Tom Savage: Surveying the Coastline of Point Hope, Alaska, August 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 12, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Dry bulb 8   Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology

Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor?  As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857.  The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.

This data was compiled by NOAA using 10 different sources. For further information as how this data was compiled visit https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/mar14/alaska-sea-ice.html. 

The light grey indicates  0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift.  The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack.  The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857

Ice Concentration August 1957

Ice Concentration August 1957

Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts.  Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.

As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important.  Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore.  In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing).  In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.

 

Safety Briefing

Safety Briefing by LT Manda – photo by Tom Savage

 

Deploying a launch boat

Deploying a launch boat – photo by Tom Savage

The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.

deploying CTD

TAS Tom Savage deploying the conductivity, temperature and density probe ~ photo by Megan Shapiro

The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.

Coxswain

Coxswain Zucker – photo by Tom Savage

The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.

 

 

 

 

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected.  The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting.  Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!

 

Personal Log

I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities.  Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July!  For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?

Question of the day.  Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above?      Data table below……    Answer in the next blog

What is the relative humidity?

What is the relative humidity?

 

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom

Cindy Byers: Above the Queen Charlotte Fault, May 2, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cindy Byers
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 29 – May 13, 2018

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: May 2, 2018

Weather From the Bridge

Latitude: 54°41.2 N
Longitude: 134°15.3 W
Sea Wave Height: 5 feet
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 330°
Visibility: 2 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 9.9°C  
Sky:  Complete Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather is now 46 miles off the southeast coast of Alaska, mapping the ocean floor over a fault. This a transform boundary, so it is a strike slip fault.  It is the boundary between the North American and Pacific plates.  The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) has hired NOAA to survey the ocean floor in this area called the Queen Charlotte fault. The entire section of the fault is called the Queen Charlotte – Fairweather fault (named for Mount Fairweather, just like the ship’s name.)  It runs for over 1,200 kilometers from Yakatat, Alaska to the north and British Columbia to the south. This is a part of a long fault along this plate boundary that is called the San Andreas fault when it is on land in California

The last time this particular area was surveyed was for the creation of navigational charts, between 1900 and 1938, but without accuracy or data density that the multibeam sonar being used today has.  Once this portion is surveyed, the entire fault will have been mapped.  The mapping has been done by the USGS, the Canadian Geologic Survey, and NOAA.

Queen Charlotte Fault

The Queen Charlotte Fault

The photo above shows the features of the sea floor.  It is set  on top of a navigational chart.  You can see the numbers on the old chart that represent depth reading.   The data collected today shows depth for the entire area mapped and the features on the sea floor.

Looking at what NOAA Ship Fairweather has already mapped, the fault is very distinct as are the channels that have been offset by past seismic activity.  These channels were created from runoff as the glaciers receded from this area 17,000 years ago.  Using the offset measurements and the time since the canals where formed, scientists have given a slip rate of 5.5 centimeters per year to this area of the fault. This makes it one of the fastest moving continental – ocean transform boundaries.

Mapping

 

NOAA ship Fairweather has sonar that was built for detecting hazards for surface navigation, but it is capable of surveying to several kilometers in depth. The survey team has figured out how map at these great depths up to 2,100 meters.  It involves going slowly over the area, and gathering richer data by going over part of the previous survey lines. This is much like painting a wall, where the painter overlaps their brushstrokes so there are not gaps in the coverage. The multibeam solar is also directed in a narrow band, at this depth, for more accurate data.

Bridge Computer

The blue squiggly lines show where mapping is happening. The other colors are where we have been.

Why do you think this information is wanted by geologists?

The fault has produced at least seven earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 7.  An 8.1 magnitude earthquake was generated from this fault near British Columbia in 1949.  To date, it is the largest Canadian earthquake recorded. In 1958, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake above Lituya, Alaska created a massive underwater landslide which produced a tsunami sending water 525 meters (1700 feet feet) up a mountainside.  More recently in 2012, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake was measured from this fault, and in 2013, Craig, Alaska was hit with a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.

Surveyors computer These five screens are used by the survey team when the multibeam sonar is in use.

These five screens are used by the survey team when the multibeam sonar is in use.

Scientists want to know more about this fault, which could cause further damage to areas of southeast, Alaska.  From the seabed mapping, geologists hope to better understand the slip rate and the intervals between earthquakes.

Personal Log

I have been so impressed with the people on NOAA Ship Fairweather.  Everyone has been so welcoming and kind.  This small group of people living in small quarters could be difficult for many people, but everyone here is so enthusiastic about the mission and their jobs.  They are very open to sharing what they know with me, including explaining the science and technology of the equipment and how the ship functions.

It has been really fun learning about this fault and the surrounding underwater topography.  Being able to see the sea bottom as we continue over it is amazing!

