Denise Harrington, The Best Day Ever, April 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard Rainier 

April 20-May 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 30, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

Location: 58 03.175’ N  127o 153.27.44’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 6.3C (dry bulb), Wind 5 knots @ 250o, clear, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/Home/Map

Science and Technology Log

The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.

In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features.  Step 1 is to determine where we are.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna and a GPS antenna that helps us determine our precise location.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna (square white one) that is used to transmit tide data ashore and a GPS antenna (the small white eggs shaped one) that provides the tide gauge with both position and UTC time. Photo by Barry Jackson

In this picture  Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses the GOES from various locations to determine the exact location of the tide gauge.

In this picture Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses GPS to record the positions of the benchmarks we have just set for the tide gauge. Photo by Barry Jackson

tide gauge install 023

Where we are happens to be the most beautiful place on earth. Photo by Barry Jackson

 

In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.

Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is.  Think “bath” water and metry “measure.”  When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.

As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.

Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor.  Here is a screen shot of the data we collected.  It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!

Here is the image of the trench Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered.  We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after us.

Here is the image of the sea floor canyon Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered. We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after the two scientists who discovered it.

Here I am, gathering pings.

Here I am talking with "the bridge,"  the team responsible for navigating the ship while surveyors collect data.

While collecting data, I kept in contact with “the bridge,” the team responsible for navigating the ship, by radio to ensure the ship’s safety and maximum, quality data acquisition.     Photo by Starla Robinson

 

Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water.  Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides.  The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.

The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area.  On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install.  This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.

 

Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed.  The one we installed today in Diver's Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed. The one we installed today in Driver Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data.  Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.

The earth goes around the sun in 24 hours and moon goes around the earth in a little more than 12 hours, much like these two gray sine waves. Interestingly, when you add two different waves, you get the wonky blue sine wave, with ups and downs. This combined effect of the sun and the moon (two dots) causes the ups and downs of the tide (blue wave). Graph taken from Russell, D. Acoustics and Vibration Animation, PSU, http://www.acs.psu.edu/drussell/demos/superposition/superposition.html.

 

Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart.  The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

Installing Tide Gauge Stations

Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is.   The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure.  The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water.  The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data.  This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis.  Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.

There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world.  The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia.  These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.

The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle).  During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.

Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks

Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches.  Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.

 

Why Bench Mark?

There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.

 

I installed this benchmark by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location.

I installed this benchmark in Driver Cove by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location. Photo by Barry Jackson

The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land.  The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge.  The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly.  As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.”  We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s  reference frame.  Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed.  After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!

Teacher on Land Polishing Her Benchmark Photo by Brandy Geiger

Teacher on Land
Polishing Her Benchmark
Photo by Brandy Geiger

Installing the Benchmark

Today, our beach party broke into two groups.  We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline.  We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete.  A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more.  We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification.   If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.

Tide Gauge

As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.

 

Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.

Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.  Photo by Barry Jackson

To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water.  Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team.   The dive team secured a sensor below the water.  The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days.  During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters.  Good thing they were wearing dive suits!  Photo by Barry Jackson

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters. Good thing they were wearing dive suits! Photo by Barry Jackson

Leveling Run

After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick.  One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal.  They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height!  Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.

Observation

Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours.  Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to.  If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements.  I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do.  If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.

As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island.  I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.

Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line.  The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line. The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II.  The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.

 

Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to  Floyd Pounds, an amazing cook from the south who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet.

Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to the amazing chefs aboard Rainier, including Floyd Pounds, who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet with a hint of a southern accent.

During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits.  He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.”  He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks.  For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.”  Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart.   His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.

Personal Log

Today was a special day for me for many reasons.  It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever.  Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking.  I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me.  In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently.  All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.

 

Denise Harrington: Getting Ready for an Adventure! March 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington

Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 6 – April 18, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island
Date: March 28, 2014

My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek rup1000004nning past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.  I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!

In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters.  Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality.  They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.

Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent!  I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.

NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on.  And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world!   NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.”  Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts.  These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat.   Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra

Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?

Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.

I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season.  It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!

 

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

 

Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!

 

Susy Ellison, Aaargh Matey, How’s Your Number Sense? September 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area:  Cold Bay, Alaska
Date:  September 22, 2013   

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge
GPS Location: 55o 15.190’ N   162o 38.035’ W
Temp: 8.6C
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Barometer: 1008.3mb
Visibility: 10 miles

You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing.

If you want a detailed report of weather in our area, check out this link and hover over Cold Bay: http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/index.php?index=bering   

Science and Technology Log

THE FINE ART OF STARING AT A STICK!

Why am I sitting here?  What am I looking at?

Why am I sitting here? What’s out there?

 What would you think if you saw someone bundled in warm clothing, sitting in an office chair on a pier with a pair of binoculars, a watch, and a clipboard?  Are they counting waves? Counting birds?  Keeping track of the clouds or the wind speed?  In my case it was ‘none of the above’; I was watching a measuring stick, taking measurements every 6 minutes over a period of 3 hours.  Why would anyone want to sit in a chair on a pier and stare at a stick for 3 hours?

The answer, of course, is science! Now, this wasn’t just any sort of stick.  This tide staff was attached to an automatic tide gauge that the crew of the Rainier installed during their last visit to Cold Bay in August.  That gauge has been recording tidal data that is used during their hydrographic survey work.  But, as with any automatic data-gathering device, it is critical to field check its accuracy, both in measuring and reporting the data.  The gauge measures the depth of the water column at 6-minute intervals, using the pressure of the water column as a proxy for that depth (deeper water exerts a greater pressure on the subsurface opening of the gauge—for a more in-depth explanation, you can check out my blog from September 13th).  My job was to stare at the staff for a period of 1 minute every 6 minutes, and determine both the highest and lowest height of the water lapping at the markings on the stick.

This might sound easy, but it wasn’t quite so simple.  The wind was howling and the waves were bouncing—it took a little practice to make what I hoped was an accurate estimate of both the high mark and the low.  After each observation period I recorded these numbers on a spreadsheet and then spent the next few minutes watching the birds that were flying and landing on the water.  Then—back to the stick!  The tide was dropping with each observation and the winds died down enough to make it a little easier to read the high and low points on each successive 6 minute interval.  By the 10th observation I had it figured out!

NOAA Corps ENS Clark demonstrates proper form for tide gauge observation.

NOAA Corps ENS Clark demonstrates proper form for tide gauge observation.

Picture trying to read this from far away as the water bounces up and down the staff.

Picture trying to read this from far away as the water bounces up and down the staff.

The data I collected was matched against data from the tide gauge for that same time period.  I was pleased to see that my observations matched those of the gauge.  Apparently, both of ‘us’ are good observers of tidal changes.  Now I have one more skill to add to my resume!!

This graph compares my observations with that of the tide gauge.  What do we observe vs. what does a computer measure?

This graph compares my observations with that of the tide gauge. What do we observe vs. what does a computer measure?

AAARGH, MATEY—HOW’S YOUR NUMBER SENSE?   APPLIED MATH ON THE HIGH SEAS  

It would be hard to find an aspect of life aboard the Rainier that doesn’t involve number sense or math.  This ship’s daily operations run like clockwork; breakfast from 0700-0800, Safety Meeting and deployment of the launches at 0800, lunch from 1130 to 1230, launches return at 1630, dinner from 1700 to 1800, etc.  Pretty simple numbers to deal with, but numbers, nonetheless.

That’s just the start of your applied math tour of the high seas. Maybe you have to figure out how much diesel fuel the ship has onboard.  Since the Rainier uses 20,000-40,000 gallons for each leg of its cruise, it would be pretty horrible to run out before you reached port.  The ship’s tanks can hold around 100,000 gallons of diesel and are usually filled to within 95% of that.  Unlike your car, there’s no fuel gauge on this ship.  So how do you figure out how much fuel is in the tank?  It’s time for some simple, yet essential math. First, you need to know the volume of the fuel tank.   Get out your math books and find that formula.  Then, you take what is called a ‘sounding’—you bang on the tank to determine the level of fuel.  Not too complicated, but certainly a skill that takes some practice.  So, now you know the total volume of the tank as well as the actual height of your fuel; if you figure out the volumes for each and do some subtraction, you can find out what percentage of your total fuel is still in the tank.

We might all be better at determining volume and percent if we had images of a fuel tank on the dashboards of our cars instead of a linear gauge reading ‘E’ to ‘F’! What about drinking water?  The Rainier uses a distillation system to create fresh water from seawater.  There are tanks down in the engine room where seawater is heated to the boiling point.  There’s a little more math and science in this process—the pressure in the distillation tank is lowered, to lower the boiling point (if you’ve ever camped at a high elevation you might notice that water boils at a lower temperature—your tea might not be quite as hot when it’s boiling) so the water doesn’t have to be heated quite so much to get it to boil.  This steam is captured in the upper portion of the distiller and cooled using cold seawater that flows through pipes.  The condensation from cooling is captured, filtered to remove any impurities, and distributed as fresh water to all onboard.  The ship uses around 2500 gallons of water each day.

Here's where all our fresh water is produced.  This distiller takes in seawater and, through boiling and condensation, produces fresh water.

Here’s where all our fresh water is produced. This distiller takes in seawater and, through boiling and condensation, produces fresh water.

If you’re running the galley it’s essential to calculate how much food you’ll need for each leg of the trip.  No one wants to do without their morning eggs if your multiplication is off and you ‘forget’ to buy a few dozen.  Taking a recipe that is designed to feed 8 people and ‘upsizing’ it for 48 people takes a bit of mathematical manipulation.  Just planning a menu for a three-week journey takes some mathematical thinking as you visualize the weeks, days, meals, and individual ingredients needed for those meals.  You have to factor in a few variables; which foods have the longest shelf life, when do you have to switch from fresh to frozen or to canned foods, how much food does the ‘average’ person eat, and what about all those people with food allergies or preferences?  While this might not sound quite as earth-shattering as using a detailed computer program to concatenate multiple data files, this is math that counts—especially when you’re feeding a boatload of hungry crew.

This is a glimpse of some of the supplies stored on the ship.

This is a glimpse of some of the supplies stored on the ship.

Don't forget to buy enough fruit and vegies!

Don’t forget to buy enough fruit and vegies!

Hmmm, what's in the freezer?

Hmmm, what’s in the freezer?

So now it’s time to consider the math used to pilot the ship.  Think about degrees in a compass bearing and the need to do some rapid mental math as you’re steering a 231-foot ship through some very tight spaces.  Quick—take a course of 340o, now look ahead and get ready to change your bearing to 28oRainier’s draft (how deep it sits in the water) is around 16’.  Will the channel be deep enough?  What if you’re traveling in a supertanker, one that might be over 400’ in diameter and have a draft up to 80’ deep?  If your ship is that big, you need to scale up on your mental math calculations as you’re searching out appropriate harbors and routes! What about tying up the ship when we’re in harbor? Did you remember to learn something about vectors before you stopped taking math classes?

When we were at port in Cold Bay, the winds were expected to increase in strength and to shift so that they would be coming out of the west.  Since the pier was oriented perpendicular to the predicted wind direction, our Chief Bo’ sun, Jim Kruger had to do some mental calculations of the angles needed to secure the ship to the pier and keep it from bouncing too much.  He doubled and even tripled some of the lines, taking into account how the winds might move the ship as well as the strength of each line.  It takes some stout lines to hold this ship; each 300 ft. line is 1” in diameter and has a tensile (breaking) strength of 164,000 lbs.    Vector angles were equally important as we pulled away from the pier in a 50-knot wind.  Just pulling up our gangway with a crane required some careful mental calculations of where to place lines to steady it as it rose through the air and was lifted onboard. If your mental math and visualization skills were wrong, you might be rewarded with a wildly swinging piece of metal.

Double (and triple) up the lines holding the ship to the pier.  Make sure the angles are right.

Double (and triple) up the lines holding the ship to the pier. Make sure the angles are right.

Hang tight to the gangway as it swings onboard.  Make sure you're holding it at the correct angle to compensate for the wind.

Hang tight to the gangway as it swings onboard. Make sure you’re holding it at the correct angle to compensate for the wind.

Strong winds--this digital anemometer records current wind speed in knots as well as the highest gust.

