Meg Stewart: Data Acquisition on a Small Boat: Tips and Tricks, July 14, 2019

Fairweather in fog

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 9 knots SE
Barometer: 1005.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 61° F or 15.5° C
Weather: Overcast with fog, no precipitation

Fairweather in fog
The other day while on a survey launch, we came up on the Ship Fairweather as fog was rolling in.


Science and Technology Log

Launch preparation
A launch getting ready to survey. The setup process takes some time and all of the preparation is necessary for accuracy in the data.
Heave, pitch, roll, and yaw describe the movements of a boat (or a plane). An inertial measurement unit reads those discrete movements. Source: wikipedia

In the last post I talked about hydrographic surveying, the software used and the multibeam echosounder on the survey boats (called launches). The software is setup in the cabin by the hydrographer in charge. It takes a good five minutes to get an accurate read from the GPS (global positioning system) receiver. Then it takes time for the IMU (inertial measurement unit) to respond and start to read the boat’s heave, pitch, roll, yaw, and heading values. 

hydrograpers
The hydrographer in charge (standing) is showing the hydrographer in training (seated) how to setup the day’s survey project using the echosounder software.
launch data storage
The four Fairweather launches have the same, high-end technology in their cabins used to collect data from the multibeam echosounder, CTD sensor, a sound speed system, and a positioning and altitude system.

Often, the launch drives in a circle eight in order for the positioning receivers to be “seen” by the satellites, as a  stationary object is more difficult to detect than one that is moving. Setting up the day’s project using the multibeam echosounder software also takes some time but all the steps need to be done properly and to the correct specifications prior to starting the sounder. If not, the locational data will be wildly off and the depths inaccurate.

Another task that must be done from the launch before starting to transect is to test the salinity and water temperature using a CTD probe, which is called a cast. I mentioned this in a previous post. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. In the general area where the launch will survey, the CTD drops slowly to the bottom of the seafloor, collecting data that will be fed into the hydrographic program. Salinity and temperature at different depths will slightly change the rate at which sound travels in water. Again, the CTD process makes the location and depths as accurate as possible and must be done.

Meg casts CTD probe
Casting the CTD probe into the survey location to get conductivity, temperature and depth readings.

Usually, the chief hydrographer sets the defined area to be transected for the day and this is usually a polygon. The launch will sweep with the multibeam echosounder the outside lines and then scan at parallel set distances between the lines, either in a roughly north-south direction or a roughly east-west direction. For this particular hydrographic project, coverage of survey lines can be spaced at about 400 meters apart or greater apart depending on the depth. Recall that the nautical chart of Bristol Bay from the last post showed soundings dotting the area. Solid bathymetric coverage is not always needed on these projects. The Cape Newenham area has proven to have gradually varying depths and is mostly quite flat so free from obvious obstructions like large boulders and sunken ships. 

Once the technology setup is complete in the cabin, the hydrographer shares the map window with the coxswain (the person in charge of steering or navigating the boat). The hydrographer sets the points and the lines so that the coxswain knows where to direct the launch. And by direct, I mean the coxswain uses compass direction and boat speed to get from place to place for the survey. And the hydrographer in charge turns the echosounder on and off when the launch is in position or out of position.

Coxswain
The coxswain navigates the survey line set by the hydrographer in charge.

Because the transects run parallel to each other and are equally spaced apart, the hydrographers call this technique “mowing the lawn,” (see video below) for they are essentially mowing the surface of the ocean while the multibeam echosounder is collecting soundings of the surface of the seafloor.

A video of someone mowing a lawn on a riding lawnmower

A day out on a launch will go from about 8:30am to about 4:30pm but sometimes an hour or so later. If the Alaskan weather is cooperating, the hydrographers want to do as much as they can while out on the launch. Once surveying is complete for the day, the hydrographer in charge has to close up and save the project. Then data get transferred to the larger workstations and shared drive on the Fairweather.

Meg on launch
Every day on the launch, at least on this leg, has been great with perfect weather. And today, the added bonus for me was the phenomenal geology as we surveyed right along the shore.


Personal Log

I’ve taken loads of photos and video while at sea. I have tried to post just those pictures that help explain what I’ve been trying to say in the text. I haven’t posted any video on here as the internet on the ship is very weak. These next photos are a tour of different parts of the NOAA Ship Fairweather.

  • view of the bridge 1
  • view of the bridge 2
  • view of the bridge 3
  • barometer

The above slide show gives an idea of what the bridge is like. The ship is steered from the bridge. All the navigational instruments and weather devices, among other tools, are found on the bridge.

emergency billet
These emergency billets are for me, TAS Stewart, Meg, and it’s posted on my door. For each emergency situation, Fire, Abandon Ship, or Man Overboard, there is a bell sound and the location on the ship where I am to muster. Life at sea is all about being ready for anything.
mess
This is the mess (where we eat. And eat. And eat!) The food is fantastic but I’ve gained some pounds for sure.
Ice cream spot
Maybe this is why. Sometimes the Ice Cream Spot looks like this. Ha!
The galley
The galley
Laundry
Laundry machines available and detergent is supplied. No need to bring all your clothes. Also, sheets and towels are supplied.
Stairs
Stairs are called ladders on a ship. Makes sense to me – they’re often pretty steep. You must always hold a rail.
The Lounge
The Lounge
DVD collection
DVD collection of over 500 films
Lounge full of people
Yes, so this is the lounge and there can be meetings in here, training, movies, games, puzzles, quiet space, etc.
DVD in stateroom
Or, you can pop a DVD into a player in the Lounge, go back to your stateroom and watch. Or fall asleep. This is the original Blade Runner (which I never saw) and which I didn’t care for.
Finer things
The good folks of Ship Fairweather like to have a nice time every now and again, so they set up evenings, about once a leg, to have Finer Things. People come by, bring fine cheeses, fine chocolates, fine almonds, fine fig jelly, and fine maple sugar candy from Rhinebeck, NY, and have a fine time. And a disco ball.


Did You Know?

Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) technology that is so important for accurate hydrographic survey mapping was developed by the U.S. military. IMUs were used in the development of guided missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (and now drones), battlefield reconnaissance, and target practice.

Quote of the Day

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Grace Hopper

Lona Hall: Meeting, Greeting, and Settling In, June 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

 

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 3, 2019

Local Time: 1100 hours

Location: Alongside, JAG Shipyard, Seward, AK

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 60°05.1022’ N
Longitude: 149°21.2954’ W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE (114 degrees)
Air Temperature: 12.12° Celsius

Lona Hall on NOAA Ship Rainier
Enjoying the fresh air

Science and Technology Log

While at port in Seward, it has already been my pleasure to meet some of the people that make up the team of NOAA Ship Rainier.  My mission so far has been to learn about the different capacities in which individuals serve on board the ship and how each person’s distinct responsibilities combine together to create a single, well-oiled machine.  

The five main departments represented are the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the Hydrographic Survey Technician team, the Engineering team, the Deck department, and the Stewards.  There are also a few visitors (like me) who are here to observe, ask questions, and participate in daily operations, as possible.

Career Focus – Hydrographic Survey Technician

Today I spent some time with Survey Technician, Amanda Finn.  Amanda is one of nine Survey Techs aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician
Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician

What is hydrography?

According to the NOAA website, hydrography is the “science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.” Essentially, hydrographers create and improve maps of the ocean floor, both deep at sea and along the shoreline.  The maps, or charts, allow for safer navigation and travel at sea and are therefore very important.

(Click here to see the chart for Resurrection Bay, where the ship is currently docked.)

 

What does a Hydrographic Survey Technician do?

Technicians like Amanda are in charge of preparing systems for collecting hydrographic data, actually collecting and processing the data, monitoring it for quality, and then writing reports about their findings.  They work part of the time on the ship as well as on the smaller launch boats.

 

What kind of data do Survey Techs use?

Both the main ship and the small launches are equipped with multibeam sonar systems.  SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging. This fascinating technology uses sound waves to “see” whatever exists below the water.  Instead of sending out one sound wave at a time, the multibeam sonar sends out a fan-shaped collection, or swath, of sound waves below and to the sides of the boat’s hull. When the sound waves hit something solid, like a rock, a sunken ship, or simply the sea floor, they bounce back.  The speed and strength at which the sound waves return tell the technicians the depth and hardness of what lies beneath the ocean surface at a given location.

small vessel in the water
Small launch for near shore survey

Personal Log

It is possible to be overwhelmed in a good way.  That has been my experience so far traveling from my home in Georgia to Alaska.  The ship is currently docked at the Seward shipyard in Resurrection Bay. When you hear the word “shipyard”, you might not expect much in the way of scenery, but in this case you would be absolutely wrong!  All around us we can see the bright white peaks of the Kenai Mountains. Yesterday I stood in one place for a while watching a sea otter to my left and a bald eagle to my right. Local fishermen were not as enchanted as I was, but rather were focused on the task at hand: pulling in their bounties of enormous fish!

View near Seward shipyard
Out for a walk near the shipyard

I am similarly impressed with the order and organization aboard the ship. With over fifty people who need to sleep, eat, and get things done each and every day, it might seem like an impossible task to organize it all.  By regular coordination between the departments, as well as the oversight and planning of the ship’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, everything flows smoothly.

I think that it is worth noting here how the level of organization that it takes to run a ship like NOAA Ship Rainier should not be taken for granted.  Every individual must do their part in order to ensure the productivity, efficiency, and safety of everyone else.  As a teacher, we often discuss how teamwork is one of life’s most important skills. What a terrific real-world example this has turned out to be!

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

Did you know?

Seward is located on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska.  The name Kenai (key-nye) comes from the English word (Kenaitze) for the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina tribe.  The name of this tribe translates to “people along the Kahtnu river.” Click here for more information about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Word of the Day

fathom: a unit of length equal to 6 feet, commonly used to measure the depth of water

Brandy Hill: Chat with Chief Engineer and My First Tuna Catch, June 28, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 28, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28° 50.7’ N

Longitude: 093° 34.4’ W

Visibility: 10+ nm

Sky Condition: 4/8

Wind: 12 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.6° C

Air: 29.3° C

 

 

Science and Technology Log

This afternoon I spent an hour with Chief Marine Engineer, Thom Cleary. As promised, he gave me a tour of the Engine Room. Thom arrived on the Thomas Jefferson in 2011 and has worked not only on maintaining operations, but greatly improving them. When asked about his favorite ship mechanism, he responded with one that is not his favorite but of which he is most proud. The Thomas Jefferson, along with most other ships, typically used to rid greywater and sewage by offloading into the ocean. The EPA states that ships must be at least one nautical mile from land or people in the water and three nautical miles from aquaculture (2018). With hydrographic survey operations taking place in “no discharge” areas (close to shore), this could complicate and/or slow down the Thomas Jefferson’s progress.

Realizing the inefficiency and in an effort to improve, Thom investigated other options. It was decided that a fuel storage tank would be converted to hold more wastewater. After a long wait period, the new method was installed. Within the first season 38,000 gallons of sewage was stored and discharged to a shore treatment facility. Today, the tanks have gone almost two months without release into the Gulf of Mexico. This improvement has allowed hydrographic operations to continue without interruption, conserves fuel, and increases efficiency.

Renovations to the Thomas Jefferson did not stop there. Originally constructed in 1991, the ship has room for many other improvements. Thom and team advocated for all natural lubricants (rather than petroleum), switched all light fixtures to LEDs, and adjusted the ballast system. In 2016 the roughly 122,000 gallon ballast system changed from using sea to municipal water. This now allows the ship to move from multiple coastal waters without concern for carrying invasive species in the ballast tanks. In addition, the new waste water tank was strategically placed in the center of the ship to help with stability.

Ballast diagram
Ballast diagram showing invasive species risk. (CC)

Thom is an innovator and self-described incorrigible tinkerer. Many of these changes would not have been made without his (and team’s) desire and advocacy to make things better. When I asked if these upgrades were standard on ships, he mentioned that the Thomas Jefferson is a trailblazer.

Chief Engineer Thom Cleary
Chief Engineer Thom Cleary and the desalination/ reverse osmosis system. The RO typically operates at 650 psi (with 900psi maximum potential) and pushes sea water through a membrane creating potable water for the ship.

 

Personal Log

CO (Commanding Officer) authorized a launch on one of the boats. After some mishaps with a fuse, the crew performed multiple safety checks and we were cleared to go. Mission: collect survey data near a stationary platform. CO’s comfort level to obstructions with the main ship is a half-mile, so having the smaller launch boats is helpful when surveying areas like this.

Launch Boat Approach
The launch boat crew from left to right: Lt. Klemm, Kevin Brown, Pat Osborn, and Brandy Hill (below deck).

 

SurveyNearPlatform
Survey area near the stationary platform. The ship to the left is a supply vessel.

While cruising out to the survey area, I spoke with Pat Osborn, part of the Thomas Jefferson’s deck crew and our survey line driver for the day. Pat has two years of training and was explaining that he is still learning parts of his job. (Everyone on the ship wears multiple hats.) He spoke highly of his job and appreciated the multi-dimensional relationship between CO and the crew. Pat explained that CO is not expected to be an expert in all areas of the ship- there are safety checks (such as preparing for the launch) where the CO asks lead crew members to evaluate and sign-off prior to action. Every mission I’ve observed and attended has proceeded in this manner. It is a highly respectful and safe environment.

AllisonLaunchApproach
Chief Survey Technician, Allison Stone, awaiting launch boat arrival.

Launch Return to Ship
Patrick Osborn approaching ship Thomas Jefferson with the launch boat.

KevinDeployingCTD
Kevin Brown lowers the CTD while the boat is stationary. A CTD captures the salinity, temperature, depth, and concentration of particles in the water column. This information is used for analyzing the survey data. On the ship, this information is collected using an MVP which allows the ship to stay in motion.

As soon as we had the survey equipment set up and running, survey technician Kevin Brown brought out a fishing pole. I hadn’t realized that we could fish while out on the boat! We proceeded to catch and release about 10 tuna (likely False Albacore and Bonito). Kevin reeled in two, then passed the pole to me. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to real in a fish. I was reading that they can stay on the line and swim up to 40 mph!

Brandy reeling
Brandy Hill’s active line power stance.

False Albacore
Brandy Hill and her first fishing boat catch, False Albacore.

Peaks

 + Witnessed hard work and precision paying off- the launch boat survey data had an error of 0.0006 meters. The data is highly accurate!

+ Drove “the survey line” on the launch boat. (More of an explanation coming soon.)

+ Reeled in a beautiful, tough fish.

Note: After the seasickness subsided, I’ve decided to leave out the “Valleys” category. I’m having a great time.

Lisa Battig: Nome, Alaska & Launch 2808, August 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Alaska

Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Location: Port Clarence: 65o14.034N 166o43.072W

Weather on the bridge:
30+ knot winds, 42o F, 4ft seas, heavy stratocumulus clouds (9/10 coverage)

Science & Technology Log

Over the past two days I have been introduced to tremendous amounts of the science of hydrography. In this blog post I will focus on the hardware used and the process of surveying. There are two types of sonar that are being employed. The first is side scan sonar and the second is multibeam sonar.

Side Scan
Side scan array sonar housed underneath one of the small launch vessels

 

Side scan is shorter range and performs better in shallower water. Side scan is used in conjunction with multibeam, however, as side scan does not give true depth values. The function of side scan is to show features evident on the ocean floor. For this reason, multibeam is run in conjunction with side scan in order to keep an accurate record of depths.

Multibeam
Multibeam sonar housed underneath another of the small launch vessels

Multibeam shows an exact depth. Due to the fact that it is an angular spreading band from the center of the underside of the launch, at shallow depths it will only show a very narrow strip of ocean floor.


Stop and imagine…a lit flashlight shining on a wall from only a few centimeters away. What happens to the image on the wall as you pull the flashlight back? The area of coverage of the image will become larger. The concept is similar for the multibeam in shallow versus deeper water.


Using multibeam in shallow water then would create a need for more passes closer together in order to cover an area. There are instances where using this technology even in shallow water would make sense, but for a full coverage survey, this would not be the case.

CTD Image 2
A CTD; it contains sensors for conductivity, temperature and density of the water column

The third piece of hardware used for the standard small boat launch hydrographic surveys is the CTD device. The CTD will measure conductivity of the water and also give both a temperature and density profile. The CTD is deployed multiple times during a survey as a tool to calibrate the data that is coming in via the sonar. Conductivity of the water gives an estimate of the total dissolved solids in the water. This information, along with the temperature and density will give an estimate of sound speed through the water column.


Stop and try this one for better understanding… knock on a door normally with your head roughly arm’s distance from the point where you are knocking. Now repeat the process of knocking, but with your ear pressed against the door approximately an arm’s length away from the knock. What is different? You should have noticed that a more precise (and typically louder) sound reached your ear. If you pay close attention, you will also notice that the sound reaches your ear more quickly. This is roughly analogous to how changes in the water column will affect sound speed.


The final piece of equipment used regularly for surveys is a HorCon (horizontal control) station. This is a land-based station that will help to define accurate position in the water. It allows for greater precision with global positioning data. The signals of satellites responsible for global position are affected daily by changing atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the precise positions of the satellites themselves are actually not well known in advance. This may result in a GPS location moving a few centimeters in one direction or another. While this is not going to heavily impact your ability to find a Starbucks in a strip mall, it can have a definite impact on the accuracy of charts for navigation. The HorCon station always remains in the same place on land, and can therefore be used to calibrate the measurements being read in the survey waters nearby and that information can be used along with corrected satellite positions since it is coming after the fact.

Port Clarence chart
A nautical chart of the Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor area where we were surveying

Today we worked in Port Clarence, Alaska, both outside and inside of Grantley Harbor. Most of the depths being surveyed are in the 4-6 meter range. The particular area being surveyed had been previously surveyed in the 1950s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likely using a single beam sonar system. The current survey is intended to note changes that have occurred since that prior survey and to accurately update all of the charts. The area of western Alaska is expected to increase in boat traffic over the coming years due to the opening of the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic. This route is significantly shorter for most shipping traffic than the route through the Panama Canal. Because of this expected increase in traffic, there is a need to identify areas for sheltering during heavy seas. Port Clarence is a natural inlet that offers some protection and holds potential for this purpose.

The process of surveying:
Two launches were deployed. I was on launch 2808, the second described here. The first was equipped with only multibeam sonar and the second had both multibeam and side scan. The plans for the two launches were different. The launch with only multibeam was working in an area of Grantley Harbor and covering an area that had previously been mapped to insure that the values were acceptably accurate. This focus existed primarily because of extra time available up in this area. The launch running the side scan was completing some unfinished work in Port Clarence and then did further work inside of Grantley Harbor. These areas, or “sheets” are described below. As a side note, small boat deployment is a fascinating and involved activity that I will discuss in a later blog.

Survey areas are broken up into sections known as “sheets” – each sheet has a manager. This person will be from either the NOAA Corps or a civilian member of the scientific survey team. The sheet manager will be responsible for setting up the plan for survey and doing all of the final checks after data has been gathered, cleaned and examined to determine if there are areas that should be rechecked or run again before it is completed and undergoes final processing.

A sheet manager will need to consider several questions prior to setting up the initial parameters for the survey. What is the depth being surveyed? What type of bottom is it? What type of coverage is needed? All of these factors will come into play when determining how the lines will be run – how long, how far apart, which sonar type, etc.
Once the plan is determined, it will be the job of the Operations Officer, LT Damian Manda, to parse out the duties and create a daily work plan to cover all of the areas. Each day, multiple launches will be sent out to gather data as described above. As the fieldwork finishes for the day, data will be transferred to a drive and then brought into the ship’s mapping room where night processers will begin the lengthy work of checking and cleaning the data so that it can all be ready for the final processing step prior to being sent to the client.

HMarshburn at computer
Senior surveyor Hannah Marshburn at the computer terminal in launch 2808

How good are those data?
There are several checks built into the data collection process. First, the survey team members on the launches are watching in real time. With three screens to work from, they are able to see what the sonars are seeing and can also set certain limits for the data that will alarm when something appears to be contrary to what’s expected. Night processors look for anomalies in the data like sudden inexplicable drops in depth in an otherwise flat surface or an extremely “noisy” area with little good data. Any area with a former survey will also be compared to the previous values with large differences signaling possible issues. Many trained eyes look at the data before it is accepted for charting and there will commonly be at least one return to an area to check and recheck prior to completion. One area in the current survey has continued to show odd results, so trained NOAA divers will dive the area to find out what is really going on.

Personal Log

So far this has been an amazing experience. I fully enjoy being among the crew of the Fairweather and living on the ship. It’s hard to say what my favorite part has been so far because I have honestly enjoyed all of it! Since we didn’t get underway until Monday, I had the opportunity on Sunday to roam around Nome with a couple of the other folks that are just here for two weeks, LT Joe Phillips and LCDR Ryan Toliver. I learned a lot more about both the NOAA Corps and the Public Health Service of which they are respectively a part. (These are two of the seven uniformed services – can you name the other five?) NOAA Corps officers are in command on all of the active NOAA commissioned ships and aircraft and you will learn a lot more about them in future posts. The PHS is an organization made up primarily of medical professionals. These folks serve in various medical and medical research positions around the nation. There are many who will work for the National Institutes of Health in research, or the Bureau of Prisons or commissioned vessels like Fairweather as practitioners. Unlike NOAA Corps, PHS is not on a billet cycle where every two to three years you will be moved to a new position in a different office or location. Similar to all of the other uniformed services, though, promotion through the ranks is both encouraged and desired.

Traditional Boat - Nome
As we walked all around Nome, this was one of the sights – the frame of a traditional fishing boat.

We also saw the marker for the end of the Iditarod race. I was able to see the historic beginning in Seward, Alaska back in 2010, so seeing the end in Nome was an unexpected treat. Nome also has Cold War-era missile early warning system arrays at the top of a mountain nearby. We had a chance to hike around them and see some of the interesting geologic features of the area. There’s so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll stop here and save shipboard life for my next post.

Did You Know…

… that the Iditarod has its historic beginnings with the Public Health Service? There were many children in interior and western Alaska dying of diphtheria in the early 1920s. When it reached epidemic proportions, the only doctor in Nome reached out to the PHS in the lower 48 to ask for help. Vials of serum were found and sent north to Seward, but then because of heavy ice and storming, dog sled teams were used to get the vials to the interior towns and to Nome. The original race along the Iditarod Trail was run as a memorial to the “Serum Run” and eventually evolved into the highly competitive race it is today.

Helen Haskell: Data Acquisition Through Small Boat Surveying, June 12, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West of Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 12, 2017

Weather Data:

Temperature: 13°C

Wind 12 knots, 230° true

10 miles visibility

Barometer: 1016 hPa

90% cloud cover at 2000 feet

Location:  Dall Island, AK  54° 54.5’N  132°52.1W

 

Science and Technology Log:

The role of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys in order to acquire data to be used in navigational charts. While the Fairweather has sonar equipment and collects lots of data in transit, much of the data collected on a daily basis is by using smaller boats, with a rotating crew of 3-4 people per boat. The Fairweather will sail to the research area and drop anchor, and for multiple days crews will use these smaller vessels to collect the raw data in an area.

 

“Sonar” was originally an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging, but it has become a word in modern terminology. The boats contain active sonar devices used by the NOAA scientists to calculate water depth, document the rocks, wrecks and kelp forests, and in general, determine hazards to boats. Ultimately their data will be converted in to navigational charts – but there is a significant amount of work and stages to be undertaken to make this a reality.

Attached to the small boats are Kongsberg Multi Beam Echo Sounders (MBES). These devices emit sound waves in to the water. The waves fan out and reflect off the bottom of the sea floor and return to the MBES. Based on the time it takes for the MBES to send and receive the sound waves, the depth of the sea floor can be calculated. As the boat moves through the water, thousands of pieces of data are collected, and collectively a picture of the sea floor can be built.

IMG_0356
The pink line is the sea floor

It sounds simple, right? But I am beginning to understand more about the complexities that go in to a project of this scope. It would seem simple perhaps, to drive a boat around, operate the MBES and collect data. As I have quickly come to understand, there is a lot more to it.

As mentioned before, due to the weather conditions in the geographic area of study and routine maintenance, the Fairweather has a field season, and a dry dock season. During the non-field season time, data is analyzed from the previous seasons, and priorities and plans are made for the upcoming seasons. Areas are analyzed and decisions made as to which regions the Fairweather will go to and sheets are determined. A sheet is a region within the project area. Each sheet is broken up in to polygons. On any given day, one small boat will cover 1-3 polygons, depending on the weather, the complexity of the area, and the distance of travel from the Fairweather.

 

There are many parameters that the scientists need to consider and reconfigure to acquire and maintain accurate data collection. A minimum density of soundings (or ‘pings’) is required to make sure that the data is sufficient. For example, in shallow waters, the data density needs to be a minimum of five soundings per one square meter. At a greater depth, the area covered by the five soundings can be 4 square meters. This is due to the fact that the waves will spread out more the further they travel.

A coxswain will drive the boat in lines, called track lines, through the polygon. As the data is collected the ‘white chart’ they are working with begins to get colored in. Purple indicates deepest water. Green and yellow mean it’s getting less deep. Red indicates shallow areas, and black needs to be avoided. In the pictures below you can begin to see the data being logged visually on the map as the boat travels.

 

Make an analogy to mowing a lawn. There are areas of most lawns where it is easy to push the lawnmower in straight lines, more or less. The same can be said for here, to some extent. In the deeper waters, not close to shore, the boats can ‘color in’ their polygon using relatively wide swaths that allow the sonar data to overlap just slightly. Every time the boat turns to go back in the opposite direction, the MBES is paused, and then started again once the boat is in position, making a new track line. Close to the shore, referred to as near shore, there are usually more hazards. In these areas, speed is slowed. Due to the increased potential of rocks and kelp beds in an unknown area, the boats do something called half-stepping, in-effect overlapping the ‘rows’ – think about re-mowing part of that section of lawn, or mowing around tree trunks and flower beds. As a visual image comes up on the screen, the coxswain and the hydrographers can determine more where their next line will be and whether they should continue surveying that area, or if there are too many hazards.

IMG_0354
Data aquisition

Full coverage needs to be achieved as much as possible. At times this does not happen. This can be as the result of several factors. Kelp increases the complexity of data collection. Kelp often attaches to rocks, and there are large ‘forests’ of kelp in the areas being surveyed. As the sonar also ‘reads’ the kelp, it’s not possible to know the true location, size and depth of the rock the kelp is attached to, and in some instances, to determine if the kelp is free floating.

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Kelp

Steep slopes, rocks and kelp can also create ‘shadows’ for the MBES. This means that there are areas that no sounding reached. If possible the survey team will re-run a section or approach it from another angle to cover this shadow. At times, the rocky areas close to shoreline do not allow for this to be done safely.  A holiday is a term used by the survey crew to describe an area where data did not register or was missed within a polygon or sheet. During data collection, a day may be dedicated for boats to return to these specific areas and see if the data can be collected. On occasion, weather conditions may have prevented the original crew from collecting the data in the first place. Equipment malfunction could have played a role, as could kelp beds or hazardous rock conditions.

Survey crews are given several tools to help them navigate the area. Previous nautical charts are also superimposed on to the electronic chart that the surveyors are using. While many of these contain data that is out of date, it gives the crew a sense of what hazards in the area there may be. Symbols representing rocks and kelp for example are shown. The Navigable Area Limit Lines (NALL) are represented by a red line that can be superimposed on the map. Any area closer to shore than the NALL is not required to be surveyed.

 

 

IMG_0315
The red line is the Navigable Area Limit Line. Areas inland of this line do not need to be surveyed, as they are known to be entirely non-navigable.

On occasion, surveying will discover a Danger to Navigation (DTON). This might include a rock close to the surface in a deeper water area that is not shown on any map and which may pose imminent danger to mariners. In these instances these dangers are reported upon return to the Fairweather, and information is quickly sent to the Marine Chart Division’s Nautical Data Branch.

During the course of the day, the scientists are constantly checking the data against a series of parameters than can affect its accuracy. Some of these parameters include temperature, salinity of the water and the tide levels. More about these parameters will be discussed in later blog postings.

Personal log

The first part of the day involves the stewards getting coolers of food ready for the survey crew who will be gone all day. The engineers have fixed any boat issues from the previous day and re-fueled the boats and the deck crew have them ready to re-launch. A GAR score is calculated by the coxswain and the crew, to determine the level of risk for the days launch. The GAR score examines the resources, environment, the team selection, their fitness, the weather and the mission complexity. Each factor is given a score out of 10. Added up, if the total is 23 or less, the mission is determined ‘low risk’, 24-44 is ‘use extra caution’, and greater than 45 is high risk. On the first day I went on a boat, as a first timer, the GAR score was a couple of points higher in the ‘team selection’ section as I was new.

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Operational Risk Assessment Form

Another fascinating aspect of this research is the equipment on the ship needed to launch these small boats. Huge winches are needed to hoist the boats in and out of the water. Deck crew, with support from the survey crew are responsible for the boat hauling multiple times a day, and the engineers are on hand to fix and monitor the equipment.

After my first day out on the small boats, the data acquisition began not only to make more sense, but also my understanding of the complex factors that make the data collection feasible began to broaden. I had naively assumed that all the work was done from the Fairweather and that the Fairweather would be constantly on the move, rather than being anchored in one location or so for a few days. As we journeyed around small islands covered in Sitka spruce, I watched constant communication between the survey crew and the coxswain on the small boats. The survey crew are constantly monitoring the chart and zooming in and out so that the coxswain can get a better and safer picture of where to take the boat.   As well as watching the monitors and driving the boat, the coxswain is also looking ahead and around for hazards. There is a significant number of large floating logs ready to damage boats, and on occasion, whales that the boat needs to stay away from. It is a long day for all the crew.

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Bekah and Sam monitor the incoming data to communicate quickly with Nick, the coxswain.

Aside from learning about the data acquisition being on the small boat, one of the joys was to be closer to some of the wildlife. While I will go in to more detail in later entries, highlights included catching glimpses of humpback whales, families of sea otters, and harbor seal pups.

IMG_0362
Yes, I got to drive…in the purple area.

Fact of the day: 

While animals, such as bats, have been using sonar for thousands or millions of years, it wasn’t until the sinking of the Titanic that sonar devices were invented and used for the locating of icebergs.  During World War I, a French physicist, Paul Langévin, developed a tool to be able to listen for submarines. Further developments lead to sonar being able to send and receive signals. Since then, major developments in sonar technology have led to many different applications in different science fields.

Word of the day: Nadir

On small boat surveys, nadir is the term used to describe the ocean floor directly below the boat. It is the low point below the boat.   

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).

fullsizeoutput_16c

(Answer from previous blog: part of a section of a dumbbell from the Fairweather workout room)

 

Acronym of the Day

HIC: Hydrographer In Charge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Yaara Crane: My Morning on a Survey Launch, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013

survey boat on TJ
The survey boat is moving from its cradle on the deck of the TJ.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 

Latitude: 38.84°N
Longitude: 75.04°W

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed: 8.35 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 21.29°C
Air Temperature:  22.80°C
Relative Humidity: 82.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1011.36mb

hydro survey boat
The survey launch on its way

Todd and Yaara
I am talking with the HIC about the notations on the nautical chart for our survey grounds.

Science and Technology Log

As promised, today’s post is going to be about the Hydrographic Survey Launches. The Thomas Jefferson has two of these boats that are generally launched by 8:00am and return to the ship at 5:30pm. On Tuesday, my official role was Hydrographer in Training. I joined HIC Todd and Coxn Junior for a day of surveying on boat 3102. After a morning of seasickness, they returned me to the TJ around 11:30 to recuperate. However, I was still able to experience a little of what they do every day and the hilarious camaraderie between the two!

In general, the survey launches do the same work as the Thomas Jefferson, just on a smaller scale. The TJ can only drive on lines with a minimum depth of 30 feet, but the survey launches can go to a minimum depth of 12 feet which allows them to get much closer to shoals and the coast. Every morning, the launch survey teams have a meeting with the FOO and XO in the survey room to discuss logistics and safety. My boat was headed out to survey grounds on a new sheet near Cape May, New Jersey. Specifically, we were driving lines in the Prissy Wicks Shoal. This particular region has highly variable depths and created quite a challenge for the HIC and Coxn for two reasons: you cannot navigate in straight lines over shoals, and the shoals constantly change so you must drive slowly in case an area is shallower than charted.

HIC Todd
Todd is at his workstation in the cabin.

Todd has been a HIC for both the Rainier and the Thomas Jefferson. In this position, he was worked with many Teachers at Sea, and gave me lots of great resources to bring back to school. The HIC sits inside the cabin and makes sure that all of the equipment is working together and logging the correct data. Just like on the ship, he has an MBES, HYPACK, and POS-MV to help him do his job. However, unlike the ship, he does not have an MVP, and must launch a CTD every four hours to measure the sound velocity profile in the water column. Measuring the sound velocity profile is an important part of correcting the MBES data for improved accuracy. Remember, the equipment is very sensitive to changes in the water because the farther the sound waves travel, the more they are affected by changes in the density of the medium through which they travel.

Coxn
Junior is doing his best to keep us on the line

Junior’s job as Coxn is to work with the HIC to safely navigate the boat on the survey lines. The Coxn has a monitor controlled by the HIC to help him see the current chart and line. Junior gave me the opportunity to try driving, and I barely lasted 15 seconds before I was off the line! Tuesday was particularly complex because we were in a highly trafficked waterway, shoals appeared out of nowhere, and there was a very strong current around the cape. When another boat appears in the line, the Coxn must bring his boat to a standstill while staying on the line so that data collection does not have to stop. If the survey line goes over an area that is particularly shallow, a decision needs to be made about how to get around the shoal without hitting the bottom. A lot of good-natured yelling happens between the Coxn and HIC so that they can hear each other and be in constant communication.

Once the survey launch has returned to the main ship, the data is downloaded onto a server from which the hydrographers can move the data into CARIS. Eventually all of that data will be turned into a new nautical chart to help marine vessels maneuver through the waters.

survey lines
What looks like highlighting is the multi-beam data from the survey launches. The colors get warmer (red) as the depth gets shallower

Today’s Acronyms and Abbreviations (some old, some new)

HIC – Hydrographer in Charge

Coxn – Coxswain

FOO – Field Operations Officer

XO – Executive Officer

MBES – Multi-Beam Echo Sounder

MVP – Moving Vessel Profiler

HYPACK – Surprise, not an acronym! This is just the name of the software.

POSMV – Positioning Orientation System Marine Vessel

SSS – Side Scan Sonar

CTD – Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

CARIS – Computer-Aided Resource Information System. This software allows scientists to process the data that comes from HYPACK. Hypack collects data one line at a time, while CARIS allows you to combine the lines into a new nautical chart.

Prissy Wicks
The chart of Prissy Wicks Shoal shows the extreme changes in depths in a very small area.

Personal Log

Well, my bout of seasickness started about half an hour into my time on the survey launch. I started off in the cabin with the HIC, and the swells in the water got to me immediately. I spent the rest of the time on the deck with the Coxn trying to keep my eyes on the horizon. Through it all, I still managed to get a glimpse of some dolphins playing in the swells and saw many different types of boats and ships sailing around. When I was returned to the ship, I immediately felt better. However, the medical officer took precautionary measures and measured my blood pressure (totally normal, as usual for me) and prescribed 1.5 Liters of water before bed for the night. I took a nice long nap, and woke up in time for a delicious vegetable casserole for dinner. I am feeling back to 100% today, and hope to stay awake tonight. The TJ runs 24 hour operations, so I will pop by the bridge and survey rooms to see what it looks like after dark.

emergency signal
This sign is placed in each room as a reminder of what to do in case of emergencies.

Did You Know?

While at sea, it is required to perform at least one safety drill a week. Today, we had a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.

abandon ship suit
As part of my safety orientation, I had to put on the survival suit. I think I need a smaller size…

muster
My assigned muster locations for emergencies.

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.

