Theresa Paulsen: Ship Navigation, March 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 28, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 26˚C, Wind speed 13-18 knots, Wave height 5-7ft

Science and Technology Log

Mapping of our first priority area is now compete and we have moved to the priority two area on the north side of the Puerto Rico Trench.  We are more than 100 miles from shore at this point.  Land is nowhere in sight.  Able-Bodied Seaman Ryan Loftus tells me that even from the bridge the horizon is only 6.4 nautical miles away due to the curvature of the earth.  At this point with no frame of reference other than celestial bodies, navigation equipment becomes essential.

The ship uses Global Positioning Systems, GPS units:

GPS Units

GPS Units aboard the vessel


Radar display

The radar display.


On the radar display, we are in the center of the circle. Our heading is the blue line. Since this photo was taken near shore, the yellow patches on the bottom indicate the land mass, Puerto Rico. The two triangles with what look like vector lines to the left of us are approaching vessels. On the right, the Automated Identification System displays information about those vessels, including their name, type, heading and speed.  The radar uses two radio beams, an S-Band at 3050 MHz and an X-band at 9410 MHz, to determine the location of the vessel relative to other vessels and landmarks within a 1% margin of error.


A gyrocompass

A gyrocompass

A standard compass points to the magnetic north pole rather than true north, therefore mariners prefer to use gyrocompasses for navigation.  Before departing, a gyrocompass is pointed to true north.  Using an electric current, the gyroscope in the device is spun very fast so that it will continually maintain that direction during the voyage.  Slight errors build up over time and must be corrected.  The watch standers post the necessary correction on the bridge.  Since the device is electronic, it can feed data into the system allowing for automated navigation and dynamic positioning systems to work well.

ECDIS Screen

The Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIIS) Screen

On the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) screen, watchstanders can view the course planned by the Expedition Coordinator in charge of the science conducted on the voyage (in red), see the bearing they have set (thin black line), and see the actual course we are on (the black, dashed, arrowhead line).

The Dynamic Postioning System

The Dynamic Positioning System

The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to remain in one spot in very delicate situations, such as when they lower a tethered device like the robotic vehicle they will be using on the next cruise or a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe).  It is also helpful for docking.

The electronics are able to control the ship due to the ingenious way the engine system is designed.  The diesel engine powers generators that convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy.  This way electrical energy can be used to control main hydraulic propellers at the stern as well as electric bow and side thrusting propellers.

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What happens if the power goes out and the electronic navigation devices fail?  There are back ups – no worries, students and family!!

The vessel can sail onward.  It is equipped with a magnetic compass and the watchstanders are well versed in reading charts, using a sextant, and plotting courses by hand – they often do that just to check the radar and GPS for accuracy.

The magnetic compass

The superimposed red arrow is directing your attention to the magnetic compass above the bridge.

Using Nautical Charts

Operations Officer, Lt. Emily Rose cross checking the radar and GPS with nautical charts.

Using a Sextant

Seaman Ryan Loftus teaching me how to use a sextant.

They also have a well-used copy of the “bible of navigation,” The American Practical Navigator written in 1802 by Nathaniel Bowditch.

The American Practical Navigator

The American Practical Navigator, The “Bible” of navigation for over 200 years.

They even let me take it for a spin – okay it was about a 90˚ turn – but hey, it feels pretty cool to be at the helm of a 224ft vessel!

At the helm

Steady as she goes! Mrs. Paulsen’s at the helm!

So where are we right now?

As I said we have begun mapping in our second priority zone, more than 100 miles north of Puerto Rico.  We are near the boundary of the Sargasso Sea.  It is not bordered by land, like other seas.  Instead it is bordered by ocean currents that keep the surface water in one area.

The Sargasso Sea

The Sargasso Sea. Image Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Remember the seaweed I wondered about in an earlier post?  It is called Sargassum.  It grows in rafts in the Sargasso Sea.  This is actually where the Sargasso sea got its name.  According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, these rafts provide habitat for certain fish and marine life.  Turtles use them as nurseries for their hatchlings.  In recent years large blooms of Sargassum have been washing up on nearby coastlines causing problem along the shore.  (Oct 1, 2014, USA Today)  More research needed!  There are always more questions.  Is this caused by warming oceans, by oil spills, or by a combination?  Nothing lives in isolation.  All life forms are connected to each other and to our environment.  Changes in the ocean impact us all, everywhere on the globe.

A Sargassum Mat. Photo courtesy of NOAA.


Want to explore yourself?  Check out NOAA Corps to become ship officer!

Career Profile of a NOAA Corps Officer:

Acting Executive Officer (XO) Lieutenant Fionna Matheson is augmenting on this leg of the trip, meaning she is filling in for the XO currently on leave.  Otherwise, in her current “land job” she works at NOAA headquarters for the NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.  Dr. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, reports to the Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker. Working on the headquarters team, LT Matheson learns a great deal about the breadth and importance of NOAA’s mission.

Lt. Fionna Matheson

Lt. Fionna Matheson

To become a member of the NOAA Corps you must have a Bachelor’s degree in Science or Math. It is a competitive process, so some sort of experience with boating is advantageous, but not required.  NOAA Corps officers are trained not only to drive and manage ships, but also to handle emergencies including fire-fighting, and follow maritime law.  They act as the glue between the scientists and the crew (wage mariners), making sure the scientific mission is accomplished and the safety of the crew and the vessel are secure.  Fionna has been part of the corps for 11 years.  She explains that NOAA Corps officers are stationed for about 2 years at sea (with some shore leave) followed by 3 years on land throughout their careers. During her NOAA career, Fionna has sailed in the tropical Pacific maintaining deep-ocean buoys, fished in the North Atlantic, collected oceanographic samples in the Gulf of Mexico, and now mapped part of the Caribbean. She has also worked as part of an aerial survey team in San Diego, studying whales and dolphins.