Strong winds–this digital anemometer records current wind speed in knots as well as the highest gust.

How about all that hydrographic data collection; there’s plenty of opportunity there for some pretty extreme mathematical calculations.  You might even wish you had taken a class in calculus—or a few classes!  But there are also plenty of times that some basic number sense and arithmetic come in mighty handy.  As I sat on the pier watching the tide gauge, one of the tasks I had to do was to calculate the average between high and low water marks on the tide staff.  Not such hard math, but it’s a good skill to be able to do averages in your head while your hands are getting cold and the wind is howling.  The tide gauge calculations were referenced to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This has been our world standard since 1972, and is referenced to the 0o meridian at Greenwich, England.  It is precisely measured using an atomic clock.  You might also hear it referred to as Zulu Time.  Even airplanes use this time designation.  This way, there is no ambiguity about whether you are in daylight savings or standard time, or your time zone.  When measuring tides or collecting information about water chemistry using the CTD, or calculating the launch’s daily gyrations, it is important to reference everything to the same time standard.  Since the Rainier is on RST (Rainier Standard Time), the calculation gets even more important because we are in the Alaska time zone, but have set our clocks back one more hour to give us more daylight working hours).

What's your time zone?  GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time.  It is also the UTC time standard we use.

What’s your time zone? GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time. It is also the UTC time standard we use.

Just in case your brain hasn’t been addled by all this talk of mathematics, there’s one more concept that might come in handy here on the high seas—a sine wave.  Huh?  Sine waves are a mathematical curve describing smooth repetitive oscillations.  Like…tides, sonar pulses, sunrise/sunset observations, or the music booming out of your iPod.

Tide charts show a predictable, repeatable sine wave pattern.

Tide charts show a predictable, repeatable sine wave pattern.

I even use math to calculate how long I should run on the elliptical trainer down in the ship’s exercise space.  If I set the resistance to 8, and use a cross training setting, it takes around 35 minutes to ‘run’ the equivalent of one slice of cake!

Here's some of the exercise equipment on the ship.

Here’s some of the exercise equipment on the ship.

35 minutes or one slice of pie--whichever comes first!

35 minutes or one slice of pie–whichever comes first!

Just in case you haven’t gotten the message—math is good.  Number sense is critical—even if you want to run off to sea!

Personal Log

IT’S A FIELD TRIP!!

The entire Cold Bay School fits into this truck!

The entire Cold Bay School fits into this truck!

I love a field trip.  There’s nothing like loading up in the bus and taking off in search of the great unknown.  While we were parked at the Cold Bay pier, we had a visit from the Cold Bay School.  The 8 students, plus their teacher and a classroom aide, came to check out the Rainier.  CO Rick Brennan gave them a tour, starting at the bridge, and ending with lunch in the wardroom.  Along the way, they learned about ships and ship life, NOAA, and the science of hydrography. Lunch was a real hit, since the kids all bring their own lunches to school.  Who wouldn’t like halibut tacos with all the fixings from the galley, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich handmade by Commander Rick Brennan with a fresh cookie for dessert?

Cold Bay students check out some of the ship's BIG tools.

Cold Bay students check out some of the ship’s BIG tools.

I tagged along on the tour to talk with some of the kids and their teacher and to compare notes about schools.  While I always think of my school as small, with only 150 students, the school in Cold Bay is really small.  There are 8 students and they represent grades 1 through 7.  While the school is small, each student uses an iPad to access a wide variety of educational resources. It’s even better when that technology-based learning is supplemented by some hands-on field trip-based learning.  This was their second field trip of the week; they had spent a day with a wildlife biologist helping install a motion-sensitive camera in the Izembek Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/izembek/index.htm).

Future hydrographers head back to school.

Future hydrographers head back to school.

SAFETY FIRST

Where I live, in Colorado, we occasionally get snow days, when the roads are too dangerous to transport children to school.  Here at sea, we don’t worry too much about snow, but wind can create hazardous working conditions.  Yesterday we had what I would call a ‘Wind Day’; none of the survey launches went out.  The winds were gusting up to 50 knots, and were fairly steady at 30 knots.  That’s windy.  The surface of the bay was a froth of water, waves, and whitecaps.  Even the Black-legged Kittiwakes were having trouble flying!

Whitecaps all across the bay.  Definitely NOT a day to survey the sea floor.

Whitecaps all across the bay. Definitely NOT a day to survey the sea floor.

Certainly not the sort of day where you want to send out teams of hydrographers in 28 foot long launches.  While safety is paramount, data quality also suffers in such ‘bouncy’ seas.  As the launch bounces from side to side or from front to back, the sonar sends its pings far afield.  It becomes difficult or impossible to drive straight, overlapping lines as you ‘mow the lawn’ through your polygon (Wait, there’s another math term!) , and turning the craft requires timing and skill as you move through the rolling seas.  As the Rainier nears the end of its time at sea and in Cold Bay, each day becomes critical to achieve its charting goals—but there’s plenty of work to do on board on a day like this.  

   

Katie Sard: Setting up for Survey, August 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Sard
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 1-4, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
GPS location: 55°02.642’N, 159°57.359’W
Sky condition:  Overcast (OVC)
Visibility: 7 nm
Wind: 180° true, 8 kts
Water temperature: 8.3°C
Air temperature:  12.0 °C

Science and Technology Log

In my last post I talked mostly about the science needed for safely navigating the ship to our survey area in the Shumagin Islands.  Now that the surveying has begun, I’d like to use this post to talk about the actual logistics of the surveys that are being completed.  These surveys are the reason that we are in Alaska, and it takes quite a bit of planning and coordination to make sure that accurate data is collected.  The hydrographers are looking for features to put on the chart (map) such as depth, rocks, shoals, ledges, shipwrecks, islets (small islands), and kelp beds.

One of the massive kelp beds that we recorded while out on a survey launch.

One of the massive kelp beds that we recorded while out on a survey launch.

The last time most of this area was surveyed was back in the early 1900s.  Lead lines were used in order to gather data about the depth of the sea.  While accurate, this method only gave information on discrete points along the ocean floor.  This resulted in charts being left with large amounts of white space which represents areas that have never before been surveyed.

You can see the sea depth measurements on this chart are in a neat line where I've highlighted in red.  These are the lead line measurements that were taken in the early 1900s.

You can see the sea depth measurements on this chart are in a neat line where I’ve highlighted in red. These are the lead line measurements that were taken in the early 1900s. You can also see the large amounts of white space that haven’t yet been charted.

Here is a comparison of the type of data that would be gathered from a lead line versus multi-beam sonar. (Credit http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/learnnc_surveytechniques.html)

The sonar technology on the ship allows us to gather data which can be classified as full-bottom coverage.  That means that we have data on every inch of ocean floor that we cover rather than just one point along the way.

Now let’s get to the heart of survey!  The overall survey area here in the Shumagins is broken down into what the team refers to as sheets.  The Commanding Officer (CO) informed me that the reason they call them “sheets” is because back before the use of computers in surveying, hydrography would be done on a small boat and all the positions would be hand-plotted on a sheet of fine cotton paper.  The size of this “sheet” of paper and the scale of the survey dictated how big the survey would be. Anyways, each sheet has a sheet manager that is responsible for the data collected in that area.  Each sheet is then broken down even further into several polygons which represent specific areas to be surveyed on that sheet.  Meghan McGovern, the Field Operations Officer (FOO) on this ship, explained to me that while the ship itself is running sonar to collect data 24 hours a day only two launches can be sent out at a time to do additional surveys.  This is because the ship does not have the manpower to run the entire ship plus all four small survey launches.  However, it is hard on the crew to run continuous 24 hour operations on the ship, so every so often the ship will anchor and four survey launches can be sent out to gather data during the day.  I asked which method is preferred and Megan told me that it really depends on the area that needs to be surveyed.  Sometimes it can be more beneficial to anchor and send out all four launches if a lot of data needs to be collected on areas close to the shore.  In that case, the ship is not able to navigate as closely to the shoreline as the small launches are.

Before the launches can be sent out to gather data close to shorelines, benchmarks must be set and tidal gauges must be taken in order to measure the actual water level based on the varying tides.  This has not been done during my time in the Shumagins because they were done on the previous leg.  (For more information visit TAS Marvin’s blog to understand how she helped set-up benchmarks in the Shumagins.) Shoreline verification must also be completed by the small skiff (boat) in order to visually mark any dangers that may be hazardous to the launches while they are surveying.  I am hoping to do shoreline verification while I am here, but for now this area has already been done.

This shows several rocks that would need to be noted through shoreline  verification before sending the launches out.

This shows several rocks that would need to be noted through shoreline verification before sending the launches out.

To the left of Chernabura Island you can see the two polygons (V and X)  we were responsible for surveying.

To the left of Chernabura Island you can see the two polygons (V and X) we were responsible for surveying.

After the shoreline verification has taken place the actual data collection can begin.  I have been out in a launch two times since we reached our survey area.  The first time we were surveying polygons V (Victor) and X (X-ray) on the west coast of Chernabura Island.  I learned a great deal from the crew about the survey system on the small launch.  While I was on this launch I was allowed to drive.  It turns out it is hard to drive a boat in a nice, neat line.  Yesterday I was able to go out for a second time on a survey launch, and this time we collected near shore data on the east side of Near Island.

You can see the highlighted area was clearly marked on the boat sheet as "TAS Driven" to indicate to the hydrographer why the lines weren't exactly straight!

You can see the highlighted area was clearly marked as “TAS Driven” to indicate to the hydrographer why the lines weren’t exactly straight!

The launch runs a system that is very similar to the ship in order to collect bathymetric data.  The screen, that is projected to the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC) and the coxswain (driver), shows a swath of the area where data has been collected.

Here is what the HIC and the coxswain see as the data is being gathered.  Notice the red arrow I've inserted to show the "colored in" areas that represent where the data has been collected.

Here is what the HIC and the coxswain see as the data is being gathered. Notice the red arrow I’ve inserted to show the “colored in” areas that represent where the data has been collected.

On the screen it looks as though the ship is driving back and forth coloring in the lines as data is collected.  Once all of the data has been collected on the launch, it is saved to an external hard drive and brought back to the ship for night processing.  I haven’t observed night processing yet, but I plan to do that in the upcoming days.

I will hold off on more detail now and wait until next time to give you the science behind the detailed sonar that is being used during these surveys.

Personal Log

Yesterday was one of my favorite days on my adventure so far.  I went with three other people on one of the small launches called the RA-6.  While I was on the launch I had the responsibility of doing the radio communication back to the ship for a check-in each hour to let them know our position and what we had accomplished up to that point.  The sun was peeking through the clouds, and I was finally able to see the majestic islands that are surrounding us.  These islands have no trees, but their sharp cliffs and the mystical lenticular clouds that hovered above them captured my attention each time we drove close.

The lenticular clouds forming over the land near where we were surveying.

The lenticular clouds forming over the land near where we were surveying.

The birds out here are the only animals that can be observed and they include gulls, muirs, and puffins.  Each time we drove near a puffin I couldn’t help but laugh as they scuttled quickly away in the water.  Some of them seemed to have eaten too many fish to be able to lift themselves into the air.

My free time on the ship has been mostly spent at meals and in the wardroom.  Each night the ship shows three different movies that run on the cable channels throughout the ship, and a mix of people tend to gather in the wardroom to sit and watch the shows together.  I have also had the unique experience of using the elliptical machine several times while on board.

This is the wardroom where I watch movies with various crew members some evenings.

This is the wardroom where I watch movies with various crew members some evenings.

If you have ever used an elliptical machine, you know that normally when you step off the machine it feels like you are still in motion.  Add that feeling to the swaying of the ship and it makes for a strange type of vertigo!

The ship even has a small "gym" where the crew can work out while out at sea.

The ship even has a small “gym” where the crew can work out while out at sea.

Laura McCrum, a past student of mine, told me in a recent email to remember that knowledge is not confined to age…and she made sure to clarify that she wasn’t calling me old!  I am so grateful for this unique experience where I am able to continue my education each and every day in order to expand my knowledge base.  I hope that this experience will not only benefit me but also my students, coworkers, and community members as well.

