Kaci Heins: Shoreline Verification and Auroras, September 27-29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaci Heins
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 17 — October 7, 2011

Heading Back to the Rainier After Shoreline Verification

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast/Drizzle/Rain
Visibility: 2 Nautical Miles
Wind: 15 knots
Dry Bulb: 8.2 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1001.1 millibars
Latitude: 55.42 degrees North
Longitude: -133.45 degrees West

Science and Technology

Waterfall on Shore

When we are out on a launch acquiring data there are so many beautiful shorelines to see.  From far away they look inviting, but in reality there are usually numerous boat hazards lurking below or on the shoreline.  I have written a lot about the hydrographic survey aspect of this mission and how it is important to ships so that they can navigate safely.

However, when we are out on a survey launch the first priority is safety of the crew, the boat, and the technology.  This means that we normally do not go anywhere that is shallower than about eight meters.   Consequently, this leaves areas near the shore that is not surveyed and leaves holes in the chart data.  This is where shoreline verification comes in using single beam sonar.  However, since the launch with the single beam is not operational at this time we have been using the multibeam instead.  The Marine Chart Division (MCD) gives the Rainier specific items that need to be identified because they are considered Dangers to Navigation,  or they need to be noted that they do not exist.  The MCD compiles a priority list of features that come from numerous sources such as cruise ships, aircraft pilots, and other boats that have noted that there may be a danger to navigation in a certain area.  Many of these charts have not been updated since they were created in the early 1900’s or never charted at all!

Before we leave the Sheet Manager and the Field Operations Officer (FOO) come up with a plan for what shoreline they want to verify for the day.  A plan must be made because there is a small window to acquire the information needed to satisfy the requests of the Marine Chart Division.  The shoreline verifications must be done at Mean Low or Low Water.  This means that it has to be done when the average low tide of each day comes around, which has been in the early morning and afternoon for us.

Shoreline 4 Meter Curve

Using the launches we head up to what is called the four meter curve.  This curve is the limit to where we can go during meal low or low water.  If we get any shallower or move closer to the shore then we will put everyone and everything in danger on the boat.  We bring with us  a camera to document the features, a clinometer, which allows us to document headings and angles, a laser range finder, charts that they can draw and note features on, and their computer software.   Once we get underway and arrive to our first rock that we have to document, the officers make sure they maintain good communication with the coxswain, or boat driver.  We make sure we circle everything in a counterclockwise motion so that he can see everything off to his starboard, or right side as we move.  We can see the rock become exposed as the waves move over it, but the tricky part is getting as close to it as possible without hitting it.  This is so we can get a precise location as possible for the chart.  Our coxswain was very experienced so we were able to get right next to it for photos, the heading, and to drop a target, or the location, in the software.

Notes Documenting Various Features

The rest of our shoreline verification was a lot less intense as we confirmed that there was a lot of kelp around the rocks, the shoreline, and specific rocks were in the correct place.  LT Gonsalves, the Hydrographer-in-Charge (HIC),  showed me how he draws some of the features on his chart and makes notes about whether the features are there or not.  I took photos and noted the photo numbers for the chart, as well as the range and height of various features.  Shoreline verification is very important for nautical charts so that ships and their passengers know exactly where dangers to navigation lie.  It takes 120 days from the final sounding for all the data to get submitted to the Hydrographic Survey Division.  From there the information gets looked over by numerous agencies until about 2 years later the updated chart is available.  This is quite a long time to wait for changes in dangers to navigation.  To be safe, the chart stays the same even if there is not a dangerous rock lurking around at mean low or low water.  It is best to just avoid the area and err on the side of caution.  There is still a lot of work to be done in Alaska that will take many, many years to complete.  However, it is thanks to hydrographic ships like the Rainier and its crew that get the job done.

