Kristy Weaver: One Stormy Week, May 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 23 — June 1, 2012

Mission:  Reef Fish Survey
Location:  Off the Coast of Vero Beach, Florida
Date: May 27, 2012

Current Weather: 73 Degrees, Windy and Rainy

Hello from Sunny Florida!

Storm clouds off the coast of Vero Beach, FL

Actually let’s change that to, “Hello from mostly cloudy Florida!”

When we learned about weather in our science kit we talked about how the weather is always changing and how we have to do different things or dress differently because of the weather. I have really been thinking about this for the past few days.  I wanted this post to be about all of the science that I am doing on this trip, but the weather has taken over!

Storm clouds off the stern (back) of the boat
about 20 miles off Vero Beach, FL

We were doing a lot of fishing off the coast of Georgia and our plan was to stay there for a few more days.  We had to move because there was a storm that was headed right towards us.   It has not rained that much.  The problem is the wind.  The wind makes it dangerous to work on the boat and can make large waves.  If we stayed where we were there would have been waves about 5-10 feet high.  Some would have been even higher.

The arrow points to where our boat is on this map of Florida

This would have been too rough to work in so we headed south to the water off Daytona Beach, Florida.  After a while the water got rough there too so we headed even further south.  Right now we are about 30 miles off the coast of Vero Beach, Florida.

The wind is about 20-25 miles per hour.  (That would definitely be a “2” on our wind scale  if we used our flags today!) That is the speed limit that cars can drive on our school’s street!   The waves are about 6 feet tall right now, which is taller than I am.  The boat is rocking back and forth a lot.  This makes it hard to walk, but it’s also pretty funny because I need to hold onto the walls wherever I go!

The boat was rocking a lot today.
Sometimes I had to hold on while we waited to drop the traps.

We are done fishing for the day because the wind is getting stronger, but we will start again in the morning.  We are going to go closer to the shore where the waves will not be as big.  When we get there the captain will set the anchor.  The anchor will grab onto the ocean floor and hold us in one spot for the night.  We will head back out to sea in the morning when the storm passes.

Clouds off the stern of the R/V Savannah
Part of Tropical Storm Beryl

Weather also affected the way I packed.   About three weeks ago I was on the beach with my mom and I was so cold!  I was nervous that I was going to be freezing on the boat because I knew I would be working outside until midnight.  So before I left for my trip I bought a whole bunch of really warm clothes to take with me.  I haven’t needed any of it!  It is a little more chilly on the water than it is on land, but I still haven’t needed more than a sweatshirt and shorts to stay warm.   I checked the weather in New Jersey, and I checked the weather in Georgia, but I didn’t believe it!  I should have trusted those meteorologists!

I can’t wait to tell you everything I have learned from the scientists on the ship!  I also have some GREAT pictures of dolphins for you.  They were jumping out of the water and put on quite a show for us yesterday.  Make sure you check back soon to see them!

(On a personal note:  I would like to wish my niece Maddie a very happy 9th birthday!  Aunt Kristy loves you!  Also,  congratulations to my parents on the purchase of their new home!  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, but I know you understand:)

Sue Oltman: Reaching Our Destination and KMS Goes Swimming, May 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 21 C / 64.9 F
Humidity: 84.1%
Precipitation: 0
Barometric pressure: 1014.5 mB
Wind speed: 11 kt SE
Sea temperature: 21.75 C

Science and technology Log

I’m seeing for real that being a research scientist can be really exciting and hands-on when working out in the field. In our routine of launching UCTDs every hour while steaming towards our target, more acquisition of ocean data takes place in other ways. At certain coordinates, WHOI deploys drifter buoys that monitor ocean characteristics as they drift with the current.  The data can be followed on line not only by the scientists, but by the public!  Two were launched this morning on our watch at coordinates 21º S,  84º W.  And one of them is Kittredge’s adopted buoy!  It is serial number 101878. As you can see in the video clip and photo below, I’ve made sure a little bit of Kittredge Magnet school is left here in the Peru Basin of the Pacific Ocean, where it is about 4,400 m in depth.

Sue with the buoy
It’s time to launch the drifters! All the fish that see this will know about our school!

KMS went swimming in another way, too – my KMS hat flew off my head while working on the aft deck. (Sorry, Mrs. Lange!) Science Rocks in the South Pacific!

The team did a second CTD deployment – this one to the bottom, about 4,500 m.  This is precise work, to analyze maps and bathymetric data to be accurate to find the depth at which it is desired to anchor the Stratus 12 buoy. Keith, Jamie and I were “spotters” with the rosette as the crane lowered it down. Pamela, who is studying phytoplankton, retrieved samples of water with organisms from this deployment.  However, due to customs in Ecuador, it is tricky for her to get her samples back to Chile. Ecuador does not allow anything into the islands that may potentially contain anything living thing, even a sealed sample of water containing plankton. So the samples will continue with the ship to San Diego and then be shipped to her in Chile.

We made it to the old buoy! It was exciting to see Stratus 11 come into view. The bottom area was surveyed in great detail within a few miles of the Stratus 11 to confirm Seb’s chosen spot for Stratus 12.

Dr. Weller and crew
Dr. Bob Weller and Jeff Lord have a pre-deployment meeting with the captain and some key crew members who will be assisting.

The next day, the deployment of the new mooring, Stratus 12, is a full day of coordinated teamwork – about 4,500 m of cable with 2,000 m of instruments. The first 50 meters at the surface has 20 instruments!  It took over 8 hours to put the buoy and all attached instruments in the water, and that is after hours of assembly on the aft deck.  One new instrument added was at the deepest part of the ocean in this area and will provide data on deep ocean temperatures and salinity, something currently missing from climate models.

Stratus 12 is in the water!
We enjoyed perfect ocean and weather conditions on the day of the launch! The Stratus 12 buoy is in the background behind me.
Anchor splash
After the last instrument is placed on the mooring line, its anchor is sent down. At 10,000 lbs., the anchor drop makes a really big splash!
The glass balls go on the mooring line
All hands are on deck to contribute to the mooring assembly and launch.

The all night watches are not over, though – we must continue to collect bathymetric data to map the ocean floor around here. Only about 5% of the ocean floor is actually mapped, and when the team returns next year, they may not be on the same ship. Not all ships have the same sophisticated multi beam sonar as the Melville. Those on watch are actually watching the sonar monitor display as the ship engages in the “mowing the lawn” technique to create a detailed map. The Melville will “hang around” in this area for a couple of days before we remove Stratus 11 from the water. This allows time for data to be transitioned from one buoy to the new one. I am told recovering the buoy is going to be some dirty, grimy work!

Why here, anyway?

The area off the coast of Pacific off Northern Chile and Peru has been historically difficult for climatologists /meteorologists to model.  To predict climate, varying parameters of atmospheric conditions are fed into a computer to simulate what the outcome will be.  The predictions made are then compared to actual conditions to determine the reliability of the computer model. Meteorologists have not been able to accurately predict this region: the actual ocean conditions are much cooler than the computer predicts.

Another finding showing the importance of this area is that when the type, thickness, and altitude of clouds in the Northern Chile /Peru basin are changed for simulations, almost the whole Pacific Ocean’s heat distribution is in turn affected! Satellites gather data remotely, but the constant stratus clouds block satellite data transmission, so it is just not reliable. Data must be collected right here. Given that oceans cover 71% of the planet, and the Pacific is the largest, fully understanding this region is critical to building accurate climate models. Therefore, the Stratus research brings us to 20º S 85º W.

Personal Log 

Animal life has been spotted! On two days, we saw whales! One – perhaps a Blue Whale – was far away and just its fluke was seen.  The next day we had two whales swimming close to the ship, and we were able to watch them and hear them breathe for a while.  According to the crew, seeing whales in this area is rare. It’s odd to be in a body of water teeming with life and see so little of it. We also encountered only one boat, a Spanish fishing vessel.

Bob and Mark continue to feed us well.  The food storage area is below the main deck and they use a dumbwaiter to bring the food up to the kitchen where it is prepared and served. There is food from all over the world; the ship was in South Africa before reaching South America. All of the meat is from South Africa and also some of the coffee. One night, we had some kudu meat – like steak, but from antelope. It was very good, and tasted like bison. Every country’s Customs sends agents to inspect the food service area while in port. The U.S. Customs is very strict and will not allow foreign food into port, so maybe that is why they are feeding us so much!

The cooks work at least 10 hour days. Bob has been a cook for 21 years and his favorite part of his job is getting to travel.  Mark, our other cook, has been in this job for 10 years. Both of them work for Scripps, as it operates the boat.

Here’s how much we have been eating daily – 7 dozen eggs, 5 heads of lettuce, 5 gallons of milk, and there are NEVER any leftovers! The kitchen always keeps some of the meals for the “midnight rations” so those who sleep in the daytime and work on the night shift from midnight to 8a.m. do not miss out on any of the good fixins.

Finally, I am used to the noise and can sleep pretty well. It’s like I am in a room with power tools being used, even with ear plugs, you can hear the engines.  Everyone here is in the same boat, though (pun intended!). Our next exciting task is ahead, recovering and cleaning up the Stratus 11 buoy.

Sue Oltman: Salinity and Seamount Sleuths, May 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 24, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 18.3 C / 64.9 F
Humidity: 70.3%
Precipitation: 0
Barometric pressure: 1011 mB
Wind speed: 2.3 NNW
Sea temperature: 19.16 C

Personal Log

The weather has been terrific – clear, in the 60’s with a little wind, nice sailing with the current helping us along. We are in the trade winds region. The view from the bridge (Captain’s pilot house) is excellent.  Everyone is terrific and very patient in showing us the ropes. There’s plenty of time to get to know people.  I’m getting to practice my Spanish a bit with our 2 students from the University of Concepcion (Chile) and two more Spanish speakers, from Chile and Ecuador. The two others on watch with me are Seb Bigorre (WHOI) and Ursula Cifuentes, a grad student from Chile, so we speak some Spanish during the watches. Life on a ship is different, but some of the comforts of home are here, too. Thank goodness there is a laundry, otherwise I would have had to bring 3 weeks worth of clothes! The food has really been fantastic!