Fionna’s advice to high school students is this, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is action.  Take the initial risk.”

Personal Log

What do we do for fun in our free time?

We read.

Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos.

Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos during his off hours.

We play games like chess, although I am not very good.  I try, and that is what is important, right?

Chess Tournament

Chief Steward Dave Fare and CO Mark Wetzler playing a warm up game before the chess tournament.

We watch movies – even watched Star Trek on the fantail one evening.   Very fitting since we are boldly going where no one has gone before with our high-resolution sonar.

Movie Night

Movie night on the fantail.

And we watch the sun go down on the ocean.


A view from the fantail of the ship.

Mostly, I like watching the water when I have time.   I would have made a great lookout – I should look into it after I retire from teaching.  I have been trying to use my Aquaman powers to summon the whales and dolphins, but so far – no luck.   Maybe on the way back in to shore we’ll catch another glimpse.

What do I miss?

My family and friends.  Hi Bryan, Ben, Laura, Dad, Mom, and the rest of the gang.

My family

My family

And my students and coworkers.  Go Ashland Oredockers!

Ashland Public Schools, Ashland, Wi

I am fortunate to have such supportive people behind me!  Thanks, guys!

I do not miss snow and cold weather, so if you all could warm it up outside in northern Wisconsin over the next week, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll see what kind of strings I can pull with these NOAA folks!   ¡No me gusta la nieve o el frío en la primavera!

Did you know?

Sky conditions on the bridge are determined by oktas.  An okta is 1/8th of the sky.  If all oktas are free of clouds the sky is clear.  If 1-2 oktas contain clouds, the bridge reports few clouds, 3-4 filled oktas equal scattered clouds, 5-7 equal broken clouds, and 8 filled oktas means the sky is overcast.

Question of the Day

Theresa Paulsen: And We’re Off! March 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log

Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Physical Scientist Hydrographer with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and our Expedition Coordinator, gave the science team aboard the vessel an overview of our expedition on Sunday after an evening of becoming acquainted with the ship and other members of the science team.

Meme Lobecker

Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Expedition Coordinator from the NOAA Office of Oceanic Exploration Research (OER)

Mapping Introduction

Mapping Introduction

She explained how oceanic exploration research is different from the rest of the scientific community and even other projects within NOAA, because it focuses purely on exploration and discovery that can generate hypotheses. In other areas, a scientist has a hypothesis first and sets out to test it through research and experimentation.

The information gained on our mission could generate hypotheses in all kinds of areas of research such as geology, fisheries, oceanography, marine archeology, and hydrography. It could help us identify areas that need protection, such as spawning grounds for commercial fish populations.  Meme and her team will turn the data over to the National Coastal Data Development Center within three weeks. From there, it goes to the National Geophysical Data Center and the National Oceanographic Data Center, where it is freely accessible through public archives within 60-90 days of the end of the cruise.  From there, any entity, public or private, can access the data for use in their work. Have you ever wondered how Google Earth and Arc View GIS get the background data for their ocean floor layer? This data contributes to those layers. Now you know! Public data access is through and

While we currently have low resolution data from satellites, less than 5% of the oceans have high-resolution images. We have better data now about the features of Mars than we do about our oceans on earth. Why? Because ocean surveying is difficult and time-consuming. High resolution maps cannot be made of the ocean floor with current technology on satellites.  The technology is getting better and better, though. The image below shows the progression from a leadsman dropping a 10 pound weight attached to a line in the water to the multibeam sonar being used as I type.

Developing Hydrographic Survey Techniques.

Learn more about the history here.

The multibeam sonar aboard the Okeanos Explorer sends out a ping at 30 kHz that bounces off the seafloor and returns to the transducer that is equipped with sensors oriented in 432 different directions receiving up to 864 beams per swath. This method has been tested in depths of up to 8000 meters. It can give us not only bathymetry data, but also water column backscatter and bottom backscatter data. This allows us to know if there are features in the water column like gaseous seeps escaping from the ocean floor. We can also tell something about the surface features, whether they are soft sediments or hard rock, from the bottom back scatter.

Meme has a crew of mappers working with her including Scott Allen, Senior Survey Technician;  Melody Ovard and Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Leads; and several interns. Another important part of the mission is to train a new generation of ocean explorers. These interns, Chelsea Wegner, Kristin Mello, and Josue Millan, come from colleges all over the country.  Their main job is to make sure the data is good and to create logs to document data collection.  They have to correct the multibeam sonar data by deploying XBTs (Expendable Bathythermographs) that determine the temperature changes within the water column because sound speed increases as water temperature increases.  They also use sensors on the ship to measure the conductivity and therefore determine the salinity of the water.  Since sound waves penetrate saltier water more easily, the salinity affects the sound intensity measurements.  Pressure must also be calculated into the equation because sound speed also increases with increasing pressure.

XBTS launch

Josue Millan launching an XBT

The vessel’s attitude also has to be factored into the sonar (like teachers need to factor in student attitudes when planning a lesson!) Similar to an airplane, a boat can pivot on its center of gravity in all three-dimensional axes: Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.  Think about your own head.  Pitch is like nodding your head in agreement, yaw is like shaking your head to say no, and roll would be like putting your ear to your shoulder.  Gives new meaning to the phrase “Heads are going to roll,”  doesn’t it?  Boats also heave, or move up and down as swells pass beneath them.

Mapping Data Collection Screen

This screen shows the data being collected by the mappers.