I am so happy I will get a chance to share this science with my students.  I hope they noticed, as they read this post,  the highlighted terms and concepts that we learned this year about faults and earthquakes.

Did you know?

I found a term that was new to me, tectonic geomorphology.  It is the study of the interaction between active plates and land process, and how these shape landscapes.

 

 

Information used in this post can partly from:

“A Closer Look at an Undersea Source of Alaskan Earthquakes.” Earth and Space Science, vol. 99, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1–6.

 

Victoria Cavanaugh: West of Prince of Wales Island, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 54° 40.914′ N
Longitude: 134° 05.229′ W
Sea Wave Height: 8-9feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: NNW
Visibility: 10 km
Air Temperature: 9.5oC  
Sky:  Partly Sunny in the AM, Cloudy in the PM

Science and Technology Log

Over the past two days, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather has been hard at work on the first major project of the season, charting the ocean floor along the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System.  The project itself will take seven days, though with two days at sea before heading to port in Ketchikan, the survey techs have been focusing on the first sheet, D00245, roughly 900 kilometers offshore in an area known as West of Prince of Wales Island.

Chart of survey area

The Survey Starts Here: Note Sheet D00245 to the Left in Blue

Fairweather is completing the survey in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which has spent the last three years researching and mapping the seafloor along the fault.  Geologists are particularly interested in this fault as little is known about the region and the seafloor here is largely unexplored.  Geologists believe that by studying the fault line and the geology of the ocean floor, they may be able to unlock secrets about the history of our oceans as well as develop new understanding of seismic activity that can keep communities safer when future earthquakes strike.

Plot room

The Plot Room: Survey Techs aboard Fairweather Can View the Data Being Collected in Real-Time

One of the reasons the USGS turned to NOAA to complete its charting efforts is because of the tremendous ocean depths.  The survey techs are using  Fairweather multibeam echosounders for the project which will take a total of seven days to complete.  Sonar pings from the ship’s transducer hit the ocean floor and bounce back to the ship, creating 2D and 3D charts of the ocean floor.  Additionally, survey techs can learn more information about the type of surface on the ocean floor (sandy, rocky, etc.)  based on the strength of the return of the sonar pings. Despite the seafloor in the area being some 15,000 years old, it has never been explored!   Thus, for the survey techs and geologists working on this project, there is a sense of pure excitement in being able to explore and discover a new frontier and help others sea what humans have never seen before.

Depth reading

1520 Meters Down: The Number at the Top Left of the Screen Shows We’re in Water Nearly a Mile Deep!

One of the geologists remarked that he was surprised to see that despite how old the ocean floor in the area is, little appears to have changed, geologically speaking in thousands of years.  Another surprise for geologists is how the fault appears to be one large, long crack.  Many other fault areas appear to be made up of lots of small, jagged, and complicated “cracks.”  Another question to explore!

Shallower depth reading

A Much More Shallow Area: Notice the Sonar Here Shows We’re Just 247 Meters Deep

Notice the colors which help survey techs see the changing depths quickly.  The green, mostly vertical lines, show the ship’s course.  To collect data, Fairweather  runs about 6 hours in one direction, before turning around to run 6 hours in the opposite direction.  This allows survey techs to gather more data about ocean depths with each turn.  In total, survey techs collected nearly 48 hours of data.  This meant survey techs working all night long to monitor and process all of the new information collected.

Bekah and CTD

Survey Tech Bekah Gossett Prepares to Launch a CTD off the Ship’s Stern

Just like on the launches during patch tests, survey techs deploy CTD’s to measure the water’s conductivity (salinity), temperature, and pressure.  This information is key in order to understand the speed of sound in a given area of water and ensure that the sonar readings are accurate.

Survey techs ready CTD

The Survey Techs Work in Rough Seas to Ready the CTD

Personal Log

View off bow

Nothing But Blue Skies in Every Direction!

In striking contrast to the beautiful coastlines that framed the Inside Passage, the last two days have provided endless blue skies mixing with infinite blue seas.  No land in sight!

Nautical chart

Finding the Survey Area West of Prince of Wales Island on a Chart

Radar

The Ship’s Radar Shows Just One Vessel Nine Miles Due East

The open ocean is challenging (huge waves make the entire ship sway constantly and gives new meaning to earning one’s “sea legs”), but far more inspiring.  I’m grateful for the glimpse into life at sea that NOAA has provided me.  There is deep sense of trust among the crew, in their collective hard work that keeps us all safe in the middle of the ocean.  There is also a wonderful sense of adventure, at being part of discovering something new.  Just as explorers have sought after new frontiers for hundreds of years, Fairweather today is charting areas still unknown to humankind.  There is something truly invigorating about watching the sonar reflect the ocean floor in a rainbow of colors, in watching as peaks and valleys slowly are painted across the monitors in the plot room and bit by bit, another sliver of science is added to the charts.  There is something particularly refreshing and exciting about seeing whales spray and play in the waves while standing on the ship’s bridge.  I’m truly grateful to all onboard Fairweather and NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program for this remarkable opportunity, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with students back at Devotion.