Just Another Day at the Office

I wanted to start this section of my blog as a way to highlight a different member of the crew during each post.  These people go to work each day in such a unique environment that I thought it was important to share a piece of their stories.

Carl VerPlanck, 3rd Mate

The first time I saw Carl was on the bridge while the ship was departing from port.  He is the navigation officer responsible for creating routes, updating charts and publications, and maintaining a certain decorum on the bridge.  Carl also helps to train junior officers in the art of navigation.  He conducts underway watches and drives the launches while helping to train others to do the same.

Carl VerPlanck

Carl VerPlanck

When asked about how he got to be in the position that he holds today, Carl told me that he grew up in Indiana and received his GED when he was 18 before moving to Alaska to work on a fishing boat.  Having no prior experience on boats, he worked in a fish processing plant in Naknek, Alaska until he was able to start as a General Vessel Assistant (GVA) with NOAA.  He eventually worked his way up the rank as an Ordinary Seaman (OS), followed by an Able-bodied Seaman (AB) until he received his 3rd Mate certification.  He currently holds his 2nd Mate certification, and he plans to hold this position in the future.

While I was talking with him, Carl told me that the best part about his job was that he loves working in Alaska.  He has a sense of exploration while doing these surveys, and he likes the feeling that anything could be down there on the sea floor.  I asked him to share the advice that he would give a young person trying to break into the field of an ocean related career and he said that you shouldn’t be afraid to broaden the scope of what you might be good at or what your interests are.  Never miss a chance to take hold of an opportunity, and don’t be afraid to consider a non-traditional pathway.

I ended our conversation by asking Carl what he would be doing if he wasn’t currently working for NOAA, and he said he was sure he would still be in the maritime community in some way.  Besides working for NOAA I found out that Carl enjoys taking flying lessons and he is currently working toward getting his pilot’s license.  He has a home in Seattle where he lives, when not underway, with his wife and his 1 1/2 year old son.

Your Questions Answered!

I love getting questions via comments and emails, and so I wanted to do these questions justice by providing prompt answers.  So here we go…

My first question was from Kirsten Buckmaster, a fellow teacher at INMS.  She asked me if I have any specific duties from day to day on the ship.  As a Teacher at Sea it is really up to me to insert myself into the everyday schedule of the ship.  The Field Operations Officer (FOO) and the Commanding Officer (CO) sat down with me at the start of the leg and asked me what I was interested in doing while on board, and I told them that I was eager to do a little bit of everything.  Each day the FOO posts the Plan of the Day (POD), and this tells you what specific tasks are going to be done for the day.  Each day I look for my name on the POD to understand if I have any specific responsibilities.  Some days it is up to me to go observe on the bridge or in the plot room.  I am hoping to help with the deck department before my time is over, as well as try to better understand what the engineers do.

Plan of the Day (POD) for Saturday.  If you look to the left you can see my name under RA-6.

Plan of the Day (POD) for Saturday. If you look to the left you can see my name under RA-6.

Next I had a question from one of my students Mr. Zachary Doyle.  Zach asked me if I was getting seasick.  Luckily, it turns out that I am not prone to sea sickness…yet.  The POD gives the weather forecast, and the FOO makes sure to let the crew know if we are going to have any inclement weather.  If I know the ship is going to be rockin’ and rollin’ I will take Dramamine which helps to prevent sea sickness.  Also, the launches get shaken around a bit more so if I know I’m going out on a launch I will take some medicine the night before just in case.

Finally, my grandmother-in-law Liz Montagna asked me about the waves.  I’ve learned out here that we need to be aware of two important things: sea wave height and swells.  In simple terms, a swell is a wave that is not generated by the local wind.  They are regular, longer period waves generated by distant weather systems.  The wave height can be measured from the waves caused by the wind in the area where they are created.  Luckily we haven’t had waves breaking on the deck.  Liz also asked about who does the housekeeping.  In my stateroom the answer is my roommate and I.  We are responsible for keeping our living quarters neat and tidy.  The deck department is mostly in charge of the rest of the ship.  Each day I have met people in the passageways (halls) sweeping, mopping, and doing other necessary tasks to keep the ship looking good.

I love questions so please keep them coming!  Remember you can post a comment/question on the blog or email me at katie.sard@lincoln.k12.or.us .

All is well in Alaska!

TAS Sard

Did You Know…

I didn’t know how the Shumagin Islands got their name so I did some investigating.  It turns out that Vitus Bering was the man who led an expedition to the islands in 1741.  Nikita Shumagin was one of the sailors on this mission, but he unfortunately died of scurvy and was buried on Nagai Island.

Rosalind Echols: Is it an Island or Just an Ink Blot? July 16, 2013

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 16, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.8’ N, 160° 09.5’ W

Weather on board: Overcast skies with a visibility of .5 nautical miles, South wind at 18 knots, Air temperature: 10°C, Sea temperature: 7.2°C, 1-2 foot swell

Science and Technology log: Shoreline Verification

When you think of a shoreline, you might think of a straight or curved “edge” made of sandy beaches that gradually retreat into deeper and deeper water.  In the Shumagin Islands, a sandy cove is a rare occurrence and a place for a beach party! Towering, jagged cliffs patched with Artic moss and blanketed by a creeping fog are the typical “edges” here.  Below the cliffs, in the water, lie sporadic toothed rocks and beds of dense rooted bull kelp, swaying with the current. As I sit on the edge of the skiff (small dinghy-like boat), which gently trudges along the outside of the protruding rocks, I think to myself how this place evokes an ethereal mood and you really feel like you are in one of the most remote places in the world.

Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island

Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island

Navigating through Bull Kelp bed

Navigating around Bull Kelp bed

Picture of skiff offshore

Picture of skiff offshore

Remote it is and that is why we are here. These are, for the most part, uncharted or poorly documented waters and shorelines and in this post, I am going to talk about the shoreline aspect.  Besides taking bathymetric data (depth data), hydrographic ships like the Rainier must also verify that the shorelines of various land-masses are portrayed accurately and that all necessary “features” are documented correctly on nautical charts.  Features include anything that might be a navigational hazard such as rocks, shoals, ledges, shipwrecks, islets (small islands) and kelp beds. For shoreline verification, a 19 foot skiff is used for maneuverability and shallow water access. This boat will go out during the “shoreline window”, when the tide is the lowest, with the hopes that if there is a dangerous feature present, it will be visible above the water. In the best case scenario, we can investigate the shoreline fully with the skiff before sending in the bigger launches to survey the area with the sonar, so that we know they won’t hit anything.

Shoreline verification crew hard at work

Shoreline verification crew hard at work. From left: Randy (Coxswain), John (NOAA Corps. Officer), Chief Jacobson (Chief Survey Tech), Steve (NOAA Corps. Officer)

Rosalind in skiff.

Rosalind all bundled up for a day out in the skiff looking for rocks, kelp, and of course, wildlife.

The main goal of the scientists aboard the skiff is to establish a “navigational area limit line” (NALL). This is a boundary line delineating how far off shore the launch boats should remain when they are surveying.  This boundary line is obtained in one of three ways:

1) presence of a navigational hazard such as a dense kelp bed or several protruding rocks

2) a depth of 4 meters

3) distance of 64 meters to shore

Whichever of these is reached first by the skiff will be the navigational area limit line for the launches.  Here in the Shumagins, kelp beds and rocks have been the boundary line determinant and often these hazards are in water that is deeper than 4 meters because we have been encountering these before we get within 64 meters of the shoreline.

While scientists are determining the NALL, they are also verifying if certain features portrayed on older charts are in fact present and in the correct location. Using navigational software on a waterproof Panasonic Toughbook, they bring up a digitized version of the old chart of a specific survey area. This chart depicts features using various symbols (asterisk=rock above water, small circle=islet). This software also overlays the boat’s movement on top of the old chart, allowing the boat to navigate directly to or above the feature in question.

Shoreline map 1

Shoreline map showing course of skiff, shoreline buffer, and feature for examination.

Shoreline map 2

Shoreline map showing charted location of islet and the actual location of islet determined by the skiff.

If the feature is not visually seen by the human eye or the single beam sonar on the skiff, it will be “disproved” and a picture and depth measurement will be taken of the “blank” location. If the feature IS seen, more data will be recorded (height of feature above the water, time of day observed, picture) to document its existence.  This same verification procedure is used for newfound features that are not present on the old charts.  All of this data is written on a paper copy of the chart and then back in the “dry lab”(computer lab), these hand-written notes are transferred to a digital copy of the chart.

Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question

Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question

Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site Note: Kelp buffer are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet

Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site. The black box corresponds to the area from the previous picture above.
Note: Kelp buffers are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet. The three southernmost rocks (marked by red asterisks) inside the black box were disproved.

On the two shoreline verification adventures I went on, many rocks and islets were disproved and several new features were found. Most of the new features were rocks, islets or large kelp beds.  It is important to note that if scientists find a new feature which is a serious present navigational hazard (ex. Shipwreck, huge jutting rock or shoal far offshore) it will be marked a DTON (Danger to Navigation) and communicated to mariners within a short time frame. Other less significant features take 1-2 years to appear on updated nautical charts.

For some survey areas, the Rainier uses aircraft-acquired LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) to get an initial idea of various features and water depths of a shoreline area. (This is a service that is contracted out by NOAA.) LiDAR data is obtained by a plane flying over an area at 120 mph, emitting laser beams to the water below. Like SONAR, LiDAR measures the time it takes for the laser beam to return to its starting point. Using this measured time and the speed of light, the distance the light traveled can be obtained, using the equation distance = speed*time, accounting for the fact that it travels through air and then water.  Because light travels much faster than sound, the plane can travel significantly faster than a boat and a large area can be surveyed faster.  Unfortunately LiDAR can only be used in clear, calm water because light is easily reflected by various solids (silt in the water, floating wood), specific color wavelengths (ex. White foam on ocean surface) and absorbed by biological specimens for photosynthesis (ex. Surface bull kelp).  LiDAR surveys do reduce the time hydrographers spend at a shoreline site thus increasing the safety and efficiency of an operation.  As with any data acquisition method, it must be cross-checked by another method and in this case because of the obvious downsides, it is used as a guide to shoreline verification.

Map of island showing LIDAR data.

Map of island showing LiDAR data. The skiff does shoreline verification outside the orange line that outlines the island. Everything inside this orange island was surveyed by the LIDAR airplane. The three orange features circled in red on the southeast section of the island, need to be re-surveyed by the skiff. Different colors show various depths. (Green is more shallow than light blue.)

After spending several days “disproving” a lot of rocks and islets that were clearly not present in their identified location, we started to wonder why someone would have thought there was a specific feature there. One possibility is that it was just an ink blot on the original chart, made by accident (from a fountain pen), and then interpreted as a rock or islet in the process of digitizing the chart. It’s better to be safe than shipwrecked! Another possibility is that these features were “eyeballed” in their documented location, and thus were present but just in the wrong spot.  Lastly because of limitations previously mentioned, LiDAR occasionally mis-reports features that are not present. Fortunately, our current survey methods use sophisticated navigational technology and several cross-checks to minimize data errors.

Shoreline arch.

Arch carved in shoreline by gradual erosion from waves.

After shoreline verification has been completed, launches can survey the ocean floor (using SONAR) outside the boundary (NALL) that was established by the skiff. Each launch will be in charge of surveying specific polygons (labeled by letters and names). The picture above shows the polygon areas which are outlined in light orange (most are rectangles). I will talk more about SONAR and surveying on the launch in my next post. :)

Personal log:

During a rare break from the hustle and bustle of work and ship life, I joined several other people on an expedition to the beach to do some exploring and beach-combing on Bird Island. We initially tried to hike up and over one of the saddles on the island to reach a beach on the other side that was more exposed and thus might have had more items washed up, but after 30 minutes of hiking, we had only just reached the top of the saddle, which included a lake with a noisy flock of white birds on it, mostly hidden in the fog. Although it was a bit disappointing not to reach the other side, hiking on the tundra was a fascinating experience. Aside from the mist-shroud, which has been with us for the past few days, walking on the tundra itself was unlike anything else I have experienced. The spring bed of mosses, shrubs, and small flowers make every step feel like two, but should you chance to fall down, it is an incredibly comfortable landing. An ideal place for a nap, as long as it is not wet. Overall, between my less-than-graceful shoreline-to-skiff entrance, scrambling uphill through waste-high damp grass, exploring the coastline, which really looked more like a sea urchin graveyard, and getting to know some of my fellow shipmates better, it was a truly delightful outing.