The screen shot above shows the data as it is being collected by the mappers.  In the main window in the upper right is the bathymetry data.  Below that is the water column backscatter.  In the bottom left is the attitude of the vessel on all axes.   The center left gray image shows the bottom backscatter while the number 421 above is the current depth beneath the vessel.  Finally, the display on the top left indicates the quality and intensity of each of the 432 beams.

We also have a team of researchers from the University of Puerto Rico that are deploying free vehicles to study water masses within the Puerto Rico Trench. More about them in the next blog!

Safety First!    On Monday, we had our first drills as part of our safety training. We practiced the “Abandon Ship” and “Fire” drills. We tested the fire hoses and donned our gumby suits. Mrs. Paulsen is looking pretty good, eh? It is comforting to know I’ll be well-protected by good equipment and a great crew in the event of an emergency.

Kristin Mello and Theresa Paulsen in their gumby suits during the first "Abandon Ship" drill.

Kristin Mello and I are trying out our gumby suits during the first “Abandon Ship” drill.

Fire hose test

Chelsea Wegner testing a fire hose.

After mapping all morning, we learned we had to return to port due to a medical issue. I discovered that engineers are vital to the operation. Without them, we don’t sail – and they are hard to come by.  All of my students interested in marine engine repair should consider NOAA in the future. The pay is good and the adventure is awesome!

I took the time in port to work in the galley helping to make lunch with the chefs. They are a friendly bunch. We made fajitas of all kinds and swordfish. Delicious! I also learned how to garnish a buffet line and even washed dishes afterward. In my high school and college days I worked in many restaurants, but they never let me work in the back. They said I was too much of a “people person” and so I was always waiting on customers. Today I got to cook on one of those large grills I see on cooking shows. Fun to cook on, but not fun to clean. The Chief Steward, Dave Fare, said he brought 5000 lbs of food on board for our trip! We’ll be eating well! Good thing there is a fitness room on board too!

Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed my how to garnish a line.

Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed me how to garnish a line.

Cooking in the Galley.

Cooking in the Galley.

Personal Log

After training on Sunday I had some time to take in a little of the history and culture of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a lovely place filled with beautifully colored buildings and fun music. The history is fascinating. According the National Park Service, this is where Chrisotopher Columbus landed on his 2nd voyage and laid claim to the land for Spain. Under Juan Ponce de Leon, Spain took control of the island, displacing the Taíno Indians in 1508. An enormous wall of defense was built to keep hold of the island. Trade winds and ocean currents allowed ships to easily sail here from the east. The fortifications on the island took 10 generations to build.

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Spain kept control of the island against invaders until the Spanish-American war in 1898 when Puerto Rico became a US Territory. The fortress including the Castillo de Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal are now historical sites managed by the National Park Service. You can learn more here.

After touring the city, I found my way to the sea! I watched children running from the waves.  This reminded me of my childhood. My father used to take us to the coast when we lived in California and Oregon. That is where my love of the sea began. Both of my parents have adventurous spirits and strong work ethics. They taught me that anything is possible if you are willing to take the chance and put in the effort. This is a belief I hope I pass on to my students.

Question of the Day

Can you identify this crustacean I found along a beach in San Juan?

Crab on the beach of Sn Juan.  Can you classify it?

Crab on the beach of San Juan. Can you classify it?


Laura Guertin: Thank you, Thomas Jefferson! September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Departing the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 19, 2014 – Day #263
Location of ship (in port at Norfolk): 36o 51.18′ N, 76o 17.911′ W


Watch out - Dr. G is bringing the Thomas Jefferson home!

Watch out – Dr. G is bringing the Thomas Jefferson home! Cruising speed ~11 knots. (photo taken by J. Johnson)

My time on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has come to an end.  It is an amazing amount of sadness I feel, leaving this incredible ship with its incredible crew.  Although my physical time on the ship is complete, I know the experience I’ve had will continue to inform my teaching and allow me to educate others about NOAA and the “what” and “why” of hydrographic surveying.



There are several people I have to thank.  First, I would like to thank NOAA for having the Teacher at Sea program, and for allowing higher education faculty to participate.  University faculty will have different takeaways from this experience than K-12 teachers, as we will view our time on the ship with a different lens and share different materials.  My Penn State Brandywine students, as well as other students from other universities, are important recipients of information from their professor that participates as a Teacher at Sea.  Why?  My students share their knowledge with others, whether it is in their other college courses, with their friends on social media, or socializing with friends and family.  My students are everything from future teachers, to future businessmen, to future politicians, and many are still deciding upon careers!  My students have the opportunity to vote.  My students can be advocates for the ocean.  My students, whether they are science majors or not, can really make a difference for our oceans with a better understanding of the process of science and who the people are that are collecting data for scientists to sailors to the everyday citizen.  For 99.9% of my students, my Oceanography course is their first and last formal introduction to the oceans.  My time as a TAS has provided me a valuable, authentic experience that I can share with students, and I am able to provide students this semester and in future semesters a course like no other they will receive in college.

Thank you, NOAA Teacher at Sea program! (yes, that is me in there!)

Thank you, NOAA Teacher at Sea program! (yes, that is me in there!) (photo taken by LCDR Winz)



I can’t thank enough the amazing people of the Thomas Jefferson (and you all know who you are!).  For a short time, the Thomas Jefferson was my classroom – but this time, I was the student and all of you, the NOAA Corps and crew, were my teachers.  Thank you for your patience, enthusiasm, hospitality, support, and laughter.  You allowed this complete stranger into your home, into your family, and you welcomed me without any hesitation.  You are an amazing group of mentors, and I feel so fortunate to have learned from each of you.  I wish I knew how to express my deepest appreciation for all that you have given me, which will now be shared with students, in-service teachers, and the greater community.


