Meredith Salmon: An Incredible Adventure! July 31, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation

Date: July 31, 2018

Latitude: 36.85°N

Longitude: 76.28°W

Air Temperature: 28°C

Wind Speed:  4.2 knots

Conditions: Cloudy

Personal Log 

We returned to Norfolk this morning and successfully completed our expedition! It is definitely bittersweet to be concluding our work at sea since our team aboard the Okeanos was comprised of such wonderful people. We grew to be really close and truly enjoyed each other’s company.

 

Norfolk
Returning to Norfolk!
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Headed under the draw bridge on our way to the shipyard.

 

These past couple weeks at sea have been an incredible experience and I am excited to share what I have learned with the Peddie community. Being aboard the “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration” and mapping a region of the seafloor that has not been studied yet was a very exciting opportunity as both a scientist and educator. I plan on creating and teaching a Marine Science elective during the Spring of 2019.  Data collected from the expedition will be utilized to design classroom activities, laboratory experiments, and cross-curricular materials that directly relate to the research completed. Students will understand the importance of exploration and be encouraged to discover, inform, and educate others about the ocean. Since the Okeanos is equipped with telepresence capabilities, I will be able to stream seafloor images, ROV dives, and interviews from sea in my classroom. Having students directly engaged with those completing research in real time will enable them to make associations between the ocean and their local ecosystems to put the research into context.

I really enjoyed meeting everyone aboard and listening to their stories. Since these vessels require 24/7 operations, many people worked very hard over the course of the expedition to ensure that everything was going as planned. The crew, stewards, engineers, NOAA Officers, scientists, and explorers in training were very willing to share their knowledge, insights, and experiences.  I respect their dedication and flexibility while at sea and I am very grateful to have met such awesome people! This experience was definitely one of the highlights of my teaching career and I am very inspired to know that no matter where in the world the Okeanos is located, everyone aboard is committed to understanding the wonders of the unknown ocean.

Okeanos MAPPING TEAM!
The Okeanos Explorer Mapping Team
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Some of the Mapping Team navigating the shipyard!
Okeanos at Norfolk
This photo of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer was snapped by the mother of one of the Senior Survey Techs! She was waiting for us to arrive the morning of the 31st and got this shot on the drawbridge!

 

Okeanos inbound Norfolk
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer inbound to Norfolk, VA. [Photo by Captain Eric Stedje-Larsen, USN] [Photo by Captain Eric Stedje-Larsen, USN]

Cindy Byers: Mapping in the ice! May 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cindy Byers
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 29 – May 13

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: May 11, 2018

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude:57°43.3 N
Longitude:133°35.5 W
Sea Wave Height: 0
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: variable
Visibility:3 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 11.5°C
Sky:100% cloud coverage

Cindy on Flydeck
Me ready to get on a launch with a float coat and hard hat

 

Science and Technology Log

The area that NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying is Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm.  These are fjords, which are glacial valleys carved by a receding (melting) glacier.  Before the surveying could begin the launches(small boats) were sent up the fjords, in pairs for safety, to see how far up the fjord they could safely travel.  There were reports of ice closer to the glacier. Because the glacier is receding, some of the area has never been mapped. This is an area important for tourism, as it is used by cruise ships.  I was assigned to go up Endicott Arm towards Dawes Glacier.

Starting to see ice
Starting to See Ice in Endicott Arm
launch at Dawes Glacier
A Launch at Dawes Glacier

Almost as soon as we turned into the arm, we saw that there was ice. As we continued farther, the ice pieces got more numerous. We were being very careful not to hit ice or get the launch into a dangerous place.  The launch is very sturdy, but the equipment used to map the ocean floor is on the hull of the boat and needs to be protected. We were able to get to within about 8 kilometers of the glacier, which was very exciting.

IMG_8954
Dawes Glacier

The launches have been going out every day this week to map areas in Tracy Arm.  I have been out two of the days doing surveying and bottom sampling. During this time I have really enjoyed looking at the glacial ice.  It looks different from ice that you might find in a glass of soda. Glacial ice is actually different.  It is called firn.  What happens is that snow falls and is compacted by the snow that falls on top of it. This squeezes the air out of of the snow and it becomes more compact.  In addition, there is some thawing and refreezing that goes on over many seasons. This causes the ice crystals to grow. The firn ends up to be a very dense ice.

ice on Endicott Arm
Ice in Endicott Arm

 

Glaciers are like slow moving rivers.  Like a river, they move down a slope and carve out the land underneath them. Glaciers move by interior deformation, which means the ice crystals actually change shape and cause the ice to move forward, and by basal sliding, which means the ice is sliding on a layer of water.

 

The front of a glacier will calve or break off.  The big pieces of ice that we saw in the water was caused by calving of the glacier.  What is also very interesting about this ice is that it looks blue. White light, of course, has different wavelengths. The red wavelengths are longer and are absorbed by the ice.  The blue waves are shorter and are scattered. This light does not get far into the ice and is scattered back to your eyes. This is why it looks blue.

Blue Ice 2
Blue Glacial Ice

blue ice

Meltwater is also a beautiful blue-green color.  This is also caused by the way that light scatters off the sediment that melts out of the glacial ice.  This sediment, which got ground up in the glacier is called rock flour.

green blue water Endicott
This is the green-blue water from glacial melt water
waterfall in Endicott Arm
Waterfall in Endicott Arm

 

Mapping and bottom sampling in the ice

NOAA Ship Fairweather has spent the last four days mapping the area of Tracy Arm that is accessible to the launches.  This means each boat going back and forth in assigned areas with the multibeam sonar running. The launches also stop and take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts.  These are taken to increase the accuracy of the sound speed data.

Rock Sample
Rocks and a sediment chart from a bottom sample

Today I went out on a launch to take bottom samples. This information is important to have for boats that are wanting to anchor in the area. Most of the bottom samples we found were a fine sand.  Some had silt and clay in them also. All three of these sediment types are the products of the rocks that have been ground up by ice and water. The color ranged from gray-green to tan. The sediment size was small, except in one area that did not have sand, but instead had small rocks.

The instrument used to grab the bottom sediment had a camera attached and so videos

Bottom Sampler
The Bottom Sampler

were taken of each of the 8 bottom grabs. It was exciting to see the bottom, including some sea life such as sea stars, sea pens and we even picked up a small sea urchin.  My students will remember seeing a bottom sample of Lake Huron this year. The video today looked much the same.

 

Personal Log

I have seen three bears since we arrived in Holkham Bay where the ship is anchored.  Two of them have been black. Today’s bear was brown. It was very fun to watch from our safe distance in the launch.

I have really enjoyed watching the birds too.  There are many waterfowl that I do not know. My students would certainly recognize the northern loons that we have seen quite often.  

 

I have not really talked about the three amazing meals we get each day. In the morning we are treated to fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, made to order eggs, potatoes, and pancakes or waffles. Last night it was prime rib and shrimp.  There is always fresh vegetables for salad and a cooked vegetable too. Carrie is famous for her desserts, which are out for lunch and dinner. Lunches have homemade cookies and dinners have their own new cake type. If we are out on a launch there is a cooler filled with sandwich fixings, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, trail mix, hummus and vegetables.  

 

The cereal and milk is always available for snacks, along with fresh fruit, ice cream, peanut butter, jelly and different breads.  Often there are granola bars and chips. It would be hard to ever be hungry!

IMG_5382
Kayaking, see the ship in the background?
IMG_5384
Three Kayakers – me in the center

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N
Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W
Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)
Water Temp: 14˚C (58˚F)
Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Wind Speed: 6 kts (7 mph)
Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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“Killing dots” or manually flagging data points that are likely not accurately modeling hydrographic data is only the beginning of a very lengthy process of refining hydrographic data for new high-quality nautical charts.  Credit Hannah Marshburn for the photo.

In the last post, I talked about how we collect the hydrographic data.  The process of hydrographic data collection can be a challenge in of itself with all of the issues that can come up during the process.  But, what happens to this data once it is brought back to the Fairweather?  In many ways this is where the bulk of the work begins in hydrography.  As each boat files back to the ship, the data they bring back is downloaded onto our servers here on the ship to begin processing.  Just the process of downloading and transferring the information can be time consuming since some data files can be gigabytes worth of data.  This is why the Fairweather has servers with terabytes worth of storage to have the capacity to store and process large data files.  Once the data is downloaded, it is manually cleaned up.  A survey technician looks at small slices of hydrographic data and tries to determine what is the actual surface of the bottom and what is noise from the multibeam echosounder.  Leaving too many false data points in the slice of hydrographic data may cause the computer software to adjust the surface topography to reach up or below to something that in reality does not exist. The first phase of this is focused on just cleaning the data enough to prevent the hydrographic software from recognizing false topographies.  Even though the data that does not likely represent accurate hydrographic points are flagged and temporarily eliminated from the topographic calculation, the flagged data points are retained throughout the process to allow for one to go back and see what was flagged versus what was retained. It is important to retain this flagged data through this process in case data that was thought to be noise from the echosounder really did represent a surface feature on the bottom.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sam Candio is using a three dimensional viewer to clean the hydrographic data collected from that day’s launches.

Once this process is complete, the day’s section is added to a master file and map of the target survey area.  This needs to happen on a nightly basis since survey launches may need to be dispatched to an area that was missed or one in which the data is not sufficient to produce quality hydrographic images.  Each launch steadily fills in the patchwork of survey data; so, accounting for data, quality, and location are vitally important.  Losing track of data or poor quality data may require another launch to cover the same area.  After the survey area is filled in, refinement of the new map takes place.  This is where the crude cleanup transitions into a fine-tuned and detailed analysis of the data to yield smooth and accurate contours for the area mapped.  Data analysis and processing are the parts of hydrographic work that go unnoticed.  Since this work involves many hours using cutting-edge technology and software, it can be easy to underappreciate the amount of work survey technicians go through to progress the data through all of these steps to get to a quality product.

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

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A friendly humpback is keeping our survey launch company as we map our assigned polygon.

I know what you mean about the wildlife.  I am seeing wildlife all over the place too.  On our transit to our survey site from Juneau, I saw numerous marine mammals: hump back whales, dolphins, and killer whales.  On our last survey launch, we had two humpbacks stay within site of the boat the entire morning.  They are remarkable creatures.  Whenever we locate a marine mammal, we fill out a marine mammal reporting form allowing various interests to use these reports to estimate the population size and range of these animals.  The waters off the Alaskan coast are full of marine life for a reason.  It is a major upwelling area where nutrients from the ocean bottom are being forced up into the photic zone where organisms such as phytoplankton can use both the nutrients and sunlight to grow.  This provides a large amount of feed for organisms all the way up the food chain.  This area is also known for its kelp forests.  Yes, if you were on the sea bottom in these areas dominated by kelp, it would look like a forest!  Kelp are a very long- and fast-growing brown algae that provide food and habitat for many other marine organisms.

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Kelp forests form on relatively shallow rocky points and ledges allowing for the holdfasts to form and latch onto the bottom giving the resulting algae growth the opportunity to toward the surface to collect large amounts of sunlight for photosynthesis.

Did You Know?

The RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounders found onboard the survey launches use a 200 kHz or 400 kHz sound frequency.  This means the sound waves used fully cycle 200,000 or 400,000 times per second.  Some humans can hear sounds with pitches as high as 19 kHz while some bat and dolphin species can hear between 100 and 150 kHz.  No animal is known to have the capability to audibly hear any of the sound waves produced by the multibeam onboard our survey boats.  Animals that use echolocation tend to have much higher hearing ranges since they are using the same premise behind acoustic mapping in hydrography but to detect food and habitat.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a marker buoy  B. a water purification system  C. an electric bilge pump  D. a CTD sensor

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was A. a search and rescue transponder.  If a launch boat were to become disabled with no means of communication or if the boat needs to be abandoned, activating a search and rescue transponder may be the only available option left for help to find someone missing.  When the string is pulled and the cap is twisted, a signal for help is sent out in the form of 12 intense radar screen blips greatly increasing the odds for search and rescue to find someone in a timely manner.  The radar blips become arcs as a radar gets closer to the transponder until the radar source gets within a nautical mile in which the arcs become full circles showing rescue crews that the transponder is nearby.)

Jeanne Muzi: Science, Service and Stewardship, August 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 10, 2015

As I head home to New Jersey a few days ahead of schedule, I am reflecting on what I have learned aboard the Thomas Jefferson. From day one, I was asking questions and trying to understand the process of hydrographic surveying, the equipment used and the different roles of everyone involved in the process. I learned why hydrographic surveying is so important and why the mission of NOAA (Science, Service and Stewardship) is demonstrated in all the research and activities aboard the Thomas Jefferson.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.  NOAA protects, preserves, manages and enhances the resources found in 3.5 million square miles of coastal and deep ocean waters.

The oceans are our home. As active citizens, we must all become knowledgeable, involved stewards of our oceans.

our-ocean
Our ocean. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

Science and Technology Log

As my Teacher at Sea experience ends, I wanted to make sure I shared some of the conversations I had with the officers charged with leading the missions of the Thomas Jefferson and the hydrographic work it is involved in.

The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!
The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!

It is my honor to introduce to you:

Captain Shepard Smith (CO)

CO Smith
CO Smith

Captain Smith grew up on the water in Maine. He always enjoyed reading maps and charts. He received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and earned a Master’s of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire Ocean Engineering (Mapping) Program. He has worked at NOAA in many different capacities.

He served aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, NOAA R/V Bay Hydrographer and the Thomas Jefferson. He was also the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Captain Smith also served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Deputy Administrator and as Chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. Captain Smith explained how he has been involved in integrating many new technological innovations designed to improve the efficiency of NOAA’s seafloor mapping efforts. It was through Captain Smith’s endeavors that Americans enjoy open access to all NOAA charts and maps.

CO Smith on the Bridge
CO Smith on the Bridge

He enjoys being the CO very much and feels the best part of his job is developing the next generation of leadership in NOAA. He feels it is very important to have that influence on junior officers. The worst part of his job is the separation from his family.

Captain Smith’s advice to young students is to pay attention to the world around you and how things work. Try to ask lots of questions. He said, “There are loads of opportunities to be the best at something and so many things to learn about. There are new fields, new ideas and new ways to see and understand things. Never limit yourself.”

Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser (XO)

XO LCDR Hauser
XO LCDR Hauser 

LCDR Hauser grew up in New Jersey and always loved learning about the ocean. As a little girl, she thought she would like to study Marine Science but wasn’t sure how. She grew up and earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from Franklin and Marshall College and her Master’s of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies. Before coming to NOAA, LCDR Hauser spent time working for a mortgage company, which provided her with different kinds of skills. She soon started officer training for NOAA and got to apply the sonar knowledge she developed in graduate school to her NOAA work. She has served on the NOAA ships Rainier and Thomas Jefferson. She has built her strong background in hydrography with both land and sea assignments. She has been Field Operations Officer, Field Support Liaison and Executive Officer. She explained that in the field of hydrographic surveying, experience is key to improving skills and she is always trying to learn more and share her knowledge. As XO, she is the second highest-ranking officer on the ship.

LCDR Hauser feels the best part of her job is that it never gets boring. Everyday is different and there are always new things to see and learn.

XO supervises the arrival of the launch
XO supervises the arrival of the launch

LCDR Hauser also explained that the hardest part of the job is the transitions, that come pretty frequently. She said, “You may find yourself leaving a ship or coming to a new job. There are always new routines to learn and new people to get to know. With so many transitions, it is often hard to find and keep community, but on the positive side, the transitions keep you adaptable and resilient, which are important skills too.”

Her advice to young students is “Take opportunities! Explore things you never heard of. Don’t give up easily! Even the rough parts of the road can work for you. Every experience helps you grow! Keep asking questions…especially about how and why!”

Lieutenant Joseph Carrier (FOO)

LT Carrier
LT Carrier

As a young boy, LT Carrier was the kind of kid who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He joined the Navy right out of high school. When he got out, he attended University of North Carolina at Wilmington and studied biology as an undergraduate and marine science in graduate school. He taught biology, oceanography, and earth science at a community college and worked at NOAA’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, VA before attending officer training. He served on other NOAA ships before coming to the Thomas Jefferson and has learned a lot about the technical aspects of hydrographic surveying, data collection and processing while onboard. He is currently the Field Operations Officer.

FOO on deck
FOO on deck

LT Carrier feels the best part of his job is the great people he works with. He explained that on a ship you are part of a close family that works together, lives together and helps each other.

He said the hardest parts of the job are the long hours and missing his family very much.

His advice to younger students is don’t get discouraged easily. He explained, “If you are not good at something at first, try again. Know that each time you try something…you have an opportunity to get better at it. Everyone can overcome challenges by working hard and sticking with it!

Personal Log:

Quick painting fromTJ Bow
Quick painting fromTJ Bow

The experience of living and learning on the Thomas Jefferson will stay with me and impact my teaching as I continue to encourage kids to stay curious, ask questions and work hard!

I would like to thank everyone at NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program for enabling me to come on this adventure! My time as a TAS has provided me with authentic learning experiences and a new understanding of science and math in action. I would like to thank every person serving on the Thomas Jefferson who took the time to talk with me and shared his or her area of expertise. I appreciated everyone’s patience, kindness and friendly help as they welcomed me into their home. Every crewmember has given me stories, knowledge and information that I can now share with others.

Print
Conserving our ocean and coasts. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day and Picture of the Day was:

What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

These containers are life rafts. The letters “SOLAS” stand for “Safety of Life at Sea.”

The First SOLAS Treaty was issued in 1914, just two years after the Titanic disaster. The Treaty was put in place so countries all around the world would make ship safety a priority. The SOLAS Treaty ensures that ships have safety standards in construction, in equipment onboard and in their operation. Many countries have turned these international requirements into national laws. The first version of the treaty developed in response to the sinking of the Titanic. It stated the number of lifeboats and other emergency equipment that should be available on every ship, along with safety procedures, such as having drills and continuous radio watch. Newer versions of the SOLAS Treaty have been adopted and the guidelines are always being updated so people at sea remain safe. If there was an emergency on the Thomas Jefferson, the crew is prepared because they have practiced many different drills. If these lifeboats were needed they would be opened, inflated and used to bring everyone to safety.

Many thanks for reading about my Teacher at Sea Adventure! 

Learning to be safe at sea!
Learning to be safe at sea!

 

Jeanne Muzi: STEM in Action, August 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 8, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 73°F (23°C) Fair
Humidity: 59%
Wind Speed: N 10 mph
Barometer: 29.94 in (1013.6 mb)
Dewpoint: 58°F (14°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Science and Technology Log:

It is amazing that with hydrography, scientists can “look” into the ocean to “see” the sea floor by using sound.

All the data collected by the TJ, and other NOAA Hydro ships, is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models.

 

blogelipsoid

 

This is important work because the charts are used to warn mariners of dangers to navigation, which can mean everything from rocks to ship wrecks. They also record tide or water level measurements to provide information about water depths. Surveys also help determine if the sea floor is made up of sand, mud or rock, which is important for the anchoring of boats, dredging, construction, and laying pipeline or cables. Hydrography also provides important information for fishery habitats.

The work being done on the Thomas Jefferson is a great example of STEM in action since hydrographic surveying combines science, lots of technology, the engineering of new devices and procedures, and the application of mathematical computations.

Here are two amazing survey images:

A crane discovered underwater
A crane discovered underwater

 

Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor
Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor

A few of my students emailed me yesterday to ask how does the information gathered out on the launch become a chart. That’s a great question!

My XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Olivia Hauser provided me with a great explanation of how the data becomes a chart. She explained it this way:

It starts with deciding where to survey, and ends with an updated chart that is published and available for mariners to use. The decision where to survey is steered by a document called the National Hydrographic Survey Priorities document. It outlines where the top priorities to survey are based on the type of ship traffic that travels the area, the age of the survey in the area, how often the seafloor changes in the area, and specific requests from port authorities, the US Coast Guard, and other official maritime entities. Please see the following link for more information. http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm

The operations branch of the Hydrographic Surveys Division of the Office of Coast Survey in NOAA (where Patrick works-see below) uses this document to decide where the ship will survey next. This branch then provides the ship with project instructions that identifies where the work will be done and divides the survey area into manageable chunks.

The data is raw when we first acquire it, and once it comes back to the ship, we need to apply some correctors to it, to improve the data quality.

Working in the survey room
Working in the survey room

One corrector we apply to the data is tide information. The water gets shallower and deeper depending on the stage of tide, and we need to make sure the depths on the chart are all relative to the same stage of tide.

Another corrector we apply to the data is vessel motion. When we acquire depth data with the sonar, the boat is moving with the waves, and the raw data looks like it has waves in the seafloor, too. We know that is not the case, so we take the motion data of the boat out of our depth data.

A third corrector we apply to the data is sound speed. The sonar finds the depth of the seafloor by sending a pulse of sound out and listening for its return, measuring the time it takes to complete that trip. We also measure the speed of sound through the water so we can calculate the depth (see the picture of ENS Gleichauf deploying the CTD to measure sound speed). Speed =Distance/Time. Speed of sound through typical seawater is 1500 meters per second. The speed of sound changes with water temperature and salinity (the saltiness of the water) .If we measure the time it takes for the sound to get to the seafloor and back, 1 second for example, and the sound speed is 1500 meters per second we know the seafloor is 750 meters away from the sonar. (the sound is traveling two ways).

Once all of the correctors are applied to the data, a digital terrain model (DTM) is created from the data to make a grid showing the depths and hazards in the area. A report is written about the survey, and it is submitted to the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch (Where Jeffrey works- See below). This branch reviews the data and makes sure it meets NOAA’s specifications for data quality. They also make a preliminary chart, picking the important depths and hazards that should be shown on the chart.

Once the data has been reviewed, it goes to the Marine Charting Division. This group takes the preliminary chart of the area surveyed, and adds it to the official chart that is being updated. These charts are then distributed to the public.

I had a chance to talk with some of the Survey Techs and project scientists who work on the TJ to find out more about their jobs.

Allison Stone
Allison Stone

Allison Stone is the Hydro Senior Survey Technician (HSST). When Allison was 12 years old she clearly remembers her school’s Career Day, when lots of parents came in to talk about their jobs. She recalls there was one mom who had a sparkle in her eye when she talked about her job. She was an Oceanographer. That mom became her advisor when she attended the College of Charleston. Allison had an internship at the Atlantic Hydrography Branch in Norfolk and she first came to the TJ as a Student Scientist. She later became a full time technician. She enjoys her job because she gets the opportunity to observe the seafloor like no one has ever seen it before. She gets to solve problems and think outside the box. When she is going through raw data, she is able to make connections and interpret information. The work is interesting and challenging. Allison’s advice for young students is to keep being passionate about things you are interested in. Try to find out more and stay flexible. Try to volunteer as much as possible as you grow up so you can find out what you like to do and love to work on.

Jeffery Marshall
Jeffery Marshall

Jeffery Marshall was visiting the TJ for a project during my time aboard. Jeffery is a Physical Scientist with the Office of Coast Survey as a member of the Hydrographic Surveys Division, Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Jeffery grew up on the Jersey Shore and loved being out on the water, down at the beach and learning about the ocean. He loved surfing and was always wondering what the weather would be like so he could plan for the waves and the tides. So when he went to college, he studied meteorology. Following graduation, he taught middle school science and loved being a teacher. When he was ready for a change, he decided to attend graduate school and got his masters degree in Coastal Geology. He really enjoys having the opportunity to get out on the ships. His job is usually applying the processed data to charts, what he calls “Armchair Hydrography.” When he gets a chance to work on a NOAA ship mission, he has more opportunities to collect and analyze data. Jeff’s advice to young students is to read a lot and think about lots of different things, like how we use maps. He thinks everyone should take a look at old maps and charts, and think about how they were made. He encourages students to look for patterns in nature and to think about how rocks and sand change over time.

Patrick Keown
Patrick Keown

Patrick Keown is also a Physical Scientist. He was also working on a project on the TJ. Patrick works at the Operations Branch of the Hydrographics Survey Division in Silver Spring, Maryland. Patrick is usually working on plans for where surveying needs to take place. He started college as an Anthropology major but ended up in a Geographic Information Systems class and found that it came easily to him. Geographic Information Systems are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. He had an internship with the Army Corp of Engineers which provided some “on the job learning” of hydrography. When Patrick was young, he didn’t have the chance to travel much, so he spent a lot of time looking at maps and wondering, “What else is out there?” Now he loves to travel and likes to look at what he calls “Social Geography.” Patrick thinks the best part of his job is the chance to experience new things. He has had opportunities to try the latest technology and is inspired by all the new types of equipment, like drones and the Z boats. Patrick’s advice to young learners is “Never be afraid to explore! Never be afraid to ask questions! Most importantly, stay curious!!”

Cassie Bongiovanni
Cassie Bongiovanni

Cassie Bongiovanni is a GIS Specialist who works at The Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. The center is a partnership between the University of New Hampshire and NOAA, and it has two main objectives: to develop tools to advance ocean mapping and hydrography, and to train the next generation of hydrographers and ocean mappers. Cassie grew up in Texas and did not like science at all when she was young. She attended the University of Washington in Seattle and fell in love with the ocean. She received her Bachelors of Science in Geology with a focus in Oceanography. She is now working with NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping group on processing lidar and acoustic data for post Hurricane Sandy research efforts. Cassie explained that she loves her work because she loves to learn! She has lots of opportunities to ask questions and discover new things. The kid in her loves making maps and then coloring them with bright colors to create 3-D images of things like shipwrecks.

