Hayden Roberts: Wait-and-See (or Is It Sea?) July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019

Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30.35° N 
Longitude: 88.6° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: Northwest
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 33°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Sky: Few clouds

Science Log

Day one of my trip and we are delayed leaving. Growing up in Oklahoma, you think you know weather until one of the NOAA fishery biologists assigned to the ship provides you a lengthy explanation about the challenges of weather on setting sail. As he put it, the jet stream is throwing off the weather. This is true. Studies have suggested that for a few years the polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way. When those meanders occur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes and that affects how warm or raining it is across North America and Europe. 

This spring in Oklahoma, it has led to record-breaking rains that have flooded low lying areas across the Great Plains and parts of the southeastern United States. Thunderstorms have generally been concentrated in the southern and middle section of the US as the jet stream dips down. The NOAA biologist also indicated that the delay in our departure could be blamed on the El Niño effect. 

El Niño is a natural climate pattern where sea water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. This leads to greater precipitation originating from the ocean. According to NOAA scientists, El Niño is calculated by averaging the sea-surface temperature each month, then averaging it with the previous and following months. That number is compared to average temperatures for the same three-month period between 1986 and 2015, called the Oceanic Niño index. When the index hits 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer or more, such as right now, it’s classified as an El Niño. When it’s 0.5 degrees Celsius cooler or more, it’s a La Niña. During an El Niño, the southern part of the U.S. typically experiences wetter than average conditions, while the northern part is less stormy and milder than usual. During a La Niña, it flips, with colder and stormier conditions to the north and warmer, less stormy conditions across the south. However, the El Niño this year has been classified as weak, which means typically the wetter conditions do not push into the Gulf of Mexico region, but exceptions can occur. With the fluctuating jet stream, the El Nino has vacillated between the Plains region and the upper South and regions closer to the Gulf. Thus, the storm causing our delayed departure comes from a weather condition that has been pushed further south by the jet stream.

While these may be causes for the delayed departure, the actual sailing conditions at the time of our voyage are the main concerns. Looking at the NOAA Marine Forecast webpage (https://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/zone/off/offnt4mz.htm), the decision for our delay is based on a storm producing significant wave heights, which are the average height of the highest 1/3 of the waves. Individual waves may be more than twice the average wave heights. In addition, weak high pressure appears to dominate the western Gulf and will likely last mid-week. Fortunately, we are set sail into the eastern Gulf off the coast of Florida. We should be able to sail behind the storm as it moves west. We do have to watch the surface low forming along a trough over the northeast Gulf later in the week. The National Hurricane Center in Miami (which provided weather data in the Atlantic and the Gulf for NOAA) predicts that all of this will intensify through Friday (July 12) as it drifts westward. This will produce strong to near gale force winds and building seas for the north central Gulf. Hopefully by then we will be sailing south of it. 

Gulf of Mexico weather forecasts
Digital interface map for regions of the Gulf of Mexico and its weather forecasts (National Weather Service, NOAA)

Did You Know?

The weather terms El Niño and La Niña can be translated from Spanish to English as boy and girl, respectively. El Niño originally applied to an annual weak warm ocean current that ran southwards along the coast of Peru and Ecuador around Christmas time before it was linked to a global phenomenon now referred to as El Niño–Southern Oscillation. La Niña is sometimes called El Viejo, anti-El Niño, or simply “a cold event.” El Niño events have been occurring for thousands of years with at least 26 occurring since 1900.

Personal Log

I boarded NOAA’s Oregon II yesterday when the ship was virtually empty. It was Sunday, and we were not set to leave until mid-afternoon the following day (and now Tuesday, July 9). Spending the night on the ship was more comfortable than I had expected. While the stateroom was cramped (I share it with one other crew member), the space is surprisingly efficient. I had plenty of space to store my gear. The bunkbed was more cozy than restricted.

NOAA Pascagoula Lab
Even though it was Sunday and everything was closed, I had to stop for a selfie.
NOAA Ship Oregon II
My first look at NOAA Ship Oregon II.

My first day in Pascagoula, MS was spent learning about the town. Pascagoula is a port city with a historic shipyard. Pascagoula is home to the state’s largest employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest Chevron refinery in the world, and Signal International, an oil platform builder. Prior to World War II, the town was a small fishing community, but the population jumped with war-driven shipbuilding. The city’s population peak in the late 1970s, but today, there are less than 25,000 in the area. Pascagoula continues to be an industrial center surrounded by the growing tourism industry across the Gulf region to the east and west of the port. The population also declined when Naval Station Pascagoula was decommissioned in 2006. The old naval base is located on manmade strip of land called Singing River Island and is in the middle of the port. The port still maintains a large Coast Guard contingent as well as serving as the home portfor the NOAA Ships Gordon GunterOregon II, and Pisces. The NOAA port is actually called the Gulf Marine Support Facility and is located a block from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Mississippi Laboratory.

Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%


Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.


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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.
Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot
I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains
This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.

My own shark cradle
Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.
As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt
It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water
Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship
I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun
In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing
Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)


Lisa Battig: Of Auroras, Anemometers, Anchors and Adult-sized Exposure Suits, September 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017


Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N            Longitude:  165o 48.7 W

Date: September 3, 2017

Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover

Science and Technology Log


Manda aurora 1
A shot of the aurora taken by Lieutenant Damien Manda, Operations Officer. This was my first aurora ever, and I know I was treated to a truly spectacular display. There was a lot of ooo-ing and aaah – ing and shrieks of delight. I was definitely one of those!

So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.

The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.

Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.

ANEMOMETERS: Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.

Fairweather anemometer
Looking up at the anemometers on Fairweather set on the flying bridge. You can see the two levels reasonably well. This is where constant weather data are being gathered which are then relayed to multiple places both on the ship and off.

The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.

All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.


watching the anchor and chain
Commanding Officer Mark Van Waes and Chief Bosun Brian Glunz checking the anchor and chain to be sure it is clear of the ship. Dennis Brooks is standing by.


When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.

Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.

washing the anchor chain
Me. Washing down the anchor chain as it comes up with SS Dennis Brooks helping hold the fire hose (it’s pretty heavy!)


Exposure suit
Me trying on a VERY large adult exposure suit. Look at those legs!!

Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.

I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.

It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.

Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!

The Deck Crew
The amazing deck crew! L-R back row: Terry Ostermeyer, Dennis Brooks, Brian ____. L-R front row: Carl Coonts, Rick Ferguson, Me, Peter “Nick” Granozio

Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!

Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.

Personal Log

Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.

But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…

Little and Big Diomede from Kyle
The islands of Little Diomede (left, foreground) and Big Diomede (right, background). Little Diomede is American land but Big Diomede is Russian. I saw Russia!


 Did You Know?

…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing
Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Helen Haskell: Bottom Sampling! June 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017


Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 17, 2017

Weather Data (on day of bottom sampling –June 14th)

Wind:  27 knots from the west (110° true)

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Barometer:  1005.3 hPa

Air temperature: 9.4°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’


54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W


Science and Technology Log 

Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, TAS Helen Haskell, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.

If you have ever taken a look at a nautical map, other than just depths listed on it, there will be symbols and definitions that provide information to help with safety and knowledge of the area.  For example, asterix-like symbols represent rocks, and a branch-like symbol represents kelp. Also written on the maps is information about the seafloor and what it is composed of, such as gravel, sand, or bedrock.  Here in southeast Alaska, off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, much of the data that is currently on the charts was collected over 100 years ago.  Fairweather’s mission is to collect new information to allow these charts to be updated, and this includes information on the seafloor too.

The other day I was tasked with joining a survey crew to conduct bottom sampling.  The assigned bottom sample locations are provided by the Operations branch at headquarters. The sheet managers adapt the locations if they think there are better locations that will provide information for anchoring or to help characterize different regions in the area.  With less than glassy water conditions on a windy and rainy day, the boats were launched and we moved to our first sample area.

A bottom sampler

The technology behind sampling is a little more antiquated than other parts of the research I’ve seen. It involves hooking up a self-closing scoop like device to a rope, and lowering it in to the water until it hits the seafloor.  Ideally, the trigger is released when it hits the seafloor and it closes. With closed scoops, the bottom sampler is winched up, ideally full of whatever material is located on the seafloor in that immediate location.  There were three different styles of these bottom samplers and we quickly had a firm favorite that seemed to work the best.  Easing the boat in the swell to the location, the coxswains, Dennis and Denek, would keep the boat in position so we did not tangle the rope in the motor.  We could tell from the rope going slack when the bottom sampler had hit the sea floor, and a mechanical winch made the return journey easy.


Dumping the contents in to a bucket we were able to see the diversity of the seafloor in just a few samples.  Occasionally rocks or shells would get stuck in the mechanism and we’d have to repeat the procedure, but overall we had tremendous success.

Carly, Denek, the coxswain and me getting some respite from the rain

There are international protocols to follow in collecting bottom samples. These allow for communication and consistency of data on navigational charts.  In general, the main medium of the sample is described, such as sand, mud or pebbles, and an adjective used to describe it, such as broken, sticky or soft. Color is also assigned to the sample as well as appropriate size of the grains (fine, medium or coarse).  Symbols are used for all this data: For example, ‘the sample is mostly fine brown sand with mud and a little bit of broken shell’ would be written fne br S M brk Sh.  Protocols indicate that if sampling is attempted three times in one location and it doesn’t work then ‘unknown’ is documented in that location.

Success in our sampling

At each of the sampling locations, we marked the spot on the chart and took latitude and longitude coordinates. We also documented additional observations we had about the sample, including findings that were not included as data choices. For example, in our second sampling site we found what we thought initially were mammal hairs.   Several sites later we struck ‘gold’ again, finding what appeared to be more hairs in a mud matrix. Upon reflection and discussion, it’s possible they are more likely decomposing kelp fibers.  It would be interesting to have the samples analyzed to identify what these fibers/hairs come from.   We also found whole clamshells as well as having a sample that only contained water. Our thoughts with the water only samples were that perhaps we were hitting bedrock rather than failing on obtaining any kind of sediments.  We also observed that in the more sheltered bays, the samples were very odiferous dark mud. In both of these occasions, the landscape surrounding the bay was heavily logged, and it would be interesting to see if there were correlations between the logging and the dark sediments, perhaps containing higher levels of carbon material washed in from terrestrial sources. In one of these areas, documentation from 100 years ago suggested that at that time, the seafloor was gravel.