Tundra wildflowers

Some of the flowers we saw on our hike on the tundra.

Aside from occasional excursions like this, we are generally on the ship or a launch 24 hours a day, which means that crew members have to be creative about getting exercise. Underneath the “fantail” (the outside deck at the stern of the ship), there is a small space that has been converted into a workout room, complete with treadmill, elliptical, exercise bike, and a sizable collection of weights. There is a group of crew members who have a sort of weight-lifting club, under the guidance of the third mate; one crew member likes to jump rope on the fantail so she has a good view for her exercise, and a number of people are intrepid enough to use the treadmill. I have now experimented with running a few times, and can only say that running on a treadmill on a rocking ship, even an ever-so-gently-rocking one, adds a new and exciting element to the treadmill that is sadly lacking in your typical gym.

Did you know?

The ship can rock in two different directions with the seas. When it is rocking forward and backward, it’s called pitch. When it’s rocking side-to-side, it’s called roll. The whole treadmill experience is quite different depending on whether the ship is pitching or rolling, but I always keep one hand on the bar for extra stability.

Avery Marvin: Is it an Island or Just an Ink Blot? July 16, 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 16, 2013

Current Location: 54° 55.8’ N, 160° 09.5’ W

Weather on board: Overcast skies with a visibility of .5 nautical miles, South wind at 18 knots, Air temperature: 10°C, Sea temperature: 7.2°C, 1-2 foot swell

Science and Technology log: Shoreline Verification

When you think of a shoreline, you might think of a straight or curved “edge” made of sandy beaches that gradually retreat into deeper and deeper water.  In the Shumagin Islands, a sandy cove is a rare occurrence and a place for a beach party! Towering, jagged cliffs patched with Artic moss and blanketed by a creeping fog are the typical “edges” here.  Below the cliffs in the water, lie sporadic toothed rocks and beds of dense rooted bull kelp, swaying with the current. As I sit on the edge of the skiff (small dingy-like boat), which gently trudges along the outside of the protruding rocks, I think to myself “Is this what Ireland is like?” or is this a world unto its own-untouched and solitary? Whatever it is, this place evokes an ethereal mood and you really feel like you are in one of the most remote places in the world.

Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island

Rocky shoreline of Nagai Island

Navigating through Bull Kelp bed

Navigating around Bull Kelp bed

Picture of skiff offshore

Picture of skiff offshore

Remote it is and that is why we are here. These are for the most part, uncharted or poorly documented waters and shorelines and in this post, I am going to talk about the shoreline aspect.  Besides taking bathymetric data (depth data), hydrographic ships like the Rainier must also verify that the shorelines of various land-masses are portrayed accurately and that all necessary “features” are documented correctly on nautical charts.  Features include anything that might be a navigational hazard such as rocks, shoals, ledges, shipwrecks, islets (small islands) and kelp beds. For shoreline verification, a 19 foot skiff is used for maneuverability and shallow water access. This boat will go out during the “shoreline window”, when the tide is the lowest, with the hopes that if there is a dangerous feature present, it will be visible above the water. In the best case scenario, we can investigate the shoreline fully with the skiff before sending in the bigger launches to survey the area with the sonar, so that we know they won’t hit anything.

Shoreline verification crew


Shoreline verification crew. From left: Randy (Coxswain), John (NOAA Corps. Officer), Chief Jacobson (Chief Survey Tech), Avery (Teacher at Sea)

Shoreline verification crew hard at work

Shoreline verification crew hard at work. From left: Randy (Coxswain), John (NOAA Corps. Officer), Chief Jacobson (Chief Survey Tech), Steve (NOAA Corps. Officer)

The main goal of the scientists aboard the skiff is to establish a “navigational area limit line” (NALL). This is a boundary line delineating how far off shore the launch boats should remain when they are surveying.  This boundary line is obtained in one of three ways:

1) presence of a navigational hazard such as a dense kelp bed or several protruding rocks

2) a depth of 4 meters

3) distance of 64 meters to shore

Whichever of these is reached first by the skiff will be the navigational area limit line for the launches.  Here in the Shumagins, kelp beds and rocks have been the boundary line determinant and often these hazards are in water that is deeper than 4 meters because we have been encountering these before we get within 64 meters of the shoreline.

While scientists are determining the NALL, they are also verifying if certain features portrayed on older charts are in fact present and in the correct location. Using navigational software on a waterproof Panasonic Toughbook, they bring up a digitized version of the old chart of a specific survey area. This chart depicts features using various symbols (asterisk=rock above water, small circle=islet). This software also overlays the boat’s movement on top of the old chart, allowing the boat to navigate directly to or above the feature in question.

Shoreline map 1

Shoreline map showing course of skiff, shoreline buffer, and feature for examination.

Shoreline map 2

Shoreline map showing charted location of islet and the actual location of islet determined by the skiff.

If the feature is not visually seen by the human eye or the single beam sonar on the skiff, it will be “disproved” and a picture and depth measurement will be taken of the “blank” location. If the feature IS seen, more data will be recorded (height of feature above the water, time of day observed, picture) to document its existence.  This same verification procedure is used for newfound features that are not present on the old charts.  All of this data is written on a paper copy of the chart and then back in the “dry lab”(computer lab), these hand-written notes are transferred to a digital copy of the chart.

Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question

Section of shoreline showing data and notes about specific features in question

Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site Note: Kelp buffer are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet

Digitized version of notes and data taken at field site. The black box corresponds to the area from the previous picture above.
Note: Kelp buffers are the large shaded red areas and the smaller red circle is the actual position of the islet. The three southernmost rocks (marked by red asterisks) inside the black box were disproved.

On the two shoreline verification adventures I went on, many rocks and islets were disproved and several new features were found. Most of the new features were rocks, islets or large kelp beds.  It is important to note that if scientists find a new feature which is a serious present navigational hazard (ex. Shipwreck, huge jutting rock or shoal far offshore) it will be marked a DTON (Danger to Navigation) and communicated to mariners within a short time frame. Other less significant features take 1-2 years to appear on updated nautical charts.

For some survey areas, the Rainier uses aircraft-acquired LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) to get an initial idea of various features and water depths of a shoreline area. (This is a service that is contracted out by NOAA.) LiDAR data is obtained by a plane flying over an area at 120 mph, emitting laser beams to the water below. Like SONAR, LiDAR measures the time it takes for the laser beam to return to its starting point. Using this measured time and the speed of light, the distance the light traveled can be obtained, using the equation distance = speed*time, accounting for the fact that it travels through air and then water.  Because light travels much faster than sound, the plane can travel significantly faster than a boat and a large area can be surveyed faster.  Unfortunately LiDAR can only be used in clear, calm water because light is easily reflected by various solids (silt in the water, floating wood), specific color wavelengths (ex. White foam on ocean surface) and absorbed by biological specimens for photosynthesis (ex. Surface bull kelp).  LiDAR surveys do reduce the time hydrographers spend at a shoreline site thus increasing the safety and efficiency of an operation.  As with any data acquisition method, it must be cross-checked by another method and in this case because of the obvious downsides, it is used as a guide to shoreline verification.

Map of island showing LIDAR data.

Map of island showing LiDAR data. The skiff does shoreline verification outside the orange line that outlines the island. Everything inside this orange island was surveyed by the LIDAR airplane. The three orange features circled in red on the southeast section of the island, need to be re-surveyed by the skiff. Different colors show various depths. (Green is more shallow than light blue.)

After spending several days “disproving” a lot of rocks and islets that were clearly not present in their identified location, we started to wonder why someone would have thought there was a specific feature there. One possibility is that it was just an ink blot on the original chart, made by accident (from a fountain pen), and then interpreted as a rock or islet in the process of digitizing the chart. It’s better to be safe than shipwrecked! Another possibility is that these features were “eyeballed” in their documented location, and thus were present but just in the wrong spot.  Lastly because of limitations previously mentioned, LiDAR occasionally mis-reports features that are not present. Fortunately, our current survey methods use sophisticated navigational technology and several cross-checks to minimize data errors.

After shoreline verification has been completed, launches can survey the ocean floor (using SONAR) outside the boundary (NALL) that was established by the skiff. Each launch will be in charge of surveying specific polygons (labeled by letters and names). The picture above shows the polygon areas which are outlined in light orange (most are rectangles). I will talk more about SONAR and surveying on the launch in my next post. :)

Personal log:

I have been on the skiff two times now helping with the shoreline verification process. After the second time around and a chat with the XO Mike Gonsalves, my understanding of this process is more fine-tuned. It feels good to reach this point and it reminds me of the need to be patient, diligent and okay with the unknown when learning something new. I, like my students, often seek answers and a deep understanding of complex topics immediately and if this doesn’t happen I can get frustrated with myself. I have been more self-forgiving aboard the Rainier because I know I will be exposed to the same topic or process once again either in a different format or with a different set of crew members. I am also surrounded by a group of tolerant people who continually answer my questions with grace and peak my interest with new ideas.  This repetition of content and supportive network is crucial for any learning environment, whether it be on a ship or in a classroom.  Additionally, I have been given several small but important tasks which make me feel like a part of this group and complex operation.  This empowerment inspires me to learn more and continue contributing. Building a successful classroom community is no different than what is going on here on the Rainier. All students need to have a stake in their learning and a purpose for coming to class each day.

One of my small tasks aboard the skiff during the shoreline verification was to take pictures of the various features (rocks, islets etc.) that needed to be examined.  In some cases, it was important to photograph specific biological features that had an effect on navigation.  For example, when rounding the SE side of Chernabura Island we came across a large Stellar Sea Lion rookery inhabiting a small rocky islet. The male proudly stood in the center, surrounded by about 50 females.  As seen in the picture, this was a hefty male who easily weighed upwards of 1200 pounds. (Males can get as big as 2,500 pounds.)  During the breeding season (June-August), the male will fast and often won’t leave his reproductive rookery site. His primary focus is to defend his territory and spread his genes! Even though male Stellar Sea Lions are polygamous, they do not force the females into a harem but rather control the boundaries around their physical territory where within, the females reside.  The most successful rookery territories, not surprisingly are small rocky islands which can remain stable and productive for up to two months.

Stellar sea lion reproductive rookery

Stellar sea lion reproductive rookery

After researching about the Stellar Sea Lion, I learned that the western stock which resides in the Aleutian Islands is listed as an endangered species (since the 1970’s populations have declined by 70-80%). The cause for this is complex and has been attributed to a range of factors including: overfishing of sea lion prey (ex. Herring, Pollock), predation by Orca whales, shooting by fisherman, and disease.  Interestingly, a few native Alaskan communities are still permitted to hunt Stellar Sea Lions for subsistence (survival) purposes.

Stellar Sea Lion Range   Note, the two different stocks (Western and Eastern)

Stellar Sea Lion range

Fun factoid: The Stellar Sea Lion was named after the naturalist, George Wilhelm Stellar who first discovered the species in 1741 while part of Bering’s tragic voyage across the uncharted North Pacific.

Rosalind Echols: Preparing for my adventures! June 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Rosalind Echols

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 8-25, 2013

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak, Alaska

Date: June 24, 2013

Greetings from Philadelphia, almost 5,000 miles away from Kodiak, Alaska, where I will be meeting up with the NOAA ship Rainier in a few short weeks. A few years ago, one of my students made me an award that characterized my personality with the phrase, “I’m so excited!” and this is how I feel about my upcoming cruise with NOAA. Between the science, the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and the scenery, I can’t believe my good fortune in having this opportunity.

Rosalind in Alaska

Rosalind (right), NOAA Teacher at Sea during her last Alaskan adventure

My name is Rosalind Echols, and I teach students physics at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I also coordinate our “Capstone” senior project program, and teach a ceramics elective. I like to stay busy, so in my “free time”, I coach ultimate Frisbee and cross country. One of the most exciting features of the school I teach it is that our whole curriculum is project based, meaning that all of the learning is contextualized and applicable to settings beyond the classroom. I am looking forward to being able to bring what I learn this summer on the Rainier back to my classroom in the form of new and exciting projects. Although Philadelphia is close to the now-infamous “Jersey Shore,” my students do not have a great deal of experience with the ocean, particularly in the realm of science, so I hope that this experience helps me identify ways to make oceanographic topics more relevant to their lives.

