In general the higher frequencies will pick up the smallest particles (organisms) while the lowest reflect off the largest objects. Photo 1 shows a deep-water set of images, with small organisms near the surface. This matches the fact that zooplankton rise close to the surface at night.  Photo 2 gives a daylight reading.

A Leach’s storm petrel rests on the trawl net container.
A Leach’s storm petrel rests on the trawl net container.

It is more difficult to interpret.  The upper one-fourth is the acoustic reading and the first distinct horizontal line from the top represents the ocean floor.  Images below that line are the result of the waves bouncing back and forth, giving a shadow reading.  But the team here was very excited: for this set of images shows an abundance of organisms very near the surface. And the trawl that was deployed at that time resulted in lots and lots of jellyfish.  They matched.  Periodically, as the acoustic data is collected, samples are also collected at various depths to ‘ground truth’ the readings.  This also allows the scientists to refine their interpretations of the measurements.  The technology now can give estimates of size, movement and acoustic properties of individual planktonic organisms, along with those of fish and marine mammals.  Acoustic data is used to map the distribution of jellyfish and estimate the abundance in this region. By examining many acoustic readings and jellyfish netted, the scientists will be able to identify the acoustic pattern from jellyfish.

Karin releases a petrel from nets he flew into.
Karin releases a petrel from nets he flew into.

The sensor for the acoustic equipment is mounted into the hull, with readings taken continually.  Background noise from the ship must be accounted for, along with other types of background noise. Some events observed on board, such as a school of dolphins being sighted, can be correlated (matched) to acoustic readings aboard the ship.  Since it is assumed that only a portion of the dolphins in a pod are actually sighted, with the remaining under the surface, the acoustic correlation gives an indication of population size in the pod.  The goal of continued acoustic analysis is to be able to monitor long term changes in zooplankton or micronekton biomass. This monitoring can then lead to understanding the migration, feeding strategies and monitor changes in populations of marine species.

A Wilson’s warbler rests on the flying deck.
A Wilson’s warbler rests on the flying deck.

Personal Log 

Several small birds have stopped in over the week, taking refuge on the Jordan. Many bird species make long migrations, often at high altitude, along the Pacific flyway.  Some will die of exhaustion along the way, or starvation, and some get blown off their original course.  Most ships out at sea appear to be an island, a refuge for tired birds to land on.  They may stay for a day, a week, or longer. Their preferred food source may not be available however, and some do not survive on board.  Some die because they are just too tired, or perhaps ill, or for unknown reasons. We have had a few birds, and some have disappeared after two days.  We hope they took off to finish their trip. Since we were in site of land all day today, it could be the dark junco headed to shore. ‘Our’ common redpoll did not survive, so he was ‘buried at sea’, with a little ceremony.  About half an hour ago, a stormy petrel came aboard.  He did not seem well, but after a bit of rest, we watched him take off.  We wish him well.

Words of the Day 

Acoustic data: sound waves (sonar) of certain frequencies that are sent out and bounce off objects, with the speed of return an indication of the objects distance from the origin; Echo sounder: device that emits sonar or acoustic waves Dense or density: how highly packed an object is  measured as mass/volume; Distribution: the number and kind of organisms in an area; Biomass:  the combined mass of a sample of living organisms; Micronekton: free swimming small organisms; Zooplankton: small organisms that move with the current; Pacific flyway: a general area over and next to the Pacific ocean that some species of birds migrate along.

Animals Seen Today 
Leach’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa
Herring gull Larus argentatus
Heermann’s gull  Larus heermanni
Common murr  Uria aalge
Humpback whale  Megapterea novaeangliae
California sea lion Zalophus californianus
Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus
Brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Harbor seal Phoca vitulina
Sea nettle jellies Chrysaora fuscescens
Moon jellies Aurelia aurita
Egg yolk jellies Phacellophora camtschatica 

Questions of the Day 
Try this experiment to test sound waves.  Get two bricks or two, 4 inch pieces of 2 x 4 wood blocks. Stand 50 ft opposite a classroom wall, and clap the boards together. Have others stand at the wall so they can see when you clap. Listen for an echo.  Keep moving away and periodically clap again. At some distance, the sound of the clap will hit their ears after you actually finish clapping. With enough distance, the clap will actually be heard after your hands have been brought back out after coming together.

