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Susy Ellison’s Blog

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September 20, 2013

As we float about all day collecting gigabytes of data to turn into charts, there’s ample time to reflect on the art and science of cartography, or map making. To me, maps are an elegant means for transforming the 3-dimensional landscape around us into a 2-dimensional story of our world using lines and points, geometric shapes, numbers, and a variety of colors and shadings. It’s science, technology, engineering, math, and, as always, a bit of magic! It’s quite amazing to think about the changes in mapmaking and our expectations for information from the first hand-drawn lines on small pieces of clay or in the dirt to the concatenated gigabytes of today.

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Consider some of the earliest maps that have been found. Archaeologists have unearthed clay tablets in Babylonia that date back to 600 BC. These hand-sized clay tablets were simple line representations of local geography. Roman maps from around 350BC were utilized to provide information to conquering armies. Where were they heading; which villages were going to be conquered today?

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September 13, 2013

Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland. Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated. Think about it. If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane. You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?). Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it. Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day. If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion. OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes? Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it. It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind)…

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September 10, 2013

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We cast off yesterday morning at 1000 hrs, RST—Rainier Ship Time. Although we are still in the Alaska Daylight Savings time zone, our time on the ship has been adjusted backwards 1 hour to give us more daylight during ‘working hours’. Since the ship is its own floating universe, time that is referenced to a specific time zone is not as important as time that is referenced to our day and the work that needs to be completed. Einstein would be pleased to see that time is, indeed, relative here aboard the Rainier!

There is science involved just to leave port and set forth on this cruise. There’s data to be collected, such as a weather forecast—and decisions to be made based on that data. Today’s weather report called for rain and high winds. That data input resulted in a travel plan including taking a more protected route north of Kodiak Island instead of heading out to more open water right away. We didn’t reach the wide-open spaces until evening, and I was lulled to sleep by the endless rocking and rolling of the boat…

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