The main mission of the Rainier is a hydrographic survey, mapping the sea floor in coastal areas to support NOAA’s nautical charting program. This is particularly important because it allows chart-makers to identify areas of possible danger as well as safe shipping routes. If you are looking for more information right away, you can check out the Rainier’s homepage, but rest assured, I’ll be sharing plenty of information through this blog as I learn more about our mission! From reading about past missions, I have found that even in re-surveying areas previously charted, the ships sometimes find new features on the sea floor which, had they remained unknown, could have been dangerous to ships in the area. The Rainier does this research using a variety of sonar systems, both on board the Rainier itself and from several smaller boats it can launch.

Rainer

NOAA Ship Rainier at sea

I will be with the Rainier for 18 days, just shy of its 22-day endurance limit. During this time, we will be sailing around the Shumagin Islands and possibly other places on the Alaska Peninsula, starting and ending in Kodiak, Alaska. As a native Seattle-ite, I am particularly looking forward to the scenery and the weather in Alaska, as it should remind me of my home town. I also can’t wait to share what I see and learn with my students back in Philadelphia, most of whom have never been out in this direction.

Bill Lindquist: What Did You Learn? May 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 15, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 56° 03.43 N
Longitude: 131° 6.8 W
Overcast skies with a visibility of 8 nautical miles
Wind variable at 1 knot
Air temperature 10° C
Sea temperature  7.8° C

Log: What did you learn?

I am often asked some variation of the question, “So, what have you learned?” The short answer is “it depends”. The nature of the response lapses into a definition of learning and just what learning entails. If it means gaining sufficient proficiency at a task to independently take it on, I’m not sure I “learned” anything. If rather, learning were to include sufficient exposure to new ideas to be able to have an appreciation for a world previously unexplored; or the ability to carry on a conversation about the work being done on board a hydrographic survey vessel; or the ability to transfer new ideas to the world as I knew it two weeks ago… then I’d have to say I “learned” a tremendous amount.

As my leg of the Rainier’s 2013 fieldwork season begins to wrap up, I find myself reflecting on this learning. Captured below is a list of some of the key learnings I will carry away with me.

  • Leadership. NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s uniformed services. There is a clear command structure on board and everyone on board knows just what it is. Proper clearance must be had before anything goes forward. To accomplish the detail of this work acquiring terabytes of data while keeping all crew members’ safety as top priority requires effective leadership. It has been a pleasure to witness the leadership on board the Rainier effectively finding that delicate balance between maintaining a clear hand on the big ideas of the work and allowing those under them do that work they are charged with and responsible for. Trust is a construct that travels both ways. The crew trusts the leadership to lead, and the leadership trusts the crew to do their work.

    NOAA Rainier Commander Brennan

    CDR Rick Brennan, Commanding Officer, NOAA Ship Rainier

  • Pedagogy of the ship. A significant activity on this ship is focused on teaching.  In part due to a frequent turn around in human resource, in part to the technical features within all aspects of the ship, in part to a commitment to help all crew members advance their skill level and qualifications, and in part because that is simply a part of what they do as members of the Rainier community. I watched as a new crewmember was mentored one-on-one by more senior members in how to manage the anchor, operate the davits, launch the boats, etc. I watched as another crewmember gained skills to qualify as a coxswain – that critical role of assuming responsibility for all maritime aspects of a launch working away from the ship. The NOAA Corps officers are continually being mentored to direct all functions of the ship – dropping and raising the anchor – working with the helm to control the speed and direction of the ship – managing control central for all away parties – etc. The survey techs go back and forth with each other on how to better handle some aspect of data collection or processing. The day begins with a morning meeting to clarify the objectives for the day and review safety concerns. Throughout the day, people come together for collaborative problem solving. The pedagogy I witnessed was one of hands-on; specific, instant, clear and direct feedback; one-on-one; calm; and patient. The community on board is committed to one another. The more skill the individual is able to gain, the smoother sailing for the whole ship.

    The pedagogy of the ship

    The pedagogy of the ship

  • Science is messy. The Rainier is noted as one of the premier hydrographic vessels afloat. Coming in, I carried the misconception that that meant all would proceed according to carefully articulated plans. Turns out variables such as tide, heave, roll, pitch, salinity, temperature, GPS, waves, weather, software, hardware, expertise, knowledge, skill, and all variants of the human condition all work together to create a dynamic environment that necessitates continually fine tuning, tweaking, and responding. The past several days we have been wrestling with the tide gauge not reading what was expected potentially jeopardizing the week’s data. Seems the gauge reads 5 cm off the expected. – we are currently on the way to seek a resolution. What is truly remarkable is that despite all the issues that arise, this project will be successful. The people involved embody the persistence and fortitude to hang in there until everything fits within the prescribed limits of accuracy. We will continue to survey every square meter in the Behm Canal project area, assemble terabytes of data, and confidently submit a Descriptive Report to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch. Meanwhile the Rainier and its crew will be off to begin another project after leaving Petersburg and I head home to finish off the semester and get grades submitted.

    Hydrography at work

    Hydrography at work

  • The ocean is important. I have also carried a misconception that the ocean is so far away from the prairies and woods of Minnesota that it lacked in importance to our lives. I have come to realize the increasing importance of thinking globally with global considerations directly including the ocean that wraps 75% of our planet. Our climate is directly influenced by the impact of the sea. Our economy is dependent on the commercial vessels that carry goods to their destinations. The safety of those vessels are reliant on accurate navigational charts. The waters off Alaska rely on NOAA’s Ships Rainier and Fairweather to conduct hydrographic surveys of the ocean bottom for the creation of those charts.
    Understanding of the ocean are critical to all. Photo Photo source: http://www.noaa.gov/features/resources/

    An understanding of the ocean is critical to all.
    Photo source: http://www.noaa.gov/features/resources/

  • Appreciation of beauty. No matter how common this landscape has become to the mariners on board, how advanced their level of experience, their station on the ship, the amount of salt coursing through the blood, etc., etc., all take time to stop and gaze at the grandeur of Walker Cove, Wrangell Narrows, Punchbowl Cove, spouting of whales, play of the porpoises, sunset, sunrise, misty clouds, etc. etc. It is a majestic world, one that can quickly take away your breath, bring everything to a standstill – to simply gaze. “How would you like this for your office?” the CO had asked me. There is little question it beats the “window” overlooking the BWCAW I made for myself in my otherwise windowless office. Mine has beauty, but lacks life. The loss of this majestic backdrop will dearly be missed.

    Can you ever tire of this?

    Can you ever tire of this?

  • Propellers. The ship’s engine runs at a steady rpm. The speed of the ship is governed by the pitch of the propellers. Thank you Bernoulli.
  • Sea language. There is language that exists on board that I have slowly come to know. A holiday is missing data. A “head” is a toilet. A Cox’n (coxswain) is in charge of the boat and a Bo’sun (boatswain) is in charge of the ship’s equipment and crew. People in charge are Chief – Chief of Engineering, Chief Boatswain, Chief Steward, Chief Hydrographer – they are all called “Chief”. FOO (Field Operations Officer), XO (Executive Officer) and CO (Commanding Officer) are titles. Right now the Rainier even has FOO 1 and FOO 2; XO1 and XO2. The repeat of “Very well” means “Yes, I heard you” and “Aye” – agreed.  We eat at 1700 hours instead of 5:00. You might say “Happy hydro” to someone heading out to survey. The list goes on.

    Davits ready to welcome the launches back to the ship.

    Davits ready to welcome the launches back to the ship.

  • Food. So many had asked, “What will you eat at sea?” with images of canned rations or space food in mind. This community eats well – steak tonight, ribs last night It’s hard to picture going back to my lunchtime staple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Hard work. Being a mariner is hard work. The labor, confines of the ship, and separation from family bring challenge and sacrifice.
  • Salty dawgs. I have a new appreciation of what “salty” means as it applies to the mariner community. Living and working together for extended periods, at times in harsh conditions, and at others with lapses into long contemplative stretches, the conversation and actions aboard the ship, is for lack of any better definition, “salty” indeed.
  • Sharing the salt. While perhaps not quite certain of the role a Teacher at Sea visitor plays within this tight-knit community, all members on board have graciously taken the time to share with me their work – work of which they are deeply invested – and of their life at sea with the salt that flows within their blood.

Tomorrow we arrive in Petersburg, Alaska. I will post again of my experience of the “Little Norway” cultural festival going full steam during our time there. Then it is a departure for home and return to my office at Hamline University. Until then it remains, “Happy hydro.”

Bill Lindquist: The Small Boats, May 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 10, 2013

Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Latitude: 55° 47.29’ N; Longitude 130° 58.27’ W

Broken skies with a visibility of 10+ nautical miles
Wind from the west at 15 knots
Air temperature 12.6° C
Sea temperature  8.9° C

Science and Technology Log: The Small Boats

Yesterday the ship captured most of the ocean basin using its multibeam sonar equipment located on the bottom of the ship. Today we set out in smaller launches that could take us to the sections of the ocean the big ship couldn’t. Three teams were deployed, each containing a coxswain (person who has the skills to handle the boat), senior hydrology technician (in charge of the survey work to be done), and several others to help – one boat of which was gracious enough to take along a rookie “Teacher of the Sea” to experience first hand the work involved.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Moving the launch off the ship into the sea.

Trying out driving the boat is a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

Trying out driving the boat in a prescribed line (harder than it would appear).

We all met on the fantail (rear deck) of the ship at 6:30 AM to go over the work that lays ahead. From there the launches were lowered off the ship, we entered, were released, and off we went. While still in the early morning low tide we examined the shoreline to verify the existence or non-existence of rocks in question from the last survey. We conducted our surveys throughout the rest of the day in areas not able to be accessed by the larger ship. Each launch is also equipped with multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the boat (image) and a plotting computer on board. As with the ship, the computer measures and controls for location (GPS); heave, pitch, and roll; and the temperature and salinity of the water column below our boat.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The multibeam sonar units on the bottom of the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The plotting computer aboard the launch.

The work is similar, yet has a different feel. Unlike the automated features on the ship, a control panel allows the surveyor to hand tune variables that will help assure the best measurements. We can control the strength of the sound waves leaving the boat, the frequency of pings, wave length, and the degree of sweep that will be collected. Doing so allows us to maintain sufficient strength to capture tbe bottom, but not so overpowering that we lose the finer details such as the makeup of the bottom. Each boat sets a path back and forth at a speed of 7-10 knots in the sections assigned by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). This is repeated until each section is covered. This takes a concerted and collaborative effort between the coxswain and technicians. When surveying from the ship, the Moving Vessel Profiler’s fish can be cast by the push of a button at the computer in the Plotting lab. Not so on the launch. After bringing the boat to a stop, we lift over the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instrument. We allow it to drop to the bottom before we turn on the winch to reel it back in. It is lifted out and attached to a cable connected to the computer where the data is downloaded.

The CTD sensor unit

The CTD sensor unit

Deploying the CTD

Deploying the CTD

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

One of the screens on the plotting computer indicates the areas that have been surveyed (in blue) and where the ship is.

Before we get back to the ship, we download the day’s data to an external hard drive and hand it off to another crew that begins the job of cleaning the data to be pieced together with all the other sections of data. We end with one complete picture of the project area.

Life at sea

There are 46 people living and working on board the ship. The launches go out with a smaller group of 4. Spending all day on a small boat with three other people necessitates attention to clear communication channels. The waves continually keep the boat in motion providing a challenge to manipulate the mouse and detail on the computer screen. In between there are many moments of quiet allowing for conversation and banter. It is in those moments you get to know one another better and forge strong relationships. This close community is evident among the crew on board. Such is the allure of sea life.