Mark serving up some great food
Mark is one of our friendly cooks who keeps everyone on the ship happy!
Mess deck
The mess deck is where we eat our meals, grab a snack, or sit to read or chat at off times.

The dinner tonight is carne asada (fajitas) and you can smell it cooking. Bob and Mark, our cooks, have also served us white bean chili, salads, cheeseburger sliders, roasted chicken, fish, pork roast and vegetables, seasoned hash browns, bacon and eggs, all kinds of fresh fruit, not to mention the desserts like blueberry cobbler and cinnamon rolls. 

With all this great food, I was thankful to find that the crew makes places on the ship to work out! Some do “laps” by walking the ship a few dozen times around. There is an exercise room with weights and bikes and more equipment can be found in other places around the ship.

Science and Technology Log

The Woods Hole UOP (Upper Ocean Processes group) and rest of the team is now in a rhythm of deploying probes and gathering data. Like super sleuths, we are tracking a cold, relatively fresh water mass which originates inValparaiso and moves northwest. This water mass lies under the warm, salty surface layer.  At 50 meters depth, there is a clear distinction in the water masses since we began deploying the UCTDs. Just like a detective matches fingerprints, we have a “fingerprint” of the cold, fresh water.  A seasonal thermocline has been identified! Nan Galbraith, a programmer from WHOI, is processing all of the numerical data into useful images.  The surface water layer (graph) has a temperature about 20º C and salinity > 35 ppt (parts per thousand). At 50 meters depth, the temperature abruptly drops to 17º C and falls to 7.5º C at 400 m which is the bottom depth we are testing; similarly the salinity drops to 34.1 ppt. Although we are traveling through water about 4,000 m deep, we are interested in tracking this water mass. I’m still having trouble remembering approximate Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions: here’s a link to help.

However, another factor has come into play which we must consider. We are nearing a tectonically active area – the Nazca Ridge, a fracture zone. There are many seamounts, some of which have not been previously mapped. Whoever is on watch must look at the ever-changing multi-beam sonar display to look for seamounts – we don’t want the instrument to slam into an underwater volcanic mountain! The closer we get to the Nazca Ridge, the higher the likelihood of seamounts.

We constantly monitor the multi beam sonar display for bathymetry and sea floor features. The red or yellow circular areas are seamounts.

All in all, we will cover about 2,268 miles until we reach the Galapagos, so the multibeam sonar is a critical piece of navigation equipment.

On the watches, as we deploy the UCTD probe, which looks like a 2 foot long bullet, weighing about 10 lbs., and good teamwork is the hallmark of a successful launch and recovery. Sometimes we are working in the dark with only the ship’s lights and a flashlight. I have learned how to make a splice in the line – the cord is only about 1 mm in diameter! This line and any splice must be strong enough to hold onto a 10 pound instrument being dragged though 400 m of water at 12 knots. Picture 3 people at 4 a.m. on a moving ship, using tiny instruments to sew a splice in a 1mm line, all while the line is attached to the winch. Like a surgical team, we are all focused and know what tool the splicer needs next. Sometimes quick thinking and a problem solving mindset is needed. There was a foam “bumper” that we had been attaching to the line to cover the probe when it got close to the boat. The probe is expensive and this was protection from it slamming into the steel fantail. When it was lost in the water, the team on watch used a nearby mop to protect the probe while reeling it in. On the next watch, Seb figured out a different solution.

Why does it smell like diapers in here?

Back in the lab a different bit of problem solving with the scientific method is going on! Often when buoys are recovered, they are fouled — covered with barnacles and all kinds of organisms, fishing line, etc. that get caught in them. Jeff Lord – mechanical whiz – has hypothesized that applying a better “anti-fouling” substance can keep these from affixing themselves to the equipment. He has liberally applied Desitin, a zinc oxide ointment, to the instruments. This is the same treatment for diaper rash on babies’ bottoms!  So therefore, the odor in the lab reminds us of diapers. It will be a year before we know if Jeff’s hypothesis is correct, because after the STRATUS 12 buoy is moored, it will be a year before it is recovered.  What do you think will happen?

Some of the science party was given a tour of the ships technical equipment behind the scenes. Bud Hale explained not only all of the monitors and ship terminology, but took us down into the equipment rooms where we encountered a gravimeter (measures gravity variations), modern gyros with optics and GPS (measures pitch, roll and heave).

Bud Hale
Bud is an expert on all things technical on the ship. He is more than happy to tell you how any of it works!

Tomorrow, we hope to see the desalination plant on the ship which gives us our fresh drinking water.

UCTD files
After each deployment of a UCTD, data is uploaded into the computer. I’m starting to get the hang of it!

Kristy Weaver: The Sea is All I See, May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 22, 2012-June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Savannah, GA
Date: May 23, 2012

Current Weather: 85 and Sunny

Hello from the Atlantic Ocean!  Right now we are about 75 miles off the coast of Savannah, GA.  and there is water all around me!  The last time we saw land was about an hour after we left the dock yesterday.

Sunset on our first night at sea

Before I left many of you asked that I be careful while I am out here.  I wanted to tell you that I am safe and that safety seems to be a very important part of being a scientist, especially when you are on a ship.  I took photographs of a lot of the safety equipment and information throughout the ship.  We even had a safety meeting before we went out to sea.  The first mate (he does a lot of work on the ship) showed us how to put on a survival suit, which is something you wear that covers your whole body and has a hood.  This suit will keep you warm and floating if something happens and you need to go into the water.

After the meeting we had a fire drill just like we have at school, except we didn’t leave the boat.  The captain (he is the leader of the ship) sounded the alarm and we all put on life vests and met on the deck.  The deck is the back of the ship–the part that is outside.  A life vest is also called a life jacket or life preserver.  A life vest is put on like a jacket, but it doesn’t have any sleeves.   It’s bright orange and gets buckled and tied around you so that you can float if you go in the water.  You can see a picture of me in my life vest in the safety video that I made.

Many children asked what type of marine life is in the water here.  Here is a list and pictures of the animals I have seen so far.

Scamp Grouper
Black Sea Bass
Black Sea Bass
Red Porgy
Red Porgy
After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.
After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.
The Red Snapper is the large pink fish. The black fish is a Shark Sucker.
If you look closely you can see that the Shark Sucker has a flat head with deep pockets on it that work like suction cups.
Spotted Dolphin
Spotted Dolphin
Gray Trigger Fish
One of the fishermen caught a shark with a fishing pole.  We had to get a picture of it quickly so that we could get it back into the water as soon as possible!

AND…to answer the #1 question that I have received…(drumroll please) YES!  Someone did catch a small shark today!

Did you know that you do things in science class that I have seen real scientists do  on this ship?  What things do you think you do that make you like a real scientist?  Check my next blog to find out how you already are a student scientist!

Ellen O’Donnell: All Good Things Come to an End, May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Georges Basin heading back to Woods Hole
Date: May 23, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, fog, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

Tropical Storm Alberto brought in a low pressure system so Tuesday evening we headed back to Provincetown to wait out the effects. It takes about 12 hours to get between Georges Basin and Provincetown. We spent the day in port and everyone caught up on work and reading. It was a welcome rest from the excitement of the past 4 days.

Beth Josephson consolidating ocean survey data from around the US

Tuesday evening we pulled up anchor and headed back out to our right whale spot. Unfortunately, the fog creeped in and it was decided to head back to Woods Hole and cut our survey short. I have to say I am disappointed, but Mother Nature isn’t always cooperative and you can’t beat our previous successful days. While my trip is just about over, the scientists still have a great deal to do. The photos need to be matched up with known right whale individuals, whale poop and biopsies need to be analyzed, and reports need to be written. Data collection is very important, but don’t forget you need to handle the data correctly in order to make correct conclusions.

Being a NOAA scientist is a very exciting career. For many of these folks, this research survey was one of many. Two of our group will be doing an aerial survey next week searching for previously tagged seals. Other future trips include going to New Zealand on a southern right whale survey trip, and a trip to Alaska on an arctic ocean mammal survey. These people not only get to travel around the world, but they are top in their field and really making a difference in conserving our ocean environment. I feel incredibly lucky to have been one of their team on this survey cruise. It has definitely been an opportunity of a lifetime.

The scientist crew aboard the Delaware II including me!

Personal Log:

It has been fascinating learning about NOAA. While I have always heard of this organization, and even used their materials for lesson plans, I never fully understood its place in our government until now.

 NOAA’s Mission:

Science, Service, and Stewardship
To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts,
To share that knowledge and information with others, and
To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources

So I have mentioned three key groups that are important to this organization; the scientists, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, and the wage mariners. I already mentioned the scientists so now I’ll explain about the NOAA  Corps. The NOAA  Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Officers operate ships, fly aircraft, facilitate research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. To be eligible for the NOAA corps you need to have a baccalaureate degree, preferably in a major course of study related to NOAA’s scientific or technical activities. You also need a certain number of science and math course work hours while at college. Once accepted, recruits attend a 4-5 month training camp, and then are placed on a 2 to 3 year permanent assignment aboard a NOAA research vessel. Here is a link to a great video which describes the NOAA Officer Corps program. If only I were younger!

Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sean Cimilluca
Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Rick Hester and Ensign Junie Cassone on the bridge

You can also be a part of NOAA by becoming a wage mariner. Wage mariners are civilians who perform various functions within NOAA. Civilian vessel jobs include deck mates, engineers, stewards, survey and electronic technicians. I talked about several of these groups in my previous blogs. The wage mariner program is a great way to see the world without joining the Corps. Some wage mariners stay with one vessel for many years, whereas others put themselves in a pool where they travel to whatever ship may need them. Here is a link to watch a video about the wage mariner program.

So it’s hard to believe my trip is coming to an end. I can’t thank NOAA enough for this opportunity and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned into the classroom. This has been a rich experience for me that I will never forget. Memories of trying to walk normally on a rocking ship, to getting within 15 feet of a right whale, and working with these dedicated people will be with me for the rest of my life!

