Joan Raybourn, August 23, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 23, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44°23’ N
Longitude: 66°37’ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind direction: W (270 degrees)
Wind speed: 12.7 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: 1’
Sea water temperature: 11.1°C
Sea level pressure: 1014.7 millibars
Cloud cover: 1/8 Clear with a few cumulus clouds low on the horizon

Question of the Day: What does “GMT” stand for and how does it affect the date in the log information above?

Yesterday’s Answer: The clock shows 9:17 a.m. There are 24 hours around the clock face. The hour hand is pointing a little past the 9, so that is the hour. To read the minute hand, notice its position. On a twelve-hour clock, this position would indicate about 17 minutes past the hour. Since this clock counts off 24 hours instead of counting to 12 twice, the afternoon and evening hours have their own numbers. For example, 4:00 p.m. on a twelve-hour clock would be 16:00 on a twenty-four-hour clock. There is no need to indicate a.m. or p.m. since each hour has its own unique number.


Science and Technology Log

Today I spent some time up on the bridge talking to the crew about weather. The ship collects all kinds of weather data from on-board sensors, including air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. It also receives weather data from sources outside the ship via satellite link and email. I was especially interested in how the crew determines visibility, cloud cover, sea wave height, and sea swell height, since these represent subjective data. “Subjective” means that someone uses known data and their own experience to make a judgment. Here are some examples.

Visibility just means how far you can see into the distance. This is very hard to judge on the sea because there are no reference points – no objects to “go by” to decide how far away something is. Radar gives an accurate distance from the Albatross IV to objects such as other ships, and on a clear day, the horizon is about twelve miles away. A navigator learns to estimate visibility by combining radar information with how far away objects look in relation to the horizon. It takes a lot of practice to be able to judge visibility using only your eyes!

Cloud cover just means the amount of the sky that is covered by clouds. This is expressed in eighths. Today the cloud cover was about 1/8, meaning about one eighth of the sky had clouds and seven eighths was clear. To make the estimate, mentally divide the sky in half and ask yourself if about half of the sky is cloudy. If you see that less than half the sky has clouds, then mentally divide the sky into fourths, and then eighths. This can be tricky if the clouds are scattered around because it is hard to see a fraction that isn’t all “together”. Once again, this skill takes a lot of practice.

Sea swell height and sea wave height are both descriptors of how the ocean surface is behaving. These are important to observe because they affect the motion of the ship. Swells are large rolling humps of water that are created by the winds from storms. Navigators can tell how far away the storm is by observing the speed of, and length between, the swells. The ship might rock with long, slow swells caused by a storm hundreds of miles away, or with the shorter, faster swells of a storm that is closer. Waves, on the other hand, are caused by local wind; that is, the wind that is blowing right at your location. Waves might just be rippling the water if the wind is light, but can be large if the wind is strong. Both swell height and wave height are estimated in feet from the trough (bottom) to the crest (top) of the wave. Again, this skill takes lots of practice.

Personal Log

Yesterday we got word that a pod of about seventy right whales had been sighted in the Bay of Fundy. This represents a large fraction of this endangered species’ entire population of fewer than 300. Our route has taken us up a little way into the bay, and we have been eagerly watching for whales. We’ve seen several blows in the distance, and occasionally a glimpse of a long back breaking the water. Most of them have been fin whales, but we did see two or three right whales before it was completely dark. It’s exciting to see these giants of the ocean and we hope to see more when the sun comes up.