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Finally, I need to thank my students in GEOSC 040 this semester at Penn State Brandywine.  Thank you for your understanding and support of me participating in this experience.  I know you did not sign up for a course that was going to be taught online for three weeks, but I’m hoping I have effectively shared with you some of my teaching goals for this cruise:

  • Provide students additional information about NOAA, the NOAA Corps, and wage mariners
  • Help students understand the process of hydrographic surveying
    • The different roles and varied areas of expertise of people involved
    • The different types of equipment utilized
  • Demonstrate to students why hydrographic surveying is needed and relevant
  • Call attention to the intersections between the Ocean Science Literacy Principles and NOAA’s National Ocean Service

I cannot wait to join you back in the classroom for the remainder of the semester to continue sharing what I have learned.  I know this semester is a teaching experience I will never forget, and I am hoping that at the same time, this is a learning experience for you that you will also remember for years to come.

And so, the sun sets on my time at sea…

Good-by to the Atlantic Ocean and my time in the Thomas Jefferson!

Good-by to the Atlantic Ocean and my time in the Thomas Jefferson!

Laura Guertin: Days on the TJ Launch, September 18, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 18, 2014 – Day #261
Location of ship (at 0626 while in transit back to Norfolk): 40o 18.864’ N, 73o 48.974’ W



Science and Technology Log

For two consecutive days, I had the opportunity to join the hydrographic surveyors on the ship’s launch, HSL 3101 (see my previous post about the ship’s launches), as they surveyed areas close to the shoreline with multibeam echo sounding.  The shallow water areas are tricky and take much time and talent to navigate.  I have been a part of the Thomas Jefferson surveys of the deeper water with its “mowing the lawn” technique (see previous post), but the launch does not have the luxury of always logging data along straight lines at great distance, especially along the rocky New England coast. Check out these photos of the Launch!

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Here was the Plan of the Day (POD) for my first day on the Launch, Day #259:

0000 Ship U/W
0730 HSL 3101 Safety Briefing
0800 Deploy HSL 3101
1730 Recover HSL 3101
2400 Ship Anchored near H12679

I want to call your attention to the 0730 Safety Briefing.  This meeting took place the same time every morning that the Launch went out (which goes out every day during a leg of a survey, unless the weather is extremely bad).  Many items are discussed during the briefing.  I found it interesting that the coxswain (the person of the launch, including navigation and steering) also completes an Operational Risk Management survey each morning that examines the status of people heading out on the Launch and the physical environment.  The following categories are ranked on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 = no risk and 10 = highest risk.

  • Resources: boat and equipment, supervision, communication, support
  • Environment: surf zone, remoteness, ice, rocks, traffic, shallow or uncharted water
  • Team Selection: experience, training and familiarity
  • Fitness: physical and mental
  • Weather: effects on mission and safety
  • Mission Complexity: new or experimental, restricts maneuverability

The scores in all of these categories are tallied up.  If the score is between 0 and 23, the rating is a low risk, or “green,” and the mission is given a go-ahead.  If the score is between 24 and 44, the rating is an “amber” with a warning to use extra caution.  If the score is 45 to 60, then the rating indicates that there is a high risk with a “red” warning to not go out.  But the final total is not the final decision.  The XO (Executive Officer) radios the final score to the CO (Commanding Officer), and the CO has the final say whether the Launch goes out or not.  On my first day with the Launch, we had a score of 23, with the highest individual scores of 5 for Environment and 5 for Team Selection (the rocky shoreline made sense for the higher score, and my presence as a first-timer on the Launch also raised the Team Selection score!). Another important part of the Safety Briefing is a review of the “boat sheet.”   The people going out on the Launch review with the Field Operations Officer (FOO) the target areas for the Launch to visit and the data to acquire.  Below is a slide show of the multi-page packet, prepared the evening before, that goes out with the team.  This boat sheet is from my second day on the Launch, where our objective was to fill in holidays on previously-run survey lines (see my post on Holidays on the TJ).

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Each day I spent on the Launch had a slightly different mission.  On the first day, with two survey technicians, the coxswain, and myself, our goal was to obtain as much data about specific navigation hazards, as well as collect water depth data in shallower water than where the Thomas Jefferson can navigate.  Our ship and Launch are required to survey to the 12-foot contour line, but we certainly had to be careful in this rocky area, as our multibeam echo sounder was sitting in the water approximately one foot lower than the hull of the Launch!  (We had removed the side scan sonar from the Launch earlier in the week to give us more clearance to survey in this area.)  We also ran the Launch at a speed no greater than 10 knots to maintain the quality of our data and to protect the instrument.  On the second day, with one survey technician, the coxswain, and myself, you could probably tell from the boat sheets above that we spent the entire time filling in holidays in the data.  On both days, we were slowed down a bit by a variety of “things in the way.”  The photos below capture some of these obstructions.

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Just like on the Thomas Jefferson, we needed to collect data to apply corrections for sound velocity in the water.  NOAA doesn’t have MVPs on their launches (see more on the MVP), but instead use a similar instrument called a CTD.  The “C” stands for conductivity, the “T” for temperature, and “D” for depth.  When manually lowered over the side of the Launch, the CTD allows water to flow through the instrument, and data are collected as the instrument moves through the water column.  See NOAA’s page and the NOAA Ship Rainier’s page for more about a CTD and how it I used.  View the slide show below for some images of the CTD going over the side of the Launch – and getting pulled back in by myself!