Right Whale in front of the Delaware II

Sue Oltman: Getting My Sea Legs, May 22, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 22, 2012

Science and Technology Log

It’s finally the day we will leave port!  I’m awakened by the feeling of my bed shaking and a crash of something falling, this could have been an earthquake.  The science party boards the boat after breakfast and spends a lot of time fastening all equipment down and securing it to shelving; even my laptop needs to be affixed to my desk with Velcro.

My stateroom is on the 02 deck, which is one floor below the main deck. I’m in 02-50-2 with a private “head.” Everything is made of steel (even the toilet and shower) and is bolted down, too.

Here’s where I will sleep for the next two weeks…and take naps so I can do my 4 a.m. watch shift.

As we move out towards open  ocean, the R/V Melville – all 278 feet of it –  is moving northwest at about 11-12 knots and all seasoned hands comment on how calm the seas are. However, there are factors such as pitch, roll and heave which I am not accustomed to!  Ocean conditions affect the ship with  roll of about 3° to 5°  – swaying back and forth to the left (port) and right (starboard.)  Pitch is the hull tilting forwards or backwards and is about 1 ° or less.  Heave is vertical displacement of the ship and is a meter or less. The roll starts getting to me after dinner, despite the sea-sick medicine! Fortunately, after lying down for a while, the sickness passes.

Next, I went up to the lab where all the monitors are to see what I can learn about our course. Watching the multi-beam sonar display (from the Bathymetry XTD) as the ocean floor drops out from below us is fascinating. An array of 191 SONAR beams maps it out. The colors appear like the depth color key on classroom maps we use of the ocean floor – dark blue where deepest and yellow or even red where it is shallower.

The monitors showed the ocean floor depth as it dropped from 2500 m to about 4700 m in an hour or so. The ship was beginning to sail over the trench!

This monitor shows the bathymetry or depth of the ocean in real time as we sail.

Two safety drills were conducted – a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. There was also training on the scientific equipment we will deploy, the UCTDs  (underway conductivity, temperature and depth probes), and ARGO drifter buoys. Sean Whelan led the class on UCTD training and Jeff Lord prepped us on the drifters. These smaller buoys will be released and will float freely, carried by the currents.

The UCTDs will be deployed hourly around the clock on the aft deck (back of the ship.) Salinity and density are derived from these values. The probe is dropped into the water, will sample for about 2 minutes to 400 m or so and then be retrieved. The casting line is then rewound onto the spool to be ready for the next deployment like a sewing machine bobbin being wound.  The data is transmitted to the computer via Bluetooth when a magnetic key is inserted to activate it.

A UCTD is taken back to the surface after gathering data. Sean Whalen, an Engineering technician, taught the class on UCTDs.

Everyone was trained how to use the winch as they will need to use it on watch. Each watch has 3 people and is 4 hours long, and then you have 8 hours off. My assigned watches are 0400 – 0800 hours and 1600-2000 hours (4 to 8) so I will need to alter my sleeping schedule! Those on watch must stay in the downstairs lab and conduct UCTD releases during those hours. The instruments inside the UCTD are very sensitive and costly and must be handled very deliberately.

There is one more session. Keith – the ship’s “res tech” or resident technician – conducts a CTD handling class. The “rosette: is the circular frame in which water sampling devices called CTDs are placed to take water sampled in international waters. These are different from the UCTDs because deep zone water is sampled for salinity and temperature. This will be done about 7 times on this cruise. It is large and the instruments are housed in a sturdier casing so it is heavier and the winch operator must lower this into the ocean with a crane.

We are looking forward to be seeing some great sunrises and sunsets from our research vessel during watches!

Enjoying the spectacular sunset with me are Elsie Denton, volunteer translator, and Jamie Shambaugh of NOAA.

Deborah Campbell: May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission: Fish Tagging, Acoustic Receiver maintenance/ deployment
Geographical Area: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Sunny and warm, waves 3 to 4 feet, currently 74 degrees

Science and Technology Log

On Tuesday, May 22, science operations on board Nancy Foster resumed.  A boat from Gray’s Reef brought more divers.  Shannon McAteer is from “Team Ocean”, a volunteer S.C.U.B.A. organization.  Michelle Johnston is a research ecologist at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Galveston, Texas.  Kelly Gleason is a maritime archeologist in Hawaii.  Randy Rudd, named “Volunteer of the Year” for the entire National Marine Sanctuary Program,  has been on board from the beginning is also a “Team Ocean” diver.  Diver Greg McFall  the Research Coordinator/Deputy Superintendent of Gray’s Reef will perform surgery to implant transmitters in the fish.  Greg has been doing the underwater filming throughout the trip.  Also, assisting in the dives are Nancy Foster NOAA Corps Officers LT Josh Slater and ENS Jamie Park.  Chief Scientist, Sarah Fangman is coordinating all the dive projects.   Debbie Meeks is the Financial and Informational Technology Coordinator and webmaster for Gray’s Reef.  She has been continually working on the mission website throughout the cruise.

Debbie Meeks and Deborah Campbell in dry lab (photo courtesy of Kacey Johnson)
LT Josh Slater and ENS Jamie Park preparing to dive


Rockfish (also known as striped bass)
Rockfish (also known as striped bass)
Batfish (photo by ENS Jamie Park)
Batfish (photo by ENS Jamie Park)
Divers (from left) Kelly Gleason, Sarah Fangman, Michelle Johnston, and Randy Rudd

The plan of the day is to work on implanting transmitters in fish.  The divers have put large cages on the bottom with food to lure the fish inside.  The divers will reach inside the cage to grab  the fish with a net.  One diver will hold the fish “belly up”, while another diver performs surgery.  The surgery involves a small cut, insertion of the transmitter, and then a couple of stitches.  The fish is then released.  Doing the surgery underwater greatly increases the survival chances of the fish.  Divers have spotted several tagged fish swimming happily about Gray’s Reef.

Personal Log

Yesterday, while I was on “steel beach”, there was an “abandon ship” drill.  The signal for this drill is six short blasts followed by one long blast.  I had to hurry to my room to get my life-preserver and Immersion Suit (Gumby Suit).  I had to report to Muster Station Three.  The person in charge of my group was ENS Jamie Park.  If we had to abandon ship, we would have to deploy a life raft which is in a large cylinder.  The cylinder would be thrown overboard.  We would have to get in our Gumby Suits quickly, throw the cylinder overboard, let the cylinder open into a life raft and jump overboard to get in life raft.  It was only a drill…  However, drills are important to help people get prepared in an emergency situation.

The crew has to watch videos to prepare them for emergencies.  I watched an excellent video in the mess hall with the crew.  The video showed how to prepare for an emergency at sea in event that you would have to abandon the ship.

Deborah Campbell participating in an “abandon ship” drill aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Meanwhile, I will be spending my last day on board.  Today is hamburger Wednesday.  There will be burgers for lunch.  On Thursday, we will dock in downtown Savannah, Georgia.  On Friday, I will be assisting the scientists and crew with an “Open House”.  People will be able to tour the Foster.  On Saturday I will depart Georgia and head to Chicago.  I look forward to sharing my adventures with my family, friends, students, and colleagues.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a “NOAA Teacher At Sea”.  I will never forget my time with the wonderful crew of the Foster and scientists which I have shared my experiences.


S.A.R.T.- Search and Rescue Transponder

PFD- Portable Floatation Device

H.E.L.P. Position- Heat Escape Loss Position

SCUBA- Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

Ellen O’Donnell: The Right Place, May 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Basin
Date: May 21 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Wind at 4 knots, fog with relative humidity around 97%

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday we started out the day in Canadian Waters. We were about 50-60 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Remember to track me using the NOAA Ship Tracker. The day started off very quickly. I was on the first shift at 7 AM and we started seeing right whales within 30 minutes. I stayed on watch while the first group went out in the little gray boat. From the flybridge, we were seeing right whale blows from west to east across our bow. It was a calm day so you could really see the indicative v-shaped blow.  The first group collected data from 11 whales and biopsied one of them. At one point we radioed the group on the boat because we had around 8 right whales within sight. They radioed back that they were working one whale and had four more close by!  Around lunchtime we switched out the crews and I got to go out again on the little boat.

It is so hard to describe my experience on that boat, but I will give it my best shot. We had right whales all around us. One swam right toward our boat and then veered off at the last minute. At one point we were trying to collect data on around 8 whales who were close to us. The majority were echelon feeding on the surface so it was easy to take pictures. It was not easy, however, to keep individuals separate as they kept swapping places or moving off to join another group close by. Allison Henry, is the biologist in charge of identifying the right whales, and she is amazing. We would come up on a whale and she would say, “Nope, already got him, he was letter H!” (We identify the whales by the alphabet as you go along. In other words, the first is A, then B, etc). So not only could she keep track of the whales we identified, but she often knew which letter we had given it! So to give you an idea of the number of whales we saw that day, our last whale was UU. Some of these whales are most likely duplicates, but that’s still a pile of whales. Peter Duley, our chief scientist dubbed this spot, “the honey pot.” Another really interesting thing was that the ocean was just full of whales where we were, but they were almost all right whales. We just saw the occasional sei whale here and there.

As I mentioned before right whales are identified by large patches of rough tissue called callosities. Calves begin to show these patches shortly after birth, and are usually well established by 7-10 months. These patches are unique to individual whales, and therefore, are used to identify them. The patches themselves are dark, but they become infected by cyamids, otherwise known as “whale lice,” which make them look lighter. I hope all you school nurses are getting a good look at this. You think you have an epidemic!

Right whale showing callosities and cyamids up close

Look at these pairs of  right whales and tell me how you would describe each in a way that you would know them if you saw them again. There is a pair of two right heads and two pictures showing left heads. They are from 4 different individuals. I have a prize for the person from DCS that gives the best description! (I think we can probably come up with another prize for those of you at Hall Memorial school in CT. Right Mrs. Rodriguez?)