 

Personal Log:

IMG_4023

The launch headed out again today to try to find a ship that sank earlier in the summer. Information was gathered and lines were surveyed, but so far no shipwreck was found. The day ended with a beautiful sunset.

Setting lines to survey
Setting lines to survey
Looking out from the cabin of the launch
Looking out from the cabin of the launc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sunset

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day was:

How was the ocean floor mapped before sonar was invented?

Mariners have used many different methods to map the ocean floor to try to “see” what was under the water. For thousands of years a stick was used to see how deep the water was. Eventually, the stick was marked with measurements. Once ships started exploring the oceans, sticks were no longer good options for finding out the depth of water or if anything was under the water that could harm the ship. Sailors started tying a rope around a heavy rock and throwing it over board. In the 1400’s, mariners began using lead lines, which were marked lengths of rope attached to a lead weight. The lead line was good for measuring depth and providing information about the sea floor. The standard lead line was 20 fathoms long–120 feet–and the lead weighed 7 pounds. In the early 20th century, the wire drag was invented. This meant two ships had a set system of wires hung between them and it enabled mariners to find hidden rocks, shipwrecks or other hazards hidden in the water.

 

leadline

Find out more about the history of navigation tools at http://www.vos.noaa.gov/MWL/aug_08/navigation_tools.shtml

In my last entry, The Picture of the Day showed Ensign Gleichauf lowering an instrument into the water. That is a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is made up of electronic instruments that measure these properties. The CTD detects how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes as it goes deeper into the water. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is how salty the seawater is.

What is that?
This is a CTD

Today’s Question of the Day and Picture of the Day: What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

 

Thanks for reading this entry!

Safety first!
Safety first!

 

Jeanne Muzi: Problem Solving on the Thomas Jefferson! August 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson|
August 2 – 13, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise
: North Atlantic
Date: August 5, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 71° F (22° C)
Humidity: 84%
Wind Speed: S 5 mph
Barometer: 29.89 in (1012.1 mb)
Dewpoint: 66° F (19° C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Hello again!

Science and Technology Log:

One important thing that every single person has to face, no matter how old they are or what kind of job they have, is what to do when things go wrong. We are always happy when things are going smoothly—but what do you do when they don’t?

I found out about how important it is to be a thinker and problem solver on the Thomas Jefferson because we are experiencing engine problems. First the launches were not running. Then the TJ’s engines were having difficulties and it was discovered that we had water in our fuel. The engineers and officers all started to ask questions: Where is the water coming from? Is there a problem with the tanks? How are we going to fix this situation? What is the best solution right now? It was determined that we should sail into the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island so the fuel could be pumped out and the fuel tanks examined. This is a big job!

Heading to Newport
Lighthouse
Jamestown Bridge
Jamestown Bridge

We sailed into Newport on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I got to spend some time on the bridge and watched as Ensign Seberger and GVA (General Vessel Assistant) Holler steered our large ship around obstacles like lobster pots and small sailboats. AB (Ablebodied Seaman) Grains acted as the look out, peering through binoculars and calling out directions in degrees (instead of feet or yards), and port and starboard (instead of left and right). LTJG Forrest explained how to chart the route to Newport using a compass, slide rule and mathematical calculations. His computations were right on as he plotted the course of the Thomas Jefferson. 

Charting TJ's course to Newport
Charting TJ’s course to Newport

When we arrived at Newport, the tugboat, Jaguar, needed to help us dock and then the gangway was lifted into place using a crane.

The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.
The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.
The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport
The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport
The walkway is lowered from ship to shore.
The gangway is lowered from ship to shore.

Now we are waiting in Newport to see how the ship will be repaired, and how that will impact the surveying mission and the work of all the scientists on board. The fuel is currently being pumped out of the tanks so the engineering department can figure out what is going on.

Personal Log:

Some of my students have emailed to ask where am I sleeping. When you are aboard a ship, you sleep in a stateroom. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate has the top. We have storage lockers and shelves to hold our stuff. The bathroom (called the head) connects our stateroom with another room.

Bunks in our stateroom
Bunks in our stateroom

Everyone eats in the Mess. You pick up your hot food on a plate in front of the galley and then sit down to eat at a table. Some of our meals so far have been omelets and cereal for breakfast, shrimp, rice and vegetables for lunch, and fish and potatoes for dinner. There is always a salad bar. Yogurt and ice cream are available, along with lots of different drinks.

Everyone eats meals together in the mess.
Everyone eats meals together in the mess.

The passageways are pretty narrow around the ship and the stairs going from one deck to another are steep whether you are inside or outside.

Lots of ups and downs outside...
Lots of ups and downs outside…
Lots of ups and downs inside
Lots of ups and downs inside…

 

Everything on a ship must be well-organized so equipment can be found quickly and easily.

Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.
Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.

The view from the outside deck has been beautiful…

There is always something to see on the TJ
There is always something to see on the TJ

The last Question of the Day was: What do the letters XO mean on the hardhat of the person in the center of this picture?

XO Stands for Executive Officer
XO Stands for Executive Officer

XO stands for Executive Officer. Our Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser. She is the second in command on board.

The last Picture of the Day showed this image:

Whale caught with sonar
Whale caught with sonar

This image was captured with sonar and shows a whale swimming in the ocean. Amazing!

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Why is surveying the ocean floor so important?

Today’s Picture of the Day is:

What is this and what is it used for?
What is this and what is it used for?

What is this?

Thanks for reading this entry.

Windy day on the deck of the TJ
Windy day on the deck of the TJ

Jeanne Muzi: Aboard the Thomas Jefferson! August 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 13, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 3, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:

Temperature                     Fair 81°F (27°C)

Humidity 65%
Wind Speed SW 12 mph
Barometer 29.87 in (1011.4 mb)
Dewpoint 68°F (20°C)
Visibility 10.00 mi
Heat Index 84°F (29°C)

Greetings from the Thomas Jefferson!

Science and Technology Log:

Now that I am onboard, I am trying to learn as much as possible. The TJ is a busy place and there are lots of jobs to be done. Basically there are separate groups working in different ways, like the Wardroom (which means all the officers on board), Engineering, Deck, Survey and Stewards, but everyone always comes together to work as a team.When one of the small launches returned to the ship late yesterday afternoon, everyone worked together to get it back on board safely. The launch had been surveying and now that data had to be processed in the survey dept.

One of the small launches returning
One of the small launches returning

 

Lifting the launch
Lifting the launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the survey dept. there are different scientists working on different projects. This is a station for “Data Acquisition” so there are multiple computers and cameras sharing images, data and information from around the ship and from the sonars.

Information Acquisition Station
Information Acquisition Station

Survey Technician Stephanie Stabile created this “big picture” diagram, which explains how the different scanning tools communicate with each other to provide the most accurate scans of the ocean floor.

Diagram of TJ's Hydro System
Diagram of TJ’s Hydro System

 

 

ST Stabile explains her diagram to me.
ST Stabile explains her diagram to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture shows how a survey ship uses its multi-beam sonar.

Survey ship with multi-beam Sonar
Survey ship with multi-beam Sonar

If you would like to learn more about sonar, check out this video:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sonar.html

I also had a chance to visit the bridge today as the anchor was lifted. I learned how orders are given clearly and information communicated accurately. Lieutenant Commander Hauser gave me a tour of the ship and answered many of my questions. She explained how the national flag is hoisted to the highest position when the ship gets underway.

Lieutenant Commander Hauser and Ensign Anderson with the American Flag.
Lieutenant Commander Hauser (right) and Ensign Anderson with the American Flag.
View from the bow of the Thomas Jefferson
View from the bow of the Thomas Jefferson

Personal Log:

One of the most important things I learned about today was safety!

Think about why we have fire and evacuation drills at school…It is important to be prepared just in case something happens! It is exactly the same here on the Thomas Jefferson! I was part of a group that was trained on safety issues like fire, abandoning ship and what to do in any emergency. Ensign Perry walked us around the ship and showed us where life jackets, fire extinguishers, steel-toed shoes and hard hats are located. She also taught me how to get in and out of a survival suit. Survival suits (also called “Gumby suits”) are made of foam rubber and are designed to be watertight. They help protect against hypothermia and can keep a person alive and floating until rescuers can find them.

An example of a survival suit
An example of a survival suit

For dinner, everyone on board came to a cookout on the deck near the bow of the ship! Delicious burgers, hotdogs, chicken, sausages and brisket were grilled up and enjoyed. What a great setting for some terrific food!

A cookout on the Thomas Jefferson
A cookout on the Thomas Jefferson

In my first blog entry the Question of the Day was:

Think about what you know about President Thomas Jefferson…What does he have to do with the Atlantic Ocean?

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

Here is some interesting information about Thomas Jefferson and the ocean:

As most people know, Thomas Jefferson was a writer, an artist, an architect, a statesmen and a lawyer. He was also one of our most scientific presidents. In 1807, President Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast to produce the nautical charts necessary for maritime safety, defense, and the establishment of national boundaries. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey is the oldest scientific organization in the U.S. Other agencies that became part of NOAA in 1970 include the Weather Bureau, formed in 1870, and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, formed in 1871. Much of America’s scientific heritage resides in these agencies. They brought their cultures of scientific accuracy and precision, stewardship of resources, and protection of life and property to NOAA.

The first Picture of the Day shows a side sonar “fish”. Here is some information about side scan sonars.

Side Scan Sonar Information
Side Scan Sonar Information

Go to this website to find out more!

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/how_sidescansonar.html

 

Today’s Question of the Day is:

What do the letters XO mean on the hardhat of the person in the center of this picture?

XO?
XO?

Today’s Picture of the Day is:

Look carefully...What do you think?
Look carefully…What do you think?

What do you see in the scan?

Learning more each day! photo credit: Dan Connors
Learning more each day! photo credit: Dan Connors

Thanks for reading this blog entry!

 

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Theresa Paulsen: Preparing to Explore the Ocean Floor, March 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission:  Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Caribbean Trenches and Seamounts
Date: March 9, 2015

Personal Log

If you could have any super power imaginable, what would it be?  Growing up, my son asked me this question numerous times as we walked our dog.  While he pondered the advantages of flight, invisibility, or spontaneous combustion, my answer was always the same.  I want Aquaman’s powers (but a better looking outfit).  I want to swim underwater without the need for dive gear, seahorses, or gillyweed, to see what few others have seen.  I want to communicate with whales and dolphins to find out what their large brains can teach us about our planet.  While I may not be able to attain superhero status, I can join some real-world adventurers on an amazing vessel equipped to conduct research that will help realize my dream of seeing the unseen depths of the ocean.

Hello, from Northern Wisconsin!  My name is Theresa Paulsen.  I am a high school science teacher in Ashland, WI.  I have been teaching for 17 years while living along the south shore of Lake Superior with my husband and our two children.

My husband, Bryan
My husband, Bryan
Our children, Ben and Laura, paddling the sea caves in the Apostle Islands, N.L.
Our children, Ben and Laura, paddling the sea caves in the Apostle Islands, N.L.

The pristine lake and the rich forests around the region provide the resources that sustain our local communities.  As we work to promote local stewardship in the classroom, we must recognize that the health and welfare of the resources we treasure are connected to the greater global environment which is heavily influenced by the processes that occur in our oceans. The geological processes occurring near our research zone are fascinating.  The North American plate slides passed the Caribbean plate creating the Puerto Rico trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bathymetry of the northeast corner of the Caribbean plate. Image courtesy of USGS.

Maps generated by the vessel’s state-of-the-art multibeam sonar on our mission will help geologists learn more about the tectonic activity and potential seismic hazards in the area. (Let’s hope the only rumblings I feel are those caused by the typical mild sea-sickness!)  The maps will also be used by marine biologists and resource managers to investigate and assess unique habitat zones.  Learn more the mission goals here.

My students and I have been checking in on the vessels live video feed periodically as the ship sails from Rhode Island to Puerto Rico, mapping along the way.  I will join the crew in Puerto Rico on the 14th to begin training before the vessel sets sail for the second leg of the mission on the 16th.  Throughout our journey, scientists will use the maps we generate to determine areas that require further investigation with the vessel’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on the third leg of the mission.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer with camera sled, Seirios, deployed and below that, IFE’s Little Hercules—a science-class ROV. Credit: Randy Canfield and NOAA.

My goal is to learn as much as I can on this expedition!  There is no better way to motivate students to become life-long learners and scientific thinkers than to show them how exciting real research can be.   Through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, my students and I will have the rare opportunity to learn first-hand about the science and technology oceanographers use to study fascinating places in the ocean.   I will return to the classroom in April, equipped with lesson ideas and answers to questions about ocean research and careers! Thank you for following me on my journey.  Please post questions or comments.  I will do my best to address them in future posts (although communication aboard the vessel can be tenuous, I am told).  Here is my first question for you:

Lauren Wilmoth: Strange Sea Creatures, October 16, 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: Friday, October 16, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 7.32 °C
Wind Speed: 9.2 knots
Latitude: 57°44.179′ N
Longitude: 152°27.987′ W

Science and Technology Log

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.
ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

Wednesday, I went on a launch to do bottom sampling and cross lines.  Wednesday was our last day of data acquisition, so the motto on the POD (Plan of the Day) was “LEAVE NO HOLIDAYS! If in doubt, ping it again!”  Bottom sampling is pretty straight forward.  We drive to designated locations and drop a device that looks a little like a dog poop scooper down into the water after attaching it to a wench.  The device has a mechanism that holds the mouth of it open until it is jarred from hitting the bottom.  When it hits the bottom, it snaps closed and hopefully snatches up some of the sediment from the bottom.  Then, we reel it up with the wench and see what’s inside.

We took 10 bottom samples and most were the same.  We had a fine brown sand in most samples.  Some samples contained bits of shell, so we documented when that was the case.  At one location, we tried for samples three times and every time, we got just water.  This happens sometimes if the sea floor is rocky and the device can’t pick up the rocks.  If you try three times and get no definitive answer, you label the sample as unknown.  Two times we got critters in our samples.  One critter we found was an amphipod most likely.  The second critter was shrimp/krill-like, but I don’t know for sure.  Cross lines are just collecting sonar data in lines that run parallel to the previous data lines.  This gives us a better image and checks the data.

TeacheratSea 008 (8)
Survey Tech Christie and Me on our bottom sampling launch.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staff observations at Terror Bay.
Staff observations at Terror Bay.

Thursday, we closed out the tidal station at Terror Bay. This entailed doing staff observations, a tidal gauge leveling check, and then break down everything including completing a dive to remove the orifice.  Since I have already taken part in a tidal gauge leveling check, I was assigned to the staff observations and dive party.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for staff observations you just record the level of the water by reading a staff every six minutes for three hours.  We did this while on a boat, because the tide was pretty high when we got started, so we wouldn’t be able to read the staff if we were on shore.  Again, the reason we do staff observations is so we can compare our results to what the tidal gauge is recording to make sure the tidal gauge is and has been working properly.

While doing staff observations, I saw a small jellyfish looking creature, but it was different.  It had bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is what we have, where one side is more or less the same as the other side.  Jellyfish have radial symmetry which means instead of just one possible place you could cut to make two side that are the same, there are multiple places you can cut to make it the same on each side.  Also, the critter was moving by flopping its body from side to side which is nothing like a jellyfish.  I had to figure out what this was!  In between our observations, Jeff, the coxswain, maneuvered the boat so I could scoop this guy into a cup.  Once we finished our staff observations, we headed to the ship.  I asked around and Adam (the FOO) identified my creature.  It’s a hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina).  Nudibranches are sea slugs that come in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes.

Bilateral versus radial symmetry.
The hooded nudibranch.
The hooded nudibranch.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

After a quick return to the ship, we headed back out with a dive team to remove the orifice from underwater. Quick reminder: the orifice was basically a metal tube that air bubbles are pushed out of.  The amount of pressure needed to push out the air bubbles is what tells us the depth of the water. Anyways, the water was crystal clear, so it was really neat, because we could see the divers removing the orifice and orifice tubing.  Also, you could see all sorts of jellyfish and sea stars.  At this point, I released the hooded nudibranch back where I got him from.

Jellyfish!
Jellyfish!

Just as we were wrapping up with everything.  The master diver Katrina asked another diver Chris if he was alright, because he was just floating on his back in the water. He didn’t respond.  It’s another drill! One person called it in on the radio, one of the divers hopped back in the water and checked his vitals, and another person grabbed the backboard. I helped clear the way to pull Chris on board using the backboard, strap him down with the straps, and pull out the oxygen mask. We got him back to the ship where the drill continued and the medical officer took over. It was exciting and fun to take part in this drill.  This was a very unexpected drill for many people, and they acted so professional that I am sure if a real emergency occurred, they would be prepared.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.
Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Personal Log

Sadly, this was most likely my last adventure for this trip, because I fly out tomorrow afternoon. This trip has really been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learned and have a great appreciation for what it takes to make a quality nautical chart. I am excited about bringing all that the Rainier and her crew have taught me back to the classroom to illustrate to students the importance of and the excitement involved in doing science and scientific research. Thank you so much to everyone on board Rainier for keeping me safe, helping me learn, keeping me well fed, and making my adventure awesome!  Also, thank you to all those people in charge of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program who arranged my travel, published my blogs, provided me training, and allowed me to take part in this phenomenal program.  Lastly, thank you to my students, family, and friends for reading my blog, participating in my polls, and asking great questions.

Did You Know? 

1 knot is one nautical mile per hour which is equal to approximately 1.151 miles per hour.

Challenge:

Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: “Wreckish looking rock?” October 15, 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: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 4.4 °C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Latitude: 57°56.9′ N
Longitude: 153°05.8′ W

Science and Technology Log

Thank you all for the comments you all have made.  It helps me decide what direction to go in for my next post.  One question asked, “How long does it take to map a certain area of sea floor?”  That answer, as I responded, is that it depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, how deep the water is and how flat the floor is in that area.

To make things easier, the crew uses an Excel spreadsheet with mathematical equations already built-in to determine the approximate amount of time it will take to complete an area.  That answer is a bit abstract though.  I wanted an answer that I could wrap my head around.  The area that we are currently surveying is approximately 25 sq nautical miles, and it will take an estimated 10 days to complete the surveying of this area not including a couple of days for setting up tidal stations.  To put this in perspective, Jefferson City, TN is approximately 4.077 sq nautical miles.  So the area we are currently surveying is more than 6 times bigger than Jefferson City!  We can do a little math to determine it would take about 2 days to survey an area the size of Jefferson City, TN assuming the features are similar to those of the area we are currently surveying.

Try to do the math yourself!  Were you able to figure out how I got 2 or 3 days?

Since we’re talking numbers, Rainier surveyed an area one half the size of Puerto Rico in 2012 and 2013!  We can also look at linear miles.  Linear miles is the distance they traveled while surveying.  It takes into account  all of the lines the ship has completed.  In 2012 and 2013, Rainier surveyed the same amount of linear nautical miles that it would take to go from Newport, Oregon to the South Pole Station and back!

Area we are currently surveying.
Area we are currently surveying (outlined in red) with some depth data we have collected.
Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.
Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.

Monday, I went on a launch to collect sonar data.  This is my first time to collect sonar data since I started this journey.  Before we could get started, we had to cast a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) instrument.  Sound travels a different velocities in water depending on the salinity, temperature, and pressure (depth), so this instrument is slowly cast down from the boat and measures all of these aspects on its way to the ocean floor.  Sound travels faster when there is higher salinity, temperature, and pressure.  These factors can vary greatly from place to place and season to season.

Imagine how it might be different in the summertime versus the winter.  In the summertime, the snow will be melting from the mountains and glaciers causing a increase in the amount of freshwater.  Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, so it mainly stays on top.  Also, that glacial runoff is often much colder than the water lower in the water column.  Knowing all of this, where do you think sound will travel faster in the summertime?  In the top layer of water or a lower layer of water?  Now you understand why it is so important to cast a CTD to make sure that our sonar data is accurate.  To learn more about how sound travels in water, click here.

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I’m driving the boat.

After casting our CTD, we spent the day running the sonar up and down and up and down the areas that needed to be surveyed.  Again, this is a little like mowing the lawn.  At one point, I was on bow watch.  On bow watch, you sit at the front of the boat and look out for hazards.  Since this area hasn’t been surveyed since before 1939, it is possible that there could be hazards that are not charted.  Also, I worked down in the cabin of the boat with the data acquisition/sonar tuning. Some important things to do below deck including communicating the plan of attack with the coxswain (boat driver), activating the sonar, and adjusting the sonar for the correct depth.  I helped adjust the range of the sonar which basically tells the sonar how long to listen.  If you are in deeper water, you want the sonar to listen longer, because it takes more time for the ping to come back.  I also adjusted the power which controls how loud the sound ping is.  Again, if you are surveying a deeper area, you might want your ping to be a little louder.

Eli working the sonar equipment.
Eli working the sonar equipment.

Tuesday, I helped Survey Tech Christie Rieser and Physical Scientist Fernando Ortiz with night processing.  When the launches come back after acquiring sonar data, someone has to make all that data make sense and apply it to the charts, so we can determine what needs to be completed the following day.  Making sense of the data is what night processing is all about.  First, we converted the raw data into a form that the program for charting (CARIS) can understand.  The computer does the converting, but we have to tell it to do so.  Then, we apply all of the correctors that I spoke about in a previous blog in the following order: POS/MV (Position and Orientation Systems for Marine Vessels) corrector, Tides corrector, and CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) corrector.  POS/MV corrects for the rocking of the boat.  For the tides corrector, we use predicted tides for now, and once all the data is collected from our tidal stations, we will add that in as well.  Finally, the CTD corrects for the change in sound velocity due to differences in the water as I discussed above.

After applying all of the correctors, we have the computer use an algorithm (basically a complicated formula) to determine, based on the data, where the sea floor is.  Basically, when you are collecting sonar data there is always going to be some noise (random data that is meaningless) due to reflection, refraction, kelp, fish, and even the sound from the boat.  The algorithm is usually able to recognize this noise and doesn’t include it when calculating the location of the seafloor.  The last step is manually cleaning the data.  This is where you hide the noise, so you can get a better view of the ocean floor.  Also, when you are cleaning, you are double checking the algorithm in a way, because some things that are easy for a human to distinguish as noise may have thrown off the algorithm a bit, so you can manually correct for that. Cleaning the data took the longest amount of time.  It took a couple of hours.  While processing the data, we did notice a possible ship wreck, but the data we have isn’t detailed enough to say whether it’s a shipwreck or a rock.  Senior Tech Jackson noted in the acquisition log that it was “A wreckish looking rock or a rockish looking wreck.”  We are going to have the launches go over that area several more times today to get a more clear picture of is going on at that spot.

H12662_DN195_2804 This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.
This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.

Personal Log 

Monday was the most spectacular day for wildlife viewing!  First, I saw a bald eagle.  Then, I saw more sea otters.  The most amazing experience of my trip so far happened next.  Orcas were swimming all around us.  They breached (came up for air) less than 6 feet from the boat.  They were so beautiful!  I got some good pictures, too!  As if that wasn’t good enough, we also saw another type of whale from far away.  I could see the blow (spray) from the whale and a dorsal fin, but I am not sure if it is was a Humpback Whale or a Fin Whale.  Too cool!

Bald Eagle Sighting!
Bald Eagle Sighting!
Sea otter
Sea otter
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Orca!
Very close orca!
Very close orca!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? 

Killer whales are technically dolphins, because they are more closely related to other dolphins than they are to whales.

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.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 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: Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 3.82 °C
Wind Speed: 6.1 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb's Cove.  Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.
Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

The launch that I participated in on Tuesday was awesome!  We went to an area called Thumb’s Cove.  I thought the divers must be crazy, because of how cold it was.  When they returned to the boat from their dive, they said the water was much warmer than the air.  The water temperature was around 10.5°C or 51°F while the air temperature was hovering right above freezing.  One diver, Katrina, took an underwater camera with her.  They saw jellyfish, sea urchins, and sea stars.

The ride to and from the cove was quite bouncy, but I enjoyed being part of this mini-adventure!  Later that day, we did what is called DC (Damage Control) familiarization.  Basically, we practiced what do in case of an emergency.  We were given a pipe with holes in it and told to patch it with various objects like wooden wedges.  We also practiced using a pump to pump water off of the ship if she were taking on water.  Safety drills are also routine around here.  It’s nice to know that everyone expects the best, but prepares for the worse.  I feel very safe aboard Rainier.

Seastar from Katrina Poremba from the dive at Thumb's Cove.
Sea star and anemones taken by diver Katrina Poremba at Thumb’s Cove.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area.  We will be working near the red x.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area. We will be working near the red x.

Today, I got a chance to meet with the CO (Commanding Officer), and he explained the navigational charts to me.  Before the ship leaves the port, there must be a navigation plan which shows not only the path the ship will take, but also the estimated time of arrival to various points along the way.  This plan is located on the computer, but also, it must be drawn on a paper chart for backup.