  1. Can you calculate the speed of the sound wave that you generated?
  2. Under what conditions might that speed be changed?
  3. Would weather conditions, which might change the amount of moisture in the air, change the speed? 

Amy Pearson, August 17, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amy Pearson
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 13 – 30, 2007

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 17, 2007

A beautiful moth landed on the plankton net
A beautiful moth landed on the plankton net

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air temp:  21.7
Water temp:  24.3
Wind direction: variable
Wind speed: variable
Sea wave height: 4kts.
Visibility: 2 nm

Science and Technology Log 

Slept till 9:30 though woke several time during the night.  Much bigger rolling than before. Had a banana and some coffee cake for breakfast, after taking a shower and putting in a load of wash. Lay down for about an hour, then moved wash to dryer, ate a little lunch, half a burger, asparagus, and a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie.  Have been working on logs and then to laundry – good news is the laundry chemicals got out most of the grease that I got on my shorts.  This is a working ship and one does get dirty!

An amazing lunch menu and the delicious food served.  Cheers to Chief Steward Jonathan Rockwell and second cook Terence Harris
An amazing lunch menu and the delicious food served. Cheers to Chief Steward Jonathan Rockwell and second cook Terence Harris

The crew said there had been some lightning this morning, and it was raining lightly at 10a.m.  Several things to record on boat life – floor is sometimes not where you think it is, hold on to railings…including the shower which does have railings.

Sample from a Bongo net with some jellyfish—a finch flew into the wet lab to check it out!
Sample from a Bongo net with some jellyfish—a finch flew into the wet lab to check it out!

Getting out of my lower bunk continues to be a challenge. I am not big but the opening requires planning to exit the bed! We have been told some rough weather is on the way for later today.  Deployment of scientific equipment is halted if seas are over 12 ft. and winds are 30 knots. Today’s first station for me was at 5 p.m.  This timing went well and we were able to eat dinner when it was served. I made some photo transfers with Kim Pratt, the other teacher, and did more log work as well as email.  Two more stations to work—I’m on deck for the later two.  Our last station was at 10:45 p.m., and I was able to sleep at about 12:00 a.m.  Very fortunate to get a good night’s sleep!  Did not notice any rough weather!

The other nice discoveries are the bright lights on deck for night sampling and rock and roll music we hear when on deck.  Lots of good oldies!

Rebecca Himschoot, July 4, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Himschoot
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 21 – July 10, 2007

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean, Unalaska
Date: July 4, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: less than 1 nm (nautical miles)
Wind direction: variable
Wind speed:  light
Sea wave height: 4 feet
Swell wave height: 2-3 feet
Seawater temperature: 7.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1020.4 mb (millibars)
Cloud cover: stratus

US Fish and Wildlife Service seabird observer, Tamara Mills
US Fish and Wildlife Service seabird observer, Tamara Mills

Science and Technology Log: Special Studies 

Bird observer Tamara Mills has to keep track of many things.  From her post on the bridge of the OSCAR DYSON, Tamara locates and identifies multiple species of seabirds around the ship, and then records the information to be entered in the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD). She identifies and counts the many fulmars, murres, kittiwakes and other seabirds that are within 300 meters of the ship, often using binoculars to help correctly identify each bird before she records it. As the data are entered into the database, the computer automatically records the GPS location of the ship.

Tamara is a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but she’s sailing on the NOAA research vessel OSCAR DYSON in order to add data to the NPPSD.  Seabird observations are frequently done in the nesting colonies, but the colonies are where the birds spend the least of their time.  In fact, roughly half of all seabirds may not be nesting in a given year, so that they would never be seen or counted in a land-based survey.  USFWS has therefore collaborated with other agencies to place observers, like Tamara, on “vessels of opportunity,” or research vessels where seabirds can be monitored and counted. USFWS seabird observers can be found on Coast Guard vessels, on NOAA ships, and on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own research vessel. 