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Personal Log

Getting to spend two days on the launch was the final, missing piece of my hydrographic survey experience on the Thomas Jefferson.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to head out and observe the work conducted by the launch.  I found it fascinating that the reason the Launch spent an entire day going back to fill in holidays is because NOAA charts 100% of the coastal ocean floor.  For example, a holiday may represent a 10-centimeter square gap in data – just 10 cm2!  Literally, no stone is left unturned – or in this case, no piece of the coastal zone unmapped!  My appreciation for the complexity of data gathering and processing for nautical charts just keeps growing and growing with every minute I spend on the TJ and now the Launch.  I apparently missed a little excitement while out on the Launch, as the TJ traveled close to the RMS Queen Mary II, which was cruising through the area (from the Launch, we could only see it off in the distance).

But I’m fine with missing the Queen Mary II, because the coolest part of both days?  I got to drive the launch!

That's me, driving the Launch back to the TJ after a full day of surveying

That’s me, driving the Launch back to the TJ after a full day of surveying (photo taken by R. Bayliss)

OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions.  Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #10.

  1. Is the Safety Briefing before the Launch goes out really necessary?  Why/why not?
  2. What value is there in using a CTD while at sea?  (*hint – be sure to check out the links I provided for additional information)
  3. NOAA makes sure that there are no gaps in their data in the coastal zone.  This is in disagreement with Ocean Science Literacy Principle #7, don’t you agree?  For your response to this question, write an exception to Principle #7 (let’s call it “Part G”) that says what we do know about the ocean, based upon what I’ve shared with you in these blog posts.



Random Ship Fact!

Meet Oscar!

Meet Oscar!

There are times when the launch is off surveying and the Thomas Jefferson does not have any lines to run.  This does not mean the ship is staying put!  One day, CDR Crocker decided to test the junior NOAA Corp officers with a man overboard drill.  This was not a drill for the entire ship, but a challenge for those on the bridge to see if they could rescue “Oscar.”  Oscar is thrown in the water by the CO, and the junior officers were tested to see how they navigate the ship and how long it takes to rescue Oscar (meaning, pull the floater out of the water).  I happened to be on the bridge for the first two drills, which was fascinating to watch and to see the complexity involved in trying to orient the ship, keeping in mind the wind and currents.  Oscar is now safely back on the ship, despite finding a way of “falling” back in the water several times, continuing his journey with us.

By the way, the name “Oscar” comes from the Morse code SOS distress signal, where the “O” stands for Oscar in the military phonetic alphabet.  The Morse code communication system is a set of dots and dashes for numbers and each letter of the alphabet, and the letter “O” in Morse code is three long dashes.  It is no coincidence that three long blasts of the ship’s horn is also the emergency signal for man overboard!

Laura Guertin: “Holidays” on the Thomas Jefferson. September 17, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 17, 2014
Location of ship (at the Troydon Wreck): 41o 08′ 14.459″ N, 71o 21′ 42.987″ W

When I say we have “holidays” on the Thomas Jefferson, I’m not talking about Saint Patrick’s Day or 4th of July.  I’m referring to gaps in previously-collected data we need to fill.  Let me explain by taking you through life on the TJ on Monday, September 15.

Science and Technology Log

The day started just like any other day (we actually use the day of the year to designate days – today was Day #258):

0000 Ship anchored West Passage
0600 Start M/E
0700 Haul Anchor
0730 HSL 3101 Safety Briefing
0800 Deploy HSL 3101
1730 Recover HSL 3101
2400 Ship U/W on Survey H12651

Every day we have been out at sea, our launch has been out collecting data in the shallow-water areas of the coast.  Today, the launch was working on filling in polygons (geographic regions designated for charting) close to the shore.  The Thomas Jefferson was off on its own survey, revisiting areas the ship charted earlier this year that had gaps that needed to be filled in.

First, I should explain the technique the ship uses with side-scan sonar or multibeam echo sounding.  You are all familiar with “mowing the lawn,” where a lawn mower will go across the lawn in one line, then turn 180 degrees and travel back down next to the grass just mowed, and then this linear pattern continues across the lawn.  This is the same pattern hydrographic surveys use when collecting their data – except the lawn is the ocean, and the mower is the ship!  At times, there may be gaps along these lines.  The ship may have to navigate around a buoy or a lobster pot, or another boater may be on an intersect course with our ship.  So there were several small gaps along and between lines that we needed to go back and “mow” over.  Why go back and fill in the data?  On this particular project, we were charting every square foot along the coast.  That’s a lot of lawn to mow!

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The ship is driven by the helmsman on the bridge (Deck 03), but the hydrographic survey laboratory, or plot room, is on Deck 1. This means that communications must be frequent and clear between the two decks, so that the helmsman can accurately navigate while a survey technician starts and stops the data collection along the existing gaps in the lines.

Dr. G in plot room

Dr. G running the show!

In the photo above, you can see me at the station in the plot room where the action takes place.  Each computer screen displays a specific part of the data collection (today, we were collecting multibeam and not side scan).  The crew in the lab was able to train me enough to actually run part of the survey and work with the bridge to identify our next holidays to fill in.

The other instrument used during our survey is called a MVP – no, not a “most valuable player” but a Moving Vessel Profiler.  The MVP weighs 72 pounds and looks like a torpedo.  The weight is important, as the ship will, at set intervals, let the MVP freefall (while tethered to a line).  The MVP measures sound velocity vertically in the water column.  These data are important, as they help the survey technicians apply necessary corrections to the water depth measurements collected by the multibeam echosounder.  I must admit, it was a true test of my multitasking abilities to navigate and collect multibeam data over the holidays, while releasing the MVP and saving that data!  But I had so much fun being involved, I stayed on this work station for two four-hour shifts!

