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.


Susan Smith, June 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Smith
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 1-12, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Trocadero Bay, Alaska; 55°20.990’ N, 33°00.677’ W
Date: June 7, 2009

Sending the CTD to the bottom
Sending the CTD to the bottom

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: Dry Bulb 12.8° C (55°F)
Wet Bulb 11.7°C (53°F)
Cloudcover: Overcast 8/8
Visibility: 4 nautical miles
Wind: VRB, light speed
Sea Wave Height: 0-1
Sea water temperature: 9.4°C (49°F)

Science and Technology Log 

Today we left Craig to finish our grids in Trocadero Bay, Alaska. It was a time to clean up or capture data from isolated locations which had either been missed or not completely surveyed. For the first few hours we spent our time surveying areas very close to the shoreline and areas very difficult in which to maneuver.

Bringing the CTD back up
Bringing the CTD back up

We did our first cast with the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) equipment and I finally asked if I could run it. Ian, the survey technician, happily obliged. The CTD calculates speed of sound through water. I have finally gotten the gist of sonar settings. The following information will help you understand why it is all necessary for getting accurate data to the surveyor and coxswain. 

Range- How long it takes for the sonar beam to go to the bottom and return, or in layman’s terms, tells the sonar when to ping and listen.

Pulse length– Pulse length sets how long the sonar transmits, thus allowing more power to be put out bythe sonar, but it results in decreased resolution. The longer the length of the pulse the lower the resolution, so shorter is optimal. For instance, when going through kelp it should be set at low so the kelp isn’t all being picked up by the sonar beam.

I really enjoyed driving the launch today.
I really enjoyed driving the launch today.

Sonar Beams- There are 512 beams at high frequency (400khz). Low frequency (200 khz) equals 256 beams.  There are two yellow gates on the screen which  surveyors utilize. One is positioned above the shallow water, one is positioned beneath the deepest water measurement. When in shallow water most surveyors disable them. When in deep water, if the top gate is positioned too low, you lose valuable data on the outer limits. If the lower gate is positioned too low it records too much noise. However, if it is set too high the outer beams are missing and no data is recorded. Surveyors must constantly watch this screen when these gates are active to ensure all data they want is being captured.

The airplane indicates the launch position and the color is the area which has been logged.
The airplane indicates the launch position and the color is the area which has been logged.

The surveyor must ensure the data is placed in appropriate folders, enter data in spreadsheets, and basically keep things running smoothly for the entire time data is being logged. So, in essence the surveyor must watch the sonar screen, set the polygons on the screen for him/herself and the coxswain, continually check the settings, remember to log on for data retrieval  and log off when the swath is completed, set the CTD for casts every four hours, and monitor as many as ten folders at one time.

The rule of safety: Never shall safety for life or property be compromised for data acquisition.
The rule of safety: Never shall safety for life or property be compromised for data acquisition.

The coxswain’s job is to drive the launch into areas to be charted, based on the POD, the Plan of the Day, grids. When data is being recorded he/she drives approximately four to eight knots, depending on the wave action. High swells require slower forward progress. The coxswain has two computer screens-one showing the grid being logged or charted, and another displays depth of water in feet, meters, and fathoms and several other pertinent pieces of data. He or she is ultimately responsible for making decisions about when to enter dicey locations and determining when to stay out of a risky situation.

Seals swimming in kelp
Seals swimming in kelp

When traveling in either extremely shallow water or water full of kelp and known rocky locations, a bow watch will stand on the bow and give visuals for the coxswain to avoid. Obviously, this person must wear a safety jacket and hold a rope around an arm or wrist, due to the precarious position he or she is in. High swells could cause serious accidents in a second.

Did you know when backing up a launch, sonar cannot penetrate the bubbles formed when the water is getting stirred? The readings inside the launch show the color red, or dangerous zones, because the sonar thinks the boat is at the bottom. As the surveyors and coxswains say, “No worries! We know where we are.”

Question of the day: What is a patch test and why is it run?

Humpback whale photo courtesy of Ian Colvert
Humpback whale photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Personal Log

Now that I felt much more comfortable with understanding the sonar I was able to relax more on the launch today. Perfect timing, as this was such a great day for biological observations. Five different humpback whales were sighted in the bay with us; in one location two were in position as forward observers on either side of our launch. The last whale we spotted surfaced fairly close to our launch so we had to stop, mainly because the regulations state you must stay 100 yards from humpback whales. This whale went under the launch and surfaced about 50 meters from us. Off and on during the day they would surface in the areas we were surveying so we had to just wait until they moved along.