John Schneider, July 12-13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 12-13, 2009

Position 
Anchored near Herendeen Island (55º 03.9N 159º 26.3W)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Drizzle, overcast, fog
Barometer: 1019.2 and falling
Wind: out of 070º at up to 15 knots
Temperature: 13.0º C
Sea State: 1-2 foot swells

Drawing of the Ewing mutiny from 1849
Drawing of the Ewing mutiny from 1849

Science and Technology Log 

Launches 1010 and 1018 were deployed on both days.  They were tasked with offshore and nearshore bathymetry in separate areas about 10-15 miles away.  These launch ops, as I mentioned earlier, are in areas too close to shore for the Fairweather to operate. In the afternoon the “fast rescue” boat (another of the Fairweather’s inflatables) was deployed to train another crew member as a coxswain, and the Ambar was again deployed to check another tide station.

It’s important to realize that every position on board the Fairweather requires both experience and training. For example, to become a QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Department) takes a minimum of two years training and apprenticeship.  The chefs (as I mentioned earlier) are all graduates of culinary programs.  As I continue to chat with crew and survey members, their educations and backgrounds are remarkably diverse, yet there is a common thread among them: they are immensely proud of the Fairweather and the work that’s done aboard her.

The history of coastal surveying dates back in the United States to the founding fathers.  In 1807 Thomas Jefferson called for a survey of all the coastal waters of the United States.  By the mid1800’s United States Coast and Geodetic Survey personnel were surveying waters on both coasts of the United States. An interesting – though tragic – footnote here is that in 1849 during the height of the California Gold Rush, there was a mutiny on board the Ewing, a hydrographic survey ship.  Five mutineers were convicted and sentenced to hang.  Ultimately three sentences were commuted to hard labor and the other two were hanged from the yardarms of two ships, the Ewing and the Savannah, in San Francisco Bay on October 23, about 40 days after the mutiny.

Coast surveyors did a great deal of work during the Civil War in both land campaigns and blockades of southern ports. They became particular targets of snipers.  In both World War I and World War II, Coast and geodetic Surveyors were transferred to the Army, Navy and Marines for their expertise in navigation, engineering, hydrography and vessel operations.

In 1970 under President Nixon, several fisheries agencies and the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) were combined into one agency under the domain of the Department of Commerce.  This was the “birth” of NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  There are seven major branches within NOAA: the branch that oversees the Fairweather is the National Ocean Service and more specifically, the Office of Coast Survey.  I’ve had folks ask me why Hydrographic research should be under the Department of Commerce and not the Coast Guard or Navy. Consider the following data.  The marine transportation system in the United States has

  1. 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline 
  2. 25,000 miles of navigable channels 
  3. 326 public/private ports 
  4. 3700 marine terminals 
  5. Supports 13M jobs, 
  6. 78M recreational boaters 
  7. 110,000 commercial/recreational fishing vessels 
  8. 95% of U.S. foreign trade in/out by ship.

All totaled, the marine industry represents a contribution of almost $750 BILLION a year to America’s Gross Domestic Product.  That’s 3/4 of a TRILLION dollars. Sounds like Commerce to me! All top level organizations have a means for their people to understand their place as a part of a greater whole. This is clearly described below.

Vision 
Customers have accurate and timely information to navigate and manage U.S. coastal waters.

Mission 
Acquire, integrate, and manage the Nation’s marine information for nautical charting and coastal applications.

Slogan 
Navigate with confidence.

Personal Log 

I was not on the boats that went out today and due to the fog and the fact that Fairweather’s size will not be needed until we move further south tomorrow.  It gave me some time to reflect on the type of people with whom I am working.  Tami Beduhn, a survey technician, gave me several powerpoint files related to the mission of the Fairweather from which I gleaned the brief history above.

I had a couple of chats today with personnel on board – one of the chefs, a member of the engine department, Tami and a few others.  The overarching impression that is inescapable is that they are proud of what they do and of how well they do it. After dinner this evening there was a 1/2 hour presentation on the intricacies of the data acquisition programs and how our field work affects the software and vice versa.  It was an open professional forum where questions were dealt with in a collegial fashion.  Schools and educators are moving in the direction of professional learning communities (PLC’s) as a means of improving.  On the Fairweather, a professional learning community isn’t a technique.  It’s a way of life.

Questions for You to Investigate 

  1. Does your school have a stated Mission, Vision and Slogan?
  2. How, as a student, could the idea of working together help you be more successful?
  3. Are you a member of a professional learning community where you work?

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.

 

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.

Richard Coburn, July 31, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 17 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 31, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 325 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Seawater Temperature 13.9 degrees Celsius
Sea level Pressure: 10009.2 millibars
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology log

Flora and Fauna 

Some very interesting features here in Alaska are the rocks and the various shapes and textures that they form as well as the animals that inhabit the environment.  Below are some pictures illustrating this.

The rugged coastline is abruptly ends with this beautiful cliff. There are so many wonderful vistas I have captured on this trip, each one more breathtaking than the last.
The rugged coastline is abruptly ends with this beautiful cliff. There are so many wonderful vistas I have captured on this trip, each one more breathtaking than the last.

Seals lying on a rock out cropping.
Seals lying on a rock out cropping.

Two eagles perched on the branch of a tree on a tiny island in the Bay of Escobelie
Two eagles perched on the branch of a tree on a tiny island in the Bay of Escobelie

A young deer watching intently from an island while our launch takes readings of the water depth.
A young deer watching intently from an island while our launch takes readings of the water depth.

Haul out-rocks and beaches where seals come ashore to rest or molt. This haul out was located near Timber Island. The seals watched us but did not seem to react as we got closer to the area to survey it. The waves were not large but there was lots happening here so the crew and I were very mindful of not only the animals around us but also the rocks that we could see and we were constantly on the lookout for those we could not see.
Haul out-rocks and beaches where seals come ashore to rest or molt. This haul out was located near Timber Island. The seals watched us but did not seem to react as we got closer. The waves were not large but there was lots happening here so the crew and I were very mindful of not only the animals around us but also the rocks that we could see and we were constantly on the lookout for those we could not see.

Humpback whale feeding. The humpbacks often entrap prey using “bubble nets” to corral prey in a smaller area and consume them. I am very grateful to my TAS colleague Ginger Redlinger for letting me use this picture of a humpback whale. She took beautiful video of the humpbacks while we were both out on the RAINER. She kindly shared this picture with me and I would like to include it here.
Humpback whale feeding. The humpbacks often entrap prey using “bubble nets” to corral prey in a smaller area and consume them. I am very grateful to my TAS colleague Ginger Redlinger for letting me use this picture of a humpback whale. She took beautiful video of the humpbacks while we were both out on the RAINER. She kindly shared this picture with me and I would like to include it here.

This was truly an awesome adventure.  I cannot wait to share this with my students, family, friends and colleagues.

Richard Coburn, July 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 16 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 26, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 325 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Seawater Temperature 13.9 degrees Celsius
Sea level Pressure: 10009.2 millibars
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology log

I wondered how the survey technicians know they are in the right place and they continue to be in the right place while the data is collected.  The short answer is satellites or GPS.  While this was explained to me, here is the official info regarding known location, as explained by NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory:

“Global Positioning System. GPS was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense to tell us basically three things: where we are, how to get where we want to be, and what time it is right now. This is commonly referred to as “PNT” which stands for positioning, navigation, and timing. GPS is a “dual-use” system in that it has both military and civilian applications. To facilitate the development of civilian applications, the U.S. Government makes the radio signals broadcast by the GPS satellites available to every user free of fees. As a result of this policy, a multi-billion dollar industry has developed to exploit the benefits of GPS for civilian applications. For example, a commercial GPS navigation system in your car tells you where you are on an electronic map that is constantly updated as you move. Computer software in the navigation system tells you the best route to take to get to your destination. Wireless communications between your navigation system and a traffic management system tell you the best route to take to avoid delays or hazards.”

To find out more about the GPS please go to the following link where I found the above paragraph: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/news/2007/gps/ 

The launches can only collect data when there are a minimum of five satellites receiving and transmitting in orbit above the area that is being surveyed.  The use of five satellites lessens the chance that the information may be skewed by a distortion from one of the satellites.

The survey launch collects data from the sonar device that is located in the bottom of the ship; the computers assemble the feedback on board the launch and continually retransmit that data via satellite back to the RAINIER and it is processed during the evening hours.  The work runs right through the night, with technicians working to ensure the sonic images are transferred into a coherent chart.

This photo was taken looking over the shoulder of the coxswain who is in charge of the boat and steers the boat to keep it on the desired course. The orange airplane icon shows the direction of the boat and keeps the launch on the survey lines designated by the survey tech in the forward cabin.
This photo was taken looking over the shoulder of the coxswain who is in charge of the boat and steers the boat to keep it on the desired course. The orange airplane icon shows the direction of the boat and keeps the launch on the survey lines designated by the survey tech in the forward cabin.

The areas today have not been surveyed in the past eighty years.  Obviously the technology has changed markedly since the last survey.  To view more about historical surveys click the following NOAA link.

http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/foundations/mapping/welcome.html#intro 

I finally had a chance to pilot the launch and of course it looked far easier to do than when I tried it myself.  It seemed like a simple task, to keep the nose, or bow, of the boat on the specific course and while I understood it well enough my attempts were often less than perfect.  The sea was clam with negligible wave height.  The wind was perceivable but not a large influence.  The current was strong but steady and predictable.  The route was clearly indicated on the screen in front of me and yet I could not hold the course steady enough (at least not well enough to collect valid data).  Perhaps I was being too hard on myself: most annoying was the bow of the boat would head in the direction that I wanted it to but the stern of the boat (reacting to the force of the currents) dragged in a way that caused me to simultaneously both over and under compensate for the action.  That coupled with the fact that I had no island or land point of reference made this experience a challenge.  With the help of Mr. Foye, I was given some expert coaching that allowed me to get into a zone. I was in a pattern of both over and under steering and each correction brought me further away from where I wished to be.  I learned that you develop a feel for this sort of thing and while I tried my best, I knew it would take many days of practice before I developed competency navigating this boat.

Launch approaching the RAINIER at the end of a day.
Launch approaching the RAINIER at the end of a day.

As the launch approaches the RAINIER, the person near the bow of the launch has a line ready to throw to the crew on board the ship (same in the stern).  The crew on the larger ship needs to hold the launch so it doesn’t bang into the RAINIER.  RAINIER then lowers two cables to attach to the launch (one on the bow and one on the stern).  The cables are hooked onto large shackles and when all is secured the signal is given to the operator to hoist up the launch.  There is only one person signaling to the operator on the ship.  If there is ever a problem, naturally anyone can alert the crew of the problem but there is always only one person signaling to ensure safety of all.

Richard Coburn, July 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 17 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 18, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind directions: 325 degrees
Wind Speed: 10 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Seawater Temperature 13.9 degrees Celsius
Sea level Pressure: 10009.2 millibars
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology log

Most days start at 6:30 am with breakfast served promptly at 7:00.  We then get our protective gear on for our days work on the smaller boats.  The gear consist of what is called a “float coat” which is basically a brightly orange colored jacket designed to keep the wearer afloat and warm in the water should they accidentally fall in.  We also wear hard hats and when hoisting the launch, a life jacket, and ear protection (the diesel engines are very loud when underway).  The boats are located on top of the ship and they are lowered into the water using a series of hoists or cranes depending on the boat and where they are located.

The CTD, ready to go down to the depths
The CTD, ready to go down to the depths

At 8:00 am there is a morning meeting on the fantail of the ship (this is a large area on the back of the vessel).  The meeting involves most of the senior officers as well as the crew that will be directly involved in the day’s operation.  The commanding officer speaks first, he will give everyone data regarding the weather and his best guess as what to expect out on the water he then turns the meeting over to another officer who will detail the plans that he has worked on more fully with the rest of the crew.  Lastly the chief engineer will recount the basics of what boat will launch first and reiterate the constant vigilance regarding safety.

I feel very comfortable on the water and extremely safe with this crew.  This is likely because of the constant checking and rechecking of systems and personnel that continually occurs.  The entire crew is mindful that the safety of one depends upon the persistent and sometimes annoyingly extreme attention to detail.  Accidents most often happen when people get too lax or over confident, are tired or in a rush.  Accidents even happen when none of the situations are present which is why the constant mindfulness is so important.

This is a truly collaborative effort.  If one person in the lineup fails to do their job the mission risks failure: someone else has to step in and do the job of the person missing as well as their own.    Deck hands ensure that the boat is fueled and has the necessary equipment on board and is in working order.  Engineers check the engines and the electrical equipment and the kitchen staff prepare the lunches and snacks to take on board.  When the launches are out they are usually deployed for the whole day.  Everything must be ready in the launch for the entire day otherwise the mission risks failure.

Andy (an intern from Penn State) monitors the computer screens to ensure that the data collected is valid and usable.  This picture is from the interior of the launch.
Andy (an intern from Penn State) monitors the computer screens to ensure that the data collected is valid and usable. This picture is from the interior of the launch.

Our job on most days is to get on the launch and survey the area that the larger ship could not safely operate in.   The larger ship the RAINIER takes up far too much draft (the water the hull displaces when the boat is underway).  This does not mean that the RAINIER is simply sitting idly by while the launches do the work.  The ship also runs back and forth patterns in the area and it too collects data.  The larger and smaller launches are always on the lookout for any hazards to navigation, other boats or any marine life-like a whale and make sure that collisions do not occur.

TAS Redlinger underway for the morning survey
TAS Redlinger underway for the morning survey

Once we arrive at the survey area we need to prepare the CTD cast.  CTD is a device that measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, and salinity of the water about to be surveyed.  This establishes a baseline for the work in the area.  If a survey is going longer than four hours a new baseline must be established.  This test establishes a sound profile that shows exactly how the fast the sonar beams travel in the water under the specific conditions at the time.  This information is critical to maintain accurate and credible data.  The procedure is simple, first, the CTD is attached to a rope turned on and warmed up, next the device is lowered in the water and data is collected.  It is then lowered to the bottom of the sea and more data is collected.  Once the CTD is brought back from the ocean, the information is then uploaded to a computer on board and a new baseline is established.  This information is then embedded into the sonar data collected for the day’s survey.  All information collected is held against this baseline to ensure the delivery of clean, accurate information for the new charts.

Tide marker on the left of boat, me facing coxswain and biologist.  We stopped to check out the tide monitoring equipment today.
Tide marker on the left of boat, me facing coxswain and biologist. We stopped to check out the tide monitoring equipment today.

The best part of this trip is that I traveled with another teacher who teaches Science in Oregon.  TAS Redlinger is a wonderful lady who shared with me all of the photos she took while she was out too.  Often we would spend time sharing what we had done the during the day and what was in store the following day.

Richard Coburn, July 17, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 17 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 17, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Temperature: 56 degrees
Wave height: negligible
Cloud: Cloudy and Fog
Visibility: ¼ mile or less

Science and Technology log

This morning the ship navigating in water that is very tricky, we were in a very narrow area and the crew had to make sure that not only we got through safely and other vessels did not run into us.  Because the fog was so thick, horns, bells and radar are all in use.  The technology is not enough one watch at the bow of the ship used to ensure we hit nothing and nothing hit us.   There are also folks in the bridge monitoring the situation.

The RAINIER navigating through the area.  You can see through the fog there is a large rocky outcropping.
The RAINIER navigating through the area. You can see through the fog there is a large rocky outcropping.

The watch stands at the bow of the boat and if he looks for anything amiss he will notify the bridge via a low tech device (a tube with a lid on it is connected to the bridge and in the area he is standing) he lifts up the tube and can speak directly to the bridge.  The bridge is the command center where many of the officers and most of the navigation and communication are located.  This is where the ship is steered and managed.

Standing watch
Standing watch

The four black windows you can see in the picture are the bridge this is only a small portion of the bridge it is a large space.
The four black windows you can see in the picture are the bridge this is only a small portion of the bridge it is a large space.

I am in awe the way the entire crew goes about their daily business.  Back East, we go off to work our jobs for an eight hour day and then return home afterward. The men and women of the RAINIER don’t get this luxury.  They live aboard this ship and have to work at building and maintaining the community. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.

The remains of less successful vessel while navigating the area.  I was told that this was once a tugboat.
The remains of less successful vessel while navigating the area. I was told that this was once a tugboat.

There is work that must be preformed twenty four hours a day seven days a week.  If there is a fire onboard help will be called but it may take hours or days for help to arrive.  Emergencies must be taken care of by the people on board the ship.  Safety is a major concern, and to that end the officers and crew work together to make sure that everyone onboard understand their job in the event of an emergency.  Training is constant here.  There is a good mixture between folks that have less than one year experience aboard ship and others that have almost thirty.  The more experienced people on board teach the less experienced how to do things safely and efficiently.

Gender bias does not appear to exist in the positions that individuals hold.  Women work both as deck hands right up to the second in command of the entire ship.  It is striking that both women and men hold positions in both the officer corps as well as throughout the operations of the vessel.  Much of the equipment that is aboard this ship weighs several tons.  When the ship is underway, (in operation) there are additional considerations that make this environment much different from being on land.  The ocean movement causes the ship to react and each reaction has a term.  The ship moves in many ways, the three main ones are pitch, roll and heave.  Pitch is when the ship moves from Forward to Aft (front to back).  Roll is when the ship moves from port to starboard (left to right or vice versa).  Heave is when the ship moves in an up and down motion.  This does not even begin to take into account the effects of tide, wind, drift or other ships or obstacles that are at play when underway.

Moving a launch requires careful communication as well as good rigging skills.  A constant vigilance is also mandatory.
Moving a launch requires careful communication as well as good rigging skills. A constant vigilance is also mandatory.

Jodie operates the crane that is used to lower the launch into the water; she is signaled with both verbal and visual commands.
Jodie operates the crane that is used to lower the launch into the water; she is signaled with both verbal and visual commands.

There are hoist and davits that swing equipment overhead that could easily crush or kill a person or hopelessly destroy valuable equipment. Safety precautions are rigorously followed and training is in an ongoing evolution.   Simply put, if the entire crew did not keep a constant vigilance not only for themselves but for their shipmates and guests, disaster could strike at any time.  There is a pervasive attitude aboard the RAINIER involves everyone watching out for each other.

Personal log,

Women play an important role on board the ship.  They fill all sorts of positions that may not be considered traditional by some standards.  Many of the officers on board are women and even lots of the able bodied seamen are women.

Amy, a survey technician operates the radio on the launch to maintain communication with the RANIER while operating miles from the ship.
Amy, a survey technician operates the radio on the launch to maintain communication with the RANIER while operating miles from the ship.

On the bow of the launch, an able bodied seaman must first throw the line to a tender on board and then get hold of a lowering hook to attach the hook to the launch to hoist back on board the ship.  This all takes place in Open Ocean while the ship and launch are underway and the boats are reacting to the elements.

Ready to reattach to the Rainier
Ready to reattach to the Rainier

Richard Coburn, July 16, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 16 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 16, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Temperature: 56 degrees
Wave height: negligible
Cloud: Cloudy and Fog
Visibility: ¼ mile or less

Personal Log 

The commute from Hartford, Connecticut to Juneau, Alaska was very long. I began my journey by saying good bye to my wife and three young daughters; they understood for the next three weeks, I was starting an awesome adventure.  The plane took off from Bradley international airport at 12:10 p.m. and we headed to Detroit Michigan.  Laid over in Detroit for an hour and then transferred to another flight to Seattle, Washington. In Seattle I transferred to an entirely different airline to arrive in Ketchikan, Alaska from there we flew to Juneau, the time in Alaska was 1:35 am very dark yet comfortably warm. My travel plans were quite clear but a bit complicated.  I boarded a flight to Detroit, then to Seattle, next to Ketchikan, Alaska and finally Juneau, Alaska.

The ship is equipped with two General Motors EMD diesel engines that transmit 1,200 horse power each. These engines are forty years old and they still run reliably and are kept remarkably clean
The ship is equipped with two General Motors EMD diesel engines that transmit 1,200 horse power each. These engines are forty years old and they still run reliably and are kept remarkably clean

The first thing I learned was that while the tickets indicate the gate to arrive in, and where to board the next plane, these are only best guesses, often changes happen at airports so flexibility and vigilance is critical. Airports handle all sorts of air traffic with myriad of travel conditions.  If one flight is delayed it impacts others and causes shifts in the gates.  The gate often changes so it is wise to check the ticket (which was printed hours earlier) to ensure it still has valid information on it. Changes happen and it is better to be safe by checking (at the individual airport gate) rather than wait in the wrong area and miss a flight.

In Seattle, I discovered the information on the ticket was inaccurate I had to move via subway to the new gate.  The plane then was delayed due to weather conditions in Ketchikan; we boarded an hour and a half later than scheduled.  We touched down in Juneau at 12:05am but I was still operating on east coast time (it is four hours later on the east coast). Obviously I was very tired. When we arrived many of the passengers were surprised to discover that their luggage had not been placed on the plane.  I was among those without luggage.  Should this happen to you, I recommend the following.

First, do not panic, while I was getting upset, I had to keep my emotions in check.  There is much the clerk can do to help me but I first must provide the details, if I expressed my frustration and dissatisfaction with them (I noticed other passengers doing this) it would only make matters worse.  They collected my information and I headed to the motel.  I was trying to problem solve my situation by imaging different scenarios in the event that my luggage was not found.  One of my major concerns was could I find size fourteen boots in Juneau, Alaska on a Sunday afternoon.

Starboard Engine with one valve cover removed
Starboard Engine with one valve cover removed

Eureka!  My luggage was found and within a few hours it was delivered to me at the hotel intact. Now on to the ship! The ship is very large and stable. Here is a link to show you some of the particulars of the RAINER.

Science and Technology Log 

Ship Info 

  • The RAINER has a cruising Speed of 12.5 knots
  • Range is 5898 Nautical miles
  • Fuel capacity is 107,000 gallons
  • Fuel type #2 Diesel
  • Fuel consumption 120 gallons per hour

I have been given a tour of the engine room by my roommate Chris Zacharias; he works as an oiler in the engine room.

coburn_log1
Chris Zacharias, my bunkmate, gave me a tour of the engine room.

Chris works maintaining the equipment on the smaller launches as well as working primarily in the engine room but he has responsibilities located all around the ship.  Interestingly enough this is normal procedure for the entire crew.  While on land we have individual who specialize in only one thing.  Out on the open ocean it is not uncommon for the folks to do many different tasks; in fact everyone has to develop an intuition and recognition of the inter-dependence of the entire community.  Chris was kind enough to show me the engine room.  He did so with an obvious pride, he has pride in his work and he demonstrates this pride with his enthusiasm for his work aboard the RAINIER.

The first thing that struck me was how clean the engine room was. Everything was stowed away and neat.  The apparent care and planning as well as tremendous attention to detail was evident every where I looked. All the surfaces are painted and clearly marked. Even the piping has tags on them.  All the valves are labeled for easy recognition.  There is no visible grease or grime anywhere. Click the following link to get more info about the engine room.

http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra/specs/engineer.htm 

Barney Peterson, August 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 24, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  8 nm
Wind direction:  300˚ true
Wind speed:  15 kts (gusts to 50 kts)
Sea wave height: 2 ft
Seawater temperature: 9.4˚C
Sea level pressure:  1003.5 mb
Cloud cover: Cloudy

Seaman Surveyor Erik Davis signals “Stop” with a closed fist while boat RA-3 is being lowered to the water.
Seaman Surveyor Erik Davis signals “Stop” with a closed fist while boat RA-3 is being lowered to the water.

Science and Technology Log 

One very important aspect of working on the RAINIER is communication.  To get the job done everyone needs to communicate clearly and effectively.  This extends into every part of working and living on the ship. Communication is by voice, flags, and hand signals. People talk face-to-face, by radio, bells, Public Address system, posted notices, and by email.  For every form of communication there are certain “right” ways to participate.

Voice communication is much more formal on the bridge where orders and responses have to do with running the ship. When a command is given by the Conning Officer or the Officer of the Deck, it is repeated by the person to whom it was given followed by the response, “aye.” That person then repeats the command again to indicate it has been accomplished, and the person who gave the order acknowledges that by saying “Very well.” Since there are often at least two people carrying out different commands on the bridge at the same time, it is very important that this procedure is followed so the person in charge knows that orders have been heard and followed.

When members of the Deck, Engine, Survey, or Galley crews address the NOAA Corps officers and department heads on the ship, they call them by rank and name, or just by rank. The Commanding Officer is always addressed as “Captain” or “CO,” and the Executive Officer is always addressed as “XO” or by rank and last name.  Department heads should be addressed as “Chief.”  This formality helps avoid confusion in following the chain of command, the organization that keeps the ship running smoothly.

Flags are used as signals to people off the ship about what is going on.  At anchor a Union Jack is flown on the bow from the jack staff.  A black “anchor ball” is raised on the forward bow stay (line), and the Stars and Stripes flies from the aft mast.  The ship’s commission pennant always flies from the forward mast.  When the ship is refueling, a red flag is flown from the forward mast on the port side.  When the ship is under way, a smaller-sized Stars and Stripes and the NOAA service flag are flown.  Our nation’s flag is always flown from the aft mast and the service flag is on the forward mast.  Other special flags are flown when certain VIPs come on board and are taken down when they leave.

TAS Peterson in her survival suit during an Abandon Ship drill. The wind was gusting up to 30 knots so we reported to our indoor donning stations.
TAS Peterson (right) in her survival suit during an Abandon Ship drill. The wind was gusting up to 30 knots so we reported to our indoor donning stations.

The ship’s radios are used for important voice communication.  The protocol is for the speaker to give the call sign (code) for the person to whom they are speaking, followed by their own identifying call sign. Communication via radio is very direct, in as clear language as possible, and never uses the civilian law-enforcement 10-code language.  To indicate that a person has received and will comply with a message, the response is “Roger.” These radio communications are very important on the RAINIER during the day when survey boats are working away from the ship on hydrographic surveying.  It is important for the boats and the ship to stay in touch for both safety and efficiency.

When survey boats are being lowered or raised to the ship or when the anchor is being raised crew members reinforce voice communication with specific hand signals as well. When launches (survey boats) are being raised and lowered a closed fist means “Stop!”  The index finger on a closed hand pointing up or down shows the direction for winches to move the boat. Different signals are used for operating the cranes on the bow and stern of the ship, using the thumbs, and different motions of the hands with either the index finger, or the first two fingers extended. It is important for all crewmembers to understand the signals and watch for them because machinery is sometimes noisy, making it hard to clearly hear voice commands.

It is very important for everyone on the ship to learn the bell signals that are used.  They are to alert the officers and crew to emergencies and they demand immediate responses.  Upon coming aboard the ship, each person is given a safety briefing and assigned emergency muster stations for response during drills and emergencies.  When the alarm bell rings (or the ship’s whistle sounds) 7 short and 1 long, followed by the announcement “Prepare to Abandon Ship” on the PA system, all personnel report immediately to their Abandon Ship stations wearing a jacket, long pants and a hat, and carrying their survival suit and whatever specific supplies have been put on the personal assignment.  At least once each cruise there is a drill when everyone dons their survival suits and checks whistles, zippers and lights to be sure they are working.

The Fire/Emergency signal is a continuous sounding of the ship’s bell (or whistle) for at least 10 seconds, followed by an announcement about the specific emergency.  All personnel must immediately report to their muster stations wearing their floatation (Mustang) coats.  The person in charge at a muster station accounts for each person and reports that all are or are not accounted for.  The radio is used to dispatch particular crews to their assigned Fire/Emergency responsibilities.  Dismissal is by 3 short whistle blasts or bells followed by the announcement “Secure from fire/emergency.”

Three long bells or whistle blasts followed by the announcement “Man Overboard, port/starboard side!” is the signal for all personnel to report to Man Overboard muster stations immediately.  This enables roll to be taken to identify who is missing and emergency recover procedures to be initiated. All of these signals, whether for drills or actual emergencies, are taken very seriously. Everyone practices the drills at least once per week so that the ship’s personnel can respond immediately with the least possible confusion.

The other two forms of communication used on the ship are posted notices and email messages.  Each person on the ship has an email account with a NOAA address.  The CO regularly posts bulletins of general interest such as the weather forecast, general orders, or information from fleet headquarters on policy and procedures.  Officers and crew use the email for interpersonal communications and it is also available for limited personal use. There are notices posted regularly on the ship’s bulletin boards that all personnel are responsible for reading. These include the Plan of the Day (POD: work schedule and assignments) and more general schedules such as hours the store and the dispensary are open. The menus for meals are posted in the mess and the movies being shown are listed each evening.

Each of these forms of communication is very important to the people aboard the RAINIER. It is impressive to see how well they work.  Nobody mumbles or takes shortcuts. I have not heard anyone answer “uhn-hunh” or “uhnt-unh” nor have I seen anyone respond to another person with headshakes or shrugs.

Personal Log 

Today the weather was windy and wet as a low pressure system passed over us.  The storm actually started last night and got pretty rough.  We were anchored in a sheltered bay so we didn’t get the worst of the winds.  Even so, there were gusts up to almost 60 knots. I woke up several times hearing the anchor chain rub loudly against the hull as the wind spun the ship around. The movement of the ship was pleasant to sleep to.

This seemed like a great morning to catch a nap as I had been up really late last night cleaning fish. I had just settled in to sleep when the Fire/Emergency bell sounded.  (At first I thought recess was over!) I jumped off my bunk, grabbed my coat and hat, and was half-way outside when they announced we should disregard the bell, there was no emergency.  About an hour later, the bell rang again and it was an F/E drill for real so I grabbed my Mustang coat and sped to my muster station on the fantail.  We were outside in the very fresh air for about 20 minutes while they accounted for all personnel and completed the steps of drill.

Just after lunch there was an Abandon Ship drill and we were told to report to our “indoor donning” areas to put on survival suits and check that all parts worked properly.  I struggled into my “Gumby” suit, stretched on my fleece hat, blew on my signaling whistle and flipped my strobe light on and off.  Everything worked fine.  Those suits are very warm when you are inside and I was really happy to take it off and repack it into its carrying bag.

Question of the Day 

What is the temperature of the water in degrees Fahrenheit in the Gulf of Alaska if the daily log reports it at 9.4˚Celsius?

Kim Wolke, August 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 9, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

Port-side engine on the NOAA ship RAINIER
Port-side engine on the NOAA ship RAINIER

Science and Technology Log

Since I’ve been aboard the RAINIER, I’ve wondered how the ship has been able to go for so long on fuel and water given that we are at sea for 19 days.  I also wanted to know what happens to all of the sewage we’ve been creating. I spoke with 1st Assistant Engineer Glen Quintino and General Vessel Assistants (GVA) Chris Zacharias and Milton Ellison from the Engineering Department to find out.  There are 2 engines on the ship, one on the starboard side and one on the port side. The engines run on diesel fuel.  There are 26 diesel fuel tanks on the ship with a total capacity of approximately 114,000 gallons.  Since there’s a lot of added weight from the fuel, as it’s used, the fuel needs to be moved around from tank to tank to keep the weight evenly distributed. Although the RAINIER does not use all of the fuel on a leg as long as this one, they do re-fuel when they get into port.

One of the two evaporators on the NOAA ship RAINIER which processes salt water into fresh water
One of the two evaporators on the NOAA ship RAINIER which processes salt water into fresh water

Fresh water is made on board the ship.  There are two water tanks, each with a capacity of about 8000 gallons. Salt water is pumped into the ship from below and heated to a very high temperature in the evaporator in order to evaporate the water and leave the solid salt behind. Once the salt is removed and disposed of, the desalinated water is then further purified by the addition of bromine and used as fresh water on the ship for drinking, cooking, and bathing.  I’ve been drinking it since I arrived and it’s great!  The toilets do not use freshwater; they use salt water to flush everything out.  Any of the sewage waste created aboard the ship is also treated. The sewage is literally electrocuted using a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD).  Between the salt in the sewage water and the electricity, sodium hypochloride (essentially chlorine) is created.  The treated sewage is placed in a holding tank and then pumped into the sea.

The Marine sanitation Device (MSD) which treats the sewage produced aboard the NOAA ship RAINIER
The Marine sanitation Device (MSD) which treats the sewage produced aboard the NOAA ship RAINIER

Who’s Who On the RAINIER? 

In the Engineering Department, the 1st Assistant Engineer is Glen Quintino.  Currently a resident of Seattle, WA, Glen is originally from California.  He has been with NOAA for six years, first working on the NOAA Ship McARTHUR before joining the RAINIER.  Glen went to a trade school in Denmark to study being a machinist.  He then worked for a company that made non-ferrous propellers, oil filters, and ship windows before joining NOAA in 1998. Glen was recently married in February 2006.

Engineering GVA Chris Zacharias and GVA Milton Ellison were both in the Navy in their former lives, each for 10 years. Chris is from Kansas where he still resides with his wife. Milton is originally from Tennessee, however, his residence is currently Michigan where his wife’s family is from.  Milton has been with NOAA and on the RAINIER for 4 months.  His prior experience was working in Engineering on commercial vessels in the Great Lakes area.

Many of the crewmembers, like Glen, Chris, and Milton, are married or have significant others at home.  Almost everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that one of the most challenging parts of their job is to be away from their loved ones for extended periods of time, especially the ones on board who are newlyweds.

RAINIER's First Assistant Engineer, Glen Quintino
RAINIER’s First Assistant Engineer, Glen Quintino

Personal Log 

We continue our journey back to Seward, AK traveling at approximately 13 knots.  It feels like we’re speeding compared to the speeds we were going for the past few weeks.  Although cloudy, the water is still amazingly calm which I am very grateful for.  It seems we may have left the blue skies and sunshine back in the Shumagin Islands since the extended forecast for the Seward area calls for rain or showers.  We’re currently scheduled to actually arrive early in Seward if the weather and mechanics of the ship cooperate. I’m looking forward to being back on land and checking out Seward before I depart for Anchorage Friday evening and a short excursion up to Denali National Park before flying home next Monday.  Keeping my fingers crossed and eyes open for more animals!

Kim Wolke, August 8, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 8, 2006

TAS Kim Wolke raising the American flag on the fantail of NOAA ship RAINIER
Kim Wolke raising the American flag on the fantail of NOAA ship RAINIER

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

Winding Down 

I’ve been keeping a running list of the Alaskan wildlife that I’m seeing along this excursion.  Some of the animals I’ve mentioned already are the puffins, bald eagles, Orcas, and Dall’s porpoise.  Occasionally while out in a kayak or survey boat or on a beach along the coastline I’ve also spotted harbor seals.  Their adorable little faces will emerge from the beneath the water and bob around, almost appearing at first to be kelp floating in the water.  While kayaking I’ve also seen two hauled out on rocks where they were almost mistaken for pieces of logs washed ashore.  They are very quiet and easily disturbed if you get too close.

A harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) on a rock.
A harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) on a rock.

Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are marine mammals most often associated with coastal waters. They periodically haul out of the water on sand and gravel beaches, reefs, sand bars, and glacial and sea ice to rest, give birth, and nurse their pups. Unlike many marine mammals, harbor seals do not make long annual migrations, however, they do move around considerably in a more localized area. At birth harbor seals weigh about 24 pounds. They gain weight rapidly during a month long suckling period. Average adults weigh 180 pounds.  Until about 5 years of age, there are approximately equal numbers of male and female harbor seals in a population. After that, mortality rates are much higher for the males, therefore female harbor seals becomes much more abundant.  Adapted to life in the sea, they can dive up to 600 feet (183 meters) and remain submerged for 20 minutes!  Some adaptations that allow for oxygen conservation in harbor seal are reduced peripheral circulation, reduced heart rate, and high levels of myoglobin (an oxygen binder). Harbor seals move under water by using their hind flippers for propulsion and their fore flippers as rudders. In Alaska harbor seals commonly eat walleye, pollock, Pacific cod, capelin, eulachon, Pacific herring, salmon, octopus, and squid.

