Story Miller, July 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Story Miller
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 20, 2010

Time: 1240
Latitude: 53°51N
Wind: 7 knots (approx. 8.055mph)
Direction: 202° (SW)
Sea Temperature: 9.22°C (approx. 48.596°F)
Air Temperature: 9.82°C (approx. 49.676°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1023.8

Scientific Information
Figure 1: View of the low fog, clouds and sunset in Dutch Harbor the night of the delay.

What Is NOAA and How Can You Get Involved?
NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and is part of the United States Department of Commerce. NOAA is involved around the world and there are many different avenues one could become involved with. For example, some people are involved in forecasting the location of the next hurricane strike, which means that you could be responsible for saving the lives of people living in those areas. If climate change is of a particular interest, you could aid in the monitoring of global weather systems to make climate predictions for the future. If ecological studies suit you, a job with NOAA could involve collecting data from costal environments to continue efforts of preserving healthy ecosystems. Perhaps your studies and data analysis would aid in the critical decision making processes of businesses around the world, such as creating and enforcing policies for the fisheries industry to maintain its resources for the future.  Mapping is equally important and part of your experience with NOAA could involve creating or enhancing navigational data to aid in the protection of ships and prevent potential accidents. Finally, perhaps you are interested in commanding a NOAA ship or piloting a NOAA aircraft. In that case, you could become part of the NOAA Corps.

The Mission

The primary mission of the Oscar Dyson is the Walleye Pollock survey, which consists of conducting Acoustic Surveys and Fishery Survey Trawls. The acoustic survey relies on sonar waves that are powerful enough to detect fish at different depths. Once the fish is located on the sonar screen, the trawl net is then accurately deployed to a specific depth depending on where the targeted fish species are located. This depth can range from 16 meters from the surface all the way down to 3 meters from the bottom.  The net is then hauled onto the ship’s aft deck and the contents are spread on the table in the lab for sorting and identification. Different species, such as the Walleye Pollock, will be measured for size, sex, and age before being released overboard. Some other species like Pacific Cod and Arrowtooth Flounder will be collected for additional studies.

Delays, Delays!

Monday, July 19th appeared to be a rare, sunny day in Dutch Harbor for most of the afternoon. We were scheduled to leave Dutch Harbor at 1500h but due to baggage problems for those who recently arrived in Dutch Harbor, we were delayed until the next day. Because of the short airstrip in Dutch Harbor, the sizes of the airplanes are smaller than those of regular airports. Currently Pen Air uses SAAB Turboprop airplanes. These planes are small and hold about thirty passengers. They are typically used for small air carriers for short commutes.  Another critical factor involved with flights is weight. For every passenger, think of the additional weight of all the bags each person has. Most people fly with one or two bags, each weighing 50lbs or less and in our case, some people also had additional bags carrying scientific equipment.

Figure 2: A typical foggy day in Dutch Harbor, Monday, July 19th, 2010

Weight in an airplane causes the plane to use more fuel and smaller airplanes cannot carry as much fuel as the other airplanes, such as Boeing 737 aircraft, commonly used for longer commutes by larger airlines. Because of the distance between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, full flights generally need to make a stop in the small villages of King Salmon or Cold Bay to refuel. Other difficulties faced by the airport in Dutch Harbor are that the airstrip is a “daylight only” landing zone and the weather can be quite hazardous. Winds reaching up to 90 mph are not uncommon and in the summer, low fog becomes a visibility issue. If the pilots do not have a specific range of visibility, they cannot land. Therefore, the necessity of refueling in Cold Bay or King Salmon is critical because many times when the plane reaches the airport and hazardous weather conditions are preventing a safe landing, the airplane must have enough fuel to circle the airport in hope for a sliver of time when landing conditions are safe and, if necessary, enough fuel to fly all the way back to King Salmon or Cold Bay. Again, weight is an issue in the fuel consumption of an airplane and therefore, on full flights, the airplane must sometimes “bump” bags, which means that sometimes your checked bag will not make it on the flight you are on and will be scheduled on a later flight. This of course isn’t a bad plan except that the weather in Dutch can change from one extreme to the next in a matter of fifteen minutes. In our case, to add to the difficulty of getting our bags, it was explained to us that because the air had become warmer, it lessened the lift on the airplane which was another reason why the planes did not carry very many bags that day. With all these important technicalities, one could maybe understand why flying into Dutch Harbor can be difficult. Therefore, some people have successful flights and others experience the “flight to nowhere” which involves flying part or the entire three hours to Dutch Harbor, circling or waiting in Cold Bay, and then flying back to Anchorage. One could say that you are not a local until you have experienced this situation a few times!

Personal Log:

My first day on the boat proved to be interesting as I quickly learned my way around the ship. I sometimes make the analogy of myself being like a rat in a maze trying to find the cheese. In a way it is accurate because the cook on board has made some fantastic dinners and I’ve been successful at finding the mess hall by simply following my nose! For supper on Monday night, we had a buffet-style dinner and I was pleasantly surprised with the menu as I helped myself to prime rib and king crab legs!

Figure 3: Me in front of the Oscar Dyson, Monday, July 19th, 2010 (notice the extreme weather change!)

On Tuesday, we were able to get underway at approximately 1300. Before pulling away from the dock, we needed to test our FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) to make sure it was functional in the possible event of an emergency. Once we knew the FRB was functional, we hauled it back onto the boat. As soon as we began to move, I went to the flying bridge (the highest deck on the ship) to catch a glimpse of Dutch Harbor and to watch the local birds sitting on the water. Most of the birds I saw were tufted puffins. I always find them amusing because if you get near them when they have eaten too many fish, they try to fly away but their belly is too heavy. Therefore they simply skim over the water, wings flapping intensely, and bellies dragging over the top of the water!

Figure 4: Lead Fisherman Dennis Boggs and Skilled Fisherman Mike Tortorella testing the FRB

Some advances in healthcare that I am extremely excited about is that I have found a seasickness medication that does not knock me out in under 5 minutes and that works for a long period of time. Thank you Meclizine!
Currently we are underway and have approximately 381 miles northwest to travel before we make our waypoint which will take approximately 28 hours. As of right now, my job has been to get acclimated to the ship. Work will begin Thursday at sunrise, about 0700).  My current shifts will run from 0400h to 1600h each day. I cannot wait to begin the first part of my assignment!

Animals Spotted By Me Today:
Blackfooted Albatross
Tufted Puffin
Sea Otter
Fur Seal

Something To Ponder:
Regarding NOAA fish surveys, such as the Pollock Survey I’m participating in, what impacts would the scientific information collected have on the fishery industry regarding revenue and long term success?


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