This illustrates again how redundancy, as I discussed in my last blog post, is a very important part of safety on a ship.  Every ship must have up-to-date paper charts on board.  These charts get updated with the information collected from the hydrographic surveys.  The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet which is why Rainier‘s mission of mapping the ocean is so important.  There are many areas in Alaska where the only data on the depth of the water was collected before sonar technology was used.  In fact, some places the data on the charts comes from Captain Cook in the 1700s!  If you look at the chart below the water depth is measured in fathoms.  A fathom is 6 feet deep.  Places that are less than 1 fathom deep have a 05 where the subscript indicates how deep the water is in feet.

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One of the nautical charts that will help Rainier navigate back to its home port in Newport, Oregon. Notice the ocean depth marked in fathoms.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

Today, I also spoke with the AFOO (Acting Field Operations Officer), Adam, about some work that he had been doing on Rainier‘s sister ship NOAA Fairweather.  One project they are working on is connecting hydrographic data to fish distribution and abundance mapping.  Basically, they want to find out if it is possible to use sonar data to predict what types of fish and how many you will find in a particular location

They believe this will work, because the sonar produces a back scatter signature that can give you an idea of the sea floor composition (i.e. what it is made of).  For instance, they could tell you if the sea floor is rocky, silty, or sandy using just sonar, as opposed to, manually taking a bottom sample.  If this hydrographic data is integrated with the data collected by other NOAA ships that use trawl nets to survey the fish in an area, this would allow NOAA to manage fisheries more efficiently.  For example, if you have map that tells you that an area is likely to have fish fry (young fish) of a vulnerable species, then NOAA might consider making this a protected area.

Personal Log

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.
Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

On Tuesday, I had a little extra time in the afternoon, so I decided to ride my bike down to the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Seward.  There were Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus), Puffins (Genus Fratercula), Pacific Salmon (Genus Oncorhynchus) and much more.  I really appreciated that the SeaLife Center focused on both conservation and on organisms that live in this area.  A local high school even had their art students make an exhibit out of trash found on the beach to highlight the major environmental issue of trash that finds its way to the ocean.

Can you think a project we could do that would highlight a main environmental concern in Eastern Tennessee?  I also thought is was really interesting to see the Puffins dive into the water.  The SeaLife Center exhibit explained about how Puffin bones are more dense than non-sea birds.  These higher density bones are an adaptation that helps them dive deeper.

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center
Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

I officially moved into the ship today.  Prior to that, I was staying at a hotel while they were finishing up repairs.  We are expected to get underway on Friday afternoon.  I am staying in the princess suite!  It is nice and cozy.  I have all of the essentials.  I have a desk, bunk beds, 2 closets, and one bathroom (head).

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward Alaska
Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward, Alaska
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed "The Princess Suite."
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed “The Princess Suite.”

 

Did You Know? 

Junior Officers get homework assignments just like you.  At the navigation briefing today, the CO (Commanding Officer) told the Junior Officers what that they needed to review several documents before going through the inside passage (a particularly tricky area to navigate).  He is expecting them to lead different parts of the next navigation briefing, but he isn’t going to tell them which part they are leading until right before. Therefore, it is important that they know it all!  It’s a little like a pop quiz and presentation in one.

Word of the Day

Bathymetry – the study of the “beds” or “floors” of bodies of water.

Lauren Wilmoth: Introductions, October 7, 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: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 0.77 °C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Our departure from Seward was originally scheduled for today, but the ship is having some repairs done, so our expected departure is now Wednesday or Thursday.  In case you were wondering, this doesn’t delay my return date.  Regardless of the fact that we are not underway, there is still so much to learn and do.

Yesterday, I met with Christie, one of the survey techs, and learned all about the Rainier’s mission.   The main mission of the ship is to update nautical charts.  Up-to-date charts are crucial for safe navigation.  The amount of data collected by Rainier if vast, so although the main mission of the Rainier is updating nautical charts, the data are also sent to other organizations who use the data for a wide variety of purposes.  The data have been used for marine life habitat mapping, sediment distribution, and sea level rise/climate change modeling among other things.  In addition to all of that, Rainier and her crew sometimes find shipwrecks.  In fact, Rainier and her crew have found 5 shipwrecks this season!

 

This is what a shipwreck looks like to the sonar. This is a picture of a shipwreck found by another NOAA hydrographic ship. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Simplified, hydrographic research involves sending multiple sonar (sound) beams to the ocean floor and recording how long it takes for the sound to come back.  You can use a simple formula of distance=velocity/time and divide that by two because the sound has to go to the floor and back to get an idea how deep the ocean is at a particular spot.  This technique would be fine by itself if the water level weren’t constantly fluctuating due to tides, high or low pressure weather systems, as well as, the tilt of the ship on the waves.  Also, the sound travels at different speeds according to the water’s temperature, conductivity and depth.  Because of this, the data must be corrected for all of these factors.  Only with data from all of these aspects can we start to map the ocean floor.  I have attached some pictures of what data would look like before and after correction for tides.

 

This shows the advantages of using multibeam sonar to complete surveys. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Hydrographic data with correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie.
Hydrographic data with correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie.
Hydrographic data without correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie
Hydrographic data without correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie

I was also given a tour of the engine room yesterday.  Thanks, William.  He explained to me how the ship was like its own city.  In this city, there is a gym, the mess (where you eat), waste water treatment, a potable (drinkable) water production machine, and two engines that are the same type of engines as train engines.  Many of my students were interested in what happens to our waste when we are aboard the ship.  Does it just get dumped into the ocean?  The answer is no.  Thank goodness!  The waste water is exposed to bacteria that break down the waste  Then, salt water is used to produce chlorine that further sterilizes the waste.  After those two steps, the waste water can be dumped.  The drinking water is created by evaporating the water (but not the salt) from salt water.  The heat for this process is heat produced by the engine.  William also explained that there are two of everything, so if something fails, we’ll still be alright.

Me working out at the Rainier gym.
Rainier’s gym
Rainier's back-up generator.
Rainier’s back-up generator 

Personal Log

Sunday, I drove from Anchorage to Seward.  The drive was so beautiful!  At first, I was surrounded by huge mountains that were vibrant yellow from the trees whose leaves were turning.  Then, there was snow!  It was actually perfect, because the temperature was at just the right point where the snow was melted on the road, but it had blanketed the trees.  Alaska is as beautiful as all of the pictures you see.  The drive should have been about 2.5 hours, but it took me 3.5 hours, because behind each turn the view was better than the previous turn, so I had to stop and take pictures.  I took over 100 pictures on that drive.  Once I arrived in Seward, I was given my first tour of the ship and then I had some time to explore Seward.

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One of the views on my drive from Anchorage to Seward

 

Trying on my survival (gumby) suit
Trying on my survival (gumby) suit

Yesterday (the first official day on the job), I learned so much.  Getting used to the terminology is the hardest part.  There are acronyms from everything!  Immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and I have been immersed in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) language.  There is the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer), FOO (Field Operations Officer), TAS (Teacher at Sea or Me!), POD (Plan of the Day) and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I also had to learn all of the safety procedures.  This involved me getting into my bright red survival suit and learning how to release a lifeboat.

Today, I am going on a dive launch.  The purpose of this launch is to help some of the divers get more experience in the cold Alaskan waters.  I will get to ride on one of the smaller boats and watch as the Junior Officers scuba dive.

Did You Know? 

NOAA Corps is one of the 7 branches of the U.S. uniformed services along with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC).

Lauren Wilmoth: Get Ready! October 2, 2014

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island
Date: October 2, 2014

Introduction 

My name is Lauren Wilmoth, and I have been teaching biology at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge, TN for 3 years.  Prior to teaching in Jefferson County, I conducted research on pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) caterpillars in East Tennessee as a part of my master’s thesis at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  My research involved a lot of hiking in the woods and catching butterflies with my net.  Who wouldn’t enjoy that?  I learned a lot about how science works while obtaining my master’s degree, and now, as a teacher, I get to share my fascination with nature and my expertise with my students!

Portuguese Man-of-War
A Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) like the one I saw as a child. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

I grew up in Alabama, and like many families in Alabama, mine spent many spring breaks at the beach.  We camped every year at state parks on the Florida panhandle.  It was on these trips that I began to appreciate the ocean as a fun and interesting place.  We enjoyed the dune trails and the peculiar dune ecosystems.  We even went deep sea fishing one time, and I didn’t get seasick!  (Hopefully, I will be able to say the same after this trip).  I distinctly remember one time when a Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish (Physalia physalis) washed ashore.  It was the highlight of my trip to see this strange creature I had never even heard of! Although I grew up enjoying the ocean and it’s bounty (crab and shrimp are my favorites), I didn’t start to understand its importance until I became a biology major in college (oddly enough in the landlocked state of Arkansas).  No matter where you live, you are connected to the ocean through its role in our climate, our water cycle, and as the main source of oxygen on our planet among other things.  The ocean intrigues me with its mystery, and that is the reason I applied to be a part of this NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program. I am thrilled about this once in a lifetime opportunity to help with hydrographic research off of the coast of Alaska this fall.  In fact, I learned the news of which cruise I would be on while at Dublin Airport after an amazing vacation with my husband in Ireland.  I checked my e-mail and let out an audible shrill of excitement.

Ireland
My mother-in-law and me at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland earlier this summer.

I have never been to Alaska, and I know very little about hydrographic research.  This cruise excites me, because I will have the opportunity to learn something complete new, and after the cruise, I will be able to share what I learned with my students and colleagues! In case you were wondering, hydrographic research involves mapping the ocean floor which is particularly important for safe navigation in these waters.  Also, hydrographic research can involve determining the composition of the seafloor.  If you want to learn more about hydrographic surveys, click on the link.  Of course, you can also learn more about our hydrographic survey by continuing to read my blog during my trip. To complete this hydrographic research, I will be working with the NOAA team aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.  It contains a lot of fancy equipment used to complete these surveys that I hope to gain a better understanding of on this trip.  This is a large ship.  It is 231 feet long and is equipped with a dining area and 8 smaller boats!  To give you some perspective on its size, it would reach from the end goal line on a football field to the 23rd yard line on the opposite side of the field!  To learn more about NOAA ship Rainier click the link.  Stay tuned to my blog to hear firsthand what life aboard NOAA Ship Rainier is like.

Rainier through an iceberg. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Joan Le, Getting Set to TowCam, August 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joanie Le
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
August 5 – 16, 2014

Mission: Deep-Sea Coral Research
Geographic area of the cruise: 40 miles SE of Cape May, New Jersey
Date: August 5, 2014

In full survival gear during our first “abandon ship” drill.

Weather information from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 25.5° Celsius
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 330°
Weather Conditions: clear
Latitude: 37° 37.7′ N
Longitude: 74° 06.8′ W

Science and Technology Log

After almost a full day at sea, we are only hours away from the first watch and the first glimpse of data. Preparations commence, and anticipation is high.

For the next two weeks, we’ll study the deep-sea corals that occur in submarine canyons off the east coast. They have been found in every region of the United States, but for this mission we’ll target canyons in the Northeast region, investigating canyons east of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Deep-Sea Corals are similar to the familiar shallow-water corals, but cannot harness sunlight for energy through photosynthesis. Instead, they rely on nutrients from the water including detritus (non-living organic matter) and plankton. It is believed that Deep-Sea Corals find both shelter and bountiful grub on the steep-sided canyon walls where the faster-moving currents bring in the day’s meal. Surprisingly, many are just as beautiful and colorful as their shallow-water counterparts, like this bamboo coral photographed at Mytilus Seamount during the NOAA OER US Northern Canyons mission last year.

This image was taken at Mytilus Seamount during the NOAA OER US Northern Canyons mission last year. Photo credit NOAA.
Bamboo Coral (Jasonisis sp.) Photo credit NOAA.

Though not the hot snorkeling destination, the Deep-Sea Corals in this region are important habitat providers as well as sensitive indicators of ecosystem health. They are long-living but slow-growing and do not recover quickly. Both bottom trawling and possible energy harnessing (off-shore wind farms and oil and gas acquisition) are possible threats to their survival.

Because bottom trawling is so detrimental to the coral communities, we’ll use TowCam to survey the area. Deploying the TowCam is a delicate process, with sensitive and pricey equipment on the line. After a few test deployments yesterday, the team began picking our dive locations. There is plenty to consider when finding a dive spot, including the topography of the sea floor and slope of the canyon walls. We also use the results generated by a habitat suitability model that predicts where deep-sea corals are likely to occur. Scientists must strike a balance between the steeper, high-probability cliffs and the gentler slopes.

The crew prepares TowCam for the first test run.
The crew prepares TowCam for the first test deployment.
Brian Kinlan using Fledermaus to plan our first dive.
Brian Kinlan using Fledermaus to plan our first dive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Life aboard a ship is surely not easy. The constant rocking and clanging of cold metal will take a while to get used to, and I will sadly miss many daytime hours with our 12 hours on-12 hours off watch schedule. And while waking at 3 AM to greet a deathly dark ocean view may not seem like summertime fun to most, this first morning underway has convinced me that a couple weeks at sea is a treat I won’t soon forget.

photo (4)

David Murk, Why Are We Here? . . . . Wish You Were Here, May 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.

 

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Date: May 16, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

We are at 28⁰ N – 079⁰ W heading west from Cape Canaveral, Florida:

Weather:  Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 20 knots out of the northwest.

Water  Depth: 444 fathoms or 812 feet.

Temperature: water : 27° Celsius

Air temperature: 22°Celsius (I heard there was snow in Illinois, so I’ll leave the temp. in Celsius)

Our location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

 

Science and Technology Log

Storms and subsequent rainbows with dolphins cavorting in the Okeanos Explorer’s bow wake get you asking the big questions.

Why are we here?

Not in the larger philosophical, sense but why is the Okeanos Explorer at 29⁰N, 79⁰W? With 95% of the ocean unexplored, why did NOAA choose the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) to map? I went to Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator for this cruise, to find out.

Derek is a Physical Scientist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), which is the program that leads the scientific missions on the Okeanos Explorer. In preparation for the ship’s explorations this year, OER staff asked many scientists and ocean managers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic southeastern seacoast for priority areas for ocean exploration.The main purpose for the Okeanos Explorer is to explore largely unknown parts of the ocean and then put the data and discoveries out there for other scientists to use as a foundation for further research and improved stewardship. OER staff boil all these ideas down to a few and talk about the pros and cons of the final exploration focus areas. Once an operation’s area is determined for a cruise, OER then asks scientists what additional science can be done in these areas while the ship is planning to go there.

Much of this “extra” science benefits other parts of NOAA – such as the scientists that study fisheries and marine habitat. To manage this extra scientific work, the ship often hosts visiting scientists. On the current cruise, Chris Taylor from NOAA Fisheries Oceanography Branch joined the cruise to lead the plankton tow and oceanographic measurement work to search for Bluefin Tuna larvae in this part of the ocean and to understand the ocean chemistry here. It is important to NOAA to multi task and utilize the ship 24/7 to accomplish numerous scientific objectives. During March and April, lots of details were nailed down and by the middle of April Derek knew that the expedition could include time to do the plankton tows and extra water sampling.

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau
Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Now, just like a family vacation, things happen along the way that require everyone to make changes. A road could be closed, someone could get sick, the car could break down. These expeditions are no different. So, how do decisions happen at sea?

The crew of the Okeanos Explorer are responsible for safe operation of the ship and for supporting the visiting scientists in accomplishing their objectives for the cruise. The visiting scientists, as led by the Expedition Coordinator, must make decisions about how, where, and what needs to get done to accomplish the science objectives of the cruise. The Expedition Coordinator discusses these plans with the ship’s Operations Officer and she consults with the head of the various department on the ship (Deck, Engineering, Medical, etc.) and the Commanding Officer to most effectively support safely achieving the science team’s goals. There is a daily Operations Meeting for all of these leaders to meet and ensure coordination throughout the day so that things run smoothly on the ship. The Commanding Officer is responsible for making sure the crew implements their duties, while the Expedition Coordinator (often called the Chief Scientist) is responsible for making sure the scientists implement their duties.

For complex decisions, like our present decision whether or not to go inshore to get a replacement plankton net, lots of factors are weighed and the final call is with the Expedition Coordinator and the CO. The Expedition Coordinator weighs trading off seafloor mapping time with getting more plankton data and decides if it is worth it to go get the net. Commander Ramos must decide if it is safe and reasonable to do so and makes the final decision of where and what the ship does.

For seafloor mapping work that happens 24 hours a day, there are three teams of two people who “stand watch” on 8 hour work shifts (called a “watch”). Each watch has a watch leader that works at the direction of the Expedition Coordinator. The Watch Leader ensures the quality of the mapping work accomplished during their 8 hour watch. The ship’s Survey Technician, Jacklyn James, works closely with the visiting mapping scientists to run all of the complex computer systems under standard operating procedures.

Here is an example of how routine small decisions are made. Let’s say that Vanessa Self-Miller (see personal log) is on duty as the Watch Leader and wants to have the ship move over 500 meters to get better sonar coverage of the seafloor below.

Vanessa uses the intercom to call the deck officer on the bridge and tells the officer she would like the ship to move over 500 meters. The officer checks the AIS (see last blog) and sea conditions to see if this would be a safe maneuver for the ship. The reasons for not approving the mapping team’s request would almost always be safety based. Most of the time, the officer says “Sure Thing. Roger That.” and in the space of a few minutes the ship has changed course as requested.

The answer to “why are we here?”  is a complex, time-consuming endeavor, but when it works, like on this expedition, it is magic to watch unfold.

Personal log

Wish you were here.

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlhttp://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlen.wikipedia.org

The storm was not one of those Illinois summer thunderstorms that come racing in from Iowa – gathering energy like a 5th grade class the last few weeks of school. Nope. No simultaneous lightning thunder howitzers that you feel in your spine; just some lightning and wind gusts to 50 knots, but I sure wanted to see how things looked from the bridge once I heard the foghorn. The bridge on the Okeanos Explorer is one of my favorite places on this ship. I always ask permission for entry and if the circumstances allow, the officer on duty will grant it.

Operations Officer Lt.Rose’s IPod was playing Pink Floyd while she divided her attention between the myriad of dials and screens and  talking navigation with mapping intern Kalina Grabb.   AB Tepper-Rasmussen and NOAA Corps Officer LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Bryan Begun peered into the foggy soup and monitored the AIS.

The irony of the moment struck me because while the crew unconsciously played percussion on the brass rail overhead or mumbled lyrics and David Gilmour and Roger Waters sang about not needing an education, there was so much education and proof of education going on in this little room. That is the defining image I’ll always have of this space on the Okeanos Explorer. It is a place where the acquisition and exhibition of knowledge are so evident and invigorating. You can’t spend more than 4 minutes in this space without learning something or being amazed at how smart these people are and how devoted they are to use that knowledge to carry out the science of this mission.   On this particular night, the skies lifted and we had hopes of seeing a launch at Canaveral, 40 miles to the west.   Lt. Rose announced to the whole ship that a double rainbow could be seen portside and even the dolphins responded to her call to educate the right side of our brains.

Dolphins after the storm (picture courtesy of John Santic)
Dolphins after the storm
(picture courtesy of John Santic)
Lieutenant Junior Grade Begun and Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb checking the error of the gyrocompass using the azimuth

 

What else have I been doing?

In addition to spending time on the bridge- I have been helping with the XBT launches, using the photometer to add data to the NOAA’s Aerosol Project – with the ever faithful Muffin from good ol’ Hampshire Elementary and preparing for a night launch of CTD and plankton tows – more on that next blog.

Launching the XBT – taken by Expedition Coordinator, Derek Sowers
Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi
Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi
Preparing for night launch of CTD and plankton tows.(photo taken by LTJG Bryan Begun)

DID YOU KNOW?

Vanessa Self-Miller
Vanessa Self-Miller

Like all women, Vanessa Self-Miller’s mom was great at multi-tasking. While she got things rolling for the evening in the household, Vanessa was her mom’s guinea pig for the next day’s science lessons for her 6th grade students at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Louisiana. She also instilled a love of the scientific method in her daughter.

Her father was a math guy and found out early that Vanessa was going to be the 3rd wheel with her brother on typical father son activities that involved mechanics or being out in nature.   That nurturing and her work ethic prompted Vanessa to get a degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She went on to work for the U.S. Navy as a hydrographer doing a lot of mapping harbors and near the shore. She received her masters degree in Hyrdrographic Science from University of Southern Mississippi.

Now she is thrilled to be a physical scientist/hyrdrographer for NOAA.   While it is a challenge to coordinate job related travel with her husband and two children, she loves working for NOAA. NOAA respects a work-life balance and that allows her to pursue her passions in life. She wants to encourage all students but especially the young girls to start early in their path to a career in science. She feels that how parents nurture their girls is important in their seeking employment in the fields of science.

On a personal note, any time a question came up from this naive teacher or any of the mapping interns, Vanessa was able to answer it completely and without pause. She encourages all the 5th graders out there, male or female, to pursue their scientific oceanographic dreams. NOAA will need today’s fifth graders to investigate sea level rise and all the Ocean Engineering energy products that our country will need twenty years from now. There will always be a need for scientists who love to explore and want to work for NOAA.

Dave Murk: Three 2’s From the Okeanos Explorer, May 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: Off the Coast of Florida and Georgia – Western portion of the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa)
Date: May 10, 2014

Weather data from Bridge:
Temperature 25 degrees celsius (can you convert to Fahrenheit?)
WInd – From 160 degrees at 14 knots (remember north is 0 degrees)
Latitude : 28 degrees  – Longitude: 79 degrees.

 

Science and Technolgy Log:

Two of the goals for this expedition. (There are a lot more)

Expedition coordinator Derek Sowers said his best case scenario for this mission is to meet all the cruise objectives. The main one- an aggressive 24/7 campaign to map as much seafloor as possible within top priority mapping areas offshore of the Southeast United States and along the canyons at the edge of the Atlantic continental shelf.

L – R – Chief Scientist Derek Sowers, Vanessa Self-Miller, Kalina Grabb

In addition to that mapping goal, he wants the visiting fisheries scientist on board to get good water samples for the Ocean Acidification Program and good samples from the plankton tows. Last but not least, he “wants the mission team to have a great learning experience.”

The ship has three different sonars, each of which is good for different things. One sonar sends out a single beam of sound that lets you see fish and other creatures in the water column. Another sonar sends powerful sounds that bounce back off the bottom and gives you information about the geology (rocks and sediment) of the seafloor. Perhaps the most impressive sonar onboard is the multi-beam sonar. You know how your garden hose has a setting for jet spray when you want to aim it at your brother who is 10 feet away? The water comes out in a straight narrow line. But there’s also another setting called ‘shower” or wide spray. The multibeam sonar is like combining the best of both of these sprays into one and sends out a fan of sound that allows the scientists to map a broad section of the seafloor. By measuring how long it takes this sound to reach a patch of seafloor and return to the ship, it is possible to estimate the distance and that is how the shape of the seafloor can be mapped. Using this technology enables NOAA to map the seascape in order to better protect marine habitat and reduce harm from human activities. Mapping the marine protected areas off the east coast of Florida and Georgia is important because there are deep sea corals in this area and it is important fisheries habitat.

Chris Taylor – NOAA Fisheries

This cruise features a visiting scientist from NOAA Fisheries, named Chris Taylor. Chris’s part of the expedition includes collecting water samples and towing a net that can collect very small creatures called plankton. Chris is specifically examining the plankton he catches to see if bluefin tuna use this part of the ocean to lay eggs and raise young tuna. Samples from the net will go back to a lab to be analyzed to make sure they are bluefin and not yellowfin tuna.

Chris spent most of this windy but warm night tying a rope to the net that he’ll use for HOPEFULLY – catching some baby Bluefin Tunas. Like insects, Bluefin tuna go through an egg stage THEN a larva stage. When they are very small they drift with the currents with the rest of the ocean community. Once a larva is over 7 millimeters, they can avoid the net. But If we find some Bluefin tuna – it may mean that we have found a new spawning ground for Bluefin tuna in the southern North Atlantic.

Personal Log:

Lt. Emily Rose instructs AB Tepper-Rasmussen in radar navigation techniques.

Two people who make this ship run so well:The operations officer – Lieutenant Emily Rose. Officer Rose can usually be found on the bridge of the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer. Today she was teaching a course on small craft navigation before I caught up with her. The thing she really loves about this position is that there are new set of challenges each day. She is always learning (and I’ll add that she is almost always sharing that knowledge with others) but the ship is her first responsibility. The most difficult thing is getting up every morning before 3:00 a.m. and being away from everyone back home.

 

 

Electronics Technicians Conway and Okeson

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Electronics Technician Will Okeson are the Tech guys and they are always busy. Since Okeanos Explorer is America’s premier ocean exploration ship, there are a lot of computers, miles of cable and lots of video equipment to maintain. Richard and Will’s favorite part of the job is when all the parts work together and the public can see their product and when they can trouble shoot and help the science team reach their objectives. The most difficult thing it so be away from families when there is a crisis or joyous moment.

Two things about my personal experiences so far on EX-14-03 (our mission)

Using photometer to monitor aerosol properties. (photo taken by Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb
Using photometer to monitor aerosol properties. (photo taken by Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb

First – – “SCIENCE RULES” to quote Bill Nye. Every Okeanos Explorer crew member and scientific crew member are all about the science of the mission. When one of the science crew is going to launch something called an XBT over the side, they call and get an OK from the bridge (where the captain or second in command and the crew that are on “watch” are located). No one hesitates to ask questions of each other. Why is this? What is that? Where is the nearest ship? What’s for lunch? (just kidding ! Chief Steward Randy posts a menu every day and it beats out Golden Corral any day of the week for tastiness and diversity). But the important thing of the mission is the science and every single person on the ship works to make the mission a success.

