Melinda Storey, June 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 28, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (7 am)
Position: latitude = 28° N longitude = 089º W
Present Weather: storm clouds, thunder, lightning, rain
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 29 knots
Wave Height: 3-5 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.6°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 27°C, wet bulb = 26°C

Science and Technology Log

Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex
Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex

Tropical Storm Alex, which is a very strong tropical storm, has moved over the Yucatan Peninsula and continues to show signs of strengthening and organization. It was headed straight for us before we started steaming eastward to get out of its path. Our CO has monitored this progression carefully so he can make the decision to go into home port or not. Yesterday evening we started steaming east at 13 knots so we could be closer to Pascagoula if indeed he decided it was unsafe to stay at sea. When we woke this morning we found that Tropical Storm Alex had intensified overnight maintaining wind speed of 50-60 mph. An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance plane found that the atmospheric pressure was decreasing thus creating a very dangerous situation for the Pisces. The CO said that 12 foot waves crashing over the bow would not be fun so he made the decision to head back to Pascagoula today.

We’ve been traveling at 14 knots all night long. Since that is as fast as we can go, we know that the CO is anxious to get us safely in port. He told us that he has to make a decision to return to home port early enough to get a berth at the dock. With all ships in the area heading to shore, he needs to make a decision within 72 hours of the storm hitting so we can get a berth. If you do not get back before the port closes, you have to ride out the storm on water.

The swells have gotten much larger and deeper causing the ship to rock and roll. Walking down the halls is like being a ping pong ball bouncing everywhere. Taking a shower this morning and cleaning up was quite a challenge. When we came down to the lab, they were packing it in. The ship’s crew is busy cleaning the rooms, deck, and ladders (stairs). No more science.

Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon

On our way back to Pascagoula, we passed within 6 miles of the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster site. We saw 40 ships – pipeline boats, supply boats, a research vessel, tugs and barges that collect the oil, and the Stemstar, which is the ship that injects mud, steam, and concrete into damaged wells. On board the Stemstar are geologists and engineers who are working on solutions to stop the oil leakage of the well. We also saw a fire boat sending water toward a flame that was burning off oil from a rig. The CO thought this might be to keep the heat from damaging the rigs and ships. When oil is burned off the surface of the water, oil crystallizes and hardens much like obsidian rock. It then sinks to the bottom of the ocean and is much easier to collect and dispose of.

Personal Log

Me driving the ship
Me driving the ship

I am saddened that our cruise is over. I enjoyed the crew, scientists, and officers so much. They made our stay so enjoyable, but I am looking forward to bringing back to my students all that I’ve learned. As we watched Deepwater Horizon, I was stuck by the thought that you can’t connect the classroom to the real world better than this! To think that we were within 6 miles of Deepwater Horizon taking pictures to show my students, I thought, “We are watching one of the greatest disasters of our time.” It is incredibly sad to think how this oil is going to damage our pristine coast and affect so many lives. It is remarkable to think that I am one of the few people who get to see this up close and personal!

Me on the binoculars
Me on the binoculars

On a happier note, not every student gets to say his/her teacher has piloted a 208-foot NOAA research vessel! One night our Commanding Officer let me steer the ship – for REAL! I couldn’t believe the CO let me do that! He kept saying how easy it was to turn the ship. He said that the steering is very sensitive so if I made a sharp angled turn I could knock people right out of their berths, or beds! I sure didn’t want the crew mad at me so I wanted to be really careful. When he took the ship off automatic pilot and handed the ship off to me I was nervous as a tick, but I got the hang of it and really had fun. Nicolle, the other teacher, drove straight lines, and I steered in circles. She obviously was the better pilot! They printed off the “track line” so you can see my “donuts” in the sea! Pretty cool watching the bow of the ship swing right and then left. Although I enjoyed steering the ship, I was relieved to turn the helm back over to the CO.

It’s also very important to watch where you’re going. I was very surprised at how many obstacles there are out here – oil rigs, oil tankers, recreational boats, and the ever-present fish. So far, people on the bridge have sighted a dead whale, dolphins, and a sunfish. The CO told me that once he almost ran over a humpback whale. So you do have to watch where you’re going. Last night while we were in our rooms we heard, “Teachers at sea, report to the bridge. Teachers at sea, report to the bridge.” I felt like we were being sent to the Principal’s office! But it was a good thing. The XO had spotted dolphins and wanted us to see them.

One afternoon we saw a beautiful double rainbow, but THIS rainbow was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They both were circular rainbows and they circled the sun. It was really strange seeing an upside-down, round rainbow. Our Chief Scientist researched this phenomenon and found that circular rainbows are formed in very high cirrus clouds. These clouds have ice crystals formed in them that act like a prism. When lighttravels through these ice crystals they bend the light and that is what causes the circular rainbow

Rainbows in cirrus clouds
Rainbows in cirrus clouds

I’ve wanted to see a shark on board the whole trip, and when it happened, I was asleep! Nicolle was watching the deck hands fish off the stern when one of them caught, not one, but TWO sharks! The sharks were both dogfish sharks and had to be brought aboard with a net. I was surprised to learn that dogfish sharks don’t have teeth. I thought all sharks had teeth, but that’s just an example of the types of things I’ve learned on this trip.

Shark on board!
Shark on board!

Chris Gledhill, one of our scientists, told us that last night we would have a rare opportunity to view the Space Station as it passed overhead. So, at 9:00 pm I went to the bow and stared up at the sky. The stars were brilliant against the dark night sky and I had such a peace to come over me (even though at 14 knots the waves were splashing over the bow). Suddenly, I saw a light streaking across the sky! It was amazing! As it sped past, I thought of all the wonderful “firsts” that I’ve experienced while aboard the Pisces. It has been truly a remarkable trip.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

Berth – bed on a ship

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

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