The NOAA ship RAINIER in the distance in East Bight, Nagai Island, AK
The NOAA ship RAINIER in the distance in East Bight, Nagai Island, AK

Personal Log 

Today after all of the survey boats return we will begin our journey back to Seward, AK.  This leg of the RAINIER’S travels, as well as mine, are winding down.  All of the surveying is complete until the RAINIER leaves Seward, AK for its next leg early next week. I’ve already taken some meclizine to hopefully ward off any potential seasickness, as we will be underway for about 2 days once we take up the anchor.  It appears that with this end of surveying and the turning back of the ship there has also been a rather symbolic turn in the weather.  It has gone from incredible weather yesterday to a falling barometer, heavily cloudy skies, and a forecast calling for higher winds and waves.   I’m glad I went kayaking the past 2 days!

Kim Wolke, August 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 7, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

Moonrise in Porpoise Harbor, Nagai Island, AK…. after 11pm!
Moonrise in Porpoise Harbor, Nagai Island, after 11pm!

Science & Technology 

Today has been the absolute best weather we’ve had since we left Kodiak.  The skies were clear, the water was calm, and the temperature was perfect!  This is after having a beautiful moonrise last night.  At 0700 I joined three other crewmembers for a few hours of shoreline surveying in the Porpoise Harbor area.  Shoreline surveys are different from the work we were doing previously. We needed to go out an hour earlier during the low low tide since rocks, ledges, and other shoreline features are more exposed at this time.  The purpose of our survey today was to confirm or disprove the existence of certain shoreline features that could not be verified by the LIDAR, such as the existence of rocks or islets.  Prior to the RAINIER doing their survey work, planes flew over the area using a technology called LIDAR, which stands for LIght Detection and Ranging. The distance to an object or surface is determined by the time delay between the transmission of a laser pulse and the detection of a reflected signal. This information helps in forming a model of the area.  The laser uses shorter wavelengths than radar would, therefore, a higher resolution image is produced.

TAS Kim Wolke operating the echosounder on a hydrographic survey of the Shumagin Islands in Alaska
TAS Kim Wolke operating the echosounder on a hydrographic survey of the Shumagin Islands in Alaska

The survey boat we were using today was equipped with a single-beam sonar system since we were in very shallow water.  The deeper water we were surveying on the other boats used a multi-beam system.  The boat went to designated areas and slowly moved in a series of figure 8s to get readings from the transducer mounted on the hull (bottom).  In addition to the readings being recorded on the computer system, an echosounder created a visual image of the soundings being received, called a “paper trace”.  My job was to operate the echosounder when we were logging data. Once we returned back to the ship, the data needed to be processed, similar to the processing of the data taken from the line surveys to eliminate any “noise”.

An immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) taking flight
An immature Bald Eagle taking flight

While we were out on the survey boat, we saw an immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on a log on the coastline. The distinctive white head and tail of the adult Bald Eagle are not seen for 4-5 years on the immature eagles.  Bald Eagles, which are the symbol of our nation, are the second largest raptor (bird of prey) in the state of Alaska, with a wingspan of up to 7 ••• feet (2.3 m) and weights of 8 to 14 pounds (3.6-6.4 kg).  The Stellar Sea Eagle is the largest. The Bald Eagle is more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. Their largest nesting densities occur along the islands of Southeast Alaska.  Bald Eagle nests are usually built close to water.  They will often use and rebuild the same next each year.  The male and female eagle work together to build their nest in early April and two to three eggs are usually laid by late April.  Once the chicks hatch after 35 days of incubation, they stay in the nest for another 75 days to grow and develop. The main diet of Bald Eagles is fish such as herring, flounder, pollock, and salmon as well as waterfowl, small mammals, sea urchins, clams, crabs, and carrion.

TAS Kim Wolke hoisting up the anchor ball as NOAA ship RAINIER anchors in East Bight of Nagai Island, AK
Kim Wolke hoisting up the anchor ball as the ship anchors in East Bight of Nagai Island, AK

Personal Log 

We moved the ship to the other side of Nagai Island again, this time to East Bight.  Each time we anchor, we need to hang out an anchor ball over the bow of the ship as a signal to other ships that we are anchored.  I had the opportunity to be the person to hoist up the anchor ball today. Like other things on the ship, there are certain traditions.  I had to actually wait for the anchor to begin being dropped before I could hoist up the anchor ball.

What amazing scenery surrounds us!  In mid-afternoon I went kayaking again with the acting CO, CDR Julia Neander. We were able to get close to the shoreline and discovered that there were little caves that went under the rocks in front of us.  It was tempting to explore further, but my better judgment restrained me from doing so.   There are such incredible geological formations in these rocks! As we paddled, many puffins circled around us and floated in the water. Not only did we see the horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata) today but there were also tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata). One easily recognizable difference in the two birds is the yellow tuft of feathers on each side of the tufted puffins head. Every time I tried to get a photo they’d all fly away!

CDR Julia Neander, acting Commanding Officer of RAINIER, kayaking in East Bight of Nagai Island
CDR Julia Neander, acting Commanding Officer of RAINIER, kayaking in East Bight of Nagai Island

Kim Wolke, August 6, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 6, 2006

Weather from the bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

TAS Kim Wolke kayaking in Porpoise Harbor in the Shumagin Islands in Alaska
TAS Kim Wolke kayaking in Porpoise Harbor in the Shumagin Islands in Alaska

Today was an absolutely beautiful day here in the Shumagin Islands.  By afternoon the clouds cleared out and the blue skies and sunshine took over. The acting Commanding Officer (CO) Julia Neander invited me to go kayaking with her, which I eagerly said yes to. We paddled along the coastline right into seagull territory.  Although the sounds of the ship’s engines were fading, the screeching seagulls filled our ears.

We also encountered many horned puffins (Fratercula corniculata), which are the cutest and silliest looking birds. They appeared to have some nesting areas on the rocky cliffs which they were trying to distract us from locating since they kept circling above us and flying away from the cliffs.  Puffins typically stay out on the open sea through the winter but come to the land in late spring to breed.  They are better built for swimming than flying which is evident when you see them fly.  Under water their wings are used to propel them while their webbed feet are for maneuvering.  To get airborne, they must run along the water surface before taking off.  From land, they dive off cliffs to gain enough speed for flight, using their feet to help change direction.  Puffins feed in flocks, eating mainly fish and zooplankton.  They will dive straight into the water and continue their motion as they swim to get their next meal.

Seagulls perched on a rock in Porpoise Harbor
Seagulls perched on a rock in Porpoise Harbor

LT Ben Evans, the acting Executive Officer (XO), invited the other TAS, Jackie Hams, and me to dinner in the Wardroom this evening.  Traditionally, the Wardroom is where the officers eat. Upholding tradition, the officers on the RAINIER have their meals there.  There’s even a seating arrangement, also based on tradition.  I felt honored to be asked to eat with the officers since the rest of the crew eats in the Crew Mess, which is where I’ve had all of my meals as well. After dinner this evening, I joined three of the NOAA divers and AB Leslie Abramson, who was snorkeling, as they did a recreational dive close to the ship. Since I am not a NOAA diver I was only able to stay on the skiff as they went under water. The water temperature was relatively warm at 52 degrees Fahrenheit. The divers all wore dry suits while Leslie wore a rather thick wet suit (7mm).  Everyone wore a hood, booties, and gloves, all as protection from the cold water temperatures.

SST Erin Campbell and SS Corey Muzzey check each other’s dive equipment before a dive.
SST Erin Campbell and SS Corey Muzzey check each other’s dive equipment before a dive.

A horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata) sitting on a cliff on St. Paul Island, AK.  Picture taken by Mike Danzenbaker.
A horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata) sitting on a cliff on St. Paul Island, AK.

Who’s Who on the NOAA ship RAINIER? 

What I’ve recently learned and find very interesting is that there are several NOAA scuba divers onboard.  Being a recreational diver, I was curious to learn about the NOAA divers.  To become a NOAA diver, you need to complete the NOAA diver-training program through the NOAA Diving Program (NDP).  Most of the training takes place at the facility in Seattle, Washington, however, in January there is also a class held in Key West, Florida.

Currently, there are six NOAA divers aboard the ship. They are: LT Ben Evans, ENS Sam Greenaway, Seaman Surveyor (SS) Carl VerPlank, SS Corey Muzzey, Senior Survey Technician (SST) Erin Campbell, and Able Seaman (AB) Jonathan Anderson.  Another NOAA diver not on this leg is the 3rd Assistant Engineer Mike Riley. In the fall, ENS Nathan Eldridge, SS Eric Davis, and AB Leslie Abramson are going for their NOAA diver training, which takes place over a three-week period.  SST Campbell and ENS Greenaway will also complete their Dive Master training in the fall.

AS Leslie Abramson putting on her hood in preparation for snorkeling.
AS Leslie Abramson putting on her hood in preparation for snorkeling.

NOAA divers have various jobs depending upon their locations.  Divers can deploy and retrieve scientific instruments, document fish and marine animal behavior, perform emergency and routine ship repair and maintenance, and investigate submerged objects such as shipwrecks for nautical charting. Aboard the RAINIER, one of the common jobs of the divers is to install tide gauges 10-15 feet below water.

 

Kim Wolke, August 3, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 3, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

One of the many life rings
One of the many life rings

Safety 

We had a Damage Control (DC) training program this morning, run by Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger.  Damage control is another means of keeping the ship and the crew safe. If there was ever a fire, leaking pipe, flooding or any other emergency that puts the integrity of the ship in question, it’s important for the crew to know where the proper equipment is located and how to respond to such emergencies.  More detailed training is done on responding to various emergencies and using the equipment at other times.

I’ve mentioned in other logs how important safety is on the ship and how much it’s emphasized.  Some of the things I’ve identified since I’ve been onboard as part of the ship’s safety are: the wearing of hardhats and float jackets on the deck when deck work is being done, wearing safety glasses when working with paint and chemicals, wearing long pants and long sleeves on the deck, tying long hair back, fire hoses and fire extinguishers located all over the ship, eyewash stations, damage control lockers on various outside decks with equipment for emergencies, closing all hatch doors after you pass through them, storing all gear and equipment properly, as well as frequent safety drills (fire drills, abandon ship, and man overboard).

A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which supplies air if needed
A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which supplies air if needed

All of the things done here on the ship are very similar to the types of safety precautions taken at school in the science classroom. Although a different environment, many of the same safety hazards exist.  The Boatswain Group Leader Steve Foye was telling me about some of the chemicals used on the ship.  Some of them were chemicals used in some of the chemistry labs we do!  He said there was no way he’d allow his workers to work without the proper safety attire and these are adults!

Personal Log 

Last night while I was standing on the bridge, I was given the opportunity to steer the ship for a little while which made me the helmsperson.  Another one of those experiences where it looks a heck of a lot easier than it really is.  It takes awhile to get the feel of the ship. I also had a chance to control the engines as we were anchoring. I was better at this task since the ship’s momentum didn’t effect what I was doing.

I’m learning that there’s a special language used aboard a ship. Aside from there being different names for parts of the ship, there’s also a special way to communicate. For example, while I was on the bridge as helmsperson and controlling the engines, I needed to repeat the directions given to me (ex. “all ahead 2, aye”) so the Officer on the Deck (OOD) knew I heard him. Once I completed a command, I needed to repeat the command again. The OOD then lets you know he/she heard you by saying “very well”. Sometimes commands came faster than I was completing them but as long as I was listening and we were communicating all was “very well”.

TAS Kim Wolke at the engine controls on NOAA ship RAINIER
TAS Kim Wolke at the engine controls

NOAA ship RAINIER'S engine control console on the bridge
NOAA ship RAINIER’S engine control console on the bridge

Kim Wolke, August 1, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 1, 2006

Weather from the bridge
Skies:
Cloudy (CL)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
Waves:
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

A pod of Orcas (Orcinus orca) seen off the NOAA ship RAINIER
A pod of Orcas (Orcinus orca) seen off the ship

Science and Technology 

I was out on another survey boat today from 0800 to 1630.  It was a long day since we were running rather long lines using the hull-mounted (on the bottom of the boat) Elac multi-beam echo sounder system, which is used to obtain full-bottom coverage in depths ranging from 40-400 meters. The other day when I was out the sonar used was called a Reson, which used to obtain full-bottom coverage in depths ranging from 4-150 meters. The lines took about 40 minutes each to do due to their lengths as well as the fact that we couldn’t go above 8 knots. The coxswain today, Ken Keys, allowed me to drive the boat for a while which I thoroughly enjoyed. Ken did a great job teaching me how to stay on the lines and turn from one line to another. I was very happy when I completed one line and made the turn to another one successfully with no help.

A minimum of 12 Orcas if you count the fins
A minimum of 12 Orcas if you count the fins

At about 2200 I was on the bridge chatting when Lieutenant (LT) Ben Evans opened the door and informed me that there were Orcas off the stern of the ship. Once I retrieved my camera, I joined some other crewmembers for about 20 minutes watching the pod (group) of Orcas swim through the cove which we are anchored in. There were at minimum 15 Orcas, maybe more.  It appeared that the pod was perhaps hunting salmon or some other fish.  Orcas are also known as killer whales, however, they are not really whales.  They are in fact the largest members of the dolphin family (Delphinidae).  They are called killer whales because they attack and consume whales or other large prey, such as sea lions and seals.  They’ve also been known to feed on river otters, squid, and several species of sea birds.  The Orcas we were watching displayed characteristic hunting behavior since they stayed in their pod and a smaller group hung back in shallower waters to possibly chase the fish into the deeper waters where the rest of the pod was. They often feed in this cooperative manner.

Personal Log 

Every job on the ship has so many details to it.  Initially one might think they could do the same job easily.  It has been quite an awakening for me to learn just how much goes in to all of the various jobs on the RAINIER. Everyone has been so patient and excellent at demonstrating and explaining things to me.  Many of them would be excellent classroom teachers.  Ken did a great job today getting me relaxed and comfortable with the task of driving the survey boat on the line.  Thank you Ken! •

Seeing the Orcas this evening was one of those moments where I stood back and just lived in the moment.  It was truly amazing.  Everyone on the ship that was watching was silent as we listened and watched the Orcas swim through the water, blow water out of their blowholes, flap their tails (tail lob), and occasionally jump straight up out of the water (called a spy hop).  Spectacular!

Who’s Who on the NOAA ship RAINIER? 

Since March 2004, Tonya Watson has been working for NOAA aboard the ship RAINIER. She originally began working in Engineering and in September 2005 she joined the Survey Department.  Currently she is a Hydrographic Junior Survey Technician (HJST). Recently she and her husband relocated their home to Phoenix, AZ, however, Tonya has been on the ship working since her move.

In her previous life, Tonya spent 4.5 years in the Navy working with passive sonar.  She has an A.A. degree from Shasta College in California and has studied biological oceanography at Chico State in California and Auburn University in Alabama.  Her Navy experience definitely helps her with the hydrographic survey work she is now doing with NOAA.

Tonya enjoys her work very much.  She really likes to go on the survey launches, seeing wildlife, being out on the ocean, and traveling to new places.  In her down time she likes to read, watch movies, listen to music, water ski, and bike ride.  Occasionally, Tonya says, the logistics of ship life and following strict schedules can be challenging.

There are some very important skills needed for the type of work Tonya does.  In her opinion, reading and writing skills are imperative.  Individuals need to be able to communicate effectively and fill out various forms.  In addition, keyboarding/computer skills are also needed. Individuals should be able to display self-discipline, be dependable, and have good people skills.  On the ship, many people rely on each other to carry out a task successfully.

Kim Wolke, July 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 30, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:
Partly Cloudy (PC)
Visibility:
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
  West (W)
Wind Speed:
27 knots
Waves:
1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp.:
9.4 ° C
Sea Level Pressure:
  1015.3 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.8 (air temperature)

TAS Kim Wolke driving a survey boat with Able-Bodied Seaman Jodie Edmond looking on.
TAS Kim Wolke driving a survey boat with Able-Bodied Seaman Jodie Edmond looking on.

Science and Technology Log 

Today I went out on my first survey boat. After finishing up some survey work in the Porpoise Harbor area, we were supposed to join another boat on the other side of the island at a place called East Cape Wedge to run some lines.  Before we could get there, the other boat was calling back to the ship regarding the weather conditions.  They had winds of about 20-25 knots with swells of 4-5 feet in the water…not very favorable for driving a survey boat in. They decided to err on the side of caution and headed back to the ship before the conditions worsened. It’s amazing how we can be in such close proximity to one another but separated by some land and have different weather conditions. The boat I was on was completing some of the survey lines called holidays. A holiday can occur for many reasons when lines are run. Basically there was a gap in the data that was acquired by another boat, therefore, those sections of lines needed to be revisited to acquire the data in order to get a complete model of the sea floor.

A CTD, which gets lowered into the water prior to beginning surveys to get a reading on the speed of sound through the water.
A CTD, which gets lowered into the water prior to beginning surveys to get a reading on the speed of sound through the water.

Before we could begin collecting data today, we needed to do a CTD cast. This was done on the ship earlier in the cruise when we were doing surveying from the ship as well. The cast data supplies the given speed of sound through water in a particular location. This information gets input into the program used to process the sonar data so that it can be adjusted for the speed of sound of the water being surveyed. The multi-beam sonar, which is mounted on the underside of the boat, has what is called a transducer on it.  The transducer converts electrical energy into sound and emits the sound waves through the water. These sound waves will eventually hit an object (ie: a rock or the sea floor) and reflect back up to be recovered by the transducer. The transducer will measure the angle at which the sound returned, the time it took for the sound to be received, and the intensity of the return. Each transmission received back appears as a dot on the computer monitor.  Where a solid object likely exists the dots are clustered together and can give a visual model of what the sounds waves hit. Like in all science, there are possibilities for biases in the data collected.  In this case, there are several reasons for such biases.  First, not all of the sound waves are reflected perfectly. Some of the sound waves are absorbed by the surfaces of objects.  Second, sound waves may reflect at an angle that the transducer cannot pick up.  Third, some sound waves may ricochet off of a few surfaces before making it back to the transducer, therefore, it gives an inaccurate reading how far the wave traveled, its intensity, etc.  Another reason for biases is that the boat may be pitching, heaving, or rolling too much to get good data, which is one of the reasons one of the survey boats returned early today.

The POS MV aboard one of the NOAA ship RAINIER survey boats.
The POS MV aboard one of the survey boats.

It’s impossible to eliminate all of the biases, however, there are measures incorporated into the data collection to minimize them.  One of the ways some of the biases are accounted for is the use of a system called POS MV.  There are sensors in the unit which record the movement of the boat and correct for these movements and their effect on the data. The POS MV also measures the vessel’s position with Differential Geographic Positioning System (DGPS) receivers, accurate to approximately 3 meters!  NOAA requires accuracy to within +/- 5m.  A regular GPS is only accurate to within 10m.  When you’re talking about making a chart of the ocean, it’s rather important to be more accurate with your location. Once all of the data is collected other technicians back on the ship process it. Processing the data helps in “cleaning it” to eliminate “noise”, therefore making the image a truer and cleaner representation of the sea floor.

Personal Log 

I had a chance to drive the survey boat today.  I really enjoyed that.  The driver is called the coxswain. There’s a small monitor mounted by the steering wheel, which shows you a chart of the area you’re in with an overlay of the survey lines. It’s the coxswain’s job to navigate the boat as straight as possible along each of the lines at a certain speed.  It looks a lot easier than it really is.  ENS Olivia Hauser displayed a few lines for me to practice on. I suppose if the water had been calmer and flat and there had been no wind it would’ve been easier. With winds of 15-20 knots and two-foot waves, it made it challenging to get the boat exactly on the line.  I did improve the more I practiced.

Kim Wolke, July 29, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 29, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies: Partly Cloudy (PC)
Visibility:  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:  Wes/southwest (WSW)
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Waves: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp.: 9.4 ° C
Sea Level Pressure:  1023.9 millibars (mb)
Temp. (°C): 13.3 (air temperature)

A partial line plan for an area surveyed by the NOAA ship
A partial line plan for an area surveyed by the ship

Science and Technology 

Another survey launch went out again today to do survey lines in Porpoise Harbor, which is where the RAINIER is still anchored.  A survey area is divided into sections by parallel lines. Depending on the already known depths of an area (based on existing navigational charts), the distance between each line varies. Shallower areas will have lines closer together, whereas deeper areas will have lines further apart.  It’s along these lines that the ship or the launch boat travels to acquire readings of depth as well as images of what lies beneath the water. The transducer, which is mounted on the bottom of the vessel, sends out a beam from the bottom of the vessel that forms a triangular shape.  The distance along the sea floor covered by this beam is called a swath. Underwater, these swaths overlap so that the area between all of the lines is actually covered, although the vessel only moves along the planned survey lines.  All of the data received is ultimately compiled and creates a visual image of the sea floor (bathymetry).  Tomorrow I’ll be joining a survey that will be out from 0800 until 1630.  I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about data acquisition and how it’s processed once I’m actually doing it.

 A POD for today
A POD for today

Aboard the ship, a schedule is posted each day called the POD or Plan of the Day.  The POD can be found all over the ship so that everyone knows what his or her job will be for the next day.  In addition to identifying who will be doing what, the POD also shows the ship’s position, who the Officer on Deck (OOD) is, when sunrise and sunset will be for the following day, what time the high and low tides will be, the forecasted weather for that day, as well as any additional notes.  It is absolutely imperative ad expected that everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing AND that they’re on time for it.

The POD for today had me scheduled for Deck Training.  I, along with the new people aboard the ship, spent the better part of the day learning how to handle the lines (ropes) that secure things, tying knots, and becoming familiar with the interior of the launch boats and their safety features. The part of the training that I enjoyed the most was learning how to raise and lower the launch boats from the ship.  I had to stand on the back (aft) of the launch and make sure that the large metal hook that lifted and lowered the launch was removed and put back on properly. This was not as easy as it originally appeared since there are specific things that need to be said and done at specific times, not to mention that the metal hook was extremely heavy and I was partially responsible for keeping it from swaying when it was dangling above my head. Because of the hazards involved in moving things overhead on the ship, it is absolutely mandatory that everyone wear a hardhat as well as their float jacket.  Safety is definitely emphasized.

Like almost everything on the ship, there is tremendous teamwork and communication involved in making sure the launches are moved safely and properly. For moving a survey launch I’d have to estimate that there are at least 9 people involved. Everyone works together like a very well oiled machine.  It seems that there are always people like Steve Foye (Boatswain Group Leader) or Jim Kruger (Chief Boatswain) watching to make sure all of the deckhands and others involved are doing their jobs correctly. Since so many jobs aboard the ship do depend on a team of people, it is critical that everyone is on time.  People get awfully upset if you’re late or not where you’re supposed to be.

Lowering a survey launch….  teamwork!
Lowering a survey launch…. teamwork!

Personal Log 

The weather has been very favorable the past few days.  It was partly cloudy and sunny most of the day. Since Mother Nature has been cooperative, we were able to have a cookout on the fantail of the ship for dinner tonight.  The cooks definitely put out a spread for us. It was great sitting outside on the fantail, in the sun, enjoying the good food and company. It’s been challenging going to bed at night since it’s so light out so late, especially the past few days with the clear skies. Last night at 10pm it felt more like late afternoon.

Kim Wolke, July 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 28, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Skies:  Partly cloudy (PC)
Visibility:  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Southwest
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Waves: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp. (°C): 10
Sea Level Pressure: 1024.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (°C): 15 (air temperature)

Lowering a survey launch off of NOAA ship RAINIER
Lowering a survey launch off the ship

Science and Technology Log 

We finally anchored later yesterday afternoon in Porpoise Harbor. It’s nice to have the ship in one place after 4 days of being underway.  I seem to be adjusting much better to the motion of the ocean. Today began with the first two launches going out at 0800 to begin the small boat surveying of this leg of RAINIER’S journey.  As long as the weather is good and there are no major issues with the survey launches, the boats stay out working from 0800 until 1630.

The smaller launches are able to cover areas that are shallower than the water’s the ship was surveying the other day since they have slightly different technology on them and because of their smaller size.  Each of the two launches had four people on them, a coxswain who drove the boat, and three other people who assisted with the hydrography surveying. One of the people is the head hydrographer, one works the computers that are collecting the data, and the other assists. Each day that launches go out, the people aboard them will rotate.  I’ll have my first chance at going on a survey launch in a few days. I’ll likely have a better understanding of the technical aspect of the hydrography once I’m actually on a launch.

Beautiful blue skies with a great view
Beautiful blue skies with a great view

I volunteered myself to join a launch boat that was heading to a small fishing village called Sand Point on the western side of Popof Island about 20 nautical miles away.  We left the ship at 1100 after getting water out of the launch.  Our ride to the village was a bit choppy since the wind was coming towards us and the waves were a bit higher.  It was very cloudy until we turned a bend.  All of a sudden, the sky was clearing and the water was calming.  As we reached the village, it was totally sunny and calm. YAY!! We only had about an hour in the village since our main reason for being there was to pick up a crewmember that had been on loan to another NOAA ship, the OSCAR DYSON.  It was great to just walk for a bit and eat some wild ripened salmonberries.

NOAA ship RAINIER anchored in Porpoise Harbor
NOAA ship RAINIER anchored in Porpoise Harbor

As we made our way back to the ship still anchored in Porpoise Harbor, the sunny, clear skies followed us. What gorgeous scenery!  There were also lots of puffins that flew over the water surface as we startled them going by in the boat. They’re such cute and funny looking birds with their chubby bodies and colorful beaks. Some of them had little tufts of yellow feathers on the tops of their heads.  We also had a couple of whale sightings in the distance. One was close enough that I could’ve taken a decent picture if I had had my camera ready.  Oh well. We had a special treat when we arrived back on the ship.  It was close to dinnertime and we were pleasantly surprised with a feast of the fresh halibut that Lt. Ben Evans (acting Executive Officer–XO) caught yesterday morning.  The cooks did a great job preparing the fish. Thanks to the XO and the kitchen!

Assistant Hydrography Survey Technician Marta Krynytzky
Assistant Hydrography Survey Technician Marta Krynytzky

Who’s Who on the NOAA ship RAINIER? 

Marta Krynytzky, an Assistant Hydrography Survey Technician, is the newest crewmember aboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.  This is her first cruise on the RAINIER as well as working for NOAA. Marta finished her Bachelor of Science degree in June 2005 in oceanography, specializing in marine geology and geophysics at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.  After finishing college, she worked two cruises for Raytheon Polar Services Company. Her first cruise was to Antarctica as an intern aboard a ship called the Nathaniel B. Palmer.  Her second cruise, also to Antarctica, was aboard the Lawrence M. Gould where she worked as a marine technician.  Marta says that, despite how physically challenging the work can be aboard a ship, the two previous cruises she’s worked on were half female.

Marta enjoys doing fieldwork, which is one of the reasons she wanted to work for NOAA. She looks forward to seeing different places and trying different positions within NOAA. When she’s not working, Marta enjoys hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, skateboarding, canoeing, and surfing. From her experience, Marta believes there are a few important requirements for the kind of work she does. As far as coursework, she believes a strong math background is important.  In addition, computer skills are needed as well as having working knowledge of programs such as Excel for organizing data, preparing spreadsheets, and creating graphs and charts. Another important quality for working on a ship is being able to work as a team with other people.  Much of the work involved living and working on the ship is not done independently. Everyone relies on everyone else to keep the ship running smoothly so the objectives of the ship can be met.

I wish Marta the best of luck on her new career with NOAA!!

Kim Wolke, July 26, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 26, 2006

Assistant Survey Technician Nick Gianoutsos showing off his SECOND halibut!
Assistant Survey Technician Nick Gianoutsos showing off his SECOND halibut!

Weather from the Bridge
Skies: Cloudy
Visibility:  10+ nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: South/southwest
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Waves: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp.: 10.7 ° C
Sea Level Pressure:  1024.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (°C): 11.7 (air temperature)

Science and Technology Log 

Today began with clear, blue skies and calm water.  It was a very welcome change for me from the rocking and rolling we’ve been experiencing as well as the clouds and drizzly rain. Since we finished all of the survey lines that were planned for the Semedi Islands area, we are now underway to our next survey spot in the Shumagin Islands which we should reach and anchor at by this evening. We did some “biological sampling” this morning as several crewmembers cast their fishing lines off the fantail (back) of the ship.  Since the first spot wasn’t producing as expected, the ship was moved to a second notable location. Within minutes of the fishing lines being out into the water, 4 halibut and 1 Irish lord were on deck. The Irish lord was put back into the water, but the halibut were filleted on the deck.  Maybe that’ll be dinner one night!!!

An Irish lord fish…so ugly it’s cute!
An Irish lord fish…so ugly it’s cute!

Another nice surprise this morning were the sightings of whale in the distance as they blew water and swam around.  A pod of Dall’s porpoise also played again on the bow (front) of the ship for a while.  I felt like they knew I was watching them so they were showing off.

Who’s Who on the RAINIER? 

There are many roles that people have aboard the RAINIER, all of which collectively keep the ship running safely and efficiently. Steve Foye has been a member of the RAINIER crew for approximately 15 years, but has been with NOAA for over 25 years. He has worked on other NOAA ships, including the McARTHUR, the DAVIDSON, and the FAIRWEATHER. Steve’s original ship training came from his “on the job” training he received being in the Navy and from working on freighters. Prior to working with NOAA, Steve worked for Boeing in a guided missile factory.

Boatswain Group Leader Steve Foye aboard NOAA ship RAINIER
Boatswain Group Leader Steve Foye aboard NOAA ship RAINIER

Steve’s title on the RAINIER is currently Boatswain* Group Leader. He reports directly to the Chief Boatswain and has a number of deckhands onboard that report to him. The Boatswain is in charge of a ship’s anchors, lines, wires, the deck crew, the ship’s boats, the rigging of the ship, and overseeing the general maintenance of the ship. The specific tasks that Steve oversees on the RAINIER are imperative to the functioning of the ship. All of the ship’s wires need to be slushed, which means they are greased regularly to keep them from rusting. There are quite a lot of wires on the ship to hold things in place as well as to move equipment around using cranes.  All of the mechanical equipment on the deck must also be lubricated and kept in working order, including the davit winches, cranes, and anchor windless, which controls the anchor. In addition to maintaining this equipment, the Boatswain and his crew are the ones who also operate the equipment.  Steve mentioned that “chasing rust” was another important part of the ship’s upkeep.  This is where rusty areas are prepped with a wire brush to clean them. Then they’re-primed and repainted.  General maintenance of the ship is something else the Boatswain oversees, making sure that the passageways and general interior of the vessel are clean.

A crane on the bow of NOAA   ship RAINIER
A crane on the bow of NOAA ship RAINIER

On the RAINIER there are 6 survey launch boats.  It is Steve’s responsibility to make sure that the boats are launched properly. This involves some safety checks ahead of time as well as the use of davits, which are machines that lower the launches into the water.  It is critical for the hydrography work that the RAINIER does to keep these boats and the equipment that maneuvers them on to and off of the ship in working order. When Steve isn’t busy training someone new to the ship or overseeing the use of a crane or davit, he enjoys taking photographs. He told me he has over 2000 pictures so far this year alone! He enjoys being away from home cruising to new places. He has maps that he marks to show the places he’s been to on all of his cruises. From talking with him, it seems that Steve enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience with others. He’s also a very funny man.

The anchor windless on NOAA ship RAINIER.  Each chain is about 1080 feet long.  The anchor itself weighs about 3500 pounds.
The anchor windless on NOAA ship RAINIER. Each chain is about 1080 feet long. The anchor itself weighs about 3500 pounds.

Davit winch, which helps to move the survey launches.
Davit winch, which helps to move the survey launches.

Boatswain Group Leader Steve Foye taking pictures.
Boatswain Group Leader Steve Foye taking pictures.

Kim Wolke, July 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 25, 2006

ENS Olivia Hauser retrieves the CTD, which contains data that will provide a baseline reading of the speed of sound through the water.  This information will assist in the sonar readings that will be taken of the sea floor.
ENS Olivia Hauser retrieves the CTD, which contains data that will provide a baseline reading of the speed of sound through the water. This information will assist in the sonar readings that will be taken of the sea floor.

Science and Technology Log 

The purpose of the hydrography work that the RAINIER is doing is to collect data using sonar readings of the ocean floor to provide a picture of the topography of what’s under the water, otherwise known as bathymetry.  Are there volcanic pinnacles or other underwater hazards that we are unaware of? Updated NOAA charts need to be made to show more detail and the complexities of the waterways due to a large increase in Pacific Rim ship traffic between Asia and North America.

We began surveying the Semedi Islands area from the ship today.  At 0800 a crew went on to the fantail (back deck) of the ship to lower a device called a CTD.  This canister-like apparatus takes measurements of Conductivity, water Temperature, and Depth, from which the speed of sound through the water can be calculated.  These measurements are taken every 4-6 hours and are used to calibrate the readings taken by the ship’s multi-beam sonar mapping system.  For a few days we will continue to do these ship surveys since the water’s depth is greater in this area. The ship’s sonar can cover a wider area at a lower resolution than the smaller launches that we will use to survey the shallower waters in the Shumagin Islands.

The area inside the square being pointed to is where the NOAA ship RAINIER is surveying to take measurements of water depth as well as to locate any underwater features such as rocks and volcanic pinnacles.
The area inside the square being pointed to is where the NOAA ship RAINIER is surveying to take measurements of water depth as well as to locate any underwater features such as rocks and volcanic pinnacles.

ENS Sam Greenaway, who is a Navigational Officer, spent time showing me nautical charts of the areas that we will be working in.  There is a lot of very important information found on these charts, which are used by anyone operating a vessel on the water (fisherman, Navy ships, Coast Guard ships, cargo ships, etc.).  In addition to showing water depths, these charts show where there are lighthouses, rocks, ledges, buoys, coastlines, and other potential hazards or physical locations.  A ship like the RAINIER relies on these charts as a means of planning a route to follow.

ENS Sam Greenaway works on a nautical chart.
ENS Sam Greenaway works on a nautical chart.

Personal Log 

I had a good night’s sleep last night.  I think the gentle rolling motion had something to do with it as well as the sound of the water lapping up against the ship. I only wish the rolling and swaying motion I feel was so comforting during the day! After getting sick this afternoon, I finally gave in and took some seasickness medicine.  I might have to take it everyday if I’m getting sick in rather calm seas. I did find out that once we get to the Shumagin Islands in a few days we will be anchored.  I’m definitely looking forward to that. Earlier today there were three Dall’s porpoise riding the bow of the ship. They like to play and swim along the wake of the ship as we move forward.  Yesterday there were some sea otters spotted as well as several clusters of puffins. We’ve been told on the RAINIER’s last trip to the area we’re going that there were a lot of humpback whales.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Computer showing data being acquired from the RAINIER ship sonar.  The blue color means deeper water.  The green color is shallower water.
Computer showing data being acquired from the RAINIER ship sonar. The blue color means deeper water. The green color is shallower water.

We had our first fire and abandon ship drills today. Safety has definitely been emphasized by the location of safety gear around the ship, the requirement for wearing hardhats and float jackets when on deck, and the safety drills. We all have these papers called bunk cards that we must hang on our bunk beds in the stateroom.  The cards tell each person where they should muster (meet) on the ship for each type of drill as well as what type of extra gear they are responsible for bringing.  I needed to photocopy my card to carry around with me since I can’t remember exactly where I’m supposed to be for which drill. The sun broke through this afternoon….very exciting.  It’s been very cloudy and drizzly ever since I arrived on Saturday.

Keep shining sunshine!

TAS Kim Wolke showing off her float jacket and hardhat after a fire drill.
TAS Kim Wolke showing off her float jacket and hardhat after a fire drill.

Kim Wolke, July 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 24, 2006

TAS Kim Wolke in her immersion suit during safety training.
Kim Wolke in her immersion suit during safety training.