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Personal Log

One of the many incredible opportunities I’ve had while at sea is to be able to get hands-on with the varied activities of the ship – from handling the lines of the launch, to hauling the anchor, to actually sitting at the computers and running the software collecting the multibeam echosounding data. It is not just the “cool factor” of being able to communicate with the bridge and start the data collection. It is definitely “cool” being able to see the different people, their content knowledge and skill sets, and the technology involved in conducting a hydrographic survey.  And it is important to know when to ask for help, when to step back, and when to say, “I’m not ready for that yet.”  I am so eager to learn, but I have to balance jumping in to help, with making sure that my involvement doesn’t interfere with the ship’s activities and mission.  Students, I’m sure you also find it tricky to balance your enthusiasm and desire to participate in activities, versus knowing when you are trying to take on too much.  Here’s my take-home message – always ask!  If you can’t get hands-on, you will most likely be able to observe your surroundings and still learn so much.  There is one activity I’m nervous to try – today, the Commanding Officer (CDR Crocker) asked me if I was going to drive the ship (yes, the 208-foot long Thomas Jefferson!).  I wasn’t ready today, but before this cruise ends, I will drive this ship!  You just may want to stay out of the ocean until I get back to campus…

OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next question (just one for this post). Please answer this question online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #9.

  1. Why do you think it is important that the Thomas Jefferson go back and fill in the holidays? (*this answer is not directly in the text above – think about why it is a good idea to fill in the gaps, not “just because” NOAA is surveying every square foot)

Random Ship Fact!

As mentioned in previous posts, the Thomas Jefferson does not focus its activities just on collecting data on the depth of the ocean.  In fact, we continued surveying today through the evening over the Troydon Wreck.  The wreck was first picked up by a survey from another NOAA Ship, and we then moved in to measure water data above the wreck.  We had to narrow our multibeam echosounder to try to pick up as much detail in the water column – for example, would we be able to find a mast sticking up from this wreck?  Check out these images and check out what we found!

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Laura Guertin: TJ at the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, September 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 15, 2014
Location of ship (at Fort Trumbull Coast Guard pier): 41o 20.698′ N, 72o 05.432’W

There is no Science and Technology Log for this blog post, as the ship made a detour for a special event – the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival in New London, CT. This annual festival was happening for its second year, and the organizers asked NOAA if they would have a ship in the area to participate. Fortunately for them (and for NOAA), we were able to have our ship docked for the weekend activities but still send out our launch (HSL 3101) to continue with the hydrographic surveys.

The weekend had quite a schedule of events for the fan of maritime history. Connecticut TV stations Channel 3 and Channel 8 came and recorded a promo of the event (you can see a brief interview with my Commanding Officer in the Channel 3 video!). On Thursday evening, myself and others from the ship went and listened to sea shanty singing (you can listen to examples of sea shanties on the Smithsonian Folkways website). The evening concluded with a screening of a film titled Connecticut & The Sea, a look at how Connecticut’s identity has been shaped by its maritime heritage.

On Friday, there was an official welcoming ceremony for the festival with Lt. Governor Wyman, Senator Blumenthal, the mayor of New London, Mayor Finizio, and other state officials. There were many speeches, including a reading of a proclamation from last year that annually establishes the second week of September as the Connecticut Maritime History and Heritage Week.  I was pleased to hear that this annual celebration has a strong education mission written in the proclamation, focusing on using schooners as learning tools for youth. Senator Blumenthal specifically mentioned that, “more importantly than the money going in to this [festival] will be what people will learn, especially about our heritage. We are rooted in the sea.” I also learned about a maritime heritage history guide being developed for elementary grades in Connecticut, and another social studies and science guide for middle/high school students on maritime history, transportation, and maritime technology. Sounds like fun topics to teach, and so relevant to students and their geographic location.

Then, we started with ship tours! For two hours, we allowed visitors to come on board for a guided 15-minute tour of the Thomas Jefferson. Below are images of what the visitors were shown.  Images from other areas, such as the mess deck and lounge, can be viewed at my Life on the Thomas Jefferson post.

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Friday evening was the lighted boat parade, with the judges coming on board our ship to view and judge the boats that went by. (Personal commentary… UConn Avery Point – your boat should have won! Any boat with a college mascot on it is a winner in my book!)

UCONN - Avery Point R/V

The UCONN – Avery Point research vessel, filled with lights for the lighted boat festival!

On Saturday, we opened the ship for five hours, having as many as four tour groups on board at once! It was a huge effort in coordination, but as always, I am amazed by this amazing team on the Thomas Jefferson that was able to educate visitors on NOAA, its mission, and hydrographic surveying. The comments when the people came off the ship were so positive and wonderful to hear, and the smiles on the kids’ faces really summed up their experience.

We were pretty much all exhausted on Saturday evening – after all, we hosted 514 visitors on board during the festival! But there was little time to sit back and relax, as we had to be ready to set off our launch at 0800 and pull out of City Pier by 0900 the next morning.

Tour line for TJ

The line was long at times, but as many visitors told us, the tour was well worth the wait!

Personal Log

As an educator heavily involved in outreach, I was thrilled to be able to participate as a NOAA Teacher at Sea in this event. I proudly wore my TAS t-shirt and hat, and when I went over to the Education Exhibits at the festival, I was able to speak to some educators about this NOAA program and the wonderful opportunity it offers. I can’t wait to continue sharing my TAS experiences after this cruise, with my students, other K-12 teachers I work with, and the general public.

And it was fascinating for me to see everything involved in getting ready for the ship’s participation in the festival. The crew worked incredibly hard for several days, generating the posters for displays, cleaning the ship from top to bottom, and painting everything from the handrails to the decks. While at dock, we “dressed the ship” with signal flags – we looked good!

Another personal note is the delight I had being able to reconnect with my Connecticut roots!  I grew up in Plainville, CT, and we made several trips down to Mystic to visit Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium.  It was interesting to see this pride in Connecticut’s maritime history extend beyond Mystic, especially in New London with the Custom House Maritime Museum and current docking location of the recreated ship Amistad.