Personal Log

The bottom-sampling day was challenging day weather wise, both for the coxswains and the science crew, but very rewarding.  Due to the rough seas it wasn’t a good day to collect sonar data, and on days like this, other parts of the total data collection are put in to place.  Part of our work that day was to also do crosslines (sonar data verification) but the water conditions were too hazardous in certain directions of travel, and so it was decided that we should focus on bottom samples.   To be frank, this was my favorite day as a Teacher At Sea so far. Truth be told, I was reminded that I quite enjoy sticking my hand in a bucket of mystery ‘goop’ and trying to figure out what it is composed of.  The diversity of samples was completely surprising and finding hair samples, twice, completely intriguing.  It was great also to observe upcoming OPS officer, LT Damian Manda at work logging the data, and realize again, the role technological knowledge plays a role in the success of this research. And, thank you to Coxswain Dennis Brooks for taking most of the photos for this blog entry.


Me and Carly at the end of the day


Word of the day:

Hollings Scholarship Program: this NOAA program provides undergraduate students with a ten week internship at a NOAA facility and academic assistance, as well as an orientation and symposium. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship

Fact of the day:

Backscatter is the intensity of acoustic energy received by the sonar after interacting with the seafloor. Backscatter data can be used to help determine the surface of the seafloor.  In softer areas, perhaps a surface of mud, returns a weaker signal, but a harder surface, such as bedrock returns a stronger signal.  Hollings scholar Carly LaRoche from American University is on the boat for several legs this summer and is collecting and analyzing backscatter data in the area. Bottom sampling of the area is allowing Carly to compare the backscatter data with the sediments collected to see if there are correlations.

What is this?


(Answer from previous blog: part of the vertical struts of an old pier at a former salmon canning factory.)

Acronym of the day: Used in bottom sampling

NATSUR:  Nature of surface  -example: mud, gravel, coral

NATQUA: Qualifying terms for NATSUR -example: sticky, soft, calcareous

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

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


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

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

Date: May 16, 2014


Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Weather:  Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 20 knots out of the northwest.

Water  Depth: 444 fathoms or 812 feet.

Temperature: water : 27° Celsius

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

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


Science and Technology Log

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

Why are we here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal log

Wish you were here.


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

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

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

Dolphins after the storm (picture courtesy of John Santic)
Dolphins after the storm
(picture courtesy of John Santic)

Lieutenant Junior Grade Begun and Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb checking the error of the gyrocompass using the azimuth


What else have I been doing?

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

Launching the XBT – taken by Expedition Coordinator, Derek Sowers

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi
Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Preparing for night launch of CTD and plankton tows.(photo taken by LTJG Bryan Begun)


Vanessa Self-Miller
Vanessa Self-Miller

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

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

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

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

Avery Marvin: Sound Off! From Noise to Nautical Charts, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 8 — 25, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 22, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.6’ N, 160° 10.2’ W

Weather on board: Broken skies with a visibility of 14 nautical miles, variable wind at 22 knots, Air temperature: 14.65°C, Sea temperature: 6.7°C, 2 foot swell, sea level pressure: 1022.72 mb

Science and Technology log:

Teamwork, safety first
Rainier motto, painted in the stern of the ship above the fantail, the rear lower outside deck where we have our safety meetings.

“Teamwork, Safety First”, is inscribed boldly on the Rainier stern rafter and after being aboard for more than 2 weeks, it is evident this motto is the first priority of the crew and this complex survey operation at hand.

Rainier launch
This is one of the survey launches that we use to gather our survey data. In this case, the launch is shown approaching the Rainier, getting ready to tie up.

It’s a rainy overcast morning here in SW Alaska and we are circled around the officers on the fantail for the daily safety meeting. Weather conditions, possible hazards, and the daily assignment for each launch are discussed. Per the instructions on the POD (Plan of the Day), handed out the previous evening, the crew then disperse to their assigned launches. The launches are then one-at-a-time lowered into the water by the fancy davit machinery and driven away by the coxswain to their specific “polygon” or survey area for the day. A polygon surveyed by a launch on average takes 2-3 hours at 6-8 knots to survey and usually is an area that is inaccessible by the ship. Many polygons make up one large area called a “sheet” which is under the direction of the “sheet manager”. Several sheets make up an entire survey project. Our hydrographic project in the Shumagins has 8 sheets and makes up a total of 314 square nautical miles.

Safety meeting
The CO, XO, and FOO lead the safety meeting for the day, discussing weather conditions, water conditions, and the assignments for each launch.

Shumagin Islands
This is a chart of the Shumagin Islands showing the 8 sheets (highlighted in green) that we are surveying.

East side of Chernabura Island divided into survey “polygons”, each labeled with a letter or word. Notice how each polygon is a small subset of the larger sheet.

On board each launch we have a complex suite of computer systems: one manages the sonar, another manages the acquisition software, and the third records the inertial motion of the launch as it rocks around on the water (pitch, heave, roll). The acquisition system superimposes an image of the path of the launch and the swath of the sonar beam on top of a navigational chart within the polygon. Starting at one edge of the polygon, the coxswain drives in a straight a line (in a direction determined by the sheet manager), to the other end of the polygon, making sure there is some overlap at the boundaries of the swaths. He/she then works back in the other direction, once again making sure there is some overlap with the adjacent swath. We call this “mowing the lawn,” or “painting the floor” as these are visually analogous activities. Throughout the day, we pause to take CTD casts so that we have a sound velocity profile in each area that we are working.

Typical launch dispersal for a survey day. Launches are signified by “RA-number”. You can also see the location of our tide measurement station and GPS control station, both of which we use to correct our data for errors.

Mowing the lawn
This image shows the software tracking the path and swath of the launch (red boat shape) as it gathers data, driving back and forth in the polygon, or “mowing the lawn.” The darker blue shaded area shows overlap between the two swaths. The launch is approaching a “holiday”, or gap in the data, in an effort to fill it in.

You might be wondering, why the swath overlap? This is to correct for the outer sonar beams of the swath, which can scatter because of the increased distance between the sea floor and the sonar receiver below the hull of the boat. The swath overlap is just one of the many quality control checks built into the launch surveying process. Depending on the “ping rate”, or the number of signals we are able to send to the bottom each second, the speed of the boat can be adjusted.  The frequency of the sound wave can also be changed in accordance with the depth. Lower frequencies (200 khz) are used for deeper areas and higher frequencies (400 khz) are used for shallower areas.

Rosalind working the surveying computers in the launch
Rosalind working the surveying computers in the launch

Despite what might seem like mundane tasks, a day on board the launch is exhausting, given the extreme attention to detail by all crew members, troubleshooting various equipment malfunctions, and the often harsh weather conditions (i.e. fog, swells, cool temperatures) that are typical of southwest Alaska. The success of the ship’s mission depends on excellent communication and teamwork between the surveyors and the coxswain, who work closely together to maximize quality and efficiency of data collection. Rain or shine, work must get done.  But it doesn’t end there. When the launches arrive back at the ship, (usually around 4:30 pm), the crew will have a debrief of the day’s work with the FOO (field operations officer) and XO (executive officer). After dinner, the survey techs plunge head first (with a safety helmet of course) into the biggest mountain of data I have EVER witnessed in my life, otherwise known as “night processing”. We are talking gigabytes of data from each launch just for a days work.  It begins with the transferring of launch data from a portable hard drive to the computers in the plot room. This data is meticulously organized into various folders and files, all which adhere to a specific naming format. Once the transferring of data has finished, the “correction” process begins. That’s right, the data is not yet perfect and that’s because like any good science experiment, we must control for extraneous factors that could skew the depth data. These factors include tides, GPS location error, motion of the launch itself, and the sound velocity in the water column.

Plot room
Our chief surveyor works in the plot room cleaning and correcting data.

Data cleaning.
Data showing the consequences of the tide changing. The orange disjointed surface shows the data before it was adjusted for the tide changing. You can see how the edges between swaths (i.e. red and olive green) do not match up, even though they should be the same depth.

Sound speed artifact
This image shows the edge effects of changing sound speed in the water column. The edges of each swath “frown” because of refraction owing to changing density in the water column. This effect goes away once we factor in our CTD data and the sound speed profile.

In previous posts, I discussed how we correct for tides and the sound velocity. We also correct for the GPS location of the launch during a survey day, so that any specific data point is as precisely located as possible. Although GPS is fairly accurate, usually to within a few meters, we can get even more precise (within a few centimeters) by accounting for small satellite errors throughout the day. We do this by determining the location of a nearby object (our Horizontal Control, HorCon, Station) very precisely, and then tracking the reported position of this object throughout the day. Any error that is recorded for this station is likely also relevant for our launch locations, so we use this as the corrector. For example, if on July 21, 2013, at 3pm, the GPS location of our Bird Island HorCon station was reported 3cm north of its actual location, then our launches are also probably getting GPS locations 3cm too far north, so we will adjust all of our data accordingly. This is one of the many times we are thankful for our software. We also account for pitch, heave, and roll of the launch using the data from the inertial motion unit. That way, if the launch rolled sideways, and the center beam records a depth of 30 meters, we know to adjust this for the sideways tilt of the launch.

HorCon station
This shows the set up of our Horizontal Control and tide gauge station. The elevated rock position was chosen to maximize satellite visibility.

After all correctors have been applied (and a few software crashes weathered), the survey technicians then sort through all the data and clean out any “noise.” This noise represents sound reflections on sea life, air bubbles, or other items that are not part of the seafloor.  Refraction of sound waves, as mentioned in the last post, is caused by density changes in the water due to changes in the temperature, pressure, or salinity.

Dirty data
This shows sonar data with “noise”. The noise is the seemingly random dots above and below the primary surface. On the surface itself, you can see data from four different swaths, each in a different color. Notice the overlap between swaths and how well it appears to be matching up.

Cleaned surface
This shows sonar data after the “noise” has been cleaned out. Notice how all data now appears to match a sea floor contour.

Many of the above correctors are applied the same day the data is collected, so the sheet manager can have an up-to-date record of the project’s progress before doing final planning for data collection the next day. After a sheet has been fully surveyed and ALL correctors applied, the sheet manager will complete a “descriptive report”, which accompanies the data and explains any gaps in the sonar data (“holidays”) and/or other errors present. This report, along with the data, is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for post-processing, and in 1-2 years, we will have a corrected and updated navigational chart. During this time the data is reviewed for quality and adherence to hydrographic specifications and then is distilled into a cartographic product (nautical chart) consisting of points, lines, and areas.

Personal Log:

So I am going to hold off in talking about an animal that has recently fascinated me and instead devote this personal log to some cool things I have been doing on the ship.