Personal Log 

Right after breakfast this morning we had a safety demonstration by the Deck Utilityman Kenneth Keys. The five of us who are the “newbies” on the RAINIER for this leg had to be issued a life vest, a float jacket, and an immersion suit, otherwise known as a “gumby suit”. Of course, it’s not enough to just have this safety equipment, we also needed to put it on. The immersion suit was quite an experience to say the least.

By 1600 hours today we were departing Kodiak Island to begin our cruise to the Shumagin Islands.  As we were leaving the dock, I stood on the fly bridge to observe the deckhands at work. It’s quite an undertaking to depart port.  There’s definitely a lot of teamwork involved.  As we were making our way into Chiniak Bay, I stood on the port side of the ship (which is the left side) talking with ENS Sam Greenaway.  He pointed out to me the red buoys that we were passing which were on the port side of the ship. The buoys basically serve as a guide for the ship in areas where they may be shallow waters such as he channel we were passing through. In the United States, as a ship is leaving, the red buoys should stay on the port side. If we were returning, the red buoys would be on the starboard (right) side of the ship.

Deckhands at work as NOAA ship RAINIER departs Kodiak Island.
Deckhands at work as the ship departs Kodiak.

As we started getting into a bit rougher water, I really started feeling the pitching and rolling of the ship. The pitch is the forward to backward movement and the rolling is the side-toside movement.  Many of the crewmembers had taken some medication earlier to avoid seasickness.  I was not one of them.  Gradually I became dizzier and dizzier and started to feel nauseous. I stood on the bridge for a bit and watched the horizon before I finally found an empty couch and just laid down.  The bridge is the part of the ship where the ship’s navigational controls and other essential equipment related to ship operations are located and operated. Hopefully I develop my “sea legs” and I can avoid taking any of the seasickness medication.    

Tomorrow we’re supposed to begin doing some ship hydrography which means that all of the work that will be done will be from the ship itself and not from the smaller launch boats that are also used. I’m excited to see how all of the cool technology works.

Kim Wolke, July 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 23, 2006

NOAA ship RAINIER docked at the US Coast Guard base in Kodiak, AK
NOAA ship RAINIER docked at the US Coast Guard base in Kodiak, AK

Personal Log 

Hello! I finally arrived on Kodiak Island yesterday after 3 different planes and a 4hour time change.  I was met with a smile by Ensign (ENS) Jamie Wasser who brought me to the RAINIER, which is currently docked at the Coast Guard base here on Kodiak Island until our scheduled departure on Monday, July 24. As we approached the ship, ENS and morale coordinator Olivia Hauser greeted us and invited me to join a group to go out for sushi.  I started jumping up and down–SUSHI!!! I can only wonder what thoughts were running through her head, as this was our very first meeting.

After quickly being shown my “home” for the next 3 weeks and meeting Jackie Hams, the other Teacher at Sea who is on the cruise, we all piled into the shuttle van to go for our sushi dinner. I immediately felt comfortable as we talked and laughed.  I was also growing more and more tired as I had been up for almost 24 hours at this point.

After returning to the ship, I met my roommate Dorothea “Doe” Mackey, one of the stewards who works in the kitchen. I unpacked and had a tour of the vessel.  Initially I was a little overwhelmed by all the twists and turns and stairs, but after exploring for a bit, I’m getting more comfortable with the maze.  Since we’re not scheduled to leave here for another day, I’ve had some time to get acclimated and talk with many of the crew.  So far the crewmembers I’ve met have been very friendly, informative, and helpful.  There are some very interesting personalities on board. •

Being a rather tall individual, the close quarters will take a little getting used to.  I have the top bunk in my stateroom.  I usually like the top bunk, however, this one will take some getting used to.  The ceiling is about 2 feet above the bed, which makes for quite a claustrophobic experience. It took me about 10 minutes to get down from the bunk this morning since I couldn’t sit up and I kept hitting my head on the ceiling.  My apologies to Doe if I woke her with all of the ruckus.

David Babich, July 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 13, 2006

Weather Data 
WX Cloudy, fog
Wind  NW 20 kts
Sea 6ft
Temp 50’s

The Shumagin Islands’ spectacular scenery
The Shumagin Islands’ spectacular scenery

Science and Technology 

For the past 30 hours the FAIRWEATHER has been on route back to port. We had beautiful weather most of the way back, which made it perfect for whale watching. Yesterday evening, many of the crew made their way out to the ship’s bow to watch at least 8-10 humpback whales swimming around the ship. It seemed like everywhere you looked, you saw another whale spout. It was quite exciting, as we all were snapping pictures trying to get the perfect shot. Unfortunately, they were just a little too far away. Later in the evening, the ship stopped to let some of the crew (those with valid fishing licenses) get a chance to do a little fishing. Several had good luck in catching halibut, before the ship had to continue on the voyage back to port. The FAIRWEATHER arrived back at port today at 11:00am. This gives the officers and crew time to prepare for tomorrow’s Fleet Inspection.

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Able Seaman Emily Evans 

More spectacular scenery.
More spectacular scenery.

Emily works in the Deck Department where she is responsible for a variety of duties. She is in charge of cleaning and general maintenance of the ship as well as operates cranes, stands bridge and anchor watch, and pilots the small boats (she drove the survey launch I was on). Not a position you might expect from someone with a B.S. degree in Physics!

Emily grew up in New York, close to Lake Ontario, and raced sailboats competitively. After college, Emily soon realized she wanted to get back to what she loved doing – sailing. She spent the next five years working on sailboats, primarily teaching environmental science classes aboard educational vessels and sailing skills. But she wanted to work with serious boat people. After discounted shipping out commercially, feeling it wouldn’t be stimulating enough, she looked into NOAA. It became a perfect fit!

Able Seaman Emily Evans is relaxing in the ship’s mess hall.
Able Seaman Emily Evans is relaxing in the ship’s mess hall.

Working for NOAA has everything Emily was looking for – a serious, science oriented experience that has a lot of variety and opportunities. She actually heard about NOAA through her older brother, Ben. Ben happens to be the Field Operations Officer on the RAINIER. So it is very comforting to know she has family close by. Emily loves being on the water and driving the small boats. She feels very fortunate to be able to see parts of the country like Alaska that very few people get a chance to see. For now, she is just savoring her time aboard ship. She is studying to get certified for the survey department which will provide many more opportunities for her in the future.

Personal Log 

I’ve had a wonderful ten days in Alaska!  I want to thank everyone at NOAA and especially the officers and crew of the FAIRWEATHER for allowing me to join them for this leg of their hydrography season.  The knowledge I’ve gained from this experience will be shared with my students for years to come!

The NOAA ship FAIRWEATHER off the coast of the Shumagin Islands.
The NOAA Ship FAIRWEATHER off the coast of the Shumagin Islands.

David Babich, July 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 11, 2006

Weather Data 
WX Cloudy, fog
Wind  NW 25kts
Sea 8ft
Temps 50’s

The Ambar boat leaves the FAIRWEATHER for the shore.
The Ambar boat leaves the FAIRWEATHER for the shore.

Science and Technology 

Today was the last full day of hydrography before heading back to port. The ship planned to take full advantage of the time.  Starting off at 8:15, the small Ambar boat aboard the FAIRWEATHER was launched. The Ambar is about 20 feet long with a shallow reinforced hull to make it ideal for getting even closer to shore than the survey launches. The Ambar’s mission is to check for hazards close to shore that were previously detected. While the Ambar is out working the coastline, the FAIRWEATHER continued surveying in the deeper water, making it a very productive day.

The Ambar boat heads out to see if certain hazards detected by LIDAR were accurate. Several days ago, the FAIRWEATHER welcomed aboard a senior hydrographic surveyor, James Guilford, from the Tenix LADS Company. He was here to support his product – LIDAR. NOAA works with several independent companies that uses a different hydrographic technology called LIDAR. LIDAR is a laser that is used from planes rather than boats. These planes generally fly at between 1,200 and 2,300 feet along mainly coastline, to survey those difficult areas that are hard to reach by boat. The LIDAR can generally reach water depths of 20-25 feet and can be used 24 hours a day. The only drawback is that the LIDAR has trouble penetrating the water surface when there are obstructions like heavy kelp areas or whitewater. However, between data collect from the boats and planes, NOAA can create a very complete survey of an area.

Commander Beaver stands next to a coast guard rescue helicopter at their base in Kodiak, Alaska.
Commander Beaver stands next to a coast guard rescue helicopter at their base in Kodiak, Alaska.

Personal Log 

I have been amazed at how smoothly the ship operates 24 hours a day. It can be a bit overwhelming watching the crew head to their posts and rotating through the mess hall throughout the day. At first, I found life at sea a bit of an adjustment, but then you fall into a routine and it becomes easier.  As a visitor to the ship, it can be a bit hard because you have no set role. Those crew members new to the ship that have a specific job seem to quickly adjust. I don’t know if I would ever make a very good sailor, but it is fun to get a little taste of what it is like at sea.

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Commander Andrew Beaver

The FAIRWEATHER recently underwent a change of command. Commander Andrew Beaver officially took command in June of 2006. The FAIRWEATHER is fortunate to have been assigned such an experienced commander. However, you would never have expected it based on his upbringing. Commander Beaver was born and raised on a 180 acre farm in Iowa, where his family raised corn, soybeans, and pigs.  In fact, he could easily have followed his father’s footsteps and become a farmer.  However, he went on to Iowa State where he graduated from Agriculture Engineering. After graduating, jobs were not readily available, so Commander Beaver pursued the NOAA corps. It provided many unique opportunities and he took to life on a ship right away.

Before joining the FAIRWEATHER, Commander Beaver was assigned to a variety of posts including service with the NOAA Diving Program office, Navigation, Field Operations and Executive officer of the WHITING, and also Commander of the NOAA ship RUDE. Commander Beaver and his family are delighted to be here in Alaska.  Everyone is very nice and his home port in Ketchikan even reminds him of the small towns in Iowa where he grew up. His family loves the beauty and wildlife of Alaska.  He feels it’s a wonderful place to bring up a family.

He is enjoying the new challenges of his new job and getting to know the ship’s crew.  The surveying has been different because the coastline is more sheer in Alaska, whereas on the east coast it tends to be more gradual.  He loves the fact that there is a lot less boat traffic on the water and that the remoteness of his survey work forces the ship to be more self-sufficient.

NOAA provides employees a variety of opportunities.  Commander Beaver always enjoyed knowing that every 3-4 years he can move on and try something different.  He would encourage any student interested in the math and sciences to look into employment opportunities like those found with NOAA.  NOAA allows you to “make a difference in the world” and you would be “doing something that your parents and grandparents would be proud of”!

David Babich, July 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Babich
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 5 -14, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: July 9, 2006

A Humpback whale breeching off the FAIRWEATHER’s stern.
A Humpback whale breeching off the stern.

Weather 
WX Rain Wind ESE 20 kts
Sea 14ft Temps  50’s

Science and Technology 

The ship has been on “24-hour Ship Hydro” all day, and for the foreseeable future.  When the weather is a bit rough, like we have now, we can not send out the smaller boats to survey areas closer to shore. This rougher weather, however, is not a problem for the well-built FAIRWEATHER.  Each day, the navigational officer and the survey technicians decide what area in the deeper water needs surveying.  This area is then further broken up into smaller, more manageable polygons.  Each small polygon is created based on the expected depth of the sea.  They try to make the smaller polygons of similar depths.  The FAIRWEATHER can then can pass over these areas using similar radar to that used on the smaller survey launches, except radar more appropriate for deeper water. The FAIRWEATHER can continue this mapping of the ocean bottom around the clock for many days in a row.  When the weather starts to calm down, the ship will then return to more off-shore surveying.

Physical Scientist Megan Palmer takes a break before her survey watch begins.
Physical Scientist Megan Palmer takes a break before her survey watch begins.

Personal Log 

While out in deeper water, I’ve enjoyed standing on the bridge watching and looking out over the ocean. Today we were fortunate to see humpback whales playing in the waters close to the boat. First, you spot the waterspout shooting out over the water’s surface. Then if you’re lucky, about a minute later you’ll see the whale breech, or jump out of the water.  When a whale breeches, a cheer is heard from everyone in the bridge, as it’s a special show for even the experienced sailor.  The two types of whales most common in the area are Minke and Humpback whales, but I’m still holding out hope I’ll see some Orca’s!

FAIRWEATHER Profile: Physical Scientist Megan Palmer Megan is one of three physical scientists currently aboard ship. She actually works at NOAA’s home office in Seattle but rotates out to ships several times each year. She is currently spending six weeks on the FAIRWEATHER and earlier in this year spent a month out at sea in Hawaii with another NOAA ship. Her role on the FAIRWEATHER varies. She’s primarily here to offer support wherever needed. She helps review survey’s, train employees, helps facilitate communication between the ship and home office, as well as increase her own awareness of what goes on aboard ship.

At an early age, Megan wanted to be an architect.  However, she was always interested in the math and sciences.  In college at Frostburg State she greatly enjoyed taking environmental classes which eventually led her to a degree in geography. It wasn’t long before Megan found a position with NOAA and has been very happy ever since. She loves being on water, although she admits it can sometimes be a love/hate relationship. At times you just want off the boat.  But the ability to use her geography background and the many opportunities NOAA offers employees, really excites her about this job.

For those girls thinking about a possible career with NOAA, Megan says, “Go for it. Don’t be intimidated by math and science courses.”  After all, one third of the personnel aboard the FAIRWEATHER are female, including women in the deck department, officers, survey department, and scientists!

Jessica Schwarz, July 2, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: July 2, 2006

NOAA ship RAINIER, anchored in Islet Passage.
NOAA ship RAINIER, anchored in Islet Passage.

Personal Log

So I survived the trip across the Gulf with only some minor sea sickness and for the last couple days been having an incredible time with the crew of the RAINIER on Kodiak Island. The island is very green and we’ve been so lucky to have beautiful sunny weather.

The NOAA ship FAIRWEATHER, RAINIER’s sister ship, is in port as well. On Friday there was a Change of Command ceremony brining in a new Commanding Officer for FAIRWEATHER.  I visited the FAIRWEATHER today and it looks almost identical to RAINIER.  Seeing the ships docked side by side is pretty impressive.

Tomorrow I fly home to the Big Island and I just can’t believe how fast the time has flown by. I finally know my way around the ship and now it’s time to leave. I do want to say, as this is my last log, how grateful I am to have had this experience.  I have learned an amazing amount on a variety of different subjects and truly feel myself enriched both personally and professionally.

The crew of the RAINIER has been amazing! I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me aboard the ship and letting me hang with them these last couple weeks.  Everyone has been extremely generous with their time and has taught me an amazing amount!!  I am leaving the RAINIER, having made some great new friendships.  I feel sad to be on my way so soon, but very excited to share all that I’ve learned with my students at WHEA.

Thanks again to everyone at NOAA for providing educators with such a unique opportunity to live and work together with NOAA mariners and scientists!  It’s been great! I’d just like to know, when can I go again?

Mahalo and Aloha!! Jessica Schwarz

Jessica Schwarz, June 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 28, 2006

The ship is underway, heading across the Gulf for Kodiak and to be honest the more I type the queasier my stomach feels so I’m keeping this entry short.

The seas are not rough today, I think they said between 5-7ft. swells, but the rocking of the ship has me feeling sick to my stomach a little bit.  I guess the more time you spend up top of the ship, the worse you might feel.

I went up to see the action in the bridge while we’re underway.  Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) Leslie Abramson let me take the helm for a few minutes.  There are several compasses to watch, basically all at one time, telling you the course you are on as well as your degrees of course change. Since we are in open ocean there were no useful landmarks to point towards to help me stay on course.  It was a very neat experience to be at the helm of the RAINIER.  She is a huge ship and it’s pretty incredible to feel her move with such small turns of the helm.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. I’m not feeling too well and probably should find some motion sickness medication.  I’m eating my words of my last log and caving.  I’ve decided being a zombie beats feeling sick.

Just so ya know 

I threw up my dinner after finishing this log and with the garbage can at my bedside I slept quite well.  So, even after having taken sea sickness medication, I’m still puking…what’s up with that?  I guess there’s just no preventing these things  sometimes.

Jessica Schwarz, June 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 27, 2006

Sonar image of a shipwreck
Sonar image of a shipwreck

Personal Log 

Just when I think I’m getting the hang of things on the ship…. I was working at the computer when I heard myself being paged over the intercom, “TAS dial 128”, “TAS dial 128”. I looked around and didn’t see a phone so I wondered up to the galley. The crew is prepared for the TAS to be confused and lost most of the time I think, so it doesn’t take long after a confused look on your face to get some help.

I was being paged because the CO wondered if I’d like to take a boat ride over to Redoubt Lake where the sockeye salmon are spawning.  I hurried down to my stateroom to grab some warm clothing and made my way to the fantail (stern of the boat) where the skiffs are tied.

Redoubt Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that sits just above sea level on one of the nearby islands. There were several other boats anchored in the bay, one of which had two men fishing for sockeye.  The CO cast a line in as well, but I guess the salmon weren’t biting today.  On our way back, I got to drive the skiff…remember the skiffs go much faster than the survey launches. The one we were riding in today can get up to 45 knots. I didn’t drive it that fast though.

Sonar image of a sunken airplane!
Sonar image of a sunken airplane!

We saw a harbor seal poke its nose out of the water. That was really cool! I’ve seen pictures some of the crew has taken, where they are resting on land. Pretty amazing! When I came back to the ship I headed up to the plotting room where Physical Scientist Shyla Allan showed me some amazing sonar images.  I’ve included a couple in this log for everyone to see. I was very impressed by how detailed the images are!

Later on that evening, I went for another boat ride on one of RAINIER’s skiffs with ENS Megan McGovern, OS Megan Guberski, and ST Erin Campbell.  We headed back over to Redoubt Lake. We spent time watching the salmon jumping.  Pretty incredible! Tomorrow we will be underway and heading across the Gulf to Kodiak Island!  Think good thoughts of calm seas and settled stomachs for me.

ENS Megan McGovern, TAS Jessica Schwarz, and ST Erin Campbell are spending their evening on the skiff to watch the salmon jump in Redoubt Bay in Southeast Alaska.
ENS Megan McGovern, TAS Jessica Schwarz, and ST Erin Campbell are spending their evening on the skiff to watch the salmon jump in Redoubt Bay in Southeast Alaska.

Jessica Schwarz, June 26, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 26, 2006

Rock hunters: SS Corey Muzzey and ENS Sam Greenaway after a productive morning of investigations.  Corey, Sam and Jamie have been very giving of their time and are excellent at explaining data acquisition and processing!
Rock hunters: SS Corey Muzzey and ENS Sam Greenaway after a productive morning of investigations. Corey, Sam and Jamie have been very giving of their time and are excellent at explaining data acquisition and processing!

Science and Technology Log 

So I hope everyone remembers what RAINIER’s Captain, Guy Noll, told me last week before I went out on a launch: “We hit rocks so that you don’t have to.”  When I first heard him say this, I kind of laughed, figuring it was somewhat of an exaggeration, he was only kidding with me. I found out this morning he actually wasn’t.

An added component to running lines and collecting sonar data is doing nearshore feature investigation. If you are involved in feature investigation, your job is to either prove or disprove whether or not a feature (rock, ledge, islet, wreck, etc.) actually exists in the position it’s been historically claimed to be.  When I say “historically” I mean some of these features were last charted based on data collected in the 1940s or earlier.  Therefore, NOAA needs to update the data used in developing their charts and resurvey various areas with updated technology.

For the last several years, NOAA has been augmenting its ship-based sonar surveys with airborne bathymetric LIDAR (LIght Detection and Ranging) data. LIDAR uses high powered laser pulses (invented in 1962!) transmitted from aircraft.  The laser sweeps back and forth across the earth’s surface, and the reflections are detected by a receiver. Much like sonar, the distance to the ground can be inferred from the amount of time required for the light to travel from the airplane, to the earth, and back.  If the position and altitude of the airplane are measured very accurately, the height and shape of features on the earth’s surface can be determined.

ENS Jamie Wasser, monitoring the Echosounder onboard RA1 during investigative surveys.
ENS Jamie Wasser, monitoring the Echosounder onboard RA1 during investigative surveys.

NASA and the U.S. Navy were among the first to use airborne LIDAR.  Later, with the involvement of NOAA, Airborne Oceanographic LIDAR was developed for use in the marine environment.  After continued progress in development and technology, Airborne Hydrographic LIDAR (AHL) was invented. AHL uses a wavelength of light which penetrates the water rather than reflecting off the surface, allowing for measurement of water depths in addition to land topography.  Keep in mind that although ALH was first developed in the mid 80s it was not practical for utilization on the Alaska Peninsula until the 90s. Although an exciting new addition to NOAA’s hydrographic survey “toolbox”, LIDAR is not able to run nearly as deep as sonar. In shallow water close to shore, however, it can reduce the need for inefficient and potentially unsafe small boat operations.  Both LIDAR and sonar are used to assist in determining what features are navigationally significant to those at sea and essentially what features will end up being charted.

RAINIER receives a list of questionable sea features based on information collected from LIDAR, past hydrographic data, and in some cases reports made by mariners.  Based on this collection of data, they are asked by the Pacific Hydrography Branch (the folks in Seattle who compile RAINIER’s data for addition to the charts) to investigate certain features (i.e. rock, ledge, islet etc.) that cannot be resolved with certainty based on the LIDAR or other.

After finishing investigations, TAS Jessica Schwarz is getting a feel for steering a jet-propelled boat!
After finishing investigations, TAS Jessica Schwarz is getting a feel for steering a jet-propelled boat!

So, today, ENS Sam Greenaway, ENS Jamie Wasser, Seamen Surveyor (SS) Corey Muzzey, and I went out looking for rocks☺. That doesn’t sound nearly scientific enough does it? There’s a lot involved in looking for rocks actually, and it’s not nearly as easy as it might sound. For me, as someone new to hydrographic surveying, my big question was, “Okay, and then what happens when we find one?” What’s this whole, “hitting rocks so you don’t have to” idea? Do we really hit the rocks? I rode today in launch RA1 to do investigations.  RA1 is unique because it is a jet propelled boat. This means it does not use a rudder and propeller, like you would expect to find on most power boats. Instead, RA1 is propelled (and steered) using water that is sucked in through a grill in the hull of the boat, accelerated by an impeller driven by a diesel engine, and expelled out a nozzle in the boat’s transom. Changing the direction of the discharge nozzle is what steers the boat. This allows RA1 to go into much shallower water. In fact it only needs 1 foot of water to stay afloat and move around.  Also, don’t be fooled by me saying “jet propelled”.  That might give someone the impression these boats are extremely fast.  RA1 is actually quite slow, with a cruising speed of 12 kts, which I figure was good for the crew while I was at the helm.

There are different ways of investigating features and doing a disproval (determining if a feature is there or not).  One is to use RA1’s single-beam sonar.  This is different from multi-beam sonar (like what I’ve discussed before) because instead of sending out between 140-250 pings of sound over an area of between 120°-150° from the boat, single-beam sonar sends only one ping directly beneath the hull to the ocean floor.  While single-beam sonar is running, the echosounder printer draws an outline of the sea floor features. Check out the picture of ENS Jamie Wasser with the echosounder to get an idea of what it might look like.

If you’re wondering why they aren’t using multi-beam instead, it’s because they’re in shallow water, extremely close to rocks, and it would be much too easy to knock off the multi-beam transducer attached to the hull.  Multi-beam sonars cost around $300,000 so it wouldn’t be very cost effective for NOAA to lose or damage one.  The single-beam sonar is imbedded in the hull and won’t be knocked off if the boat does happen to hit a rock.

Not all survey boats were running item investigations today. In fact today three survey boats were launched, two launches were running main scheme lines with multi-beam sonar (what I’ve participated in on past days) and one, the launch I was involved with today, was running investigations.

In order to do this, the launches need to get extremely close to shore and extremely close to these “hypothesized” features, often times physically nosing the boat up to them to check the positions (remember, “we hit rocks so you don’t have to”).  Depending on the sea conditions, this can be a very difficult process.

Personal Log 

Today was an excellent day. It was beautiful and sunny all day. We stopped the launch and had lunch in one of the little bays. On our way home, SS Corey Muzzey let me drive.  The jet drive boats drive much differently than the boats with rudders and propellers. The helm didn’t feel nearly as touchy and seemed more forgiving of my exaggerated turns of the wheel ☺. We saw several humpbacks out there today…around the time whales started showing up near the boat was when I lost interest in driving.

The landscape here is so incredible.  I keep trying to take digital pictures of it and am always disappointed by what little justice the pictures serve. Tonight is a crew beach party. Everyone on the ship who wants to go can get a ride to a nearby beach to spend some time on land for a change. I’m looking forward to it!

Soon we’ll be crossing the Gulf. I’ve been hearing some horror stories about this crossing, not just from the crew, but also from some of the people I met while I was in Sitka before I came onboard RAINIER.  I’m actually looking forward to being on the open ocean. We’ve spent a lot of time anchored and well protected in the bay.  Crossing the Gulf will be a new experience.  I’m excited!

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

Sonar technology wasn’t utilized for hydrographic purposes until the 1940s.  Before this, how did surveyors chart the sea floor? Remember, hydrographic surveying and the development of nautical charts, dates all the way back to 1807 with Thomas Jefferson.  So, how did they do it back then?  Let me know what think!

Jessica Schwarz, June 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 25, 2006

From the bridge, ENS Olivia Hauser radios to survey launches RA4 and RA5 to let them know RAINIER is underway.
From the bridge, ENS Olivia Hauser radios to survey launches RA4 and RA5 to let them know RAINIER is underway.

Science and Technology Log 

Today the RAINIER moved yet again. At around 2:00 this afternoon, while I was working away in the plotting room we lifted anchor and got underway.

I learned today the anchor lengths are measured in units called “shots”, with 90 feet in one shot. As the anchor was being lifted, you could hear Boatswain Group Leader (BGL) Steve Foye calling out shot lengths over the radio.  This was to let the crew in the bridge know how much anchor chain was left before the ship was no longer be secured to ground. ENS Meghan McGovern mentioned that the anchor chain is generally let out 5-7 times the depth of the water, leaving plenty of slack for the ship to rotate on anchor.

Two survey boats were still in the field when RAINIER got underway today. I think it’s pretty amazing they can load the boats onto the ship while we’re moving!  According to the crew it’s easier to load them while we’re moving then when we’re at anchor.  ENS Olivia Hauser radioed the launches to let them know to get ready for pickup. We’re now anchored in Kanga Bay again and the weather has been beautiful!

RAINIER deck crew looking over the side of the ship to watch the anchor as it is being lifted out of the water.   Communication from the deck to the bridge on the location of the anchor relative to the ship’s position is important to prevent damage of the ship’s hull.
RAINIER deck crew looking over the side of the ship to watch the anchor as it is being lifted out of the water. Communication from the deck to the bridge on the location of the anchor relative to the ship’s position is important to prevent damage of the ship’s hull.

Tonight I had the opportunity to chat with some of the NOAA Commissioned Officers on the bridge, ENS Megan McGovern, ENS Nate Eldridge, and ENS Sam Greenaway. I wondered how they got involved in NOAA Corps in the first place. All three of them received a Bachelors of Science prior to applying to NOAA Corps. One of the minimum requirements to apply for the Corps is a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering, or mathematics.  Once admitted, the officers head to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in New York for NOAA Basic Officer Training Class, a rigorous three-month training period. Upon completion of BOTC, the NOAA Corps officers are placed on NOAA vessels sailing throughout the world.  They commit to a 2-2.5 year tour aboard the ship to which they are assigned.

The officers, always in uniform, are responsible for running the ship, and are also hydrographic surveyors onboard RAINIER. They work on a rotating schedule, including anchor watch, survey launch, and cleaning and processing data. It seems to me that they’re always working. Then again, that’s how it seems with all the crew working onboard the RAINIER.  Check out the NOAA Corps web site if you’re interested.

NOAA Commissioned Officers: ENS Nate Eldridge, ENS Meghan McGovern, and ENS Sam Greenaway.
NOAA Commissioned Officers: ENS Nate Eldridge, ENS Meghan McGovern, and ENS Sam Greenaway.

Personal Log 

It’s Sunday today! Physical Scientist Shyla Allen asked me today what I would typically be doing on a Sunday. I told her, I’d be at the beach, going for a swim or snorkel!  It’s funny how different my Sundays are in Alaska on RAINIER.  It doesn’t really feel like a Sunday because everyone is still hard at work.  Today I wrote my log, responded to e-mail, and visited with crew.  Pretty fabulous Sunday, really.  Not too much activity, at least not for me anyways, which is just how I prefer to spend Sunday.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

This question comes from the Navigation Officer onboard RAINIER, ENS Sam Greenaway.

If there are 6ft in 1 fathom, in 15 fathoms of water, how many shots of anchor chain would be let out when the anchor just touches the ocean floor?

Also, in 15 fathoms of water, how much additional chain would typically be let out to provide slack for the RAINIER to swing on anchor?

Lisa Kercher, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 24, 2006

Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.
Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.

Science and Technology Log

The crew is working hard to finish sheet B, which is full of completed polygons, with a few remaining to be worked on. Launch 1018 went to work on three of those areas today. Captain Ron drove us to our destination and ENS Wendy Lewis started the computer system. Two of the areas we were assigned were low water areas that can only be navigated by an experienced cox’n. Good thing Ron was heading up our boat. He is as experienced as they come. To start our work we had to lower our transducer, which enables us to send out sonar beams that bounce off the ocean floor. Those beams bounce back to show the shape of the ocean floor.  We deployed our CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device three different times to get accurate readings on the conditions of the ocean that might affect our data collection. Surprisingly, we completed our assignment early and got to head in for lunch.

Humpback whales breach near the ship
Humpback whales breach near the ship

Personal Log 

Today was whale day! Captain Ron promised me whales and he delivered even before we heading out this morning.  As we stood on the fantail of the ship for the morning meeting, Ron pointed out a humpback breeching off in the distance!  Then as we cruised at 8 knots surveying our area, a large humpback put on a great show for us!  He surfaced again and again, showing off his immense tail fins. What a large splash he made!  I was able to watch him for nearly thirty minutes and captured some great video of the spectacular scene.  I had yet to see the grand prize of Alaskan marine life: the Orca, but whale day wasn’t over yet. As we idled off the northwest corner of Andronica Island completing our data for the day, a small pod of orcas came to play between our boat and the coast. I could see the white patch on their side and their characteristic dorsal fin. I was so thrilled!  Again, I had an amazing day out in the Alaskan seas. Am I really going to have to leave here?!?

Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island
Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island

Jessica Schwarz, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 24, 2006

The Plot Room onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.  After data is collected from the survey boats, it is cleaned and processed by night processors in this room.
The Plot Room onboard NOAA ship RAINIER. After data is collected from the survey boats, it is cleaned and processed by night processors in this room.

Personal Log 

I spent another day of hydrographic surveying today! We started at 8:00am by launching boats RA4 and RA5. I was on RA5 today.

I took a motion sickness pill the night before because the seas have been pretty rough lately and some of the technicians have gotten sea sick. I had no idea how I would feel so I took one just to be safe and let me just say…I am never taking one again. I felt like a zombie woman the entire day. I haven’t gotten sea sick yet and I think I’m going to take my chances next time the opportunity arises.  I’m sure the medicine has different effects on different people, but for me, I felt like my head was floating a foot above my body the entire day. We’re going to be crossing the Gulf next week and rumor has it that can be a rough leg so I might eat my words and cave by taking the medicine. In that case, it will make for an uneventful log. After a day of surveying we came back to the ship, had dinner, and then I was off in a skiff to shore to spend some time in the hot springs.  WOW! This was amazing.  When I was packing for my trip I remember thinking it was pointless to pack my swimsuit, but I did anyways…because ya never know! Turns out, I needed it for my visit to the springs.

Survey launch RA5 working in Kanga Bay in Southeast Alaska. The cruising speed of RA5 is up to 25 knots, but while on the survey line logging data, the boat can go no more than 8 kts.
Survey launch RA5 working in Kanga Bay in Southeast Alaska. The cruising speed of RA5 is up to 25 knots, but while on the survey line logging data, the boat can go no more than 8 kts.

Tucked away in the forest on one of the surrounding islands encircling the bay are beautiful hot springs that people can come to enjoy.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service built several small cabins that enclose a big round brown tub, similar to what you’d see in old country western movies.  White pipes buried underground are hooked up to the natural spring water and pumped into the tubs.  The cabin has a huge window so you can view Hot Springs Bay from the tub.  It was like a rustic Alaskan spa experience!  After spending some time in the tub, Survey Tech Erin Campbell and I went up into the forest a little ways where we found a natural hot spring surrounded by hemlock trees.  The bottom of the hot spring was pretty muddy and crunchy from what I am assuming (and hoping) to be twigs and leaf litter.  I couldn’t help but wonder what other little organisms were having an Alaskan spa experience along with me.  I came out a little muddy, but very relaxed!

These are the kinds of amazing experiences the crew of the RAINIER gets to enjoy while traveling onboard the ship. They are visiting places that most people will never get a chance to visit in their entire life.  There are fishing poles, kayaks, surf boards, and all kinds of other equipment onboard that the crew can use!  I think that’s awesome.  Everyone is working so hard during the day; it’s nice to see they have some options for things to do on their down time.

I have to say, I have been so impressed with everyone onboard the RAINIER.  This is a group of adults who live together, work together, and then play together…all in very close quarters. Everyone is very well rounded and kind.  They are truly professionals at sea. I really am appreciating the competency and maturity of everyone onboard the RAINIER. There is a common understanding that although you have high expectations placed on you to get the job done, there is also an understanding that everyone is always learning and it’s okay to make mistakes here and there.

I think that is extremely important to support the crew’s confidence and comfort level in performing their duties while onboard.  I’m just so impressed with the level of support and encouragement of one another.  This is not something always observed onboard a boat or ship. I think it says a lot about the high quality of the crew onboard the RAINIER. I feel lucky to be a part of it for my time at sea in Alaska.

Next log, I’ll explain more about how the hydrographic data is processed after it’s been collected on the launches.  For now, I am off to see how things are going in the bridge, which I have decided is my favorite place on the RAINIER…well, the bridge and the galley, where the coffee is always flowing.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

What is a hot spring?  How are they formed and where does the hot water come from?  Isn’t water in Alaska supposed to be cold? Also, just out of curiosity, what kinds of things might live in a hot spring?

Check out this United States Geological Survey website to learn more about the ecosystem and climate history in Alaska.

8th graders, think about plate tectonic movement.  How would plates shifting apply to what you read on this website?

Jessica Schwarz, June 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 23, 2006

Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman, checking gages in Central Engine Room Control.
Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman, checking gages in Central Engine Room Control.

Crew Interview Day! 

Today was another excellent day onboard the mighty RAINIER.  I awoke and made my way to the galley for an English muffin and some coffee before I made it to Central Engine Room Control to chat with Third Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman.  Before Kelly made her way down to talk with me, Engineering Electronics Technician (EET) Joe Gallo took me beyond the center console and into the engine room.  I was able to see for myself the machinery that is powering the ship.  I checked out the main engines, the generators, the boiler, the evaporators, and all kinds of other noisy machines.  After my tour I sat down to find out what got Kelly into being an engineer in the first place. Kelly started out as a young girl with aspirations of becoming a naval pilot. This was interesting news to me because I didn’t realize the Navy had pilots in the first place.  I thought the Navy aircraft carriers were carriers for Air Force planes.  In actuality, the Air Force is only land based, and all Navy carriers support naval aircraft.

Photo of the port main engine. The starboard main engine is not shown but looks exactly the same and is directly across from the port engine.
Photo of the port main engine. The starboard main engine is not shown but looks exactly the same and is directly across from the port engine.

As she grew up she changed her mind, deciding to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Marine Engineering Systems Design from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY.  Along with a BS, Kelly also received a minor in nuclear engineering.

