Sena Norton, July 11, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sena Norton
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 11, 2004

Location: At anchor Popof Strait, Shumagin Islands, AK
Latitude: 55 deg 17.30’ N
Longitude: 160 deg 32.14’ W
Visibility: 5 nm


Direction: 110 deg
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Sea wave height: 0-1 ft
Swell wave height: n/a
Seawater temperature: 10.0 deg C
Sea level pressure: 1018.2 mb
Cloud Cover: 5/8
Weather: Fair to Partly cloudy, spots of fog dissipating. 12.12 deg C

Plan of the Day:
Continue the launch survey with 2 boats. In house data cleaning and processing. Meeting with LIDAR tech stationed in Sandpoint.

Science and Technology Log

I personally spoke with a survey technician, Amanda McKinney on board to gather more information on hydrography and the process behind it. There were two main topics that we discussed: Application and history of marine survey, and the math/science behind the techniques.


The technology used for marine survey has been improving by leaps and bounds and we are currently using a collection of old and new technology to gather data. Many nautical charts have not been charted for almost 80 years or more and some areas have never been accurately charted at all. The old process was to drag a lead line behind a transiting ship. This process was full of errors because you could never accurately know your depth, even if the length of the line was known; it was drug and therefore skewed the data. Very often a charted depth from these old processes are found to be dangerous wrong. Another mode of survey is the wire drag, where multiple ships drag a wire through the water column. Once a target has been hit, the depth of that underwater target is calculated, but never truly charted accurately. Side scan sonar came around and improved the survey capability, but it too has its drawbacks. Because the “fish” is towed there are many more mathematical corrections that must be made in order to get a reading that is close to the actual target. It does produce wonderfully clear pictures of what is around the “fish” but those images lack depth of field and the sonar cannot read directly below the transmitter. Quite often with side scan images, divers are needed to dive the sight of a possible target to get accurate readings. Multi-beam sonar can be used in conjunction with side scan to better improve the over all picture of the underwater area. Because multi-beam is able to give more accurate readings and the data is complied in 3-D images, surveyors can have both a clear image and precise depth reading all together. It is hoped in the future that there will be new sonar systems that can scan at 480 beams over .25 x .25 deg per beam with 40+ pings per second. The highest level of technology currently used by NOAA is the Reson 8125 (this system is attached to two boats currently) and it sends out 240 beams over 0.5 x 1 deg / beam at 15 pings per second and runs with 455kHz. Remember, that a short pulse (wavelength) will give better vertical resolution and higher frequencies give shorter pulses or wavelengths.

The math required to figure the depth is not very difficult, however in the case of the ocean, the computers must adjust all readings for depth, salinity, temperature and density, which in a way makes the math more difficult if done by hand.

Depth=Speed+ Time/2

Personal Log

I was able to spend some time with the survey tech’s today and got through some of the PowerPoint presentations that are available here on the intranet to educate myself more on the technology and process. I was pleased to see that I can apply some of the simple ideas to my classroom. When I teach certain science skills I will have real life data sets and examples for the kids to analyze. I also hope to get some of the kids excited in the field of sonar and survey, much needs to be done to improve the accuracy and reliability of these systems and the product they produce.

Sunday equals fishing off the fantail in between shifts. We have a resident pack of gulls that have found it much to their benefit to hang out for the halibut leftovers that get tossed overboard or that slip from bait hooks.

I found a whale bone yesterday on Egg Island and had the boat shop guys saw it in half so that both of us TAS’s could bring something back for the classroom. It is not a large chunk, but authentic to say the least. I also gathered some sea sponge that had washed up and a very unique white rock.

I was very surprised to see the people working on a Sunday. No one should ever question the dedication of the folks on board or say that this is an easy job. One of the engineers has not had a day off in two months or more. The ship is something that has to be tended too by her crew and command 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Self-sufficiency comes with some responsibilities!

Question of the Day

Which is better: side scan or multi-beam sonar?

There is not one that is better than the other so much as they can compliment each other to produce and more detailed and accurate product, namely the nautical charts and other products that use the information gathered via the sonar medium.

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