Wave heights

The View out a Port Window Shows Some of the More Extreme Wave Heights as Fairweather Rocks and Rolls

Did You Know?

Prince of Wales Island is one of the southernmost parts of Alaska.  Home to some 4,000 inhabitants, Prince of Wales Island is the 4th largest island in the US and the 97th largest island in the world.   Originally home to the indigenous Kaigani Haida people,  Spanish, British, and French explorers all passed by the island in the 1700 and 1800’s.  In the late 1800’s, miners came to the island looking for gold, copper, and other metals.  Today, most of the land is protected as the Tongass National Forest covers a great portion of the island.

Challenge Question #5: Devotion 7th Graders – Can you find the depths of the Charles River, the Boston Harbor, and 900 kilometers offshore the Massachusetts coast?  What sort of aquatic life exists in each area?  What does the river/seafloor look like in these areas?  Create a comic strip or cartoon showing your findings.

Donna Knutson: Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016, June 24, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard the Research Vessel Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016

2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 24, 2016

Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016

Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Science and Technology:DSCN7770 (2)me best

Latitude:  41 29.84 N

Longitude:  070 38.54 W

Clouds:  partly cloudy

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 3.58 knots

Wave Height: 6 in.

Water Temperature:  53  F

Air Temperature:  67 F

Sea Level Pressure:  30.0 in of Hg

Water Depth: 26 m

 

It has been an action packed two weeks.  The men and women who dedicate themselves to the scallop survey are extremely hard working scientists.  It is not an easy job.  The sorting of the dredged material is fast and furious, and it needs to be in order to document everything within the catch before the next one comes in.  The baskets are heavy and it takes a strong person to move them around so quickly.

DSCN8159 (2) dredge team

Han, Jill, Mike, Vic, Me and Ango

In small catches every scallop is measured.  In dredges with many baskets of scallops, a percentage is measured.  It is a random sampling system, taking some scallops from each of the baskets to get a general random sample of the whole.  Mike led an efficient team, he told us what to look for and oversaw the measuring.

DSCN7780 (2)mike and nicki

Mike and Nikki

He often set samples aside to show me later, when we were not as busy. A few examples were how to tell the difference between the red and silver hake or the difference between the Icelandic and Atlantic sea scallop.  He showed me how the little longhorn sculpin fish, “buzz bombs” known to fisherman, vibrate when you told it in your hand.

DSCN8008 (2)buzz

Longhorn sculpin

Mike even took the time to dissect some hake and to show me the differences in gonads, what they were feeding on by opening their stomach, and the otolith within the upper skull.  The otolith is a small bone in the inner ear that can be used to identify and age the fish when in a lab looking through a microscope.  Mike answered my many questions and was always eager to teach me more.

Another helpful team member was Vic.  Vic taught me how to run the HabCam.  He has been involved in the HabCam setup since it started being used four years ago.  There is a lot of work to do to set up the multiple monitors and computers with servers to store all the images collected by the HabCam.  Vic overlooks it all from the initial set-up to the take down.  I admire Vic’s work-ethic, he is always going 100% until the job is completed.  Sometimes I just needed to get out of his way, because I knew he was on a mission, and I didn’t want to slow him down.

DSCN8132 (2) monitors

Control center for Habcam and Dredging

When we weren’t dredging, but rather using the HabCam, there was a pilot and copilot watching the monitors.  The HabCam, when towed behind the ship, needs to be approximately 1.7 m off the ocean floor for good resolution of the pictures, and keeping it at that elevation can be a challenge with the sloping bottom or debris.  There is also sand waves to watch out for, which are like sand bars in a river, but not exposed to the surface.

When not driving HabCam there are millions of pictures taken by the HabCam to oversee.  When you view a picture of a scallop you annotate it by using a measuring bar.  Fish, skates and crabs are also annotated, but not measured.  It takes a person a while to adjust to the rolling seas and be able to look at monitors for a long period of time.  It is actually harder than anticipated.

DSCN7768 (2)skate

HabCam Picture of a skate.

Han was making sure the data was collected from the correct sites.  She works for the Population Dynamics branch of NOAA and was often checking the routes for the right dredges or the right time to use the HabCam.  Between the chief scientist Tasha and Han, they made sure the survey covered the entire area of the study as efficiently as possible.

DSCN7839 (2)tash han mike

Tasha, Han and Mike discussing the next move.

Dr. Scott Gallager was with us for the first week and taught me so much about his research which I mentioned in the previous blogs.  Kat was with us initially, but she left after the first week.  She was a bubbly, happy student who volunteered to be on the ship, just to learn more in hopes of joining the crew someday.  Both vacancies were replaced by “Ango” whose real name in Tien Chen, a grad student from Maine who is working on his doctoral thesis, and Jill who works in Age and Growth, part of the Population Biology branch of NOAA.  Both were fun to have around because of their interesting personalities.  They were always smiling and happy, with a quick laugh and easy conversation.