Second – RESPECT – There is so much respect shown on the Okeanos Explorer. It’s respect for other people, for the ship, for the environment, for rules and for commons spaces.  Yesterday while on the bridge, Ensign Nick Pawlenko was taking over from Commander Ramos and they both showed such respect for rules and for each other by going over all the observations of the ship’s speed, the weather conditions and whether there were any other ships in the area.  When breakfast was over – I saw Operations Officer Rose stick her head in the galley (kitchen) and thank Chief Cook Ray and Chief Steward Randy for a great meal. No one slams doors since it might wake the crew and scientists who are on night duty. Everyone cleans up after themselves. If you ever have a question and if the crew or scientists can answer it, they will. There is respect for the environment when we separate our garbage each meal.   If only the whole world was like the Okeanos.

 

MYSTERY PICTURE – Here are two photos – what’s different about them? And WHY?? That’s the million dollar question (or an even better prize –bluefin tuna larva in our trawl nets )

IN the mess (dining area)

(see anything different?)
(see anything different?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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: If Hydro Means Water and Graphy Means Writing, What Is Hydrography? April 22, 2014

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

 

Project: North Coast of Kodiak Island

Weather Data from the Bridge at 15:20

Wind: 11 knots

Visibility: 10+ nautical miles

Weather: Clear

Depth in fathoms: 66.1

Temperature: 9.8˚ Celsius

Latitude: N 48˚13.15 Longitude: W 123˚21.04

Science and Technology Log

My first log will be mostly about setting sail and the breadth of skills which each crew member is required to possess when working in hydrography, which is the science of surveying and charting bodies of water or seafloor mapping.  Later, I hope to zoom in on the crew, scientists, and tools they use. Meetings….a time to get together with co-workers and catch up, and get a little work done. Not at NOAA: at 8:00 a.m. on April 21, Lieutenant Commander Holly Jablonski, Executive Officer called a meeting to let junior officers know the ship would be sailing at 12 p.m. Originally scheduled to depart on March 28, Rainier could not leave unless positions of highly qualified crew were filled, and difficult to replace parts were found and installed. Potentially hazardous ocean conditions would have delayed the departure another day so Officers were pleased the ship would depart. Members of the Junior Officer team proceeded to list off work they must complete to have the ship ready to sail in the next two hours, equipment to deliver, test and secure, and inspections to complete. Not a word was wasted. Within five minutes the meeting ended and each officer quickly returned to their many collateral duties. Ensign Katrina Poremba gave me a tour of the ship as we updated emergency billets, critical information that informs crew of their responsibilities during drills and actual emergencies. Before long, we were underway. Families of crew members wished them farewell, fair winds and following seas. As the ship pulled away, I entered the bridge, where Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, and others were sailing the ship out of Newport Bay.

NOAA families see their loved ones off wishing them fair winds and following seas.
NOAA families see their loved ones off wishing them fair winds and following seas.

On the bridge, officers eyed a crabbing boat in “The Jaws,” the jetties at the entrance to Yaquina Bay, and mentioned that it did not appear to be making progress. With twelve foot swells, at 13 second intervals, the bar is a bit rough and it seems to me to be a risky place for a boat to turn around, but this is what the crabber did. Maybe it was too rough for them today, but now we had to pass them in a narrow passage with shifting depths. Lieutenant Junior Grade Bart Buesseler mentioned that Rainier’s hull is 16 feet deep and that a 2.5 million dollar piece of multi-beam sonar equipment sits at its lowest point of the hull. This is some of the best mapping equipment in the world. On the bridge, about seven officers and helmsmen maneuvered the ship around the crab boat in the narrow passage. An alarm sounded, signaling a low depth warning. I wondered about the wisdom of placing such expensive equipment in such a vulnerable position. Later I learned that the sonar equipment is protected by a steel shell called a gondola, but also that the equipment must be placed at this deepest location of the hull to maximize smooth sonar transmission and reception.  Like the sonar equipment, I feel protected in the capable hands of Rainier crew. As each alarm sounded, several of the six officers moved to a variety of locations on the bridge to collect data about all variables, water depth, the distance to the crab boat, angle and speed of travel, swell and breaking waves. The crabber passed us uneventfully, and within seconds, we had breaking 12 foot waves on both sides. Avoiding hazards as we passed safely though the bar reminded me why accurate nautical charts, based upon reliable data, are necessary tools for all vessels. Gathering the data to create accurate charts is Rainier’s project this season.

Commanding Officer Rick Brennan, Executive Officer Holly Jablonski, Junior Officer Micki Ream and Junior Officer Bill Carrier are all part of the team that gets us safely across the bar.
Commanding Officer Rick Brennan, Executive Officer Holly Jablonski, Junior Officer Micki Ream and Junior Officer Bill Carrier are all part of the team that gets us safely across the bar.
Multibeam Sonar System
Multibeam Sonar System

After navigating us through the bar, several officers left and Starla Robinson, a senior survey technician joined us on the bridge to make sure we were collecting new information about the ocean depth as we travel north.

Surveying Computer Program
Surveying Computer Program

Rainier has a Multibeam Sonar System and a Rolls-Royce Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) 200 sound speed acquisition system used to collect large amounts of data and make high resolution maps of the ocean floor. The sonar equipment gathered information represented on two screens on the bridge and multiple screens in the plot room, sending down pings through the water that bounce back up.  Based upon the time it takes for the sound to return to the ship, the equipment measures the ocean depth. As a senior survey technician, it is Starla’s duty to coordinate between Field Operations Officer Quintero, “FOO,” and the crew on the bridge to follow a track line measuring ocean depth. She invited me into the plot room where many large computer screens display rainbow colored images of the ocean floor. There were divots in the rainbow image which Starla explains could be thermal vents, and blue dots, which could be schools of fish. Another unexplained change in the ocean floor caught her attention.  She market that spot on the chart with a caption, “look later.” She said with a smile it might be a shipwreck that she planned on checking out that evening.

As we travel north on the map, the yellow swaths indicate areas already surveyed. Rainier’s current survey data is represented in black. This surveying is much like mowing the lawn, you want to travel in a track that matches the edge of a previous route and does not overlap significantly. All surveyors and officers spent time focusing on the collection of this data until the afternoon of our second day of travel, when we entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the route is heavily traveled and well surveyed making additional data collection unnecessary.

Teacher at Helm Watch Out Crab Pots!
Teacher at Helm
Watch Out Crab Pots!–Photo by Anthony Wright!

In the past, ocean depth was measured with a lead line dropped into the water until it hit bottom.

Image courtesy of NOAA at http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html
Image courtesy of NOAA at http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html

Now, scientists use sonar or sound pings reflecting off the ocean floor, to measure depth much more efficiently. Several years ago, the Rainier crew surveyed an area of the Columbia River Bar in 1 ½ months might have taken 50 years worth of work under the old, lead line methodology. In addition, with the sonar method, scientists see the ocean floor in much greater detail, which no longer appears like dots, but instead comes back in a three dimensional image.

In this photo, the area without highlighting (red) shows how much surveying one boat does off the small boat in shallow water.  The shallower the water, the more time consuming the survey becomes.
In this image, the area without tracking marks appears bright red and shows how much surveying one boat completes in shallow water. The shallower the water, the more time consuming the survey becomes.

The track line survey on our route north is ancillary to the crew’s primary mission: to collect hydrographic data around Kodiak Island. This map shows where the crew will work this year, collecting depth measurements and reviewing data for accuracy.

Sheet Assignments for  2014 Season
Sheet Assignments for 2014 Season

I will be telling you more about sheet assignments and the review process later. Then survey technicians and officers file a report which becomes part of a new nautical chart, including areas identified as dangers to navigation.

Every conversation on board seems to include math and science. Johnny Brewer, a junior engineer who helps keep the ship moving forward, spoke of the need for everyone on board to have a good understanding of Algebra and Trigonometry, for anything from mixing paint to ship stability. A half hour later, on the bridge, the officers are discussing trigonometric formulas relevant to the length of anchor line. Many crew spoke of the training, testing and sea days NOAA provides so that crew members continue to develop a broad range of skills and move forward in their careers whether they are Stewards, Engineers, Survey Technicians or Officers. It is clear that math, science, technology and cross training for everyone play an important role in the daily lives of this NOAA crew.

 

Personal Log

My son Martin delivering me to Rainier just in time for a beautiful sunset.
My son Martin delivering me to Rainier just in time for a beautiful sunset. Photo by Jeff Mays
Reconnaissance by Kayak.  Photo by Joseph Jones
Reconnaissance by Kayak.  Photo by Joseph Jones

Several crew spoke of the transit as an opportunity for some down time. Yet seeing how the crew multitasks constantly, all day and night, I wonder what the day will look like when we begin our hydro work in Alaska. Okay, maybe there is a little down time: here is a shot of me, Engineer Patrick Price and Starla Robinson, surveying by kayak the nooks and crannies of Canoe Island in the San Juan Islands. DID YOU KNOW? Newer ships hold effluent but because Rainier is a relatively older ship, it has a marine sanitation device (MSD) that separates sodium and chloride, making a chlorine solution from our waste, and sanitizing the effluent for discharge. To learn more about what happens in the MSD, here is a fun chemistry experiment you can try:  http://integratedscienceathome.blogspot.com/2011/04/splitting-saltwater.html .

Second grade hot science topic: in the sight glass, orange is detergent, white is emulsion and brown is ...gross.
Second grade hot science topic: in the sight glass orange is detergent, white is emulsion and brown is …gross.

Jamie Morris: “Mowing the Lawn”, April 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 1-2 feet
Air Temperature: 66.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 64.8ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Due to rough seas, we were not able to depart on Sunday. We waited until yesterday when the waves were only 3 feet at times (much better than 8 feet on Sunday).  It took us 5 hours to travel from Savannah to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).  Once we arrived at the sanctuary, machines were calibrated and we began mapping the seafloor.  The mapping will take 3 days running 24 hours a day.  We are currently “mowing the lawn.”  We started at one end of the sanctuary and are traveling in a straight line across to the other side of the sanctuary.  Once we reach the edge of the sanctuary the ship turns around and we return to the other side slightly overlapping the previous path.  The goal is to map the entire Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).

Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping data
Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping

The seafloor is being mapped using a multibeam sonar.  Multibeam sonar involves sending out 512 sound waves at once at different angles.  The sound waves bounce off of the seafloor and are reflected back to receivers on the ship.  There are a series of computer programs that uses the information to calculate the distance the wave traveled (depth of the ocean) and generate an image.

The scientists and technicians need to avoid errors while mapping and therefore need to account for the tides, the differences in the temperature and salinity of the water as well as sound velocity.  There are several tools and computer programs used to avoid errors and adjust any differences.  One of these tools is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density).  The CTD is deployed off of the back of the ship.  It is sent down a cable to the seafloor.  As it descends it is gathering data and sending the data to a computer in the lab.  The scientists and technicians make adjustments to the computer programs using this data and can compensate for again changes in the water column.

CTD
Senior Survey Technician, Sam Martin, Deploying the CTD

For a detailed description of Multibeam sonar, please visit: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2013_nancy_foster/multibeam.html

Several other projects will be conducted on this mission as well, but most will not begin until Thursday when the dive team arrives.  These will include Marine Debris Surveys, Lionfish Removal, Sea Turtle data collection, and Fish Telemetry.  In preparation for these projects, a small dive boat was just deployed off the ship.  Chief Scientist, Sarah Fangman, with a few crew members went in the boat to test the marker drops.  The divers will be looking for very specific sites.  It is important to precisely mark the sites from the surface so that the divers will easily be able to find the spots or objects that they are looking for.

The Nancy Foster carries 3 small dive boats.  The boats need to be lowered into the water using the crane located at the back of the ship.  It is a group effort to deploy these boats.  A member needs to operate the crane and four others use guide ropes to assist in lowering the boat.  Once the boat is in the water, members need to crawl aboard using a rope ladder that is connected to the Nancy Foster.

A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.
A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.

I have quickly learned that the most important skill on the ship is teamwork.  One person cannot do it all.  From safety procedures to gathering data to the general functioning of the ship, you need to work together.

 

Did You Know?

When using Sonar, extra sound waves are generated.  This was once thought to be background noise.  Scientists now call this Backscatter and can analyze this data and determine that type of seafloor bottom or the sediment that is present (sandy, rippled, hard bottom).

 

Personal Log

Earth Day Selfie
ENS Conor Magnin, LT Colin Kliewer, Me, and Amy Rath pose for an Earth Day Selfie
Photo: Amy Rath

Happy Earth Day!!! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this beautiful planet than sitting out on the deck enjoying the vast ocean.  Or by submitting a Selfie to NASA to participate in their Global Selfie Project to create an image of the earth using selfies from around the world.

I have been aboard the Nancy Foster for four days now.  I arrived in pouring rain on Friday night so I did not really get to explore the ship that night.  On Saturday, I assisted with an Open House on the Nancy Foster where the public was able to tour the ship.  Members of the GRNMS including Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman, Acting Superintendent George Sedberry, and Communications and Outreach Coordinator Amy Rath led the tours.  Financial and IT Coordinator Debbie Meeks, volunteer Marilyn Sobwick and I signed people up for the tours and discussed GRNMS, NOAA, and the upcoming mission with the public.  It was a wonderful experience being able to meet new people and introduce them to the Nancy Foster and Gray’s Reef.

I was all ready to set sail on Sunday, but the weather had different plans.  We were all boarded on the ship and the crew was making the final preparations when it was decided to postpone the trip.  The waves were 8 feet tall at Gray’s Reef.  The rough water would have made it impossible to create an accurate seafloor map.  Since that was the only task we had, the trip was postponed.

We were able to set sail yesterday.  It was a beautiful day, as it is today.  It is gorgeous outside with warm weather and calm waves.  I have found several wonderful spots to sit outside and enjoy the ocean.

Many of my students had several concerns about life on the ship.  Living on the Nancy Foster is quite comfortable.  I am staying in a four person stateroom.  Right now I am

The bunks in the stateroom
The bunks in the stateroom

sharing it with Amy who is a great roommate.  We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy. The bathroom, or Head as it is called on a ship, is down the hall.  I do feel like I’m back in college sharing a bathroom.  The Galley (or kitchen) and Mess (dining room) is directly across the hall.  As for my students who were very concerned about food – I am eating VERY well.  The Nancy Foster has 2 amazing stewards, Lito Llena and Bob Burroughs, who are wonderful chefs.  Yesterday they made a Ginger Chicken Soup that was honestly the best soup I had ever had.  Many crew members tell me that the Nancy Foster is one of the best fed ships.  I can agree.  As for entertainment, the ship has a gym, tv and games in the galley, and a Movie Room!

Movie Room
The Movie Room
The gym aboard the ship
The gym aboard the ship

Some of my students were very concerned about my safety.  NOAA Ships want to make sure everyone is prepared for any situation.  They are required to conduct weekly drills and all members aboard must participate.  We practiced what to do in a blackout situation or how to find your way if you have chemicals in your eyes.  We did this by being blindfolding and finding your way out of ship or to an eyewash station.  We also practiced an Abandon Ship drill.  We had to put on our survival suits and get to our life rafts.  I am glad we are prepared.

Survival Suit
Me in the Survival Suit.
Photo: LT Colin Kliewer
Abandon Ship Drill
Preparing to get into the survival suits during the Abandon Ship drill

 

 

Additional Photos:

Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah
Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah, GA
Leaving Savannah and heading down the river
Leaving Savannah and heading down the river
Leaving Savannah
Leaving Savannah
Sunset from the ship on April 21st.
Sunset from the ship on April 21st.
Drill
GVA Richard Odom practicing finding his way to an eye wash station without the ability to see. ENS Conor Maginn assists
Blackout Prep
ENS Carmen practicing how to evacuate the ship during a blackout.

 

Paige Teamey: Introduction and Excitement about Approaching Voyage, October 31, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 11, 2011


Sailing on the Hudson River Estuary next to Liberty Island.

Greetings, my name is Paige Teamey and I will be sailing on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson  as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  I am a graduate of Wheaton College with a double major inPhysics and Environmental Science.  I am a native Oregonian, but have called Brooklyn, NY home for the last eight years.  I love the outdoors and have had many opportunities to explore upstate New York and observe a side of the east coast that is raw and beautiful.  I have a great love for being outside and spending as much time as I can with my family.

I have lived and taught high school earth science, anatomy and physiology, forensics, experimental design, and material science for the past seven years at Brooklyn Academy High School.  I deeply enjoyed the students I taught as well as the faculty and community that existed at  the school and in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy.

Iridescent Family Science

I departed from Brooklyn Academy this year to follow a passion and help provide students at a younger age access to science and engineering with  Iridescent.   Iridescent is a non-profit science and engineering educational organization located in Hunts Point, NY  where our vision is to use science, technology and engineering to develop persistent curiosity and to show that knowledge is empowering.  Iridescent is a community-based educational outreach organization that supports student growth through lifelong mentorships and community sharing, development, and learning.

Hunts Point is located on a peninsula and is home to the largest food distribution site in the world as well as the largest fish market in the world outside of Japan.  Hunts Point receives enough food annually by ship to feed 30 million people in and around New York City.  Hunts Point is a tidal strait located between the Bronx River and the East River.  Each ship that Hunts Point residential and food distribution port (notice the Bronx River and East River) travels from their homeland bringing products to NYC relies on nautical charts in order to steer around shallow areas, especially at low tides (check out the current moon phase today).  On my voyage with NOAA, I will learn how to conduct seafloor mapping (hydrographic surveying) of Block Island in order to update and generate nautical maps.

95% of our oceans have yet to be explored!!!  Humans have only researched, taken data, and “observed” 5% of our Earth’s watery shores.  Gene Feldman an oceanographer and earth explorer stated it best by describing the ocean as a really a hard place to work in the following statement,

70% of our world contains OCEANS.
70% of our world contains OCEANS.

“In many ways, it’s easier to send a person to space than to the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is dark and cold. In space, you can see forever. Deep in the ocean, you can’t see much. Your light can’t shine very far.”

Life exist in a very small slice on land when compared to the enormous depths of our oceans.

Life on land occurs in a very thin layer from just below the ground to the tops of our tallest trees  (about 1 mile or 20 blocks) .  In the ocean life occurs in every layer where some areas are more than seven miles deep (140 blocks).  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is an amazing organization that has hundreds of scientists and engineers exploring and learning about our oceans everyday.  NOAA shines new light on our oceans unexplored worlds everyday.

For the students and families following my journey Shine your light!!  Be curious with a passion.  Keep your eyes open to the skies, below your feet, into the wind, with every step to school/work or while sitting in silence… question everything.  I look forward to bringing you answers and videos to any questions or any interests you have about my journey.  Click on the words when they are highlighted purple/blue in order to learn more.

You can follow my journey and adventures in this blog and daily ship position via the NOAA Ship Tracker.  Just click on the hyperlink, enter the ship tracker and select the Thomas Jefferson from the drop down menu on the right side of the screen.

NOAA Thomas Jefferson

Christine Hedge, September 5, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 5, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 770 13’N
Longitude: 1370 41’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.
The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.

More Ways to Use Sound to See Beneath the Sea Floor 

Today we “rafted” with the Louis (the ships tied together side by side). I have been eager to see the science instruments that the Canadian ship is carrying. Once the ships were securely tied together we could just walk back and forth between them and tour the Canadian vessel.

The Healy has been breaking ice so that the Louis can have an easier time collecting data using seismic reflection profiling.  The goal is for the Canadian scientists to determine how deep the sediments are in this part of the Arctic Basin.  The sound waves their instrument sends out can penetrate about 1500 meters below the seafloor. Using sound they can “see” inside the earth – amazing!

FOR MY STUDENTS:  Remember your Latin/Greek word parts?  Look up “seism”. 

Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)
Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)

Here is how it works. The Louis steams forward at a low speed following in the path that the Healy has created through the ice. The Louis tows behind a weighted sled with 3 airguns suspended from the bottom.  This sinks about 10 meters below the water. Attached to the sled is a long tube filled with hydrophones (underwater microphones) called a streamer.  This streamer is about 400 meters long and stretches out behind the ship. It is best for the ship to move continuously so that the streamer will not sink or float to the surface.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Try to picture a 400-meter long “tail” on a ship. That is longer than 4 football fields. 

The airguns create a huge air bubble in the water.  When it collapses, it creates a sound pulse.  Two of the guns use a low frequency, which will penetrate deep into the sea floor but will create a low-resolution image.  The other gun uses a high frequency, which does not penetrate as deep but gives a high-resolution image.  The 16 sound recorders in the streamer record the echo created by these sounds reflecting from the sediment layers below the sea floor. The final product this instrument creates is an image of a cross section through the Earth. Scientists can look at these by observing this geologic history, the scientists are looking back in time. You can imagine that ice can cause lots of problems when a ship is towing a 400-meter long streamer behind it.  This is why we are working on collecting this data together.  One ship breaks, the other collects the seismic reflection data.

Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.
Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.

Personal Log 

The crew has been looking forward to the two ships tying up together for the entire cruise.  Everyone is curious about the other ship. What are the staterooms like?  What is the food like? How is their bridge different from our bridge? And of course there is shopping!! Both of the ship stores had their best Louis and Healy gear ready for the eager shoppers.

After learning about the science instruments aboard the Louis, it was nice to finally see the seismic sled, streamers, and the computer nerve center where the seismic images are received. The ships are pretty different in their appearance.  The Louis is an older vessel and has wooden handrails, panels cover the wires in the ceiling, and there are some larger windows with actual curtains.  The Healy was built to be a science research icebreaker and so has many large spaces for science and looks generally more industrial. The Louis was an icebreaker first and some of their science spaces have been added later and are less spacious.

The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy Pat Kelley USCG)
The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy
Pat Kelley USCG)

Shopping and tours were fun but the most anticipated events of the day were the evening meal, contests and games.  The ship’s officers exchanged gifts in a formal presentation and then we had an amazing buffet together.  Personnel from both ships enjoyed scallops, halibut, salmon, shrimp, lobster, pork, beef, cheese, salads, and desserts. This was an exceptional meal and a great social event.  The idea of having Teachers at Sea (TAS) was a new one for most Canadians I spoke with and as we talked they seemed to think this TAS would be a great idea to stimulate interest in young Canadians about maritime careers.  The evening concluded with some friendly competitions between the crews and the science parties.  This entire event was a lot of work for the Coast Guard crews.  The science party really appreciates all the hours they put into planning this event!

Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.
Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.

Christine Hedge, September 3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 3, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Latitude: 780 34’N
Longitude: 1360 59’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.
Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.

Low-Impact Exploring 

Some of my previous logs have talked about sound in the Arctic Ocean.  Sounds made by seals, whales, ice cracking and ridges forming, bubbles popping, wind, waves – these are the normal or ambient noises that have always occurred. As governments, scientists, and corporations explore the Arctic their presence will have an impact. Ships breaking ice and the seismic instruments they use to explore, add noise to the environment.  We call this man-made noise, anthropogenic noise.  Will these additional sounds impact the organisms that live here? Can we explore in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment?  The marine wildlife of the Arctic has evolved in an ocean covered by ice. But the ice is changing and the human presence is increasing.

Studies of other oceans have shown that more ship traffic means more background noise. In most regions of the Pacific Ocean the background noise has increased 3 decibels every 10 years since the 1960’s. The scientists on the Healy and the Louis are interested in minimizing their impact as they explore the Arctic Ocean.

Do No Harm – Step 1 Collect Data 

I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.
I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.

One of the ways we are listening to the noise that our own instruments make is with sonobuoys. These are devices that help us listen to how sound propagates through the ocean.  While the Louis is using airguns to collect seismic data – scientists on the Healy are throwing sonobuoys into the ocean to listen to the sound waves created by the airguns. Knowing how the sound waves from airguns travel through the water will help us to understand their impact on the environment. Sonobuoys are self-contained floating units. They consist of a salt-water battery that activates when it hits the water, a bag that inflates with CO2 on impact, a 400-foot cable with an amplifier and hydrophone (underwater microphone).

The data acquired through the sonobuoy are relayed to the ship via radio link. A receiving antenna had to be placed high up on the Louis in order to collect this data. Like many of the devices we are using to collect information, the sonobuoys are single use instruments and we do not pick them up after their batteries run out. After 8 hours of data collection, the float bag burns and the instrument sinks to the bottom. They are known as self-scuttling (self-destructing) instruments. The more we know about the sounds we make and how these sounds are interacting with the animals that call the Arctic home, the better we will be at low impact exploring.

Personal Log 

The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.
The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.

I’ve had lots of questions from students about the weather. For most of our trip, the air temperature has been around 270F and the visibility has been poor. A log fog has prevented us from seeing the horizon. We have also had quite a few days with snow and freezing rain.  Some of our snow flurries have coated the decks with enough snow to make a few snowballs and prompted the crew to get out the salt to melt the slippery spots. 

This past week we had some seriously cold days.  On September 1st, the air temperature was 160F with a wind chill of -250F. These cold days brought blue skies, sparkling snow, and beautiful crystals forming on the handrails, ropes and many other surfaces on the deck.