Personal Log

NASA SOHO Image of Solar Wind and the Magnetic Field

Tonight was very special because we could actually see an aurora, or the northern lights,  in the night sky.  An aurora is a natural light display in the arctic and antarctic, which is caused by the collision of charged particles in the upper atmosphere.  Auroras start way back about 93 million miles (or 1 astronomical unit– AU) at the sun.  When the sun is active, usually due to coronal mass ejections, it releases energetic  particles into space with the very hot solar wind.  These particles travel very quickly over those 93 million miles until they reach the Earth’s magnetic field.   Most of these energetic particles are deflected around the Earth, but some get trapped in the magnetic field and are moved along towards the polar regions until they strike the atmosphere.  We knew there were possibilities to see an aurora while we were anchored, but usually it has been cloudy at night so we couldn’t see the stars.  However, on the 27th Officer Manda came through saying he had seen the lights.  Low and behold there was a green glow in the sky behind some clouds and a couple of times some of the energized particles made bands across the sky.  If there hadn’t been so many clouds I think it would have been even more spectacular, but I was so glad I did get to see them.  Very quickly, more clouds moved in and it was just a green glow on the horizon.  I also was able to see the milky way in all its glory and the brightest shooting star I have ever seen.  These amazing photos of the aurora were taken by Ensign Manda and I am very grateful he was willing to share.

Aurora and Shooting Star Courtesy of Ensign Manda
Aurora in Alaska Courtesy of Ensign Manda

Click HERE for a link to a neat animation of how an aurora is formed.

Student Questions Answered

Animals Spotted!

Seal On a Rock We Were Documenting

Seals – species unknown









Question of the Day

Sena Norton, July 14, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 14, 2004

Location: At anchor, Popof Strait, Shumagin Islands, AK
Latitude: 55 deg 17.24’ N
Longitude: 160 deg 32.17’ N
Visibility: 6 nm
Direction: 060
Wind Speed: 6 kts
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Swell wave height: n/a
Seawater temperature: 10.0 deg C
Sea level pressure: 1009.3 mb
Cloud Cover: 8/8
Weather: Temp: 12.2 deg C, showers, some fog in higher elevations

Plan of Day:
Five launches out for shoreline, multi-beam and visitors tour. I was on RA 1 for shoreline verification and LIDAR disproval.

Science and Technology Log

RA 1 is a jet boat, which means it can get into shallow waters to take readings and not worry about ripping a prop or high centering…both are not good ideas! I was out with Megan Palmer, Brie Welton, KC Longly and the other TAS Leyf Peirce. It was a cozy ride. There were a handful of targets that we set out to visually verify. The nice addition to this launch was that the computer had the updated LIDAR data from a fly over a few days earlier to use, so the launch did not have to take its own shoreline readings, cutting down on the time needed for the mission goals. There was one islet that was misplaced on the chart and so we had to take a picture of where it really was and then disprove its old location by taking depth readings and marking the bearing. This way the rock feature can be moved when the charts are updated.

There was also a shoal that was mis-assigned as to its depth. The LIDAR computers got a reading but were unsure and wanted field verification. We drove a star pattern over the shoal and logged readings, marked the area and took visual cues. Palmer will then work with the sheet and update from our field verifications and re-work the depths.

I was able to help run the logging computer. I marked the targets on the cue from the coxswain and then filled in the bearing, notes and depth or height of the target with the survey tech. I was also able to take digital pictures of some of the targets that we wanted to disprove or assign different locations.

Personal Log

Shoreline was much faster paced because the coxswain has to look out for kelp, watch his depth meter, and stay on target and read bearings/heading and depths to the survey tech. The launch itself is much more maneuverable because of the jet and has more room on deck to move around. Both of the TAS’s were on board this launch today so we were able to talk a little more about our plans for using the science we have learned and linking our classrooms in the future for some investigations.

We are pulling up the anchor and steaming for Kodiak this evening after dinner to arrive early on Friday morning. I am going to miss the crew on aboard. I feel that I have been here long enough to begin really getting to know people and they have added me into their daily schedules and have been patient with my questions or my getting in the way. I feel very safe and know that there are people who are looking out for me. I hope to keep in contact with some of the people on-board and maybe have them become part of my classroom as a resident scientist for the kids to interact with over the course of a season. The possibilities are endless.