DSCN8131 (2)the three

Jill, Ango and Han after dredging.

The Chief Scientist, Tasha, was extremely helpful to me.  Not only does she need to take care of her crew and manage all the logistics of the trip, plus make the last minute decisions, because of weather or dredges etc, but she made me feel welcome and encouraged me to chat with those she felt would be a good resource for me.  On top of it all, she helped me make sure all my blogs were factual.  She was very professional and dedicated to her work, as expected from a lead scientist leading a scientific survey.

DSCN8146 (2)tash and jim

Evan, Tasha and Jimmy discussing route.

I spent as much time as possible getting to know the rest of the crew as well.  The Master, Captain James Warrington “Jimmy” always welcomed me on the bridge.  I enjoyed sitting up there with him and his mates.  He is quick witted and we passed the time with stories and many laughs.  He tolerated me using his binoculars and searching for whales and dolphins.  There were a few times we saw both.

He showed me how he can be leader, responsible for a ship, which is no small feat, but do so with a great sense of humor, which he credits he inherited from his grandmother.  The other captains, Chris and Evan, were just as friendly.  I am sure all who have been lucky enough to travel with them would agree that the RV Sharp is a good ship to on because of the friendly, helpful crew and staff.

DSCN7785 (2)KG

KG, oceanic specialist, helped with dredges.

Because this was my second experience on a survey, the first was a mammal survey, I have really come to appreciate the science behind the study.  It is called a survey, but in order to do a survey correctly, it takes months of planning and preparation before anyone actually gets on a ship.

There is always the studying of previous surveys to rely on to set the parameters for the new survey.  Looking for what is expected and finding, just that, or surprising results not predicted but no less valued, is all in a scientist’s daily job.  I admire the work of the scientist. It is not an easy one, and maybe that is why it is so much fun.  You never know exactly what will happen, and therein lies the mystery or maybe a discovery to acquire more information.

DSCN8127 (2)big goose

I had to hold the largest goose fish we caught!

It was a challenging two weeks, but a time I’m so glad I had the opportunity to have with the members of Leg III of the 2016 Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey.

Lynn Kurth: The Earth has One Big Ocean, June 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude: N 57˚50 Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 268
Wind Speed: 14 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft. on average
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 16° C (60.8° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1023 mb


Science and Technology Log

I’m continually searching for ways to connect what I am learning to what is relevant to my students back home in the Midwest.  So, as we left Homer, AK for our survey mission in Kodiak Island’s Uganik Bay, I was already thinking of how I could relate our upcoming survey work to my students’ academic needs and personal interests.  As soon as the Rainier moved away from Homer and more of the ocean came into view, I stood in awe of how much of our planet is covered with water.  It’s fascinating to think of our world as having one big ocean with many basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic.  The study of ocean and its basins is one of the most relevant topics that I can teach when considering the following:

  • the ocean covers approximately 70% of our planet’s surface
  • the ocean is connected to all of our major watersheds
  • the ocean plays a significant part in our planet’s water cycle
  • the ocean has a large impact on our weather and climate
  • the majority of my students have not had any firsthand experience with the ocean

 

IMG_1675

Earth’s One Big Ocean as seen from outside of Homer, AK

 

Each of the ocean basins is composed of the sea floor and all of its geological features which vary in size and shape.  The Rainier will be mapping the features of the sea floor of the Uganik Bay in order to produce detailed charts for use by mariners.  The last survey of Uganik Bay was completed in 1908 when surveyors simply deployed a lead weight on a string over the edge of a boat in order to measure the depth of the water.  However, one of the problems with the charts made using the lead line method, is that the lead line was only deployed approximately every 100 meters or more which left large gaps in the data.  Although not in the Uganik Bay, in the 1930s NOAA began using single beam sonar to measure the distance from a ship’s hull to the sea floor which made surveying faster but still left large gaps in the data. Fast forward from approximately 100 years ago when lead lines were being used for surveying to today and you will find the scientists on the Rainier using something called a multibeam sonar system.  A multibeam sonar system sends out sound waves in a fan shape from the bottom of the ship’s hull.  The amount of time it takes for the sound waves to bounce off the seabed and return to a receiver is used to determine water depth.  The multibeam sonar will allow our team on the Rainier to map 100% of the ocean’s floor in the survey area that we have been assigned.

nNTC_Hydro

Evolution of Survey Techniques (Illustration Credit: NOAA)

 

 

DSCN0006

NOAA Ship Rainier June 22, 2016 in Uganik Bay off of Kodiak Island


 All Aboard!