To help you with this challenge you might want to play this whale identification game by the New England Aquarium

Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)
Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)
Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)
Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)

Personal Log:

Chris O’Keefe, Chief Engineer, and Grady Abney, 1st Engineer, explain to me how the ship is powered

A ship isn’t going to go anywhere if you don’t power it. I spoke with Chief Engineer Chris O’Keefe and 1st Engineer Grady Abney about how the Delaware II operates. Chris has been with NOAA for 35 years and Grady has been with NOAA for 25 years. Grady took me into the bowels of the ship and gave me a tour of the systems. It’s like another world down there, full of equipment, and loud noise with a small walkway running through. The Delaware II is run by a 125 HP engine. It uses diesel fuel and the ship carries about 28,000 gallons which will last between one or two months. On a day when we are stopped most of the time, like yesterday when we were surveying whales from the little boat it will use about 500 gallons. When we are going at a steady pace we will burn around 1200 gallons. Grady tells me that this is great fuel efficiency compared to some of the newer ships that may burn as much as 5000 gallons a day.

Chris explained one of the really cool things that the Delaware II has: a desalination unit. This is a process where filtered saltwater is brought in and boiled in an evaporator. The water is under high pressure so that it boils at 160 degrees F. The steam is collected in a condenser where it is cooled and turns back into water, but without the salt. Remember how we separated salt from water in our labs? The ship needs to be moving in order to generate the fresh water and at a steady pace the Delaware makes about 1500 gallons a day. The generation of fresh water is something that the engineers log through-out the day.

Engine control room on the Delaware II

Another interesting thing that Grady explained to me is how the ship can be run from the engine room instead of the bridge. This is a back-up in case there are problems with the ship. I had a lot of fun talking to Chris and Grady. You can see they enjoy their jobs and are very capable in what they do. Good thing for all of us!

Ellen O’Donnell: There’s a Lot of Food in the Ocean and One More Whale to Feed! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Franklin Basin
Date: May 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, slightly overcast, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We spent the night out at sea and today and we worked the Franklin Basin. It is about 120 miles from Cape Cod. At first we didn’t see many whales, but things started picking up by lunchtime. We launched the little gray boat shortly after to get close to the right whales we were seeing. While I didn’t go on the gray boat today, many of the whales came right up to the ship. It was another amazing day and we were quite successful.

Copepod (photo:

I have seen so many different ways that the whales catch their prey. I asked the question last time, “Why do sei and right whales often appear together?” This is because they like the same food. Both whales eat copepods. Copepods are tiny crustaceans that range from microscopic to a quarter of an inch. Crustaceans are invertebrates which are related to lobster, shrimp and crabs. They eat diatoms and plankton, which are even smaller! They are the most abundant species on earth and are important in many ocean food webs.

Cool Fact from the Monterey Bay Aquarium: A single copepod may eat from 11,000 to 373,000 diatoms in 24 hours!

So sei and right whales feed on these tiny abundant organisms, which is amazing given their size. Humpbacks and fin whales also filter feed, but they eat krill (another tiny crustacean), plankton and small fish. Humpbacks can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food a day.

Sei and right whale feeding in same area (photo: Genevive Davis)

All of these whales are called baleen whales because they filter their prey out of the water as they move through it. Right whales and sei whales surface feed a lot. They are close to the surface slowly moving through the water filtering out copepods. Often they are seen feeding side by side.

Sometimes right whales do what is called echelon feeding. One whale is up front and then whales along each side create a V-shape. The whales to the side of the one in front pick up prey that didn’t make it into the forward whale’s mouth. We saw a great example of echelon feeding right from the ship. There were six right whales slowly swimming in this V-shape. Every once in a while, if one got out of formation, they would swim back toward the V and turn and get back in formation.

Right Whales Echelon Feeding

Humpback whales also use a method for catching prey. When we got close to the humpback, Slumber, the other day, we noticed large bubbles rising to the surface. This is called bubble feeding. Humpbacks create large bubbles to trap and herd fish. Often they do this in groups.

Mother and new calf (photo: Jenn Gatzke)

So while watching the different whales, and how they feed was very interesting, this was not the most exciting thing. These surveys are important because they keep track of vital information needed to develop good conservation plans. Therefore, information such as where the individual whales are, which females breed, where they breed, and how many calves are born is important.

We identified around 17 whales yesterday and found one that one had not been biopsied. This whale was then biopsied so its information can go into the database. We also saw two mothers and their calves. Right whales typically give birth to their calves after a 12 month gestation period, off the coast of Georgia or North Florida.

This year only six calves were born and one died. This number is not good as biologists hope to have the number of calves born in the double digits. So you can imagine how happy everyone was when we identified a female who hadn’t been seen since 2010 with a new calf! We were able to get a biopsy from the calf as well, which will not only give genetic information from the skin, but also information on contaminants from the mother since it is still nursing. But I’m not finished yet! The icing on the cake was that the baby whale also released some fecal matter. Yes that’s right…whale poop! This may not seem important to you, but the whale biologists were ecstatic. The collected whale poop, yes it was collected in a bucket, gives a wealth of information, such as what it has been eating and the level of contaminants in the calves body.  Adult whale poop also gives hormonal information.  All in all it was a very successful day of collecting important data on right whales.

Relaxing after a hard day’s work
NOAA Scientists Peter Duley and Allison Henry scoop whale poop into a collection bag to be later analyzed

Personal Log 

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. Obviously the ocean is a big part of our environment. NOAA vessels have differing focuses on the data they collect from the ocean.  The Delaware II is a fisheries vessel. It goes out on various research cruises, which collect data on different organisms within our oceans. As you know they perform right whale cruises, like the one I am on now, but they also perform other studies as well. Midwater trawling is done for studies on herring. Large nets are pulled along the boat at mid-water level, and the data collected gives information on the distribution and abundance of herring. Deep water trawls with nets are done to collect scallops and clams, and determine their relative abundance and distribution. Shark cruises collect sharks by sending out a line with baited hooks. The sharks collected are tagged and released. Lastly, the Delaware II performs ichthyoplanktic studies, which collect eggs and larvae from various species of fish.

Jim Pontz (left) and Todd Wilson (right) getting the trawl net ready (photo: Delaware II)
Herring catch (photo: Delaware II)
Clam and Scallop Survey (photo: Delaware II)
Shark Tag and Release Survey (photo: Delaware II)

It is the deck crew that helps make this possible. Acting Chief Boatswain and Head Fisherman, Todd Wilson heads up a 5-man crew, who not only take care of all ship maintenance, with the exception of the engine, but serve as night-time lookouts, and operators of the fisheries equipment. We rely on them to get the little gray boat in and out of the water, which takes a lot of coordination, and they are always there to help you if you need it.

Launching the little gray boat

Deborah Campbell: May 21st, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission:  Collecting Zebra Arc Shells and Multibeam Mapping
Geographical Area:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Monday, May 21, 2012

Teacher on land, Deborah Campbell, on Atlantic Beach near Mayport Navel Base in Florida.

Mission: Multibeam Mapping, Arc shell collections, Marine debris monitering, Fish telemetry, Acoustic receiver deployment/ maintenance

Weather Data from the Bridge: Monitoring Tropical Storm “Alberto”

Science and Technology Log

I am currently a “Teacher on Land”.  Tropical storm “Alberto” has forced our ship to dock in Florida.  I found out Saturday evening around 7:30 in the evening about the storm.  The CO (commanding officer) held a meeting in the mess deck (eating area) to inform all crew about the change in plans.  We were informed that we were heading to Florida to get away from the storm.  The plan would be to arrive in Florida at the Mayport Naval Base at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  If the storm stayed on track as predicted we would leave Florida on Monday at 5:00 p.m.

A tropical storm causes high winds ranging from 33 – 73 miles per hour, and very high waves.  There is a weather buoy located by Gray’s Reef tracking weather conditions.  The Nancy Foster is docked at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville, Florida.  Another NOAA ship, Okeanos  Explorer, is docked behind us. Okeanos Explorer was headed north to Rhode Island which is their home base , when they had to turn around. What is really cool about Okeanos is that it has a giant soccer ball which is their satellite system.

CO Holly Jablonski on bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

On the bridge of the ship, the CO (commanding officer), and her crew use the ship’s computers to monitor radar, weather, navigation, and water depth.  The ship is equipped with GPS (global positioning system).  GPS is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information.  In all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites, weather can be tracked.  The GPS system is maintained by the United States government, and can be accessed by anyone using a GPS receiver.

Personal Log

Deborah Campbell, Teacher At Sea standing on top of submarine from Brazil at Mayport Navel Base in Florida

The view of Mayport Naval Base is amazing.  This base is like a city having everything imaginable.  There is a bowling alley, a hotel, stores, restaurants, a beach, a gym, and much more.  Yesterday, we went outside the guarded gates to the beach area.  We ate at a nice restaurant.  I am now having trouble walking on land.  It feels like I am still on the ship.  Today, I walked outside the gates where the ships are to go get some pizza for lunch.  I had to show the armed Navy guards my I.D.  We walked quite a distance.  We stopped at the base exchange to buy some magazines and snacks.  On the way back, I stopped where the submarine Tikuna, from Brazil is docked.  I got to climb on top of the sub.  It was very cool.  Some of our crew from the Nancy Foster went down a very steep ladder into the sub.  We are expecting to resume activities at Gray’s Reef on Tuesday.  We are heading back around eight this evening.  Okeanos Explorer left at ten this morning, and they are reporting rough seas as they head back to Rhode Island.  The crew will continue to monitor weather conditions….

Bridge deck computer systems aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
LT Josh Slater entering submarine Tikuna

Valerie Bogan: Introduction, May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7- 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday May 20, 2012

My name is Valerie Bogan and I am humbled that I have been chosen to be part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher At Sea program (TAS).  I learned about this program during a field trip when I was a college student at the University of South Carolina (USC) studying marine science. We had the honor of taking a tour of a NOAA vessel and the captain spoke of the programs offered by NOAA including TAS. At the time I did not intend to become a teacher but life sometimes takes unexpected turns, and here I am twelve years later a teacher in the Teacher at Sea program.