Most recently I got to be the helmsman and steer the ship. This involved me following orders from the “conning officer” who told me various steering commands such as: “Left ten degrees rudder”, “steady on course 167°”, “ease 5° right”, “helm in auto” (auto-pilot). To acknowledge the command, I repeated what the conning officer said followed by “aye”. For example: “Left ten degrees rudder, aye” or “course 167°, aye”.  When the boat is actually on the course that was requested by the conning officer, I repeated the command with the word “steady”. For example: “Steady on course 167°”

Avery at the helm
Avery at the helm

You might be wondering why all of the commands involve degrees. Well that is because this ship is steered by the rudder, similar to how you manually steer a small sailboat.  So changing the angle of the rudder will change the direction of the ship.  To change this angle, you turn the steering wheel a desired amount of degrees beyond zero in the direction the conning officer instructed.  So if he said “right 5 degrees rudder”, I would turn the steering wheel right, and stop at the 5 hash mark.

Once the boat actually turns 5°, I will make sure I am at the correct “heading” or degree mark that the conning officer instructed.  A heading can be any number between 000-360 (where 000-deg = North, 045 = Northeast, 090 = East, etc.) as this boat can turn in a complete circle and be navigated in any direction.  (There is 360° in both a compass and a circle.)  Once I am steady at the correct heading, I will put the steering wheel back to 0° which means the rudder is completely straight and parallel with the boat. At this point the boat is going straight. If this were a car, you could just stay straight no problem.

But because this boat moves in water and is affected by ocean conditions such as swells, it is easily knocked off course of the heading. So as helmsman I am constantly making tiny adjustments with the steering wheel by a few degrees in either direction to maintain my heading.   This adjustment is done using the steering wheel if I am driving manual, or using a dial on the gear panel if the boat is in “auto” (auto-pilot). Because the ship rudder must “push water out of the way” in order to steer the boat, there is a delay between when I turn the steering wheel to when the ship actually moves that amount of degrees. This is not a car which turns instantaneously by the movement of axles.  So I need to account for that “lag time” as well as ocean conditions and the speed of the boat when turning the ship.  For example, if the boat is going slow (3 knots) and I need to turn quickly, I will have to use a greater rudder angle.  Throughout this process I have several digital screens that show me my current position and course, current heading and desired heading as well as other navigational aides.  When I was helmsman, I was closely monitored and assisted by Jason, a former Navy Chief Boatswain, who is one of the best helmsman on the ship.  To be a good navigator you need to know the fundamentals but you also need a lot of practice and exposure to various navigational situations.

Helm stand
Helm stand

Yesterday, Rosalind and I got to work on deck and help the Chief Boatswain with various deck tasks such as lowering the anchor and assisting with the davit to hoist the launches from their day of surveying out on the water.  Assisting with the job of lifting a 16,000 lb launch with 3 people aboard using the davit winch was by far the most exhilarating experience thus far on the ship. I handled the task with extreme caution. As with being a helmsman, there are many factors I must consider as a davit operator.  For example, if there is a significant swell, I need to be more aggressive with the davit movements to get the boat lifted fast to avoid any excessive swaying in mid-air. Most importantly, I must attentively follow the gestures of the deck boss below who is able to see the launch very clearly and is directing me on every davit movement.  Even an experienced davit operator like Jason, who probably can predict the next davit movement in his sleep, must never assume and then act. He ALWAYS follows the exact orders of the deck officer below because he never knows what they are seeing that he cannot from the above deck.  Overall, with Jason’s close attention and assistance, I think I did a good job of assisting with the davit. The boat made it safely aboard, and my heart returned to a normal beating pattern. 🙂

Operating the crane to get the davit ready to lift the launch out of the water
Getting the davit positioned and ready to lift the launch out of the water.

On a lighter note I learned how to play the good ole’ mariner pastime favorite, Cribbage. Rosalind (the other Teacher at Sea and my delightful roommate) taught me how to play. We had a cribbage tournament here aboard the ship in which about 12 people competed. I did not advance to the finals but had a lot of fun nonetheless.  I am looking forward to gaining more Cribbage strategies so I can be a more competitive player for future matches.

First round of Cribagge tournament
First round of Cribbage tournament

Just for fun:

An adorable sole I caught on the fantail of the Rainer (I released him/her)
An adorable sole I caught on the fantail of the Rainer (I released him/her). 🙂

Fun factoid: A fathom which is a maritime measurement equal to 6 feet, was originally based on the distance, fingertip to fingertip of a man’s outstretched arms. Fathom that!

Kristy Weaver: One Stormy Week, May 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 — June 1, 2012

Mission:  Reef Fish Survey
Location:  Off the Coast of Vero Beach, Florida
Date: May 27, 2012

Current Weather: 73 Degrees, Windy and Rainy

Hello from Sunny Florida!

Storm clouds off the coast of Vero Beach, FL

Actually let’s change that to, “Hello from mostly cloudy Florida!”

When we learned about weather in our science kit we talked about how the weather is always changing and how we have to do different things or dress differently because of the weather. I have really been thinking about this for the past few days.  I wanted this post to be about all of the science that I am doing on this trip, but the weather has taken over!

Storm clouds off the stern (back) of the boat
about 20 miles off Vero Beach, FL

We were doing a lot of fishing off the coast of Georgia and our plan was to stay there for a few more days.  We had to move because there was a storm that was headed right towards us.   It has not rained that much.  The problem is the wind.  The wind makes it dangerous to work on the boat and can make large waves.  If we stayed where we were there would have been waves about 5-10 feet high.  Some would have been even higher.

The arrow points to where our boat is on this map of Florida

This would have been too rough to work in so we headed south to the water off Daytona Beach, Florida.  After a while the water got rough there too so we headed even further south.  Right now we are about 30 miles off the coast of Vero Beach, Florida.

The wind is about 20-25 miles per hour.  (That would definitely be a “2” on our wind scale  if we used our flags today!) That is the speed limit that cars can drive on our school’s street!   The waves are about 6 feet tall right now, which is taller than I am.  The boat is rocking back and forth a lot.  This makes it hard to walk, but it’s also pretty funny because I need to hold onto the walls wherever I go!

The boat was rocking a lot today.
Sometimes I had to hold on while we waited to drop the traps.

We are done fishing for the day because the wind is getting stronger, but we will start again in the morning.  We are going to go closer to the shore where the waves will not be as big.  When we get there the captain will set the anchor.  The anchor will grab onto the ocean floor and hold us in one spot for the night.  We will head back out to sea in the morning when the storm passes.

Clouds off the stern of the R/V Savannah
Part of Tropical Storm Beryl

Weather also affected the way I packed.   About three weeks ago I was on the beach with my mom and I was so cold!  I was nervous that I was going to be freezing on the boat because I knew I would be working outside until midnight.  So before I left for my trip I bought a whole bunch of really warm clothes to take with me.  I haven’t needed any of it!  It is a little more chilly on the water than it is on land, but I still haven’t needed more than a sweatshirt and shorts to stay warm.   I checked the weather in New Jersey, and I checked the weather in Georgia, but I didn’t believe it!  I should have trusted those meteorologists!

I can’t wait to tell you everything I have learned from the scientists on the ship!  I also have some GREAT pictures of dolphins for you.  They were jumping out of the water and put on quite a show for us yesterday.  Make sure you check back soon to see them!

(On a personal note:  I would like to wish my niece Maddie a very happy 9th birthday!  Aunt Kristy loves you!  Also,  congratulations to my parents on the purchase of their new home!  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, but I know you understand:)

Paige Teamey: November 2, 2011

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, between Montauk, L.I. and Block Island Date:  November 2, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Clouds: clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: SW 5 knots
Temperature 13.9 ° Celsius
Dry Bulb: 13.5° Celsius
Wet Bulb:  10.0 ° Celsius
Barometer: 1626.8 millibars
Latitude: 41°08’39″ ° North
Longitude: 072°05’43″ ° West

 Current Celestial View of NYC:

 Current Moon Phase:

 Current Seasonal Position (make sure to click on “show earth profile):

 http://www.astroviewer.com/  http://www.die.net/moon/ http://esminfo.prenhall.com



Science and Technology Log On a NOAA ship, similar to a military vessel, everyone has specific titles.  It would be like calling your principal or mom a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) followed by their last name.  Comparably on a ship there are tons of acronyms like (f.y.i., a.k.a, or my favorite o.m.g.). However, the acronyms the shipmates use are for titles and instead of fun text phrases they are based on status and certification. Ship acronym/name examples: CO: Commanding Officer XO: Executive Officer FOO: Field Operations Officer Ensign: “Fresh Meat” or Junior Officer Boatswain (Bosun): a Wage Mariner in charge of equipment and the crew GVA: General Vessel Assistant Today was full of events.  I awoke at around 6:02am and went outside to breathe in the fresh air and watch the day break.   After eating yet another delicious breakfast in the mess hall (cafeteria…we aren’t that messy) I was told by the FOO Davidson I would be going out on my first launch.  I was placed on the 3102 which unfortunately does not currently have any hydrographic equipment  (we hope to obtain a scanner this weekend sent from a Pacific Ocean NOAA ship). Today our mission is to go to the shores of Montauk, Long Island and retrieve data from a tidal instrument that was logging the daily tidal changes.  Normally these instruments can be accessed via satellites, however the most recent Nor’ Easter compromised the instruments and made its information inaccessible via the internet.  BGL Rob (Boatswain Group Leader) normally would be taking the helm (steering wheel of boat) and Frank (surveyor) and Ensign  Storm’n Norman also came along.  Ensign Norman is currently learning how to navigate a small ship for a new license so took the helm while BGL Rob supervised (she needs to log so many hours behind the helm before sitting for the exam).  All four of us piled into the 3102 while a massive davit (hydraulic lift) placed the 3102 from the TJ into the Atlantic Ocean. The technology behind the davit blew me out of the water (not really), but it was pretty amazing.  The ship was moving 5.8 mph (you walk about 1.5-2mph) while 3102 was being lifted out of the water. Boatswain Rob gave great tips to Ensign Norman; however, Ensign Norman was confident and very much in control of 3102 and did a fantastic job driving us to and from Montauk.  Once we arrived at Montauk, Frank opened the weather station and a huge amount of water poured out (probably why it wasn’t transmitting data).  It took quite a while to get the information downloaded on the computer we brought, because the system was out of date with current technology (so interesting how fast technology moves). While Frank was on the phone with an engineer stationed in Seattle I walked along the dock and met a lovely gentleman named Joe and his dog, Lil’ Sugar.  Joe was also a captain of a ship and ferried people to and from Block Island.  Joe was a very warm gentle soul who spoke of his years at sea and all of the unique experiences he has been fortunate to have on multiple vessels.  Currently Joe works as a Captain for a whale watching company (apparently Right Whales are migrating).   After my lovely chat with Joe and quick walk around I returned to the group.

