Alicia Gillean: Setting Sail and Seeing the Ocean Floor; June 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27-July 7, 2012

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40 55.30 N
Longitude: 068 47.49 W
Relative Wind Speed: 15.6 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.44 degrees C
Humidity: 80%
Surface Seawater Temperature: 14 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Hugh R Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Port

Well, it took a car, two airplanes, an airport shuttle, a bus, and a short walk, but I made it to the ship in Woods Hole, MA at about 8pm on June 26, 2012! I met a few of the ship’s crew who were kind enough to show me to my room and I slept on the ship while it was in port. You can see a rather long, but informative video tour of the Hugh R. Sharp on this website and you can track the ship’s progress here.

Everyone reported to the ship at 8am on June 27, but we didn’t end up leaving port until about 2pm because of last-minute adjustments to equipment, among other reasons, so the first day was pretty much the hurry up and wait game. While waiting to leave port, we did a safety drill and heard a presentation from a NOAA employee named Deborah about the basics of sea scallops. I was intrigued by all the data that she mentioned in her presentation and talked to her about it afterwards. She is a mathematician with a passion for biology who found a way to merge the two into a career. A big part of her job is to make sense of the data collected on the scallop survey and to present it in a way that can make sense to people. She uses lots of graphs and charts to help the data tell its story. She said that estimation, graphing, and numerous math skills play a huge role in her work. She was kind enough to give me her business card so that we can chat more after I return from sea, as she isn’t sailing on this leg of the survey.

Survival Suit
Me in my survival suit during safety drill


Once aboard the Hugh R. Sharp, I learned that this survey will actually be two surveys in one: about half of our time will be spent dredging, sorting, measuring, and weighing scallops. The other half of the time will be spent gathering data with a newly developed underwater camera system called HabCam. The HabCam is about a half-million dollar, 3,000-pound piece of scientific equipment that is controlled by a winch, operated inside the Dry Lab (kind of like a computer lab) of the ship by a joystick and a computer program that shows the depth of the HabCam and its height off the ocean floor. The pilot of the HabCam “flies” it approximately 2 meters above the ocean floor and the copilot keeps an eye on the images coming back from the HabCam. It takes 6 images per second, so there are LOTS of pictures to look at and the clarity is amazing.

HabCam being lowered into the water
Alicia Zip Tie
My first job on the ship

The HabCam is a pretty fascinating piece of equipment that has been under development for several years and is a cooperative effort between the sea scallop industry, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), and others. Some of the people that developed the HabCam are on the ship with me and I have had the opportunity to talk to them about its development and uses. Each conversation always seems to have a common theme: the HabCam is a work in progress. We are using version 4 of the HabCam on this scallop survey. As they test the HabCam, they notice issues and make modifications accordingly. It is interesting to see the scientific process in action. Before we left port, they were attempting to correct an issue with pressure and vibration on the winch cable that controls the HabCam while it flies through the water. They thought that covering the portion of the cable directly above the HabCam with zip ties might help break up some of the water pressure and solve the problem. So, my first job as a scientist aboard the Hugh R Sharp involved installing lots and lots of zip ties! I had to laugh when they realized a slight glitch in the plan and had to remove many of the zip ties later. Science is a process!

There are 6 people on my watch and we started with the HabCam. I had the opportunity to pilot and copilot several times. It is fascinating to see images of the seafloor that no one else had ever seen and a bit daunting to be trusted with flying such an expensive piece of equipment through the ocean! We saw skates (like a stingray), sand dollars, sea biscuits, fish, sea stars, and more.

HabCam image
One of the images from the HabCam

You can learn more about the HabCam by visiting this website.

Personal Log

Life at sea is more relaxed than I expected. For some reason, I expected there to be lots of strict rules and procedures, but so far that has not been the case. This has been a welcome surprise for me, especially since despite my extensive anti-nausea arsenal, I am experiencing a rather nasty bout of seasickness. Everyone aboard has been very sympathetic and shared their personal stories of dealing with seasickness as well as remedies for seasickness that work for them (ginger ale, standing outside, etc.). I’m hoping that spending time outside today while we dredge instead of inside flying the HabCam will help. Enough about that!

Bed on Hugh R Sharp
My bed on the Sharp

I share my berth (room) with four other ladies. There are two bunk beds with curtains around each bed to allow for a little privacy and to help darken the room if needed. The berths are in the “belly” of the ship with no windows, so room darkening really isn’t much of an issue! I do think the curtains are sort of ingenious and wish I had them back when I was living in the dorms in college. I am glad that I packed light, since there really isn’t much of a place to store things in the berth. I’m using every inch of available space and wishing that things (like my towel) would actually dry down here, but not much luck with that so far. I managed to be the first person to get drenched on the ship on the day we left and it took three days for my clothes to dry! It’s all part of the adventure, right?

Two of the people I share a room with are on the day shift (noon to midnight) and the other two are on the night shift (midnight to noon), so there really isn’t a time when all four of us are in the room at the same time. When you leave for your watch (shift), you take everything with you that you might need, so you don’t go back to the room while other people are trying to sleep.

There is a constant sucking noise that sounds a bit like wind that I always hear while in my room. I initially thought it was just the sound of the ship going over the water, but now I’m wondering if it might be some type of pump. I checked with my chief scientist Geoff Shook and he told me that the sound is actually the ship’s stabilizer fins. There are 4 fins (2 on each side) that move back and forth to dampen the vessel’s roll and provide a more comfortable, stable ride.

Question of the Day

What do you think the name “HabCam” means?

You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

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