Ice crystals on a valve
Ice crystals on a valve

FOR MY STUDENTS: Why do you think it is foggier on warmer days? 

As we travel south we are starting to get some sunsets and sunrises.  There are a few hours of twilight between the times that the sun dips below the horizon – but no true night sky.  One of the things I miss the most is seeing stars.  I look forward to seeing the Indiana night sky in a few weeks. But until then, the gorgeous sun over the Arctic will have to do.

As the seasons change and we travel south, the sun gets lower in the sky

Arctic snowball
Arctic snowball

Christine Hedge, September 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 1, 2009

The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)
The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 800 26’N
Longitude: 1370 16’W
Temperature: 20

Science and Technology Log 

Why Are Two Icebreakers Traveling Together? 

All of the countries that have a coastline on the Arctic Ocean are trying to collect data to determine where their extended continental shelf (ECS) ends. One of the types of data needed is called seismic data.  Collecting this information involves towing a long (a kilometer or more) streamer behind the ship. It is difficult to do this well in ice-covered water.  So, the Canadians and the Americans are collecting data together. One icebreaker leads and breaks a path for the second following with the seismic streamer being towed behind.  For most of our trip together, the Healy has broken ice for the Louis S. St. Laurent. We are both collecting data – just different types with different instruments.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you name all the countries that have coastlines on the Arctic Ocean? Of which country is Greenland part? 

Why Do We Care Where Our Extended Continental Shelf Is? 

Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy
Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy

The oceans and ocean floors are rich with natural resources.  Some countries obtain much of their wealth from mining the oceans, drilling for oil or gas in the oceans, or from fish or shellfish obtained from the oceans.  Currently, a nation has the right to explore for and harvest all resources in the water and everything on or below the seafloor for 200 nautical miles beyond its shoreline. One nation can allow other nations to use its waters or charge oil companies for the right to drill in its seafloor and thus make money. But what if we could use resources beyond that 200-mile limit? That would add to a country’s wealth. If a country can show with scientific data that the continental shelf extends beyond those 200 miles they can extend their rights over:

 

1) The non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil (minerals, oil, gas)

2) The living resources that are attached to the seabed (clams, corals, scallops ) An extended continental shelf means a nation has rights to more natural resources.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at a map of the oceans. Can you find the continental shelf marked on the Atlantic coast of the United States? What types of resources can you think of that we get from the ocean and the seafloor? 

Where Exactly Is the Healy Going? 

The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.
The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.

Our trail looks random to the untrained eye but it does have a purpose.  We have been helping the Louis get good measurements of the thickness of the sediments on the seafloor.  You see there are certain features of the seafloor that help a nation identify its ECS.  One is related to depth. Another is related to the thickness of the underlying sediments.  Another is related to the place where the continental slope ends (the foot of the slope).  We have been following a path that takes us to the 2500-meter contour (where the ocean is 2500 meters deep) and following a path to measure the thickness of the sediment in the Canada Basin.  I was surprised to think that there was thick sediment on the seafloor in this area.  But, the Arctic is a unique ocean because continents surround it. It is more like a bowl surrounded by land.  As rivers have flowed into the Arctic over millions of years – layers and layers of sediment have covered the Canadian Basin.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at your maps again.  Find rivers, bays, fjords, that flow into the Arctic Ocean.  For More Information About The Extended Continental Shelf

Personal Log 

Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.
Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.

The U.S and Canada have been sharing personnel as well as sharing a science mission.  Coast Guard personnel and science party personnel have been traveling between the two ships via helicopter to share their expertise.  As the Canadian visitors come through our science lab and eat meals with us – we have had plenty of time to discuss science and everyday life. There has also been a longer-term exchange of personnel.  A scientist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been sailing on the Louis since they left Kugluktuk, Northwest Territories. Dr. Deborah Hutchinson is on the Louis to provide USGS input to scientific decisions made during the cruise.

My roommate, Erin Clark, is a Canadian Ice Services Specialist.  Erin hails from Toronto, Ontario and is staying on the Healy to exchange expertise with the American ice analysts.  It has been interesting getting to know Erin and hearing the story of her career path.  She was one of those kids in school who just couldn’t sit still in a structured classroom environment.  Erin is a visual learner – and often had a hard time proving to her professors that she understood the material as she worked on her degree in Geography.  Where other students used multi-step equations, Erin used diagrams and often didn’t “show her work”.  NOTE TO STUDENTS: Do you know how you learn best?  What is your learning style?

Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis
Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis

Erin was lucky enough to have instructors that worked with her and now she is one of about 20 Marine Services Field Ice Observers in Canada. Luckily, she has found a career that offers lots of opportunities to move around. Some of her time is spent analyzing satellite photos of ice on a computer screen, some ice observing from a ship, and some ice observing on helicopter reconnaissance trips.  She communicates what she observes about ice conditions to ships; helping them to navigate safely in ice-covered waters.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What kind of skills do you think an Ice Specialist would need to succeed in their career? 

Christine Hedge, August 29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 29, 2009

Science Party Profile – George Neakok 

George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.
George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.

George Neakok is on board the Healy as our Community Observer from the North Slope Borough. A borough is like a county government.  Except, since Alaska is so huge, the North Slope Borough is roughly the size of the state of Minnesota.  George acts as the eyes of the Inupiat (native people of the North Slope) community while on board the Healy. The Inupiat people are subsistence hunters. They live off the animals and plants of the Arctic and have a real stake in how other people are using the same lands and waters they depend on for survival. George spends hours on the bridge each day looking for life outside the Healy and noting any encounters the ship has with wildlife in general and marine mammals in particular. He is a resident of Barrow, Alaska (one of the 7 villages in the Borough) and has acted as an observer for 2 years traveling on 5 different expeditions. George says he was selected for the Community Observer job because he is a good hunter and has good eyes.  He is too humble.  His life experience has endowed him with fascinating knowledge about the ice, animals, and the Arctic world in general.  George can see a polar bear a kilometer away and know how old it is, how healthy, and what sex.

I asked George to share a little about his life and the kinds of changes he has observed in the Arctic. He has always lived in Barrow except for 2 years when he went away to Kenai Peninsula College to study Petroleum Technology. His dad died while he was away and so he returned home to help his mother.  He has worked in the natural gas fields near Barrow and expects to work in the new field southwest of Barrow in the future.  George has 7 children ranging in age from 20 years to 9 months.  His youngest daughter is adopted, which he says is very common in his culture. There are no orphans.  If a child needs a home, another family will take that child in.  Although his children are being raised in a world with cell phones and snowmobiles – they are still learning to live the way their ancestors have always lived.

Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.
Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.

George and his community are a part of  both an ancient and a modern world.  With each season comes another type of food to hunt or collect. The Neakok family hunts caribou, bowhead whale, seals, walrus, beluga, and geese each in its’ own season.  They fish in fresh water and in the Chukchi Sea. They collect berries, roots, greens and eggs, storing them in seal oil to preserve them until they are needed.  Food is stored in ice cellars.  These are underground rooms that can keep food frozen all year round. The animals that are hunted are used for more than just food.  The Inupiat make boats from seal or walrus skin.  In Inupiat culture, the blubber, oil, tusks, baleen and meat are all useful in some way.  If one community has a very successful hunt, they share with their neighbors.  If a community has a bad hunt, they know that other villages will help them out.  Villages come together to meet, celebrate, trade and share what they have caught.  George says this is just the way it is.  People take care of their neighbors.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What can we learn from the people of the North Slope about community? 

A polar bear, spotted by George, travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight.  (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley USCG)
A polar bear travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight. (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley)

George has witnessed much change in his life.  He notes that the seasons are coming earlier and staying later. The shore ice used to start forming in late August but lately it has been forming in late September or early October. When there is less ice close to land, there are fewer animals to hunt.  Whaling off the ice is getting more and more dangerous. The ice is more “rotten” and camping on the ice during the hunt can be treacherous. In recent years, more and more hunters have lost their equipment when the ice gave way.

Erosion of the coastline is another recent problem.  Without ice to protect the shoreline the wave action eats away at the permafrost causing coastlines to collapse.  George has seen a coastal hillside where he used to sled – crumble into the ocean. Entire villages have been moved farther inland as the coastal erosion eats away at the land. George is hopeful that although the Arctic is changing fast, the Inupiat people and culture will handle these changes and continue to live and thrive on the North Slope of Alaska.    

Christine Hedge, August 28, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 28, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 840 10’N
Longitude: 1210 30’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Sick Bay on the Healy
Sick Bay on the Healy

What Happens If You Get Sick? 

The Sick Bay (medical clinic) on the Healy is the largest and best equipped in the Coast Guard. It has to be, since we are so far from land for such long periods of time.  We have a digital x-ray unit and a cardiac unit for diagnosis, defibrillation, and pacing an irregular heartbeat plus everything needed to keep a patient stabilized and pain free until they can get to a hospital. The Healy is also the only cutter with a permanent Physician’s Assistant (PA) on staff. The most serious medical issues our current PA has had to deal with on the Healy are broken bones and deep gashes. If a patient did have a life threatening injury, they would be kept comfortable until an aircraft could get them to shore. I spoke with Lt. Jason Appleberry (Physician’s Assistant) and HS2 (Health Services Technician) John Wendelschaefer who staff this important part of the ship and asked them about their jobs and their training for working in healthcare on an icebreaker.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine 

HS2 Wendelschaefer shows me Mr. Bones in Sick Bay
HS2 Wendelschaefer shows me Mr. Bones in Sick Bay

The busiest times in Sick Bay are when new people come on board with new germs.  When the crew has time on shore or new crew or science parties join the Healy – colds and other minor inconveniences crop up. The Coast Guard has strict rules about vaccinations for anyone spending time at sea and a very visible strategy to help prevent the spread of germs.  There are hand sanitizer dispensers in the mess (cafeteria) and elsewhere.  Anti-bacterial wipes are available in the gym to wipe down sweaty equipment.  The medical staff inspects the cooks and the galley like a Health Inspector would at a restaurant.  Sick Bay also has an incubator used to test the drinking water for contamination.  And last but not least, every Saturday, everyone cleans!  Heads (bathrooms), staterooms (bedrooms), and the rest of the ship are disinfected and made ready for inspection.  So kids, you have to make your bed and clean your room – even on an icebreaker!!

Profile of the Medical Staff 

I asked Lt. Appleberry how he ended up in this job.  As a young man his career interests included, doctor, paramedic, firefighter and other jobs that combined adventure with a curiosity about science and medicine.  In his words, he wanted to be – “that guy who shows up during a disaster to help.” After a few years of college he spoke to the Coast Guard and thought Coast Guard search and rescue would offer adventure and medicine all in one career.  He enlisted in 1991, and since then has traveled all over the country learning and serving.  Lt. Appleberry earned a Masters degree through the Coast Guard and has been able to use his training in clinics in Kodiak, Alaska and Hawaii and on various ships.

FOR MY STUDENTS:  Have you thought about what kind of career you would like to have? What do you enjoy doing? What activities drain you? What activities invigorate you? 

Part of the mission of the Coast Guard is search and rescue. If someone is hurt on a fishing boat or a pleasure boat is lost at sea, the Coast Guard is there to help. HS2 (kind of like an EMT for civilians) Wendelschaefer has also received his medical training through the Coast Guard.  His experience has been that the Coast Guard is a great place to be a lifelong learner.  There are lots of choices for career paths, tuition assistance, and constant on the job training.  For both men, the Coast Guard has been a positive experience.  They have traveled to and lived in exotic locations, and should they decide to leave the military – they have very marketable skills for the civilian world.

Personal Log 

This is a screen shot of our path as we hit our northern most point. The red line indicates the 840 parallel.
This is a screen shot of our path as we hit our northern most point. The red line indicates the 840 parallel.

Today we hit our northern most point of the trip.  We were north of 840 and as they say, it’s all down hill from here!  This is the closest I will ever get to the North Pole.  Next week we will have a ceremony for all the folks on the ship who have crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time.  This summer I crossed the Tropic of Cancer (look that one up) when I went to Baja, Mexico and the Arctic Circle.  It was easy for me because I had air transportation.  Some animals make migrations like this every year!!!  The gray whale will swim from the Tropic of Cancer to the Chukchi Sea every year without the benefit of an airplane – AMAZING!

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at a map. Follow 840 North and see where it goes.  Think of all the places you have traveled. How far north have you been?  Figure out your latitude. 

Christine Hedge, August 26, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 26, 2009

Science and Technology Log 

This is what we see in the Science Lab of the Healy before the data is processed.  It is like a cross-section through the top 50-100 meters of the sea floor.  Here you can see it was flat and then climbed uphill.  The numbers represent round trip travel time in seconds.
This is what we see in the Science Lab of the Healy before the data is processed. It is like a cross-section through the top 50-100 meters of the sea floor. Here you can see it was flat and then climbed uphill. The numbers represent round trip travel time in seconds.

Is There a Bird in My Room? 

When I first got on the Healy, I thought there was a bird in my room.  Then I realized the chirp that I kept hearing every 9 seconds or so was not just in my room.  It got louder as I went down the ladders to the deepest part of the ship near the laundry. I found out that this chirp is the sound transmitted by the subbottom profiling system.  This instrument is being used on the Healy to collect data about the depth of the water and the nature of the sea floor. These subbottom profiler transducers are mounted on the hull of the ship. The “chirp” sound reflects (echos) off the bottom of the ocean and also reveals the sediment layers below the bottom.  This is one of the systems I watch on a computer screen when I am working.

Using Sound as a Tool to See Inside the Earth 

Sound is an amazing tool in the hands of a geophysicist, who is a person who studies the physics of the earth. The subbottom profiler uses a low frequency sound. Low frequency will penetrate further into the earth than the higher frequencies used by echosounders. This helps scientists to “see” about 50 meters below the surface, depending on the type of sediment (clay, sand, etc).  By looking at how the sound waves are reflected back to the ship, scientists can see layering of sediments, infer sediment type (REMEMBER SAND, SILT, CLAY???), and sometimes see evidence of channels under the sea floor.

The subbottom profiler data is processed and an image is generated for scientists to analyze.  This is an image from the 2005 Healy trip to the Arctic.  You can see the types of features the sound waves can “see” for us.
The subbottom profiler data is processed and an image is generated for scientists to analyze. This is an image from the 2005 Healy trip to the Arctic. You can see the types of features the sound waves can “see” for us.

FOR MY STUDENTS:  DO YOU REMEMBER STUDYING SOUND IN 6TH GRADE?  WHAT DOES FREQUENCY REFER TO?  

These pictures appear on many doors of the Healy
These pictures appear on many doors of the Healy

Why Is This Important? 

Geologically speaking, the Arctic Basin is poorly understood. We are not sure how some of the major features formed or even where the plate boundaries are.  When you look at maps of the tectonic plates, you might notice that they are not clearly marked in the Arctic. Understanding how the sea floor is shaped and what lies beneath will give us clues to understand the history of the Arctic Basin. From a practical standpoint, geology can tell us where important natural resources might occur. When companies are searching for natural gas or petroleum, they are using clues from the geology of the sea floor to decide where to look.

Personal Log 

More About Sound – From A Personal Perspective 

Lieutenant Commander Doug Petrusa wearing protective headset
Lieutenant Commander Doug Petrusa wearing protective headset

As far as I can tell there is no place on a ship where it is completely silent.  There are fans, air compressors, engines, doors opening and closing and of course on this ship ice breaking and chirping.  There are some places on the ship where we are warned to use ear protection because the machine noise could, over long periods, cause hearing loss.  Many doors on the ship have pictures reminding us to wear ear protection in certain areas to protect our hearing.   The crew spends time working in areas with high intensity noise – so they are often seen wearing protective headsets.

In addition, all over the ship, there are boxes of earplugs. These are available for people to use whenever they need them.  My first week, I slept with earplugs every night.  The constant chirping, the sound of the engines and the doors opening and closing were more than I could handle. I thought I would need to use earplugs for the entire journey. Now, I am sleeping like a baby even with the additional sound of us plowing through ice. I guess the human body can get used to just about anything.

Earplugs are found near every doorway that leads into an area with dangerous noise levels.
Earplugs are found near every doorway that leads into an area with dangerous noise levels.

Christine Hedge, August 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 25, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 30.150F
Latitude: 81.310 N
Longitude: 134.280W

Science and Technology Log 

This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.
This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.

A Day of Discovery… 

Today, our planned route took us near an unmapped feature on the sea floor.  A 2002 Russian contour map showed a single contour (a bump in the middle of a flat plain) at 3600 meters.  This single contour line also appeared on the IBCAO (International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean) map.  We were so close that we decided to take a slight detour and see if there really was a bump on this flat, featureless stretch of sea floor. 

The contour was labeled 3600 meters and the sea floor in the area averaged about 3800 meters so a 200 meter bump was what the map suggested.  As the Healy traveled over the area we found much more than a bump!  The feature slowly unfolded before our eyes on the computer screen.  It got taller and taller and excitement grew as people realized this might be over 1000 meters tall.  If a feature is 1000 meters or more, it is considered a seamount (underwater mountain) and can be named.  Finally, the picture was complete, the data was processed, and a new seamount was discovered. The height is approximately 1,100 meters and the location is 81.31.57N and 134.28.80W.

The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.
The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.

Why Isn’t the Arctic Mapped? 

Some areas of the sea floor have been mapped and charted over and over again with each improvement in our bathymetric technology.  Areas with lots of ship traffic such as San Francisco Bay or Chesapeake Bay need to have excellent bathymetric charts, which show depth of the water, and any features on the sea floor that might cause damage to a ship.  But in the Arctic Ocean, there isn’t much ship traffic and it is a difficult place to collect bathymetric data because of all the ice. Therefore, in some areas the maps are based on very sparse soundings from lots of different sources. Remember, older maps are often based on data that was collected before multibeam  echosounders and GPS navigation – new technology means more precise data!  

Personal Log 

This is the IBCAO.  (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean)  It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.
This is the IBCAO. (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean) It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.

It is still very foggy. We are about 625 miles north of Alaska and plowing through ice that is 1-2 meters thick.  This time of year it is the melt season.  Increased evaporation means more water in the atmosphere and more fog.  Even though we are usually in water that is 90% covered by ice (REMEMBER 9/10 ice cover?) we rarely have to back and ram to get through.  It is noisier lately and the chunks of ice that pop up beside the ship are more interesting to look at.  There are blue stripes, brown patches of algae and usually a thin layer of snow on top.

I cannot send a current sound file because of our limited bandwidth on the Healy. When we are this far north it is difficult to get Internet access. But, if you would like to hear what it sounds like when the Healy is breaking ice, click on this link  from a past trip through Arctic sea ice.

Sea Ice at 810N after the Healy has broken through
Sea Ice after the Healy has broken through

Christine Hedge, August 23, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 23, 2009

Weather Data 
Lat: 810 48’N
Long: 1420 16’W
Temp: 33.890 F

Science and Technology Log 

The nerve center of engineering shows off our advanced technology
The nerve center of engineering shows off our advanced technology

The official name of our ship is the United States Coast Guard Cutter Healy (USCGC Healy for short). There are 3 icebreakers in the Coast Guard fleet, Polar Star, Polar Sea, and the Healy. The homeport of all 3 icebreakers is Seattle, Washington. Healy is the newest icebreaker and because of her advanced technology, she can operate with half the crew of the Polar-class ships.  The Healy was specifically built to do science research in the Arctic.

Here are some facts about this floating science laboratory:

  • Length: 420 feet
  • Top speed is 17 Knots
  • 4 decks are dedicated to working and living quarters (berthing)
  • Each berthing deck has a lounge with computers, library, TV and sitting area
  • There are 2 workout centers, barber shop, helicopter pad, machine shop, and a laundry
  • The ship has 4 diesel electric generators putting out an astounding 6,600 volts
  • The fuel capacity is 1,220,915 gallons of diesel
  • There are 4,200 square feet lab space, deck spaces and electronic winches dedicated to science

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you convert knots to miles/hour?  How fast can the Healy go? 

Ensign Nick Custer shows us where the ship is refueled. Can you imagine pumping a million gallons of fuel!!!
Ensign Nick Custer shows us where the ship is refueled. Can you imagine pumping a million gallons of fuel!!!

On my tour of the ship I was struck by how much attention has been put onto safety and backup systems.  For example, we are currently running on 2 engines.  When ice is heavy we might need 3. But the Healy has 4 engines so that if one breaks down – the ship can still navigate safely through ice-covered waters. Another safety feature is that all the engineering functions are compartmentalized and separated with watertight and fireproof doors.  If something goes wrong in one area (flood, fire) – that area can be closed off and the rest of the ship can carry on.  Over the decades, ship builders have learned to design ships with such features to make life at sea safer for sailors.

Personal Log 

Last night, the science party prepared and served dinner for everyone on the Healy. We decided that Jennifer Henderson, from Louisiana, would have the best flair for developing a unique menu.  Our most excellent southern meal consisted of lentil soup, chicken and sausage jambalaya, shrimp and grits, okra and tomatoes, Caesar salad,

Engineer Officer Doug Petrusa takes us down a watertight hatch
Engineer Officer Doug Petrusa takes us down a watertight hatch

buttermilk cornbread and apple crisp. Christina Franco de Lacerda from Brazil came up with the Lentil soup and the apple crisp was my idea.  There is nothing like working in the kitchen together to build camaraderie!  The meal was delicious, the music was great, and a good time was had by all!

Today we sailed further north than I have ever been.  As I watch our track on the map and watch the latitude climb, I get more and more excited.  In the next few days we hope to travel even further north and hopefully see some multiyear ice and clearer skies.  With less melted ice, there is less moisture in the atmosphere and therefore less chance of fog.

My students sent lots of questions last week and I really enjoyed answering them.  Keep the questions coming!!! 

Master chef, Jennifer Henderson, keeps her eye on the Barbara Moore and Will Fessenden design the grits perfect Caesar salad dressing.
Master chef, Jennifer Henderson, keeps her eye on the Barbara Moore and Will Fessenden design the grits perfect Caesar salad dressing.
Barbara Moore and Will Fessenden design the perfect Caesar salad dressing.
Barbara Moore and Will Fessenden design the
perfect Caesar salad dressing.

Christine Hedge, August 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Lat: 80.570 N
Long: 151.320 W
Air Temp: 29.210 F

Science and Technology Log 

The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.
The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.

The Healy is collecting bathymetric data on this trip.  Bathymetric data will tell us how deep the ocean is and what the terrain of the ocean floor is like.  Less than 6% of the floor of the Arctic Ocean has been mapped.  So, this data will help us to learn about some places for the very first time.  The word bathymetry comes from the Greek – bathy= deep and metry = to measure.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: If you learn Latin/Greek word parts you can understand almost any word! 

How Do We Collect This Data? 

There are two main devices the Healy is using to measure the depth to the seafloor.  One is called the multibeam echosounder. It sends a beam of sound, which reflects off the bottom and sends back up to 121 beams to a receiver. By measuring the time it takes for the sound to return the multibeam can accurately map the surface of the sea floor.  This allows the multibeam to “see” a wide swath of seafloor – kilometers wide.  The other device is bouncing a single beam off the bottom and “seeing” a profile of that spot. This one is called a single beam echosounder or sub-bottom profiler. The single beam actually penetrates the sea floor to show a cross-section of the layers of sediment. Both are mounted on the hull of the ship and send their data and images to computers in the science lab.

What Does Mrs. Hedge Do? 

This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data.  Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen.  Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m).  You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.
This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data. Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen. Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m). You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.

The science crew takes turns “standing watch”. We have 3 teams; each watches the computers that display the bathymetry data for an 8-hour shift. My watch is from 8 am until 4 pm.  We need to look at how many beams are being received and sometimes make adjustments.  Traveling through heavy ice makes data collection challenging. We also need to “log” or record anything that might impact the data collection such the ship turning, stopping, heavy ice, or a change in speed. When we are going over an interesting feature on the seafloor, our job is engaging. When the seafloor is flat, the 8-hour shift can seem pretty long!

How Did People Do This Before Computers? 

Until the 1930’s, the depth of the ocean was taken by lowering a lead weight on a heavy rope over the side of a boat and measuring how much rope it took until the weight hit the bottom. This was called a lead line.  Then the boat would move and do this again, over and over.

Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.
Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.

This method was very time consuming because it only measured depth at one point in time.    Between soundings, people would just infer what the depth was.  Using sound to measure depth is a huge improvement compared to soundings with a weighted rope.  For example, in 100 meters of water, with a lead line 10 soundings per hour could be obtained.  With multibeam at the same depth, 1,500,000 soundings can be obtained per hour.  Mapping the ocean floor has become much more accurate and precise.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you think of other areas of science where improvements in technology lead to huge improvements and new discoveries? 

Personal Log 

When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.
When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.

Last night, there was an announcement right after I went to bed that polar bears had been spotted.  I threw on some clothes and ran outside.  There was a female and cub 2 kilometers away.  With binoculars, I could see them pretty well.  The adult kept turning around and looking at the cub over her shoulder. I suspect, the cub was being told to hurry up!  When a bear is spotted, the deck of the ship fills up with hopeful observers no matter what time of day it is.

FOR MY STUDENTS: I heard that the old polar bear at the Indianapolis Zoo died recently. Will there still be a polar bear exhibit at the zoo?  What are the plans for the future? 