Message in a bottle found on Montauk Beach.

Upon returning Frank had found a note in a bottle that a woman named “Karen” had thrown into the ocean and washed ashore in Montauk.  We presumed Karen was from somewhere in Connecticut (based on the cell phone number).  We called her number, but she did not retrieve her phone.   I will say for all of you wistful bottle throwers.  If you do this, make sure you use glass (it doesn’t break down to little plastic bits that fish mistakenly eat for food) and be imaginative with your note (I am not advocating for anyone to throw a bottle into the ocean).  Karen’s was very plain and gave little background or visual.  It was more fun talking with the group and imagining all of the personality and character she may have had (most of this was based on the jar she placed the note in…it was a Trappist Preserves jelly jar).  Trappist Preserves usually retails for $27.00 and is hand-made by monks in an Abbey located in Massachusetts.

Kimberly the Great in front of Acquisition Screen locate off of the Bridge.
Kimberly the Great in front of Acquisition Screen locate off of the Bridge.

When I returned to the TJ I spent the rest of the day (almost 6 hours) in the acquisition room, located on the bridge, with Kimberly the Great.  Kimberly is a seasoned surveyor (meaning she has been aboard the TJ for seven years) and was able to break down each surveying screen in an incredible way.  (Read Nov. 3-4 for a break down of Hydrographic surveying)

Davey Jones Shadow??? Skull and bones shadow in the acquisition room.

Personal Log Breakfast:  2 fried eggs, oatmeal, 1 hashbrown Lunch:  Deli sandwich with coffee Dinner:  Vegetarian “chicken” patty with tomato sauce and cheese, and corn Dessert:  Chocolate Cake (Happy Belated birthday XO!!!)

Michele Brustolon, July 10, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michele Brustolon
Onboard NOAA Oscar Dyson
June 28 – July, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: July 10, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1400
Latitude: 59.12N
Longitude: 174.02W
Cloud Cover: 5/8
Wind: 17 knots
Air Temperature: 8.00 C/ 460 F
Water Temperature: 7.00 C/ 450 F
Barometric Pressure: 1006.9 mb

Science and Technology Log

Weather, weather everywhere!
Aside from weather helping you decide what to wear for the day, weather is critical on board a research vessel. Each hour the bridge collects the same data that is then input into the AMVER Sea system and sent to NOAA Weather. Some of the information included is: time, latitude, longitude, cloud cover, air and water temperatures, wind, barometric pressure, visibility, and swell height. This helps determine our exact location (check out shiptracker.noaa.gov) as well as the weather at sea and also weather inland. It is not uncommon for marine weather systems to move inland. This information also helps us understand long term climate changes, precipitation, and ocean currents.

Exactly where are we?
The latitude and longitude help determine the position of the ship and the time is recorded to understand how the ship is moving and in what direction. This allows the scientists to follow the transects to conduct their research. If I told you at 1500 hours (3pm) our mark was 58.00N and 171.48W, you would be able to pinpoint our location on a map. Our latitude so far on this trip (July 7th) has been in the range of 56.12N-58.69N depending on the transect that we are following and the longitudes’ range is between 170.01W-171.48W.

Transect lines for Leg II onboard Oscar Dyson

It’s cloudy again?
It tends to be quite cloudy and foggy here in the Bering Sea and cloud cover is measured in eighths of the sky. For example, on July 6th the cloud cover at 1500 hours was 7/8 which means that 87.5% of the sky was filled with clouds. Cloud type and location can help predict the type of weather. The majority of our days have been 8/8 or 100% cloud cover with stratus clouds and lots of moisture in the air.

Stratus Clouds

This is definitely not the heat wave they are getting back home!
This brings us to air temperature and wind. The temperature is always taken on the windward side of the ship because this is the side of the ship in the stream of air fresh from the sea that has not been in contact with or passed over the ship. There are two types of thermometers in each case on the deck in front of the bridge. The dry bulb measures the air temperature and the wet bulb has a muslin wick which absorbs heat from the thermometer. The temperature difference between the two, called the depression of the wet bulb, can help determine what the percent humidity is by referring to the humidity chart. Wind can affect these readings which is why there are thermometers on either side of the bridge. The wind direction is logged as the same direction from which the sea waves are coming. Average temperature through July 7th for Leg II has been 5.680C/420F with winds averaging 10.29 knots.

The weather mentioned has been the trend for Leg II; however, this could be changing by the end of the week…stay tuned!

Wet and dry bulb thermometers

Hold on tight!

It’s July 10 and we are still waiting for the big seas to hit us. (not that I am complaining about calm weather!) The swells have gotten larger and the wind definitely picked up yesterday. The strongest wind recorded yesterday was 26 knots while on my shift. There is still a chance for NW sustained winds up to 25 knots and 10 foot seas before the weekend is up. Part of the reason for calmer seas yesterday was that we were so far north and the low pressure system was to the south of us. It was actually the farthest north I have ever been, and we will go even farther north before it is time to head back to Dutch Harbor.

Weather forecast

Personal Log

While we have had some quiet days, the fishing has been picking up. Unfortunately, the fish seem to be accessible more for the night crew than our shift. For example, we may fish once in a twelve hour shift, but the night crew may fish 2-3 times! We did have a couple of fishing mornings where there was enough time for a quick coffee and piece of toast and then on to the wet lab. Let me paint a picture for you… its 0430, the four of us (Abigail, Katie, Rebecca, and I) are keeping the beat to the tunes on the iPod of choice for the day in our full foul weather gear while we sort, sex, weigh, and find the lengths of pollock. It’s quite the jam session- all before breakfast! It may seem like a strange way to start the day, but it’s pretty cool!

Pollock on the sorting table

Processing Pollock: we record data about length, weight, stomachs, and otoliths.

Another benefit to having the day shift is that I was able to experience sunset as I looked west (off the port side of the ship) from my stateroom at 0330 and by the time we finished fishing at 0645, the sun was rising! Between 0400 and 0700 is one of the quieter times during my shift. It is a good time to get laundry done, regroup for the day, and one of the most peaceful places to go is the bridge. As you finish climbing the stairs you enter the darkness of the bridge; no fluorescent or incandescent lights staring you in the face. Even the headlamps worn and the covered monitors are red. I found myself closing my eyes and rocking as the boat swayed back and forth. Definitely a different atmosphere then being in the wet lab processing fish. This of course all changes after breakfast when more people are up for their shift. I find it amazing how many different environments there are on one ship throughout a day.

Sunset: 0400

Sunrise: 0645

The bridge at sunrise

Another new experience for me occurred by the time I made it to the Acoustics lab on Friday morning. The echo sounder was already in the water collecting data. The advantage of this single transducer is that it has the ability to be dropped closer to the fish (about 50m) to allow for more precise data. It still functions like the transducers that are on the centerboard of the ship: sending “pings” or sound waves and recording target strength. The transducers that do not interfere with the echo sounder continue to collect the same data but from farther away (around 80m), and then the two sets of data can be compared. There is also a small CTD that is attached to the unit. To make it even better, I was able to see the North Star and the moon while on the deck where the echo sounder comes on board!

The echo sounder

This might be too much excitement for some of you, but like I said before I need things to do. This brings me to the new challenge on the ship; Ensign Amber Payne spearheaded a “European Challenge of the Century.” It is a series of exercise challenges that include all members on board the Oscar Dyson. Now, this challenge continues throughout this season which ends in October, so the scientists (that’s me!) were randomly placed on teams to contribute while onboard. Even before the challenge, Abigail, Katie, Rebecca, and I have made a habit of heading to one of the two gyms to rip it up while blasting tunes. That’s right- two gyms on this ship! You can chose to run, bike, row, lift, and there are plenty of other options as well. Even though the gym has become part of my daily routine and running on a boat MUST burn more calories than on land, I don’t think it has been enough with Ray’s cooking. It’s like eating out at your favorite restaurant EVERY day!

Animals seen
Chrysaora melanaster
pollock (1-2 years)

Word of the day
guile: deceit

New Vocabulary
barometric pressure: the downward force that the atmosphere exerts per unit of a certain area.
swell height: measure of wind waves generated locally; vertical distance between trough and crest
muslin wick: plain woven cotton fabric
humidity: the amount of moisture in the air
gale force winds: strong winds between 28-47 knots
target strength: strength of the sound waves returning after reaching the fish

Christine Hedge, September 14, 2009

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

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

Dr. Hall standing by the hovercraft before it is inflated
Dr. Hall standing by the hovercraft before it is inflated

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 720 46’N
Longitude: 1580 24’W
Temperature: 350F

Science and Technology Log 

Doing science in the Arctic is challenging.  The weather is difficult, the ice is ever changing, and the expense of operating an icebreaker, aircraft, or helicopter is quite high.  So, how else can people get out onto the ice to study the ocean and the geology of the seafloor? One interesting project uses a hovercraft (think air hockey), which skims over the ice on a cushion of air. Using a hovercraft to study the most inaccessible places in the Arctic is not a new idea. But, Dr. John K. Hall, a member of our science party has taken this idea and run with it.   John has a long history of polar exploration under his belt. Including 13.5 months floating around the Arctic on a 90 square kilometer, 60-meter thick ice sheet known as Fletcher’s Ice Island (T-3) during the 1960’s. His latest project has been to purchase and equip a hovercraft to go where icebreakers cannot (areas of VERY thick ice).

Norwegian students parked on the ice doing research. The white tent protects the scientists while they collect data through a drill hole in the ice.
Norwegian students parked on the ice doing research. The white tent protects the scientists while they collect data through a drill hole in the ice.

The hovercraft was completed in 2007.  She is called the R/H Sabvabaa, which is the Inupiaq word for “flows swiftly over it.”  This hovercraft was designed specifically for doing science in Arctic conditions. It is equipped with all the comforts of home and all the latest technology.  From this research platform scientists have access to echosounding and seismic equipment to study the sea floor.  They can also park the Sabvabaa easily on a floe, get out on the ice to drill, photograph, and collect samples from under the ice.  This small 40-foot vessel (it fits in a semi-truck container) has great potential as a way for scientists to collect data in heavy ice conditions.  For more information about the Sabvabaa check out this website.