IMG_1814

NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux

The folks I am working with are some of the most knowledgeable and fascinating people that I have met so far on this voyage and Shelley Devereaux from Virginia is one of those people.  Shelley serves as a junior officer in the NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Corps and has been working aboard the Rainier for the past year.  The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and trains officers to operate ships, fly aircraft, help with research, conduct dive operations, and serve in other staff positions throughout NOAA.

Here is what Shelley shared with me when I interviewed her one afternoon.

Tell us a little about yourself:  I’m originally from the rural mountains of Appalachia and moved to Washington DC after college.  I lived in DC for about seven years before I joined the NOAA Corps and while in DC I really enjoyed cycling, hiking, cooking, baking and beer brewing.

How did you discover NOAA Corps and what do you love most about your job in the NOAA Corps?

I went to Washington DC after I received my undergraduate degree in math and worked a lot of different jobs in a lot of different fields.  In time, I decided to change careers and went to graduate school for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) because I like the data management side of the degree and the versatility that the degree could offer me.  I was working as a GIS analyst when my Uncle met an officer in the NOAA Corps who talked with my Uncle about the NOAA Corps.  After that, my Uncle told me about NOAA Corps and the more I found out about NOAA Corps the more I liked it.  Especially the hydro side!  In the NOAA Corps each of your assignments really develops on your skill base and you get to be involved in a very hands on way.  Just this morning I was out on a skiff literally looking to determine what level a rock was in the water.  And, later in my career I can serve an operations officer.  So I loved the fact that I could join the NOAA Corps, be out on ship collecting data while getting my hands dirty (or at least wet!), and then progress on to other interesting things.  I love getting to be part of all the aspects of ship life and being a surveyor.   It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that what we do here has a tangible effect on the community and the public because we are making the water safer for the people who use it.

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NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux manages her sheets during near shore work in Uganik Bay

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

I am an ensign junior officer on a survey ship.  Survey ships operate differently than other ships in the NOAA fleet with half of my responsibilities falling on the junior officer side of ship operations which includes driving the ship when we are underway, working towards my officer of the deck certification, working as a medical officer, damage control officer and helping with emergency drills.  The other half of what I get to do is the survey side.  Right now I am in charge of a small section called a sheets and I am in charge of processing the data from the sheets in a descriptive report about the area surveyed.  So, about half science and half ship operations is what I do and that’s a really good mix for me.  As a junior officer we are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to and are expected to learn the entire science of hydrography.

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Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux checks the ship’s radar

What kind of education do you need to have this job and what advice do you have for young people interested in a career like yours?

You need a college degree with a lot of credits in science and/or math.  Knowing the science that is happening on the ship is important to help your understanding of the operations on the ship which helps you be a better ship operator. Realize that there are a lot of opportunities in the world that are not always obvious and you need to be aggressive in pursuing them.


Personal Log

You didn’t think I’d leave out the picture of Teacher at Sea in her “gumby suit” did you?  The immersion suit would be worn if we had to abandon ship and wait to be rescued.

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Teacher at Sea (TAS) Kurth Hi Mom!

 Happy Solstice!  Quirky but fun:  For the past six years I have celebrated the solstice by taking a “hand picture” with the folks I am with on the solstice.  I was thrilled to be aboard the Rainier for 2016’s summer solstice and include some of the folks that I’m with on the ship in my biannual solstice picture.

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Winter Solstice 2015 with Sisu (family pet) and my husband James

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All Hands on Deck! Summer Solstice 2016


Did You Know?

Glass floats or Japanese fishing floats are a popular collectors’ item.  The floats were used on Japanese fishing nets and have traveled hundreds and possibly thousands of miles via ocean currents to reach the Alaskan shoreline. The floats come in many colors and sizes and if you’re not lucky enough to find one while beach combing, authentic floats and/or reproductions can be found in gift shops along the Alaskan coast.

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Japanese Fishing Floats


 

Robert Ulmer: Quo Vadimus? June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 55⁰47.254’, W 130⁰58.264’

(at anchor in Behm Canal at the mouth of Chickamin River)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 16, 2013

Weather conditions:  26.04⁰C, scattered altocumulus clouds, 32.91% relative humidity, 1012.18 mb of atmospheric pressure, light variable winds (speed of less than 3 knots with a heading between 26⁰ and 51⁰)

A bit of breathing room in Wrangell Narrows

A rare bit of breathing room in the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through Wrangell Narrows

Explorer’s Log:  Preparing for the transit through Wrangell Narrows

When watching a great concert, recital, or athletic event, we often forget the hours upon hours of preparation that were invested before the starting whistle or the rise of the curtain.  History remembers and recites the first few moments of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the surface of Earth’s moon, but too often neglected from that history are the many years of research, discussion, calculation, prediction, and practice by thousands of people – including Armstrong – prior to that famous “one small step,” for without those advance preparations the brilliant moment likely never would have occurred.