Christine Hedge, August 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
800 6.28’N 1400 33.69’W
Temp: 32.40F
Conditions: low visibility

Science and Technology Log

Blue sea ice with red reflected from the Healy
Blue sea ice with red reflected from the Healy

FRAZIL, NILAS, GREASE ICE, PANCAKE ICE, BRASH, AND SHUGA – These are just a few of the sea ice vocabulary words I have been learning. Ice observers and ice analysts are important people to have around while operating a ship in the Arctic. Depending on the situation and the ship, observations can be made by looking at the ice from the ship, from satellite imagery, from the air in a helicopter, or from actually walking out onto the ice and measuring the thickness. On the Healy, we are using ship-based and satellite imagery observations.

HOW THICK IS IT? 

The ice we are plowing through today is about 0.7 – 1.2 meters thick. In general, flat first-year ice is between 0.3 – 2.0 m thick, although it can get much thicker with ridging. Flat second-year ice can be up to 2.5 m thick. Multi-year ice is at least 3 m thick but can be more than 15 m thick.

WHY IS SOME OF THE ICE BLUE? 

Seawater is about 3.5% salt, but first-year ice has an average salinity of only about 0.5%.  As the sea ice grows it rejects most of the salt in the seawater from which it forms.  The ice with less salt reflects more light and air bubbles form as the ice ages.  This causes more light to scatter, producing a deeper blue color over time.

HOW IS ICE CLASSIFIED? 

Experienced ice observers look at 3 basic parameters:

1) Concentration – how tightly the ice is packed 

This is reported in tenths. Less than 1/10th ice is basically open water.  The higher the number, the more tightly packed the sea ice.  At 10/10ths the ice is considered “compact”.

2) Form – the horizontal shape and dimension of the pieces of ice 

These have specialized names and ranges of size.  For example, a brash is about the size of a bicycle. Pancake ice is circular pieces of ice, with raised edges that look like giant lily pads or pancakes.

3) Stage of Development – direct observation of the age and structural  characteristics 

The three major classifications are first-year ice, second-year ice, and multi-year ice. Structural characteristics can include things like thickness, color, ponds or melt water on top, ridges or hummocks.

WHY DOES ICE CHANGE AND GROW? 

sea ice with ponding
Sea ice with ponding

Classifying ice by stage of development is really interesting.  What sets the different classifications apart (first-year, second-year, multi-year) is the growth and aging of the sea ice.   Ice grows in the fall and winter during the freezing cycle.  Ice decays during the spring and summer during the thawing cycle. The amount of thawing that happens in the summer determines how much first-year ice survives to become second-year ice and how much second-year ice survives to become multi-year ice.

HOW IS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTING SEA ICE? 

Drastic changes in the condition and amount of Arctic sea ice have been observed over the past few decades. The least ice extent ever was observed in 2007.  This can mean more dangerous conditions for ships to sail in a region where variable and hazardous ice conditions still exist year round.

Personal Log 

Bundling up for the Saturday night movie
Bundling up for the Saturday night movie

Different movies play every day in the lounge spaces of the ship.  When the crew and scientists have time off they can kick back and relax with their friends.  On Saturday night, there are two special social events for morale boosters. There is bingo, and a movie on the big screen projected in the helicopter hanger. Everyone dresses in their warmest gear, camp chairs are set up, and popcorn, candy, and soda are provided. It is a kind of Arctic Drive-in experience.  Last night, we watched Star Trek. Of course, when the movie was over we walked out into bright daylight even though it was 10pm.

Christine Hedge, August 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 14, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge   
800 3’N 1450 42’W
Temp: 310 F Light, fine snow

Science and Technology Log 

The coastline of Barrow (8/4/09)
The coastline of Barrow (8/4/09)

Some of you have asked what the ice looks like up here. Pull out your maps and I’ll tell you about the changing ice conditions.  When I got to Barrow on 8/4/09 there was no ice visible from shore. But this changes with the winds and currents. Just one day earlier, the coastline was lined with chunks of sea ice but it had blown out to sea by the time I flew in.

As we started sailing north from Barrow into the Chukchi Sea we saw some chunks of ice but mostly dark water. Our track line (the path we follow) took us back and forth, north and south as we tested our equipment and waited to meet up with our partner ship from Canada.  As we went south, there were more patches of open water. Traveling north brought us into more ice.

What looks like dirt is really a layer of algae
What looks like dirt is really a layer of algae

Sometimes there were large patches of open water and sometimes it looked like ice all the way to the horizon. The ice that appears blue has frozen and thawed over a period of time.  When it freezes, the salt is squeezed out leaving behind fresher, bluer water.  The dark lines on the ice are patches of algae that grow at the interface between the ocean water and the sea ice.  The sea ice of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas has retreated as far north as it will go generally by September.  We are traveling during the best open water time for this part of the world.

The Healy breaking through the ice
The Healy breaking through the ice

Now that we are traveling north, breaking a path for the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent we are seeing less and less open water. Yesterday, (8/13/09) the view from the deck looked like a white jigsaw puzzle spread out on a black table. Each day there is more and more ice.

Today, (8/14/09) when I look out over the ice it looks like a white landscape with black lakes or rivers meandering through.  We passed 800N today and there are more ridges and large expanses of ice. On board ship there are people who are experts in sea ice. Using direct observation and satellite imagery they help the crew know what the ice conditions are going to be. In fact, there is a whole field of study concerning ice. Who knew!  If you would like to learn more, visit the website of the National Ice Center (http://natice.noaa.gov). I’ll go into this topic in more detail after I learn more.

Personal Log 

More sea ice!
More sea ice!

My goal for next this week is to learn more about how ice is classified.  I found a little book “The Observers Guide to Sea Ice” which will be a good place to start. The many ice experts on board will also be a great resource. We are hearing the sound of ice against the hull of the ship more often now and that is a pretty powerful sound. I can’t imagine what it will be like when we hit thicker ice.

The list of Inupiaq words for snow and ice is long – which makes sense.  To someone from Indiana, (like me) there might appear to be 5 or 6 different consistencies and colors of ice.  There are 76 Inupiaq words to describe ice!  Some refer to its age, composition, position to land and a host of other factors.  For example, the word for thin ice that is too dangerous to walk on is sikuaq.  Slushy ice piled up on the beach is called qaapaaq.

For my students:  Do you have any questions about Ice? 

Rita Larson, August 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Larson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 10 – 27, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Kasitsna Bay, AK
Date: August 13, 2009

RA-4 launch, one of the Rainier’s small boats
RA-4 launch, one of the Rainier’s small boats

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 59° 28.515′N Longitude: 151° 33.549′W
Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb : 14.4°C (46°F); Wet Bulb: 12.2°C (54°F) (Dew Point)
Visibility: 10 miles

Science and Technology Log 

The Rainer deploys launches or small boats such as the RA-4 that have different tasks assigned to them listed on the POD or the Plan of the Day. Today, our mission was to survey a section of the sea floor in Kachemak Bay. Once the survey has been completed, the raw data is processed and then is sent to other NOAA’s National Ocean Service divisions to create nautical charts of the sea floor for either updating for accuracy or created for the first time.

Each launch is equipped with multi-beam sonar devices. The crew is currently collecting bathymetric as well as backscatter data simultaneously. Backscatter data can be analyzed to categorize the bottom type of the sea floor indicating changing sediment types such as rock or mud. This information is of particular use to fisheries biologists, ecologists, and others who are interested in habitat mapping. The lead hydrographers are given a polygon region, which defines the area in which they are going to survey.  This is what ours looked like for today:

This was our chart at the beginning of the day.
This was our chart at the beginning of the day.
This is our chart after a hard days work!
This is our chart after a hard days work!

Can you see what we surveyed? Yes, you are correct if you said the purple and green-blue mixture. The first step that was taken was putting a cast in the water, which is called a CTD and stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD is used to see the changes in sound velocity all the way to the bottom.  This process is repeated at least every four hours for readings. This sound velocity data is used to correct the multi beam sonar data. The computer is able to translate the multi-beam sonar data in a 3-D image of the sea floor.

The CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.
The CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Personal Log 

I am getting used to my routine living on a ship. The main idea is respecting others and their space. Listening to others and following the rules. Asking lots of questions will help you transition easily. Following others advice. Enjoying the company you are with. Having fun on every adventure that is given to you. I am learning so much, and each day I am feeling more and more comfortable here in my new home on the Rainier. 

New Term/Phrase/Word 

Wow, I am a student here on the Rainier! I am learning new words and terms everyday. Just today I found out a FISH is not an animal, but an instrument that is towed behind a boat on a cable and “swims” through the water. One example is a Moving Vessel Profiler or a MVP. This apparatus collects the same information as the CTD; however, it collects the information in real time. It is smart to have the CTD and the MVP on the launch to compare the same data to make sure it is correct.

This is a screen that is read by the hydrographers that shows the 3-D sonar images of the bottom of the sea floor.  Today, some of our readings were more than 500ft deep. WOW!
This is a screen that is read by the hydrographers that shows the 3-D sonar images of the bottom of the sea floor. Today, some of our readings were more than 500ft deep. WOW!

When we survey a section of the sea floor that was previously surveyed that is called junctioning, or overlapping. Holidays are not the days on a calendar, but stands for “holes in the data”. That means after you survey a section of the sea floor, if there is a missed section on the computer screen you must go back and re-survey that area.

Christine Hedge, August 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the Arctic circle
Date: August 10, 2009

Science and Technology Log 

Christina with a CTD
Christina with a CTD

This trip is all about data collection.  In addition to our main seafloor mapping mission, each day there are buoys, sensors, or weather balloons deployed each collecting important data to help us understand the Arctic environment.  This ocean is a harsh place. The objects that are placed underwater to collect data (like the HARP instruments that were retrieved earlier this week) need to be able to withstand cold, salt, pressure, and for those on the surface, wind and waves. Designing such a device to work for long periods of time in the Arctic must take great engineering skills.

The pressure of the deep ocean is an amazing force.  If you have ever lost your goggles in the deep end of a pool – you know that water pressure increases with depth. Water is much heavier than air (about 1000 times heavier).  Any instrument sent to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean is under a column of water that literally squeezes it with massive weight.  In fact, the weight of just a 10 meter thick slice of ocean is equivalent to the weight of the entire atmosphere.  Of course there is a scientific name for this increase of pressure due to the weight of the water above you. It is called hydrostatic pressure.

A simple experiment to illustrate the type of forces these scientific instruments endure involves Styrofoam cups!  In fact, yesterday folks were encouraged to decorate a Styrofoam cup.  The cups were gathered into a mesh bag and sent down 3800 meters attached to a device, which measures the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water as it descends (a CTD).

Styrofoam cups after their trip on the CTD
Styrofoam cups after their trip on the CTD

Styrofoam can be thought of as plastic netting filled with air.  This is why it is such a good insulator and so light.  If we squeeze it with our hands, we can make the netting tighter and the Styrofoam becomes tight balls of plastic.  If we lower the Styrofoam cups to great depths within the ocean – just think of the huge amount of hydrostatic pressure they are under!!!

The cups went to a depth of 3800 meters and shrank from about 4 inches to less than 2 inches!  The weight of the water above them squeezed the air from the Styrofoam and gave us teeny cups – the shape didn’t change much – just the size. When engineers build instruments to study the ocean – such forces must be considered carefully.

Something to Think About 

Besides diving into a swimming pool, can you think of another place in your world where pressure changes impact the environment?

Personal Log 

Sea ice
Sea ice

I’m getting used to the life on board a ship. The crew is very helpful. They point me in the right direction when I get lost (which happens a lot) and help me to find basic comforts such as ice, the gym, and the laundry.  I am amazed at how many doors I have to open and close to get from one place to another. The doors, designed to withstand water and fire, are heavy and take some upper body strength when we are in windy conditions.

They can also be very noisy and since someone is always sleeping on a ship that operates 24/7 we need to be considerate and move through them quietly.  The further north we go the calmer the water gets.  It is a real treat to walk out on deck and see the water smooth as glass, the blue and white ice chunks, and nothing but sky in front of us.

Ginger Redlinger, July 29–31, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ginger Redlinger
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 15 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Baranof Island, Alaska
Date: July 29–31, 2007

Weather log on the RAINIER.  Data is gathered, then entered into a database.
Weather log on the RAINIER. Data is gathered, then entered into a database.

The RAINIER started its work in South East Alaska in April of this year. Four months and hundreds of nautical miles later it was time to leave: Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Baranof Island, and the Gulf of Esquibel. Three or four research boats were in the water everyday rain or shine, calm or rough water, gathering data. At night, crews’ maintained watch, reviewed data, and planned for the next day’s work. Equipment was checked to ensure everyone’s health and safety.  Quality control ensured that the data gathered met NOAA’s expectations. Now it is time to end the Alaskan part of their work and move to their next working location.

While traveling from South Each Alaska to Washington I reflected on the most memorable parts of the journey.  I immediately remembered the compliments from pleasure boaters and fishermen about NOAA’s work. Next I thought about the ease at which the crew safely delivered and returned their equipment and crew to and from the ship each day.  Then I thought about the NOAA resources I learned about as I studied information about hydrography, technology, satellites, weather, and tides.  And how could I not mention the food – it was great. Good food compensates for the sacrifice of being away from home for such a long time.

Water from the Fraser River (green) and the southern end of  Georgia Strait waters.
Water from the Fraser River (green) and the southern end of Georgia Strait waters.

There would be a short break between the end of this voyage and the start of the next, some would remain on the ship, and for others it meant being “at home” for the first time since April. This is part of the sacrifice that mariners, and those who explore the oceans make.  As we traveled closer to home many off-duty crewmembers gathered on the fly deck to see home slowly approaching from the distance.  They shared stories from the last four months and recalled the moments of laughter on “the big white ship.” After traveling through Canadian waters, around Vancouver Island and into Puget Sound, people began to gather in earnest of the desk. At first I thought it was because we were taking a picture for a “NOAA 200th Anniversary Postcard from the Field,” but many remained on deck. Many were anxious for the first glimpse of their families and their homes.  Many of their family members arrived at the Ballard Locks – waving and communicating their excitement about the reunions that would happen in a few short hours.

Mt. Rainier and Seattle in the distance.
Mt. Rainier and Seattle in the distance.

The sun is setting as we traveled past the many marinas for all types of marine vessels, houseboats, and dry-docks. As we passed through crewmembers neighborhoods the fading sunlight was replaced with light shining in their eyes as they talked about the view from their windows, their favorite neighborhood haunts, and local treats that mean “home.” As we turn toward the waters that lead to downtown Seattle the crew on the fly deck is silent. The last embers of sunlight are reflecting on the downtown Skyline, it is spectacular.  We turn away from downtown and travel through the Fremont Cut.  Thank goodness for the navigational skills of this young and talented team – the water traffic from Seattle’s SeaFair was busy. Once we arrived at the NOAA Western Regional Center in Sand Point, CO Noll’s work was done.  He had trained his crew to successfully navigate the ship and complete the mission.  We are all home; the final navigational command is given.

Rear Admiral De Bow handing the Command Coin to Commander Noll
Rear Admiral De Bow handing the Command Coin to Commander Noll

“All Engines Stop” “All Engines Stop, Aye. – All Engines Stopped” “Very Well.” Rear Admiral De Bow was on board to congratulate him, and pass the time-honored command coin.

I hate to admit it, but like a kid at camp leaving a new set of friends knowing that I most likely will not see many of them again, I feel sadness. The memories and lessons will remain.  What a great adventure for a teacher, what a great experience for those who work on the ship, and what a great service provided to those who depend on navigation for commerce, recreation, and those who seek a greater scientific understanding of the earth and how it changes. I can’t wait to share it all with my students and colleagues!!!!

The Seattle skyline at night
The Seattle skyline at night

Stacey Klimkosky, July 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°08.590’N, 161°41.110’W
Weather: OVC
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind speed: 8 knts.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Sea temperature: 8.9°C
Barometric pressure: 980.0mb
Air temperature: Dry bulb=9.4°C, Wet bulb=8.9°C

Science and Technology Log 

I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler.  Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.
I am releasing the springs on the bottom sampler. Asst. Survey Technician Manuel Cruz waits for the claws to open which will allow us to empty the “g stk M” (green sticky mud) into a bucket for observation.

One of the most interesting (and fun) mornings onboard Rainier happened during our first week at sea. After doing a few days of surveying from an anchorage off SW Ukolnoi Island, we began a transit to a new anchorage off of Wosnesenski Island. On the way, we took a series of bottom samples from Rainier’s deck. The purpose of taking a bottom sample is to determine the composition of the ocean floor.  It is important to record this data and combine it with bathymetric survey data so that ships will know whether or not the area is good for anchoring. A muddy or sandy bottom is best because the anchor can take hold. A stone-covered bottom is not desirable for anchoring because the anchor cannot dig in, and, if it does, there is this risk that it could break if caught under a large stone.

Taking bottom samples is a rather simple process.  We work in teams of three on deck.  One person is in the Plot Room to record data and prepare for the next sample. On deck, a crew member operates a winch that is attached to an A-frame.  At the end of the cable is a claw-like, spring-loaded bottom sampler that is lowered into the water. As it descends, the winch operator calls out depths to one of the two people taking the sample.  The depth is relayed to the bridge via radio.  When the claw hits bottom, the springs disengage and the claws clamp shut, holding a sample.  The person in the Plot Room listens for the direction “Mark”, and marks the sample’s position on the computer program.  As the sample is raised, the winch operator calls out the depths again.  This information is radioed to the bridge along with any corrections they must make to adjust the ship’s position.  For example, “50-straight up and down” means that the sampler is at 50 meters and the cable is straight up and down (the way you want it to be). A call of “aft” or “forward” means that the cable is coming up at an angle and the bridge must help to correct this.

Once the sample is raised, it is emptied into a bucket and examined for color and composition.  This is radioed to the Plot Room and recorded.  The bottom sampler is readied for the next drop as the Plot Room directs the ship to the next location and readies the computer program for the next data input. During our bottom sampling, the data was all recorded at “g stk M”—green, sticky mud.  It had a sulfuric smell, which, if you think about all of the volcanoes in the area, makes sense.

Personal Log 

This will be my final Ship Log, as we are scheduled to pull anchor this afternoon and start our transit to Kodiak Island. I can’t believe that the end of three weeks is coming to a close.  I was talking to the CO about the number of people and/or agencies who contribute to the production of an individual chart. There are large groups—like NOAA, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, for example.  There are also smaller groups and individuals as well.  Everything from sounding depths to buoy locations to shoreline topography to notes on the locations of buildings, lighthouses and even church steeples are included.  I’ve spent some time studying the current paper chart of the area we have been surveying (#16549:  Alaska Peninsula, Cold Bay and Approaches) and the most striking feature is, of course, the absence of data in the center. I can’t wait to acquire an updated copy when it is available (some sources say, depending upon the priority, could be up to three years; although the NOAA goal is “Ping to Chart in 90 days”). Knowing that I helped to play even a very small part in helping improve navigation safety is a great feeling!

I’d like to thank the officers and crew aboard Rainier for making my Teacher at Sea experience the adventure of a lifetime!  I’ve learned so much about life at sea from new friends who have been patient and hospitable. I leave with a great respect for all of the individuals who call Rainier both work and home for eight or nine months out of the year.  They are away from husbands, wives, children, friends and pets for a long time; however, the community that they have built aboard the ship seems to offset some of the wishing for home.  Safe Sailing and Happy Hydro, my friends!

Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister
Panorama of Pavlof Volcano and Pavlof Sister

Did You Know? 
If you are interested in learning more about hydrography and the work done on Rainier, here are some of my favorite links:

-NOAA’s hydrographic survey home page

-Interactive online activity about seafloor mapping

-Search for historic nautical charts and compare how they change from year to year.

Alaska Fun Facts 
Kodiak Island is, at 3,588 sq. miles, the second largest in the United States.  It is the oldest European settlement in Alaska and is known as Alaska’s “Emerald Isle”.  Before its “discovery” by Russian explorer Stephen Glotov in 1763, the island was occupied solely by the Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) people.  In 1912, Kodiak was caught in the drifting ash from the eruption of Novarupta Volcano which buried the island under 18 inches of ash.  A more recent natural disaster targeted the island in 1964, when a 9.2 earthquake struck Alaska and set off a tsunami.  This seismic sea wave virtually destroyed downtown Kodiak and its fishing fleet. Today, over 13,000 residents call Kodiak home.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 17, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°13.449’N, 161°22.745’W (Wosnesenski Island)
Weather: OVC, H (overcast, hazy)
Wind: light
Seas: 0-1’
Sea temperature: 8.3°C
Barometric pressure: 1010.8 mb
Air temperature: 12.2°C dry bulb, 11.1°C wet bulb

Here is what the feature (shipwreck) looks like on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized.  “Wk” is the abbreviation used for wreck on a nautical chart.
The feature (shipwreck) on a chart whose data has been “cleaned” and finalized. “Wk” stands for wreck on the chart.

Science and Technology Log 

Throughout the day when you are on a launch collecting hydrographic survey data, there are terms and concepts that come up repeatedly—namely, low vs. high frequency and resolution.  The multi-beam sonar on the launches has dual frequencies—high and low.  This, combined with the fact that there are multiple beams instead of just one “pinging” off of the ocean bottom, allows the hydrographer to customize the technology for the conditions of the day.  Low frequency is used in deeper water.  The multi-beam is operated in high frequency in shallow water. According to my Hydrographer In Charge (HIC) on a recent survey, Barry Jackson, the depth at which you would change frequencies is about 50 meters.  Low frequency sends out fewer pings per second, but low frequency sound travels further through water.  Conversely, high frequency sends out more pings, but high frequency sound does not travel as far through the water. Therefore, high frequency gives you an image that is more precise.  Why would you want a higher quality image in shallower water?  As a navigator, it is important that the obstructions and underwater features closer to the surface be the most clear, for those are the ones that you are most likely to hit.

Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA.  (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution)  Courtesy: ENS Shultz
Underwater feature identified as a shipwreck by Rainier hydrographers in Elliot Bay, WA. (l-r: 4m resolution; 2m resolution; 1m resolution) Courtesy: ENS Shultz

The day’s polygon (or survey area) data is also configured to be collected at a certain resolution.  Resolution, like frequency, affects the detail of an underwater feature.  The resolution also depends upon the depth of the water; however, there are more choices.  On Rainier, the resolution changes based upon depth at the following increments.  (On this mission, 4m resolution is the least.)  Note that there is some overlap. To demonstrate how applying different resolutions to the same feature can change how it is viewed, ENS Christy Shultz showed me the bathymetry (the topography of the Earth’s surface underwater) of a shipwreck surveyed in Elliot Bay, near Seattle, WA.  If you look at the corrected data for the object at 4 meter resolution and compare the same image at 2 and 1 meter resolution, you will see that as the resolution gets higher (the number actually gets lower), the image goes from being fuzzy to quite clear.

Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.
Chief Boatswain Jimmy Kruger demonstrates how to use a line-throwing device, the PLT.

Personal Log 

There are some days when I do not go out on a survey launch.  These days are great for taking a peek around the ship to see what happens in different departments or to have safety drills and demonstrations.  Recently, we had the second of our weekly abandon ship and fire/emergency drills.  After the drills, the entire crew who was on board (not out on launches) watched a video clip about a piece of rescue apparatus called a PLT, or Pneumatic Line Thrower.  Then we all went to the fantail for a demonstration.  The PLT is a rescue device that a ship can use to get a line out to another ship or individual in distress. It uses compressed air to fire a line attached to a rocket-shaped weight. The demonstration and overall design of the PLT reminded me of a piece of historical rescue equipment familiar to many who live on Cape Cod, MA and other coastal communities–a Lyle gun.

A Lyle gun and Faking box (held the wound line)
A Lyle gun and Faking box

A Lyle gun is a small cannon that was used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service in the late 1800s to fire a lightweight line onto the mast of a sinking ship when conditions were too severe to launch a surf boat.  When the line was secured, a paddle-shaped board that contained instructions, a block and pulley and heavier lines were sent across.  After the line was secured to the mast, the lifesavers would assemble a breeches buoy to haul the sailors to safety across the raging seas. The breeches buoy was a large pair of canvas pants (breeches) secured to a life ring. A pulley system allowed the lifesavers to transfer one man at a time from ship to shore.  You can read more about lifesaving, the Lyle gun and breeches buoy here.

Did You Know? 
Rainier is like a small, self-contained floating city.  She generates her own power, treats her own waste water, and makes her own drinking water.  The ship is only limited by the amount of food and fuel on board.

Alaska Fun Facts 
As I noted in my Ship’s Log #2 on July 10, Wosnesenski Island has a herd of feral cows roaming its treeless hills and valleys.  Since then, I have been given more information about them.  The original bovines were probably brought here by the Osterback family in the early 1900s. The family lived an isolated lifestyle, raising blue fox to trade their pelts to London furriers. You can read more about one of the nine Osterback children, Lily, here.

One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion.  My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.
One Saturday evening, the CO (Commanding Officer) granted shore leave for a beach excursion. My fellow TAS, Dan Steelquist and I found what is, most likely, left of the Osterback homestead on Wosnesenski Island.