A northern fulmar photographed by Tamara on board the OSCAR DYSON
A northern fulmar photographed by Tamara on board the OSCAR DYSON

Along with counting seabirds, Tamara is also logging marine mammal sightings.  In 2006 USFWS seabird observers spent 168 days at sea and completed 14, 263 km of survey transects in the Bering Sea, some areas of the Gulf of Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands. In all this work they spotted 69 species of seabirds and 16 species of marine mammals.  Until this recent work, no information had been added to the NPPSD since the 1970’s and 1980’s.

“We want to get an up-to-date picture of what’s really out there,” Tamara said. “These data could be useful in studying climate change or in the event of an oil spill. It may also be possible to link what we’re finding in the bird surveys to the acoustic fish information that’s being collected, and we might then be able to correlate the types of birds we see and their densities when certain kinds of fish are present.”

Personal Log 

The Bering Sea was calm today!! We actually had some sun and were able to trawl and process without hanging on to railings and tables and such.  Tomorrow we should head for our final transect, and we have nearly collected the minimum number of otoliths we set out to, so the cruise is beginning to wind down.  We have plans for an Independence Day barbecue if the weather cooperates later in the day.

Question of the Day

Answer to yesterday’s question (What is conductivity?): Conductivity is the measure of the ability of a solution to carry an electrical current, and is used to measure salinity. 

Kathy Virdin, July 20, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Virdin
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 20 – 28, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 20, 2004

Time: 2:20 p.m.
Latitude: 55 degrees 39.4 N
Longitude: 158 degrees 00.3 W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: Northwest
Wind speed: 7 kts
Sea wave height: 0-1 ft.
Swell wave height:2-3 ft.
Sea water temperature:13.3 degrees Celsius
Sea level pressure:1010.1mb.
Cloud cover:3/8 partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Today we reached the point where we would begin our surveys. I watched the survey technicians lower a Seabird (sound velocity profile unit) into the water, then raise it back up and hook it into a computer, where they could download the information. This will give them the salinity (salt content), temperature and pressure of the water. They lowered the Seabird 117 meters down into the water, before retrieval. At the same time, from the hull of the ship, a transducer sound wave emitter is sending sound waves to the bottom and measuring the time it takes for their return. From this information, they will calculate the distance to the floor of the ocean. They use this data from the Seabird to help them make corrections in the sound wave speeds from the transducer. The salinity, temperature and pressure will cause variations in the speed of sound, so they need to correct for this effect to gain an accurate depth measurement.

This information is being processed and viewed by cartographers (map designers) who will take what data the RAINIER gives them to update old maps or develop new maps and charts. These maps are used by fishermen, geologists or anyone who navigates through these Alaskan waters. We are headed for the Shumagin Islands where we will send out launches (smaller boats) to measure depths in places where the Rainier might not otherwise go. I found it interesting to note that environmentalists would also use this information, since they know where certain species of fish are likely to live, and they can decide how best to protect them if they are endangered. We will go back and forth three times in one plotted line to make sure our data is accurate and complete. When we send out a launch in more shallow water, they will use a different sonar device, called a Reson. It emits higher sound waves which will give a more accurate reading. For middle to deep depth measurement, they will use the Elac sonar and a vertical beam echo sounder which goes straight down that can be used for shoreline measurements. Because Alaska has such rough terrain, it’s important to get accurate measurements for those who use her waters.

Personal Log

I am amazed by how specific the data is that the survey technicians collect and how well everyone knows their job. This is truly a finely tuned, professional organization. Everyone has been so kind to answer my many questions even though I’m sure I’ve gotten in their way. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Plot room, where the data is logged into the computers and then interpreted by the technicians. Outside, it’s a beautiful, sunny day, which is the first pretty weather we’ve had. We saw a pod of whales, recognizable by the blow of water coming from their nostrils. I could see them really well through the high-powered binoculars that belong to the ship. I am working on a list of questions that I will use to interview different members of the crew, as well as the scientists so I can take this information back to my students, as they learn what the roles are on a NOAA vessel. Someday, I want my students to be the next generation of scientists that use the knowledge we are gaining today to frame the discoveries they will make in the future.