Sunny days

In anticipation of a trip to SE Alaska, I did a bit of research on what kind of weather to expect. Ketchikan is in a rain forest and noted for being the rainiest city in the United States with an average rainfall of 160 inches a year.  Since my arrival, I have enjoyed sunshine and calm seas. People have assured me how unusual this is and to expect a change. The forecast for tomorrow suggest the change will arrive. Seems to experience life at sea without a bout of inclement weather would not allow full appreciation of the grandeur we have had. I will take them both expecting there will be equal beauty in the rain and clouds.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

I continue to be amazed at the majesty of the landscape.

Kaci Heins: September 24-26, 2011

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

Mrs. Heins Acquiring Data For The Hydrographic Survey

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Overcast
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: 10.40 knots
Temperature
Dry Bulb: 11.3 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1000.1 millibars
Latitude: 55.28 degrees North
Longitude: -133.68 degrees West

Science and Technology

I have received many questions from students asking “What is hydrography?”.  According to the International Hydrographic Organization,  hydrography is “the branch of applied science which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of the navigable portion of the earth’s surface [seas] and adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their use for the purpose of navigation.” Lets break that word down to find the meanings of the prefixes and suffixes using dictionary.com.

hydro – means water,

graph – means to write or chart

graphy – means the science or process of recording

Another question I have received is what is a hydrographic survey?  Most of the surveys that you may have heard of are used on land.  For example, construction workers may survey a site before they start construction, or you may take a survey at school about what types of food you would like in the cafeteria.  Any kind of survey is the acquiring of information that is used for various purposes.  In the case of a hydrographic survey, the technicians acquire and chart information about the sea floor.  I was fortunate enough to go out on a survey launch to see that a hydrographic survey is conducted using sonar to look through the water to see what the sea floor actually looks like.

Launch Boat

The boat that NOAA uses to conduct the surveys is called a launch.  This means we use a large motorboat to get to where we need to go.  It costs tens of thousands of dollars a day to operate the Rainier, her launches, and the technology.  It is the technology that allows scientists to be able to “see” through the water to map what the ocean floor actually looks like.  The first, and most important, piece of technology on the launch that enables us to “see” the sea floor is the sonarSonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) is the process of using sound waves to bounce off objects we cannot see and then acquiring the return sound to create an image.  However, it does get a little more complicated than that.  There are two different types of sonar that the NOAA National Ocean Service (NOS) goes into detail about.

1) Active Sonar – Transmits a pulse or acoustic sound into the water. If the sound pulse hits an object in its path, such as the sea floor, then the sound bounces off  and returns an “echo” to the sonar receiver.  By determining the round-trip travel time between the emission of the sound pulse and its reception, the transducer can determine the range (how far away) and orientation (location) of the object.  The formula for this is

Distance = (two way travel time x speed of sound through water) / 2

2) Passive Sonar – Is a sonar system that does not emit its own signal, but listens to sound waves coming towards it.

Multibeam Sonar

Both the Rainier and the smaller launches have  both active sonar called multibeam sonar. Multibeam sonar sends out numerous sound waves from directly beneath the ship on the boat’s hull that fans out its coverage over the seafloor.  This coverage is called a “swath”.  Before we leave the ship to head out on the launches we have a briefing to go over the weather, safety, and any other important information for the coxswains, scientists, or crew.  We also get a plan for the day for what polygons, or areas we have to survey.  On our way we turn on some of the expensive (and top secret!) technology called the Position and Attitude System (POS).  This technology collects the vessels motion data (roll, pitch, and yaw), that later will be incorporated into the Caris software that produces the final chart. The multibeam transmits around 512

Polygon Coverage Area for the Day

beams each second.  The frequency of the sound waves depends on the depths that we are working in.  We worked in waters that were around 50 meters deep so we used the 400 kilohertz frequency.  However, if we would have been working in deeper water we would have gone to 200 kilohertz.  By lengthening the wavelength the beams can travel into deeper water with less error or scattering.

Before we start acquiring data we make sure to have good communication with the coxswain, or driver, of the boat.  It is extremely important that there is good communication and that the coxswain can maintain their heading and speed throughout the polygon so that the data can be collected without too many errors.

Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Cast

We want to make sure we only go about 6-8 knots so that the sonar echo has time to make it back up to the receiver and we can collect good data.  The scientists also conduct a CTD cast before we start and every four hours while they collect data.  CTD stands for Conductivity (or salinity), Temperature, and Depth (pressure).  The data from the CTD can be used to calculate the speed of sound through water.  All of these factors can cause errors in the survey data so scientists need to collect this information so that the finished product has fewer errors and depths can be corrected from the sonar.  Other features that can cause errors in the data are bubbles, vegetation such as kelp, schools of fish, and the type of material that is on the sea floor.  For example, if the sea floor consists of a softer material it won’t reflect the sonar beams back as well.

To collect the survey data we basically drive the launch back and forth over our assigned polygons with the multibeam sonar.  This is sometimes called “mowing the lawn” or “painting the bottom”.  When we get to one edge of the polygon we stop logging data, turn around, and make a new swath as close as we can to the previous one and continue collecting data.  We cover around 50 nautical miles each day collecting data with the overall goal to collect the best data quality that we can during our acquisition.

As we head back to the Rainier all the computer data is downloaded from the day and is later transferred to the plot room.  This is where survey technicians add all the other information and make corrections to the data such as tides, vessel motion (POS), GPS, sound velocity from the CTD, and other programs so that the data is as accurate as possible.  Technicians still must go through and clean out “noise” which is scattering of some of the data.  The finished survey chart is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for post processing and quality assurance.

What We Surveyed Today!

Personal Log

In my last blog I wrote about how math skills are very important not only as a strong skill needed on a NOAA ship, but also as a life-long skill.  As I continue learning more about hydrography I have also found that computer skills are extremely valuable in this work environment.  Most people have basic computer skills to check email and run office programs, but out here it takes a little more.  There is quite a bit of training that the survey technicians and the NOAA Corps officers must go through to learn about all the different software that collects data and then using more software to combine them to make the finished hydro chart.  Numerous hours of collecting data, combining data, cleaning data and finishing projects all have a significant amount of work done by or at a computer.  Everyone from the captain to the junior officers must know how to use it and how to troubleshoot when things don’t work right.  It is not as easy as picking up the phone and calling customer service.  Minds among the ship must come together to solve problems when they arise.

Using the Computer to Collect Survey Data

While underway whether it is on the ship or on one of the launches the high seas are always around.  At first they made me nervous because I was afraid I would get sick.  However, it has turned out to be quite the opposite!  Whenever the seas get rough I actually start to get sleepy as we sway back and forth!  Usually, we are so busy that there isn’t time to take a nap so I’m learning to work through it.  Going along those lines of being busy, there are usually no breaks during the weekends.  In most people’s lives the weekend is time to take a break, hang out with family and friends, and sometimes do absolutely nothing at all.  Out here on a working ship this is not the case.  The NOAA ships have to meet certain deadlines and with some of their past major repairs, time has been ticking away with not much work being done.  This means when Saturdays and Sundays roll around at the end of the week we keep on working like a regular day.  I have the utmost respect for all of the crew, scientists, and officers that spend their time out here working for weeks straight.  It is not an easy lifestyle, but they are committed to it and I admire them and their strength.

Student Questions Answered

Wildlife Spotted!

Sea Otters

Humpback Whale

Sea Otter

Sea stars

Sea Urchins

Question of the day

Kristin Joivell, June 27, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 27-28, 2009

The engine room is a busy, confusing, and crowded place, but the engineers know how to maintain every one of the machines.

The engine room is a busy, confusing, and crowded place, but the engineers know how to maintain every one of the machines.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Position: East of Big Koniuji Island
Clouds: clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: variable and light
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 11.2 dry bulb
Temperature: 9.0 wet bulb
Barometer: 1019.2

Science and Technology Log 

The engine room of the ship is a very important place.  If the machines located there aren’t working, the ship isn’t going to be going very far. I took a tour of engineering and explored the area with one of the engineers. The first impression that I got about the engine room is that you really need to be good with your hands and mechanically minded to work in this area. There are so many different machines that must be maintained, repaired, and monitored that it seems pretty overwhelming when you first walk in.  Even though much information about the machines is displayed on a master control board overlooking the engine room, it’s difficult to figure out where each of the machines is located. It’s almost like a whole other world under the floor where the majority of the crew works and lives.

Here I am climbing out of the engineering department using an escape trunk.  This pathway is centrally located for easy escapes.

Here I am climbing out of the engineering department using an escape trunk. This pathway is centrally located for easy escapes.

If there is a problem in engineering like a fire or water leak, there are self sealing doors to isolate and contain the problem.  The situation is contained to the lower levels of the ship and spread is limited and slow. The engineers can escape from the area using hatches. Crew members are very careful not to place anything on the escape hatches just in case an accident occurs.  Safety plays a big part in the engineering department and in the entire ship.  It is very important to follow certain procedures for everyone’s safety. The ship has two engines and two generators. Each of these pieces of machinery is large and extensive.  Much of the control panel is dedicated to information about their state. Interestingly enough, the two engines are actually train engines and the generators are from General Motors.  Both of these, especially the generators, seem to be larger versions of the same land based machines.  The engines have seven oil filters apiece. These, naturally, must be changed similar to your personal vehicle. Each of the oil filters is almost two feet long!  Many are kept in supply for maintenance purposes.

This is one of the unused oil filters for the main engines of the ship.  You can see other filters in the storage room as well.

This is one of the unused oil filters for the main engines of the ship. You can see other filters in the storage room as well.

But, the engineers are not just in charge of the engines, generators, and the other machines that make the ship move through the water.  They also must maintain, repair, and monitor the refrigeration, air conditioning, heating, electricity, and plumbing on the ship.  Additionally, they are in charge of keeping the five small boats on the ship operating correctly. The ship has two launches, two smaller boats, and one skiff. Each of these presents its own specific problems to maintain.  Each of the boats has an engine system that must be maintained.  They must be fueled and checked after each day’s work. Anything that breaks must be repaired immediately so that the work on the ship can continue on schedule.

I helped repair one of the smaller boats that was not starting correctly.  First, the problem must be diagnosed.  So, we used a multimeter to get readings from electrical connections.  Salt water corrodes wires quickly. Even though engineer decided to try to clean the components with a wire brush and a knife to create better connections. We cleaned the existing corrosion, but the boat still did not start properly.  Next, the engineer predicted that the starter could be the problem since much of the connections to it were very rusty and dirty. We took out the starter and replaced it with a new one; the boat started!  It was a relief to be able to use the boat the next day.  Without the work of the engineers, the ship would have been short one boat for a period of time.  This would prevent work from being completed and put the ship behind schedule; a lot of money would be wasted on operations being incomplete.

I’m lending a hand to repair a boat engine.  The batteriesmust be disconnected for safety when working with the starter and other electrical equipment.

I’m lending a hand to repair a boat engine. The batteriesmust be disconnected for safety when working with the starter and other electrical equipment.

Personal Log 

Safety on the ship is something that is not taken lightly in engineering or anywhere else.  Drills are conducted periodically to ensure that crew members know what to do when an emergency occurs.  There are drills for fire, man overboard, and abandon ship.  For each drill, each person on board is assigned a meeting spot, called a muster, and function.  There are also alternate musters for each emergency in case the first muster is compromised in some way.

Fire drills are important to practice.  It’s interesting to note that even though the ship is surrounded by water, fire is one of the most difficult problems to deal with onboard.  The ship basically has mini fire stations set up throughout the ship to deal with the emergency.  Standard firefighting gear is located at these stations. Certain crew members are assigned to wear the turnout gear and operate the hoses or extinguishers during the drills.  Recently, a burned bag of microwave popcorn set off the fire alarm, so these alarms are sensitive!

Practicing the proper technique with a fire hose.  These hose stations are located in a variety of spaces all around the ship.

Practicing the proper technique with a fire hose. These hose stations are located in a variety of spaces all around the ship.

Another situation that can occur is when someone falls overboard.  Quick retrieval is very important especially here in Alaska due to the cold temperatures.  Different crew members are assigned to be lookouts during a man overboard drill to help with the location of the man overboard.  If you see someone when you are a lookout, you must point and alert the bridge to the person’s location to ensure a speedy retrieval. Life preservers are on hand at a variety of locations to throw to the person in the water. The ship also has a line launching device that you can use to shoot a line a lot further than humanly possible.  This device is powered by compressed air and shoots the line quite far from the ship.