I teach 6th and 7th grade science to students at Maple Crest Middle School in Kokomo, Indiana. As you can see from the map, Kokomo is located nowhere near an ocean, but no matter where you live your actions affect the oceans. For example if one of my students releases a balloon, perhaps as a celebration of the end of the school year, that balloon does not magically disintegrate as it floats from view but is instead carried hundreds of miles by the wind. When the wind finally drops the balloon it is just a wad of latex, the air inside is gone, which often falls into a river, which transports the remains of the balloon to the ocean. Once in the ocean, discarded balloons are often eaten by sea turtles because they think it is a jellyfish. Unfortunately, sea turtles can’t digest latex and the mass becomes stuck in their digestive tract causing the animal to slowly starve to death. So you see the simple act of releasing a balloon in Kokomo Indiana, far from the ocean, can cause the death of a majestic animal. During the course of my trip I hope to gain knowledge of other ways Hoosiers are negatively impacting the ocean. Then next fall my students and I will sit down and try to find ways to improve our impact on the environment.

Kokomo Indiana
The location of Kokomo within the state of Indiana (photo courtesy of wikipedia)

I will be participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II. I’m going to wait until future posts to get into the details of the research, but as I understand it, we will be collecting bottom dwelling creatures, such as shrimp, and studying them to determine the health of the population. This is important research because just two years ago the Gulf of Mexico experienced a devastating oil spill when the offshore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and starting leaking oil. This research will allow scientists to determine if there are any long lasting impacts of this oil spill.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Well
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig catching on fire led to a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

I am very excited about this trip and I look forward to sharing what I am learning with all of you. As you can see from the pictures below I’m not afraid of seeking out adventure and I have high hopes that this trip will be the best adventure so far.  

Rock climbing
Rock climbing, one of the things I do in my free time.
Sky diving
Here I am skydiving.

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales Up Close, May 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Bank
Date: May 18, 2012

Weather observations: Light and variable winds not over 5 knots. Seas with mixed swells from 4 – 7 feet. High pressure system. Partly cloudy

Last night the ship crew worked as we slept. They take conductivity, temperature and pressure readings, through the use of a CTD monitor, which ultimately gives us information on the salinity and depth of the water. The ship ran set transects through the water deploying the CTD monitor at various locations along the transect, collecting this information.

The ship was really rocking and rolling all night long and I woke up at 5:30 AM not feeling very well, and knowing I had to get some fresh air. So I went up on the fly deck, this is where we make our whale observations, and sat up there and watched the sunrise. The ocean is so beautiful and I find myself very drawn to it. It can be a beautiful place and it can be one filled with raw power. Luckily for me today it was on the peaceful side. Looking out at the horizon I can understand why people thought the world was flat. It really does look as if you will reach the end and fall off. As I was waiting for my shift, I saw three whales in the distance, either fin or sei whales, and several Atlantic white striped dolphins. I thought nothing could get better than that. Boy was I wrong!

We started our watch at 7AM and started to see whales very quickly. Even though there were large swells there were no whitecaps. We saw minke, which are small whales, because they swam along the ship. We also saw sei, fin and humpback whales. Around 11:00AM we saw our first group of right whales and that’s when the real fun began.

Today I got to go in the little gray boat and we sped across the water to get close-up shots of whales.

Me getting ready to take pictures
Biologists Jamison Smith and Jen Gatzke help direct the small boat from the flybridge (photo: Genevive Davis)

There is a list of right whales that need biopsies. A biopsy is when you shoot a dart into the back of the whale and get a small piece of skin and blubber. Typically, there is little response from the whales when you do this. You could probably equate it to a mosquito bite for us. The skin biopsy is then analyzed for the genetic code, or DNA, in a lab. This gives scientists an idea of who is related to whom, in the whale world, so to speak. Through this data they have found that there are a small number of male right whales fathering the calves. Why? At this point they don’t know but you can sure whale biologists are trying to figure this out. The blubber is immediately preserved and then it too is analyzed. However, the blubber is analyzed to determine the possible level of contaminants in the whale.

Two right whales together close to our boat

We took close up shots of both the left and right heads of each whale and checked to make sure it wasn’t one we needed to biopsy. Remember, you identify right whales by their callosities. While we didn’t find any that needed biopsies, we got close to eleven right whales! We got close to one group of three right whales who were following each other like a train. One head would come up, then the body, then the fluke went up and it would go under. Just as the first whale went under the second came up right by the first’s fluke, did the same thing, and then the third. It was fascinating. It also gets a bit confusing trying to identify all three animals and making sure you have the correct pictures. The scientists are great at sorting through the information quickly and trying to keep track of the individuals.

At one point we were tracking a right whale and it was surrounded by sei whales feeding in the same location. We had about 10 whales all around us and at times it was hard to follow our right whale because we had to wait for the sei whales to get out of our way! It was amazing we could really see how they fed close up (more on their feeding methods in the next blog). Sei whales have a very different head and of course the dorsal fin I mentioned before. They are very sleek and streamlined looking whereas, I feel the right whales look more like the hippopotamuses of the ocean!

Sei Whale (photo Allison Henry 5/18/12)
Right whale looking like a hippo

Very little is know about sei whales, which are also endangered species, so effort is being made to start biopsying them. Therefore, while we were out there, Peter Duley, our chief scientist biopsied a sei whale. He uses a cross-bow with an arrow, that is designed to cut a small piece of blubber. Pete hit the whale on the first try. It was a great shot!

Peter Duley NOAA biologist targets sei whale (photo: Genevive Davis 5/18/12)
“Slumber” Humpback whales are identified by their fin patterns

We also got very close to a humpback whale. Humpbacks are identified by the patterns on their flukes. They also have a dorsal fin, but the shape can be quite variable and sometimes is just like a knob. Therefore, they are often mistook as a right whale until you see their fluke. We took pictures of this humpback so that the scientists studying them will get an accurate sighting on where this individual is located. In fact, upon communication with one of the humpback experts we were able to identify this whale which was first identified in 1999 and is called “Slumber”.

On our way back we went near a few basking sharks. These are sharks that are also filter feeders. They just swim slowly with their mouth open and collect any krill in the water. We were just about done, finishing up with our last right whale and he breached in front of us about 30 feet from the boat. It was amazing. We were out on the little gray boat for nearly five hours. It is five hours I will never forget for the rest of my life.

And to top off one of the best days of my life, mother nature decided to give us one spectacular sunset. Life is good.

Sunset off the Delaware II

Personal Log:

Another excellent part of this trip is one I bet a lot of you are thinking about. How is the food? I had heard that the food on board NOAA ships is good, but I wasn’t ready for the exceptional meals I have been served. The food is fantastic! Every night I have had some kind of fish or seafood , although there is always a choice of chicken or beef as well. My family will tell you that although I love seafood, fish is really not my thing. OK, I have officially changed my mind! I have had haddock, swordfish and halibut and every bite was a treat, especially the blackened swordfish with a mango chutney sauce. And meals aren’t everything. There is always some tasty treat hot out of the oven, or fresh fruit, available in between meals.

So why do we have such great meals? Well the credit has to go to John Rockwell, chief steward and Lydell Reed, second cook. John is in charge of purchasing, meal planning, cooking and cleaning. He comes by his culinary ability naturally, as he was raised in the restaurant business, and has an associates degree in culinary arts. He joined the wage mariner program (more on this later) and has been with the Delaware II for six years. Lydell also grew up in the food industry and worked as a sous chef before joining NOAA’s wage mariners.  Lydell has also been with NOAA for six years, but he is in a pool which means he moves around from ship to ship filling in for the second cook slot when needed. Whatever their background, they are amazing in the kitchen and it’s fun to walk down while they’re cooking. They always seem to be having a good time, you never know what music will be playing and there is always a great smell in the air.

John Rockwell and Lydel Reed creating gourmet food

Question of the Day: Why would sei whales and right whales be eating in the same places?

Sue Oltman: Greetings from the Ring of Fire! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Vina del Mar, Chile
Date: May 20, 2012

Personal Log

I’m staying in the town of Vina del Mar, about 90 minutes from Santiago and close to the busy port city of Valparaiso.  Learning a bit more about the culture of this country. Once again, I’m reminded how useful it is to know other languages. The science team from WHOI (affectionately called by its acronym, pronounced hooey) is led by Dr. Robert Weller, the chief scientist, a renowned oceanographer whose expertise is moorings. The mooring for STRATUS 11 will be recovered and STRATUS 12 will be deployed. Another significant science contribution of WHOI is the Alvin submersible. Alvin has explored the mid-ocean ridge in the Atlantic Ocean extensively.

From the R/V Melville, in port, looking towards shore, there are many smaller touring and fishing boats in addition to cargo vessels.

Last time, I shared that earthquakes are almost expected here, so there is a common concern about tsunami preparedness.  In 2010, many Chileans lost their lives due to a tsunami they did not know how to react to. The country’s leaders are trying to implement better evacuation plans, so there is a large public drill planned in about a week here. There are banners in the street announcing the upcoming drill!  Think of the school fire drills we have…a whole country will practice in a coordinated earthquake and tsunami drill to ensure that lives will be spared in the future.

Valparaiso colorful street
Many of the steep hills of Valparaiso were colorful – the homes and artistic graffiti.

The port of Valparaiso is very colorful and busy, with a lot of commerce taking place. New cars enter South America here, as does steel for construction and other goods. The U.S. oceanographic research  ship R/V Melville arrived and the team has been getting equipment ready for the mission ahead.  The new buoy and instruments have been shipped here separately, and the technician, Val Cannon, has been checking them out before they are deployed.It’s not an everyday event that a US Navy ship enters Chile, so local government will take the opportunity to somehow enrich their citizens.  A school group visited for a tour of the ship as well as an overview of the scientific research happening aboard the vessel. The Melville science crew prepared to give a presentation to the group of high school students on Saturday morning.  The research vessel  Melville had come into port on the heels of 2 weeks of  earthquake research by Oregon State University scientists. This scientist gave a presentation about her work first.

Scientists present to Chilean students
Dr. Sebastian Bigorre, WHOI, and Elsie Denton, translator, and I speaking to the students.

Next, Dr. Sebastien Bigorre (Seb) gave a talk about the atmospheric research in the Stratus project which I will elaborate more about in upcoming blogs.  He showed them the location of the stratus mooring and why that location is chosen – it is in the area of persistent stratus cloud cover in the lower atmosphere.  Did you know that some ocean water masses have a specific “fingerprint? ” This allows scientists to determine where that water mass travels to, and this reveals more information about winds and currents in the region.I gave the students an overview of the Teacher at Sea program and how NOAA  provides resources for science instruction, and invites teachers to experience cutting edge science in the oceans.  Teachers at Sea create new lessons and curriculum related to their cruises which are then shared on the NOAA website. The Chilean science teachers asked if these materials were available to them as well, and were happy to find out that they were.