Photos at the top of Everest belie the training, packing, mapping, and grueling climb that precede the snapshot.  Last-minute buzzer beaters arise out of years of dribbling and shooting in empty gyms long after scheduled team workouts end.   The revolutionary insights of Copernicus and Kepler were built upon hundreds of previous models and millions of recorded observations and related calculations.  Great campaigns are waged on drawing boards long before they approach the battlefield.

Chart showing approach to Wrangell Narrows

This is the chart used during the navigational team meeting in preparation for Rainier’s approach to Wrangell Narrows.

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier the culture of preparation is omnipresent.  Posted on the door of my stateroom and carried in my pocket at all times is a billet card that delineates where I am to report and what task I am assigned in each of several emergency situations aboard ship.  Within an hour of getting underway from the port of Juneau, the alarm sounded for a fire drill, and every person aboard reported smartly to his or her assigned station.  Heads were accounted, gear was readied, and some crew members even donned full firefighting suits and deployed hoses and fans to address the fictional fire in the XO’s office.  Because every person aboard knew his or her role in advance, the ship was prepared for the drill.  And more importantly, because the entire ship participated actively in the drill, dealing with a genuine emergency, if necessary, will be more seamless and effective.

Then only ten minutes later, the alarm rang again.  This time an abandon ship drill.  As assigned, I retrieved my emergency gear and moved quickly to Muster Station 1 on the starboard bridge wing, where ACO Mark Van Waes explained in detail what would happen in the event of such an emergency.

Teamwork and Safety first

As this sign above the fantail proudly displays, NOAA Ship Rainier values teamwork and puts safety first in all operations and missions.

Leaving the dock at Juneau Port

Careful navigation requires attention to details, like avoiding this small dock while leaving Juneau Port.

Of course, most of the preparatory work aboard Rainier is not about emergency situations, but rather is focused on readying for the work of navigating and operating the ship or the scientific missions of conducting surveys and samples, and that aspect of life aboard ship is non-stop.  Everywhere around me, crew members and scientists are constantly working together, giving formal and informal trainings and lessons, offering one another ideas, insights, questions, and answers, unencumbered by the impediments of pride and arrogance that too often prevent achievement through growth.  To the left of me, a young ensign is given room to make navigational decisions, while to my right two expert hydrographers consult available data and each other while they brainstorm about technical and theoretical issues on their own horizons.

Passing Petersburg, Alaska

The entrance to Wrangell Narrows is alongside the town of Petersburg, Alaska.

Reviewing the data and documents during the mission

Scientists from the survey team review data and documents while aboard the launch.

And the gathering of minds aboard Rainier is impressive.  Today the hydrographic survey team assembled in the wardroom to talk about the upcoming week’s launches of smaller vessels to perform multi-beam sonar surveys and gather bed samples from the floor of Behm Canal.  Under the guidance of FOO Mike Gonsalves, data were shared, schedules were outlined, and every member of the team – regardless of rank or role – was encouraged to share thoughts, concerns, and inquiries relevant to preparation for the task at hand, the ultimate task of this leg of Rainier’s mission.  Like those other great events throughout history, here is yet another example of prior preparation preventing poor performance at the critical moment.  And those were not the last conferences regarding the survey launches, either.  A meeting regarding safety and other last-minute issues was held on the fantail before putting the launches out, and the various people aboard each small vessel constantly interacted to update and modify their ideas before executing their actions.

(Note:  My next blog post will be about the scientific survey launches, so stay tuned!)

The view forward through Wrangell Narrows

A panoramic view of the passage forward through Wrangell Narrows

The most impressive preparation during the past few days, though, was that of the navigational crew.  After hours of work compiling past data and available current information and building itemized route plans for passage through the potentially-treacherous Wrangell Narrows, Ensign JC Clark led a large and comprehensive meeting to discuss every bit of the upcoming traverse.  Utilizing charts, mathematics, weather forecasts, and expert opinions, the group of men and women in the boardroom created a plan of execution that considered everything from tides to local traffic, from channel depths to buoy patterns.  Adjustments were made in an air of excitement tempered by the confidence of experience, preparation, and skill.

Alidade on starboard bridge wing

This device (called an alidade) on the starboard bridge wing is used for visual bearings.

And when the ship approached the town of Petersburg at the mouth of Wrangell, the preparation paid off.  Turn after turn, command after command, the teamwork was superb, and the resulting passage was seamless.  The ride was so smooth as the bridge maneuvered Rainier through the slalom in that deep and narrow fjord, that only the beautiful scenery itself was breathtaking.

Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger practicing knots

During a brief opportunity to look away from the water, Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger worked on maintaining his expert knot-tying skills.

We tend to envision genuine explorers as being people who dare to travel beyond the horizon, choosing adventure over caution every time they set out.  But the truth is that every great explorer, long before he lifts his foot for the first step of the travel, asks himself and his companions:  Quo vadimus?