I also observed at least eight bald eagles either sitting in trees, flying over the water, or harassing the whales. One eagle flew down close to the water and looked as though it was taunting the whale! Then it quickly flew back up to a tree top and perched on a branch. Several eagles would fly off together, separate, then come back together before landing on a tree. Early in the morning we ran into a group of seals swimming around in kelp. They poked their heads out and just stared at us as we drove by. Luckily we saw them in time to slow down, so as to not disturb them anymore than necessary. 

Mary Cook, January 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: January 2, 2005

Location: Latitude 41°47.12’S, Longitude 73°33.42’W
Time: 0830

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Pressure (millibars) 1012.81
Relative Humidity (percent) 93.61
Wind Direction (degrees) 354.55
Wind Speed (knots) 7.03
Air Temperature (Celsius) 14.46
Water Temperature (Celsius) 11.62
Sunrise 0624
Sunset 2132

Question of the Day

What is a fjord?

Quote of the Day

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” King Solomon

Science Log

It’s raining! I haven’t seen rain since last year. The sky is thick with dark, billowing clouds and gray mist. Occasionally a patch of bright blue breaks through. But it only takes a few minutes until it’s eclipsed by a rain cloud. The land on both sides of the channel is shrouded in the mist and looks mysteriously enchanting. Only a few people onboard have ever been this way before and everyone is excited. Even these salty sailors are energized. Seals are popping up and playing all around. It looks like they’re chasing each other. We’ve passed a couple of small fishing villages and there are some ferryboats in the channel. The Chilean pilot told me that we’re in a very interesting place because of the strong current. Our ship is traveling against a three knot current at this time and they’ve brought more engines online just in case we need them. He said the current can get as high as eight knots! I heard Captain Wright say that the last time he was through here the ship was going with the current and traveling at 21 knots!

Bruce, the boatswain is now on constant anchor alert. There are many potential hazards when traveling the narrow channels so all hands must be prepared for anything.

I’ve been standing outside in a sheltered place under the ladderways for about an hour. At first it didn’t seem cold but as time went by I felt the chilly dampness in my muscles and had to zip up my jacket and put on my hood.

Something I’ve learned about this ship is that even when the scientists aren’t actively conducting research projects, science is always going on aboard the RONALD H. BROWN. At the top of every hour they always record the weather data, which includes about 50 entries, and then send it in to the National Weather Service every six hours. If the ship is within 200 miles of the coast of the United States or Canada or within 300 miles of a named tropical storm or hurricane they report every three hours. They record the ship’s location and speed, plus wind factors, temperatures, pressure, clouds, precipitation, wave size and directions, swells, and presence of ice. It seems to me that everything is written in code. They have the “Ship’s Synoptic Code Ready Reference” lying nearby and make use of it when filling out the charts. This information is entered into the National Weather Service computers and used for weather forecasting.

Personal Log

There’s a festive atmosphere throughout the entire ship. Everyone’s smiling and walking with a little extra spring in their step. These seasoned sailors are like little kids on Christmas morning, their eyes sparkling with anticipation. They’re out on the deck with their binoculars looking over the pastoral scenes of green rolling hills dotted with colorful houses and farms and churches connected by winding dirt roads. One of them said, “Just give me ten acres with a little house and I could settle down and live right here.” Several nodded in agreement. Then they spotted the big snow-capped mountains in the distance! Their dreams of settling down seemed to evaporate into thin air as their attention had been captured by the majestic and forbidding.

Our course is taking us through the Gulf of Corcovado and we’re just now passing the volcanic mountain for which the gulf is named. The pointy, snow-capped mountain is Mt. Corcovado and it stands 2300 meters in elevation which is about 7000 feet high.

The water is so smooth in this gulf that I can barely tell the ship is moving. It’s great! Seasickness is but a distance memory.

Officer Ayers just told me that I missed a fabulous display of bioluminescence last night about 0200. I said that I’d just stay up all night tonight so I could see that for myself. Then watch-stander Melton says, “Oh, now you want to be awake and out at 0600 tomorrow because we’ll be entering an extremely narrow channel. You can’t be sleeping through that.”

Decisions. Decisions.

Whales on the starboard bow! I ran out and saw three waterspouts and one tail. Pretty cool.

Tomorrow, my students and co-workers will be returning to school from their Christmas break. I hope they’ve all had a good vacation and come back with renewed energy and smiles. I can’t help thinking about them and wishing they could be out here in this never-ending, ever-unfolding story of exploration.

Until tomorrow,