I would have to say that the most-unexpected-yet-equally exciting part of the weekend was seeing more than one submarine heading up the Thames River towards the Naval Submarine Base in New London (at least I believe that is where they were heading!). Each submarine is escorted by three smaller U.S. Navy boats with lots of protection on board. When a submarine comes through, all boat traffic stops in the immediate area. The submarines move very slow during transit in the river, so I was able to watch them for quite some time. Even though I recently toured the U.S.S. Bowfin submarine (a WWII sub), these submarines seemed much longer and more impressive in the water!

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OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions. Please answer these TWO questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #8. Only enter responses in the boxes for Question #1 and Question #2. You can refer to the NOAA Education Strategic Plan 2009-2029 for additional background information.  I also encourage you to think back to some of the previous questions you have answered about the role and purpose of hydrographic surveying…

1)  Please read NOAA’s Education Mission below. Why was it important for NOAA to participate in the CT Maritime Heritage Festival (in the context of NOAA’s education mission)? How did the Thomas Jefferson help support this mission statement?

NOAA’s Education Mission — To advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce in ocean, coastal, Great Lakes, weather, and climate sciences, encouraging stewardship and increasing informed decision making for the Nation.

2)  Please read NOAA’s Education Vision below. Why was it important for NOAA to participate in the CT Maritime Heritage Festival (in the context of NOAA’s vision)? How did the Thomas Jefferson help support this vision statement?

NOAA’s Vision — An informed society that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the ocean, coasts, and atmosphere in the global ecosystem to make the best social and economic decisions.

Random Ship Fact!

While NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson does not have the historic record of the ships docked in New London this past weekend, the Thomas Jefferson has certainly made some significant contributions that will go down in this ship’s history. Here are some of the impressive activities of the TJ, beyond its day-to-day hydrographic survey activities:

  • When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012 and New York Harbor was closed to ship traffic, the U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance from NOAA for immediate assistance with charting. It was the Thomas Jefferson that was sent in to survey the waterways. The Thomas Jefferson and her two launches charted approximately 20 square nautical miles with side scan sonar and multibeam echo sounder, mapping shipping lanes and channels, identifying numerous hazards to navigation, and locating many lost containers throughout New York Harbor and the approaches” (see NOAA PDF). In essence, it was the work of the TJ that deemed the area safe and reopened the Harbor. See NOAA’s summary Response to Hurricane Sandy and read about the Updates to the New York Harbor nautical chart.
  • The Thomas Jefferson was involved in a search and rescue of two divers on August 26, 2012. The TJ was off of Block Island conducting its hydrographic survey work, and responded to an emergency call broadcast by the U.S. Coast Guard. The crew of the TJ spotted the divers and were able to direct a Coast Guard rescue vessel to their location (see NOAA article).
  • When a plane crashed in the ocean near Key West on August 14, 2010, the Thomas Jefferson was the first on site to respond. Within five minutes, and in the dark, the TJ crew rescued the pilot from the plane (see NOAA article).
  • On June 3, 2010, the Thomas Jefferson embarked on a research mission to investigate the area around the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill site. Specifically, the TJ utilized sophisticated acoustic and water chemistry monitoring instruments to detect and map submerged oil in coastal areas and in the deep water surrounding the BP well head. See the following NOAA articles:
    • NOAA/NOS Deepwater Horizon Incident (website)
    • Initial observations from the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (NOAA News)
    • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson Continues Deepwater Horizon Spill Study Mission (NOAA News)
    • Deepwater Horizon Response Mission Report (PDF)
  • From April-June 2004, the Thomas Jefferson conducted a joint hydrographic survey with Mexico along the approaches to the Mexican ports of Altamira and Tampico as part of a cooperative charting agreement under the International Hydrographic Organization / Meso-American-Caribbean Sea Hydrographic Commission.
  • And let’s not forget the other contributions the Thomas Jefferson has made to marine archaeological surveys (Virginia Capes Wrecks, USCS Robert J. Walker, etc.)

One final point I’ll mention is from May 2007, when the Thomas Jefferson was recognized with the U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award “for superior federal service for mapping efforts which identified areas of shoaling and obstructions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and allowed for nautical charts to be quickly updated and used by deep draft vessels entering ports.”  This ship will certainly go down in the history books of the NOAA fleet!

TJ with flags

The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, with her flags out for the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival

Laura Guertin: Pre- and post-hydrographic surveys on the Thomas Jefferson, September 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 12, 2014
Location of ship: 41o 21.217′ N, 72o 05.508′ W (docked at City Pier in New Haven, CT)

That's me, getting ready to handle the bow line for the HSL 3101 launch

That’s me, getting ready to handle the bow line for the HSL 3101 deployment. (photo taken by R. Bayliss)

This post will summarize some of what happens before hydrographic research vessels such as the Thomas Jefferson head out to collect data; a little more information and some history on the tools utilized to collect the data; and then where the data are used once the ship has accomplished its mission.

Science and Technology Log

You may recall in my third post that there are three questions the NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey asks and answers several years in advance to prioritize survey plans:

  • Is it considered a critical area? If so, how old are the most current survey data?
  • Have local pilots or port authorities submitted reports of shoaling, obstructions or other concerns?
  • Does the U.S. Coast Guard or other stakeholders from the maritime community (e.g., fisheries, energy, pipelines) need surveys for economic development or ecological protection?

Once the NOAA Coast Survey tells the ships in their hydrographic fleet where to survey, an initial chart is created to break down the region into pieces (termed polygons) for mapping.