Classroom on the Ice 

Could you imagine being one of the first people to ride the hovercraft over the pack ice?  Since 2008, 16 lucky Norwegian high-school students have had that honor.  A competition was held as part of the Norwegian International Polar Year (IPY) program.  This competition set out to find Norwegian students ages 14-18 who are interested in careers in polar geophysics. A pair of students and a pair of researchers worked from the Sabavaa for one-week intervals. During their time on the Sabvabaa, the winning students participated in geophysical, geological, and oceanographic studies on drifting ice. They also had 4 encounters with polar bears!  What a great opportunity for these students. If you are interested in the student blogs from these trips (which are written in Norwegian) do a Google search for Sabavaa and have Google translate them.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Remember, not all scientists work in labs wearing white lab coats!  Many researchers lead exciting and adventurous lives. 

Paul Henkart teaching Nikki Kuenzel and Christina Lacerda.
Paul Henkart teaching Nikki Kuenzel and Christina Lacerda.

Personal Log 

As an educator, one of the best parts of this expedition has been to watch the mentoring that goes on. The scientists and professors in the science party have decades of research experience to share. It is not unusual to find one of these veteran Arctic explorers sharing their expertise with graduate students from the University of New Hampshire. Not only do these “mentor scientists” have great technical expertise. They are also really good at explaining complex ideas in a very simple way.   This has been wonderful for me since my background is in biology – so geophysics has been a challenge. The graduate students on board are not only learning science from the masters – they are hearing great adventure stories about past polar adventures before we had helpful technologies such as GPS and multibeam echosounders. Everyone on the Healy is in “learning mode”.  The Coast Guard crew, teachers at sea, scientists, and students are constantly asking questions and sharing expertise.

Patricia Donahue, August 22, 2008

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Log 

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

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

Animals Seen Today 

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

Vocabulary of the Day 

The coxswain is the person who drives the boat.

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


Patricia Donahue, August 21, 2008

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Bear Cove, AK
Geographical Area: Kachemak Bay, Alaska, 59.43.7 N, 151.02.9 W
: August 21, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge at 1000 hours 
Broken clouds (7/8)
Visibility 11 to 27 nautical miles
Winds calm
Seas 0-1 ft (light breeze) at 9.4˚C
Air pressure 1001.5 millibars and rising slightly
Dry Bulb 12.2˚C, Wet Bulb 11.1˚C
Cumulus clouds between 3000 and 5000 feet

The lines circled in red are the track that the boat follows back and forth in order scan the bottom of the sea. It’s a lot like mowing a lawn!
The track that the boat follows back and forth in order scan the bottom of the sea. It’s a lot like mowing a lawn!

Science and Technology Log 

We are anchored in Halibut Cove near a large lagoon too shallow even for the small boats to enter. The nearby mountains have attracted my attention. According to the chart for this area, the two seen off the bow are both 3600 feet high. They have some patches of snow on them. A taller mountain, 4200 feet high, is barely visible in the distance. Nearer the shore some cliffs show evidence of an interesting geological history. Once upon a time, marine sediments collected at the bottom of the sea. The layers built steadily one atop the other, creating organic and clastic sedimentary rocks. The rocks were uplifted to nearly vertical and have eroded. The lighter colored section appears to be limestone but it’s difficult to tell from afar. Due to intense tectonic activity in the area, some of the rock was heated and crushed, causing metamorphism. The section next to what I think is limestone looks to be either a metamorphosed limestone or a batholith. I’m hopeful that someone on board knows more geology than I do!

One of these scans shows a school of fish and the other shows a mound on the sea floor.  Can you guess which is which? (Answer: the scan on the left is a mound on the sea floor and the scan on the right is a school of fish.)
One of these scans shows a school of fish and the other shows a mound on the sea floor. Can you guess which is which?

Today I went out on one of the small vessels conducting single beam sonar scanning to determine the depth and shape of the bay bottom. The boat moves across the surface of the sea in straight, parallel lines much like the ones made when cutting the grass with a lawn mower. The lines in the first picture are the rows that the boat “mows.” The sonar pings go down from the bottom of the boat at a rate of 100 per second! The equipment on board measures how much time passes until the ping returns from the bottom. The longer it takes for the sound signal to bounce back, the deeper the water is in that location. The boat also has another scanner similar to what fishermen use to find schools of fish. Look at these two photographs from the scanner. Which is a school of fish and which is a 27 foot high mound on the ocean floor? The depth of the water is in large numbers in the lower left. The numbers farthest to the right are the ocean temperatures. Why is the water colder where the bottom is deeper?

This is a sea otter feasting on a clam! The tiny white spec on its belly is the clam
This is a sea otter feasting on a clam! The tiny white spec on its belly is the clam

Personal Log 

The screen above with the “mowing the lawn” lines on it clearly shows an airplane making its way back and forth. Of course I had to ask, “Why an airplane icon”? I thought they’d tell me that it was for laughs but no, there is a good reason. The airplane icon’s nose keeps in sync with the GPS and the lines better than the ship icon! The surveyors find it easier to know their position.

Animals Seen Today 

  • Many sea otters – Look closely at the picture to the left. The otter in the picture is eating clam. A shell is balanced on its belly!
  • Schools of fish under the boat “seen” by the radar
  • Several types of birds too far away to identify

Vocabulary of the Day 

While inputting the weather this morning, I noticed several screens that we did not add data to and rather than skip them, I decided to see what they were about. They were about ice conditions that a ship might encounter and include in a weather report. Here are two new words I didn’t have for ice. A bergy bit is a large piece of floating glacier ice between 100 and 300 square meters in area and showing less than 5 meters but more than 1 meter above sea level. A growler is smaller than a bergy bit. It is larger than 20 square meters in area but less than 1 meter is above the sea surface. Growlers can be transparent, green, or even black in appearance. Since its summer in Alaska, I won’t be seeing any bergy bits or growlers! I also learned that the term iceberg has a precise definition. An iceberg is a piece of ice afloat or aground that shows more than 5 meters above the sea surface. They are described more specifically by their shape.

Challenge Yourself 

Kachemak Bay receives a lot of glacial melt water. Surveyors have a difficult time with the radar equipment when they encounter freshwater because the sound waves travel at a different speed through fresh water than they do through salt water. In which type of water, salt or fresh, does sound travel faster? Why?

Patricia Donahue, August 20, 2008

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Bear Cove, AK
Geographical Area: Kachemak Bay, Alaska, 59.43.7 N, 151.02.9 W
: August 20, 2008

Weather Data – Glorious!

Science and Technology Log 

black bear comes to inspect what the land party is up to!
A black bear comes to inspect what the land party is up to!

WOW! That says it all. Today’s big excitement was supposed to be the leveling of the tidal gauge and the survey work in the cove. The bigger thrill – and scare – was the bear that approached to within 30 feet of me as I was standing over a benchmark with a leveling rod. Remembering the safety rules about bears, I stayed calm and alerted the others. Then I put down the pole and walked away slowly. Fortunately it was a young and smallish black bear who was easily scared off by the Commander throwing rocks. We were all on our guard the rest of the day. There were several benchmarks to check. Some of the climbing was perilous. All of the work had to be done at low tide. The survey data was collected and I look forward to seeing what’s done with it.

During the afternoon, another emergency drill took place and I was invited to watch. In the scenario, the bridge lost the ability to steer the ship. Control of the vessel had to be made from aft steering, below decks where the rudders protrude from the vessel. By using only a compass and steering orders given in degrees, the helmsman maneuvered the ship. There were no windows or other indicators of the ship’s position. To make matters worse, the scenario called for a loss of communications so a sound powered phone that uses only the energy from the speaker’s voice to operate had to be used instead.

A benchmark on the Alaskan coastline
A benchmark on the Alaskan coastline

By late afternoon the ship moved to its new anchorage a few miles from Homer. I was invited to watch the lowering of the anchor. The anchor weighs 3500 pounds and there are two of them. Each length of chain weighs 1200 pounds and there are a total of 12 lengths for each anchor. Today we used only 5 sections of chain and 1 anchor. Each section of chain is 90 feet (15 fathoms) long. The anchor is lowered while the ship is in reverse.

Personal Log 

My family and my students enjoy a game called geocaching. We’ve started by using hand held GPS devices to find benchmarks and eventually we’ll move on to finding caches and creating our own. I’ve only ever seen old benchmarks but today I saw brand new ones. One of the officers even showed me how they’re made. Benchmarks indicate the exact location and height above sea level of that particular place. The Chief Steward took me to see the food storage facilities. The freezer is enormous! The ship carries enough food to last for 6 months, although the fresh fruits and vegetables only last for one month. They have more food than CostCo!

Animals Seen Today 

Stellar’s Jay, Black Bear, and two species of Jelly Fish

Question of the Day 

How long is the anchor chain on the Rainier? Provide your answer in feet and fathoms. How much do the anchors and the chain weigh altogether? Why is the boat in reverse when the anchor is dropped?

Challenge Yourself 

Go to http://www.geocaching.com and type in your zip code. Identify a benchmark near your home. Find it and take a photograph!

Patricia Donahue, August 19, 2008

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Bear Cove, AK
Geographical Area: Kachemak Bay, Alaska, 59.43.7 N, 151.02.9 W
: August 19, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge at 1600 hours 
Broken clouds (5/8)
Visibility 11 to 27 nautical miles
Winds 230˚ at 6 knots
Seas 0-1 ft (light breeze) at 8.3˚C
Air pressure 1003.5 millibars and falling slightly
Dry Bulb 13.1˚C, Wet Bulb 12˚C
Cumulus and cirrus clouds between 2000 and 3300 feet

Science and Technology Log 

Today I recorded the temperature twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The data is written on a sheet and then entered into a specialized computer program. Once saved, the floppy containing the data is placed in a transmitter for delivery via satellite to the National Weather Service. There are few weather stations in the area so the ship is acting as one! The information will then show up on maps as a station model such as the one shown above. My students learn how to code and decode these models and it was awesome to see where the data comes from and how it is delivered.

This is a weather map symbol that shows wind direction (the arm extending from the circle) from the southwest; wind speed (the smaller arm) at 6 knots; temperature at 13.1˚C; dew point and 12˚C; pressure at 1003.5 mb; and cloud cover which is indicated by the shaded circle and shows broken clouds, meaning partly cloudy.
This is a weather map symbol that shows wind direction (the arm extending from the circle) from the southwest; wind speed (the smaller arm) at 6 knots; temperature at 13.1˚C; dew point and 12˚C; pressure at 1003.5 mb; and cloud cover which is indicated by the shaded circle and shows broken clouds, meaning partly cloudy.

