Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2012 Field Season Wrap-Up and Reflection

We made it back to Newport, OR safely (on Thursday Nov. 1st, 2012). It is the beginning of the winter in port and the end of my internship. I am very happy to have been able to extend my experience on board the Rainier from 8 weeks to a total of 28 weeks. Just as a review, I have included a short summary of our entire field season, some statistics, and information about our different survey areas.

The NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 has completed the 2012 field season as of October 24th, 2012. The crew worked hard, spending 179 days away from their home-port in Newport, OR.  They worked on three survey projects using multi-beam sonar: Chirikof Island, the Shumagin Islands, and North Kodiak. These survey areas consist of a combined 604.55 square nautical miles and 9038.86 linear nautical miles, an all time best for the Rainier.

2012 Field Season Project Areas - Image Credit: Google Earth

The first project of the season took place at Chirikof Island, a small, desolate island just 60 miles SW of Kodiak Island. The Rainier spent 41 days in total surveying Chirikof. There were some challenges to this project, such as weather and cows. With few places to hide from the weather, since most of the island is exposed, the crew took on great hardships gathering good data. Another difficulty faced was avoiding the feral cows that populate the island. The feral Chirikof cows are known to be aggressive, so the crew made sure to take caution when going ashore to set up, maintain, and tear down the HORCON station. The entire survey area mapped consists of 431.266 square nautical miles which took 5098.13 linear nautical miles of survey lines to cover.

Final Survey Area of Chirikof Island - Image Credit: Rainier Survey Department

Feral Cow at Chirikof Island - Photo Credit: Christiane Reiser

Our second project area took place in the Shumagin Islands, a grouping of islands along the Aleutian Chain. The Rainier spent 20 days in total, mapping out 113.54 square nautical miles of seafloor. This took 2349.59 linear nautical miles of survey lines to complete. Weather was the biggest challenge we faced while surveying in this area. Luckily there were a few good places for us to hide and wait out the storms, one of which was Northeast Harbor.

Completed Survey area of the Shumagin Islands - Image Credit: Rainier Survey Department

Winds up to 70 knots in Northeast Harbor - Photo Credit: Christiane Reiser

Our final project of the 2012 field season was located in North Kodiak. The Rainier spent 19 days in total mapping 59.74 square nautical miles of seafloor, which took 1591.14 linear nautical miles of survey lines to cover. The weather was much more agreeable in this survey area. The big challenge we faced here was time, as it was the last project of the season and the snow, cold, and storms are getting closer. The Rainier finished surveying the last project on October 24th, 2012 which is the same day she weighed anchor for Newport.

Final Survey area in North Kodiak - Image Credit: Rainier Survey Department

North Kodiak Sunset - Photo Credit: Christiane Reiser

One of the launches out surveying - Photo Credit: Christiane Reiser

NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 - 2012  Alaskan Field Season - Photo Credit: Christiane Reiser

2012 Rainier Crew - Photo Credit: CDR Rick Brennan

I will remain on board the Rainier for only another 11 days. After that, I return home to Denver so I can start preparing for the Spring semester. My reason for staying on a little while longer is to help finish the descriptive report for my sheet assignment. We are moving right along with this project, going through all the details of our data, making sure it is presentable. 

This internship gave me more possibilities of learning hydrography than I could have ever learned anywhere else. The skills I picked up on the ship will help me with any future career. I learned everything from running a sonar, to processing data, to even getting to know many different kinds of people in a very confined space, over a long period of time. It has been an amazing five and a half months. I am of course looking forward to coming home, but I will miss the ship life,  the job, and the crew. This is most definitely a tough job, and not for just anyone. You have to have a great sense of adventure, an ability to get along with anyone, hopefully not get seasick easily, and have a lot of self-motivation, but the end result is pretty cool. The NOAA Ship Rainier's mission to help and protect mariners from uncharted waters is admirable and a great addition to the marine community. Without the hard work these people do, there would be many more disasters at sea. This just goes to show how important organizations like NOAA really are.