Today was also a busy day of shipboard work inValparaiso, heavy work and long hours of getting the project’s equipment aboard. Crates and crates of equipment and gear was unloaded, involving cranes and heavy lifting by all.  Even the top scientists are not exempt from the gritty hard labor! In the video clip, you will see Dr. Weller and other hardworking, versatile scientists assembling the mooring on deck. The ocean is all around us, but no one is swimming in it.

The water is pretty cool here, due to the Peru current which bring Antarctic water masses northward. There is continuous upwelling from about 1,000 meters where the thermocline is.

The coastline is on the edge of the Peru-Chile trench, part of the network of tectonic plate boundaries surrounding the Pacific. While on land, we are on the South American plate, and when we put out to sea, we will be above the Nazca plate.  This is a subduction zone where the trench descends to as deep as 6,000 meters in places! The Nazca plate is subducting under the continent. The R/V Melville will mostly be sailing in water in the 4,000-4,500 meter range.  This teacher is ready to set sail! Comment below to let me know your questions about the ship.

Answers to previous polls:

The KMS hat won! Upwelling is the movement of deep,cold, nutrient rich water to the surface. The cables can be over 4000 meters long.

Ellen O’Donnell: Where Am I? May 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Provincetown. MA
Date: May 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the Northwest, 5 to 10 knots. Mid-level clouds.Ocean swells 1 to 3 meters

Science and Technology Log:

We pulled up anchor and set sail out of Provincetown, Cape Cod at 6AM. We followed the Cape Coastline for several miles and then headed out to Georges Bank again. Unfortunately, today was windy so the ocean had a lot of whitecaps. In addition, the swells were between 1 to 3 meters throughout the day. This made it hard to spot whales. The wind also disperses their spout very quickly so they are hard to see. Around 3PM the wind lessened such that there were far fewer whitecaps. We started to see more whales but not a lot.

Atlantic White Sided Dolphin (Photo: Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation)

One right whale came close to the ship and we were able to slow the boat down and get several pictures. Other than that we saw fin and sei whales and one minke whale. A bit of excitement for me, though, is that several pods of common Atlantic white sided dolphins swam past the ship. One pod had about 15 dolphins!

Humpback entanglement (photo Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies)

The last time we were out at sea we took the little gray boat out to get closer to the right whales. One of the whales was entangled. Entanglement is when a gillnet, lobster trap or crab pot or any other marine debris gets caught on a whales fin, head or flippers. It is the second leading cause of human-related right whale deaths. In fact, nearly three out of four whales bear scars from these types of interactions.

NOAA created a central response network on the East Coast through its National Marine Fisheries Service, developed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. When a whale that is entangled is spotted, they send out a crew to remove the fishing gear from the whale. Now this is no easy task. Remember  whales can weigh up to 70 tons and won’t just sit still for you to remove the nets. Responders will typically try and slow the whale down and keep it on the surface. In order to do this they attach buoys to a trailing line in order to cause drag on the animal. Fin, sei and humpbacks react well to this because they are lunge feeders so they actively chase after their prey, and because of this they experience this periodic drag. Once this happens and the whale has slowed down, the responders get close in a small inflatable boat and try to remove the nets with strategically placed cuts, working to remove the net as quickly as possible. They use tools that are on the end of long poles to do this.

However, this method does not work well with right whales. They are grazers and therefore oftentimes don’t react to additional drag. Jamison Smith, biologist for NOAA, said that they even attached a large boat to the drag line but the whale just kept swimming and eventually broke the line! So they have been trying something new with them. Recently they have administered tranquilizers to the whales to slow them down. They found that this changed the right whales behavior, and they were able to get closer. They have even administered antibiotics to those whales that had severe damage from the fishing gear. View this video to see a whale getting darted. NOAA Biologist Darts Right Whale (courtesy NOAA)

Researchers continue to work on more efficient and better ways to deal with this threat to our whale populations. One method that has worked well is to work with fisherman to design fishing gear, which have weak links so that they break easier when whales swim through them. It is a controversial issue between many parties, but hopefully we will see a decline in whale entanglements in the future.

Personal Log:

You might think it’s easy to navigate a ship. Just point and drive, right? No. Navigation of a ship is a complex endeavor which requires skill and the use of many different technologies. Think about it. You need to consider wind, tides, currents, depth of water and other ships in the area. Luckily the Delaware II has a great deal of equipment and skilled operators to get our ship from point A to B.

So let’s dive into the art of navigation. First off you need to know where you are.

Lieutenant Claire Surry-Marsden and Ensign Jason Wilson showing me how the instruments work

The Delaware II has a global positioning system, which is a satellite-based navigation system. It works something like this. The US government launched satellites up into orbit around our Earth. They constantly send out light wave signals with a time the message was sent, and the location of the signal at that time. A receiver on the ground needs to receive at least 4 of these signals, sometimes three will work, to get an accurate reading on where that receiver (you)  is located. But you just don’t want to rely on one system, so the Delaware II has 2 back-up systems. The crew also utilizes a magnetic compass, and a Gyrocompass. As you know the magnetic compass points toward magnetic north (considering the declination of your area). However the Gyrocompass is an instrument that is mounted in a device so that it spins freely. When the device is moved in a different direction, such as ocean swells or turns, the gyroscope will always point to true North. A gyroscope  spins about three axes of angular freedom due to its inherent properties  and its being acted upon by the earth’s rotation and gravity. Control devices are applied to balance the forces so that the gyro seeks and continually aligns itself with the meridian and points to true north.

You also need to know what is going on down in the water. If the ocean floor gets shallow or the currents change this is going to affect the ship’s safety and or progress. The Delaware II gets this information through two navigation depth sounders. They emit sound waves out of the bottom of the boat and time how long it takes for the waves to get back. Remember our formulas during our energy units? Speed equals distance divided by time. Well we know the speed of sound in water at various temperatures (remember the speed changes with different mediums and the temperature), so you multiply the time (divided by 2)  by the speed and you get the distance. Luckily the navigation depth sounder does all this math for you automatically and you get a picture on the screen showing the depth of the water below the ship.

Computer with chart of the area

The Delaware II has a large computer which uses software called Nobeltec. This displays the most recent charts, or as we call them maps, on the screen. These charts indicate all land and the depths of the water. Before leaving the navigators plot the course on the chart and this is what they use to steer the ship. Of course, safety is incredibly important so this course is also drawn out on paper charts in case the on-line computer goes down. I watched Ensign Junie Casson transferring this information and it isn’t easy. Knowing latitude and longitude are key as well as determining the degrees in which you want to travel. See that! Math and social studies really do come in handy! Junie is also responsible for keeping the ships charts up to date as information is constantly being acquired on the topography of the ocean floor.

Ensign Junie Casson shows me how to plot a course on the chart

You also need to know how the currents are moving in the water you are traveling through. Especially should the ship release equipment, such as nets or instruments. This is done with the Doppler speed log. It emits 3 sonic beams and the information is used to determine the speed and direction of the water in three different layers. Speed and direction of the water is affected by winds, rotation of the Earth (remember the Coriolis Effect – it affects the direction of the water as well as the air) and tides. Deeper layers tend to move more slowly because there is less energy transfer between layers as you go down.

Lastly we want to make sure that no other ships are getting too close, that we aren’t getting too close to certain objects or to fix ourselves upon a certain point. For this the ship has two different kinds of radar. One radar called x-band, has  a higher frequency and shorter wavelength. The second radar is called s-band, and has a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Both are used to get the best accuracy with identifying objects.To avoid collision, The Delaware II  uses an integrated ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) to quickly analyze trial maneuvers.  Different courses and/or speeds are assessed and the calculated outcome in terms of a CPA (closest point of approach) is determined. Whenever possible at sea, one nautical mile CPA from all other traffic should be kept.

Poll Update:

On my first blog I asked which of the following whales is the longest; sei, fin, humpback, right and minke. While most of you picked the humpback the fin whale is actually the longest.

Questions of the Day:

When you determine the time in our equation to determine the water’s depth you would need to divide it by two. Why?

In ancient times, ships didn’t have the equipment I just described to you. How did they navigate the ship?

Deborah Campbell: May 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission:  Collecting Zebra Arc Shells and Multibeam Mapping
Geographical Area:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday May 18th, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Skies are overcast.  Temperature 75 degrees

Science and Technology Log

Teacher At Sea Deborah Campbell aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Today I want to talk about two research projects that are going on aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. The first project is the Arca zebra collection.

Zebra Arc Shell collected by scientist J.D. on a dive mission.

Scientist, J.D. has completed eleven dives to collect ten samples of the Arca zebra, which are also known as “turkey wing” shells.  By collecting the arc shells, scientists can examine the soft tissue inside the shell to determine the ecological conditions at Gray’s Reef.  Human activities such as using pesticides can make their way to the reef.  If you have read “The Lorax”, by Dr. Suess, you know that human activities could cause habitat destruction.  By monitoring Gray’s Reef, scientists can assess how healthy the reef is.  Two thirds of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary are used by recreational boaters, however no anchors can be used.  Anchors could damage habitats on the reef.  One third of the reef is used solely for scientific research.

Scientist J.D., Zebra Arc Shell Mission

The second research project is Multibeam Mapping of the ocean floor using the N.O.A.A. ship NANCY FOSTER multibeam sonar system.  Three people on board the ship monitor the computers for the mapping in the dry lab.  The dry lab and wet lab are next to each other.  No food or drinks are allowed in dry lab, because of the equipment.  Samantha Martin is the Senior Survey Technician and is in charge.  Kacey Johnson just graduated from the College of Charleston with a Bachelor’s degree in Geology.  Walter Potts is a Survey Technician.  All three rotate in shifts to monitor the mapping.