Yesterday and today I also made note of true north and magnetic north. The difference between them was 17 degrees yesterday and 16 degrees today. In Texas a few weeks ago this difference was about 12 degrees. The officer on the bridge told me that there is a lot of interference that accounts for the larger difference here. I was reminded of what I’ve recently learned about the polarity reversals the Earth has undergone throughout its history. According to scientists, the planet is entering a period in which true north and magnetic north will deviate more and more from one another. I read a book I found in the wardroom about the geology of Alaska and discovered that the area we’re in now is mainly sedimentary rock. Through the “big eyes” on the flying bridge I can see a lot of stratification in the rocks. 

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

One of the engineers showed me the engine room. I was able to see the freshwater generator system that makes potable water for the ship. Salt water is “flashed” to its boiling point but not 100 degrees Celsius! This evaporation is done at a very low pressure by creating a vacuum of more than 90% so the boiling point of the water is much lower. This saves energy. The water evaporates, leaving behind the salts and other minerals dissolved in it. The water vapor is condensed and stored in a tank for use by the crew. One of the evaporators can make about 130 gallons of water in an hour and the ship has two of them. (If the water intake is not as salty, such as where we are now due to the glacial melt water, then more water can be generated.) There are also two storage tanks, each holding 8,400 gallons for a total of nearly 17,000 gallons.

The ship uses between 2000 and 3000 gallons per day so the amount stored could last for 5 days if necessary. There are only 53 people aboard. I did the math and realized that the crew is using a lot less water than I thought. Generally, an estimate of water use is 150 gallons per person per day. Not only is the crew careful about water use, some salt water replaces freshwater. For example, the toilets use salt water. Another interesting thing about the evaporators is that they use titanium plates. Titanium is very, very expensive! Back home people are stealing catalytic converters out of cars to recover the titanium in them! Since I teach the gas laws, distillation, and the periodic table, I plan to include a lesson about the evaporators.

Personal Log 

Today’s big events were a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. Fortunately I’ve gotten to know the ship fairly well and I was able to get to my assigned muster station in a timely fashion. The newly arrived personnel, myself included, also watched survival videos. Extra survival equipment had to be put away and I volunteered to help. I was able to climb down through hatches into the area where dry goods are stored. I wonder if they’ll let me climb the mast? My fears about seasickness have not been realized due to the fact that we are in very calm water. The bay seems more like a lake! From the ship I can see the Dixon Glacier and the Portlock Glacier. I’m sure they are a lot farther away than they appear! The survey team that went out today reported difficulties in the areas where the glacial runoff enters the bay. I hope I get to go out tomorrow.

Animals Seen Today 

Bald Eagle, Otter

Question of the Day 

How much fresh water is each person aboard the Rainier using in one day?

Challenge Yourself 

Use the internet to find out how many people are aboard a large cruise ship or a large naval vessel. Calculate how many gallons of water they would use. How many freshwater generators would the ship need? How much water would the cruise ship have to store to last for 5 days? Using the station model above, can you determine the relative humidity?

Beth Carter, June 27, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 27, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  6 miles
Wind direction:  034 degrees
Wind speed:  5 mph
Sea Wave Height:  none
Swell Wave Height:  none
Seawater temperature:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1017.2 mb
Dry Bulb Temperature: 12.2
Wet Bulb Temp:  11.7
Cloud cover, type: 8/8, stratus and cumulus
Depths: 31 fathoms

Researchers are kneeling in a sitka spruce forest as they check the computer that is collects and records tidal data on a small island in Nossuk Bay, Alaska.
Researchers are kneeling in a Sitka spruce forest as they check the computer that is collects and records tidal data on a small island in Nossuk Bay, Alaska.

Science and Technology Log 

On Tuesday afternoon, June 26, I went out with a crew of researchers to check the equipment that collects tidal data for Esquibel Bay. There are six main pieces of equipment used to collect this data: 1) a cylinder of nitrogen, 2) a hose attached to the nitrogen cylinder that emits small bubbles of nitrogen into the water, 3) a computer that collects and records data, 4) a solar collector to power the computer’s battery, 5) a  transmitter that sends the data to a satellite, and 6) the tide staff (an actual wooden staff in the water), and GPS benchmarks. The staff is set and readings taken so that the vertical measurements of the staff are linked to the benchmarks. The gage, which is officially a “tertiary” gage, is set up concurrent with a “primary” gage that has been acquiring data for over one epoch (19 years or more). Sitka, Alaska, is the site of NOAA’s primary gage, which has similar tidal characteristics to the area that we are working now. Thus, only an amplitude and phase differential must be applied to the Sitka gage to get a water level for this area.  Without the staff readings, there would be no way to tie the “bubbler” level to the ground surrounding the gage site, and thus no way to recover the actual local vertical datum (water level) relative to the gage in Sitka.

The nitrogen cylinder slowly leaks bubbles through the hose, which are released into the water. When the tide is high, there is more water and pressure above the hose which makes it more difficult for the bubbles to escape the hose. When the tide is low, there is less water above the hose, and therefore less pressure, which makes it easier for the bubbles to escape. Readings are recorded digitally every six minutes, averaged every six seconds. Staff-to-gage measurements are also recorded every six minutes whenever the site is visited, and 3 hours’ worth are recorded at  installation and removal, so that the vertical measurements of the station  are effectively “tied” to the measurements at the primary water level station at Sitka. (Good Working Question: Download data from both  stations and compare the two – are there differences? Next, compare Sitka and Ketchikan and Kodiak – are there bigger differences?).

ENS Meghan McGovern, Junior Officer of RAINIER, and Shawn Gendron, survey technician, position the tripod which will hold the transmitter to collect the GPS information needed by the RAINIER.
ENS Meghan McGovern, Junior Officer of RAINIER, and Shawn Gendron, survey technician, position the tripod which will hold the transmitter to collect the GPS information needed by the RAINIER.

For some reason, the transmitter is not emitting signals that can be read by the satellite, and therefore by the scientists at NOAA headquarters. This is why the skiff took several technicians over to check the equipment to see if it is still functioning and recording properly. They downloaded the water level data to send to headquarters via email while also setting up GPS equipment so that an ellipsoidal (GPSrelative) height can also be linked to the orthometric (gravitational) elevation determined through water level measurement, and will return to the ship and process the GPS data. The tides are important to hydrographic surveying, because obviously, the water is deeper at high tide than at low tide. The goal is to collect accurate information on tides, and then combine that with the data collected by the launches, in order to get accurate depth information.  The tide-corrected depths on the chart they want to show are relative to the mean low low water, which is the average of the lowest of daily tides taken over the last 19 years. On the Atlantic Ocean, tides are semi-diurnal. This means that there are two high tides and two low tides per 24 hours. But, on the Northeastern Pacific, tides are mixed.  See here for more details.

Today, (Wed. June 27), the crew returned to the small island to check on the HorCon station, which stands for Horizontal Controls.  The RAINIER established this water level station in April of 2007, and set into place 5 benchmarks which are tied into the international framework of benchmarks that make it possible to utilize GPS, or Global Positioning Satellites to determine one’s exact location. RAINIER’s researchers placed a receiver antenna on top of a tripod, which was positioned exactly above the center of the metal disc benchmark cemented into a rock.  The antenna receives from some of the 11 Global Positioning System satellites that orbit the earth and constantly change their relative positions. For a final position to be accurate, at least four satellites must be recorded in two different sessions of more than six hours duration separated by at least one day. They connected the cables, turned on the GPS receiver and then waited for the satellite constellation (also known as the ephemeris) to be downloaded so that all available satellites could be tracked. The first satellite was tracked around 1 hour later, and then we left the island, as the equipment was to be left in place for at least 6 hours.  When we returned 6 hours later, 8 satellites had made contact, and the recordings were noted and will be taken for evaluation onboard the ship.

Anna-Liza Villard-Howe, the Navigation Officer of the RAINIER, explained to me that the GPS measurements of benchmarks are being conducted in order to get as precise a determination of sea level as is possible, so that all the hydrographic information collected by the RAINIER can be referenced to the ellipsoid. Sea level has changed in Alaska in the recent past due to glacial rebound, which means that as the glaciers recede, the land is actually rising. Also, many large earthquakes have occurred in Alaska in the last century, which also changed the shape of some landforms and affected sea level readings. Online Sea Floor Mapping Activity Targets Kids (CED, OCS). In celebration of World Hydrography Day, NOAA’s Ocean Service  Communications and Education Division, in cooperation with NOAA’s Office  of Coast Survey, launched a new educational offering — Sea Floor Mapping —  on the National Ocean Service Education Web site. It is designed for students at the 3rd – 5th grade level, and the media-rich activity teaches young people about mapping the seafloor and why it is important.  This activity also conveys information about NOAA’s missions of discovery and service. The Sea Floor Mapping Activity is available online here.

Questions of the Day 

  1. Why are tides in the Pacific and Atlantic different?  What are the factors that affect tidal changes?
  2. Look up a tidal chart for the inlet or beach nearest to your home.  How far apart are the high and low tides?
  3. Who (which country or countries/which agencies) is responsible for the maintenance of the 11 Global Positioning Satellites that are now orbiting the earth?  If a satellite fails, would it be replaced?  By what agency?

Personal Log 

While on the tiny island, one of the officers carried a shotgun…in case we met a bear!  I’m pleased to say we didn’t encounter a bear, but did discover animal scat, and two eagle feathers. One was a tail feather – beautifully white – and we didn’t collect the feathers because it is illegal to collect eagle feathers.  We also saw 7-8 harbor seals on a rock outcropping. We tried to sneak up on them to get good photographs, but they bobbed and rocked and slipped into the water before we got very close. Also, on the island I was surprised to find many clumps of saltwort, which Eastern coast students (and my first grade class!) should recognize from the mud flat near the salt marsh.  It tastes….salty! No surprise there.

On Wednesday, there were so many white gnats that we sent the skiff back to the ship for bug repellant. They were like No-See-Ems, only we could See Em and Feel Em!  We built a small, smoky fire, which made things somewhat better.   The highlight of the day for me was kayaking after dinner with the XO (Executive Officer) of the ship, and Ian Colvert, an assistant survey technician.  We saw a rainbow and paddled through a misty rain, then sunshine…a beautiful evening.

