Story Miller, August 1, 2010

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

Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 1, 2010
Launching the XBT
Time: 1233 ADT
Latitude: 60°51N
Wind: 17 knots (approx. 19.6 mph or 31.5 km/h)
Direction: 171° (S)
Sea Temperature: 9.9°C (approx. 49.8°F)
Air Temperature: 12.8°C (approx. 55.0°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1009
Wave Height 2-3 feet
Swell Height 4-6 feet

Scientific Log:
Think about your morning routine from the moment you wake up to just after eating breakfast. Now imagine spending that morning on a boat in the middle of the Bering Sea. Perhaps you take a shower or wash your face and hopefully brush your teeth. Where does the water come from? Where does the waste water go? I bet at some point you will use the bathroom (Hey, it’s a fact of life and everybody does it!). Where does that waste go? How is it processed? I also bet that at some point you turned on the light. How does a boat get its electricity?

The Oscar Dyson has a truly remarkable system that allows a crew of up to 39 live on the ship for as long as we have food and fuel! The fuel used is diesel and the diesel is converted into electricity through the engine, which turns the generator and the generator makes AC power. A rectifier ridge turns the AC power into DC power and the DC power runs to the shaft which is able to turn the propeller. However not all the power goes to DC power. The rest is turned into AC power so that we can use lights, heaters, fans, and the ovens in the galley.

Below the deck of the ship is where the engineers maintain all the components that make the ship function.

The Machines:

The main shaft (what turns the propeller on the ship)

Because we would not be able to go anywhere without fuel, let’s start with it. The fuel goes from the fuel tank to a primary filter and then through a secondary filter to clean the fuel. The fuel then travels to the fuel pump which transfers it to the injector and the injector sends it to the engine.

The centrifuges that clean the fuel.

Whatever fuel is not used is returned to a storage tank where it will wait until we need it again. Because fuel can become dirty when it sits, and dirty fuel is not good for engines,  the old fuel is run through a centrifuge (a device that spins and uses centrifugal force to separate mixtures) to become purified. As you can see in the picture, there are two centrifuges because it is important to have a backup in case of a breakdown. One is currently running for the month of July and the other will run for the month of August. We have this alternating pattern because we want to make sure there is even wear on each.

Access hatch to the waste oil storage.
Entering confined spaces are dangerous
as noted by the bolted entry. Special protective materials, a work plan, and
an initial safety test must be in place prior to entry

Periodically, the ship requires an oil change and the waste oil from machines such as the crank case, winches, and hydraulics are placed in a storage tank. Because it costs a considerable amount of money to haul waste fuel, the ship has a method for disposing it. From this waste oil storage tank, it is pumped up to the incinerator where it is burned.
The ship will also obtain oily water from locations such as the bilges and that water is recycled by going through the Oily Water System (OWS) and currently it is able to clean the water to 15ppm (parts per million) of oil to water. After the purification it is released into the ocean. We are currently in the process of installing another filtration system that will run the 15ppm concentration and reduce the contaminants to 5ppm and possibly even 3ppm. The oil that is extracted from the water is put into the waste oil storage tank for future incineration.

Engineering Control Room

As stated earlier, all the machinery, including the coffee maker, is maintained by the engineers. In the control room the engineers are able to monitor all functions of the ship. If needed, they could even take away the power from the bridge (where the NOAA Corps officers control the ship) and drive the ship from underneath! So, if you really want to be in control…

Some may wonder what we do with all of the garbage we collect on the ship. For example, where does all the uneaten food go? What about all the paper waste from used cups, napkins, and wrappers? In the mess hall, there are two garbage bins, one to scrape uneaten food and the other for paper. Because food is biodegradable, that bin is tossed overboard. The paper waste is sent to the incinerator to be burned. I am told that the incinerator gets hot enough that if a soup can was placed inside and incinerated, it would appear to look normal after the incineration, except once you touch it, it crumbles into dust!To get clean drinking water, we pump the salt water from the ocean into a desalination unit (a distiller). The distilled water is then sent to a 10,000 gallon holding tank. When water is needed, it is pressurized which, like in your house, sends it to the faucets, drinking fountains, and shower. Perhaps you have heard of the pens using UV light to purify water when you are camping. Well, right after the water is pressurized the boat has a large UV Pen to kill any additional microbes that might be inhabiting the water.

Marine Sanitation Device

From the toilet, the waste material is pulled down by a vacuum and travels through a pipe to the Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) tank. All the waste, including what we call “gray water” which basically is waste water from the shower and the sink, is agitated with an aroator. Solid waste will sink to the bottom of the tank where it is ground to fine particles. Oddly enough the grinder is also responsible for the vacuum in the sewage line via the eductor. The dirty water mixture is then sent through the chlorinator and is stored in the chlorination tank. When the water rises to a certain point, a sensor signals the pump to send the chlorinated water over the side of the boat.Cool fact! On other ships in the past, the catch water in the toilets was salt water (the Oscar Dyson uses fresh water). Because the water in the toilets did not need to be distilled, little bioluminescent organisms would sit inside. The thrilling activity is that when a person would flush the toilet in the dark, the organisms would become agitated and glow. Therefore, in your toilet, you could have your own light show with each flush!