Question of the Day:

Can the cartographers change locations of rocks when they make the final charts?

It all depends on the scale of the chart. If the chart is a small scale the cartographer might not worry about the exact location of rocks and might add in that there is a “rocky area”. If the chart is more specific to this area, the exact locations of rocks, shoals and other hazards are important.

Sena Norton, July 13, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 13, 2004

Location: At anchor, Popof Strait, Shumagin Is. AK
Latitude: 55 deg 17.9’ N
Longitude: 160 deg 32.13’W
Visibility: 1nm
Direction: 116 deg
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Sea wave height: n/a
Swell wave height: 0-1 ft
Seawater temperature: 10.1 deg C
Sea level pressure: 1011.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 8/8 Fog
Weather: Foggy with drizzle and areas of rain 12.1 deg C (air temp)

Plan of the Day:
Four launches for shoreline verification and continuation of hydro in deeper water.

Science and Technology Log

I learned the process and background concerning shoreline verification. This process ties in nicely with my new understanding of the process of Laser Airborne Bathymetry and how the two connect together. Shoreline verification is a process where a launch surveys to the 4-meter line and in the process correctly locates any targets found close to shore. The launch actually touches the target, at times from multiple sides so that a true GPS tag can be attached to the feature. This process helps the survey crew make better sense of wide swath readings and discern between sonar “fluff” and true features. Sometimes kelp or other objects block the sonar from capturing an accurate image and in the case of larger objects they are required to be “eye ball” verified for all survey areas. Shoreline is also used to double check location of known targets for drift or geologic movement. In the case of these Alaskan waters, the bottom changes yearly and the same can be said for the shoreline. Rocks move, and sand drifts cause sediment build-ups in different areas and underwater features might not have been placed accurately on the chart in the first place. All these factors add in to the need for physical shoreline verification of the survey swaths.

The jet boat launches are able to go almost all the way into shore but are not used until a prop motor launch has already done a through evaluation of the grid. According to the coxswains, shoreline is one of the more nerve-racking operations that they conduct. They are in shallow water trying to find hazards to navigation and they are still asked to safely navigate themselves. At times they are going into pockets almost blind because of the initial survey information being a tad sketchy. After of day of shoreline the coxswain is mentally and physically worn out.

Personal Log

Last night was a fun night on board, a group of crew and corps officers played some board games and let off some steam. This really is a fun crew to be around they are ready to have a good time and I believe they genuinely enjoy each other’s company. (Even if at times I know they drive each other crazy!) I am feeling more a part of the ship now as ever before, everyone is a friendly face and people are interested in what I am doing and what I do on dry land. They are very supportive of teachers and education and that is a boost to my morale because I feel supported in what I am doing here.

I have also enjoyed the time made available by being on board to work with the other TAS and collaborate with lesson ideas and simply “talk” to each other. Many times the one thing that teachers starve for is a chance to really get down and work with their colleagues. We are already planning on linking our classrooms, like Sister Classes for projects, pen pal and even to track the weather on opposite sides of the U.S. An added benefit is that she also just finished her first year of teaching and teaches at the same middle school level and I do. We have our careers in common and seem to have similar ideas on the direction of science education and its benefit to our students. We have completely different experiences as an educator because I teach in public school and she teaches in a small private school, but hearing the experience of the other has put a perspective not only on education but also on my professional/personal goals for the future of my career.

Question of the Day:
What is a “gyro” and why is it used on a ship?

A “gyro” or gyroscopic compass is the ships compass that is always pointed at the North/South axis no matter what the ship is doing in the water. It can be compared to a child’s top in the way that it works. It is important for a ships compass to be oriented in the N/S axis to accurately navigate and find the exact lat/long point. A compass will always point toward magnetic North which is about 1,600 km south of the North Pole (where all the meridians of longitude converge).