Beth Carter, June 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 26, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction:  132 degrees, from the Southeast
Wind Speed:  6 knots
Sea Wave Height:  0-1 feet
Swell Wave Height – no swell
Seawater Temperature: 11.7 degrees Celsius
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8 millibars
Cloud Cover & Type: 7/8 coverage, mixed cumulus and stratus
Air temperature:  Dry Bulb: 15 degrees C,  Wet Bulb:  10 degrees C
At anchor, water depth: 32 fathoms

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Beth Carter, prepares to set sail on NOAA Ship RIANIER.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Beth Carter, prepares to set sail on NOAA Ship RAINIER.

Science and Technology Log

At 8:00 this morning, our CO (Commanding Officer) held a safety and mission briefing on the fantail of the ship.  The fantail is the back open area of the ship. The RAINIER’s main mission is to conduct hydrographic mapping surveys from its six small launches that are carried aboard the RAINIER. Each launch has equipment that transmits sound waves that are directed toward the floor of the bay, or area to be mapped.  The sound waves bounce back to a special receiver on the launch, and the depth data is recorded on the launch.  These depths are plotted as dots, and so later in the evening, the technicians basically “connect the dots” to form a picture of the ocean floor in the area that was surveyed that day. When the RAINIER finishes this 3-week leg of its mission, all of this data will be given to the NOAA Office of Coast Survey, Pacific Hydrographic Branch, in Seattle, WA.  They take the data and create digital terrain models, or DTM’s, which are color-coded maps of the sea floor.  The maps look very cool…the deepest waters are shown to be dark blue, lighter blues show shallower water, and hazards and rocks and sand bars are shown in various shades of green, yellow, red and orange. The resulting DTM’s represent the most probable bathymetry of the area. The maps are so detailed you can see the outlines of sunken ships and large rocks on the bottoms of the bays. The information from our leg will be compiled for chart 17404, and for smaller scale charts. If you are interested in seeing maps that show the areas we are charting, try this website.

Crew of the NOAA Ship RAINIER prepare to deploy a launch.
Crew of the NOAA Ship RAINIER prepare to deploy a launch.

Creating these maps is important because current maps of the waterways in Alaska are outdated – some of them very outdated.  Yesterday, the CO showed me some sections of map that were created as long ago as 1834-1899, with more of the maps being created between 1900-1939, or 1940-1969. It is interesting that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) is using sonar in much the same way that whales and dolphins and bats use sound waves for echolocation so that they can determine locations of the sea floor, obstacles, or other animals.

I asked about the current debate over the Navy’s use of sonar, and the belief that its sonar is interfering with the whales/dolphins’ abilities to use their sonar. Vincent Welton, our Electronics Technician, explained to me that NOAA uses a higher frequency, less amplified type of sound waves that will not confuse the marine mammals.  The Navy sometimes uses a very low frequency sonar to detect submarines. Today, two of the launches are out doing the hydrographic mapping.  Later in the day, two divers will go out to check the bottom of the hull, and I will go out on a small skiff to watch some of the technicians gather some data on tides. It appears that some of the equipment to measure tides is working erratically, so we will go check that out. 

Personal Log

I enjoyed watching the crew deploying the four skiffs and launches that are going out for today’s work. Everyone has to wear hard hats and float coats to stay safe when out on the fantail. The best part of the morning was when Steve Foye, the Boatswain Group Leader, pointed out to me that a humpback whale was swimming near the ship.  I saw the whale spout several times, and twice, he seemed he rolled on his side, as I saw a fin pop up. Then, his fluke appeared above the water, and he slapped the water and disappeared.  Steve told me he was “diving down to check out the groceries…he knows which aisle to shop on.” He also said he’d be down a long time, as he’d taken a big breath and was going to going to be eating until he needs to come back up to breathe.  If you are a CFCI student (or any student!) and have a question for me, please E-mail this address: teacheratsea.rainier@noaa.gov. I’d love to hear from you, and promise to try to respond in my logs.

Terms Used Today

  1. Fathom:  1 fathom equals 6 feet
  2. Sea level pressure:  Barometric, or air pressure.  When air pressure is high as it is today (over 1000 millibars or mb) it indicates that the weather is sunny or overcast, with little threat of rain.  When the pressure drops, it often means a storm or rain is on the way.  The eye of a hurricane can have a barometric pressure reading as low as 875 mb.
  3. Cloud cover: expressed in terms of portions of the sky covered out of 8 parts (whole coverage)
  4. Wind direction:  indicates which direction the wind is blowing FROM.  0 degrees is North, 90 degrees is East, 180 degrees is South, and 270 degrees is West.

Questions of the Day

  1. Why is it important to have updated maps of waterways in Alaska, or anywhere? Who needs to use these maps?  Why?
  2. Before this sonar technology was developed, how were depth maps created?
  3. We are anchored today.  How deep is the water under the ship? (1 fathom equals 6 feet, and the water is 32 fathoms deep now)

Brett Hoyt, October 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Brett Hoyt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
October 8 – 28, 2006

Mission: Recovery and maintenance of buoy moorings
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific, off the coast of Chile
Date: October 19, 2006

Dan Wolfe, senior scientist at NOAA, at his workstation on board the research vessel the RONALD H. BROWN.
Dan Wolfe, senior scientist at NOAA, at his workstation on board

Weather from Bridge 
Visibility:  12nm(nautical miles)
Wind direction:  130º
Wind speed:  20 knots
Sea wave height: 5-7ft
Swell wave height: 3-4 ft
Sea level pressure: 1020.4 millibars
Sea temperature:  19.4ºC or 66 ºF
Air temperature:  19.2ºC or 66ºF
Cloud type: cumulus, stratocumulus

The Scientists 

Today we will be interviewing Dan Wolfe, a senior meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA for short.  Standing an imposing 6’3”, it seemed only fitting that our next scientist should be studying the heavens.  Mr. Wolfe is a 30-year veteran of NOAA and has been a scientist for the past 31 years.  Mr. Wolfe entered the Coast Guard in 1969 immediately after graduating high school.  He was initially assigned to the Coast Guard icebreaker “Glacier” transferring to the oceanographic unit where he staged scientific experiments.  He traveled to the Arctic and it was there that he discovered his soon to be life long passion for the atmosphere and all that is in it. Mr. Wolfe was a trained scuba diver while stationed on the Glacier. After leaving the Coast Guard he attended Metropolitan State College where he earned his degree in meteorology.  He has the distinction of being the first student to graduate in meteorology at this college.  It was while at Metropolitan College that Mr. Wolfe became a coop student working for NOAA. After earning his degree he went to work for NOAA as a meteorologist where for the next 30 years he has become one if its leading atmospheric scientists.  After seven years on the job he decided that he wanted to know more and enrolled at Colorado State University where he earned his masters degree.

This is a radiosonde, which measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds as it passes through the atmosphere and radios its data back to the scientist.
This is a radiosonde, which measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds as it passes through the atmosphere and radios its data back

Mr. Wolfe is one of the few individuals who has worked in BOTH the Arctic (North) and the Antarctic (South) (not just Antarctica but actually at the South Pole). His work has taken him to the depths of the Grand Canyon and to the Arctic more times than he cares to remember.

One of his more exciting job assignments with NOAA is managing a 1,000-ft research tower just off of I25 north of Denver Co.  When I asked Mr. Wolfe what message he would like to give to upcoming scientists he replied, “Kids should seek out paid/or unpaid internships while in high school. Look for internships within your community in careers that you think you might like.  This gives you the opportunity to try a job before investing money and time in college in a future you may not enjoy. If you try a job and discover you don’t like it, try something else until you find something you do like.  Be sure to give the job a chance though.”

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mr. Hoyt, releasing a radiosonde off the aft deck
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mr. Hoyt, releasing a radiosonde

The Machine 

One important scientific instrument used by a meteorologist is the radiosonde (pronounced radio sond). This device measures relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and winds by utilizing the global positioning satellite system.  The radiosonde is battery activated then secured to a large helium balloon.  It is then released where it begins its ascent into the upper atmosphere, measuring humidity, temperature, and pressure sending these data back to the scientist via a digital radio frequency. Depending on the balloon used, these radiosondes can obtain heights in excess of 6 miles. The atmospheric data collected on this cruise will be shared with other scientists to help improve global weather computer models.

The Experiment 

There is no experiment as these data are transmitted via satellite link immediately after the flight is finished to the National Center for Environmental Prediction to be fed into their continuously running forecast models.

Classroom Activities 

Elememtary K-6: 

Ask the students, “What is weather?”  “Why is it important to predict the weather?” Have the students take a piece of drawing paper and divide it into four equal parts.  In each part have the students draw and color four different types of weather common to where they live.  Example could be sunny, rainy, partly cloudy, and snow.

Middle School:  

Why do we use calibrated thermometers to measure air temperature?   Ask students to answer on paper whether the classroom is hot, warm, cool, or cold and to estimate the actual temperature of the room.  Then compare the students’ answers to the actual temperature.  Then discuss the importance of a “standard.”  Without this “standard” scientists around the world would have no way of communicating what the atmosphere is doing.

Please examine the High School for more activities

High School: 

Everyday we hear on the radio, television, or newspaper that it will be sunny, partly cloudy, partly sunny, etc.  How do meteorologist arrive at this? Today we will learn how.

Divide the sky into eight parts.  Examine each part and count how many squares have clouds. There is no hard and fast rule on what to do with partially filled boxes

No squares having clouds-Clear or Sunny 

One to two squares having clouds-Mostly Clear or Mostly Sunny 

Three or four squares having clouds-Partly Cloudy or Partly Sunny 

Five, Six, or Seven squares having clouds-Mostly Cloudy 

Eight squares having clouds-Overcast or Cloudy Take the sky photo below and print it out. Draw a grid like the one above on top of the sky photo. Have the students write down what they think the day is.  Then compare the student’s answers. Is this an exact science?

Have your teacher take photos of the weather in your area and do your own.


Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey, August 30, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 15 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 30, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10-12 nautical mile
Wind direction: 3.7 o
Wind speed:  8.5 kts
Sea wave height: 1’
Swell wave height: 2-3’
Seawater temperature: 18.8 C
Sea Level Pressure: 1014.2 mb
Cloud cover: 7/8

Science and Technology Log 

There was a spectacular sunrise this morning and then, during our next-to-last station Steve pointed out a sun dog in the sky above us. We’ve got one more station left to do – in Cape Cod Bay and then we’ll sail through the Cape Cod Canal and back to port at Woods Hole, about a day and a half early.  We will have completed 138 stations in total.  It will all turn into a set of numbers put out on the Web, at some point, and, when I see them, I’ll now know what went into producing them.