Where are we going?

Pre-launch meeting on the fantail

Field Operations Officer Mike Gonsalves conducts one last survey team meeting on the fantail before the launches get underway.

The answer to that question might be a physical location, or it could just as easily be a direction.  Up that mountain.  Toward that little island.  Around the bend.  It could even be broad and metaphorical.

Sea lions basking on a buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows

The ACO pulled out the binoculars to answer his own question of why that red buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows was listing so much to the right. The tilt was because these sea lions were using the buoy to bask in the warm near-solstice sun.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

ACO Van Waes shared with me a superb insight:  The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map outlines a suggested path of travel, while the chart simply shows the traveler what things are out there.  The hydrographic survey teams and supporting scientists who work for NOAA make nautical charts so that seagoing explorers can continue the great human endeavor of creating their own maps to turn curiosity into discovery, and I am very proud to spend these weeks working and learning among the people who keep that grand tradition going forward.

So prepare yourselves, practice your skills, plan a bit, and choose a direction or two.  And then keep exploring, my friends.

Personal Log:  Father’s Day

On the day before I left Florida I cropped my hair closely and stopped shaving my face (for the first time ever), in part to minimize the need for maintenance away from home, and also as a minor-league scientific experiment to compare rates of hair growth on the face and on the crown.  After five days the chin, cheeks, and jawline seem to be winning the race.  But the most interesting datum – as so often is the case in scientific tests – is a peripheral notation:  When passing a reflective window this morning, I saw a familiar face framed by the short beard and small wrinkles at the edges of the sunglasses under the brim of my hat, but the face that I saw wasn’t my own.  This third Sunday in June, thousands of miles from home, sort of pensively half-smiling at a fleeting thought that was blending with a pretty view of the treeline off starboard, I saw the face of my dad looking back at me.  And my smile grew a bit softer and fuller when I caught glimpses of my sons in the reflection, too.

So happy Father’s Day to you three other Ulmer men who do so much to define this Ulmer boy.  I’m proud of you, and I love you guys.

And on behalf of children everywhere, happy Father’s Day to the rest of you readers who have undertaken the great task of raising kids.  Your work is important.  

Did you know?

Underway through Gastineau Channel

Underway through Gastineau Channel, outbound from Juneau

The ship’s propellers are called screws because essentially they spiral through the water to propel the boat forward by pulling water from in front and pushing it backward.  NOAA Ship Rainier has two screws, one starboard (right) and one port (left), and they spin in opposite directions to make smoother and more efficient fluid dynamics.  On this ship the screws constantly spin, but they are tilted differently to increase or decrease forward propulsion.

To increase forward vessel speed, the screws hang with a vertical profile so that the water moves horizontally backward from the boat, thus pushing the boat forward.  To decrease forward vessel speed, the screws are tilted toward a more horizontal plane, decreasing the backward push of water, and consequently reducing the ship’s thrust force.  It’s very much like holding your open, flat hand outside the window of a moving car and feeling the wind push it backward, upward, or downward, depending upon the angle of your palm relative to the car’s (and the wind’s) trajectory.  Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that every action comes with an equal and opposite reaction, and so the more directly backward the water is pushed, the more directly forward (with the same amount of force) the ship is pushed in the opposite direction.

Lesley Urasky: Setting Sail from St. Croix, June 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 

Mission:  Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: Saturday, June 16, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 17.6395
Longitude: -64.8277

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed: 15.76 knots (18.1 mph)
Relative Humidity: 79%
Barometric Pressure: 1,012.7 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 29°C (84°F)

Personal Log

My trip to meet the Pisces and become a Teacher at Sea was a two-day process.  I traveled from my home in Sinclair, Wyoming to Denver, Colorado to catch the first of three flights.  The first flight was from Denver to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport; after a two-hour layover, I then flew to Miami.  Originally, I was to travel the entire way in one day.  However, I didn’t want to arrive in St. Croix at 10:00 p.m. and have to make my way to the pier, pass through security, board the ship, find my stateroom, and hopefully meet some of the crew and scientists late at night.  Instead, I spent the night in Miami and flew to St. Croix the next morning.

Trip to St. Croix from Sinclair, Wyoming

Google Earth view of my trip to St. Croix.

Once I landed at the Frederiksted Airport on St. Croix, I took a taxi to the cruise ship pier.  The taxi driver was very concerned about taking me there, because no cruise ships were docked; he was doubtful that any ship was there.  After convincing him that a NOAA ship was indeed docked, he moved aside the sugar cane in the back, loaded my bags, and took me to the pier.  Breaking my trip into two pieces turned out to be the best plan because once I got to the security gate, there was no approved members list at security and they wouldn’t accept my travel document.  They called the ship and the Commanding Officer (CO) came down the pier to meet me at the gate and escort me to the ship.  After a quick tour of the ship, I took some time to settle into the stateroom I’m sharing with the Operations Officer, Kelly Shill.  The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring Frederiksted.

