In a unique deployment of resources, last week NOAA Ship Fairweather split its scientific team and vessels to tackle two distinct projects in Alaska. Coast Survey physical scientist Katrina Wyllie and Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler report on the multi-mission projects.
On August 9, NOAA Ship Fairweather departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for a FISHPAC project, led by Dr. Bob McConnaughey from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. This project’s primary mission is to statistically associate acoustic backscatter returns with the abundances of fish and crabs that frequent the Bering Sea seafloor. The science team accomplishes this with acoustic data from multibeam, single beam, and side scan sonars. Understanding the value of acoustic backscatter as a habitat-defining character will help scientists understand where fish live and the importance of different habitats. The acoustic data will also be used to correct for differences in the performance of research bottom trawls on different seafloor types, so that stock assessments and fishery management can be improved. To make sure the scientists understand what the acoustic data are showing, each day the ship will stop and collect physical bottom samples of the seafloor to see, touch, and interpret their findings. Further increasing the effectiveness of this mission, all of the multibeam bathymetry data acquired will directly support NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey as the data will be used to update soundings on the nautical charts for the eastern Bering Sea where the ship will be operating.
NOAA Ship Fairweather will survey the red tracklines for the FISHPAC project this year. The green lines will be surveyed at a later date.
FISHPAC mission equipment on deck of NOAA Ship Fairweather
With Fairweather actively conducting 24-hour ship survey operations in Bristol Bay, there wouldn’t be any chance to deploy her four survey launches for additional acquisition. Sensing an opportunity, the Office of Coast Survey, the command of the Fairweather, and Marine Operations Center-Pacific collaboratively came up with a multi-mission plan to maximize the capabilities of Fairweather during the FISHPAC project. Before departing Dutch Harbor, Fairweather deployed a shore team with the four survey launches to stay in Dutch Harbor and address some critical navigation needs identified by the port.
Two of the NOAA Ship Fairweather launches depart for a day of hydrographic surveying.
Although its location is remote, the port of Dutch Harbor is a vibrant and bustling port serving full-size container ships. It is the country’s top fishing port in terms of landings for the past 18 years. Deep draft and ice-free year-round, Dutch Harbor provides a critical link in America’s transportation infrastructure. Trivia buffs may also know that Dutch Harbor is the only other American soil, in addition to Pearl Harbor, to be bombed during World War II. (For more on Alaska in World War II, see USC&GS Ship Hydrographer contributes to significant Allied victory.)
With the increase in commerce flowing into and out of the harbor, local maritime pilots asked Coast Survey navigation manager Lt. Timothy Smith for updated nautical charts to improve the safety of maritime traffic. This need was underscored in July 2015, when a polar ice class vessel ran aground in an area of the chart which hadn’t been surveyed since before World War II. Shortly after this grounding, Fairweather was able to alter their schedule to conduct a response survey in the area of the grounding (green area in project sheet layout, below). Additionally, Fairweather had previously surveyed small high priority areas in 2011 (orange areas).
Project area of the north coast of Unalaska Island hydrographic survey project being conducted by NOAA Ship Fairweather launches.
This month’s collaborative project, performed in conjunction with FISHPAC, provided the perfect opportunity to address these navigational needs. With the survey launches remaining in Dutch Harbor, with a team of scientists, coxswains, and engineers to support them, Fairweather’s shore team will acquire complete coverage multibeam data in the entire project area, totaling approximately 38 square nautical miles, as outlined by the blue shapes in the project sheet layout.
The City of Unalaska has graciously facilitated this unique mission by providing pier space for all four launches for the project’s duration. The team itself has established a base of operations at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, where they have converted a conference room into a command center to process the day’s freshly collected data, while preparing the mission for the subsequent day.
The shore team has plenty of work to keep them busy until August 27, when Fairweather returns to Dutch Harbor after completing the more than 4,000 line-mile FISHPAC mission and recovers the survey team and launches. Fairweather then transits back to Kodiak, Alaska, for a scheduled inport and well deserved break before hydrographic survey operations resume in the vicinity of Sitkalidak Strait.
Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler review multibeam bathymetry data in the shore team base of operations room.
Launch crews hold morning safety meeting at the pier.
The four launches tie up alongside at the Robert Storrs International Small Boat Harbor facility.
Additional resource:Combining expertise makes for better nautical charts and better understanding of fish habitats in Alaska, Oct. 9, 2012
On this date in 1996, twenty years ago, the crew of NOAA Ship Rude completed her special mission and headed back to regular survey duties. Throughout the previous two weeks, Rude’s officers and crew were pivotal in finding the wreckage of – and helping to bring closure to – one of the worst aviation disasters in U.S. history.
From a 1996 report by then-Cmdr. Nick Perugini, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, we have this description:
“When TWA Flight 800 exploded out of the sky this summer, NOAA hydrographic survey vessel Rude began a dramatic journey which would test to the limit skills and resources of its officers and crew, and bring to national attention the agency’s hydrographic capabilities.
“Rude was the second U.S. government rescue vessel to arrive at the scene and contributed information critical to the subsequent recovery effort and ensuing investigation…
“The day after the TWA crash, President Clinton pledged all resources the federal government could bring to bear to determine why a Boeing 747 fell out of the sky in a blazing fireball, killing all 230 aboard. By that time, Rude was already on the crash site, eight miles off the coast of Moriches Bay, Long Island. Reports over the marine radio of a plane crash in that area prompted Cmdr. [Sam] DeBow to contact the Coast Guard and offer assistance.