The last resort in an emergency is to abandon the ship. Since the waters here are so cold, we must be ready to don our emergency suits.  I had the chance to practice putting on my suit during a drill.  The suit is made of special material that can protect you even in the coldest water.  Some of the material seemed similar to a thick wetsuit.  You must be able to don the suit quickly and efficiently. The feet are part of the suit, but the arms have tight seals and then you put on mittens separately.  There is even a cover for your face that only lets your eyes peek out. As I practiced putting mine on, I got very sweaty, so it seemed to be doing its job already.

Practicing using the line launching device.  This tool is helpful in getting help to a man overboard quickly and efficiently.

Practicing using the line launching device. This tool is helpful in getting help to a man overboard quickly and efficiently.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
The crew of a NOAA ship practices emergency drills and you can do these at home, too.  In the unlikely event of an emergency, your family can be well prepared and organized. It is always good to be prepared for an emergency; you think more clearly when well prepared.

Did you ever stop and wonder what you should do if your house is on fire?  How will you get out of the house?  You should have more than one way to get out just in case the first path is compromised.  Do you have a meeting place, or muster, for your family?  Where is it?  Who will bring the pets outside with the family?  Where will you call 911 from?  Remember, you shouldn’t call from your house if it is on fire; call from a neighbor’s house or cell phone outside your house. You can create an emergency plan for your family and have fire drills periodically.

What about if there is a homeland security emergency?  Who is going to pick you up from school?  Where will you go to wait for the emergency to be over? Do you have supplies like food and water ready?  Who will get the pets and bring them with you?  You can create a plan and have drills for this type of emergency as well.  That way, if something happens, nobody gets left behind and your family will be comfortable and secure.

Here I am in my emergency suit.  This suit can protect you even in the coldest waters.  Along with life preservers, hats, and coats, suits must be brought to life raft musters during abandon ship drills.

Here I am in my emergency suit. This suit can protect you even in the coldest waters. Along with life preservers, hats, and coats, suits must be brought to life raft musters during abandon ship drills.

 

 

Kristin Joivell, June 23, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 23, 2009

The mess hall is a place where people tend to gather.

The mess hall is a place where people tend to gather.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Position: Northwest Harbor
Clouds: overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind: 10 knots
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 8.5 dry bulb
Temperature: 7.2 wet bulb
Barometer: 1008.0

Science and Technology Log 

Disposing of all the trash made by people from eating, working, and other day to day tasks was something I was wondering about.  So, I asked crew members on the deck department how all this waste was disposed of. They showed me the incinerator.  The incinerator is the main device for dealing with waste management at sea, but if the amount of trash builds up too much, it is dealt with when the ship arrives back in port.

Here, I’m readying cardboard to be placed in the ship’s incinerator.  As you can see in the bottom right corner, trash tends to build up rather quickly. This picture was taken in the morning and the line up of trash to be incinerated was already building.

Here, I’m readying cardboard to be placed in the ship’s incinerator. As you can see in the bottom right corner, trash tends to build up rather quickly. This picture was taken in the morning and the line up of trash to be incinerated was already building.

The incinerator burns waste at very high temperatures of 850 degrees Celsius to 1150 degrees Celsius. If you’re not familiar with the Celsius scale (like me), you won’t realize that that equals 1562 degrees Fahrenheit to 2102 degrees Fahrenheit! The high temperatures are created using diesel as fuel with air vents helping to ventilate the fire as it burns.  The ash that is left when the waste is done burning takes up much less volume than the waste did and it is disposed of when the ship arrives back in port. There is a central location on deck near the incinerator for trash collection. Personal trash from state rooms can be placed there in bags for disposal.  The trash from the kitchen, deck, bridge, and survey departments are also place there. Workers from the deck department burn the trash in the incinerator periodically throughout the day. If the ship didn’t have an incinerator, the trash on board would build up very high and very quickly!  Each day since I came on board, there is a pile of waste to be incinerated. From cardboard boxes, to printer paper and food waste, to used rags from cleaning, most materials are disposed of in the incinerator.

The ship also has a collection area for recycling. There are collection bins for glass, metal, aerosol cans, and batteries in a central location near the mess hall. However, plastics are incinerated.  The temperatures in the incinerator are so high it seems that the plastic is basically vaporized. Naturally, there is also a filter on the exhaust pipe of the incinerator so that toxins do not enter the atmosphere. Additionally, the ship is going to begin recycling plastics in the near future.

Here I am examining the ship’s food stores.  This is the fresh fruit and vegetable section of the cooler, but there are many other sections as well.

Here I am examining the ship’s food stores. This is the fresh fruit and vegetable section of the cooler, but there are many other sections as well.

Personal Log 

People may be wondering how it is possible to feed almost 50 people everyday without stopping at the grocery store. I found that the Fairweather is well equipped to deal with everyone’s food needs and more!  I took a tour of the storage facilities and found them equivalent to a small grocery store.  There are stockpiles of dairy, meats, fresh fruit and vegetables, breads, freezer storage, and dry storage. According to the Chief Cook, the ship could theoretically sail for up to 60 days without going to a port if necessary.

Every day, there are three main meals and two between meal snack times offered. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in large supply; most foods are not prepackaged, but are created on the ship.  Vegetarian choices are available at every meal.  Coffee, tea, milk, water, and a variety of fruit drinks are always available any time of day or night.  Condiments in abundance are located on every table, too, and not just ketchup and mustard.  Different kinds of salad dressing are also available in the mess refrigerator at every meal.

The first meal of the day is breakfast.  Breakfast is served from 7 to 8 in the morning.  Each day at breakfast, there are a large variety of foods offered.  Today’s breakfast choices were as follows: fresh fruit, grits, bacon and ham, vegetarian sausage, French toast, hash browns, made to order eggs, breakfast sandwiches, and omelets, and hot and cold cereal.  I always get the fresh fruit because I love the blueberries and pineapple! Then, there is a midmorning snack offered sometime between breakfast and lunch.  These snacks are usually coffee cakes or breads. Today’s snack was apple bread with nuts.  It was made from scratch with fresh ingredients!

I chose a lemon blueberry jelly roll for dessert!  Yum!

I chose a lemon blueberry jelly roll for dessert! Yum!

Next, lunch occurs from 12 to 12:30pm.  Each day at lunch, there are usually salads, soup, a choice of two main courses with a vegetarian alternative, side dishes of pastas, potatoes, or rice, and a side dish of vegetables. Today’s lunch menu included the following:  kielbasa and kale soup, grilled reuben, grilled pastrami and Swiss sandwich, grilled cheese, and tater tots.  I love it that there is a vegetarian choice; even though I am not a vegetarian, I try to limit my meat intake. After that, an afternoon snack is offered sometime between lunch and dinner.  These snacks are usually cookies. Today’s snack was chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. They were still warm when they were offered.

Finally, dinner is from 5 to 5:30.  Dinner choices include a main dish and a vegetarian alternative, a variety of side dishes, and a dessert prepared on the ship. As with all of the other meals and snacks, there is a focus on freshly prepared food instead of prepackaged items.  Today’s dinner menu included the following: mustard crusted rack of lamb, paella de marisco, herb cheese stuffed eggplant, creamy orzotto, sautéed bok choy, and lemon blueberry jelly roll for dessert. It’s hard to resist dessert because it’s so freshly made and delicious, so I usually have dessert at dinner, but avoid the two snack times during the day.

Additionally, the mess hall has facilities that are available for snacking at any time of the day or night. Salad ingredients, ice cream, frozen burritos and hot pockets, cold cereals, and fresh fruit are always ready to be eaten. If you’re not careful, you can be overwhelmed with all of the food choices on board and gain a lot of weight while at sea! Speaking to the crew about food is interesting.  Many of the crew has not so fond memories about “other” ocean ships that they have been on that did not offer such wonderful food choices.  Some crew members expressed the feelings that the morale of the crew basically depends on the food. I can see how a long trip at sea can be made more comfortable with the knowledge that the food will be great!

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 

NOAA ships use the Celsius scale to measure temperatures, but many people in the United States use the Fahrenheit scale.  You probably think of a day that is 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside as a hot, summer day, but did you know that this equals 37.8 degrees Celsius?  A cold, winter day is usually about 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but that is equal to 1.8 degrees Celsius. You can use a website from NOAA to easily convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa.  Just go to http://www.wbuf.noaa.gov/tempfc.htm and type a number into either the Fahrenheit or Celsius box. Then, click off the box and the temperature is automatically converted for you.  Try typing in temperature that you are familiar with like your body temperature (about 99 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature that water freezes (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and the temperature that water boils (100 degrees Celsius).

You can also use a formula to convert temperatures.  This is helpful if you don’t have the internet.

For Fahrenheit to Celsius, use this formula

For Fahrenheit to Celsius, use this formula

For Celsius to Fahrenheit, use this formula

For Celsius to Fahrenheit, use this formula

Many thermometers also are scaled for both Fahrenheit and Celsius, so that you can read both temperatures on the thermometer itself.

Kristin Joivell, June 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 21-22, 2009

The Fairweatherrests at anchor in Northwest Harbor.

The Fairweatherrests at anchor in Northwest Harbor.

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Position: Northwest Harbor
Clouds: Mostly Clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: 13 knots
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 8.2 dry bulb
Temperature: 7.2 wet bulb
Barometer: 1007.0

Science and Technology Log 

Launches are excellent for collecting data near the shoreline, but the Fairweather is better at open water data collection. The polygons are larger, but the ship must still be traveling at approximately 6 knots for optimum results.  The ship also uses the multibeam to sweep the ocean floor, just like the launches.  Of course, multiple computer screens are again necessary to monitor data collection on the ship. Also similar to the launches and their CTD’s, the ship uses a device called a Moving Vessel Profile (MVP) that collects information about sound velocity as it is dropped through the water. It is commonly called the “fish” since it is dropped into the water and manipulated to “swim” at different depths for data collection.

Here I am dislplaying the MVP or “fish” that will be deployed periodically throughout data collection to measure sound velocity, temperature, and pressure of the water.

Here I am dislplaying the MVP or “fish” that will be deployed periodically throughout data collection to measure sound velocity, temperature, and pressure of the water.

A definite advantage of the MVP is that the fish can be deployed while the ship is moving; however, the launch must be stopped to use the CTD.  Additionally, the MVP measures sound velocity directly where as the CTD collects data that must be plugged into a formula to calculate the measurement for sound velocity. Data collected from both the launches and the ship must be processed and converted.  Much of the data processing involves moving data uploaded from launches into networked folders.  At times while I watched data processing, there were too many folders open on multiple computer screens for me to personally keep track of.  Also, I noticed certain data sets being converted from one form to another.  Sometimes, the data conversion takes a long time so computers must be marked so nobody interrupts the conversion process.  Patience, computer literacy, and organization skills are a must for working on data processing!

In this picture I’m attempting to clean “dirty” data.  The screen on the left shows a 3D image of the ocean floor.  The screen on the right shows a 2D image of the ocean floor that is color coded based on depth. As you can see, dirty dishes also tend to collect when cleaning dirty data!

In this picture I’m attempting to clean “dirty” data. The screen on the left shows a 3D image of the ocean floor. The screen on the right shows a 2D image of the ocean floor that is color coded based on depth. As you can see, dirty dishes also tend to collect when cleaning dirty data!

Another part of working with data collected from the launches and the ship involves cleaning “dirty” data.  Even through the best efforts to collect data, pings are sometimes lost or interference occurs. Perhaps the speed of the vessel exceeded 6 knots or maybe there was a section of the water with an unusual density. So, a software program called Caris is used to work with the data on a dual screen computer. The ocean floor that is color coded by depth can be viewed on one screen. Then, the person working with the data selects small segments of the ocean floor to view on the other screen.  The plane of the ocean floor and all of the pings are shown in a variety of color scales. Data that is very accurate at a high confidence level can be shown in violet, but the lower the confidence level gets, the further up the spectrum the colors are shown.  Many people choose to show different lines of pings in different colors to make it easier to see how many times the same section of the ocean floor was swept.