The United States Merchant Marine Academy (known simply as “Kings Point”) is one of the five federal military training academies.  It is the only academy that allows its graduates to be hired as civilians with the expectation of completing their military service requirements.  Kelly is completing her requirements by working for the Navy Reserve. Kelly has traveled all over the world on various ships.  Before she even finished college she was onboard US Naval Ship LARAMIE during the time the United Nations decided to go into Kosovo.  LARAMIE was a Navy support ship that replenished the battle ships with fuel, food, and other consumables.  She mentioned these ships are the only military ships that will employ civilians and they follow the battle fleet for the sole purpose of providing support and supplies to the vessels.

While onboard Kelly was getting hands-on training as an engineer.  Students at Kings Point are required to have at least one year of hands-on training on a ship before graduating. While she was getting her training she was traveling to Japan, Australia, Spain, Alaska, Hawaii…and plenty of other places (I just can’t remember them all…there were so many).

Ordinary Seamen (OS) Megan Guberski fully suited in her turnout gear onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.
Ordinary Seamen (OS) Megan Guberski fully suited in her turnout gear onboard NOAA ship RAINIER.

Now Kelly is an employee of the Maritime Engineers Beneficiary Association, which is the largest maritime union for engineers.  She was originally placed on NOAA ship RAINIER to work for 45 days beginning in April 2006, but after arrival, due to her level of experience as an engineer she was offered to stay onboard until August 2006.

I was just so impressed talking with Kelly.  She’s traveled all over the world working as an engineer on many different kinds of ships.  I really appreciated the time she took to explain how all the machines work to power the RAINIER!!  She is obviously doing what she enjoys and life at sea comes very natural to her.  After talking with Kelly, I spent some time responding to e-mails and chatting with the crew. Today is Friday, so in my normal routine that means…DAYS OFF!!!  Not for the crew of RAINIER…their schedule continues to rotate regardless of what day of the week it is. Ordinary Seaman (OS) Megan Guberski put it simply, saying “yeah, every day is a Tuesday.” They are working so hard out here…all the time.  I think when we come into port I’ll get to see what it’s like for the crew to get a break.  That’ll be nice.

OS Megan Guberski showed me a little bit of what it’s like to work on maintaining the quality of the ship. She spends her days cleaning, painting, scraping, scrubbing, fixing, etc and gets to use really cool power tools (she mentioned that’s why she enjoys her job so much).  When she had a little time, I asked Megan if she would put on her fire suit for a picture, or as it is supposed to be called, “turnout gear.” Turnout gear is the protective gear Megan has to wear to fight a fire onboard.

She went through Coast Guard Advanced Fire Fighting Training and is now one of five people responsible for putting out a fire onboard! I noticed the suit during our fire drill earlier in the week and I SO badly wanted to get pictures, but knew it probably wasn’t the best time.  I was still trying to figure out where I was supposed to go in case of a fire. As I mentioned earlier…I get lost easily so stopping for photos during a fire drill would be a bad idea.

Anyway, it’s supposed to take them around a minute to get the suit on.  That seems impossible to me because there are a lot of things Megan had to put on. The turnout gear was even more difficult to get into than the Gumby suit and that took some serious effort.

Megan, as well as all the crew on the RAINIER, has been excellent at taking time to explain how things work on the ship. She has been on the RAINIER for about a year and a half now and is working her way up to be an AB, Able-Bodied Seamen.  By September 3rd of this year she will have enough days at sea to qualify as an AB onboard. Megan is very ambitious and has already completed all the training necessary to qualify as an AB.  She will need to take a Coast Guard test before she will earn the title, but she said she’s not concerned about that. It’s just a matter of getting in her sea time.

It’s been so nice to have the opportunity to learn about the different job opportunities onboard a NOAA ship. Many of the positions require little to no training prior to employment and therefore training is provided onboard the vessel.  I think that’s awesome!

Showing off her air tank, OS Megan Guberski is dressed to fight a fire!
Showing off her air tank, OS Megan Guberski is dressed to fight a fire!

Personal Log 

Tonight I had halibut for dinner. The CO caught a 15-lb halibut off the stern of the ship and we all were able to enjoy!  There are hot springs on shore and rumor has it we’ll be visiting them soon. I’m looking forward to that.

I’m getting more used to the noises of the ship and am sleeping soundly.  My bunk is surprisingly cushy and very comfortable.  It wasn’t exactly easy getting out of it this morning.

I saw a sea otter today!!!  He was swimming on his back. We don’t have otters in Hawaii so I’m having my first otter encounters here in Alaska.  I guess some of the crew saw whales this morning as well, but I missed it!

Life is good out here on the RAINIER!  A little rainy today, but good!

This is cool…check it out! 

Go to NOAA’s website.

Jessica Schwarz, June 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 22, 2006

Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman at the center console in the engine room onboard the RAINIER.  Kelly fired up the engines to get the ship underway this morning!
Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman at the center console in the engine room onboard the RAINIER. Kelly fired up the engines to get the ship underway this morning!

Science and Technology Log 

This morning the RAINIER changed locations from Kanga Bay to Hot Springs Bay. I had an opportunity to go down in the Central Engine Room Control (CERC) and see how the engines are fired up to get the ship moving again.  Kelly Baughman, the ship’s Third Assistant Engineer (3AE), took some time to explain what I was observing down there before she got the engines going. Being in the engine room was really cool.  I was completely surrounded by buttons to push and knobs to turn and although very tempting, I didn’t touch any of them. The RAINIER has two main engines to motor her, one on the port (left) side of the ship and one on the starboard (right) side of the ship.  There are two generators that put out a total of 400 kilowatts of electrical power to the ship.  An additional smaller emergency generator is also a part of the ship, but it puts out significantly less energy than the two main generators.

On the bridge, Vessel Assistant, Kelson Baird is logging the ships position from four points on the radar screen.  The position of the points is recorded every half hour to monitor the effectiveness of the anchor.
On the bridge, Vessel Assistant, Kelson Baird is logging the ship’s position from four points on the radar screen. The position of the points is recorded every half hour to monitor the effectiveness of the anchor.

Kelly also explained how the bow thruster works on the ship.  It basically looks like a fan and helps to maneuver the ship from the bow.  There are several other things that are monitored at the center console, but we weren’t able to get to all of them.  Kelly said tomorrow morning will be a better time to go over some of the other things in the engine room since we’ll be anchored in the bay. After visiting with Kelly, I had a nice afternoon talking with crew and soaking up ship life. I made my way up to the bridge where General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Kelson Baird was monitoring weather data. He was excellent at explaining all the different instruments used in collecting weather data onboard the ship. Every hour, on the hour, Kelson recorded weather information.  He started by logging the ship’s position (latitude/longitude).  Next he recorded an overall weather condition such as cloudy, rainy, drizzle etc. Today was cloudy and rainy. Kelson then stepped outside the bridge and looked to see what point of land was the furthest he could clearly see from the ship.  Once he found his point of land he came back inside the bridge and used the radar screen to determine a distance in nautical miles that point of land was from the ship.  This gave Kelson a visibility reading. Other information Kelson recorded was wind speed in knots, using the ship’s anemometer, as well as wind direction.  Wind direction (measuring from the direction the wind is coming from) can be measured using a gyrocompass, which is an electronic compass measuring to true north.

Dry bulb and wet bulb used to record air temperature from the RAINIER.
Dry bulb and wet bulb used to record air temperature from the RAINIER.

If the ship were underway he would have also had to record wave height, swell wave height, and sea wave height. Kelson said this would be done by a very scientific method called “eye balling it”…or as I like to say, EBI. Another measurement taken while at anchor was water temperature, which, by the way, was 49° F while I was in the bridge this afternoon.  Just as a quick side note: crew of the RAINIER surf in this water and are very excited to surf in the break off of Kodiak Island when we arrive in port.  I think they are crazy, but I’d love to watch them! The last weather measurements Kelson recorded were air temperature and atmospheric pressure. Two air temperature measurements are taken: one from what is called a wet bulb and one from a dry bulb.  Then he recorded sea level (atmospheric) pressure measured by a barometer.

Kelson went on to explain about “Big Weather”, which is an ongoing data collection project where weather information is sent every six hours via satellite to be used by NOAA’s National Weather Service.  Pretty amazing all the work that is being done on the RAINIER!

Personal Log 

I am seriously impressed by how well I am being fed on the ship.  Each meal I have several hot meal options to choose from and there is always a vegetarian option for those who do not eat meat.  The soup has been excellent!  There’s a full salad bar directly next to a freezer fully stocked with Haagen-Dazs ice cream!  I think that’s pretty good.  Coffee is available all day long as well which makes me very, very happy.  I won’t indulge on hydrographic survey days. We’ve already talked about that…

Calling All Middle Schoolers–We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

Third Assistant Engineer Kelly Baughman explained to me today that the ship can carry up to 16,800 gallons of freshwater. She went on to say that on average the ship’s crew uses anywhere between 1,500-2,000 gallons per day.

If the RAINIER were to be at sea for 21 days without coming into port to replenish its fresh water supply, how many days would it take for the ship to run out of fresh water?

How would the ship be able to produce more fresh water without having to go into port?

Jessica Schwarz, June 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 21, 2006

Getting ready to lower the CTD, Conductive Temperature and Depth tool.
Getting ready to lower the CTD, Conductive Temperature and Depth tool.

Science, Technology and a Little History…Log 

I am very proud to say I was onboard RAINIER (the world’s most productive coastal hydrographic survey ship), as well as a part of an eleven hour day of surveying, on the first annual World Hydrography Day! Yep, that’s right.  According to a message sent by NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., (a retired Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy), the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/60/30 in November of 2005 to acknowledge the International Hydrographic Organization’s role in advancing global navigation safety and protection to those at sea, making today World Hydrography Day!

I like the way Commander Guy Noll put it:  “We hit rocks so that you don’t have to”.  That gave me a new found appreciation for the work the crew is doing on the RAINIER.  I must admit this was not exactly a reassuring thought just before I was heading out for a full day of hydrographic surveying. But hey, it’s World Hydrography Day…I needed to celebrate appropriately.

I didn’t realize the real history and purpose of hydrography until talking with Ensign Sam Greenaway and Junior Survey Technician Tonya Watson on the survey launch today.  Hydrographic surveying in the United States actually dates back to 1807 when Thomas Jefferson established the “Survey of the Coast” to produce nautical charts for US coastal waters. The Survey of the Coast evolved in the current NOAA Office of Coast Survey (OCS). OCS is the oldest scientific agency in the federal government, and was established primarily to encourage commerce.  Jefferson was looking to support a growing economy in a safe and efficient manner.

Having her hand at the wheel, TAS Jessica Schwarz steers launch boat, RA4 during a productive day of hydrographic surveying.
Having her hand at the wheel, Jessica Schwarz steers launch boat, RA4 during hydrographic surveying.

According to Peter J. Guthorn, author of United States Coastal Charts. 1783-1861, the production and distribution of charts was delayed until 1843, with the first publication of the New York Harbor chart. This was due to the War of 1812, political disagreements (imagine that) and a lack of trained hydrographers.  Before the publication of government charts, there were private publications adapted from British and French charts with updates from local shipmasters and pilots familiar with the coasts of North America.

Check out NOAA’s link for more information on the work NOAA is doing. I find the history very interesting.  It’s really given me a sense of the global importance of the surveys conducted and the charts being produced.  I’m excited to be a part of it for these two weeks.  It’s only taken 200 years to come up with World Hydrography Day. I think the recognition is very well deserved and obviously overdue!

As for my time spent on the launch today:  Well, we left at 8:00 in the morning.  Within minutes the survey team onboard, ENS Sam Greenaway and JST Tonya Watson, were getting to work.  The first thing they did was use the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth instrument to determine the variation of temperature, salinity, and density in the water.  This helps determine the speed and path of the sonar energy through the water. A CTD measurement is taken once every four hours for each survey period.

After the CTD measurements were taken, they began running lines and logging sonar data. Today we were focusing on holiday lines. Holiday lines are basically holes in the data or areas where previous surveys may have missed collecting information.  From my understanding, there is a sonar transducer on the bottom of the survey boat. The Reson 8125 that I mentioned in my previous log (remember 120° of coverage using 240 individual beams) is mounted on survey boat RA4. RA4 is the launch I was on today (World Hydrography Day).

While the boat is moving at a speed of no greater than 8 knots along the charted line, this transducer is sending out multi-beam sonar to the ocean floor.  Steering the launch to remain on the line is not easy. Deck Utilityman (DU) Ken Keys, the coxswain of the boat for today, let me give it a shot.  I was steering more on a zigzagged line rather than a straight one. It was actually kind of stressful because the accuracy of the sonar data is affected by how well the person steering stays on the line.

While cruising down the line, data is continuously collected on the amount of time it takes the sonar to echo back from the ocean floor to the transducer.  I was able to view rocks on the ocean floor from the display on the computer screen.  As you can imagine, in shallower water this information came in handy to the driver of the boat, which ultimately was helpful to all of us onboard •

Personal Log 

I am having an incredible time on the RAINIER! Last night I was able to go for a run on the treadmill they have onboard.  I along with Survey Technician, Erin Campbell decided to call the workout area Club RAINIER.  It basically consists of three machines, a rowing machine and free weights, down in what looks to me like a storage space.  I was very excited to hear about the equipment onboard!  I think it’s impressive they have it available.

Something interesting that is NOT available to the RAINIER crew is a bathroom on the survey launch boats. Hmmm?  Needless to say, on days I am out on a launch I’m taking it really easy on the coffee and any other beverages throughout the survey.

Calling All Middle Schoolers-We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

These questions come from one of the Junior Survey Technicians onboard the RAINIER, Tanya Watson.

What do you suppose the effect of high frequency sonar, such as the sonar NOAA uses in their hydrography surveys, has on the marine mammals living in the sea?  Do you suspect there to be a difference between the effects of low frequency sonar vs. high frequency sonar?  Let me know what you think!

Jessica Schwarz, June 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 20, 2006

The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER.  RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!
The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER. RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!

Science and Technology Log 

Today I awoke for my first day in Kanga Bay. The bay was absolutely beautiful this morning, looking perfectly still and glassy. The Captain, CDR Guy Noll, said it’s not normally this clear.  I was absolutely awe-struck by the scenery!  The first thing I did was head to the fantail for muster with the crew involved in launching the hydrographic survey boats off the ship.  The fantail is the area outside in the very back of the ship. Muster was led by the Captain and FOO, Field Operations Officer. They informed the crew of potential weather changes for the day’s mission that may affect the survey boats.  It was incredible to watch the boats being launched from the ship.  A large crane lifted each boat up and over the side of the ship and into the ocean.  After the survey boats were launched two additional skiffs were launched as rescue boats, in case of an emergency.  The first skiff lowered weighs up to 3,000 lbs, with the second skiff lowered, weighing 2,400 lbs. The Captain said the rescue skiff can travel up to a speed of 45 knots (nautical mile/hour).

The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER.  The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.
The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER. The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.

Today survey boats RA4 and RA5 were launched from the ship.  RA stands for the RAINIER. Ben, the ships FOO, explained to me the difference between the two survey boats being launched. RA4 is a Reson 8125. It uses a multi-beam sonar system that covers an area of 120° using 240 individual beams to collect sonar data.  This gives the RA4 the ability to collect very high resolution data.  RA5 is a Reson 8101, and is more of an all purpose survey boat Ben mentioned.  He said this boat does not have the high resolution capabilities that the RA4 has because it has around 150° of coverage using only 101 individual beams to collect sonar data.  Tomorrow I will be going out on a survey and will have a much better understanding of how the data is actually collected and processed. While the survey boats were out today, I was spending my time on the NOAA ship getting administrative things taken care of. Once most of that was finished I made my way to the bridge to ask a few questions about the navigating process. Olivia, the Officer on Duty, or OOD was very helpful in answering some of my questions and then once she needed to leave the bridge, Jonathon one of the ship’s Abs, explained how to get a radar fix.

As I mentioned in my last log, the ship’s course is already plotted prior to departure by the Navigation Officer. He plotted the course on a chart of the Sitka area on down to the Islet Passage and Kanga Bay where the ship is anchored now. Jonathon was on the bridge today collecting radar data to be sure the ship wasn’t shifting too much, constantly confirming that the anchor is effectively keeping the ship in place.  A reading is taken every 30 minutes.  You would never know it while being on board, or at least I didn’t notice, but the ship had rotated 300° on the anchor and then swung back again.

Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill.  “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!
Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill. “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!

Jonathon showed me how to get what you call a radar fix.  A radar fix is basically used to find the exact position of the ship. I observed Olivia, one of the officers doing this in the bridge while we were underway yesterday. Although the officers do their best to remain on the plotted course line, there are other factors that will cause the boat to get off the line. Current is one of them. Readings of three points of land, the bearing as well as the range, are taken from the radar screen.  Points of land are simply points from the land that are distinctive enough to use to plot the position of the ship using the chart.  Once the three points are taken with the bearings (angle to the point) and range (distance to the point) recorded, they are brought over to the chart where a tool called a divider is used so plot the three angles. The point at which those three angles intersect is the exact position of the ship. This can then be compared to the line already plotted to mark the ship’s course.  The crew will then have an idea of the ships cross track error.  Cross track error is how far the ship is off the plotted course line.  Whew.

Personal Log 

I have been asking a million questions, picking the brains of the crew. Everyone has been so giving of their time to explain things to me on the ship! Things can be complicated on the RAINIER.  There is just so much to learn!!  Something that was particularly fun about today was the abandon ship drill. This was only something I would consider fun because I got to put on my immersion suit (or Gumby suit, as I heard it called today).  The immersion suit would be used to keep warm in the water if we all needed to abandon ship.  I had fun trying it on. The XO had to help me get it on; these things are not that easy to get into.  I tried really hard to make the gloves of the suit shake for a picture, but it wasn’t easy!  I grabbed extra blankets for a warmer nights sleep tonight.  The ship can feel drafty in my stateroom.  I’m looking forward to a long day of surveying!!! I’m so excited to share!

Calling All Middle Schoolers–We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

These questions come straight from the RAINIER’s Captain:

What is a nautical mile?  How is it different from a mile on land? How would I convert a nautical mile into miles/hour?

Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.
Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.

Jeff Lawrence, May 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 22 – June 2, 2006

Mission: Hydrography survey
Geographical area of cruise: Alaska
Date: May 27, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge
Visibility: Fog 0.0 miles
Wind direction: 310 deg. NW
Wind Speed:  8 knots
Sea level pressure: 1011 mb
Present weather: Very foggy with small swells
Temperature:  46 deg. wet/dry 46 deg.

Launch boat in action in Wrangell Narrows
Launch boat in action in Wrangell Narrows

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday I was invited out on a boat launch with LTJG Abigail Higgins, Junior Survey Tech Tonya Watson, and Deck Utility Man Kenneth Keys.  We were sent out to set a couple of buoys to mark locations where divers from the RAINIER could go down later in the day and take a closer look at some peculiar features from the sonar soundings.  We also had to run a couple of survey lines around an object near Petersburg Harbor on something peculiar Captain Guy Noll had spotted in the sonar record.  I was able to pilot the launch for part of the trip and DU Keys gave me a quick course on navigation around marked points in the Wrangell Narrows.  This was really cool!  LTJG Higgins showed me how the boat collects data to take back to the RAINIER where it is processed to be used on navigation charts.

When on a boat launch you may have to take lunch with you because you will not be back to the RAINIER in time for lunch. The skies were clear and full of intense Alaskan sunshine, which makes it feel warmer than the actual temperature outside. It was a beautiful day enjoyed even the more by having lunch on the boat. When the launch boat returns to the RAINIER the data is downloaded to the ships computers where it is processed so that charts and graphs can be made or updated. Below physical scientist Shyla Allen from the Pacific Hydrographic Branch assist ENS Laurel Jennings in making plans for running lines at the next stop near Sitka. ENS Jennings is in her first year on the RAINIER and a part of the NOAA officer corps aboard the RAINIER.

Crunching the numbers are: Shyla Allen (back) and ENS Laurel Jennings (front)
Crunching the numbers are: Shyla Allen (back) and ENS Laurel Jennings

Personal Log 

Today was an absolutely beautiful day in SE Alaska.  I really enjoyed working with the survey technicians and people aboard the RAINIER.  I have learned much more than I thought ever existed when comes to navigating the waters, coastlines, and harbors of Alaska. Today we are traveling to Biorka Island, which is northwest of where we were the previous week.

Questions of the Day 

When approaching a green buoy from sea in a channel in North America which side should your boat approach on?

When approaching a red buoy from sea in a channel in North America which side should your boat approach on?

Assignment 

Plot a course if you were the pilot of the RAINIER that you would follow from Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg to Biorka Island.

Stephanie Wally, September 9, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephanie Wally
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 29 – September 10, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Eastern Prince William Sound, Alaska
Date: September 9, 2005

Launch Deployment
Launch Deployment

Weather Data from Bridge 

Time: 0600
Cloud Cover: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind: 12 knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1ft
Swell Wave Height: 0
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2°C
Sea Level Pressure: 1022.8 mb (millibars)
Temperature: 11.7°C

Science and Technology Log 

Early this morning at 4:35 am, RAINIER and her crew got underway for Valdez.  My twelve days aboard the ship have gone by quickly, and I am excited about all the experiences I will have to take back to my students.  The photo below depicts one of my favorite parts of the hydrographic mission:  taking launches out into the sound to survey the seafloor. During these workdays, the crewmembers took the time to train me on how the ELAC and RESON sonar work. I was able to actually participate in all of the ship’s data collection and operations. One of the most interesting software programs I had the opportunity to use was the HYPAC program that helps guide the coxswain of the boat.  The technology and equipment are key elements in the current data collection and analysis surrounding hydrography.

During informal interviews with crewmembers, I learned a great deal about the logistics and planning of a two-week survey such as this one.  Most of the crew resides in or around Seattle where the ship will remain during the winter.  During this time, officers will write their reports on the survey, data will be processed in Seattle, then delivered to Silver Springs, MD where nautical charts will be updated.  The Captain of RAINIER, Commander Guy Noll, gave me another insight into the purpose for this project.  The data collected could be used in the future to better understand ecosystems, fish habitats and other aspects of the hydro “big picture.”  NOAA collects and organizes the data for the maritime community, as well as for future scientific investigations.

I feel very fortunate that I was given this opportunity to take part in a leg of RAINIER’s journey. It is interesting to think that on Monday, I will be back to school with my students, while RAINIER and her crew will be getting underway for the next leg of the survey back to the Columbia Glacier, then on to Juneau.  I’m sure their future missions will go smoothly, as did this one, considering the competence and dedication of the crew.  With my plane leaving early tomorrow morning, I now have a little bit of time to go explore the town of Valdez, take some final pictures, and hang out with some of the new friends I made aboard RAINIER.

James Miller, August 23, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
James Miller
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 13 – 27, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: August 23, 2005

Location: Anchored in Fish Range Bay; north of Mitrofinia Island
Weather: Sunny, low 70’s
Wind: variable
Seas: 1-2 foot swell
Itinerary:  Working in Fish Range Bay area for couple of days

Science and Technology Log 

We are anchored in Chiginigak Bay on the peninsula to basically wait out the weather. Since there is no needed surveying in the area, the plan of the day is to have the less experienced crew and officers train in the launches and small skiffs.  For safety concerns, it’s important to have all crew and officers comfortable with all operations regarding the launches. Everything from learning how to lower the launches using the davits, to maneuvering the launches safely near the shoreline was covered.

I had an opportunity to get instruction on the use of the heavy davits and how to secure the launches for getting underway. The deck hands know their jobs really well and every move is deliberate and geared towards safety.  The RAINIER has been doing this kind of work with these exact launches since 1968, so all the kinks have been worked out of the procedures. Everything has to be done a certain way, and if you do it differently you get an earful of why your way could be dangerous.

During the long transits, I’ve begun working on the lessons required by NOAA.  I’ve come up with the framework for about eight lessons so far that align nicely with the classes I’ll be teaching this upcoming school year. I haven’t found it very difficult to find potential math lessons while onboard.  My lessons thus far cover topics ranging from basic geometry and trigonometry, to calculus.  I’m also working on getting some visuals such as charts to display on my classroom bulletin boards.

Personal Log 

Before departing for Kodiak in afternoon, I tried some more salmon and halibut fishing. No luck on the salmon, but I caught a couple of small halibut in the 3lb range, which I released. I eventually caught a larger fish (~ 8lbs) that I decided to keep.

I’ve talked about the food often in my logs but haven’t mentioned much about the menu.  All the meals are very large, and it’s hard to resist not eating until your completely stuffed.  Anything can be made to order at breakfast, which is served 7 – 7:30 am.  (I usually go for the waffles and eggs). Lunch is served at noon and is basically equivalent to an early dinner with meat or vegetarian dishes, soup, and salad.  Then dinner comes along at 5pm, which is again a full course meal that includes a dessert.  You never seem to go hungry on the ship and I’m sure I gained a few pounds.

We’ll be arriving in Kodiak in the morning for refueling and then departing for Seward later in the afternoon. Each day the captain sends the crew weather updates through e-mail.  It is welcomed news to hear the weather is supposed to be good for the reminder of the trip.

James Miller, August 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
James Miller
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 13 – 27, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: August 22, 2005

Location: Anchored in Fish Range Bay; north of Mitrofinia Island
Weather: Sunny, low 70’s
Wind: variable
Seas: 1-2 foot swell
Itinerary:  Working in Fish Range Bay area for couple of days

Science and Technology Log 

Due to the deteriorating weather forecast for the entire area around Mitrofania Island we are packing up and moving out.  There were two things that needed to be done today. First, a tide gauge that the crew installed on Mitrofania earlier in the season had to be removed.  The gauge sent tide information via satellite to a facility on the mainland.  Second, the differential global positioning system (DGPS) that was also installed on the Island earlier in the season had to be removed.  The DGPS was installed to enhance GPS signals when launches are surveying in the area.

I was assigned to help break down the DGPS with two officers and a survey technician. We headed out early in one of the skiffs for the island.  The DGPS consists of a tall antenna mounted on aluminum framing which is supported by lines tied off to stakes in the ground. It also has a watertight box that acts as the main processor for transmitting and receiving.  The processor is powered by six 12v car batteries, which get charged by a series of solar panels. Soon after being dropped off we realized we all forgot to bring bug dope, and soon after that the bugs were swarming.  It’s amazing the motivational power of flying, pestering insects.  We had the station apart and lugged down to the beach in under an hour.  Unfortunately the amount of gear and people exceed the capacity of the skiff, so it required more than one trip.  I drew the short straw along with one of the officers to wait on the island for the skiff to return.  It took about an hour so we did a little treasure hunting along the beach at the high tide line.  Earlier in the season, some of the crew found antique fishing trap floats made of blown glass.  I’m unsure of how old they are, but let’s just say very.  We didn’t find anything as interesting.

Personal Log 

I’m sorry to be leaving Mitrofania Island, partly because it is so beautiful, and also because it marks the end of the work for this leg of the trip.  We got underway for Chiginigak Bay around 4:00pm to basically run from the oncoming storm.  The travel time was about 8 hours.  The seas had already started to build when we left. For the first half of the trip we were traveling with the seas, which made for a smoother ride, however, we had to turn broadside (parallel) to the seas for the second half. When running broadside to the sea the ship pitches from side to side at pretty steep angles. I was typing up some logs in the computer room when all the books and games on the shelf came tumbling down, what a mess.  Anyway, it certainly wasn’t as bad as we anticipated and we arrived in the bay some time around midnight.

Before bed I went up to the bridge to see how the ship was handling in the seas.  One of the newer officers to the ship gave me some more navigation lessons, which was cool.

Sleeping hasn’t been a problem, even with the constant noise of the engines and rolling of the ship. In fact, I sleep deeply and have to drag myself out of bed in the morning. My cabin doesn’t have a porthole so NO light gets in.  It could be the middle of the day and I wouldn’t know it.

Despite all the fun I’m having, I have to say I really miss my home and family.  I give the crew a lot of credit for doing this all year long.  One of the crewmembers said that longing for home is a great feeling, it keeps you going, and that’s why you can’t make the ship your home.  Seems like good advice for newcomers on the ship.

James Miller, August 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
James Miller
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 13 – 27, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: August 21, 2005

Location: Anchored Northeast side of Mitrofinia Island
Weather: Sun and clouds, low 60’s
Wind: 5-10kts
Seas: Calm
Itinerary: Working around Mitrofinia Island

Huge halibut
Huge halibut

Science and Technology Log 

To ensure completion of some of the longer lines located further out in the open ocean, the ship spent the day running surveying lines.  The RAINIER is also fitted with sonar transducers and is used when the lines are 8 miles or longer. I was assigned to work in the plotting room with the surveyors cleaning up data that was collected the previous day.

Many processing steps must be performed on the bottom contour data before it makes it onto a chart.  On the ship, the surveyor performs a basic “cleaning” of the data with powerful computers, and very sophisticated software.  The surveyors pull up the bottom contour data on the screen and analyze it for stray signals.  It is very cool software because they look at the bottom in 3-D and from any angle.  At first it doesn’t look like much but a chaotic grouping of lines; however, after the surveyor selects areas and stray signals to cut out, the bottom contour emerges.  The surveyor definitely develops an eye for understanding these 3-D images, but it didn’t take long before I was performing some of the basic cleaning tasks.  I also downloaded some of the images onto a disk to be used in a PowerPoint presentation.

I had an interesting conversation with one of the surveyors whose background is geology. He said that this entire area is a geologists dream.  He described how much of the area was probably form by Mt. Veniaminof volcano, which is visible in the distance and is still active. The thing is immense and stands above all the other surrounding mountains. Additionally, he has also seen clear evidence of structures formed by seismic activity.

Personal Log 

It was actually nice to have a day off from the launches.  I had time to do some laundry and get caught up with some e-mails.  I’m definitely used to the daily routine and I’ve finally learned all the crew and officers names and responsibilities.

We’re scheduled to leave the area in the afternoon tomorrow because of very poor weather forecasts. Winds to 40kts seem to make the captain a bit nervous, so we’re going to run for cover in Chignik Bay on the peninsula about 80 miles or so northeast of the Mitrofania Island. Since it might be my last opportunity to fish, after dinner I went out to the fantail to try for halibut. I was determined and planned to put in some serious time.  After about a half hour I hooked and landed a 25 pounder, and then ten minutes later lost a 15 pounder. Then within another 20 minutes I caught one about the same size as the first.  By this time many of the crew started fishing. I saw LT Evans wrestling with a fish on the other side of the boat. It was apparent he had something big, so I put my rod down to watch as he slowly reeled it up. About 20 minutes later this hulk of a halibut appeared, it was huge. It took two harpoons, and me and another guy to haul the fish up onto the boat. We didn’t have a scale but it was estimated at over 100 pounds.  It also took all night for LT Evans to clean it and bag it.

James Miller, August 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
James Miller
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 13 – 27, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: August 20, 2005

Location: Anchored in Fish Range Bay; north of Mitrofania Island
Weather: Sunny, low 70’s
Wind: variable
Seas: 1-2 foot swell
Itinerary:  Working in Fish Range Bay area for couple of days

Science and Technology Log 

I was assigned to RA-3 today to do some deep-water surveys northeast of the Island. Had a big breakfast of waffles and eggs because I figured with the rough seas I wouldn’t be interested in eating much for lunch.  I was one of three assigned to the launch. In addition to myself, there was an officer and coxswain.  The past couple days I was the fourth, so I felt good that they trusted me enough working with the boat and equipment that I made up the third spot.

We were delayed about an hour because they couldn’t lower our launch into the water. One of the tracks on the boom that lowers the launch bent the day before so the wheels couldn’t pass through. They had to pull out torches and all sorts of equipment to repair it. Within an hour they were able to temporarily fix it to get the launch in the water but it took the rest of the day to finish the job.  The crew is incredibly skilled and ready to fix anything that breaks onboard.

The survey lines we had today were about 8 miles long.  Considering we can only cruise at about 7 knots when surveying, it took about an hour to complete one line.  The weather wasn’t too bad until we got out into the open ocean.  It was just sloppy. A three to five foot chop tossed us around. In addition, what made it worse was that the survey lines ran parallel to the seas; we were getting tossed from side to side for hours on end.  I was amazed that the sonar signal could accurately collect the bottom data in such rough seas. Apparently the POS System that senses and records all the movement of the boat using an accelerometer is designed to compensate for these situations.

Again, the first thing we had to do was send down the cast.  The cast is the device that collects water temperature, salinity, and density at varying depths, which is then used to calibrate the sonar. We were in 300 feet when we sent it down and it took forever for it to hit bottom and bring it back up.  The pitching boat made it all the more challenging.

We had a very knowledgeable and seasoned coxswain onboard.  He is a big burly guy with a white beard like Santa Claus, and he’s the type that can drink cold black coffee and lukewarm clam chowder in 5 foot seas.  He also made us do two man-over- board drills. When we weren’t paying attention, he would throw a fender overboard and yell out man-over-board.  I learned quickly that they take these drills very seriously.  During the first one, the officer was at the helm, and I had to pull in the fender (person).  During the second one, I was at the helm, and had to turn the boat around and approach without running it over. It definitely broke up the day.

Personal Log 

I have to say I was glad when the day was over.  When I got back onto the ship my head was spinning. Luckily I had no problem with seasickness though and was able to perform my job on the launch.  Had a big dinner of ziti and chicken and then went back to the fantail to try my luck at halibut fishing.  After about an hour, I called it quits. No luck today. At 7:00 a skiff was running people to the beach for a beach party.  It was a good time, but as the sun started setting the bugs started biting.

I’m barely finding time to work on my logs.  Although tomorrow I’m not scheduled to be on a launch and I might be able get caught up.  I’d also like to get up to the plot room where they begin processing the data.

The ship will be getting underway tomorrow to do some deep-water surveying itself. I think we’ll be anchoring on the northeast side of the Island to get out of the bad weather that’s heading our way.  Unfortunately the weather will be with us until we get back to Seward. We will be making a stop off at Kodiak Island for refueling which will be cool. Officer Evans said I might be able to check out the sights for a couple of hours.

Philip Hertzog, August 12, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 12, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Last evening we stopped and fished for a few hours off the Barren Islands located between Kodiak Island and the Kenai Peninsula.  I caught three rockfish with a 12-pound test line (compared to 60-pound used by others) by slowly reeling in the fish and letting them run to prevent breaking my line.  A few other people caught rockfish and lingcod, but no one came near reaching their limit like at Albatross Banks.

After cleaning my fish, I went up to the flying bridge around 11:30 pm to watch the evening sky. The flying bridge sits above the main bridge and forward of the ship’s smoke stack.  It offers the best view on the ship with an open deck and observation platforms.  Jonathon Anderson stood watch on the center platform looking ahead for any whales that might surface in front of the RAINIER.  A small diameter metal tube runs down from the flying bridge to the main bridge, which serves as a communication link by shouting into it. In addition to calling down any whale sightings, Jonathon let the bridge know of any light buoys or vessels he spotted.  The deck crew takes turn standing watch on the flying bridge, which usually starts at dusk and ends at sunrise.

The main bridge maintains a quiet dignity.  Before entering the bridge, you must obtain permission from the officer of the deck.  People talk quietly and infrequently while on the bridge. The conversations focus on ship’s business, but mostly quiet dominates the bridge as the officers concentrate on handling the ship safely.  An officer always scans the horizon to look for potential danger to the ship.  A second officer maintains record books and frequently plots the ship’s location on charts.  A helmsman, usually a deck crewmember, steers the wheel under direction of the officer of the deck.  The CO comes on the bridge when problems arise and is the only one allowed to sit in the Captain’s Chair.

Here are photographs of the bridge and deck crewmember Dennis Brooks serving as helmsman:

After I spent a few minutes on the flying bridge, Corey Mussey and Allison Thueur relieved Jonathon of watch duty. Allison came on board with us in Kodiak as a new General Vessel Assistant. Corey stands watch with her as part of her training, but she will eventually be on her own.  Allison previously worked on sailboats in the Caribbean and enjoys life on board. Allison told me she makes a point of teaching any visitors to the flying bridge the name of at least one star.  She showed me a star and then pointed out several other constellations.  Allison then made Corey point out the star he learned from her the previous night.