Samantha Martin (left) and Kacey Johnson

During the Multibeam Mapping, the  NANCY FOSTER is moving.  The multibeam sonar system is sending out “pings” into the water.  The pings travel through the water until they reach a surface that reflects sound, such as the sea floor.  Then the sound travels back to the receiver.  The receiver can calculate the depth measurement for each “ping”.

The Multibeam Mapping can be compare to dolphins “echolocation”.  Dolphins send out sound wave that sound like a click, which hits an object and then bounces back.  Dolphins’ sound waves gauge the distance of the object, and also the shape.

Dolphin swimming alongside the Foster.

Personal Log

Friday’s dives were suspended early due to rough ocean conditions.  The crew told us stories about times the sea got rough.  There are railings on beds.  There is also an extra board you can slide on the side of your mattress to insure that you stay in the bed.  One crew member told me that they went airborne.  It has been raining on and off.  We may not be able to go on small boats on Saturday, unless seas calm down.

Quote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”.  (The Lorax, by Dr. Suess)

Ocean Riddles:What do fish and maps have in common? They have scales…

Why are fish so smart? Because like Locke School students, they are in a school…

What has a beginning, middle, or end and touches every continent? The Ocean

What do you get when you graduate from scuba diving school? A Deep-loma

Deborah Campbell: Aboard Nancy Foster, May 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission: Retrieve Acoustic Receivers
Georgraphical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off coast of South Carolina
Date: May 16th, 2012

Weather Data from Bridge: Overcast skies, 75 degrees

Science and Technology Log

Hi Everyone!  Tuesday, May 15th was a busy day.  Preparations were being made to deploy small boats on board  NANCY FOSTER.  On deck , the crew works with the crane operator to hoist the small boats in the water.  Everyone on deck must wear hard hats.  The boats must be loaded with supplies before going in the water.  Supplies include scientific equipment, dive gear, dive tanks, food, and water.  On my boat, “Nemo” gave me a bucket with a lid.  I put my water bottle, camera, sunglasses, and extra long sleeved shirt in bucket.

Mrs. Campbell aboard NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER wearing hardhat.
Deborah Campbell climbing down ladder into NF3
Crane lifting whaler

The crane operator lowered NF3 (NF stands for Nancy Foster) in the water. “Nemo” got on board, the two divers, then me.  I was very nervous going down the rope ladder.  NF3 was bouncing in the water.  When I got in the boat, I stumbled and fell on the rough surface.  My knee was scraped up and bleeding.  I used my water bottle to clean up.  Luckily, there were some clean rags.  “Nemo” set the GPS (Global Positioning System) for the first site where the divers would work.

Diver Keith Borden on board NF3

When we got to the site, a weighted buoy was thrown off NF3 to mark the position where the divers would enter the water.   Nemo would have to carefully steer the boat away from the diving area, but stay near the marker.  My job aboard NF3 would be to try to stay put on my bucket seat while the boat rolled and bounced, and water splashed on board.  The divers Keith and Randy  prepared to go in the water.  I had a data sheet to record information.  The paper was water proof, and I could use a pencil.  The divers reported to me their beginning air tank pressure.  The divers had on wet suits, but had to lift their vests with heavy tanks attached while the boat was bouncing.  They prepared their masks by putting dish washing liquid and washing it out.  This was to prevent the masks from fogging up under water.  The divers got ready to get in the water by sitting on the sides of the boat.  When “Nemo” said ready, the divers leaned backward to drop in the water.  “Nemo” steered the boat clear of the divers.  Meanwhile, a loggerhead turtle was swimming nearby watching.

Diver Randy Rudd

Keith and Randy’s mission was to retrieve an acoustic receiver and deploy a new one.  Altogether, I would go with Keith, Randy, and “Nemo” on Tuesday and Wednesday to do a total of five dives.  Each time they located the old receiver, replaced it with another, and then took video footage of each of the dive sites.  On one dive site a Barracuda was swimming nearby.  On another a Nurse Shark was under a ledge.  Some sites had lots of fish such as Red Snappers and Gag Groupers.

Personal Log

I have met many amazing people from all over the United States.  We talk at meal times.  I am trying to get the chefs to reveal their secret recipes for the wonderful food, but they will not tell anyone.  Meanwhile I am washing my clothes.  The ship has two washers and dryers which happen to be right by my room.  I get pretty wet and alittle dirty aboard NF3.  My plans for Wednesday night include a meeting with scientists to debrief on the the activities which included sonar mapping, Zebra Arc shell collection, acoustic receiver deployment, and fish tagging.  The kitchen has a nice flat screen T.V. with lots of magazines.  There are plenty of snacks.  The ship will rock me to sleep.  I am looking forward to the upcoming activities aboard NANCY FOSTER….I will keep you posted.

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales, Whales and More Whales May 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA
Date: May 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the south about 10-15 knots. Partly cloudy with mid-level clouds.

Science and Technology Log

We left Woods Hole, MA, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. All night we traveled until we reached Georges Bank this morning. George’s Bank is a rich feeding area that many cetaceans utilize especially those that eat small crustaceans called copepods. On May 12th a previous right whale survey located a group of 15 right whales. We headed out to that point. We started our watch sessions at 7AM and rotated through three stations.

Me on the “Big Eye”

One person used a mounted binocular which has 25X125 magnification. It is called “Big Eye.” Big Eye is used to scan the horizon from the bow to the port side. It is also used to help identify a whale when it is seen by someone else. The second person has binoculars and looks on the starboard side and the third person records information when any whale is seen and watches for the whales closest to the ship.

I learned a lot today about identifying whales. First off, if helps if you know what species you might be dealing with. In this location, the main species one might see are right whales, fin whales, sei whales and humpback whales.

So, here is the scoop on whale identification. Typically the first thing you see that indicates a whale is present is the spout. Whales are mammals and have lungs. Therefore, they need to inhale and exhale air. Whales have evolved to have their nostrils on their back, called “blowholes.” Baleen whales have two blowholes. The spout that you see is exhaled moist air.

Right Whale Spout (photo Beth Josephson 5/15/2012)

Anyway, back to identifying whales. Whales have somewhat different spray patterns giving an indication of the type of whale. Right whales and humpbacks have v-shaped blows, if you see them head on, or they look like puffy clouds from the side. Sei whales and fin whales have tall columnar spouts.

The second indication is to look for a dorsal fin, a fin on the whale’s backside. Right whales don’t have dorsal fins, but the other three whales do. You can also tell the difference between a sei and a fin whale by how close the spout and the dorsal fin appear. If you see the fin about the same time as the spout, you have a sei whale and if you don’t see the dorsal fin for a while you have a fin whale. (slow to the finish – fin whale, seys I’m here – sei whale. Method of memorizing – compliments of me!)

A third thing to look for is the fluke. Some whales, such as the right and humpback whales, raise their flukes when they dive down into the water. The humpbacks fluke is very broad and more horizontal, whereas the right whales fluke is more upright. In addition, the right whale fluke is more smooth on the inner portion of the fluke and the humpbacks is jagged.  Humpbacks also have white patterns on the back of their fluke, which is used to identify them whereas, right whales are just dark. So when you are looking for right whales it is exciting when you see a more rigid, dark colored fluke go down.

Right whale fluke before diving (photo Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)
Right whale fluke (Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)

Now there is one more thing to look for in a right whale. Right whales often skim along the surface. They open their mouths and let the water run through hoping to catch small crustaceans with their baleen. This gives them a characteristic sloping shape where their head is up higher in the water.

Right Whale Head (photo Allison Henry)

They also have callosities which are used to identify individuals. Callosities are rough patches of skin and each right whale has a different pattern of this skin.

At the location of the previous 15 whales we found 5 right whales. A small boat was lowered into the water in order to get closer to the whales. While whales are identified up in the flying tower of the Delaware II, the mission of this research cruise, however, is not just to identify whales. It is important to individually identify each right whale. Therefore, when right whales are seen, the biologists need to determine if it is one that has already been identified. To this purpose they take pictures of the whales head, remember that’s where the callosities are located. If it turns out to be a whale that scientists haven’t identified, or a new calf, a biopsy is taken of the whale (more to come on this). The biologists took pictures of the right whales, but it was very difficult to get close, as they were feeding below the surface and staying down for long periods of time. Right whales may remain below the surface for up to twenty minutes.

The gray boat heading out to get closer to right whales

After the time it took chasing the 5 whales, we made our way to a previous sighting of nine right whales. We saw 6 whales on the way and tagged the locations, but did not lower the boat. Our time was cut short because the weather is supposed to turn for the worse this evening and we need to get back near land. Therefore, we are heading back to the cape tonight, near Provincetown, as the weather forecast calls for rain, high winds and rough seas. We may be staying closer to land the next day or so.

5/15/2012 species identification: right, fin, sei and humpback whales, basking shark

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, MA, Sunday evening and made my way to the Delaware II. When I came on board I was told that this may be the Delaware’s last NOAA research trip. It was first deployed in 1968 by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. The Bureau was reorganized when NOAA was formed in 1972.  The Delaware II is the smallest ship in the NOAA fleet. Doesn’t seem to small to me. In June, the Delaware II will be taken down to the Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk for layup. Hopefully it will end up with some other organization, such as a university, and sail the seas again.

I know many of you are probably curious as to where I am staying on board the ship. Check this out!

Me with my emergency suit on!

Safety is very important aboard a ship. When the Delaware took off from port we had two important drills to go through. The first was in case of a fire and the second was in case we would need to abandon ship. We all bring survival suits to the back of the ship and need to try them on to make sure we can get them on ourselves. This could be the difference between life and death.

I also have had to learn a new language while aboard the Delaware. Some words I knew and some I didn’t. Lucky for me my Dad drilled me on many nautical words back in the time when we had a small family sailboat. I can remember sitting around the kitchen table being asked to give the definitions. So lets see how you do. How many do you know? Write me back and let me know how many of the words you knew. Be honest! Also let me know if you have any other questions.


Mrs. OD

Nautical words:












Can you think of others?