The person working on the computer can choose to delete certain pings, especially if they were located at the far end of the multibeam.  These pings are more likely to be lost or misrepresent the depth. Additionally, a measurement can be taken on the screen with a ruler tool to determine if a group of pings are within specification limits.  If they are not, a segment of data can be designated for further investigation.  The person working on this must make many decisions, so it is important to be able to infer information from data as you work.

Personal Log 

Paddling my kayak in the ocean through Northwest Harbor in the Shumagin Islands

Paddling my kayak in the ocean through Northwest Harbor in the Shumagin Islands

I went sea kayaking a few years ago in Mexico, but sea kayaking in Alaska is by far more dangerous. Even though the kayaks are paddled the same way and I could keep the boat balanced relatively easily, the danger of flipping over and freezing to death in the sea water is a constant thought. The beauty of the islands as I paddled near them was mesmerizing.  The Shumagin Islands look like something out of a prehistoric world.  I keep expecting to see a dinosaur walking up one of the rocky hillsides. I didn’t see any prehistoric creatures on the kayak, but I did see some puffins, a seal, and a wide variety of other seabirds too far away for identification.  Kelp was also floating around in abundance. I should mention that I was sea kayaking from about 8:30 to 11:00pm, but it was still daylight the whole time.  It is near the summer solstice, so daylight lasts for about 18 hours or so each day. Right now, the sun is rising at about 6:00am each morning and setting at about 11:30 each night. It is really unusual to be out on a sea kayak in bright daylight in the middle of the night!

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
You can use simple items from your kitchen to see how cold the water in Alaska feels. You will need some ice water, a thermometer, and a bowl. First, put the ice in the bowl and pour the water over it. Next, place the thermometer in the bowl with the ice water.  Wait until the temperature goes down to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Now, place your bare hand in the ice water. How does it feel? Try it with a glove on.  Do you feel a difference?  Remember, your body temperature is about 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so you are putting your hand into water that is about half your body temperature. Can you imagine how it would feel to fall into this water?

Kristin Joivell, June 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 18-20, 2009

The boom lowers the launch into the foggy morning air.

The boom lowers the launch into the foggy air.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: Koniuji Strait
Clouds: foggy
Visibility:  less than 0.5 mile
Wind: 11 knots
Waves: 2 feet
Temperature: 8.6 dry bulb
Temperature: 8.0 wet bulb
Barometer: 1005.9

Science and Technology Log 

Launches are used to acquire data in areas where it doesn’t make sense for larger ships to go.  They are more maneuverable and their hulls don’t extend as far into the ocean.  Small crews can travel in the launches and work together to cover specific areas, commonly called polygons. This week, we are using the launches to survey the ocean floor in the Koniuji Strait area. Getting ready for the launch requires some preparation. Dressing for the weather is a must; so layers and layers of clothing are necessary, especially on foggy, chilly days.  Additionally, a float coat or life jacket vest and a hard hat are necessary for safety reasons. There are a lot of lines and cables moving around when a launch is being deployed and the safety equipment helps protect everyone involved.

I’m watching the computer screens as multibeam data is collected.  The screen on the right shows the depth coloration of the line being swept.

I’m watching the computer screens as multibeam data is collected. The screen on the right shows the depth coloration of the line being swept.

Launches use a device called the Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES, or commonly called the multibeam) to collect data about the ocean floor.  The mulitbeam is a device that sends out sound waves.  The sound waves bounce off the ocean floor and then back to the launch. The sound waves are commonly called “pings.” It is necessary to watch a computer screen to ensure that the pings are being collected to the fullest capacity. Sometimes adjustments must be made because pings are being lost or there is too much interference, or noise, in the data acquired. Another computer screen that must be watched shows the depth of the ocean floor being surveyed.  Depths are color coded throughout the spectrum with reds being shallow and violets being deep. Watching the depth coloration helps to predict when ocean floor features may be changing from deep to shallow and vice versa.  It is also possible to infer where ocean floor features like hills and valleys may be located.

Here, I prepare to cast the CTD in order to get a reading for conductivity, temperature, and density.

Here, I prepare to cast the CTD in order to get a reading for conductivity, temperature, and density.

Other computer screens show different views and aspects of the data being collected from the multibeam.  These screens help to troubleshoot problem areas and make decisions about data being gathered. In fact, there are four computer screens to watch while using the multibeam!  Multitasking is a necessity when you are the person in charge of the computer screens. Multibeams collect data from the ocean floor in wide sweeps so that no area is missed or skipped over. Overlaps are also built in to help prevent missed areas.  Sometimes an area is missed; these areas are called “holidays.”  It is sometimes necessary to resweep an area to fill in these holidays.  The driver of the boat helps to keep the boat on the line being swept.  Additionally, the driver helps to keep the boat traveling at approximately 6 knots so that data can be collected at the appropriate speed. This job is more difficult than it looks especially in a thick fog.

The use of the CTD device is necessary when collecting data from the launches.  CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and density.  Since ocean water can vary in all of these depending on location, the CTD helps collect this information.  The information is then uploaded into the computer system on board the launch.  The sound velocity is determined using a formula containing these readings.  Then, the computer helps to correct for differences in the ocean water when using the multibeam.  A cast on the CTD is usually done every few hours.

Personal Log 

I attempt to work the line

I attempt to work the line

Launches are great for acquiring data, but they require the assistance of many people to be used effectively. Plans must be made to create polygons to survey.  People must use the radio to retain communications with the bridge of the main ship.  Different people are responsible for working the lines, or ropes, that attach the launch to the ship.  People must be able to use the multibeam computer software and information for the CTD appropriately so that significant data is collected. Someone must drive the launch so that it follows the lines for the sweeps.  People from the engineering crew must maintenance the launches so that the engines work properly.

Each of these jobs requires certain training and experience to be completed in an effective way.  I attempted to work the line to attach the launch back to the ship.  It was difficult to keep the line untangled and throw it to the receiver in the correct location.  I also attempted to steer the launch along the line for a sweep, but found myself overcorrecting and going in circles much of the time. It amazes me how the launches involve such a wide variety of skills and knowledge.  With each task being accomplished, there are different problems that present themselves.  Knowing how to deal with those problems involves a certain kind of personality. Being flexible, knowledgeable, and able to think on your feet while still remaining calm seem to be very important skills when working at sea!

In this picture, you can see the NOAA ship traveling while using the multibeam.  The glowing material coming out of the ship represents the actual pings. The green area is the portion of the ocean floor that is being surveyed.  Picture provided courtesy of NOAA training materials.

In this picture, you can see the NOAA ship traveling while using the multibeam. The glowing material coming out of the ship represents the actual pings. The green area is the portion of the ocean floor that is being surveyed. Picture provided courtesy of NOAA training materials.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
You can simulate the way that the NOAA multibeam devices acquire data to help you get a better picture of how this complicated system works.  Using a paint roller, some paint, and a piece of cardboard, you can better envision the sweeps of the multibeam system.  First, draw a sketch of your cardboard on a piece of paper.  You can even add islands and land features to the cardboard to make it more complex.  Determine shapes of polygons that you will be sweeping; squares and rectangles work well in large spaces, but you may need to create some different shapes around your islands and land masses.  Lay out the cardboard on a flat surface.  Then, use the paint and roller to make wide sweeps on the cardboard.  You can even use different colors of paint for each line you sweep to keep your information more organized.  Since the paint and roller are simulating the path of the launch, try to keep your paint and roller going at the same speed (remember in a launch this would be around 6 knots).  Try not to create any holidays during your sweeps because you will need to go over those again.  The picture below may also help you to visualize how multibeam works.

 

Kristin Joivell, June 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 17, 2009

A launch is deployed in preparation for the day’s tasks.

A launch is deployed in preparation for the day’s tasks.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Position: Big Koniuji Island
Clouds: Light Drizzle
Visibility: 5 miles
Wind: 17 knots
Waves: 2 to 3 feet
Temperature: 8.0 dry bulb
Temperature: 7.1 wet bulb
Barometer: 993.4

Science and Technology Log 

Today I had the opportunity to travel to Herendeen Island in one of the launches.  The two main tasks that I worked on were placing a new benchmark and taking measurements from a tidal gauge.  Benchmarks and tidal gauges are used to help the surveying team vertically reference their survey data to the tidal datum.

The first task to accomplish after landing on the island was placing the new benchmark.  Benchmarks can be found in many places.  You might even walk near a benchmark everyday and not even be aware of it! The national geocaching website describes a benchmark as “a point whose position is known to a high degree of accuracy and is normally marked in some way.” On this website, you can also search for benchmarks in an area by typing in the zip code where you would like to search. I’ve seen benchmarks in my travels hiking and biking; one was even near an old fire tower.  Benchmarks can be very old, but today I helped to place one that was brand new! I think the most exciting part about placing the benchmark was the knowledge that it is a permanent fixture.  Years from now, I will be gone, but the benchmark I helped place on Herendeen Island will still be there!

Here I am drilling the hole to insert the Here I am pounding the benchmark into benchmark’s post.  Later this hole will be place.  Later, this benchmark will be filled with cement to preserve the integrity of surveyed and its exact location recorded the benchmark’s location. and added to the database.

Here I am drilling the hole to insert the Here I am pounding the benchmark into benchmark’s post. Later this hole will be place. Later, this benchmark will be filled with cement to preserve the integrity of surveyed and its exact location recorded the benchmark’s location. and added to the database.

The second task that I worked on today involved some very basic process skills of science:  observing, recording, and calculating data.  My task was to record the level of the ocean’s water using a tide staff. I watched the water for one minute over six minute intervals for three hours.  During that one minute, I recorded the high and low water levels displayed on the tide staff. Then, I calculated the average of those water levels to be used by the surveying team.  This important information helps the surveying team reference the measurements from the automatic tide gauge to the benchmarks we installed.

I reached an understanding of the importance of this type of data collection by thinking about a ship traveling through the ocean during high tide and then during low tide. The ship traveling at high tide might read 30 feet deep on their depth gauge, but the same ship traveling at low tide might read 20 feet deep on their depth gauge. If the ship’s hull is close to those depths, it may be in danger of scraping the bottom. Knowing the depth of the water at the lowest of the low tides is important for the safety of the ship traveling through the water.

Even though the tide staff had been placed some time ago, it was still embedded firmly in the rock.  However, the seaweed growing on the rocks near the base of the tide staff seemed to be getting in the way of the observations initially.  This required some cutting and trimming of the material to improve data accuracy.  I think this is a good real world example of reducing the number of variables in an experiment that can’t be overlooked.

Here I am collecting data from the tide staff on Herendeen Island. You can see the excess seaweed throughout the water and near the shore.  This factor proved to be a troublesome variable in the initial stages of data collection.

Here I am collecting data from the tide staff on Herendeen Island. You can see the excess seaweed throughout the water and near the shore. This factor proved to be a troublesome variable in the initial stages of data collection.

Personal Log 

Yesterday, I was part of a shore party in the small port town of Sand Point.  The ship needed to stop there for a personnel change and to pick up some mail from the post office. In my past travels, I saw some small fishing villages in Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Mexico, but here is a town in the United States whose existence revolves around fishing. The docks seemed to take up much of the area of the town. There were many boats docked there and the majority of which were fishing boats. I even got to see some boats coming back from the day’s fishing trip and begin to unload their catches. There were also people working on boats, nets, and general items associated with the fishing trade. Some boats looked like they were abandoned, but most looked as if they were used daily.  Living and working near the ocean must be an interesting life, especially in such an isolated place as Sand Point, Alaska.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
You can collect and record data using the same technique that NOAA scientists use for their tide staff data experiment.  Select an area in your backyard on which to make observations.  Perhaps a simple selection such as the growth rate of the grass would be appropriate for your first attempt at this experiment.  Next, decide on your observation times.  It’s a good idea to make your observations at the same time each day so that you can compare results and reduce variables.  Finally, you’ll need something to record your data, usually a pen and paper, but you could also take a photograph for data collection.  Record your data and try to make inferences and draw conclusions based on the data collected in your experiment.

Here I am posing near a boat on dry land in Sand Point.  It is interesting to note how much square area of the boat will be under water when launched; this helps illustrate the point of the importance of hydrography.

Here I am posing near a boat on dry land in Sand Point. It is interesting to note how much square area of the boat will be under water when launched; this helps illustrate the point of the importance of hydrography.