Dan Steelquist, July 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dan Steelquist
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 6 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Latitude: 55°13.522’ N Longitude: 161°22.795’ W Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles Wind Direction: 174° true Wind Speed: 15 knots Sea Wave Height: 0-1ft. Swell Waves: N/A Water Temperature: 8.3° C Dry Bulb: 10.6° C Wet Bulb: 10.6° C Sea Level Pressure: 1021.0 mb

Science and Technology Log 

The primary mission of the Rainier is to gather hydrographic sounding data. For this leg of the summer field session, that data collection is done by a number of small launches that go out to work each day from Rainier. On a typical day four twenty-nine foot survey launches are deployed from the ship, each with an assigned area to gather data. Each launch is equipped with a multibeam sonar device that sends sound signals to the bottom and then times how long it takes for the signal to return to the receiver.  Knowing how fast the signal will travel through the water, the length of time the signal takes to leave and return to the sounder determines the depth of the water at that point.

Here I am preparing the CTD to take a cast.
Here I am preparing the CTD to take a cast.

For many years sonar devices have only been able to measure the water depth directly below a survey vessel.  Now, with multibeam sonar, survey vessels can cover a larger swath of seafloor with hundreds of depth measurements being taken at a time. Once the data is processed, a “painted” picture of the bottom surface can be generated. Once a launch is in its assigned work area, the sonar is turned on and the boat goes back and forth in a prescribed pattern to gather data on water depth, essentially providing total coverage of what the seafloor looks like in that area. The coxswain (person driving the launch) has a computer screen with a chart of the coverage area and steers the launch over the planned area. As the launch moves along the path of sonar coverage its path shows up on the screen as a different color, letting the driver know where the boat has been.

In order for data to be interpreted accurately, there are many steps in the process from data acquisition to actual placement on a nautical chart. There is one very important piece of data that needs to be gathered in the field as the launches do there work with the sonar. Sound waves can vary in speed as they travel through water, depending on certain conditions. In order for accurate depth readings to be acquired, those conditions must be known. Therefore throughout the data gathering session, hydrographers must acquire data on the condition of the water. That is where a CTD cast comes in. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, depth. Every few hours a CTD cast must be done in order to accurately interpret the data gathered by the sonar. The device is lowered over this side of the launch and allowed to sink to the bottom. As it descends, the CTD gathers data at various depths. When recovered the CTD is connected to a computer and its data is integrated with the sonar data to acquire more accurate depth readings.

Personal Log 

I’ve been on the Rainier now for twelve days. While there are certain routines on board the ship, there isn’t much routine about the work these people do. I continue to be impressed with how everyone applies their skills to their work in order for data to be gathered. Much of the area where we are working has never been charted before and much of what has been charted was done before World War II with lead lines (dropping a piece of lead attached to a line, and counting the measured marks on the line until it hits bottom). The details acquired by multibeam sonar are truly amazing. We will be here in the Pavlof Islands for a few more days and then head back to Kodiak, where I will get off the ship. Not long to go, but there is still much for me to learn!

Something to Think About 
How long would it take you to paint an entire house with dots from a very small paintbrush? That would be like using a lead line to gather depth information. How long would it take you to paint an entire house with a very small, narrow paint brush? That would be single beam sonar. How much time could you save by using a wide paintbrush? That would be multibeam sonar.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 14, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.664’N, 161°40.543’W (anchored off SW Ukolnoi Island)
Weather: OVC (overcast)
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind: 28 kts.
North Seas: 2-3’
Sea temperature: 7.8°C
Barometric pressure: 1021.0 mb and rising
Air temperature: Dry bulb=12.8°C; Wet bulb=10.0°C

This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line.  Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.
This is a survey launch lowered to deck level on a calm day. The bow and stern are attached to the davits by thick line. Notice how you have to step across the space between Rainier and the launch.

Science and Technology Log 

The past few days have been “typical” Alaska weather—fog, drizzle, moderate winds.  This morning I was quite surprised when I looked out my stateroom porthole.  The weather was supposed to have calmed somewhat overnight; however, it was obvious that a good blow had picked up. White caps covered the water’s surface. I was scheduled for a launch, RA-4 (each of the launches has a number 1-6, RA being the abbreviation for Rainier), but I decided not to board at the last moment.  When the launches are lowered to the side of the ship, the bow and stern (front and back) are secured with line to minimize movement.  To board the launch, you have to step across a 1-2 foot gap from Rainier to the launch. Today’s conditions amplified the heaving and pitching motion of both the ship and launch and made the distance between too far for my short legs.  I chose safety over adventure today.

As the launches continued to be deployed, Rainier began to transit from our anchorage north of Wosnesenski Island to our previous anchorage position in a small cove off the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Having the flexibility to change the ship’s direction was essential for the safe deployment of launches today.  Personnel and equipment could be protected from the force of the wind and waves (which topped 6’ at times).  Although disappointed that I did not make it onto my launch, I was given an opportunity to watch the deck crew in action. I learned that this morning’s weather was some of the worst that the crew has seen during this survey season, however, work can be completed in conditions that are more blustery than today.

As a member of a survey team, you have to put your trust in the deck crew and their talents and skills. Jimmy Kruger is the Chief Boatswain. He is in charge of the deck and its crew. In a way, he is like the conductor of an orchestra—he makes sure that each member of the crew is in the right place at the right time and that they begin their job at precisely the right moment.   As the day progressed, I began to wonder how the weather data from 0700 to 1400 (2 pm) changed, so I took a walk up to the bridge. My guess was that, although there were still whitecaps on the surface, wind speed and wave height would have decreased, since we had anchored on the south shore of one of the islands (which would serve as a buffer from the wind).  It seemed to me that the weather was so much worse this morning.  Not so. The wind speed had actually increased by a few knots, although the seas had decreased by about a foot. When I am up on the bridge, I always find something new to inquire about.  It’s a busy place—not necessarily busy with numbers of people, but with instruments, charts and readings. General Vessel Assistant Mark Knighton and ENS Jon Andvick were on the bridge.

We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.
We sought a better anchorage southwest of Ukolnoi Is. when a 30 knot wind picked up. White caps cover the surface, the flag blows straight out facing aft.

When you are standing on the bridge with a gusty wind coming at you, you immediately think of the anchors.  Rainier’s anchors are made of steel.  They weigh 3,500 lbs. EACH!  The anchors are attached to the ship by a very thick chain.  Chains are measured in a unit called a shot. A shot equals 90 feet, and each of Rainier’s shots weighs about 1,100 lbs.  There are 12 shots per anchor. (So, can you calculate the approximate weight of the total of Rainier’s shot? How about the total length of the chain?)  The depth of this small cove is between 9-10 fathoms.  This is important in determining the scope, or ratio of the chain length to the depth of the water. According to ENS Andvick, when a vessel drops anchor, the length of the shot cannot be the exact distance between the vessel and the seafloor.  An amount of “extra” chain must be released so that some of it sits on the seafloor, producing a gentle curve up to the vessel.  This curve is called a catenary. The extra chain allows the ship move with the wind and/or waves and provides additional holding power.  If either wind or current becomes too strong for the anchor, it will drag along the seafloor.  If the ship has too little scope it will pull up on the anchor instead of pulling sideways along the sea floor. The anchor chain lies on the bottom and when the ship pulls on the anchor it must lift the heavy chain off the bottom.  If there is enough chain that the ship does not lift all the chain off the sea floor, it will lower the effective pull angle on the anchor. By increasing the scope of chain that is out, the crew is increasing the amount of weight the ship must lift off the sea floor before pulling up on the anchor.

Personal Log 

I have to say that today was kind of an emotional one for me—because I did not go out on the launch. In a way, I feel like I let my team down.  The others who went surveying on RA-4 had to do it without me.  Even though my work as a Teacher at Sea may not be as significant as that of the crew members or hydrographers, I’m feeling like I am a part of the team more and more each day. That is in contrast to being an observer (which I still do plenty of!).  As I kept busy throughout the day on the ship, I thought about RA-4 and what they were doing, what the conditions were like, if they liked what was in the lunch cooler today? I also realize and appreciate, however, that safety is the most important practice here on Rainier and when you don’t feel safe, you should never proceed.

Did You Know? 
The crew on Rainier is organized into six separate departments:  Wardroom (Officers), Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey.  There are photographs of each person on board along with their name and title posted for all to see.  They are organized by department as well as a “Visitors” section.  There are several other visitors on board besides me and Dan Steelquist (the other Teacher at Sea) including hydrography students and officers from the Colombian and Chilean Navies.

Alaska Fun Facts 

  1. Pavlof Volcano is one of the most active of Alaska’s volcanoes, having had more than 40 reported eruptions since 1790. Its most recent activity was in August 2007.
  2. You can learn more about the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula here.

Stacey Klimkosky, July 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Wosnesenski & Ukolnoi Islands, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2009

Weather from the Bridge 
Position: 55°11.715’N, 161°40.554’W
Weather: Foggy
Visibility: < 0.5 nautical miles
Wind speed: 7knts
Swells: 0-1 ft.
Waves: 0-1 ft.
Barometric pressure: 1022.8 mb
Air temperature: Wet bulb = 9.4°C; Dry bulb = 10.0°C

An example of polygons.  The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island.  Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours.  Remember, these are uncharted waters.
An example of polygons. The land is the southwest corner of Ukolnoi Island. Note how the polygons nearest to land somewhat follow its contours. Remember, these are uncharted waters.

Science and Technology Log 

If you have spent any time reading the Ship Logs from other Teachers at Sea, you are probably familiar with the fact that each involves a different type of work. On Rainier, we are focused on conducting hydrographic surveys. This means that we collect data on the characteristics of the ocean bottom as well as the nearby coastline.  We work seven days a week; from early morning and well into the evening.  There are six launches (30 foot aluminum boats) on Rainier, each with a multi-beam sonar attached to the bottom of the hull.  One of the launches has the capability to conduct surveys with side scan sonar. Each day, crew members work from what is called the POD (Plan of the Day). The POD is issued the evening before by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). Usually, four launches are sent out daily to collect multi-beam sonar data.  On board are the Coxswain (drives the launch); the Survey Technician (in charge of data collection), the Assistant Survey Technician (AST) and the Teacher at Sea (me).

To give you an idea of what a survey day is like, here is a brief summary.  Each day, the launch party is given a set of “polygons” to survey.  A polygon is an imaginary closed area.  You may remember this from geometry class.  The polygons drawn on the working charts generally follow the contours of the islands. It is impossible for the Survey Technicians who created the polygons on a survey area or “sheet” to know how the contours look underwater.  Why? Much of our survey work is in uncharted waters, which mean that no one has ever mapped the ocean floor in this area of Alaska. Thus, the work can be dangerous and every effort must be made to ensure the safety of all.

As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).
As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam projects a rendition of the ocean bottom in the form of a line (screen on right). I am taking a turn at making sure the beam remains within certain parameters (screen to right).

The coxswain begins by driving the launch near the area where we will start surveying for the day. Before we begin, we must take a CTD cast.  CTD stands for Conductivity Temperature and Depth. The water’s salinity, temperature and depth can all affect the multi-beam data.  The composition of the water column varies from location to location.  Some areas may be affected by glacial runoff and therefore be fresher and colder at the surface than others, for example.  Sound travels faster in warmer, saltier water, therefore; we must know the levels of each of these variables, as well as depth (pressure) in order to obtain an accurate set of multi-beam data.  The CTD data is applied to the multi-beam data to correct for sound speed changes through the water column.  This occurs later in Rainier’s Plot Room where all of the launch data is processed.  Casts are made every four hours or before beginning an acquisition for the day.

After the CTD data has been downloaded the coxswain begins to “mow the lawn”.  The launch is driven in lines that are as straight as possible, overlapping the previous pass a little so there are no gaps, or “holidays” between passes. As the launch moves forward, the multi-beam produces a series of pings which create a swath (a triangular shaped path of sonar beams).  The widest base of the triangular swath is on the ocean bottom with the launch at the top.  As the pings bounce back, they create various images that determine depth. The work requires constant adjustments and vigilance, since underwater features may present themselves at any time.  We do not want to hit them.  The area we were surveying when this shot was take was between 20 and 50 meters (greens and darker blues). 

By watching the swath, the technician and coxswain can determine the approximate depth below, including any features like rocks, shoals, or underwater peaks and valleys. If you use a ROYGBIV (rainbow) color scheme, the points closest to the surface(less than 8 meters) show up in red.  The more submerged the features or ocean bottom are, the more the colors move toward the deepest blue.  For example, the lightest greens begin the depth range at 20-35 meters.  This is especially helpful where there is no previous data. Can you think about why a coxswain might be very interested in knowing the places where the colors on the screen are turning from green to yellow to orange?

When a polygon is finished, it should look like it has been “painted in” with colors representing various depths and features of the ocean bottom.  After completing a polygon, the data is saved and we move on to another polygon; take a CTD cast and start the whole process all over again.  We return to Rainier by 16:30 (4:30 pm) unless weather and sea conditions are favorable, in which case the FOO can decide to run late boats until 17:30 (5:30 pm).  The data is then handed over to the Night Processing crew who apply filters and correctors to the raw data. The tide and sound velocity are the main culprits in skewing data. In addition to tide and sound, things like bubbles in the water, schools of fish and kelp beds (of which we’ve seen many) can also affect how “clean” the data is.  This is just a preliminary check. If the data is bad, we have to go out and survey the polygon again. After many days (sometimes weeks and months) of processing and checking, the data is used to create high-resolution, three-dimensional models of the ocean floor (on paper or computer).  These models will eventually leave Rainier and will be used by NOAA’s Pacific Hydrographic Branch to create nautical charts for mariner’s use.

The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second.  After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.
The CTD is lowered on a winch at 1 meter/second. After retrieving the CTD, I prepare it for downloading.

Personal Log 

I feel like I’ve been on Rainier for a long time, even though it’s only been six days since we left the dock in Seward. There is a definite routine established from when I wake up at 06:15 until I go to sleep around 11:00. My head is bursting at the seams with new knowledge and things to remember and keep straight.  It’s great to be a student again—everything is new.  The technology component of Rainier’s mission is nothing short of mind-bending.  How the survey technicians can keep all of the programs and how to use them straight, I don’t know.  I have pages of “cheat sheets” to use to help me remember what to click on and in what order.  Anyone who loves technology would love the job of survey technician.  This is especially true here in the Pavlofs where you might be the first person to discover an interesting underwater feature or maybe a shipwreck.  That would be “wicked cool”, as my students would say.

I have been on three different launches with three different teams. I bring this fact up because, although each team has the exact same goal in mind (collecting accurate hydrographic survey data), each individual tackles the tasks somewhat differently.  For example, one coxswain might like to maneuver the launch so that the edge of the multi-beam sonar’s swath touches the inside edge of the polygon. Another might make their first line by maneuvering the launch straight up the middle of the polygon’s edge. Another example involves how survey technicians control the parameters of the multi-beam.  Some like to adjust the settings manually and some like to use the auto pilot.

Did You NOAA (Know)? 
RAINIER is operated by officers of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniformed branches of the U.S. Government.  It can trace its roots back to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1807, signed a bill for a “Survey of the Coast”.  This eventually became the Coast and Geodetic Survey.  Men were needed to commit to long periods of time away from their families to survey the growing nation’s waterways and coastlines. Instead of using multi-beam sonar, they lowered lead weights on ropes marked off in increments to measure ocean depth called leadlines.  To watch an excellent movie on the history of NOAA and surveying, go to the website.

Alaska Fun Facts 
On the Wosnesenski Island, we have seen many feral cows.  According to some of the crew, there once was a homestead on this remote, treeless island.  When the family left the island, the cows remained.  No one takes care of them.  There are other documented feral cow herds on other islands in the Aleutian Chain, including Chirikof Island, near Kodiak Island.  Do you think you would like to live on an island that has no trees?  Why or why not?

Jill Stephens, June 29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 29, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge: 
Position: 55°13.516’N  161°22.812’W
Scattered clouds with 10 miles visibility
Wind: 195° at 14 knots
Pressure at sea level: 1023 mbar
Temperature: Sea; 7.8°C  Dry bulb; 13.3°C; Wet bulb; 11.1°C

Assistant Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, and I release the bottom sample that was collected from the sea floor.
Assistant Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, and I release the bottom sample that was collected from the sea floor.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was another awesome day at sea.  The ship picked up the anchor at 0830 to begin our move to a new anchorage. The plan for the day called for bottom sampling while in transit to the new anchorage. Bottom sampling is used to determine the composition of the sea floor.  The bottom sampler is attached to a winch with the cable run through a boom to move the sampling device over the starboard side of the ship. The bottom sampler has a bucket that is designed to close when it hits the bottom, collect a sample of the material on the seafloor, and then it is brought back to the surface.  The bucket must be secured and locked in place prior to lowering it to the bottom. The operation requires two people manning the device and examining the specimen and another person operating the winch.

The bottom sampler is ready to be deployed to collect a seafloor specimen.
The bottom sampler is ready to be deployed to collect a seafloor specimen.

The bottom sampler is opened once it is back on deck and examined by survey technicians.  The sediment is observed for color and felt to determine texture elements.  Most of the samples examined today were determined to be green sticky mud or volcanic ash and broken shells. This form of sampling provides information about the seafloor that will be of importance to ships that might consider anchoring in the area.  Samples are sometimes collected for more extensive study.

While the people on the fantail are examining the sea floor samples, personnel in the plot room prepare to enter the information into the computer.  The plot room crew enters the GPS location into the computer plus all descriptive data regarding the samples from the sampling crew. If the sampler returns to the surface in the open position, the sample is determined to be unsuccessful and is repeated.

Sitting in with a night processor allowed the opportunity to review data collected during the day and clean out noise that prevents the computer from selecting the best representation of the sea floor.
Sitting in with a night processor allowed the opportunity to review data collected during the day and clean out noise that prevents the computer from selecting the best representation of the sea floor.

Personal Log 

Working the bottom sampler and feeling the sea floor sediment was exciting for me.  I thoroughly enjoy working with soils to determine various characteristics, so this activity was right up my alley.  Although the sampler itself can be managed by one person, it is easier and safer for two people to operate the sampler while a third person operates the winch and boom. My partner and I worked together very efficiently and processed between five and ten samples during one shift.  The shifts were divided into one and a half hour periods. I was lucky enough to get two sampling shifts and one shift in the plot room recording the data.

After dinner, I was able to work with one of the night processors to convert and clean data that was collected on one of the launches during the day.

Animal Sightings

A baby crab and a worm were found in some of our bottom samples.

Findings in the bottom sample
Findings in the bottom sample

Jill Stephens, June 28, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 28, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°08.501’N  161°41.073W
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind: 250° at 12 knots
Pressure: 1024.1 mbar
Temperature: Sea 8.3°C;  Dry bulb 10.0°C;  Wet bulb 7.8°C

The device that collects the information for the Moving Vessel Profiler is referred to as the “fish.”
The device that collects the information for the Moving Vessel Profiler is referred to as the “fish.”

Science and Technology Log 

The day began a bit overcast as Shawn Gendron, Manuel Cruz, Dennis Brooks and I set out in RA 4. Manuel is working on his HIC qualification, so he ended up running the equipment and the boat quite a bit today. The process involved in attaining the Hydrographer in Charge certification takes approximately one year to complete.  To become HIC qualified, you must complete the HIC workbook and demonstrate proficiency in all areas of hydrography covered by NOAA in addition to demonstrating boat handling skills. (I could probably get a few things checked off myself!) Manuel handled the first cast by himself, then allowed me to help with the second cast, and complete the third cast on my own.

The MVP can be controlled with buttons located on a handheld wand.  See it my hands?
The MVP can be controlled with buttons located on a handheld wand. See it my hands?

The data retrieved from the casts was good and so there was not a need for any recasts. We have been trying to perform a cast at the beginning, middle and end of the day to provide adequate information regarding depth, temperature, and salinity.  It is also necessary to take casts from various locations within the work area in order to accumulate necessary information to integrate with the raw data from the multi-beam sonar to depict the contour of the sea floor. We were supposed to use the MVP, Moving Vessel Profiler, today instead of the CTD.  When we attempted to start the equipment, an alarm sounded and would not shut down.  The computer also lost communication with the “fish.” (The fish is the data collection device that is placed in the water.) The MVP is similar to the CTD, except that it has a different top and is attached to a cable that extends beyond the stern of the boat.  The MVP collects the same information as a CTD, but instead of a snapshot at selected locations, it can provide continuous depth, conductivity, and temperature readings by automatically taking repeated casts.

After our return to the ship, the MVP system was reviewed by the Field Operations Officer. The operating instructions were reviewed and it was determined that some key steps were not represented correctly.  These omissions were corrected. The launches all have laptops that are being used to convert files from Hypack into Caris. Converting the files on board the launch allows hydrographers and survey technicians the opportunity to review the seafloor surfaces searching for areas of incomplete coverage.  Shawn converted some files and gave me the opportunity to practice cleaning away errant returns or “noise.”

The unit pictured above is one of the two desalination systems for the ship.
The unit pictured above is one of the two desalination systems for the ship.

Personal Log 

Tonight after supper, Mary Patterson, (Teacher at Sea from Texas), and I went on a tour of the engine room with one of the engineers.  I knew that the engines for this ship would be massive, but was unprepared for just how massive they are.  NOAA Ship Rainier was put into commission in 1968 and still has her original engines.  The engineers pride themselves on the excellent maintenance that has enabled the engines to continue to perform well.

All of the ship’s power and freshwater originates in the engine room.  The ship has two generators that can be used to provide electrical power to the entire ship. Electrical outlets, radar, sonar, computers, and lights are among the items that use the power supplied by the generators. Normally, only one of the generators operates at a time and sometimes when in port, the ship is able to connect to shore power and shut down both generators. 

A necessity aboard ship is a continuous supply of potable water.  The ship has two desalination systems located in the engine room.  Sea water is taken into the system under pressure and exposed to heat within the unit.  The evaporated water is collected in trays and sent on to be treated with purification elements.  The salt residue is then returned to the sea.  Each unit has the capacity to produce approximately 150 gallons of fresh water per hour.

Question of the Day 

How does the desalinization technology of 1968 compare to desalinization technology today?

Jill Stephens, June 23, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 23, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 55°08.576’N  161°41.010’W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Sky: broken clouds
Wind: 230° @ 10 knots
Sea: 0-1 feet
Pressure: 1009.3 mbar
Temperature:  Sea 6.1°C; Dry Bulb 8.9°C; Wet Bulb 7.8°C

The CTD sits near the surface for two minutes to acclimate to the environment and begin collecting data.  The instrument is then lowered to the bottom and retrieved using the winch.
The CTD sits near the surface for two minutes to acclimate and begin collecting data.

Science and Technology Log 

Ian Colvert, Martha Herzog, and Matt Abraham are my team for today.  We are working in area that has not had any survey lines run yet. We are the first to explore what lies beneath the water!  The survey that we are conducting today will involve running long lines instead of filling in polygons. The long survey lines provide the survey techs with an idea of what to expect for the area and assist them in planning the polygons that will be covered later.  If rocks are known to exist, these first lines go near to them in an effort to determine bottom features at a safe distance.

The Reson froze twice today for some reason, but was able to start right up again.  This issue was brought up at the daily meeting and it appears to have happened on another launch as well.  (The ship is in frequent contact with the company and will have a solution to this problem quickly.)

The instrument is then lowered to the bottom and retrieved using the winch.
The instrument is then lowered to the bottom and retrieved using the winch.

Personal Log 

I was able to pilot the launch for a complete line today.  I am proud to say that after learning to orient the boat using the information on the screen, I did a good job.  After the first cast of the CTD, Martha and Ian let me go ahead and perform the next two casts of the day.  The data collected from the casts was good, so we did not have to perform any recasts.

Ian made a couple of movies of the Reson data today that I will be able to take back to my classroom. I went ahead and took pictures of the side scan display to show students. I am going to go ahead and use my digital camera to make a movie of the side scan screen.  Hopefully, it will work.

In the area that we surveyed today, there is a huge, interestingly shaped rock. As we passed by the rock, we noticed light colored areas along the rock. These light colored areas were seals. It was an impressive sight!

Animal Sightings 

More than 30 seals

The light brown areas near the base of the rock are actually seals.
The light brown areas near the base of the rock are actually seals.

 

Kristin Joivell, June 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 21-22, 2009

The Fairweatherrests at anchor in Northwest Harbor.
The Fairweatherrests at anchor in Northwest Harbor.

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Position: Northwest Harbor
Clouds: Mostly Clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: 13 knots
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 8.2 dry bulb
Temperature: 7.2 wet bulb
Barometer: 1007.0

Science and Technology Log 

Launches are excellent for collecting data near the shoreline, but the Fairweather is better at open water data collection. The polygons are larger, but the ship must still be traveling at approximately 6 knots for optimum results.  The ship also uses the multibeam to sweep the ocean floor, just like the launches.  Of course, multiple computer screens are again necessary to monitor data collection on the ship. Also similar to the launches and their CTD’s, the ship uses a device called a Moving Vessel Profile (MVP) that collects information about sound velocity as it is dropped through the water. It is commonly called the “fish” since it is dropped into the water and manipulated to “swim” at different depths for data collection.

Here I am dislplaying the MVP or “fish” that will be deployed periodically throughout data collection to measure sound velocity, temperature, and pressure of the water.
Here I am dislplaying the MVP or “fish” that will be deployed periodically throughout data collection to measure sound velocity, temperature, and pressure of the water.