“The Coast Guard directed Rude to the crash site immediately. The ship steamed all night and arrived on site about 7:00 a.m.
“Rude immediately began assisting in the search… Rude’s people knew what had to be done. The job entailed running a series of systematic side scan sonar lines over an area in search of a feature who position was approximate… DeBow and his crew felt that no vessel or group of people were better qualified to meet the task.”
Retired NOAA Rear Admiral Sam DeBow, when he was Rude‘s commanding officer, from a Newsday article on August 5, 1996
The narrative of the crew’s actions over the next two weeks is fascinating. GPS World has given us permission to post their extensive article from February 1997, “Sounding the Depths: Mapping the Wreckage of TWA Flight 800.” It’s well worth a read, to follow along as Rude makes the initial discovery of the debris field, and then works to works to document hundreds of contacts, guiding divers as they retrieve bodies and pieces of the jetliner. As Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said after the event: “Accurate mapping of the wreckage on the ocean floor was essential… The sonargrams provided by the Rude proved invaluable to the recovery effort.”
The crew of NOAA Ship Rude was inspired by this photo of Larkyn Lynn Dwyer, an 11-year-old lost in the crash of TWA Flight #800.
The dedication of the crew, the smart use of technology, the long hours of processing data and interpreting it – it’s awe-inspiring. But something else touches the heart about this operation. The Los Angeles Times, on July 24, 1996, headlined an article, “11-year-old inspires searchers.”
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang reported from aboard Rude, off Long Island: “In a picture taped to a blue metal case that houses sophisticated navigational equipment on this ship, 11-year-old Larkyn Lynn Dwyer smiles broadly, her dimples deep and her bangs hanging almost into her eyes.
“’This is what we’re here for, guys,’ Cmdr. Sam DeBow, skipper of this 90-foot hydrographic survey ship, told his crew Tuesday as he posted the picture on the case that houses the vessel’s global positioning system, which can pinpoint its location within a few feet on a featureless sea.
“As the ship plows the Atlantic water in the recovery zone where TWA Flight 800 crashed in flames last Wednesday, Larkyn Lynn, who was the aboard the airplane bound for Paris, has come to personify the 230 victims for the vessel’s 11-member crew.
“’I have a daughter that age. That’s what really hit home for us,’ said DeBow.”
Rude’s crew was honored for their heroic work in the tragedy’s aftermath. In a speech at a ceremony honoring the critical contributions to search and recovery efforts, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Frederico Pena said, “As horrible as this ordeal has been for all of you, it has reminded our nation of two simple truths.
“We’re reminded, first, that America always pulls together in times of need. Everyone out there was part of the team… Whatever problems arose, people stepped in to solve them – together. For that, the President and I are proud, and the nation is grateful.
“Second, we’re reminded that our nation’s heroes are not just famous names. Our nation’s heroes are ordinary people, called on to do the extraordinary. As you searched the sea, making yourselves special to the families of the loved ones, you made yourselves special to America. You moved our spirit. Everyone in the country knows of your heroics. And they thank you.”
Officers and crew of Rude during the TWA response: Cmdr. Sam DeBow, Lt. Cheryl Thacker, Lt. Jonathan Klay, Lt.j.g. Nathan Hill, chief engineer Lance Klein, engine utilityman Ed Watson, chief steward Eward Jones, chief boatswain Gordon Pringle, seaman surveyor Jeffrey Brawley, survey technician Charles Neely, survey technician Mark Lathrop, electrical technician Clovis Thompson; with augmentors Lt. Don Haines, Robert Wint, and Charles Karlsson. The NOAA Shore Support Team, who input and portrayed the data: Cmdr. Nick Perugini, Lt. Eddie Radford, Lt.j.g. Shepard Smith, Lt. Cmdr. Emily Christman, Lt.j.g. Edward van den Ameele, and Lt. Gerd Glang.
Congratulations to our colleagues in Seattle for hosting a terrific NOAA Science Camp this month! Held at NOAA’s Seattle Sand Point facility each July, NOAA Science Camp offers opportunities for middle school students and high school students.
Thanks to Coast Survey experts stationed at our Pacific Hydrographic Branch, a section of the classes was focused on hydrography. Kids learned about bathymetry and the importance of hydrographic surveys for shipping. They saw how high-resolution sonar data is used for tsunami modeling and fish habitat.
Bringing science to life is the fun part. The NOAA experts demonstrated the fundamentals of echolocation for mapping the ocean floor. Campers learned the fundamentals of nautical charts, such as soundings and contours. They also learned how to position vessels and plot specific courses with heading and distance on NOAA’s nautical charts.
Jessica Ramsay teaches campers about latitude and longitude using a yoga ball globe.
Campers use a “rain stick” to create virtual rain over the newly shaped topography, and see where the water flows based on the surface shape.
Campers interact with augmented reality topographic sandbox.
Campers reshape the sand surface while contour lines and color shades are re-projected in real time.
Camper plotting cross-sections of depths measured from sounding box.
Campers examine the inside of a sounding box after graphing depths measured through its mesh “water” surface.
Thanks to our team for developing the materials and teaching the modules: lead physical scientist Grant Froelich, IT contractor Stephen Gallaher, lead physical scientist Peter Holmberg, JISAO summer intern Iker Madera, physical scientist Kurt Mueller physical scientist Fernando Ortiz, ERT contractor Jessica Ramsay, and IT specialist Paul Sutlovich.
UPDATE July 26, 2016: We’ve had a request for the worksheets, so we’ve posted them below.