Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website:

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.

Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

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