Tamara Browning, a teacher from Tenafly Middle School, Tenafly, NJ, and Karen Meyers deploy a drift buoy in the Gulf of Maine.
Tamara Browning, a teacher from Tenafly Middle School, Tenafly, NJ, and Karen Meyers deploy a drift buoy in the Gulf of Maine.

Personal Log – Karen Meyers 

The photo contest entries are up.  The “kids” watch came up with several entries and some of them are pretty cute.  I especially like the one of me, with a shrimp on my shoulder, on the cover of Time magazine, labeled “Teacher of the Year” and the caption “Teacher discovers the oceans are teeming with life.”  I still think we’ve got a good shot at winning. Voting opens at 1100 and closes at 1600.  The suspense is killing me!  It’s been a wonderful trip and there’s a lot about this life that I’ll miss including the constant and ever-changing beauty of the sea; the clean, fresh air; the spectacular sunrises; the 3 meals a day cooked for me; but, most of all, the camaraderie with an interesting and fun-loving group of people.

Personal Log – Alexa Carey 

All the photos are up and the competition is over with.  It’s great what the other group has come up with.  There’s a picture of Tamara and Karen peaking over the bongo nets, Don getting eaten up by the grab and Jerry “pickled” inside of a sample jar.  So far, we have no idea who’s going to win. I love our picture of Tony as a fairy.  As soon as you know Tony, though, that makes the picture all the more entertaining.

We’re almost off the boat.  I’m going to miss the crew terribly, especially Tony, Mike, Steve, Tim, Lino and Orlando.  Okay, I admit it…I’ll miss every single person A LOT!  =) I’ll miss talking with Kurt (XO/CO) and the rest of the officers, Tracy and Alicea.  It’s terrible that I miss these people already…especially because I haven’t left yet.

As soon as we get into port, many of the crew will head off to their homes.  It’s difficult on them because they are away from land for such a long period of time.  Respect is definitely deserved for these men and women who dedicate such a large part of their lives to helping forward knowledge of the oceans and its inhabitants.  I promised Orlando a picture of the Ling Cod I caught (my first fish ever) the week before I came out.  Although there is quite a bit of distance between all of us, I’ll give it my all to keep in touch with everyone when I get home.

Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey, August 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 15 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 22, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind direction 270 o
Wind speed: 5.5 kts
Sea wave height 1-2’
Swell wave height 2’
Seawater temperature 19 C
Sea Level Pressure: 1017.4 mb
Cloud cover: 6/8, Cumulus, Cirrus

Science and Technology Log 

We’ve done 4 stations on our watch and that’s it for today because we’re heading back into port to exchange personnel. We expect to dock around 4 p.m. and then leave Wednesday morning around 11.

I went up to the bridge to get weather data today and came away again with a wealth of information from Captain Steve Wagner.  He explained the difference between sea waves and swell waves.  Swell waves are generated by distant weather systems and tend to have longer wavelengths. Sea waves are created by local winds – they’re more like chop.  There can be swells coming from different directions and this is the source, he said, of the belief among surfers that every third wave is a bigger wave.  If there are swells approaching a beach from two different directions, sometimes they’ll come together in constructive interference, resulting in a wave that’s larger than either and other times they’ll cancel each other out in destructive interference.  It may be every third wave that they come together or it may be every fifth wave or whatever.  They estimate the heights of the waves and the swells visually.  Seawater temperature is measured by a hull sensor.  Cloud cover is also measured visually by dividing the sky into 8th’s and estimating how many 8th’s are made up of clouds.  Visibility is measured visually as well but confirmed, if possible, by radar or land sightings. For instance, right now Martha’s Vineyard is visible and they know the distance to the island so that can help them come up with a visibility number. If they’re out at sea and there’s nothing to use as a marker and the horizon appears crisp, they post a 10-mile visibility.  They send all their weather data to the National Weather Service every 3 hours.  They have a book–the same one with the Beaufort Scale ratings–that has pictures of cloud formations, each with a number and letter to identify it so they can use that for their reports.

He also explained that when they’re estimating visibility, they have to take into account “height of eye” which is how far above the water they are when they’re looking out.  For Steve Wagner on this ship, it’s about 26 feet because the bridge is about 20 feet above the water and Steve himself is 6 feet tall.  That affects the visibility distance and there’s a formula they can use which takes the square root of height of eye and multiplies by 1.17 to correct the visibility figure.

We also discussed the fact that US offshore charts use fathoms (1 fathom = 6 feet) while the charts of harbors, which have shallower water and so require greater resolution, use feet. Canadian charts use meters.  So a mariner has to be aware of what measurement the chart he’s looking at uses. He said the Spanish have their own fathom which is less than 6 feet.

I find it fascinating that there’s such a combination of information from high-tech sources like GPS and low-tech sources like the human eye used in piloting, navigation, and weather prediction.

Personal Log – Karen Meyers 

I got very said news via email yesterday.  A woman who worked in the business office at my school and was an experienced horsewoman was killed in a riding accident.  The service was today. I’ll look for a sympathy card and send it to her family while we’re in port.

Alexa, Tamara, and I are going on a shopping trip to Falmouth.  I have a list of things to buy including a deck chair, if I can find one. No one here seems to object to the concept of deck chairs but there are only 3 on the whole ship and they’re in much demand.  If I can find a cheap, lightweight one in Falmouth, I’ll buy it and then just donate it to the ship when I leave, along with the book Cod by Mark Kurlansky which I finished and passed on to Jerry Prezioso and my cache of granola bars if there are any left (which there almost certainly will be).

Barney Peterson, August 18, 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 18, 2006

wet and dry bulb thermometer
Wet and dry bulb thermometer

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind direction:  220˚
Wind speed:  light 0 – 2 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1’
Seawater temperature: 9.4 ˚C
Sea level pressure:  1017 mb
Cloud cover: cloudy (8/8)

Science and Technology Log 

Wednesday I spent time on the bridge, observing what happens when the ship is traveling at sea. My classes at James Monroe Elementary have participated in the GLOBE program, acquiring and sending weather data daily to be used to form a picture of conditions around the world.  It was particularly interesting to me to learn that the crew of NOAA ships take much the same readings hourly and report them every 4 – 6 hours to the National Weather Service to help develop the predictions that help us all guide our day to day lives.  I was especially impressed that the readings I saw were made using traditional instruments, not an automated electronic weather device.

One of the people in the pilot house logs weather every hour on the hour. There is an outside station on the starboard wall of the pilot house.  This gives a temperature reading and allows them to calculate relative humidity.  That is the difference between how much moisture is in the air, and how much total moisture the air is capable of holding.  It may be expressed as a percentage, or decimal number. For hourly reporting, the relative humidity is not recorded and it is calculated automatically by when the “Big Weather” is submitted to National Weather Service.  Both temperature of the air and sea water are read in ˚Fahrenheit and converted to ˚Celsius for reporting.

An anemometer  measures wind speed.
An anemometer measures wind speed.

Wind speed is read from an anemometer mounted on the ship’s mast.  This reading is a bit trickier if we are under way. When the ship is moving, the ship’s speed is subtracted from the anemometer reading to give a corrected wind speed.  (Otherwise, the reading is like what you would get running while holding a pinwheel in front of you…much faster air movement than what is actually happening.) There is a wind vane mounted on the front of the ship and also an electronic gauge for reading wind direction.

The barometer (at left) is used for reading air pressure. It is located on the back wall of the pilot house and always gets a gentle tap before a reading is taken. This measurement is important because trends up or down in air pressure give clues to developing weather systems.  The pressure is recorded in milibars.  The ship’s barometer is shown at left. Some measurements involve using experience and personal judgment as well as instruments.  These are the ones for wave height, swell height, cloud cover amount, cloud height, and visibility. The accuracy of these readings depends upon the experience and care of the person making them.  The sea wave and swell can be estimated by careful observation, which seems to become second nature to the crew because they are exposed to them all the time.  They are recorded in feet.  The direction of the swell is always shown as the direction in which the swell is going. It can be measured using a device mounted on the deck outside the pilot house.

A barometer reads air pressure.
A barometer reads air pressure.

Cloud cover is measured in eighths.  The observer divides the sky, calculates by observation how many eighths of the sky are covered by clouds, and reports that fraction. Likewise, a person must be a careful observer to note the kind of clouds they are seeing and where they mostly appear in the sky. There is a cloud chart available that shows pictures of cloud types and tells the altitudes at which they are commonly formed.  This is a great help. (The cloud chart is shown at the right.) When there are low clouds, and there is land nearby, the observer can check the elevation of a point of land and judge the elevation of the lowest clouds as they appear against that point. Another measurement that may sometimes have to be an experienced estimate is visibility.  Again, if land is visible, the observer tells how far away she/he can clearly see according to landmarks and the distances on charts or the ship’s radar screens.  It is a lot harder to make this judgment when the ship is at sea, with no landmarks to help.  That is when experience is especially important.  One aid in this case is that the known distance to the horizon, due to the curvature of the earth, is eight nautical miles.  That means that if the observer can see clear to the horizon, visibility is at least 8nm.

This day I watched Able Bodied Seaman (AB) Jodi Edmond take weather readings and report “Big Weather” to the National Weather Service using the internet.

A cloud chart on the NOAA’s National Weather Service Web site.
A cloud chart on the NOAA’s National Weather Service Web site.

Personal Log 

I am running about a day behind writing and submitting my logs.  There is so much to do and see that I forget to spend enough time writing.  I am using the personal journals that my students gave me at the end of the school year to record my impressions and thoughts every evening.  Those act as memory-joggers when I sit down at the computer to do my formal writing.

Everyone aboard the RAINIER is very friendly and helpful.  I am still making a few wrongs turns or selecting the wrong stairs to get to where I need to go. The officers and crew are great about pointing me in the right direction and giving me clues to help me remember how to find where I need to be when.

Every afternoon the orders for the next day are posted in several spots throughout the ship.  These list the survey boats that will be going out, and their crews and assignments.  The list also tells about responsibilities on board ship…both for the officers and the crew.  These are called the Plan of the Day (POD) and are important for everyone to read when they are posted.

Question of the Day 

How is wind direction normally reported: do we tell the direction from which the wind comes, or the direction toward which it is blowing?