I have high hopes of returning to NOAA as a full-time employee (not just an intern) in the future. Before my graduation next year, I will start exploring my options in the scientific community. Some of my bigger career aspirations include doing research in Antarctica and the Arctic, work on a research vessel studying weather and climate, study ocean acidification, etc. I also want to help promote science and women in science. I think NOAA will be a great vehicle in getting me to those places.  

My hopes for the next year will be to finish school so I can move right into the workforce after the Summer of 2013. Although I wanted to do another internship aboard a NOAA ship, I think it will be more beneficial to finish my degree and go straight to work. 

The connections I have made with this internship are priceless and will hopefully help further my education and career. What an amazing opportunity I found when I called the NOAA Ship Rainier for a Summer internship. I would like to say a big thank you to the Rainier and all her crew for taking me in and showing me the ropes; or better yet the "lines". This will be my last blog post as my internship has come to a close. Thank you all for following me on my adventure...I hope you enjoyed it!

Greetings from Newport, OR.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ship-Life Part II

This is the second part to my Ship-Life post. In the previous post I talked mostly about the different work performed in the Survey Department. Now I want to talk about life on the ship after working hours. Since we all live where we work, the dynamics of our social life is much different than in "normal" life.

Going out while in port

We have many different forms of entertainment on the NOAA Ship Rainier. Most crew members have books, movies, video games, music, board games, etc. on board. In addition to these, the Rainier plays two movies per night when underway. The ship has been provided with a large selection of NAVY movies. These movies are played on a public channel that can be viewed in the wardroom, crews mess, or staterooms (if you have a television). The movies are played at 1800 and 2030. One of the officers is in charge of creating a diverse movie schedule each week.

Watching movies in the Wardroom

The ship is equipped with a workout facility that is available for all crew members. The gym includes a multi-use weight machine, a stationary bicycle, a treadmill, an elliptical machine, a punching bag, dumbbells and mats. There is also a television and speakers in the gym. Many people on board will spend part of their free time getting in shape. This is a nice benefit, especially when we are at sea for weeks at a time.

In addition to the gym, many crew members have taken to playing hackysack on the fantail or the boat deck after work. It is fun and a great challenge (especially when the ship is rolling a lot). Others will take the opportunity to do some fishing when we are at anchor.

Hackysack on the fantail after dinner

The crew fishing while anchored

Getting mail on the ship is especially exciting for the crew. An officer will usually make a mail run right when we pull into port. Most of the crew spends the weeks at sea looking forward to getting mail from their family and friends, care packages, things they have ordered, etc.

Right along with the mail, we usually get a large order of stores when we pull into port. This requires help from any available hands on board. We line up (sometimes on the gangway, sometimes on the breezeway)  and pass all the stores down into the ship to be stored, refrigerated, or frozen.

On occasion, the CO will allow us to go to shore for a beach party when we are anchored. It gives us a chance to explore the different islands we visit, warm up by a fire, and comb the beaches for washed up treasures. The ship has kayaks available, or you can hop in one of skiffs that does runs to and from shore.

Kayaking to shore for a beach party

Our fire on the beach at Chirikof Island

Beach party in the Shumagin Islands

Since we have left our home port, we have visited several different places. We spent a couple of weeks in Seattle, several in ports in Kodiak, a week in Seward, and a few days in Homer. It is a nice bonus for the crew to have time off the ship, explore new cities, go hiking, camping, bear viewing, fishing, etc. We also use this time to go shopping, visit local restaurants, and go out with our shipmates.

To give you a better idea of what the NOAA Ship Rainier looks like, I have compiled a tour video. One of my shipmates, Joshua Parker, was kind enough to show us around. The video covers our living quarters, some work spaces (especially for the Survey Department), lounge areas, decks, crews mess, and a few others. I hope you enjoy the tour!

We are currently working in our North Kodiak survey area. Our goal is to finish the project by next week when we will weigh anchor and begin the long transit home. Our scheduled arrival in Newport is November 2nd.
The weather has turned cold and the mountains have a dusting of snow. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a postcard.