The Pisces viewed from Frederiksted, St. Croix

On Friday, June 15th, I went to Christiansted with some of the ship’s crew members.  Kelly Schill, Operations Officer; Chris Zacharias, Junior Engineer; Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate; and I went shopping for souvenirs, had lunch, and fed the resident school of tarpon outside of Fort Christian Brew Pub.  Later that evening, we went to a beachside restaurant and watched a performance by some modern dance fire dancers.

Hungry tarpon waiting for tidbits.

Modern fire dancers

Fire dancers

Today we left port and embarked on the third Leg of the Caribbean Reef Fish Survey.  The first leg was when the Pisces traveled from Pascagoula, Mississippi to San Juan, Puerto Rico; here the ship picked up the scientific crew.  The second leg was from San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Croix; during this time period, they collected data about the ocean and the fish along the reef system.  I joined the scientists and crew of the Pisces at Frederiksted, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The Pisces was in port at St. Croix for three days for personnel change, resupply of the galley, and to give the crew a rest. During this leg, we will be traveling back to San Juan, Puerto Rico taking samples around St. Croix and St Thomas islands.  In addition to the reef fish survey, the Pisces will be deploying the base (anchor and chain) for another buoy to collect oceanographic data 3 nautical miles (nm) south of Saba, which is located between St. Croix and St. Thomas.  The University of Virgin Islands is working in conjunction with NOAA to accomplish this goal.  Once back in San Juan, the scientists will leave the ship, returning home with the data.  On the fourth leg, the Pisces will return to Mayport, Florida, retrieving a buoy that is adrift along the way.  Commander Fischel is kindly allowing me to remain aboard during the cruise back to port!

Science and Technology Log

Here is a quick overview of all equipment the survey will use to collect data. There is an array of four video cameras that is baited with frozen squid.  The array is lowered over the side of the ship at each sampling site, and allowed to rest on the bottom for 40 minutes.  The cameras cannot be deployed during the night because there are no lights on the array. Therefore, viewing is dependent upon the availability of sunlight penetrating the water column.  Because of the need for natural light, the cameras are only used during daylight hours; the array cannot be deployed earlier than one hour after sunrise and must be retrieved from the bottom of the continental shelf or shelf edge one hour before sunset.

After the camera array is deployed, a cluster of instruments called a CTD is lowered to collect data on the ocean environment.  CTD is an acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. Conductivity is used to determine the salinity (the amount of salts dissolved in the water).  Water conducts electricity (this is why you shouldn’t use electrical appliances while in or around water, and why the lifeguard tells you to get out of the pool during a thunderstorm).  As the salinity increases, conductivity increases.  Temperature is a very straight forward measurement.  I’m sure you’ve measured the temperature of several different things ranging from air temperature (to see how hot it is outside) to the internal temperature of a roasting chicken.  These measurements are related to specific depths within the water column. The depth the instrument is at in the ocean is calculated from measuring the hydrostatic pressure (how much pressure the overlying water exerts on the instrument).  The CTD instrumentation cluster collects huge amounts of data – 8 measurements per second!  These are averaged and compressed into “bins” covering 1 meter segments.

The CTD and camera array waiting deployment.

In addition, the instrument cluster also measures the amount of oxygen dissolved (DO) in the water column.  As you probably already know, most organisms require oxygen to live (carry out cellular respiration).  The amount of oxygen dissolved in the water is directly correlated to how much life the water can support.  More oxygen = more life.  When water is warmer, it loses its ability to “hold onto” oxygen; cold water will contain more dissolved oxygen.  This is one reason why climate change and warming aquatic environments are of great concern.

Victor, Joey, and Joe deploying the camera array

After both the camera array and CTD have been deployed and retrieved, the final step at each site is to collect fish through the use of bandit reels located at three sites on the ship.  All three are located on the starboard (right hand) side of the ship.  Reel #1 is starboard (S), Reel #2 is starboard aft (SA), and Reel #3 is starboard stern (SS) at the back of the ship.  Reel #3 is where I helped the attempts to collect fish.  Each bandit reel has ten hooks of the same size (8/0, 11/0, and 15/0) attached to a 300-lb test monofilament.  Each of the hook sizes are rotated around the stations throughout the day.  These hooks are baited with slices of frozen Atlantic mackerel.  A 10 pound weight is attached to the end of the line, the baited hooks attached, and the line let out until it hits bottom.  Then, a float is attached and the line is left for five minutes before being reeled back in.

Any fish that are caught are identified and have their length and mass measured.  Afterwards, the fish’s otoliths are removed and it is opened to determine its gender and have its reproductive stage assessed.  More on the fish specifics to come!