I stayed on the flying bridge for 45 minutes and looked at two distant volcanoes to the west silhouetted against a faded orange skyline.  To the east, the dark outlines of mountains on the Kenai Peninsula slowly approached us as we headed towards Homer and our final transect runs starting at 2:00 am.  What a wonderful way to spend my last evening at sea on board the RAINIER.

My journey aboard the RAINIER ended at 8:00 am as we pulled into Kachemak Bay and tied up at the Alaska State Ferry Terminal in Homer.

hertzog_log19_img_3

I want to thank the senior officers for giving me the freedom to explore the ship and allowing me to participate in all aspects of ship life.  I end my log entries with a little bit of information on each of them.

Commander Guy Noll
Commander Guy Noll, Commanding Officer

Commander Guy Noll captains the RAINIER. Commander Noll grew up in Olympia, Washington (in my own neighborhood) and has three children.  His oldest daughter will enter the Eighth Grade this fall in a school district north of Seattle. The Commander served on board the RAINIER as an Ensign earlier in his NOAA career and returned as Executive Officer about six months ago.

In June he received a promotion to Commanding Officer (CO) during a formal ceremony in Seattle.  The Commander has many years of experience in conducting hydrographic surveys and I found him to be one of the most knowledgeable people on board in charting technology.  He also is an expert fisherman, though I observed that his command duties severely limit this recreational activity.

 

 

 

 

Commander Julia Neander, Executive Officer (XO)
Commander Julia Neander, XO

Commander Julia Neander serves as our Executive Officer (XO). The XO is second in charge, sets the ship’s schedule, and makes administrative arrangements for mooring in harbors like Kodiak and Homer.  She also deals with personnel issues, makes room assignments, and resolves disputes among the crew.  In many ways, XO Neander’s job is similar to that of an assistant principal at a school while the CO acts as the principal.

Commander Neander went to Montana State University (at the same time I did) and once circled the Earth over the course of a year on a NOAA ship. Her husband served on the RAINIER as XO and they have a five year-old son.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Ben Evans, Field Operations Officer (FOO)
Lieutenant Ben Evans, Field Operations Officer

Lieutenant Ben Evans runs all of the mapping efforts as the Field Operations Officer (FOO).  As the FOO, Lt. Evans makes decisions on all aspects of survey work.  He organizes the junior officers in the field and constantly monitors the radio to resolve any technical problems the survey crew encounters on the launches. Lt. Evans also looks over the quality of the sonar data and determines its acceptability.  He oversees the officers processing the data on board the Rainier and works long hours to make sure mapping efforts run smoothly.  Lt. Evans grew up in upstate New York near Lake Ontario.  To the right is the FOO out in the field trouble shooting the HOR CON.

 

Again, I thank the Senior Officers and all the crew of the RAINIER for the wonderful experience

Personal Log 

My voyage has officially ended aboard the RAINIER as her Teacher at Sea.  I’ll spend tonight on the ship and then stay in a hotel tomorrow night before flying back to Washington State.

As I write this, I hear laughter in the hallway from the Junior Officers for the first time since we left Mitrofania. Commander Neander stops by with her five-year-old son and says good-bye to me as she leaves to spend a weekend with her family away from the ship. Other people talk about plans for the weekend: going to Anchorage, renting a hotel room, going camping, and eating in a fine restaurant.  A joyous mood seeps throughout the RAINIER as people prepare for two days off after three weeks at sea.

What a journey for me.  I got to touch base with technical fieldwork that I had done prior to teaching. Before the RAINIER, I had spent no more than two continuous days aboard a ship. I learned how a ship at sea operates like a small community, like a family.

I look forward to meeting my new students in a few weeks and telling them about the RAINIER. Both Mike Laird (the other teacher) and I have started to use our experience to modify lesson plans for the fall.

The RAINIER departs in a few days for the uncharted waters of the Southwestern Alaskan peninsula. Miles of coastline and deep water await her as she carries out a mission to update decades-old nautical charts that will then safely guide mariners engaged in commerce or pleasure.  Goodbye to the RAINIER and may fair seas greet you on your mission…

Goodbye, RAINIER!

Question of the Day 

Would you like to live on a ship like the RAINIER for a year?  What are the pros and cons of living a seafaring life?

Mike Laird, August 11, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 11, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The survey operations being conducted in the waters around Mitrofania have been closed as we begin our transit that leads to the end of an educational and entertaining 22-day voyage onboard the RAINIER. The RAINIER’s reputation as one of the most productive hydrographic survey platforms in the world can be attributed, in large part, to her officers and crew. The people who serve onboard the RAINIER come with different backgrounds, levels of education, and amounts of experience at sea.  They come for different reasons, plan to stay for different periods of time, and have different expectations of where their service on the RAINIER will lead them.  However, each of them takes pride in doing their job well. Not only does the survey and support work require everyone’s contribution but also the safety of the people and ship demands constant teamwork and cooperation.

During the time I spent on the RAINIER, everyone I interacted with was friendly and attempted to involve us in the day-to-day operations of the ship as much as possible.  I felt like a member of the team, not an outsider, and was encouraged to participate in all aspects of ship life.  All ship personnel made themselves available and patiently answered the multitudes of questions sent their way.  As a result, I have learned a lot (admittedly there is a great deal more to learn) during these three weeks about the science and technology behind hydrographic research and the importance of strong support from the following areas: the officer corps, deck, engineering, electronics, the steward’s department, and ship’s yeoman.  Without their support, the survey crew’s work would not happen.

So as we draw closer to Homer, AK and the end of my journey with the RAINIER, I would like to thank the officers and crew of the RAINIER for inviting me along for the ride!

Now – some miscellaneous stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else in my logs:

  • Fuel capacity of the RAINIER: 112,000 gallons
  • Recreational activities available during off duty hours:
  • Fishing: salmon (king, coho, pink); yelloweye rockfish; black rockfish;  lingcod
  • Sea kayaking
  • Shore exploration if a skiff is available
  • Movies – available most hours
  • Exercise area: free weights, weight machine, rowing machine,
  • stationary bike, and treadmills (2)
  • Computer games in the crew library
  • Cribbage
  • Whale watching
  • Electronic newspaper (New York Times Digest) complete with crossword
  • College degrees held by officers and crew (list is not all inclusive):   Marine science Electronic engineering and technology Biology Geographic biology Electrical engineering Environmental studies Anthropology Physics Zoology Oceanographic engineering Shoreline engineering

Personal Log 

We are scheduled to arrive in Homer around 8:00a.m. tomorrow.  The first liberty vehicles will be available in the afternoon, and I’m planning to head into town to do a little gift shopping. I was not home for my wife’s birthday (although I did send a card, and called to wish her happy birthday from Kodiak during our refueling stop), and I have to find something really good.  Planning to go to Alaska Wild Berry Products shop (I received a helpful hint before leaving home that there is one located “right in Homer”).  I also plan to check out the Pratt Museum, a place called the Blackberry Bog – sounded like an interesting shop, and of course the Salty Dog (the local watering hole).  I only have two more nights on the ship. Have to pack up, clean the room, and vacate the premises before the arrival of the next teacher at sea Saturday afternoon. I’ll spend Saturday night at the Bidarka Inn in Homer before flying out Sunday night.  It’s been great – couldn’t ask for a better experience!

Philip Hertzog, August 11, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 11, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 58˚ 04.93’ N
Longitude: 152˚ 02.55’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 215˚
Wind Speed: 4 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  10.6˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1025mb
Cloud Cover: 0, no clouds

Science and Technology Log 

We continued our transit towards Homer, but made a stop in Kodiak to pick up fuel.  I woke up with the sun rising in the eastern sky and ran up to the flying bridge to snap these photos of Kodiak Island as we entered the harbor at the Coast Guard Station. We stayed at the station for about four hours and had the opportunity to go on shore to the Station’s store. The RAINIER took on 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel that cost $ 20,000. This replaced the fuel we used for our travel during the past three weeks.  The Coast Guard charged the ship at a rate of $ 1.18 per gallon, but other locations may over $ 2.00 a gallon.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 10.49.55 PM

In leaving the Station, we followed navigation buoys out of the harbor.  The buoys located the deep water channel the RAINIER follows to avoid grounding. Two main types of buoys help mariners navigate waters: nuns and cans.  Nuns are red in color and the tops are triangle shaped (like a nun’s cap).  Cans are green with a flat top shaped (like a can): If you are returning to harbor, one keeps the red buoys on the right (starboard) side and the green buoys on the left (port) side of the ship.  Leaving harbor you do the opposite, green on the right and red on the left. Everyone on board has memorized the saying “red right returning” to remember the proper side to pass buoys.

As we left Kodiak Island and headed into open waters, the bridge spots Orca whales on both sides of the ship.  The Orcas traveled in small groups of two to four and surfaced to show their large dorsal fins.  I spotted the large fin of a male and several females nearby.  Orcas follow their mothers and the males tend to be “mamma’s boys.”  The females lead the pods and can live to be over 80 years old.

Personal Log 

The seas were calmer last night and the crew got some rest.  People’s spirits picked up after the large halibut fishing excursion and in anticipation of a free weekend. We had clear blue skies today without a cloud in sight.  We have been lucky to have three weeks without rain in Southwestern Alaska. I spent several hours on the flying bridge watching the scenery pass. Our trip is winding up and will end early tomorrow in Homer, Alaska.  I am starting to think about how much I will miss being on the ship, but I’ll be glad to get back home to the Olympia/Tacoma area in Washington State. Tonight we will stop for a few hours to fish near the Barren Islands.  Stay tuned for my report and my last log entry.

Question of the Day 

We learned about green and red buoys.  What other types of buoys do ship’s navigators need to keep them safe?  Make up your own buoys and come up with a color code and shape.

Philip Hertzog, August 10, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 10, 2005

Chief Yeoman Paul Fletcher in his office
Chief Yeoman Paul Fletcher in his office

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

With Mitrofania Island far behind, we transited the deep waters of the Gulf of Alaska towards Kodiak Island. The RAINIER rolled during the night as we stopped to take a CTD cast and run a six-hour sonar line on channel approaches to the Semidi Islands.  Few people slept well and the crew talked very little at breakfast due to the exhaustion of three strait weeks of solid work.

RAINIER’s crew works a hard 10 to 12 hours each day, but they do receive overtime pay. Paul Fletcher, the Chief Yeoman, told me he has seen  young people out here make enough money to pay for college if they save money and keep expenses down.  Paul noted that the overtime and sea duty pay make up for low base wages.  In addition you get three meals a day, housing, and you don’t need to carry full car insurance while out to sea for 200-plus days each year.

left: Megan Guberski, middle: Jodie Edmond, right: mooring the ship
left: Megan Guberski, middle: Jodie Edmond, right: mooring the ship

As mentioned in an earlier entry, the crew of the RAINIER consists of two groups: NOAA Corps Officers and civilians.  Let’s focus on the civilian portion today.  Six departments employ the crew of the RAINIER.  Some of the positions on board require a college degree, while others only require a high school diploma and a willingness to work hard.

I worked most closely with the Survey Department while on board the RAINIER.  The Department consists of survey technicians who go out on the launches to operate the sonar and then computer process the data on board the ship and generate maps of the ocean bottom.  Several levels of hydrographic survey technicians exist depending on one’s experience and training. You generally need a four-year college degree with an emphasis in computer science or remote sensing, but two-year degrees with specialized computer training will also suffice.  Survey technicians I introduced to you in previous entries include Greg King, and the Boles brothers (Matt and Dan).

Left: Correy Muzzey drives a launch, Right: Getting ready to set anchor
Left: Correy Muzzey drives a launch, Right: Getting ready to set anchor

Though at first it may seem like a dirty and tedious job, the people of the Deck Department love their work.  Over the years people have actually transferred from other departments to work the deck crew.  Deck employees maintain the exterior and interior of the ship, moor and anchor the ship, secure lines, load supplies, stand watches, steer the ship, swab the decks and clean bathrooms.  More experienced deck staff also get to drive the launches and serve as coxswains.

Mike Riley, who is in charge of the motors on all the launches.
Mike Riley, who is in charge of the motors on all the launches.

One starts out as a deck crew member in the position of Ordinary Seaman (OS) or general vessel assistant (GVA). OS’s and GVA’s need a high school diploma, need to be at least 18 years old, but don’t need prior experience.  You can then move up to endorsed positions by meeting time and training requirements set by the US Coast Guard.  The RAINIER provides on-the-job training and sends crew to workshops when in port so one can move up to higher positions.  With training and 365 days at sea, one can be promoted to Able Seaman.  More advanced positions include Seaman Surveyor and Chief Boatswain.

The Engineer Department operates all of the ship’s systems such as propulsion, fuel, electric power, ventilation, sanitation, water, and launch motors.  This Department has the highest paying jobs on board the RAINIER, but also the most responsibility to keep the crew safe by making sure the engines don’t fail while at sea.  Some positions require special licenses (for example Diesel Engine 2400 horse power Class II), but many people start out with a high school degree and work their way up by learning on the job. You can start out with no experience as a Wiper (wipe and clean up oil) and then move up to an Oiler after a year of experience.  One can move into the higher level positions right away if you have trade training from high school or a Vocational/Technical school.

Mike also checks the launch hulls for cracks and makes safety recommendations on whether or not a launch should go out to survey.  Mike is in his mid twenties and an expert fisherman while off duty.  Engineering is a great place for those who are mechanically inclined and love repairing machinery. The Steward Department plans menus, prepares meals, maintains the galley and provides clean linens for the ship. You can start out as General Vessel Assistant with no experience plus a high school diploma and then train and work your way up to higher-level positions such as Cook or Chief Steward.  Prior experience in on-shore restaurants or culinary schools can land you a higher-level position right away.  Sergio Taguba, our Chief Steward, started out at an entry-level position 35 years ago and worked his way into the top position. Sergio has been on board the RAINIER for almost the whole time and plans to continue with NOAA until retirement.

Raul in the kitchen and below are some of our galley
Raul in the kitchen and below are some of our galley

Our Chief Cook, Raul Quiros, learned his skills on board ship and started right after finishing school. Raul has been with NOAA for 25 years and on the RAINIER for the past nine. Raul enjoys working for NOAA and can be spotted fishing off the side deck any time he’s not on duty. When we first got to Cushing Bay, I spotted Raul catching our first halibuts, but he quietly took them below and never brags about his catches. The crew suspects Raul has caught more fish than any other person on board, but he shies away from any attention to his renowned skills.  The last two departments, Yeoman and Electronics, each have one person.  Paul Fletcher is the RAINIER’s Chief Yeoman.  A Yeoman is like a business manager on land.  Mr. Paul (as everyone on board calls him) handles the ship’s budget, payroll, personnel paper work, and mail. He works directly with the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of the ship. Mr. Paul lives in Virginia Beach, VA when not on the ship and plans to retire there in December.  Mr. Paul retired from the Navy and joined NOAA around 1990-91.  He has been with the RAINIER since 1996.

Mr. Paul feels NOAA provides young people with an opportunity to learn about life and personnel management on board a ship. He feels more young people from urban areas like Tacoma (where I teach) should try life at sea for a couple of years and gain skills that will help them to be good managers.  When on a ship, you are with your boss and coworkers 24/7, Mr. Paul told me.  “You learn how to suck up your anger, because the person you’re angry with may be in the shower stall next to you or at the same meal table a few hours later.”

The galley
The galley

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 9.06.27 PMLarry Wooten runs our Electronics Department and maintains all electronic equipment and computers onboard.  Larry told me the Electronics Department really has evolved over the past few years to a mix of skills especially in computers.  Larry makes sure the sonar and radar systems work and then he turns around to operate the computer’s file server.  After serving in the Air Force, Larry went to South Dakota State University to earn a degree in Electronic Engineering Technology. He has been with NOAA seven years and on board the RAINIER for two. Larry’s guitar always sits in the corner of his office and I hear from the crew he plays well during jam sessions held below deck when off duty.

I hope the students reading this entry have gotten a good feel for the positions on board the RAINIER and other NOAA ships. Many people stay for their entire careers on a ship, while others stay a year or two to gain valuable experience and then move on to other ventures.

Personal Log 

I think the NOAA ships offer a unique opportunity for many of my students to consider.  We have a diverse, multicultural crew on board with African Americans, Hispanics, Asian American and women.  The jobs range from those requiring college degrees to high school diplomas.  Learning aboard the RAINIER occurs continuously as older staff mentor younger crewmembers on the skills they need to advance.  I can see both my “hands on” and “cerebral” students finding challenges and adventure on a NOAA ship.  If only for a year or an entire career, I could see my students getting valuable skills on board ships that will serve an entire life time. On other matters, we did get a break from our long transit to Homer last night around 8:30 pm.  We stopped at Albatross Banks, an underwater pinnacle that rises up from the ocean bottom to about 48 feet below the surface.  We took out our fishing poles and soon caught large halibuts off the bottom.  I caught one on my first cast and almost everyone reached their limit in a matter of minutes.  Josh Riley caught one over 77 inches long that weighed over 200 pounds. It took four people to haul it onto the fan tail.

Josh’s fish and a second photo of Dan Boles cleaning a halibut
Josh’s fish and a second photo of Dan Boles cleaning a halibut

Question of the Day 

Why are underwater pinnacles a good place to catch fish compared to deeper, flat bottoms?

Philip Hertzog, August 9, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 9, 2005

Ensign Samuelson running RA 3’s positioning computer
Ensign Samuelson running RA 3’s positioning computer

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

We wrapped up our mapping in the Mitrofania Island area today.  Only one launch went out for the entire day and I got assigned to it. We took off from Cushing Bay and headed out to nearby Brothers Island and Long Beach for sonar mapping of the bottom.  A second launch went out for just a few hours and deployed SCUBA divers to chart the location of submerged rocks.  In the meantime, the RAINIER took off to map deep water approaches several miles to the east of Mitrofania Island and would pick us up at a rendezvous point in the late afternoon.

Some of the electronics I got to use.
Some of the electronics I got to use.

Ensign Nikki Samuelson served as our hydrographer in charge with Matt Boles’ assistance. Steve Foye handled the RA 3 launch. Ensign Samuelson has been on the RAINIER for around a year and also serves as chief medical officer.  She started out on the RAINIER by helping out the navigation officer and learning how to plot courses and determine the ship’s location.  She then gained experience in sonar mapping and now regularly goes out on the launches.  Ensign Samuelson likely will work on remote controlled submersible vehicles for NOAA in Rhode Island when she gets her land assignment in a year.

For most of the day our launch of four people saw no signs of other humans. Two Dahl porpoises charged over to our launch to ride our bow wave, but took off when they realized we cruised too slowly to make a satisfactory wake.  All day we saw the spray of Sei whales, but they kept their distance and only occasionally could we see a dorsal fin appear out of the water.

Technically, we had some challenges. In the morning, our CTD (conductivity, temperature and density) probe failed to work and we tried to fix it.  We concluded the battery had worn out and we exchanged ours with the divers before they headed back to the RAINIER. We then lost the Coast Guard transmission signal that corrects our global aboard. We tried several approaches with the radio receiver and finally corrected the problem.

I spent the day by helping on various tasks such as lowering the CTD probe, sitting on the bow to look for rocks, running the positioning computer and driving the boat. The water remained calm much of the day, but the sky turned gray and overcast.  What a contrast to the previous two days when we could see the glaciers on Mount Veniaminof under clear, blue skies. However, the cloud cover did give Mitrofania Bay a special beauty:

hertzog_log16b

At 4:30 pm we spotted a tiny dot approach us from the east that turned out to be the RAINIER returning to pick us up. Once aboard, the RAINIER resumed course to continue sonar work in the deep waters east of Mitrofania Island.  Our plan is to continue this work until 11:00 pm and then to set course to our final destination of Homer, Alaska where I’ll leave the ship on Saturday August 13. However, we’ll make a few stops for “biological sampling” (fishing) on the way and a couple of hours in Kodiak to pick up fuel.

Personal Log 

I felt melancholic today knowing our work in the Mitrofania area had come to an end and that the RAINIER would start heading towards my final stop in Homer.  I’ll especially miss seeing Sei whales almost every day and the great fishing off the fantail.

It didn’t help that I had a fantastic evening and stayed up until 1:00 am last night.  Four of us took a “short” fishing trip on the skiff to a nearby bay and each caught five large (8 pound range) salmon.  Our foursome often caught two or more salmon at a time that tangled our lines as the struggling fish crossed each other.  A fifth person on the skiff didn’t fish, but continuously netted the salmon for us.  Often we would have two salmon in queue while Ensign Nikki Samuelson struggled to get a third salmon out of the net and untangle the hook from the nylon fabric.  At one point Carl Verplanck just reached into the water and flipped a hooked salmon into the skiff.

The real work began when we returned to the RAINIER at 9:30 pm.  We cleaned processed, and vacuum sealed over 80 pounds of edible fish meat.  However, we also scrubbed all the fish scales off the fantail of the RAINIER.  We used bristle brooms and detergent to “swab the decks” and then Greg King blasted the deck using the fire hose to rinse it off. We had a fine evening of adventure to remember for a long time.

Question of the Day 

Why do Dahl porpoises like to ride bow waves? Explain your answer.

Mike Laird, August 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 8, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 53.3 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.5 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 230˚
Wind Speed: 13kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1027.2 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

Today is probably the last day that I will be out on a launch, because tomorrow we will be running some survey lines using the ship’s sonar.  The launch I am assigned to (RA-2) is going out to collect bottom samples.  Bottom samples are primarily used to sample the ocean floor in areas that have been identified as potential anchor sites.  The information from the samples will be used to determine the locations of “good” anchor sites (sites that will provide a catch for the anchor, so it won’t just slide around).  These good anchor sites will then be included in the nautical information available for the area around Mitrofania.

A tool called a, clamshell sediment sampler, is used to retrieve the floor samples.  The clamshell is a metal tool about a foot-and-a-half long, weighing between ten and twenty pounds. It has a rounded head, really a set of spring-loaded jaws, mounted to a shaft that is seated on a circular metal plate (picture one half of a Q-tip that’s been cut in half with the cardboard shaft glued to an M&M and you’ll get an of what the sampler looks like).  The plate end of the tool is secured to a line and dropped head first over the side of the launch. When the sampler hits the seafloor, a lever activates the metal jaws (which were cocked open prior to the drop), they snap shut, and bingo a bottom sample.  On the launch, the line is threaded through an electronic pulley system and the sample is raised to the surface.  Most of the time this technique works well; however, sometimes the jaws fail to close, or they pinch shut on a rock allowing the sample to stream out on the way to the surface. In these cases, the procedure must be repeated.

Back on the launch, the sampler’s jaws are pried open and the contents are examined, and finally a record (including notations on the floor sample contents, latitude and longitude, and water depth) is created for the site. Once this is completed, the sampler is rinsed out, the boat moves to the next location, and the process is repeated.  Our team worked twenty-one sample sites and found some (not much) variety in our samples (shells only; shells and gravel; shells and silt; shells, silt and gravel; mud and gravel; and rock – determined after two casts returned with a closed, empty sampler).

Personal Log 

Today an unusual event – a bear sighting! The launch was moving to a new cast location when the coxswain, Carl, spotted three dots moving along a distant shoreline.  A closer look with the binoculars confirmed that the dots were bears (a sow and her two cubs).  The trio jogged along the shore as the cubs darted in and out of the surf frolicking and generally having a good time.  We eventually got too close and momma decided to head inland to the safety of the thick undergrowth.  Very cool!

Philip Hertzog, August 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 8, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Ensign Jennings at work
Ensign Jennings at work

Science and Technology Log 

I slept in an extra hour and set about doing my laundry and log entries since I stayed aboard the RAINIER today. Given a quiet day, I focused today’s entry on careers with NOAA to provide information to students wanting a life of adventure while helping the environment. Congress created NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 1970 to bring together several agencies under one roof.  Congress recognized that the oceans of the world are closely tied to our atmosphere and we need to manage them through one organization. You best know NOAA through the National Weather Service which provides you with daily weather forecasts. However, NOAA has other branches that protect fish and marine wildlife; manage marine sanctuaries; observe changes in the environment; warn people about approaching tsunamis; respond to oil spills and disasters; and chart coastlines and bottom depths to protect vessels. On the RAINIER, we have two categories of jobs: civilian and commissioned officers. I will save the civilian jobs for another entry and we’ll look at the officers today.  The NOAA Officer Corps is a uniformed branch of the United States military.  Most officers spend two years assigned to a ship and then rotate to a land job for three years.  The rotation starts over again and you can retire with a pension after twenty years.  Ensign Andrew Halbach told me he could retire at age 43, though I believe he will stay with NOAA much longer and command his own ship someday.

At the computers
At the computers

You must apply to join the NOAA Officer Corps and only dedicated people get accepted.  Ensign Laurel Jennings told me you need a four year college degree with a major in math, engineering or science.  You also must be in good health, pass a physical exam and be 35 years old or younger. NOAA asks for four letters of recommendation from professional contacts and answers to several pages of questions.  You also need to pass a police background check and be interviewed by one of NOAA’s officers. Several ensigns told me this process takes from several months to half a year. Once accepted as an Officer Corps candidate, you go to the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy located on Long Island, NY for three months of intensive training. The candidates train in safety, water rescue, navigation, CPR/first aid, ship fire fighting, knots, and ship handling. A few weeks before completing training, NOAA holds a formal ceremony to announce the ship assignment for the next two years.

Ensign Jennings told me she got on board the RAINIER in June and continues her training on the job. Her primary focus has been on ship duties such as bridge watch, navigation and ship operations. As she becomes confident on ship procedures, her training will shift to learning how to conduct hydrographic mapping and operating the computers.  Ensign Jennings has a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin.  She worked as an intern at Disney World’s Living Seas exhibit in Florida where she scuba dived, fed the aquarium fish, scrubbed tanks, and talked to the public. She moved to Boston after graduation and found that a Bachelor’s degree was not enough to get a satisfying job. She wanted to work in science and with people, but not in a lab all day. Ensign Jennings said the NOAA Officer Corps was perfect for her.

Over the past two weeks, I have talked to several Ensigns about their next assignments.  Ensign Andrew Halbach will move to Washington, D.C. next year and work on remote sensing from airplanes.  He will travel 150 days a year to various locations throughout the United States.  In December Ensign Briana Welton will command her own skiff and crew on the east coast.  Whenever a hurricane hits, Ensign Welton will be one of the first people into the disaster area to chart how navigation channels have been affected by storm damage. In the past, other Ensigns have gone on to work on designing tsunami detection buoys and underwater vehicles. Many other opportunities exist both on land and at sea for young people seeking adventure.

In addition to exciting career opportunities, an Officer Corps member can advance in rank as he or she gains experience and the confidence of senior officers.  All Corps members start out at the rank of Ensign.  You then can be promoted in progression to Lt. Junior Grade, Lieutenant, Lt. Commander, Commander, Captain, and finally only one officer gets to be the Admiral.

Personal Log 

I wish I could be 35 or younger now! The NOAA Officer Corps has a lot of exciting opportunities that many young people don’t know about.  I think about the adventures I’ve missed because no teacher ever told me about NOAA.

Many exciting opportunities exist for young people if they get the right education and study hard in school. As a teacher I feel a responsibility to make sure students have the skills to take advantage of the careers and adventure that exist not only with NOAA, but with other organizations. Too often I see students playing video games or ignoring homework instead of preparing themselves for the future.  Hopefully they can learn to dedicate themselves to learning and preparation like the young ensigns on board the RAINIER.

Question of the Day 

Why is a well-rounded, college education important for today’s young adults?

Mike Laird, August 7, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 7, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

While running echo soundings on the launch one day, the topic of conversation turned to sailing superstitions.  Since that time, I have informally talked with several crewmembers about superstitions they have heard of or that they personally believe in.  Here is what I have discovered so far.

The most widely believed superstition is that it is bad luck for a ship to leave port and set sail on a Friday. No one I talked to knew the origin of this belief, but everyone I talked to thought it best to stay in port an extra day or two and not tempt fate.  One of the ensigns had even heard a tale of a non-believer trying to prove the superstition was a bunch of bunk. He began construction of a ship on Friday, christened the ship on a Friday, put the ship under the command of a Captain Friday, and began the maiden voyage on a Friday.  The ship was never heard from again, believe it or not!  In any case, most sailors will not happily set sail from port on a Friday.

Another common superstition, observed by most, is that one should not whistle.  I heard a couple of explanations for this. One version is that whistling is not allowed on the bridge, because it will “whistle up an ill wind.”  One coxswain, who has been around the sea and ships, including steamships, for many years, gave a different rational for the whistling ban. On steamships, a whistling noise was an indicator that there was steam escaping from one of the ship’s steam pipes – often a dangerous situation.  Whatever the reason, whistling is discouraged on the ship.  As one ensign said, “I don’t whistle, because it is annoying.”

Having a woman, minister (or other religious figure on board) was at one time considered to be bad luck. None of the people I talked to felt strongly about either of those.

Apparently, having bananas onboard is supposed to be bad luck for racing vessels and fishing boats – no one knew why.

Finally, one ensign who grew up in France shared that it is not good to say the word “rabbit” onboard. Instead, one should say “long ears.”  However, having mice—stuffed, carved, etc.—will keep the real thing away.

An interesting topic!  Remember to avoid sailing from port on Friday and to refrain from whistling while you work – and life should be good!

Personal Log 

Gorgeous weather again today – scattered clouds and lots of sunshine!  This afternoon we changed anchorage locations, moving from Sosbee Bay on the southern side of the island back to Cushing Bay on the northern side. During the transit we saw a sailboat off in the distance.  Haven’t seen much traffic while we’ve been here – two fishing boats motored by, and while on the southern side we saw three tugs pulling barges out in the gulf.  Mitrofania is a pretty peaceful and secluded spot.

Philip Hertzog, August 7, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 7, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

hertzog_log14fScience and Technology Log 

Today I actively participated as a full member of the launch crew conducting a new type of survey for me, sediment sampling.  The launches typically carry three crew members, one to handle the boat and two others to work the sonar and computer equipment. Generally Mike Laird (the other the teacher at sea) and I have gone along as a fourth person to observe. However, today we only had three people aboard launch RA 2, the smallest and lightest of the launches.  Survey Technician Dan Boles and Coxswain Erick Flickenger (Flick) co-led our survey mission.  Dan described to me today’s goal of collecting sediment samples from several locations around Mitrofania Island. Sediments are the material found on the bottom surface of water bodies. It includes materials like mud, silt, sand, clay, pebbles, rocks, shells or hard pan.

The nautical chart makers place sediment information on their maps so ship captains can determine if they have a safe location to set anchor. If the bottom is too rocky, the ship’s anchor may get stuck and trap the boat.  If the bottom is not firm enough, the anchor will drag across the bottom and the ship could end up drifting to a dangerous location like a reef or rocky shore. The sediments in an anchorage area also determine the type of anchor a captain chooses to use. Some types of anchor work better than others in certain sediment types.

I helped unhook the launch from the RAINIER’s crane and Flick got us underway. Dan immediately showed me how to work the sonar and computer equipment.  We used a Knudsen 320 M echo sounder to measure bottom depth at our sample locations.  Dan had me turn it on and I watched the sounder trace the depth on a roll of paper:

hertzog_log14

The sounder recorded a black line on a scale so we know or bottom depth at the sampling location. Dan also had me write the type of sediment we found on the same paper. I then entered the data into the computer.  We needed both an electronic and paper copy in case the computer crashes which sometimes happens when the launch bounces around. To the right a photo of Dan entering data while Flick watches in RA 2’s small cabin.

On the launch deck we used a “clam shell” sediment sampler.  The sampler is shaped like a large, round clam shell with two metal jaws held shut by a large spring. We pried open the two jaws and set a trigger to keep the jaws opened. It works like a bear track with the trigger lever on the side. We took great care setting the trigger because the jaws can break our fingers if it snaps shut on them. Once set, you then lower the sediment sampler over the side.  The sampler free falls through the water column and plunges into the bottom which triggers the jaws to snap tight and capture the sediment sample. You then winch the sample up to the surface, open the jaws and record the sediment type.  The following photos show the sediment sampling process:

hertzog_log14c

We found mostly fine black sand and pebbles of volcanic origin in our sediments around Mitrofania Island which matches the local geology.  As mentioned in previous logs, the explosion of an ancient volcano formed Sosbee Bay (a caldera) on the south side of the Mitrofania Island. To the north of the island, the shield volcano, Mount Veniaminof dominates the landscape:

hertzog_log14g

Our sediment sampling went well with one exception.  We transited out to a sample location far south of Mitrofania Island.  A combination of wind and tide suddenly hit us with two to three foot choppy waves as we took our sample.  Our light weight launch took two to three nose dives down the face of a three foot wave as Flick tried to hold our position in one spot for the sample.  Dan and I got knocked into the railings on the deck and the clam shell sampler almost snapped on my fingers as I tried to adjust it.  Inside the cabin, equipment flew off the shelves and onto the cabin floor.  Flick pronounced the sea conditions as too unsafe for us to work on the deck and yelled for us to get back inside the cabin.  We then made tail and headed back towards land getting bounced about until we entered the wind shadow created by the lee side of the island. Flick later told us he considered having us put the life raft out on the back deck of the launch as a safety precaution.

Dan and I talked about boat safety. Dan told me that anyone on board the launch can call for it to return due to unsafe conditions. In our case, we did the right thing by not trying to finish the sampling south of Mitrofania and quickly returning to calmer waters.  The rest of the day we worked on the protected side of the island and finished early.  We fished near Cushing Bay and waited for the RAINIER to arrive and pick us up.  The RAINIER again moved location to seek settler from the changing winds.  We will spend our few remaining nights in Cushing Bay, our first location when we arrived at Mitrofania about two weeks ago.

Peering over the control panel
Peering over the control panel

Personal Log 

I enjoyed the opportunity to work today as a full member of the launch team.  I appreciated Dan Boles putting me on the computer right away and the way we took turns collecting sediment samples out on deck.  I found Flick to be a master at handling the launch in rough conditions and ensuring our safety.

I have felt safe on the launches, but our situation south of Mitrofania proved a bit worrisome.  I’m glad Flick called off our work out there right away and brought us into a more protected area. While waiting for the Rainier, I got to fish and caught numerous sea bass near a kelp bed.  We also saw a “fish ball” go by. The fish ball consisted of a large school of small candlefish tightly grouped into a ball shape about 7 feet in diameter just below the surface. Seagulls hovered over the fish ball and snatched out tiny fish as tasty treats.  As the fish ball passed under the launch, we saw the outlines of large fish following the candlefish.

After supper we had another beach party out on the spit near the HorCon station.  We had a beautiful, clear evening and watched the sun set.  We again had a large bon fire and plenty of good conversation and company. I returned at 11:00 pm with an orange and deep blue dusky sky as a backdrop for our skiff ride from the beach.  The days have grown shorter since my arrival, but night still arrives after 11:30 pm.

Question of the Day 

What sediment bottom type do you think will best hold an anchor and keep a ship safe?

Philip Hertzog, August 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 6, 2005

The processing room
The processing room

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I spent the afternoon in the plot room behind the bridge.  After collecting data on the launches, the hydrographic technicians need to process and make it usable before sending the information to map makers in Washington, D.C.  This processing takes place in the plot room.

The plot room has a large table in the middle with eight work stations crowded around the outer edge of the room.  Each work station has two computer screen monitors where the technician can pull up multiple windows. The room has a couple of portholes to provide light, though these can be shaded to make the monitors more visible. I observed the Ensigns and survey technicians concentrating on their work.  The plot room impressed me as the quietest location on the RAINIER with people clicking on their computer screens and checking their data for accuracy.  Once in a while one of the technicians got up to ask another for clarification on a problem.  The four people in the room all wore headphones to listen to CD or mp3 players.