North Kodiak

Snow on the mountains in North Kodiak

Once we are back in Newport, I plan to stay an additional two weeks to help my sheet manager finish up our assigned project. That's it for now. Until my next post, greetings from a chilly Alaska!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ship-Life Part I

I've been wanting to write a post about ship-life for a while now. I have a feeling that many people reading my blog may not know what kind of ship I am living on. Some of my friends have asked me if it is anything like a cruise ship. Some think it is like an old wooden fishing boat. So, this blog is to set the record straight and give you a good idea of what it is like to live on a ship.

I am going to focus on scheduling in Part I. There are many departments on the Rainier, such as the deck department, engineering department, etc. each with different responsibilities and schedules, but I want to target the survey department in this post.

POD (Plan of the Day)
Each day a POD is posted throughout the ship. This is a plan of the following day that the FOO (Field Operations Officer) puts together for all the assignments for the day. The FOO makes sure that each person gets to do a variety of jobs throughout the season. Here is an example.

POD for day number 278

The POD details who is assigned to what for the day. As you can see we had three launches go out to collect multibeam data and one skiff to visit the tide gauge and base station. The top right corner shows who will be night processing (bathy) and who will be working on POSPac (POS). For that day I was assigned to the night processing shift. The predicted weather and tides are also displayed.

This shift usually begins around 1:00 pm and goes to 9:00 pm. The job entails taking the raw data collected during the day on the launches and processing it. We use various software programs to do so.
First the night processor will help get the launches back on the ship at the end of the working day, collect the boat bag that contains the hard drive with all the data. This of course requires a life vest and hard hat. Any work done with the small boats requires appropriate safety gear. After all the launches are secured in their davits on board, we usually have a Survey Debrief Meeting in the Wardroom to talk about the day, give the night processors any information they will need for processing, and discuss any issues.

The processor will then proceed to transfer all the data to our network and begin converting the lines (all the multibeam data collected). Once the lines are converted we apply correctors such as true heave, tides, and sound velocity. After this, the night processor will merge the data and compute TPU (Total Propagated Uncertainty). All of this is noted in the acquisition log for reference. Once all the data has been processed, the night processor will go through it and roughly clean the data for any major fliers or noise. Finally, a .tiff file is created to show the updated coverage of the project. At the end of the night, the night processing manager will take the .tiff files from each project and merge them into a super-tiff of the entire survey area. This allows us to see how much work was accomplished. The sheet managers will make sure the newest coverage is loaded on the launches to ensure the launch team knows what has and has not been surveyed.

An example of night processing. The data has been converted, fixed, and cleaned.

The POS shift can vary. I usually begin the shift like night processing around 1:00 pm and work until 9:00 pm. Some people prefer to work earlier. The nice thing about POSPac is the shift can be flexible as long as you get permission from the Chief Survey Tech first.
This job entails taking the raw true heave file that is collected by the launches or ship, and processing it with a program called POSPac. This software takes the raw data and creates what is called an SBET (Smoothed Best Estimate of Trajectory) and an RMS (Root Mean Squared) file. The files that are created with POSPac are later applied to the projects by each sheet manager. The general goal of applying SBETs is correcting the horizontal position of the boat from in the order of 1m (using just GPS) to a subdecimetric level using our base stations.
It can take a long time to process POS data, sometimes upward of two hours for one boat. Once the line has been processed, the survey tech will QC (quality control) the data to ensure accuracy.

An example of POSPac processing. 

When assigned to work on a launch for the day, you have to do some preparations. First you should have the right kind of gear such as warm clothes or waterproof clothes (depending on the weather), a hat, a float coat or life vest, and a hardhat. (I also always bring gloves, a knife, a multitool,  pen and pencil, sunglasses, and a water bottle). Many Survey Techs will also bring music to play and various snacks.
The HIC (Hydrographer in Charge) or sheet manager will usually make sure the project is set up correctly in Hypack (the software program used on the launches for collecting multibeam data) before the day begins.