Personal Log: 


Today we processed one batch of fish. The odd part to this scenario was that we caught a group of Pacific Herring. We measured, weighed, and extracted stomach samples as it is equally important to gather data about other fish we catch. The internal body structure of a Pacific Herring is very different from that of a Walleye Pollock and so I had the opportunity to dissect and study a different kind of fish. Leftover critters from the trawl that occurred last night while I was sleeping also appeared in the catch – tiny jellyfish, squid, and shrimp – and I spent some time sorting them out. Tonight, our chef is cooking up a few of the herring so we can see what they taste like. Another highlight to working with the herring is that I was challenged to locate and extract the otoliths. The otoliths of Pacific Herring are much smaller than those of the Walleye Pollock. To provide an idea, imagine clipping your pinky toenail. The clipping would be just a little larger than the otolith! Otoliths of pollock are a little less than one centimeter long and 1/2 of one centimeter wide.


Today we crossed the 180° line of Longitude and entered the future, putting me a day ahead of the United States. Currently our transect has placed us near Cape Nevarin, Russia and unfortunately it is too foggy outside to see land. Because I have crossed the  dateline, I will receive the Order of the Golden Dragon, a certificate proving my adventure across the line!I am exceptionally excited for dinner tonight as we are having King Crab legs, prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course, some herring! With Ray as our chef, it is evident that nobody goes hungry! Today he constructed a shortcake in the shape of the Oscar Dyson, decorated it, and set aside a bowl of strawberry sauce. I would have taken a picture but by the time I finished processing the herring, the cake ships were in fatal condition for sailing but I feel the crew are quite satisfied!

Animals Spotted Today:

Immature Gull

Humpback whales
Walleye Pollock
Pacific Herring
Northern Fulmars
Black-legged Kittiwakes
Slaty-backed Gulls

Something to Ponder:
I decided that it was important to inquire what it took to be an engineer on the boat. After talking with a few members of the crew who had been doing this line of work for a long time, I was loaded with valuable insight to pass along to my readers.
According to the engineers, the best way to guarantee a well-paying job on a boat and allow one to have more options available would be to attend a maritime school because graduates will walk onboard with an officers ticket. While college is expensive, consider this: If you attend the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), your college is paid for as it is one of the five US service academies.

However, because admission is difficult, if you were to attend a maritime academy, you could potentially have a situation similar to one of our engineers on board. He attended Maine Maritime Academy for four years and earned a Bachelors of Science in Engineering. Additionally, within six months of working onboard a ship with his credentials, he had ALL of his student loans paid for! Most college students in the US spend approximately five years paying off their student loans!

While a maritime academy would be ideal, I asked the engineers of other ways one could obtain an engineering/mechanic job on a ship. They shared that there were 2-year schools available but the largest drawback to that path is that upon graduation, you would have some skills but would not be fully licensed. One rule of thumb that I have learned over the years, and the engineers echoed this, is the key to having choices in your job is to become as versatile as possible.I then asked the engineers if there were any other ways to get a job on a boat and they mentioned that one could attend a union school and learn a trade such as in refrigeration or mechanics. Keep in mind though, that person would be unlicensed and not have as many choices available to them.

I also asked the engineers what subjects in school they thought were the most important to learn. The first subject mentioned was mathematics but they brought up a very important concept: “It’s not necessarily how much math you take, but how well you understand the math.” Think of a student who aces the test and then forgets everything afterward. In other words, it would be great if a student made it to Calculus in high school but if he or she doesn’t fully understand the processes behind the algebra, that student will have difficulty in his or her engineering occupation. The engineers also shared that trigonometry was essential.
Regarding the sciences, for engineering, it was highly recommended that students wanting to get off on the right foot should take chemistry, physics, and biology.

However, one of the most important subjects they mentioned that may surprise some readers is English Composition because “You must have the ability to express yourself effectively and communicate with the people you work with everyday.” The engineers shared that, for example, they often would have to write reports and if they needed a part, the engineers would need to write to a supervisor and provide reasons to prove why they would need a part. “The better you are at communicating, the farther you will be able to go with your job and get what you want.”

So, in closing, the next time you think, “Geeze, why do I need to learn this equation and how to use it in this silly word problem?” or, “Why do I need to write this paper about persuading my English teacher that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best?” remember this: Your teachers really are not torturing you and really, are simply training you to develop the skills you will need to utilize in your job and in adulthood. The more advantage you take of this training, the more versatile and successful you will become. Ultimately though, it’s up to you to make that move!For more information a valuable website is:


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