A definite advantage of the MVP is that the fish can be deployed while the ship is moving; however, the launch must be stopped to use the CTD.  Additionally, the MVP measures sound velocity directly where as the CTD collects data that must be plugged into a formula to calculate the measurement for sound velocity. Data collected from both the launches and the ship must be processed and converted.  Much of the data processing involves moving data uploaded from launches into networked folders.  At times while I watched data processing, there were too many folders open on multiple computer screens for me to personally keep track of.  Also, I noticed certain data sets being converted from one form to another.  Sometimes, the data conversion takes a long time so computers must be marked so nobody interrupts the conversion process.  Patience, computer literacy, and organization skills are a must for working on data processing!

In this picture I’m attempting to clean “dirty” data.  The screen on the left shows a 3D image of the ocean floor.  The screen on the right shows a 2D image of the ocean floor that is color coded based on depth. As you can see, dirty dishes also tend to collect when cleaning dirty data!
In this picture I’m attempting to clean “dirty” data. The screen on the left shows a 3D image of the ocean floor. The screen on the right shows a 2D image of the ocean floor that is color coded based on depth. As you can see, dirty dishes also tend to collect when cleaning dirty data!

Another part of working with data collected from the launches and the ship involves cleaning “dirty” data.  Even through the best efforts to collect data, pings are sometimes lost or interference occurs. Perhaps the speed of the vessel exceeded 6 knots or maybe there was a section of the water with an unusual density. So, a software program called Caris is used to work with the data on a dual screen computer. The ocean floor that is color coded by depth can be viewed on one screen. Then, the person working with the data selects small segments of the ocean floor to view on the other screen.  The plane of the ocean floor and all of the pings are shown in a variety of color scales. Data that is very accurate at a high confidence level can be shown in violet, but the lower the confidence level gets, the further up the spectrum the colors are shown.  Many people choose to show different lines of pings in different colors to make it easier to see how many times the same section of the ocean floor was swept.

The person working on the computer can choose to delete certain pings, especially if they were located at the far end of the multibeam.  These pings are more likely to be lost or misrepresent the depth. Additionally, a measurement can be taken on the screen with a ruler tool to determine if a group of pings are within specification limits.  If they are not, a segment of data can be designated for further investigation.  The person working on this must make many decisions, so it is important to be able to infer information from data as you work.

Personal Log 

Paddling my kayak in the ocean through Northwest Harbor in the Shumagin Islands
Paddling my kayak in the ocean through Northwest Harbor in the Shumagin Islands

I went sea kayaking a few years ago in Mexico, but sea kayaking in Alaska is by far more dangerous. Even though the kayaks are paddled the same way and I could keep the boat balanced relatively easily, the danger of flipping over and freezing to death in the sea water is a constant thought. The beauty of the islands as I paddled near them was mesmerizing.  The Shumagin Islands look like something out of a prehistoric world.  I keep expecting to see a dinosaur walking up one of the rocky hillsides. I didn’t see any prehistoric creatures on the kayak, but I did see some puffins, a seal, and a wide variety of other seabirds too far away for identification.  Kelp was also floating around in abundance. I should mention that I was sea kayaking from about 8:30 to 11:00pm, but it was still daylight the whole time.  It is near the summer solstice, so daylight lasts for about 18 hours or so each day. Right now, the sun is rising at about 6:00am each morning and setting at about 11:30 each night. It is really unusual to be out on a sea kayak in bright daylight in the middle of the night!

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
You can use simple items from your kitchen to see how cold the water in Alaska feels. You will need some ice water, a thermometer, and a bowl. First, put the ice in the bowl and pour the water over it. Next, place the thermometer in the bowl with the ice water.  Wait until the temperature goes down to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Now, place your bare hand in the ice water. How does it feel? Try it with a glove on.  Do you feel a difference?  Remember, your body temperature is about 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so you are putting your hand into water that is about half your body temperature. Can you imagine how it would feel to fall into this water?

Jill Stephens, June 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 18, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position 55° 10.089’N 161° 52.801’W
Broken cloud cover
Wind variable and light
Pressure 995.9
Temperature: Sea; 6.1°C;  Dry Bulb; 8.3°C; Wet Bulb; 7.8°C

The Reson monitor displays the sonar return captured by the receiver on the bottom of the boat.
The Reson monitor displays the sonar return captured by the receiver on the bottom of the boat.

Science and Technology Log 

The launch leaves the ship every day to go to spots within the survey area to collect data regarding the bottom for depth, possible anchorage sites and potential navigational hazards.  Our boat was responsible for covering the long area referred to as the fairway, which is necessary in this uncharted area so that the launches can transit to and from the working areas safely, and move on to another area upon completion.

The chart of the area is “painted” with color depicting the depth of the area based upon the return form the sonar.  The goal is to “paint” your assigned area.  The numbers in the lower right of the screen indicate the depth in meters.
The chart of the area is “painted” with color depicting the depth of the area based upon the return form the sonar. The goal is to “paint” your assigned area. The numbers in the lower right of the screen indicate the depth in meters.

The inside of the cabin of the launch reminds me of Star Wars. There are pieces of electronic equipment everywhere!  One of the survey team members sits in the command center to monitor and control the Reson collection and additional software that displays a 3-D image of the sea floor surface. As the coxswain pilots the boat over the surface of the water, low frequency sonar is emitted from the transducers.  The sonar hits the sea floor and is then bounced back to a receiver on the underside of the boat.  The pings are recorded by the equipment and stored in the computer. 

The CTD is attached to a cable operated by a winch.  The CTD acclimates to the water surface temperature before being lowered steadily to the bottom.  The equipment is raised to the surface using the winch and then brought aboard.  The CTD is connected to the computer for data retrieval.
The CTD is attached to a cable operated by a winch. The CTD acclimates to the water surface temperature before being lowered steadily to the bottom. The equipment is raised to the surface using the winch and then brought aboard. The CTD is connected to the computer for data retrieval.

There are factors that affect the accuracy and quality of the information.  Boat speed, conductivity of the water, pitch and roll, yaw, and tides must be accounted for in order obtain usable data. There is equipment on board that collects the pitch, roll, yaw, and geographic position information to correct merge with the data to make corrections.  The CTD apparatus is placed into the water while the boat is stopped. The cast of the CTD will collect salinity, temperature, and pressure information at depths from the surface to the bottom. This information is also sent to the computer to provide a more accurate reading of the sonar data received by the Reson system.  Casts of the CTD must be made a minimum of every four hours to account for any changes between points in the survey area.

Personal Log 

Here I am manning the computers onboard the launch used to collect sonar depth and bottom information in the Pavlof Islands, Alaska.
Here I am manning the computers onboard the launch used to collect sonar depth and bottom information in the Pavlof Islands, Alaska.

Shawn, Todd, and Dennis were on my launch today. Once the equipment was powered up and the software programs selected, I was able to sit at command center and control collection and storage of data. The raw data is merged with the corrective information and submitted to Caris, another software program that also creates models of the findings. We were using a laptop to merge the data and begin field processing of the data. I was able to assist with this process too.

Two whales surfaced near the survey launch early in the morning near Bluff Point in the Pavlof Islands.
Two whales surfaced near the survey launch early in the morning near Bluff Point in the Pavlof Islands.

Animal Sightings 

This morning was a great day to see whales!! We spotted 5 blows!  We were then able to see the whales breach the surface at a distance.  Three of the whales moved closer to us. There were two adults and a juvenile. The juvenile was very playful and kept poking his head above the surface.  The two adults came closer to the launch and we were able to get some great shots of their bodies!! On the way back to the ship, we saw four more blows. Total sightings of whales: 9 Puffins as always are out there. They are very strange, somewhat silly birds…. 

New Vocabulary Gain: how hard an object is listening to the sound emitted by the sonar Sound Speed: speed at which sound is able to travel (This will vary in water depending upon the factors like salinity and temperature.)

Absorption: refers to how much of the sound is absorbed by the medium and varies with the medium’s composition and other factors including temperature. 

Jill Stephens, June 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 17, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: Anchored, Bluff Point, AK; 53° 10.087’ N, 161° 52.801’ W
Visibility 10 nautical miles
Wind 060 at 6 knots
Temperature 8.3° C dry bulb, 7.8° C wet bulb
Barometric pressure 995.7
Sea Temperature 5.6° C

Science and Technology Log 

This morning everyone was abuzz with excitement because today we were to send out the launches and begin to survey the area in the Pavlof Islands that has not yet been charted! The data that we will be collecting during this survey, such as depths and hazards to navigation, will eventually end up on nautical charts.

Here I am driving the launch.  It is essential to hold a steady course while collecting data for the surveys and tests.
Here I am driving the launch. It is essential to hold a steady course while collecting data for the surveys and tests.

Deploying the launches is a fascinating thing to watch. The davits on our ship rely upon gravity, (Newton’s Laws in action…).  The boats are attached with cables and the weight of the launch is used to lower it to the water. As the cable is slowly released, deckhands man lines to assist in guiding the launches slowly toward the water. The crew and their gear are loaded from one of the lower decks and then the launch is lowered the rest of the way to the cold Alaskan water.  Once the launch is in the water, the cables are released from the launch.

The launch that I went out on was running patch tests and collecting Reson data.  The patch tests are necessary to calibrate the multibeam sonar and measure any physical offsets that may induce errors into the acquired data. In order to accomplish this test, we collected data with the sonar by running lines over an area that was surveyed last year.  The sonar that is used to collect information about the depth and underwater objects can be either high or low frequency.  It was important for our boat to test both frequencies.  The frequency used depends upon factors such as the depth of the water.

Personal Log 

Having been on board ship for two days already, I am getting the feel for where everything is located and how meals work.  Now, I have also been introduced to the routine of launching and conducting surveys. Our coxswain allowed me to pilot the boat for one of the runs during our testing. My time on boats at home and on sailing excursions is paying off.

When I visited the bridge to write down the weather information, the officer on bridge watch, Ensign Andvick, was preparing to collect the hourly weather information.  I assisted in the collection of the required data and was excited to be able to learn where the weather instruments are located on the bridge.  I enjoy data collection, so I will time my visits to coincide with the hourly check of the weather, which becomes a part of the ship’s log.  While on the bridge, I also learned that there is some difficulty communicating by radio from the ship to launches in this area. The islands in this area are very high and mountainous, but in similar areas this difficulty has not been noticed. One possibility for the communications issue is that the mountains here have a higher concentration of iron that interferes with the signal.  (Sounds like an idea for a science fair project….). The launches have other methods to communicate with the ship and other launches such as satellite phones.

I had the opportunity to spend time in the plot room with fellow teacher at sea, Mary Patterson while the night processors were working on the data collected during the day.  We continue to meet and work with interesting and fabulous people.

New Vocabulary 

Coxswain: boat driver/operator — The coxswain is responsible for the operation of the boat and the safety of all occupants and equipment.

Patricia Donahue, August 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Donahue
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier 
August 19-23, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Bear Cove, AK
Geographical Area: Kachemak Bay, Alaska, 59.43.7 N, 151.02.9 W
Date
: August 22, 2008

One of the Rainier’s small boats, also called a launch
One of the Rainier’s small boats, also called a launch

Science and Technology Log 

Much of today had to do with technology. The small boat I went out on, pictured to the right, was filled with computer equipment. Each day at the survey technology department meetings, I’ve listened but not entirely understood the reports of computer issues on the small boats.  This morning I witnessed one such incident. Something didn’t work. Fortunately, there was a work-around and the data collection proceeded smoothly.

I was reminded of the early 18th century efforts to determine longitude. The problem was so pressing that kings of various countries offered rewards for the development of a clock that could keep time at sea. In 1772, James Cook, for whom Cook Inlet in Alaska is named, sailed with the first marine chronometer. The chronometer was a clock that kept accurate time for the home port. On board Cook’s ship, Resolution, there was another clock that kept local time.

Sonar equipment is lowered into the water.
Sonar equipment is lowered into the water.

Since the Earth turns 15 degrees of longitude each hour, by using the difference between the two clocks, seamen would know how far east or west they had traveled. They already knew how to determine latitude with an instrument called a sextant so by using the marine chronometer they could actually plot their coordinates. Now, of course, we take GPS for granted. Many people even have GPS in their cars. These devices and the hand held ones I use with my students at school are accurate to within 4 to 10 meters. Well, the boat I was on today has DGPS, which is even better. It is accurate to within 5 centimeters! With this high-tech equipment, NOAA is able to take very accurate measurements and make very accurate maps.

This graph depicts the velocity of sound through water.
This graph depicts the velocity of sound through water.

The boat I was on today used multi-beam sonar to determine the depth of the ocean floor. This is similar in concept to the single beam in that ping return-times are used. The multi-beam uses a lot more pings, sometimes as many as 200 per second. In the picture above, the sonar equipment is being lowered into the ocean. I learned that salinity, temperature and depth (which is another way of saying pressure) determine the electrical conductivity and density of the water. These two factors then determine the sound velocity.  In the graph, depth is on the Y axis and velocity is on the X axis. Notice the bulge in the plotted line. This represents an area nearer the surface where glacial melt water and ocean water are mixing. The velocity of sound through this water is slower than deeper down where it’s mostly salt water.

This graph displays the pitch, roll, and heave of the boat.
This graph displays the pitch, roll, and heave of the boat.

Measurements of salinity, temperature, electrical conductivity, depth and density were taken 27 times today. This data will be used to adjust the sound velocity to get the most accurate picture of the ocean bottom. The movement of the boat also has an effect on the sonar equipment. NOAA is using the moving vessel profiler or MVP to eliminate the interference caused by the boat’s movement. A boat has a pitch, roll and heave. The computer screen to the left shows graphs of these three types of movement. What do you think was happening on the boat at about halfway across the graph? Remember, the boat is “mowing the lawn” as it collects data. Lastly, the tides also affect the data. Upon return to Rainier, the data is processed and also corrected for the effect of the tides.

TAS Donahue gets a chance to drive the launch.
TAS Donahue gets a chance to drive the launch.

Personal Log 

Several crewmembers have tried fishing from the boat and we’ve seen many small boats with fishermen aboard but no one has caught anything. Using the binoculars aboard the small boat today I watched someone land a fish. I think it was a halibut, which makes sense since we’re in Halibut Cove. The most exciting part of the day was driving the small boat. Data was not collected from a small piece of sea bottom so the boat had to make one last pass over it with the sonar equipment. I’ve driven many different vehicles, even a motorcycle, but a boat is different. I couldn’t make it stay straight!

The scariest thing that happened today didn’t happen to us at all. The United States Coast Guard broadcast a message all afternoon over the marine radio. The message would also start with “pan, pan, pan,” which is the appropriate way to begin a distress call. Most of us have heard of “may day” calls. Those are used when there is immediate danger. A “pan” call is more similar to a warning. A boat carrying two adults and one child had not returned as expected and was missing. The Coast Guard was asking all other boaters to keep an eye out for them. I hope they’ve been found and that everyone is okay.

Animals Seen Today 

A raft of otters, Common Murres, Marbled Murrelets, and Barrow’s Goldeneye

Vocabulary of the Day 

The coxswain is the person who drives the boat.

Challenge Yourself What is 5 cm in inches? What types of movements are pitch, roll and heave?

 

Terry Welch, July 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: S/SE 15-20
Precipitation: clearing
Temperature:  High 47 Seas 1-3’

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

Science and Technology Log 

Today, we are in transit to Seward after surveying the Pavlof Island area for the past week.  We cut our surveying down a day due to incoming weather.  The RAINIER made good headway and we stayed ahead of the storm.  The seas never seemed all that bad in the last 12 hours and today we have sun! I spent some time observing what the ensigns (ENS) and crew do on the bridge while underway. There are always 2-4 people on a “watch” and they continually monitor navigation instruments, weather, and look for any possible obstructions like boats out there. A “watch” lasts four hours.

The RAINIER uses two different kinds of radar to track vessels or land around us. The ensigns also observe through binoculars a lot.  When I was at the bridge, there were two larger fishing vessels ahead of us. The radar tracks how far a boat is in nautical miles from us, their speed and direction headed.  Many larger boats and ships carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which allows the exchange of ship data such as identification, position, course and speed, with nearby ships. GPS (Global Positioning System) plays an important role in their navigation also and is tied into theequipment.

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER
RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

The ensigns and captain also plan out our routes using maps, compasses, and straight edges.  Plotting our course is done the old fashioned way – paper and pencil. Below is ENS Schultz plotting our course. I spent a little time in the plotting room, where the hydrographic crew cleans up the data that has been collected during the day. I mentioned in an earlier log that the Multibeam SONAR system collects sounds waves, casually called “pings” that are bounced off the ocean floor and are sent back to the system.  How well these transmissions are sent and received depends on several physical factors of the water including water depth, temperature, salinity and conductivity.  I was a little stumped on how all of these factors play a roll in understanding the data and Ian, the Hydrographer Tech, reminded me about Snell’s Law, which describes how waves refract differently through different mediums.  There are a couple of short QuickTime movies on the NOAA education website that show Multibeam sonar at work.  Click here.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.
ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

The “casts” we took every few hours with the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument help the software determine the speed of sound by applying Snell’s Law, more or less, and make corrections for the differences in the water layers. It’s interesting to note that the first layer of water may have much less salinity than deeper water due to stream flow into the ocean.  In a column of water:  as the temperature increases, sound speed increases; as the pressure increases, sound speed increases; and as salinity increases, sound speed increases.  For more info on Snell’s Law and sound waves, go here.

Personal Log 

The CTD instrument
The CTD instrument

The sun came out for most of the day today, which enabled me to see the wonderful mountains around here.  We are transiting through the Shelikof Straight just north of Kodiak and south of the Alaska Peninsula.  We should be in Seward in the morning.

Questions of the Day: 

  1.  How do sounds waves travel through water differ from light waves?
  2. What is the speed of light and speed of sound?
  3. Is the speed of sound different in salt water rather than fresh water?

Animals Seen Today: Porpoises along the bow

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight
The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

Terry Welch, June 28, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 28, 2008

A self-contained breathing apparatus
A self-contained breathing apparatus

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: West/Southwest/10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle, clearing
Temperature:  High 48
Seas 1-3’

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday, I was able to go out on a launch and continue with the hydrographic survey around Belkofski Point with Ensign (ENS) Tim Smith as the Hydrographer in charge (HIC), Jodie, our Coxswain, and Fernando, a Hydrographer in training.  They use a lot of acronyms here on the ship that I’m learning.  We worked a long day until about 5:30 p.m. since the weather was nice and seas calm. The weather can change quickly in this area, so the survey team tries to work as much as possible when it’s nice out.

Ship Log 

A 10-minute air supply system
A 10-minute air supply system

Captain Don Haines and the crew are very safely conscious and we have already practiced several drills and we have a morning safely meeting before going out on the launches. On the first day out, I was issued a hard hat, survival suit (sometimes called a Mustang suite), life vest or PFD (personal floatation device) and float jacket.  When boarding the launches in the morning, we don the float jacket and hard hat. Once the launches are in the water and we have moved safely away from the Rainier ship, we can switch to our life vests (PFD), which are more comfortable to wear on the small boats.

Drills:  We practiced three drills while in route (or transit) to the Pavlof Islands; man-overboard, abandon ship, and fire. There is a different ship bell ring pattern for each event. When theses drills or event occur, all hands (crew) meet (muster) at a pre-assigned location.  The person in charge at our muster locations marks off if we are there. This system of accountability ensures that all personal is accounted for and safe.

The fire drill was interesting to me since I’m a volunteer fire fighter/EMT on Whidbey Island where I live. They use much of the same equipment as we do to fight fire including bunker gear (fire pants/coat/helmet), SCBA’s (self-contained breathing apparatus) and masks.  One of the crew demonstrated how to put on the SCBA and mask. Another safety air supply device is called an OCENCO EEBD. These 10 minute air supply systems are located all over the ship and would give someone enough clean air to exit the ship if an accident occurred.

Engine Room Tour 

Josh gave me a tour of the engine room and explained the basics of how the ships power is produced and maintained.  From a control room, the ship’s engine controls can be monitored by computer.  Every hour, the crew inspects the engine and support components and ensures that everything is running smoothly.  The area was loud, so we wore protective earplugs and it was also very clean considering all the oil that is used in the system. 

Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine
Garret in control room, control room gauges, and the main engine 

Desalination System: Another interesting aspect of the ship is how the process water.  All fresh or potable water is made from salt water in an apparatus called an “Evaporator”.  Salt water is pumped into the evaporator and heated up to about 175 degrees.  Because it’s under pressure, the water boils at this lower temperature instead of the usual 212 degrees. The heat comes from generators that help create the electricity on the ship.  So, the whole system is very efficient.  Large 8000 gallon storage tanks hold the fresh water afterwards.  The evaporator produces about 500-550 gallons of fresh water per hour, so there is always plenty to use and it tastes good. 

Evaporator
Evaporator

Personal Log 

It was very informative for me to get a tour of the engine room today and learn how the ship’s power is produced.  Josh has the job of an “Oilier” and is only 23 years old.  He had an interest in welding and mechanics and has a high school degree.  Garret is the “First Engineer” and also has a high school degree. Both men enjoy working for NOAA and explained that many men and women learn skills on the job.  They stressed that you don’t need a college degree to work for NOAA, but it helps to have an aptitude for the job they are interested in such as working the engines.

Aleutian Islands
Aleutian Islands

Yesterday, several of us were able to scout out an abandoned settlement near to where the Rainier is anchored after dinner.  It is called “Native Village of Belkosfski”. Originally built for the fur trade in the 1860’s, it later became home to native Americans There were several old wooden structures and one larger cement and brick building that was the school.  Judging from the date on one of the food items in a kitchen, this area was inhabited in the early 1980’s last.  It’s amazing to see that many structures were still standing given the harsh climate around here.  More information can be found here. The teacher who taught there in the 60’s/70’s talks about his life there.

Dust and ash spew from the volcano .
Dust and ash spew from the volcano

Habitat Log 

According to the Global Volcanism Program, Pavlof volcano erupted in August 2007. NOAA’s satellite imagery recorded ash plumes and lava spewing from Pavlof and lahars or mudflows occurred.  The attached pictures are from Global Volcanism’s website, listed on the next page.

Questions of the Day: How do volcanoes shape the southeast strip of Alaska?  How active are they and why are they active?

Animals Seen Today: 

  • One young Grizzly bear
  • Humpback whales
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof
Another map indicating the location of Pavlof

Terry Welch, June 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 27, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: N10
Precipitation: rainy, drizzle
Temperature:  High 51
Seas 2-4’

One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.
One of the RAINIER’s launches heads out to start surveying the ocean floor.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship RAINIER is currently anchored off of Cove Bay, near the Pavlov Islands, just east of the Aleutian Islands. Our mission is to conduct a hydrographic survey around these islands and collect data on what the ocean floor looks like, which will be used to update marine navigational charts. All marine vessels including, commercial, recreational and government vessels use these charts to navigate around the waters safely, so having reliable, updated charts is very important.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, assists in a hydrographic survey aboard the launch.

Using Multi-beam SONAR that is mounted to the bottom of several small skiffs or “launches”, surveyors leave the RAINIER and head out to assigned areas.  From there, they survey the ocean floor in “lines” that traverse back and forth in the assigned area, much like an aerial surveyor would do when mapping an area by airplane.  Sending these small launches out to survey is much more efficient and cost effective since several boats can cover different areas every day. The launches are operated by a Coxswain who follows predetermined lines and the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) sits at a computer and gathers the data from the sonar system.  SONAR uses sound waves that are emitted at regular intervals from the boat and bounce down to the ocean floor and back up. Physical factors such as salinity (saltiness), temperature, and conductivity of the ocean water affect the system, so a special instrument called a CTD is lowered into the water every four hours to gather this data and input it into the system.  How salty is the ocean in this area?  It varies in this area between 14.5 – 14.9%.

A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at Volcano Bay.
A mother Grizzly bear and her three cubs play on the beach at
Volcano Bay.

Personal Log 

The day was quite enjoyable and a big learning curve for me.  There are a lot of boat terms that I’m learning along with the hydrographic science we do.  I’m happy to see that there are many women who work on the ship at all levels from basic seamen (ABS – or Able Bodied Seaman), cooks, to NOAA officers who navigate and run the ship. Women appear to make up 25+% of this crew.  All crew have been very helpful and informative. A personal highlight was seeing six Grizzly or brown bears today from our launch boat. A mother and her three cubs hung out on the beach for a while. My camera does not have the best telephoto lens, but you can see a rough picture of them below. It must be a good year for bears seeing that the mother had triplets.  When food is more scarce, bears will have less cubs in a season.

Question of the Day:  Does the ocean salinity (how salty it is) change ocean to ocean and within different depths?

New Terms/phrases:   Coxswain – is the skipper in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. Hydrography – the science of measuring and mapping the ocean floor. Hydrographer – a person who gathers data on ocean floor features. CTD – Instrument which collects physical characteristics in the sea water including conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth.  This data helps correct for the difference in the speed of sound waves.  Sound speeds of sonar vary with depth, temperature and saltiness of the water.   SONAR – Sound Navigation And Ranging – similar to echolocation that marine mammals use.

Animals Seen Today: 

  • Six Grizzly bears (a mother bear, her three cubs on one beach and two other bears near by).
  • Two Bald Eagles
  • Sea otters
  • Halibut