Processing the data
Processing the data

The technicians processed data by first “cleaning” it up. The hydrographers put the sonar data up on the screen and looked for mistakes in the readings.  Mistakes can occur by the launch computer skipping measurements or missing a GPS satellite signal.  The plot room computers also adjust for the movement of the launches in several directions caused by buffeting seas. After cleaning data, the crew corrected the sonar readings for sound velocity by using the CTD probe readings taken from the launches. As noted previously, the speed of sound in water is affected by conductivity (a measurement of salt content), temperature and density). The CTD data is used to correct the sea bottom depth readings obtained from sonar. The technicians made one final correction to the sonar data by loading in tidal information to adjust for the height of the launch above mean lower low water.  With the corrected sonar data, three-dimensional maps can now be generated and the hydrographer gets a picture of the ocean bottom over a wide area.  Additional work will be done before the information is sent on to the chart makers off the ship.

After supper I went up to the plot room to get some photographs for this log entry.  To my surprise, Ensigns filled every work station and I saw them checking on today’s data.  The Ensigns discussed with Lt. Ben Evans the strategy for tomorrow’s mapping.  What dedication! It’s Saturday night, yet the work never stops for the hard working crew of the RAINIER. Too bad for them, I’m going fishing now!

The hydrographers highlight the incorrect data and click on it to remove it
The hydrographers highlight the incorrect data and click on it to remove it

Personal Log 

I had a very quiet day. The routine on a research vessel like the RAINIER is a mix of excitement and concentrated computer work.  The crew averages about one day of cleaning and processing data for each day of collecting data on the launch.  Though the computer work may seem tedious at first, think about the sense of accomplishment when you see your data become a three-D map of the ocean bottom and know that other people will use your work.

I hope my own students will recognize that hard work can pay off and provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose.  The crew of the RAINIER has provided me with examples to show my middle school students that they can balance exciting work with hard dedication to make a meaningful difference to society.

Question of the Day 

Why must the hydrographers carefully check their data for mistakes? What can happen if a mistake is made on a nautical chart?

Philip Hertzog, August 5, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Watching the computers
Watching the computers

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 5, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I went out on launch RA 5 today to help survey more transect lines near the east entrance to Sosbee Bay and over by Spitz Island. Ensign Andrew Halbach led our survey with Greg King as the Survey Technician and Steve Foye as our coxswain.

Driving the launch
Driving the launch

Greg King, in his late twenties, has been on board the RAINIER for about a year and graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma with a degree in geology.  Prior to NOAA, Greg worked for consulting firms conducting a variety of work including environmental assessment, mining geology and hazardous waste site investigations.  Greg and I know a lot of the same people from my own professional experiences prior to teaching. Greg became disillusioned with consulting and wanted to have a career where he could make a difference, help the environment and feel good about his work.  A friend told Greg about NOAA so he applied, got hired, and has been happy with the work he does. Greg plans to make a career with NOAA and the federal government.  Greg says most of the Survey Technicians tend to stay on the ships for a few years and then advance up into other jobs with NOAA onshore. Greg will become a father in October and NOAA will grant him several weeks of leave to spend with his new child and wife.

In the survival suit
In the survival suit

Greg’s duties on the RAINIER include running the sonar and data recording equipment on the launches.  He also puts data into the mainframe computer on board the RAINIER and looks for errors that need correction. The Survey Technicians tend to spend a few days in on the launches and then work on board the ship for a day or two processing data before going out on the water again. Above is a photo of Greg at work on the RA 5 launch.  Steve Foye, our coxswain, has been on the RAINIER for about 15 years and on NOAA ships for a total of twenty years. Mr. Foye is a crusty sailor with an earthy sense of humor.  Foye served in the Navy and became a meat cutter in south Seattle after finishing military service and getting married.  However, Mr. Foye missed the sea and the outdoors. NOAA gave him the opportunity to travel and see Alaska. Foye particularly enjoys driving a launch all day and watching the scenery while the technicians run the sonar. All of the crewmembers speak highly of Mr. Foye and he mentors the younger deck hands. Steve Foye serves as the RAINIER’s Boatswain’s Group Leader and is responsible for ensuring the proper handling and maintenance of all the launches. Foye has a merchant marine seaman’s card, which he renews every five years.  Steve takes classes and documents his sea time to renew his card.  Even sailors need to continually educate themselves and keep current on the latest technologies.  Many of my middle school students don’t realize that the skills they learn in school will serve them for a lifetime and they must continue to educate themselves.  Above is a photo of Mr. Foye handling launch RA 5.

The control screen on the computer.
The control screen on the computer.

After getting underway, Mr. Foye threw a buoy overboard and yelled “man overboard.”  Ensign Andrew Halbach quickly took over the helm and Greg grabbed a boat hook while I pointed at and kept my eyes on the buoy to make sure we don’t lose site of it in the rolling waves. The Ensign skillfully brought the launch around and as he approached the “victim,” turned the launch a hard left and reversed the engine.  The stern of the launch swerved to the right and the starboard side ended up next to the buoy where Greg scooped it out of the water with the boat hook. Mr. Foye repeated the “man overboard” two more times with Greg and I taking a turn at the helm.  Mr. Foye guided me in maneuvering the launch to the buoy, though it took me more than one try to reach our “victim.” Everyone on board the RAINIER needs these important rescue skills to ensure the safety of all crewmembers.  Even the coxswain can fall over board and one needs to be prepared to take over the helm in an emergency.

After the over board drill, I practiced putting on my bright orange survival suit.  I had donned it once on board the steady Rainier, but it proved challenging while rocking back and forth on the launch in the open ocean. Though the survival suit won’t keep me dry, it will allow me to live for many hours instead of a few minutes if we abandoned ship in the 50-degree waters of the Gulf of Alaska.  We spent a productive day running transects and collecting bottom depth data.  Ensign Halbach and Survey Tech Greg King showed me how the equipment works.  They even let me run the two computers.  I selected lines (transects) that we followed and then hit control “S” (for start) on the key board to write the sonar data to a computer file.  When we finished a transect, I hit control “E” for end and the computer stopped logging (writing) information.  We then repeated the process and the computer generated a separate file for each transect.

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

The Ensign and Greg also showed me how to control and fine-tune the sonar. A master window on the computer controls the sonar and allows you to set power, gain and depth.  The power controls the strength of the sound wave sent to the bottom.  The deeper the bottom, the stronger the signal required. The gain controls how sensitive the sonar receiver picks up the sound waves bounced off the bottom.  It’s like a volume control on your radio.  You want to set it so you eliminate static and “hear” the music at the right loudness and quality.  The depth control determines how far down the signal will go. The survey technician adjusts all three controls to account for bottom type (sandy, rocky, hard) and other factors that affect the quality of the sonar signal.

After a long day, the swell of the ocean increased and our ride on the launch became bumpy.  The RAINIER has moved a few miles to the west in Sosbee Bay to seek protection from the increasing north winds.  We returned to the RAINIER in time for supper and I fished out on the fantail (stern) without any luck.  The steady wind from the north made it one of the coldest evenings of the trip and I put on a jacket.  Around 9:30 pm a group of crewmembers returned from fishing in the launch with a catch of lingcod and rockfish (red snapper) to finish the evening.

Matt Boles, survey tech, lands the big fish of the day
Matt Boles, survey tech, lands the big fish of the day

Personal Log 

I really enjoyed today. Steve Foye gave me a great education on how to operate the launch. I also appreciated the way Ensign Andrew Halbach and Greg King patiently taught me how to run the sonar.  Using the technology gave me greater understanding about how all this works.

For supper, we had a cookout on the fantail. The stewards (cooks) had the propane barbeque grills fired up and made ribs, chicken, corn and an assortment of salads.  We all sat out on the deck, talked and ate.

Question of the Day 

If I wanted to pick an object out of the water to the right side of my boat, why would I turn the launch a hard left and put the motor in reverse? Explain your answer in words and include a diagram.

Mike Laird, August 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 4, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 50.8 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.0 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Light Airs
Wind Speed: Light Airs
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.0 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 0/8 covered

Science and Technology Log 

The day begins early with launches leaving at 7:00.  The reason for the early start is that two launches (RA1 and RA2) are doing shoreline work.  Shoreline work must be done at lower low tide (in an area in which there are diurnal tides – two flooding periods and two ebbing periods – the lower low tide is the lower of the two ebbing periods), and on this day, the tidal window for this tide period is from 7:10 to 12:30.  The work along the ocean/land transition is done when the water level is at its lowest point so there is increased confidence that all features are observed and accounted for.

I have been assigned to launch RA2 and will have an opportunity for the first time to observe exactly how the shoreline surveys are conducted.  The work entails confirming existing map data from three sources: 1) the cartographic features file which is composed of data collected from aerial surveys (the photographs are used to create a map on which the shoreline and off shore features are shown); 2) LIDAR – a relatively new technology in which an aerial survey is conducted using lasers; and 3) existing nautical charts.

Confirming the data entails running the shoreline and comparing the actual shoreline and buffer (the water in a zone of between thirty and fifty meters just offshore) to what appears on the map.  A feature confirmation requires a visual observation of the feature.  As features are observed, a notation is hand written on a hard copy of the map.  Later, the notations will be input into the ship’s computer.

In addition to noting known features, features not currently shown are recorded on the map along with their location and depth.  In some cases, features shown on the map cannot be located. In these situations, a notation is made and a reason (too much kelp, water to deep, etc) is given. This signals the sheet manager that further investigation is required. If the water in the area is safe (the original boat conducting the survey is equipped with a single beam sonar system and will determine the water depth and then scan the area running in a star pattern searching for obstructions), one of the launches equipped with a multibeam echo sounding system will be sent in to do a 100% floor scan to confirm the feature.  If the area is not safe, a dive team will be sent in to do the confirmation.  Shoreline work is a bit more dynamic than the deepwater work – the crew must constantly be aware of what is happening with the surf as rocks can suddenly appear!

Personal Log 

The food onboard the RAINIER is quite tasty with a wide range of options available at every meal.  Starting off the day with breakfast (served 0700-0730), the most important meal of the day, choices include: eggs to order, fried, scrambled, poached, or boiled; omelets: cheese, minced ham, or vegetarian; french toast; hot cakes; waffles; fresh fruit: cantaloupe, pineapple, honeydew melon, mango; some type of meat: ham, bacon, sausage, Spam; cold cereal, coffee, tea, juice, milk.

Selections for today’s lunch (served from 1200-1230) were: Entrées: homemade gumbo soup, grilled fillet of catfish/tartar sauce, hot roast beef sandwich, mushroom and cheese quesadillas. Side Dishes: diced brown potatoes, steamed rice, steamed fresh cauliflower.  Dessert: chilled jello/whip cream. Drinks: water, juice, milk, lemonade or grape flavored drink, coffee.

Today’s dinner (served from 1700-1730) is a fantail (kind of like the ship’s back porch) cookout. Salads: pasta, potato, and another salad I’m note sure what it was; Entrees: BBQ – steaks, ribs and sausage, fried chicken; Side dishes: egg rolls, french fries, and pot stickers; Drinks: water and assorted juices. A real feast!

Philip Hertzog, August 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 4, 2005

hertzog_log11Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 50.8’N
Longitude: 158˚50.0’W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 2, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Four launches left early today (7:00 am) and I got up to watch the deck crew lower them into the water. Two launches took off to finish up mapping in the Fish Ranch Bay area while the other launches went across to Mitrofania Island to map shoreline and submerged rocks on aerial photographs.

hertzog_log11aWith our mapping work nearly completed in this area, the Commanding Officer moved the RAINIER to Sosbee Bay located on the south side of Mitrofania Island.  The RAINIER traveled along the north side of Mitrofania and made a left turn to skirt the southwestern shore and Spitz Rock before a second left turn into Sosbee Bay.  The move took approximately 2 hours.

Along the way, I saw at least two dozen Sei whales surface and blow spray in groups of up to four individuals.  As we approached each group of whales, they would submerge and then reappear several hundred yards behind the ship.  At one point the whales seemed to surround the RAINIER in a 270-degree arc: In my earlier log entries, I mistakenly called these creatures fin whales and provided the wrong life history. Sei (pronounced “say”) whales live in all ocean waters of the world.  They can reach up to 18 meters in length and have a small dorsal fin forming a 40 degree angle back with the body. The dorsal fin is located down about two thirds of their body length from the snout. A single ridge runs along on the top of their heads from the snout to the blow hole. Sei whales have black colored backs covered with oval scars that results in a shiny, metallic appearance. Lamprey bites cause the scars when the whales migrate into warmer waters.

Safety gear
Safety gear

Sei whales skim the water and remove tiny marine organisms called copepods for food with long, narrow plates (baleens) under their heads.  These whales tend to feed close to the surface and leave large swirls on the surface as they move their tails. I saw many of these swirls next to the RAINIER after whales had submerged in front of us.

I spotted the Sei whales by first seeing a black snout appear followed by an inverted cone shaped spray about 2 to 3 meters high.  A sleek long, shiny back then glides over the surface followed by the dorsal fin near the rear of the body.  The back then gracefully disappears without the fluke (tail) breaking the surface.  Once in a while the tail does appear as shown in the photo above.

Survey launch being lowered into the water
Survey launch being lowered into the water

After passing the whales, the ship practiced an emergency fire drill and we reported to our assigned stations. The RAINIER’s fire fighting crew donned bumper gear and oxygen tanks and pretended to put out a fire by spraying water from a pressurized hose over the side of the ship.  Within 30 minutes of the fire drill, we had an abandoned ship drill. We grabbed our survival suits and hurried to our stations.  During the drill an Ensign described how to deploy the life rafts by first tying off the canister (see photo below) and then yanking on a release cable. A sensor automatically opens the raft when it hits the water. A rope holds the raft to keep it from drifting a way, but each raft comes equipped with a sharp knife to cut the rope if the ship should sink into deep water: The ship conducts the emergency drills at least once every two weeks to ensure we remain sharp on these important safety skills.  In the event of a real emergency, we have no place to go except into cold water where one could survive for only a few minutes without protection. The RAINIER’s crew takes these drills seriously so we can solve problems (like putting out fires) and prevent the need to enter the water.

After the drills, the RAINIER slowly coasted into Sosbee Bay.  We entered a new environment.  An arc of steep cliffs rose out of the water and surrounded the bay.  We distinctly recognized the shape of a caldera, former volcano that exploded long ago and left a large crater now filled with ocean water.  Tonight, we will sleep on board the ship located inside the remains of a crater.

The Southwestern Alaskan Peninsula is part of the Pacific “ring of fire.”  A large tectonic plate located far beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean slowly runs into the North American plate.  The meeting of the plates causes earth quakes and friction creates large chambers of magma (molten rock) that can form large volcanoes when it reaches the surface of the earth.  All around us, we have seen signs of past volcanic activity from the large shield volcano, Mount Veniaminof, to the north of Mitrofania to the small pieces of pumice found on the beaches.  However, Sosbee Bay provided a sober reminder of the power and destructiveness of nature. The rest of the day I spent reading and completing my documentation.

Personal Log 

I had another busy day on the RAINIER learning about Sei whales and practicing my photography. Again, the galley crew fed us well and I’m need of some exercise.  I’ll go hit the small gym below deck tonight to work off some calories.  On a ship I find it difficult to get sufficient exercise.  If I ever get permanently assigned to a ship, I’ll have to become disciplined in setting up an exercise routine.

Question of the Day 

What is the “ring of fire” and where is it located?

Mike Laird, August 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 3, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Deck Crew for a Day – Part II 

Previously in this log (see Day 10: Tuesday, August 2) I left you having just assisted the deck crew (of which I am a member for a day) in getting the survey launches prepped, lowered to the water, and cast off for their day of echo sounding.  All that done, and the day is just beginning.

As it turns out, the deck crew is currently running through some training exercises for some of its newer members – a perfect opportunity for me to learn a lot of new and interesting things. However before the training begins, the junior deck hands have daily cleaning responsibilities (bathrooms, trash, mopping floors, etc.) that must be taken care of. Somehow I luck out and avoid latrine duty, and Erick Davis, my mentor for the day, takes me to the bow of the ship where I am instructed on the operation of the forward cranes. These cranes are used primarily for lifting and moving the gangways (the walkways between the ship and the pier when the ship is in port) and to load stores and cargo onto the ship.

After an introduction to the crane and the hand signals used to communicate between the operator and the deck chief, I have a chance to operate the crane for a few minutes.  By this time, the rest of the group has rejoined us and the focus turns to proper mooring and anchoring techniques.

Members of the deck crew are responsible for getting the mooring lines ashore as the ship is arriving in port and retrieving and storing the lines when the ship is putting out to sea.  The RAINIER most often uses four lines (each line is assigned a number) when mooring: a bowline (line #1), an aft leading spring line (line #2), a for leading spring line (line #3), and a stern line (line #4). The sequence in which these lines are cast ashore is intended to increase the ease of docking the ship and is dependant on the docking situation.

In a routine mooring the lines will be cast in the following order: 1) aft leading spring line, 2) stern line, 3) bowline, and 4) for leading stern line.  There are aids both mechanical (capstans) and fixed on the deck (chucks and bits) that help as crew members release and take in line as the ship is being positioned alongside the pier or preparing to leave port.  These aids have taken the place of hand cranking and reduce the amount of physical effort required to manipulate mooring lines that can get quite heavy when dealing with extensive lengths (especially when wet) of line.

In addition to mooring, the deck crew is highly involved in anchoring the ship.  Once a location (chosen by the commanding officer or in some instances the officer of the deck) has been chosen to anchor, the crew prepares to drop anchor.  The flow of the anchor chain when releasing and retracting the anchor is controlled by a piece of equipment called the anchor windlass. When setting anchor, the windlass must allow chain to flow smoothly as it follows the anchor to the seafloor.

The windlass has a three-tiered system used to hold the chain in place while the ship is in transit and when anchored. First, there is a huge drum brake (much like those found on cars, but much larger); there is also a large metal latch, called the “devil’s claw” that fits through, grabs, and holds onto a chain link; finally the “cat’s paw” is a metal arm that lays on top of the chain pinching it down to prevent movement.  Each of these must be disengaged to allow release of chain. As the chain is being released, the deck chief signals to the bridge how much chain has been let out.  The chain length is measured in units called shots. Each shot is ninety feet (the RAINIER carries twelve shots of chain for each of its two anchors – 1080feet of chain per anchor) and is indicated by a section of painted chain four or five links long.

Once the anchor hits bottom, additional chain (called scope) is released to allow for fluctuations in water level caused by the tide and wave action.  The additional chain also provides additional weight to help secure the ship.  The amount of scope depends on the conditions and judgment of the officer in charge, but a general rule is to let out a total chain length of one third (distance to the bottom) plus two thirds (length of scope).  For example, if the anchor hits bottom at 27 fathoms (a fathom is six feet; 27 fathoms equals 162 feet) three hundred twenty-four more feet (or about three and one half shots) of chain would be released for scope.

Having completed the tutorial on anchoring, we turned to another aspect of the life of a deck crewmember — the operation of the small boats (launches and skiffs) on board ship.  The remainder of the afternoon is spent practicing the operation and maneuvering of a skiff. The group I am with practices basic operations: starting, stopping, smooth acceleration and deceleration, and moving in a straight line while in reverse.

Having demonstrated these skills, we go to man overboard rescue situations and practice moving the skiff into proper rescue position alongside the victim (without running them over).

Then it’s on to anchoring the skiff: choosing an acceptable location and orientation, releasing the anchor and proper amount of scope, and making sure the anchor is set to keep the skiff safely and securely positioned.

The last maneuver we practice is beach landings: choosing a location onshore that will allow personnel and equipment to move from the boat to land safely and efficiently, properly orienting the skiff for beach approach, and finally the smooth, spot-on landing.

Finally, it’s back to the RAINIER to await the return of the launches, so they can be raised by the davits back into their storage hangars.  Thus ends my day with the deck crew.

Personal Log 

While on a skiff doing shoreline work, I saw some sea lions yesterday.  Until we came along, they were peacefully napping on a rock outcrop enjoying the late morning sunshine. Our arrival caused a ruckus with a great amount of bellowing, grunting, and tussling among themselves.  Ensign Briana Welton was telling us about an article she read saying that human intrusion into breeding sea lion communities causes the sea lions stress and has interfered with their reproductive habits causing a population decline in some areas.  Our presence certainly caused this bunch a bit of stress if their behavior was any indication. They were fun to watch (make sure to be up wind – they have a terrible stench), but I hope we did not overly stress them.

Philip Hertzog, August 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 3, 2005

The launch, at work
The launch, at work

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I had been assigned to stay on the RAINIER today so we slept in an extra hour. However, as I returned from breakfast, Lt. Evans asked me to take his place on R8 skiff and go out to the HorCon station.  I quickly said yes, grabbed my gear, and jumped on board R8 within 5 minutes.

HorCon stands for Horizontal Control where we broadcast global position satellite (GPS) signal corrections to help the mapping launches accurately locate their positions.  In essence, the radio signals allow the launches to control their horizontal position so they have correct latitude and longitude readings. In past log entries I referred to the HorCon station as the transmitter station.  HorCon stations are also called flyaway stations when set up on temporary basis.

Ensigns Andrew Halbach and Olivia Hauser led our mission with assistance from Matt Foss. Jonathon Anderson drove the skiff under the watchful eye of his trainer, Able Seaman Erick Davis.  AB Davis has been on the RAINIER for one year and prior to that served in Iraq with the Army Reserve.  AB Davis also served on other NOAA ships for two years before going to Iraq.

Uploading data
Uploading data

As we left the protected waters of Fish Ranch Bay, the skiff bucks and slams hard into waves as we enter the open waters between the southwest Alaskan peninsula and Mitrofania Island. The HorCon site now lies 8 miles from the RAINIER.  We held on tight to the hand rails of the skiff while salt water splashed onto our faces and soaked our orange, bulky float jackets. Once in a while our feet lifted off from the deck of the skiff as we crested a wave and then slammed our feet down hard when the boat dropped into a trough. Everyone on the skiff had smiles on their faces as we raced toward our destination. As I noted in yesterday’s log, the HorCon station’s computer crashed and the batteries drained their electrical charge.  Upon arriving at the station, we hauled the computer and six large, 12 volt deep cycle batteries up to the transmitter.  We timed our unloading of the skiff to avoid sea swells washing up the beach and soaking our feet.

Ensign Halbach and Matt Foss went to work installing the new batteries and computer, while Ensign Hauser and I hopped into the skiff and traveled over to the tide gauge station a mile away.  As mentioned in previous logs, the tide station provides vertical control (up and down) so the launch crews can correct the sonar for the rise and fall of the tides and make the nautical charts to show water depth from mean lower low water.

The tide station works by sending pressurized nitrogen gas through a tube that goes from a sensor into the water at a set location. As the tide rises and falls, the ocean water presses against the nitrogen gas in the tube and the computer sensor uses this information to measure sea level height.  The computer then transmits the sea level height to a satellite which routes the information to the main mapping office in Washington, D.C.

Ensign Hauser set up the tide station three weeks ago and it now needed a new nitrogen bottle. I carried the heavy, three-foot long metal bottle off the skiff and up a short steep slope. We hooked up the new nitrogen tank and Ensign Hauser operated a computer to make sure the station works correctly.  In the mean time, Jonathon practices his skiff landings with advice from AB Davis.

We returned to the HorCon station and joined Ensign Halbach and Technician Matt Foss.  They changed out the batteries and plugged in the reprogrammed computer.  The computer indicated that it was transmitting data, but Ensign Halbach saw only binary (zeros and ones) code on the screen instead of latitude and longitude readings.  A radio check with the launches determined they can pick up our transmission, but Ensign Halbach may need to make another trip out to the HorCon station to ensure the problem has been fixed.

We loaded up the old batteries and jumped into the skiff for a wild eight-mile ride back to the RAINIER and arrived with plenty of time before supper.

Personal Log 

After a late night of fishing, I found the “salt water bath” during our skiff crossing to Mitrofania Island refreshing and invigorating. I never felt tired for the rest of the day.  I enjoyed working with Ensign Hauser who patiently showed me how the tide gauge station computer logs data. I also got my work out by carrying the heavy batteries and nitrogen bottle.

The salt water bath left me with an interesting problem. Salt crystals flaked off my hair and face onto my clothes.  It looked like I had a major case of dandruff. My next stop after finishing this log entry is to hit the shower and get rid of the saline grime.

Hopefully the HorCon station’s problems were fixed and no more major work will be needed. In science, you run into these problems in the field and it can prove frustrating.  However, problem solving is part of the challenge of working out in remote locations.  In my classroom and Tacoma Public Schools, we try to teach students important problem solving skills.  No matter how much students memorize, it all boils down to using knowledge to creatively trouble shoot problems.

Question of the Day 

Here is a problem for my Electronics students.  The HorCon station runs off six, 12 volt batteries. The 12 volt batteries are recharged with a set of five solar panels.  Should you set up the batteries in series, in parallel or a combination of both? Should you set up the solar panels in series, parallel, or combination of both?  Write out a schematic for your design and explain your thinking.

Mike Laird, August 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 2, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Deck Crew for a Day – Part I 

One evening late last week, I checked the Plan of the Day (POD) — a schedule listing the following day’s launch assignments and ship movements.  I found that I was scheduled for an on-ship day. Teacher at Sea participants onboard the RAINIER generally follow a routine alternating between fieldwork out in the launches and days onboard the ship.  The on-ship days are intended to give us time to interview crewmembers, research areas of interest, and prepare logs detailing our experiences and learning.

So when I saw that I would be onboard the following day, I made arrangements with Jim Kruger the Deck Chief to be a member of the deck crew for a day.  While anchored in the work area, the deck crew’s typical day begins with the responsibility of getting all launches scheduled for fieldwork prepared and deployed.  For each boat going out this entails:

  • removal of the tie-downs securing the launch in its berth
  • lowering the launch (done with a piece of equipment called a gravity davit – a system of pulleys, cables, and hooks operated by a motor)
  • securing the launch for the safe loading of:
      1. personnel,
      2. equipment: the CTD sensor used in taking a cast of the water column (see log for Day 3, Wednesday, July 27) and personal gear,
      3. and – maybe most important – the food and drinks prepared by the galley for lunch and snacks
  • releasing the launch from the hooks (one on the bow – “For clear!” and one on the stern – “Aft clear!”) used to raise and lower it with the gravity davit
  • starting the boat’s motor
  • and finally, releasing the launch’s bow and stern lines, so the coxswain can  radio in and declare, “We are away!”

The deck crew must work as a team to ensure that all of this happens safely, quickly, and efficiently.  It is pretty impressive to see four to five launches mobilized and away from the ship in less than thirty minutes!  On my first day (actually my only day) on the job, I was given the job of manning the stern line.  Of course I had a “real” deck crewmember by my side giving me instructions and pointers and ready to step in if things reached a crisis point.

The stern line actually serves two purposes: 1) to make sure the launch does not swing back and forth too much while it is being lowered into the water, and 2) to work with the bowline to hold the boat securely alongside the RAINIER until it is ready to cast off. It takes quick, nimble hands (along with a few pointers on useful techniques from my partner and the Captain) to quickly release and secure the lines to the cleats along the ship’s railing. It is also encouraged that one perform these tasks without getting hands and fingers caught or getting the line all tangled up.  I preformed my duties as a rookie would and successfully helped get all the launches on their way!  It seems like we have done a lot already this morning it must be getting late.  What?  It’s only 8:27!

To be continued.

Personal Log 

Hey all you sun junkies out there! Alaska in the summer is the place to be!  We are currently enjoying almost seventeen hours of sunlight a day – sunrise 6:43 and sunset

10:38. This provides a lot of time for outdoor activities – we were out fishing at 10:30 last night. Finally had to turn the deck lights on at about 11:30, so we could finish cleaning our fish. Of course, all this fun in the sun depends on cooperation from the weather. Heavy clouds, fog and rain – not uncommon in our current location – tend to put a damper on the sunshine.  So we’ll live large and enjoy every moment we have for as long as it lasts!

Philip Hertzog, August 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

hertzog_log9Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 2, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.8 ˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1002.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, stratocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I got the day off from the launches so I could catch up on my paper work and study up on onboard life. I slept in an extra hour, but as I emerged from my cabin for a late breakfast, Lt. Ben Evans asked me to accompany him over to the radio transmitter site.

Solar panels
Solar panels

I grabbed my backpack and within three minutes I sped across Cushing Bay in an open Zodiac pushed by a 115 horse motor.  The wind had strengthened over night and we had more waves on our side of Mitrofania Island. We bounced over the waves and quickly reached the landing site. Our coxswain carefully eased the Zodiac towards shore and as a swell moved away from the beach we jumped out into ankle deep surf.  The coxswain quickly backed up the Zodiac before the next swell could push it on to the beach.

Lt. Evans and I walked up to the transmitter site located in a grassy meadow about 150 feet from the water’s edge.  Lt. Evans pulled out a volt meter and soon determined that the transmitter computer failed to turn off last night and drained the batteries.  The station had stopped transmitting yesterday afternoon due to a software problem.  Normally a set of solar panels recharge the transmitter station’s four batteries when the computer operates correctly. The following pictures show the troublesome computer and the solar panels: Lt. Evans decided to take the computer back to the RAINIER to reload the software and figure out the system problem.  A crew plans to return tonight with the computer and a fresh set of 12 volt batteries. Just as we had landed at the site, we quickly boarded the Zodiac in between swells to prevent the boat from beaching or knocking against us. We returned to the RAINIER just in time to catch her set sail for a new work location.

Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Around 11:30 am, the RAINIER weighed anchor and sailed 7 miles north to Fish Ranch Bay adjacent to the southwestern Alaskan peninsula.  The new location will protect us from the strong north east winds that started to rock the ship yesterday.  As we crossed over to the new location, the RAINIER rocked side to side as 2-foot waves blown in from the Gulf of Alaska hit our starboard side. We entered the calm waters of Fish Ranch Bay and saw a large, pyramid shaped peak to the north, green colored mountains on the east and west, and a view of Mitrofania Island 7 miles to the south across open water.  The survey launches crossed earlier and passed us while mapping the harbor we’ve entered. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at our new surroundings and finishing up my paper work. In the evening, Mike Laird and I went out with four other crew members in a skiff to try out the fishing.

Personal Log 

I had a relaxed day and felt good about completing my paper work.  I enjoyed seeing how the transmitter site had change since my last visit.  The crew had added a battery bank, solar panels and electronics to the site that I had not seen before.

Our biggest adventure of the day started after supper with a fishing expedition.  Carl Verplank and Mike Riley took Mike Laird, Matt Boles and Josh Riley (Mike R.’s cousin) out in the R8 open boat to teach us how to fish Alaskan waters.  We drifted over by a small bank and soon caught fish.  I caught my second “keeper” halibut just on an 8 pound test line and a cheap $ 30 pole. My line broke just as Carl netted my halibut. Both Mike R. and Carl reeled in decent halibuts and then Mike L. surprised everyone when he landed a salmon off the bottom using halibut gear.

After a couple hours, we motored over to a steep embankment below the old town site of Mitrofania. Drifting along, we suddenly had fish on three lines and started hauling in sea bass. Sea bass tend to school and go into a feeding frenzy when one fish finds food.  The bass weighed from 1 to 3 pounds and measured 6 inches to one foot in length. We saw sea bass rise up from under our skiff and watched two or three fish go after one lure. We released the smaller fish and kept the larger ones.

We headed back to the RAINIER at 10:15 pm in the evening light with sunset still a half an hour away. On the back of the RAINIER we cleaned and cut up our fish with guidance from Mike Riley while Carl carefully cleaned R8 and the deck as the dusk became night.  I clean and cut up my first halibut and helped Mike Laird with his fish.  We finally finished the last fish and stored our catch in the reefer (boat language for refrigerator) at 1:00 am.  It will be tough to get up in the morning, but I won’t forget this evening for a long time.

Question of the Day 

Why do sea bass school? Is this an advantage or disadvantage to their survival as a species?

Mike Laird, August 1, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: August 1, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

Operating the RAINIER in port—as she transits from site to site, and as she lies at anchor acting as home base for the survey operations—requires that each of the ship’s “departments” functions efficiently with a small margin for error.  When things do go wrong, they must be handled using the resources available on the ship so that operations continue with as little down time as possible.  Perhaps the greatest resource onboard the RAINIER is her personnel.  Situations, like those listed below, continually arise and require those involved to demonstrate patience, innovation, problem solving abilities and determination:

  • A cable getting caught in one of the pulleys on a gravity davit just after it has been used to lower a survey launch at 8:00 to begin its day of echo sounding. The cable must be replaced and the davit operational by the time the launch returns at 16:30.
  • A crack in the hull of a launch (welded and “fixed” while the RAINIER was in port for three days in Kodiak) is allowing water into the launch at the rate of about a gallon an hour. The engineering people use some magic red goop to temporarily stop the leak until a permanent solution can be devised.
  • Electronic equipment is very temperamental (cables jiggle loose during transits through rough seas, components can overheat, software glitches rear their heads, etc.) and continually requires TLC to keep it happy and functioning.
  • Established, recognized Differential Global Positioning Systems (latitude and longitude data) and primary control stations (tide data) may not provide data that meets required specifications (because of their distance from the work area, topographic features, etc) necessitating the installation of temporary DGPS and tide station sites.

As a crew member, you never know what is going to come up and must always be willing and prepared to meet unforeseen challenges!

Personal Log 

Last night, after a day of recording data on one of the survey launches, six of us had a chance to take one of the skiffs and go do a little fishing.  Our primary target was halibut.  We motored out to a site scouted earlier in the day during our survey ops, dropped our lines and began jigging right on the bottom.  It wasn’t long before I felt a tugging on my line, began reeling in, and pulled up a baby halibut (or “but” as my companions more versed in these matters call them).  Not wanting to be accused as a cradle robber, I released it. I dropped my line again and after a few minutes of jigging, felt the tug, and reeled in a larger halibut (maybe a 15 pounder – I know technically still a baby).  I released it also, because my companions assure me, “It’s still early you’ll get a bigger one.” I didn’t – of course. However, I did have success (a silver salmon, and four sea cod – I kept these). I also hooked a pea cod, an Irish Lord and two other small halibut – I didn’t keep these. Fun times!

Philip Hertzog, August 1, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 1, 2005

The CTD
The CTD

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.4’N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 103˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulonimbus

Science and Technology Log 

I woke up to gray skies and a 10 knot wind. The wind blew waves to around 1 foot high and rocked the RAINIER gently in Cushman Bay.  We have been lucky in that no rain has fallen in the eight days since we left Kodiak and the seas have been remained calm Mitrofania Island. The deck crew lowered the launches an hour earlier at 7:00 am and I joined launch RA-4 led by Ensign Andrew Halbach with assistance from Survey Tech Dan Boles.  Coxswain Carl Verplank guided the RA-4 towards the south western side of Mitrofania Island near Spitz Rock.

Lowering the CTD
Lowering the CTD

As we rounded the corner of the island, one to three foot swells driven by a north east wind hit us and knocked the launch around and splashed water over our bow and up onto the windows. This made for roughest conditions I have seen so far on the trip, but not rough enough to affect our sonar mapping. Carl told me that the Rainier crew has mapped ocean bottom depth in worst conditions. We stopped the launch and Ensign Halbach let me lower the SEACAT CTD (conductivity, temperature, and density) probe to the bottom 200 meters down so we can collect data to correct our sonar data.  As mentioned in previous log entries; temperature, conductivity (amount of salt in the water) and pressure changes how fast sound moves in water and the CTD probe gives the computer information to correct the sonar for these factors. The CTD data changes over the day and by location so we took measurement every four hours for a total of three times. Here is a close up of SEACAT CTD probe and Dan Boles lowering it the later in the day: After the probe returned to the launch, Ensign Halbach turned on the Reson Radar which has good resolution and works the best in shallow, near-shore waters and around rocks.  Our first transects took us close to the shore and Dan sat on the bow and held on tight to look for submerged rocks that could damage the launch hull and sonar probe.  Dan got knocked around and splashed with water, but we quickly returned to our dry cabin as we moved further off shore:

The transect traversing nearshore areas
The transect traversing nearshore areas

We “mowed the lawn” following long transects that took about half an hour each to complete before turning around and moving over 100 meters to start the next transect.  On transects heading into the wind, our launch traveled at 7 knots per hour and hit each wave hard with a thump and splash over the bow.  On transects following the wind, the waves picked us up and we “surfed” down the backsides of two to three foot swells.  The following seas pushed the launch around and Carl first turned the steering wheel hard left and then hard right to keep us on a straight line.  Later in the day, I drove the launch for over an hour and learned how to set a rhythm for completing these left and right turns for each wave. At first, the launch crew remained quiet as we fought some minor motion sickness.  After eating and drinking coffee and soda, most of us perked up and started talking.  Carl told us about finding brown bear tracks while fishing on the main land last night near the abounded village site of Mitrofania.  Dan, Carl and I told each other bear stories and eventually shifted the conversation to education. Carl and Dan both have mothers that work in public schools and told me how their parents put in long hours during the school year.