Boat sheet for Long Island Sound survey (provided by T. Walsh)

Boat sheet for Long Island Sound survey (provided by T. Walsh)

Once the region is set and defined, it is now time to get the equipment ready to generate an image and/or record the depth of the ocean floor. The technology for collecting this data has certainly come a long way over time!  The image below shows the “technologies” over time. You may also want to review the History of Hydrographic Surveying and Using Lead Lines to Collect Hydrographic Data.  Remember that you can go back and visit NOAA’s site to review What is sonar? and the different hydrographic survey equipment NOAA uses, specifically side scan sonar and the multibeam echo sounder.  Remember that side scan sonar is good for getting an overview of features on the seafloor, while multibeam data are needed to obtain an absolute depth measurement at a location.

Over 50 percent of the depth information found on NOAA charts is based on hydrographic surveys conducted before 1940. Surveys conducted with lead lines or single-beam echo sounders sampled a small percentage of the ocean bottom. Due to technological constraints, hydrographers were unable to see between the sounding lines. Depending on the water depth, these lines may have been spaced at 50, 100, 200 or 400 meters. Today, as NOAA and its contractors re-survey areas and obtain full-bottom coverage, uncharted features (some that are dangers to navigation) are routinely discovered. These features were either: 1) not detected on prior surveys, 2) manmade objects, like wrecks and obstructions, that have appeared on the ocean bottom since the prior survey or 3) the result of natural changes that have occurred since the prior survey.

Over 50 percent of the depth information found on NOAA charts is based on hydrographic surveys conducted before 1940. Surveys conducted with lead lines or single-beam echo sounders sampled a small percentage of the ocean bottom. Due to technological constraints, hydrographers were unable to see between the sounding lines. Depending on the water depth, these lines may have been spaced at 50, 100, 200 or 400 meters. Today, as NOAA and its contractors re-survey areas and obtain full-bottom coverage, uncharted features (some that are dangers to navigation) are routinely discovered. These features were either: 1) not detected on prior surveys, 2) manmade objects, like wrecks and obstructions, that have appeared on the ocean bottom since the prior survey or 3) the result of natural changes that have occurred since the prior survey. (Text for this caption from NOAA Hydrographic Survey Techniques webpage)

Here is a photo of the side scan sonar device from the Thomas Jefferson launch HSL 3101.

Side scan sonar recording device being removed from the HSL 3101, as the launch was going to be surveying in shallow/rocky waters that could damage the instrument.

Side scan sonar recording device being removed from the HSL 3101, as the launch was going to be surveying in shallow/rocky waters that could damage the instrument.

Here is a photo from underside of the Thomas Jefferson of the dual-frequency projector to capture multibeam data.

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If we go back to the map above that shows the regions to be charted, NOAA’s hydrographic crew will first run some multibeam lines to get a general overview of what to expect in terms of depth variations across the survey area.

Boat sheet with initial lines of multibeam data (provided by T. Walsh)

Boat sheet with initial lines of multibeam data (provided by T. Walsh)

Finally, the multibeam data are collected to produce a detailed map (red is for shallow depths, purple is for the deepest depths).

Initial multibeam data for a region, collected by one of the launches of the Thomas Jefferson (provided by T. Walsh)

Initial multibeam data for a region, collected by one of the launches of the Thomas Jefferson (provided by T. Walsh)

But collecting the side scan and multibeam data is just one half of the story – the other half includes knowing where you are when you collect the data.  Please listen to this important audio file from NOAA’s Diving Deeper podcast series, titled Accurate Positions: Know Your Location (from August 2012, 14:01 minutes, transcript).  If the audio player does not appear for you below, click here.

Personal Log

So we have the data collected on the water so we can add the water depths to the nautical charts.  And we have the locations where we collected that data.  But we still have a missing piece…  I have added the next part of this story to my Personal Log, as this information I can provide from my prior experiences during two summer internships while I was an undergraduate student.  The coast itself must be mapped with land surveys, aerial photographs, and remote sensing (see What is remote sensing?).  In addition to the shoreline, NOAA’s cartographers must plot any manmade structures such as docks and jetties that would be an obstruction to navigation, and any objects along the shoreline that would be visible to boaters such as radio and water towers.

Back to the Science and Technology Log

Finally, we have all the pieces to our puzzle, now it is time to put together the nautical chart!  I know I have been throwing around the term “nautical chart,” but let’s make sure you have this in your vocabulary. Please listen to this audio file from NOAA’s podcast series Diving Deeper, titled What is a Nautical Chart? (from March 2009, 15:04 minutes, transcript).  If the audio player does not appear for you below, click here.

Wondering how long it takes to create a nautical chart?  View NOAA’s page on The time needed to make a new nautical chart depends on how many pieces of the puzzle are in the box.

OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions.  Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #7.

  1. Why might hydrographers use side scan sonar rather than multibeam echo sounding?  Give two examples.
  2. For oceanographers, especially for a hydrographic survey, why is it important to get accurate positions while collecting survey data?
  3. How and why are nautical charts updated?

Random Ship Fact!

The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson started its life as the US Naval Ship Littlehales.  From January 1992 to January 2003, the Littlehales recorded 85,018 hydrographic survey miles along the coast of Africa and in the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea.  The Littlehales even assisted local authorities in halting a piracy incident against another ship at a West African port in 2001 (see article).  At the end of her Navy career, the number of survey operations personnel reached 660.  The Littlehales ended its time with the Navy but then became the Thomas Jefferson and officially entered the NOAA fleet on July 8, 2003 (see article).  It is pretty amazing to be on a ship that has traveled and contributed so much to ocean navigation and safety.

US Navy Ship LIttlehales

US Navy Ship Littlehales. (image from Navsource)

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (image from NOAA)

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (image from NOAA)