The day usually begins at 8:00 am with a safety meeting on the fantail. All parties involved in launch work attend the meeting to learn about safety concerns or hazards such as rocks, kelp, etc. as well as expected weather and tides. Once the meeting is concluded, the launches are deployed and go off to their assigned locations to collect data. When the launches work a regular day, they are expected to return to the ship at 4:30 pm. If the weather is really nice, the FOO and CO (Commanding Officer) may make a call to let the launches continue working. We call this "late boats". When we decide to have late boats, they usually return at 6:00 pm. Lunch on the launches consists of sandwiches, soup, and snacks. The stewards also provide hot water for tea, coffee, juice, and cold water.

One of our launches out collecting data

The "fantail" of the launch.

When the ship is also acquiring data it is usually done so in 24 hour operation mode. The benefit of the ship is that we have so many people on board and can break up the shifts so we can be acquiring non stop.
A ship's hydro shift is broken up in to two- 4 hour shifts. Either 8:00 am-12:00 pm and 8:00 pm - 12:00 am; 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm, 12:00 am - 4:00 am; or 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm, 4:00 am - 8:00 am.
The shifts are usually covered by two survey techs at a time.
The Rainier has a Kongsberg EM710 multibeam echo sounder. This sonar is much more useful in deeper water (compared to where the launches can go) and is usually only used in "offshore" areas. The sonar can survey between 3-2000m of water and is a much lower frequency system at 70 or 100 kHz. (Compared to the RESON sonars on the launches which are 200 or 400 kHz).
The survey team works directly with the Bridge to communicate where the ship needs to go to collect data. They use a house radio to talk to each other to make sure both parties know what is going on.

Our work hours differ very much from the standard 8-5 office job. We work 7 days a week while underway. Most of the time, the Survey Department works 8:00 am - 5:00 pm  (unless you are scheduled to go out on a launch or other assignment). Breakfast is from 7:00 am - 8:00 am, we get an hour for lunch from 11:30 am - 12:30 pm and dinner is from 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm. If late boats are out, the stewards will take down orders from the launch crew and set aside their meal.

The NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 underway in Alaska

When we are inport our day is from 7:30 am - 4:30 pm with a half hour for lunch. It is much more normal. The survey team often takes this time to catch up on their surveys and other processing. We also only work 5 days per week while inport. This is a nice benefit that allows us to go out and explore the different cities we visit. Often times, the crew will take some days off while inport and may even stay in a hotel to have a night off the ship.

The NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 tied up at the cargo pier on the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, Alaska (one of our most frequent inports).

Every week we have drills on the ship. We go through fire and emergency, abandon ship, and man overboard drills.

During a fire and emergency drill, the XO (Executive Officer) stages a fire in a random location on the ship. The fire alarm rings and an announcement is made that it is a drill and the location of the fire. Each person on board is assigned to a certain team. The various teams are distributed throughout the ship. I am assigned to team Bravo, which is there to provide damage control for the attack team during a fire. This means we help with boundary watch, boundary cooling, fire hoses, de-smoking, de-watering, and various other ways. When the alarm sounds, we report to our fire station for muster with any additional assigned gear (such as radios). Sometimes we will even practice with a victim, simulating some sort of injury which gives the medical response team a chance to practice their skills as well.

The fire team heading to the location of the simulated fire during a drill

The medical team simulating response to a "victim" of a fire during drills

Allix using a fire hose for simulation of boundary cooling during drills

During abandon ship drills we grab our survival suits which are issued upon arrival to the Rainier, and any assigned equipment, and proceed to our assigned life rafts for muster. Once we have all been accounted for, the ships location, heading, and nearest point of land is announced so that each raft has vital information before abandoning. We also don our survival suits to be sure of proper fitting. As long as everyone and the gear is accounted for, the ship is secured from the drill.

ENS Abbitt donning her survival suit during drills

Abandon ship drills - survival suits donned

Man overboard drills also have various teams. The CO will usually throw a buoy overboard and then sound the alarm. We all lay to our stations (mine is manning the big eyes on the fly bridge). Muster is called in to the bridge and either a launch/FRB (fast rescue boat) is deployed or the ship will maneuver to recover the lost buoy. We had man overboard drills yesterday at Marmot Bay in North Kodiak, where we practiced with  rescue swimmers in the water. It is important to practice these drills for in the case of an emergency, we only have a matter of minutes to recover a victim in these cold Alaskan waters.