Cooking dinner!
Cooking dinner!

Carl, a young man in his twenties, is from Fort Wayne, Indiana and worked on the RAINIER the past four years.  Carl’s Dad is an attorney and he has some younger sisters that will meet him in Homer for a visit at the end of our current leg.  Carl also completed underwater dive school this past spring and can now help install tide gauge stations or inspect the RAINIER’s hull.  Carl plans to stay on the RAINIER for at least another year.

Dan Boles is slightly older than Carl and has a Bachelor’s degree in geology and French.  Dan grew up in Tennessee and at one point his mom raised horses on a farm.  Dan has been on board for almost a year and talked his younger brother (Matt) into joining the RAINIER. Can you imagine sharing a tiny bunk bed room and working with your brother all day long?  From what I saw, Dan and Matt get along well.

Taking a quick snooze
Taking a quick snooze

After 5 hours, Carl pulled the launch behind Spitz Island that provided us protection from the wind and waves, but filled the air with the foul smell of sea gull dung from the thousands of birds nesting near by. The RAINIER crew gets a half hour lunch break whether on the ship or out in a launch. Ensign Halbach, who had been up late and working on our radio transmitter site, took a nap.  Dan set up his Coleman stove and cooked up some salmon fillets he brought along.  The salmon tasted good after a long morning out on the water. Carl and I fished off the launch and I landed a sea bass on my first cast. I actually caught three on my first cast, but the first two fell off the hook before the third set the line. I could see several sea bass fighting for my hook.  Here are some photos from lunch: After lunch we continued or mapping till around 4:30 pm.  The ride back became calmer after we moved past the corner and on to the north side of Mitrofania Island which blocked the wind. We had nice views of the mountains and the RAINIER as we approached the ship. In the evening, I went out on the fan deck (very back of the ship) and fished off the side.  Everyone told me the fish weren’t biting, but I tried anyway.  I quickly caught a small halibut and hauled it on board with help from other crew.  After carefully removing the hook, I threw it back into the water so it could grow bigger before the next fisherman comes along.  I fished a little longer and caught a second halibut.

Rainier from the launch
Rainier from the launch

I decided to keep this one and Mike Riley, an oiler from Engineering, showed me how to bleed and fillet the fish. Halibut are more difficult to clean than other fish because they are flat, almost pancake shaped on their sides and a back bone that runs down the middle of their body. They also swim side ways with the flat side facing up and look the surface with their two eyes located on the same side of their head.

After cleaning the halibut, Mike showed me how to vacuum pack the fish and how to store it in our big freezer.  Mike is in his early twenties with a shaved head and several piercings in his ears, lips and nose.  Mike looks almost like a pirate or punk rocker, but the crew respects him for his fishing and filleting abilities.

The evening ended well and I retired to my bunk for a well deserved sleep.

A beautiful evening
A beautiful evening

Personal Log 

I had a busy day today getting up at 5:50 am and readying myself for the launch. I really had to keep my balance on the launch today as we bounced around, but I didn’t get sea sick like some people did in the other boat.  Driving the launch was the best part of my day as I skipped over waves and learned how to handle it in following seas.  I learned how to focus on a point far away and to use a rhythm in steering to keep a straight course in rough seas.

Catching the sea bass and two halibuts was a real treat as many people did not catch anything today in the windy conditions. I felt a bit sorry for the fish as we cut it up, but I look forward to eating the meat upon returning from the trip.

Question of the Day 

What are three factors that would make waves high out in the ocean?

Mike Laird, July 31, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 31, 2005

Weather Data

Time: 13:00
Latitude: 55° 53.4 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 225˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 0-1΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered; Lower level: cumulus Mid-level: altostratus High level: cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER’s crew of forty-nine (men (40) and women (9)) is divided into six work groups:

I) Officers and junior officers:  Responsible for overall ship operations including: navigation, horizontal and vertical control, damage control (ship safety), medical services, field  operations, etc.

II) Survey operations: Responsibilities include: data collection and analysis

III) Deck operations:  Responsibilities include: launch and de-launch of small boats (launches and skiffs), operation of the small boats, manning equipment and lines used during anchoring and mooring of the ship, maintenance (cleaning, rust removal, painting) and operation of the deck and deck equipment (cranes, gravity davits, hydraulic davit, the anchor windlass), etc.

IV) Engineering operations: Responsibilities include: maintenance and operation of the ships electrical and mechanical systems

V) Yeoman and Electronics: Yeoman – responsibilities similar to those of a business manager  (personnel, payroll, ship’s budget, etc.).  This position is slowly being  eliminated from the ships in NOAA’s fleet.

Electronics – responsible for the maintenance and operation of the electronic equipment onboard ship (computers, radios, GPS units, etc).

VI) Steward: Responsibilities include: operation of the galley, preparing three meals a day for the crew, preparing snacks for the morning and afternoon breaks, and preparing a picnic lunch and drinks to send with the three to four launch crews who are sent out on survey assignments.

I was able to work with the deck crew the other day, and I’ll share the experience in a future log!

Personal Log 

Today I did a lot of housekeeping kind of stuff.  I was getting pretty low on clean clothes, so I went down and used the ship’s laundry – three washing machines and three driers.  The only difficulty is trying to find open machines.  Either I hit it on a busy day or 49 crewmembers and four guests keep the machines busy.  I also caught up on my logs and did some background reading on tides and tidal datum.  Think I will try a little fishing tonight – still haven’t managed to pull one over the ship’s side.  Last night Jon, one of the crew, somehow caught a skate (looks like a ray).  He hooked it in one of the fins. We pulled it up took a look at it and then released it back over the side.  Very interesting!

Mike Laird, July 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 30, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus

Science and Technology Log 

I would like to add some clarifying information to my log entry, Mike Laird, July 29, 2005.  In that entry, I discussed setting up two horizontal control-data collection stations, and in reading the entry, it appears that the purpose for both stations is to support the “fly-away” Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS).  This is not accurate.  Only the station we established on the point will be used to determine the exact location of the DGPS.

The purpose of the other station is to verify the accuracy of the existing benchmark at that site, so a tidal datum (“…a base elevation used as a reference from which to reckon heights or depths”) can be established for the tide station located there.  I mentioned in the previous log that the horizontal control team is responsible for establishing accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for each sounding taken by the RAINIER and the launches. In addition, the soundings are taken throughout the day at different stages of the tide, which means that water depth will vary.

It is the responsibility of the vertical control team to provide precise tide data for corrections that have to be applied to the soundings so that they meet NOAA’s Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) guideline (ensures minimum water depth is charted).  Mean Lower Low Water means that an average is taken of the tide level at the lower of the two ebb periods in a semi-diurnal (two flood periods and two ebb periods every day) tidal day. The National Water Level Observation maintains primary control stations in many locations around the United States. These stations determine a tidal datum based on the average of observations over a nineteen-year period.

In many survey areas, the tidal datum received from a primary control station can be used to make the necessary corrections to the soundings.  However, the nearest station to the RAINIER’s current work area is located in Sand Point – a significant distance away.  Therefore, the vertical control team established the tertiary tidal station (one in operation for at least thirty consecutive days but less than a year) here in Cushing Bay, so that data more indicative of the local conditions can be collected and compared to the primary datum.  During this analysis, a decision will be made about any adjustments that need to be made to the primary datum before it is used to make corrections to the survey soundings.

Personal Log 

Our good fortune continues to hold – the weather is incredible.  Sun is shining brightly, temperature in the low 70’s.  We had been hearing whispers since lunch of a beach party tonight. The rumors were confirmed by an announcement following dinner that a skiff would be ferrying people to the shore and back from 18:30 until 23:30.  It was a time for the crew and guests to relax and hang out, enjoy a big driftwood bonfire, do a little beachcombing (the captain found a large whalebone – rib maybe), have some sodas and listen to a little music.  A lot of fun!

Philip Hertzog, July 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 30, 2005

Reson’s sonar output that generates a map of the ocean bottom near Spitz Island.
Reson’s sonar output that generates a map of the ocean bottom near Spitz Island.

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚53.4’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 7, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I went boating into new territory today. We took launch RA-4 and headed to the western end of Mitrofania Island to map the bottom around Spitz Island and several rocks.  I got to learn more about the RAINIER crew, saw a new type of sonar, met some sea lions and even drove the launch. Ensign Brianna Welton led our launch with assistance from Lorraine Roubidoux.  Ensign Welton is an expert in sonar technology and I watched other crew members seek out her help when problems crop up. Ms. Roubidoux goes to school at the University of New Hampshire where she’s earning a Masters Degree.  She joined the RAINIER for a month to get experience with sonar systems.  Ms Roubidoux conducts research on sonar “background scatter.” Background scatter occurs when sonar signals bounce around more than once and give false readings of ocean bottom depth.  Ms. Roubidoux’s research will hopefully result in better sonar for future ships.

Driving the launch
Driving the launch

Women play an important role on NOAA ships. They serve as officers like Ensign Welton and scientists like Ms. Robidoux.  Women also play key leadership roles on the RAINIER like our ship’s XO (Executive Officer), Commander Julia Neander, who takes command of our ship when the Captain leaves. I hope my students will learn that many cool opportunities exist for women in the sciences and they should not be discouraged from taking math and science classes.  Above is a photo of Ms. Robidoux running the sonar on our launch.

Coxswain (official name for a sailor who drives small boats), Corey Mussey, carefully maneuvered the launch as we approached Spitz Island. Underwater rocks make this type of mapping more dangerous and Seaman Mussey moved the launch slowly and carefully to avoid ripping off the half million dollar sonar sensor from the hull.  Because we moved into shallow water, Ensign Welton turned on a different type of Sonar Sensor called the Reson SeaBat 8101. The Reson works in water depths of 4 to 150 meters and gives a sharp, clear image of the bottom. The other sonar I saw before, the Elac, operates in deeper waters ranging from 40 to 400 meters, but does not give a clear image of the bottom. Corey told me you can actually see ship wrecks in full detail with the Reson sonar.

As we mapped, I occasionally stood on the bow of the launch and looked out for rocks as we moved close into shore. We passed over underwater “forests” of bull kelp and I saw 25 to 30 feet below the surface where a long, single whip like strand moves toward the surface and attaches to a floating round bulb.  Out of the bulb comes half a dozen flat fronds about 5 to 10 feet in length and four inches wide that make the bull kelp look almost like underwater palm trees.  Suddenly I saw a salmon dart quickly underwater and then 40 to 50 fish appear under the launch and move just as quickly out of view to our port (left) side.

As we moved back and forth in our “mowing the lawn” mapping pattern, we saw two groups of Steller Sea Lions. Four males sat on a small rocky island while two dozen or more females beach themselves on Spitz Island three hundred yards away.  Each time we passed, the Sea Lions sat up and barked at us.  We may be the first humans they have seen in this remote part of the Southwestern Alaskan peninsula.  As you can see, the one male challenged me with its open mouth while another sat calmly with his seagull friend.

At the end of the day, Corey let me drive the launch and run one of the transect lines for the sonar mapping.  As you can see in the photos below, I looked at a computer screen that showed our boat as a red torpedo along a line on the computer screen.  I had to keep the black marker on the red and green bar at the bottom of the screen exactly in between the two colors or we would miss our mapping area.  This proved difficult because just as one gets lined up a wave pushes the launch off course so you constantly correct the boat’s position. I found using the computer screen to drive the launch similar to a video game except you could wreck the boat and get hurt for real if one makes a mistake. I had a great day and returned to the ship to await another adventurous day.

Personal Log 

I had a fantastic day. I got to see some interesting technology and talked to professional people. Being out on the bow of the launch scared me a bit.  If we had hit a rock I failed to spot, the damage to the sonar system could equal a half a million dollars.  The bow also requires a lot of balance and strength.  Each time a wave rocked the launch, I risked falling into the cold Alaskan water and had to really pay attention.

Sonar output
Sonar output

Though the crew of the RAINIER works hard and long hours, they do get a chance to relax and Saturday nights are special. After supper, we loaded up into the open skiff and rode about mile to a wide open, gravelly beach for a party.  A few people started a large bon fire and we had soda drinks and music playing.  The skiff could only carry eight people at a time, but the party grew larger and noisier each time it arrived on the beach.  People talked, told jokes, found whale bones, and caught salmon all evening long.  The party lasted until 11:30 pm and we rode back to the RAINIER just as the Alaskan sky started to turn dark.

After returning to the ship, I joined some of the crew in the Wardroom (ship’s lounge) and watched the video, “Napoleon Dynamite,” about a high school student.  We all laughed and talked about our own high school experiences.  Tomorrow we all will be tired, but ready for another two weeks of work.

Question of the Day 

How large can Stellar Sea Lions get? Where do we find Stellar Sea Lions and what are their life’s history.

A male Steller sea lion
A male Steller sea lion

Mike Laird, July 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 29, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55° 53.36 ̍ N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: Light Airs
Wind Speed: Light Airs
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 8/8 covered;
Lower-level: cumulus, stratocumulus
Mid-level: altostratus

Science and Technology Log 

Today I am on a team that is going ashore to set up two horizontal control-data collection stations. The horizontal control team is responsible for establishing accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for the location of the survey soundings. The RAINIER uses a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) to acquire precise readings for every collected depth sounding. The remote location of the Mitrofania Island work area has introduced an infrequently encountered challenge for the horizontal control team.  The two Coast Guard operated DGPS Beacon Stations that are closest to the work area (one on Kodiak Island and one in Cold Bay) are too far away (we are on the outer fringe of their transmitting capability) for the signal to reach the launches in some of the more isolated, shielded areas. As a result, we are out setting up the horizontal control data collection stations.

The first station is set up over an existing benchmark and will record data transmitted directly from a GPS satellite.  The receiver will record readings for six hours, shut down for twenty-four hours, and resume recording for a final six-hour time period. Finished with the first station, we travel across the bay to a point that extends out into the ocean. We will set up the second horizontal control data collection station at this location. However, there is not an existing benchmark, so we must establish one.  First, we drive three-foot sections of metal rod into the ground (normally benchmarks are fixed in rock but there is none at this site).  We sink two sections and decide that is enough to hold the benchmark in place for the two months that it will be in use (for a permanent benchmark the rod is driven until it can go no further).  The brass cap is then stamped with a name (SPIT) and date (2005) and affixed to the top of the rod.  We are now able to set up the second station. The receiver will follow the same collection pattern: collecting signals for six hours, resting for twenty-four hours, and collecting for another six hours.

At the end of the collection period, the data from the sensors will be uploaded to an onboard computer and transmitted to the National Geodetic Survey in Washington D.C. where corrections to account for error introduced by things such as the atmosphere are applied. The corrected data, returned to the ship, will establish very accurately (within cm) the latitude and longitude for the site.  One final correction is made to the data before the site can be used. This error source is the satellite itself and comes from the satellite’s perceived position (where it thinks it is in the sky) as compared to its actual position.  The precise location is monitored by the United States Air Force.  Final corrections using this information will provide pinpoint accuracy (within mm) of the benchmark’s location. A temporary, or “fly-away”, DGPS station can now be placed at this benchmark and transmit signals easily received by the launches.

Personal Log 

Yet another beautiful day! Once on shore the mosquitoes were terrible – swarming in clouds around our heads.  A little bug dope, the warm sun, and cool breeze soon took care of this problem.  A great day to be out working!

Philip Hertzog, July 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 29, 2005

Tide gauge equipment
Tide gauge equipment

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 58˚ 53.36’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height:  0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today I worked on what the hydrographic map makers call “vertical control” and “horizontal control.” When NOAA makes maps showing how deep the water is, they have a problem in that the depth changes when the tides come in and go out. If a rock exists in the water, there may be no problem at high tide, but ships can run into the same rock at low tide.

hertzog_log5To overcome this problem, NOAA measures bottom depths on their charts starting at a constant elevation called mean lower low water.  Low tide occurs twice a day, but one low tide is always lower than the other.  By keeping track of all the lowest, low tides of the day and averaging their elevations over many years, scientists can come up with an elevation for mean lower low water (MLLW).  You want to start measuring from your lowest tide level to ensure that ship captains can trust the chart to protect them from danger even during low tide. All of the ocean bottom charts are based on depth below MLLW.  However, when you collect sonar data, your height above MLLW constantly changes with the tide in a vertical position (up and down). Hence the term “vertical control” because the chart maker needs to know how to correct the sonar data so the maps are based on MLLW, not the current tide height. In remote areas like Alaska, limited tide data exists so the RAINIER crew installed a device called a tide gauge to measure and record the rise and fall of the tide in the mapping area.  The information from the tide gauge will help us to correct the sonar data so we can make the charts based on MLLW.

Working with the equipment
Working with the equipment

The RAINIER crew installed a tide gauge on Mitrofania Island 1.5 weeks ago before I got on board. Today I rode in an open boat to help the crew check the tide gauge.  Ensign Andrew Halbach led our mission with assistance from Survey Technician Matt Foss and Ensign Laurel Jennings. Mike Laird, the other Teacher at Sea also joined our group. Carl Verplank, Ordinary Seaman, drove the skiff and stayed off shore after dropping us off to ensure the boat won’t get stuck when the tide goes out.  Carl had the best job because he fished for salmon until we needed a pick up. I hope he shares some fish with us tonight!

Upon reaching shore, Matt Foss and I walked over to the tide gauge station to check it out. Matt carried “bear repellant” with him which is pressurized pepper put into a spray can. If a grizzly bear should approach and attack us, the pepper spray might keep the bear from eating us.  On the other hand, maybe bears like to have a little pepper on their steaks. In any event, we need to stay alert in bear country.

GPS work
GPS work

We found the tide gauge in good working order.  Matt told me that Scuba Divers helped to put the gauge in and that it sends tide information via satellite back to Washington, DC for further analysis.  Now that our vertical control (up and down movement) has been taken care of, Matt and I hiked over to join Ensign Halbach and Ensign Jennings who are working on “horizontal control” or side-to-side motion.

Normally, the crew of the RAINIER knows its horizontal position through the use of global positioning satellite (GPS). As discussed in previous log entries, GPS works by using signals from several satellites to locate your horizontal position on the Earth in terms of latitude and longitude.  The chart makers combine sonar data with GPS data to create accurate maps of ocean bottom depth.  Atmospheric conditions can affect the satellite signals so scientists calculate correction factors. Special radio stations transmit these factors which allow the launch crews to correct the GPS data. These corrections are called “horizontal control.”

Unfortunately, the remoteness and steep mountains of the Mitrofania Island area prevent the RAINIER from receiving good radio signals.  We need to set up our own radio transmission and GPS base station to get good control.  This task took up the rest of our day.

Matt and I found the others busily setting up the GPS station and taking measurements to ensure good location information.  Ensign Halbach carefully leveled the GPS antenna and oriented it towards north. After setting up the GPS station, Carl picked us up and drove the open boat to another location about a mile away where we repeated the process and set up a second GPS station. However, constructing the radio transmitter tower proved to be our big challenge. Nobody in our group ever set up a tower before so we worked as a team to figure it out. We returned to the RAINIER and hit the machine shop where we measured out metal, drilled boltholes and scavenged any thing to help us build the tower.

We carefully load the skiff and quickly motored back the mile across the water to the transmitter site located on a sand bar that sticks out into Mitrofania Bay.  Ensign Halbach led us in constructing the tower and it went up faster than planned.  Two people hold the tower straight up and balance it while the other three string guy ropes to metal stakes pounded in the ground. The tower made us proud of our team work, but no one dares to climb it.  Maybe some of you students reading this log entry would like to come to Alaska and try to climb it.  We returned to the RAINIER and could see our tower on the horizon where it will transmit horizontal control data to all the launches conducting sonar work over the next two weeks.

Personal Log 

This was the most physical day yet on the research vessel.  I actively participated in setting up the tower instead of just observing.  I really enjoyed working in a team today and helping to solve problems.  I also had a good physical workout by carrying heavy equipment to the GPS and radio transmitter sites.  The work out really helped because the food on board the RAINIER is delicious and plentiful with three large cooked meals a day.  I need to watch my weight on this trip.

The tower project showed me you need both technical training and practical construction skills when out in a remote area like Alaska.  My students tend to be either hands-on or all academic, but you need a balance of both these skills to be successful upon graduation. Many of the crew on the RAINIER learned their jobs while on the boat and had to solve difficult problems without any outside help. Hopefully my students can use the RAINIER’s crew as an example on the importance of seeking balance in their lives. Speaking of balance, it’s time for me to catch a salmon.  Here I am ready to go. See you tomorrow.

Question of the Day 

What causes the tide to rise and fall and how does it change over the course of an entire month?

Mike Laird, July 28, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 28, 2005

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°37.1̍ N
Longitude: 156˚46.6 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 140˚
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1΄
Swell Wave Height: 2΄
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.8 mb
Cloud Cover: Stratus

Science and Technology Log 

Another beautiful day in the Gulf of Alaska – partially cloudy with lots of sun!  Today I remained aboard the RAINIER and had an opportunity to talk with Ensign Olivia Hauser about the map sheets.  The sheets are prepared to guide the launches on their echo sounding runs. The whole area to be mapped on this leg of the mission is subdivided into zones called sheets.  At the beginning of the workday, each launch is assigned a sheet for the crew to follow for that day. However prior to distribution to the launch crews, the sheets must be developed.

Each sheet (there are six sheets for our current assignment) is the responsibility of a single sheet manager who takes care of the initial preparation of the sheet, sheet revisions, and the beginning phases of data analysis.  In developing the sheet, the manager attempts to achieve 100% coverage of the seafloor.  This means that the manager attempts to determine the optimum distance between the lines the launch will follow during its sounding runs. In areas like the waters around Mitrofania where there is little or no existing data, the first run of a sheet is a best guess plot.  In essence, the launches are conducting reconnaissance runs.

The data collected during these runs, may reveal some error in the initial line plots.  One problem is called a “holiday” which is a gap between the lines (unsounded seafloor).  This happens when the lines are spaced too far apart for the depth of the water (the water is shallower than expected), and the footprint scanned becomes too narrow leaving a gap between it and the footprint of the neighboring line(s).  A second type of problem is excessive noise in the scan results. In reconnaissance work, this is often the result of a greater than expected water depth in a launch not equipped to handle soundings at that depth. When these types of errors are identified, the sheet manager will revise the sheet plotting a new set of lines to be run. If necessary, a different launch (one with appropriate echo sounding equipment) will be assigned to run the new lines.  Once a complete set of good lines is established for a sheet and seafloor data for the entire sheet is collected, initial analysis begins. Computer programs take cast data (conductivity, pressure, and temperature), tide information, GPS readings (corrected for error), data accounting for the pitch and roll of the launch and process the soundings.  The result is a first look at the bottom!  Subtle changes in shading reveal changes in floor depth and other bottom features. The soundings run by the RA5 launch so far have indicated a mostly flat floor with a few rock outcroppings and small ridges.

Personal Log 

The day was fantastic warm and sunny!  One of the crew caught a halibut, which the galley cooked–a special treat for dinner tonight!

Philip Hertzog, July 28, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 28, 2005

Launch lowering into the water
Launch lowering into the water

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.36’N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Cloud Cover: 5, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and partly cloudy skies.  The waters of Cushman Bay calmly rock the RAINIER gently back and forth.  I could see pink salmon jump near the ship and seabirds feeding in the water. Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I stayed on board the RAINIER today to catch up on our log entries and to see what the rest of the crew does.  We had a quiet day of writing, talking to the crew, and taking photographs.

At 8:00 am I watched the deck crew lower the launches for the mapping teams.  Lowering the launches can be dangerous work and the deck crew does it carefully while wearing hard hats. Two winches move each launch out over the water as shown here (left and right) and then survey crew board the vessel and load gear.  After the survey crew loads the launch, they work with the deck crew to disconnect the cables and hooks from the launch. The launch then speeds off to start a busy day of mapping the waters of Mitrofania Bay.

Launch in the water
Launch in the water

Once the launches left, the deck crew worked on other tasks.  I saw crew washing decks and maintaining machinery.  Other crew members used a crane to move one of the smaller boats (called skiffs) into the water: Other crew members went about the ship conducting other tasks such as preparing meals, keeping the engines running, contacting the launches to help solve problems, and conducting bridge watch. In later log entries, I will try to describe the different departments on board the RAINIER.

Personal Log 

I had a very quiet day and spent it catching up on paper work and cleaning up my digital photos. After looking at my photos and talking with XO Julia Neander, we decided that our whales from the other day are not fin, but Sei (pronounced “say”) whales.  We saw white spots on the whales back and a prominent ridge on the whale’s forehead which are give away signs for Sei. I spent the evening fishing for salmon off the fan deck (located at the rear of the ship).  Several other crew members also fished of the stern, but only Raul, one of our cooks, caught salmon. He pulled in four cohos weighing around 7-8 pounds each. Will he share and surprise us for supper tomorrow night? I can’t wait to find out.

Securing the lines
Securing the lines

Question of the Day 

The RAINIER is like a small community made up of 50 people.  What kinds of jobs does this community need in order to sustain it for 3 weeks at sea without any outside help?

The launch in action
The launch in action

Tamil Maldonado, July 27, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tamil Maldonado
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 18 – 28, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 27, 2005

Science and Technology Log

During the day I talked with the captain about boat stability.  Stability is defined as the ability of a vessel to return to its original condition or position after it has been disturbed by an outside force. Anyone who has been at sea and felt the vessel roll, for example, and then right itself (only to roll in the opposite direction and right itself again) has seen stability in action.

Outside forces include wind seas, adding/removing weight, and free surface.  The six Motions of a Vessel in waves are rolling, pitching, yawing, heaving, swaying, and surging. Rolling is the motion about the vessel’s longitudinal axis.  Pitching is the motion about the vessel’s transverse axis.  Yawing is the motion about the vessel’s vertical axis.  Heaving is the vertical bodily motion of the vessel (whole vessel moves up and down together). Swaying is lateral (side to side) bodily motion.  Surging is the longitudinal (fore and aft) bodily motion.  All or most of the motions can occur simultaneously and have their effect on the efficient operation of a vessel.  While the ship’s officer cannot completely control these motions, there is much that can be done to diminish or alleviate their effects.

Motions of the Vessel and Governing Stabilities include:  Roll- Transverse Stability, Pitch- Longitudinal Stability, Yaw- Directional Stability, Heave – Positional Motion Stability, Surge – Stability in motion Ahead or Astern, Sway – Lateral Motion Stability. The way a vessel rolls is a direct indication of her stability.

The condition of a vessel is determined almost solely by the location of two points: the Center of Gravity (G) and the Center of Buoyancy (B).  G is the point at which all vertically downward forces of the vessel can be considered to act.  In other words, the ship will behave as though all of its weight were acting downward through this point.  B is the point at which all the vertically upward forces of support (buoyancy) can be considered to act, or, the center of volume of the underwater portion of the vessel.  In other words, the ship will behave as if all of its support is acting up through this point. There are a lot of mathematical concepts and processes to compute stability.  Theory of Moments, Inclining formula, Trigonometry, Change in Mean Draft are also implied in vessel stability.

During the afternoon I worked on the computer, and I put all my pictures on the FAIRWEATHER’s computer network.

We also had the drills: 1) Men on Board, 2)  Abandon Ship, and 3) Fire and Emergency.

Philip Hertzog, July 27, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 27, 2005

Securing the launch
Securing the launch

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012 mb
Cloud Cover: 2, cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER is now anchored for the next several days in Cushman Bay on the north side of Mitrofania Island. Today the ship’s crew began their first full day of mapping the bottom of the waters surrounding the island.  The Captain assigned me to observe operations on board one of the RAINIER’s six survey launches.  The launches are small craft equipped with sonar and computer equipment to collect bottom data as seen in the following photographs:

Each launch has a crew of three and four launches go out at a time.  On my launch, Ensign Brianna Welton serves as the hydrographer in charge with Matt Boles as the Assistant Survey Technician. Able Body Seaman Corey Mussey drives the launch and makes sure it stays on course using a computer screen directs him where to go.

A winch lowered our launch into the water. We jumped about two feet from the side of the ship to get into the launch. We carried no equipment in our hands or on our backs and wore life jackets to ensure we safely crossed the deep water.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 9.42.37 AM

Once underway, Ensign Welton turned on the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The DGPS uses satellite signals to determine our location and even can tell our direction and speed. Unfortunately, our DGPS did not work correctly and Ensign Welton and Matt Boles struggled over the next 2 hours to trouble shoot the problem.  When out at sea and hundreds of miles from the nearest repair shop, the crew of the RAINIER has to become creative to solve problems in order to achieve their mapping mission.  The DGPS problem finally got fixed after the antenna was taken apart and the connecting cables cleaned. Matt told me that whenever one starts a new field survey, you commonly find problems that must be fixed due to the difficulties of working in the harsh environments found at sea and in Alaska.

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 9.05.01 PMWith the DGPS fixed, the crew sent a SEACAT probe through the water column to the bottom to collect temperature, salinity and pressure data.  Sonar mapping works by bouncing sound waves off the bottom and measuring how fast the waves return to the ship. Sound travels through salt water at 1435 meters per second, but its speed can be changed by temperature, salinity or pressure.  The computer takes the data from the SEACAT and makes corrections to the sonar data so we have a better measurement of the bottom depth.

Sunset over the bow
Sunset over the bow

We spent the rest of the day running transects to map the bottom. Transects are long, parallel lines that are spaced to ensure we cover the entire bottom of the area being mapped with some overlap. To better understand what “running a transect” means, think about mowing your lawn.  When you mow the lawn, you run the mower in parallel lines, but you always go over part of the path you mowed before in the previous line. Just like mowing, the sonar is able to map the entire bottom of the map area by using a transect pattern.

Around 4:30 pm we returned to the RAINIER and the deck crew winched the launch back on board. I handled the stern line and threw it to a deck hand on the ship. I also attached the hook from the winch onto the launch, but I didn’t do it correctly on my first try. You have to be careful because the launch weighs 14,000 pounds and the seas can bounce it around. I got too close to the block and tackle on the winch, but Ensign Welton pulled me back and showed me how to properly connect the cables.  To the right here is a picture of Ensign Welton correctly hooking up the launch.

Once the launch returned to the RAINIER, the mapping crew’s duties were not f inished. After supper, the crew down loaded the launch’s computers onto the ship’s main frame and “cleaned up” the data.  Clean up consisted of looking at the data and matching it with maps on the main frame computer.  The survey technician also had to correct the data with tidal information and look for false sonar signals to remove from the data set. Upon finishing clean up, an officer checked the work for quality.  Here is a picture of Dan Boles, Matt’s older brother, cleaning up some data.

Personal Log 

I had a great time today going out on the launch and learning what the survey crews do.  The landscape overwhelms one with large open areas of water surrounded by mountains covered in green, low lying vegetation.  Mount Veniaminof dominates the background with its glacier covered dome that rises 7,075 feet above sea level.

As we traveled in the launch, I could see whales blowing spray out their blow holes in the distance and pink salmon jumping out of the water.  At the end of work, we took 10 minutes to fish off the launch and Matt caught a ling cod while I had one on the hook that got away.

I enjoyed talking to Matt Boles and learning about how he ended up on the RAINIER with his brother Dan. Matt has a two year college degree in computers and Dan has a Bachelors degree in geology and French. I see a lot of potential for my own students to get jobs aboard ships like the RAINIER and to have a great time exploring wild places like Matt and Dan.

Question of the Day 

Why do temperature, salinity and pressure change the speed of sound in water?

Mike Laird, July 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Laird
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific
Date: July 26, 2005

Watching the monitors
Watching the monitors

Weather Data

Latitude: 55°53.3̍ N
Longitude: 158˚58.4 ̍ W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction: 235˚
Wind Speed: 6 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0΄
Swell Wave Height: 0΄
Sea Water Temperature: 11.1˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: Sky 7/8 covered, Cumulonimbus

Science and Technology Log 

Operations for the day begin at 8:00 with crews of four launches assembling on the fantail for a pre-launch briefing giving final details of the day’s assignments and a review of safety procedures. Each launch crew is composed of three members: an Officer in Charge (OIC) who has overall responsibility of the launch, a coxswain who is responsible for the physical operation of the launch, and a survey crew member who assists in data collection in the assigned survey area.  Some crews carry a fourth member who is frequently a Teacher at Sea or other visitor on the ship.

Once the briefing is completed, each crew assembles in their launch-loading zone and boards the launch as it is lowered into the water.  I have been assigned to launch RA5 (RAINIER launch 5) and will be working with Ensign Mike Stevenson (the OIC), Carl Verplank the (coxswain), and Greg King (the survey technician).  Our assignment is to work in conjunction with launch RA3 to collect seafloor data in Mitrofania Bay, an area to the northwest of the RAINIER’s anchor location.  The area has been designated as Sheet AW.  The area around Mitrofania Island has been divided into several sheet areas.  Each sheet is composed of a map of the area overlaid by a set of parallel lines or tracks that the launch or ship will follow as it is recording data.  During the two weeks we are working in the region, data will be collected for as many of those sheets as possible.

Having reached the target area, a “cast” must be taken before the actual scanning of the bottom can begin.  The purpose of the cast is to gather information about the behavior of the water column we are working in.  The waters’ conductivity, temperature, and pressure will all affect the velocity of sound traveling through the column, and will be factored into the processing of the collected data.  The cast is conducted by lowering a CTD sensor, called a SEACAT, to the floor of the ocean.  When the cylinder is raised back to the surface, the data is uploaded to the launch computers and we are ready to go.  Launch RA5 is equipped with a Reson SeaBat 8101, a hull mounted extended echo sounder system.  This system is used to record seafloor information in water depths not exceeding approximately 110 meters.  This sonar system is a multi-beam system using 101 beams.  Each beam is composed of pings emitted from the sounder.  One beam drops vertically below the launch and fifty beams each fan out to the port and starboard sides.

To help picture this, imagine a set of right triangles below the launch.  Each triangle originates with the junction of the vertical beam and seafloor where two opposed right angles are formed.  The hypotenuse of each triangle is one of the fifty beams to the left or right of the vertical beam, and the seafloor forms the base of the triangle. Collectively the bases are referred to as the footprint (area covered by the sounding).  This footprint increases in size as the depth of the water increases.  As the size of the footprint grows, additional “noise” or interference is introduced into the sound wave pattern in those beams further from center.  This less accurate data will usually be eliminated during data analysis.

We spend the day transiting the lines designated on our sheet as the sonar feeds seafloor data to the launch computers.  At the end of the day, the launch nested safely back on the RAINIER, the data is downloaded from the launch to the ship.  Now begins the next phase analysis and “cleaning” of the raw data.  However, that is for another day!

Note: This is my understanding of the information I received.  If there are errors or inaccuracies,  I apologize.

Personal Log 

We have been very fortunate so far – the weather has been great since we arrived in Mitrofania. Partially cloudy but lots of sun!  The salmon (pinks and silvers) are constantly rolling and jumping. I tried my hand at a littl