Deborah Campbell: May 15th, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission: Retrieve Acoustic Receivers
Georgraphical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off coast of South Carolina
Date: May 15th, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: 75 degrees and sunny

Science and Technology Log

Crane lifting fish cage

The scientists and divers arrived on the ship yesterday afternoon.  They brought an incredible amount of equipment with them.  The crane on board the ship loaded dive tanks, cages, and crates of equipment on the deck.  Sarah Fangman, chief scientist held a meeting yesterday to introduce members of the science party.  Each person introduced themselves, and told everyone what their part in this mission would be.  There are eight members of the science party including myself, Teacher At Sea.  I introduced myself as a seventh grade teacher from Locke Elementary School who left one hundred thirty-two seventh graders behind to experience this adventure.  I told our science party that I prepared my students by showing them pictures of the ship, Teacher At Sea website, and the Gray’s Reef website.  My students will be reading my blogs.  School will still be in session when I return, so I will be able to share my photos and stories with them.

This morning the science team met with the operations officer of the ship, Lt. Joshua

Chief scientist, Sarah Fangman holding acoustic receiver.

Slater.  Lt. Slater went over all the safety aspects of our upcoming mission which will take place this afternoon.  We will be deploying boats off the ship to take the divers to Gray’s Reef.  “Nemo” will be piloting a small craft with two divers and myself.  “Nemo” will drive the boat to an exact GPS (Global Positioning System) location.  The acoustical  receivers all have exact locations, so divers can find them more easily.  The divers will be retrieving the acoustic receivers to bring them on board the small craft.  We bring the acoustic receivers on board the ship to download the data they have been collecting for the past five months.

Personal Log

On Sunday, May 13th, I flew from Chicago to South Carolina.  I was picked up by a crew member of the ship.  The ship is located on a base, so I had to get a special I.D. tag to allow me to get on base.  The Nancy Foster was docked near a Coast Guard vessel, and a gigantic Naval ship.

View of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in Charleston, SC port.
Teacher At Sea Deborah Campbell by NF3

As I boarded, I entered heavy doors, and descended a metal stairway.  I was lead to my room which consists of two bunk beds which are very narrow.  There are a few cabinets for my belongings.  I will be sharing this room with three other women scientists.  Next, I opened the door to the “head” which has two bathrooms and three showers.  There are bars in toilets and showers so you can hang on which the ship is moving.  The kitchen is right across from my room.  There are coffee, juice, water, and ice machines.  The cabinets are stocked with cereal, snacks, peanut butter, and bread.  There is an ice cream freezer.  You can help yourself to snack items.  Two cooks run the kitchen.  The menus are posted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Yesterday, I had delicious turkey soup with rice and a salad.  For dinner I had teriyaki Cornish hen, asparagus, and rice.  There was pecan pie for dessert.  Trust me, the food is great!!!  F0od scraps are kept separate from other garbage, because it is used as fish food.  I am sure there will be lots of fish coming by the ship to sample.

The crew members live on board the ship.  There are flat screen T.V.’s, a workout room, a lounge area, and a “steel beach” on the top deck.  Yesterday evening I took my blanket to sleep on a chair on the “steel beach”.  The sky was filled with stars, and I fell asleep.  A while later, one of the crew woke me up.  Lighting was spotted in the distance.  I am not a fan of lightning so I went to my room.  The ship is like a giant waterbed rocking and rolling gently.  My small bed has a bar to keep me from falling off.  I am really trying to get my “sea legs”, but in the mean time I continue to hang on so I don’t fall over.

Ellen O’Donnell: An Adventure Begins May 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 13 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA
Date: May 10, 2012

Personal Log

Greetings from Deerfield, New Hampshire. My name is Ellen O’Donnell and I am currently in my twelfth year working as a middle school science teacher at Deerfield Community School (DCS) in Deerfield, NH. DCS is an outstanding K-8 school in a small rural town located in between the larger cities of Manchester and Concord, NH. My high regard for DCS does not stem solely from my experience as a teacher here, but also from having all four of my sons attend DCS from kindergarten to eighth grade. The creative and dedicated teachers here did a great job preparing them for high school and beyond.

Deerfield Community School
Deerfield Community School

I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program because I think it is a wonderful opportunity to bring real scientific research into the classroom. I want students to become familiar with the various scientific careers available, as well as the importance of using good scientific research as the foundation for policy decisions. I found out about the program mainly from my sister, Laura Rodriguez, who participated in the Teacher at Sea program two years ago. She is also a middle school science teacher but in Connecticut, Hall Memorial School in Willington. We both only taught seventh grade science, but then two years ago both our schools asked us to teach 8th grade science as well. We like to tease each other about who did what first! You can imagine what the conversation entails when we both get together. I’m looking forward to her students following my trip as well as my own. Our students will be working together,  while I am at sea, on a variety of ocean topics. They will communicate with each other through a community wiki and Skypeing. I can’t wait to see their final products!

Me and my sisters; Jen, Ellen and Laura (left to right)
North Atlantic Right Whale
North Atlantic Right Whale (photo credit: Georgia Dept of Natural Resources)

So here I am on the brink of an exciting adventure. I will be joining the crew of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the Delaware II out of Woods Hole, MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right Whale Survey. North Atlantic Right Whales are one of the most endangered whales in our oceans. Some estimates say there are only about 300 individuals left. During our survey we will also be gathering information on other whales that we see, such as minke, humpbacks and sei. Right now I don’t know very much about how to tell them apart. In fact, I don’t know that much about ocean ecology specifically. I can’t wait to jump in and learn more about the Atlantic Ocean which is right in our backyard. Keep in touch and you can learn with me.

As part of the 8th grade math classes, taught by Rod Dudley,  our 8th grade students created scaled drawings of the actual sizes of the whales that I hope to see on my trip. They started from small drawings  to get the correct shape of each whale and them blew them up to their actual size. These were then drawn outside of our school for all to enjoy.  We wanted the whole school to appreciate the size of the various whales that live in the Northern Atlantic Ocean. You don’t realize how big they are until you do something like this.

Actual size of a North Atlantic Right Whale
Actual size of a North Atlantic Right Whale
Our whole 8th grade class fits inside!

So soon I will be heading out on the NOAA Delaware II into the Atlantic Ocean and I will be finding out more about the various jobs my shipmates have, information about ocean ecology, and life onboard a ship. Stay tuned

Delaware II
Delaware II (photo credit NOAA)

Deborah Campbell: Teacher at Sea

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – 24, 2012

Pre Cruise News !!

Deborah Campbell has been selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to participate in their Teacher at Sea  program.  Mrs. Campbell is a seventh grade science teacher at Locke Elementary School in Chicago.  NOAA has ships stationed all over the world.  On board the ships are crew members and scientists who monitor our oceans.  Every year, NOAA selects about twenty-five educators from all over the United States to travel aboard the NOAA ships to experience the work of the scientists first hand.  Mrs. Campbell will be sharing her experiences with the Locke School community, colleagues, family, and friends.

Mrs. Campbell is very excited to work with the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster.  She will travel from Chicago to Charleston, South Carolina on May 13th, 2012.  The ship will return to Savannah, Georgia on May 24th, 2012.  When the ship leaves Charleston, it will head towards Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  The chief scientist, Sarah Fangman, has planned some amazing scientific investigations.  Mrs. Campbell will be observing as well as assisting the scientists as they do their work.

There are several projects planned for this cruise.  Multibeam mapping of Gray’s Reef at night and some day time hours will occur.  Divers will collect zebra clusters which will be wrapped in foil, placed in ziplock bags, and analyzed later for chemical contaminants.  The clusters can help scientists monitor ecological conditions at Gray’s Reef.  Divers will survey marine debris (garbage).  A fine scale fish movement study will occur.   Acoustic tagging will be used to study fish movement, how fish use reef, the habitats they prefer, and if there is change over time.  Divers will be checking acoustic receivers within Gray’s Reef.  There will also be continuous photo and video documentation.  Mrs. Campbell will be keeping a journal, taking photos, and assisting the scientists aboard the Foster.

Follow Mrs. Campbell’s adventures aboard Nancy Foster in future blogs……

Sue Oltman: Moorings and More, May 10, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Personal Log:

In a few days, I will be en route to Santiago, Chile and meet up with the Stratus  research team that I will spend about 3 weeks with.  The scientists are from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.  After some preparation, the Melville will depart from the port of Valparaiso.

Moorings will be referenced many times, I expect – and that’s not something we  often encounter in landlocked Atlanta, GA.  When something is “moored” it is fastened or secured in place by a cable, rope or anchor. So a boat can be moored as an alternative to being tied to a dock in a marina. Obviously, there will not be any docks and marinas in the middle of the eastern tropical Pacific!

Stratus surface mooring
One of the moorings we will recover during this mission (photo courtesy of WHOI)

The scientific instruments involved in the Stratus project are integrated into buoys and into the cable that secures them to the ocean floor. These surface data buoys are moored and are sometimes just called moorings. There are buoys in the ocean that collect all kinds of data way beyond just temperature – wind direction and speed, salinity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and more. Some provide early detection of potential tsunamis, a concern in this area – last month,Valparaiso experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, and in Chile, earthquakes are no surprise.

Location map of Stratus project
The Stratus project focuses on a specific area in the open ocean. (image courtesy of WHOI)

Speaking of earthquakes, the largest earthquake ever recorded occurred in Chile in 1960. Technology and our ability to predict and warn has come a long way in the last 50 years! Stratus is using data to predict climate change – this cruise will be the 11th mission of the team to collect more data for this project. It is exciting to think of the potential this holds for us!
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Personal log:

NOAA survival suit
Here I am with the NOAA survival suit – in a San Diego museum!

Ship life is going to be different for me! I’ve learned that there are some similarities in rules to the Rock Eagle and Jekyll Island field trips I’ve taken with students! First of all, I will sleep in a bunk bed; next, I am only allowed to wear flip flops in my cabin – no open toed shoes on the deck of the ship. I’ll be expected to clean my room and my own bathroom before I leave the ship. Absolutely no swimming is permitted! One thing that will be different is that there will always be someone working around the clock – and that means someone will always be sleeping. Safety is of the utmost importance – one of the first things we will do is conduct a safety drill. Instead of a PFD, NOAA uses survival suits in case of emergency.
What do you want to know about the ship? Send me your question by leaving a comment.