We were lucky to have extremely nice weather during drills yesterday. The sea was flat and we also got to see a lot of whales.

Rescue swimmers in the water simulating man overboard during drills

The FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) ready to recover the victims during drills

The FRB returning to the ship with the recovered "victim"where the medical team is standing by during drills
ENS Buesseler got to be a "victim" during man overboard drills

Whales at Marmot Bay in North Kodiak  

We believe these to be either the Fin Whale or the Sei Whale

 They were as close as 50 ft from the ship



 We didn't get to see them breach a lot but it was incredible to see so many of them out on such a beautiful day


That's it for now. The Ship-Life blog Part II will be up next week. It will include a video tour of the ship. Until then, cheers and here are some more sunset photos to enjoy!




Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Farewell Shumagin Islands....

We have finished surveying the Shumagin Islands for the season and are now back in the Kodiak area. Due to weather and time constraints we had to limit working on four of the nine sheets assigned. The Rainier will come back next season to finish the remaining sheets. Here is an image of our work completed.

The Shumagin Islands survey project - Finished

We were able to complete the sheet I was assigned to. All the required bottom samples and multibeam data was collected. Now the sheet manager and I will complete the Descriptive Report (DR) for our assignment. This is a very detailed process that covers all areas of the survey. We will also comb through all the data to make sure it is presentable before finishing the DR.

Here is an image of my completed survey area.

H12473 Survey area - Finished
Looking back, it is great to see all the work we have accomplished. Here is an image of the completed project at Chirikof Island.

Chirikof Island survey project - Fhinished

Now we are moving on to our next assignement before heading home for the winter. Our next project is in North Kodiak. We have already begun work in this area by setting up two tide gauges and a base station. Having this work done is great because the moment we get there, survey operations can commence.

I was on the Horcon team again for the North Kodiak project. This was the third base station I helped install. We chose to set up the station on an islet off of Whale Island in North Kodiak.

The location of Whale Island where we installed our base station

A closer look at Whale Island

Islet chosen for the base station

Exploring Whale Island near the base station

Some sort of man made contraption we found in the forest near the base station 

Getting the HORCON gear off the skiff

The benchmark we installed for the base station

Part of the base station. View of the antenna and solar panels.

On our way back to the ship....there were so many otters out and about

We will survey North Kodiak until October 11th. Then we go back to the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak for our last inport. After the inport, we will spend a bit more time finishing up the North Kodiak project before starting our transit home.

The homeport for the Rainier S 221 is located in Newport, OR. This is roughly a ten day transit from the Kodiak area. The plan is to depart Kodiak on October 23rd and arrive back in Newport on November 2nd.
Once we are back at our homeport, I will stay as long as I am needed to complete the project that was assigned and make sure the DR is ready to be sent off. From there, my 2012 internship with NOAA will be come to a close and I will head back to Denver before the Spring Semester begins.

The sunsets, sunrises, and night time have been stunning as usual. Here are a few more photos.

Sunset in the Shumagin Islands




Midnight at anchor in tn Sandy Cove

Night time while transiting

Moonset at 0530 near the Shumagins

The sunrise following

A few weeks ago, I went out on the fantail late at night to catch a glimpse of the stars. We were underway and rolling a lot. I found a good spot on the fantail to stargaze while still being able to balance between the rolls. It was a crystal clear night and all the stars were out. Then, out of the darkness, I heard crashing noise. A huge wave came up over the bulwark. When I looked down, I could see that the wave had left bioluminescence all over the deck.

It is getting colder here. We even saw our fisrt snow a few days ago in the Shumagins. The weather has been cooperating for the most part, but we can't always count on that. Hopefully the North Kodiak project will be sucessful, especially since there are great places to hide from the fall Alaskan weather.

I have been working on a video for a blog post about shiplife. Once it is finished I will write about the ship and what it is like to live here. Until then, greetings from North Kodiak!