Robert Ulmer: Know Your Surroundings, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 15–July 3, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak
Log date:  June 28, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.038’, W 134⁰20.908’ (southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Weather conditions:  13.53⁰C and falling, scattered cumulus clouds with intermittent light rainfall, 81.05% relative humidity, 1019.55 mb of atmospheric pressure, breezy with gusts of wind out of the NNW at 10 to 15 knots

Explorer’s Log:  The layout of the ship

An explorer who doesn’t make himself familiar with his new surroundings is truly no explorer at all, and he might just as well stay home.  Why would you venture forth if not to witness the events and items along the way?

The "big eyes" on the flying deck with the anchor deck visible below

Keep your eyes open.  There’s so much to see everywhere!

For the past few days, NOAA Ship Rainier has been continuing its mission to complete a detailed and thorough survey of the sea floor along Chatham Strait, a channel used by many nautical vessels in their transit of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.  So, aside from noticing the appearance and disappearance of some rock features in the rising and falling tides and the daily incremental reduction of snow as it melts on the high mountaintops nearby in the relative warmth of early summer, most of what I see from the deck of the ship and from the smaller launch vessels is the same topography in every direction that I’ve seen for the past week, along with occasional clouds, whales, otters, birds, and other boats.  The scenery beyond the rails is very beautiful, but the temporary respite from faster passage to any new geographic destination also has given me a chance to take a few photos of the space around me:  the ship herself.

Using the shadow cast by a gnomon in one city while the sun reflected straight up from the bottom of a well in another city, along with alternate interior angles and a proportion, Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE. Image by Dr. John H. Lienhard, University of Houston.

However, instead of writing nautical miles* of text to talk you through a verbally descriptive tour of the entire vessel, I’ve posted a bunch of captioned photos that will give you some view of what I see while wandering around my current home away from home.

Before we begin the tour, a brief note:  In case you’ve ever wondered (as I have!), a nautical mile is a unit of length approximately equal to one minute (1/60 of a degree, and there are 360 degrees in a circle) of latitude measured along any meridian or about one minute of arc of longitude measured at the equator.  Because our understanding of the exact shape of Earth has evolved from a perfect circle into that of an ellipsoid since Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of his perfectly round model of the planet (and assigned the first latitudes and longitudes), the definition of nautical mile has changed over time.  To address the variation in actual one-minute arc lengths around Earth, the definition of a nautical mile has been standardized by international agreement to be 1,852 meters (approximately 6,076 feet).  A statute mile, by comparison, evolved both in etymology and in length-definition from the Latin term mille passuum (“one thousand paces”), commonly used when measuring and marking distances marched by Roman soldiers across Europe.  Healthier and better-fed soldiers often took longer strides, and so their “miles” were longer than the miles marched by less-healthy counterparts.  To address this variation, most countries eventually agreed to standardize the statute mile at its current length of 5,280 feet (about 1,609 meters).

Now for some snapshots from NOAA Ship Rainier:

This log, called a "camel," is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.

This log, called a “camel,” is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.

Mechanism for operating the port side davits

Mechanism for operating the port side davits, which use hydraulics to lift and lower the launch vessels

Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits

Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits

Ventilation pipe from the incinerator

Ventilation pipe from the incinerator

Some interesting-looking tube joints

Some interesting-looking hydraulic hose fittings for the davits

The galley

The crew’s mess and the galley

Fire Station No. 23, starboard, deck D

Fire Station No. 23, D deck starboard side

Crane, anchor, vents, and the stowed gangplank on the bow

Crane, anchor windlass, vents, and the stowed gangway on the bow

Muster Station 1

Muster Station 1, where I am to report in the event of an abandon ship order

Docking bits on the bow

These large bits on the bow are used for securing lines while docking.

Cranes on the bow

Cranes on the bow

Electric boxes on the forward mast

Electric boxes keep the important electrical equipment that is mounted on the forward mast properly powered

The view along starboard from the flying deck

The view along the starboard side from the flying bridge

Machinery for lowering and hoisting the anchor

The anchor windlass (machinery on the bow for letting go and weighing anchor) includes gypsy heads, a riding pawl, a devil’s claw or pelican hook, and a wildcat.  (Many other “animals” are referenced on a ship, including a goose neck and a bull nose.  Look up others on your own!)

The forward mast

The forward mast carries radar equipment for navigation. The halyards (lines from the mast) are for support and for hanging items used for distant communication.

The "big eyes" on the flying deck

The “big eyes” on the flying bridge allow magnified distant viewing from above the bridge.

Passageways are narrow, from deck (floor) to bulkhead (ceiling)

Passageways are narrow aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from the overhead to the deck and bulkhead to bulkhead.

Stateroom C-04-103-U

This is the view from corner to corner of stateroom C-04-103-U, one of the larger two-man staterooms on the ship, which I share with HSST John Doroba. (His is the lower bunk.)

Some of the internal communications equipment on the bridge

A phone on the bridge that gets its power from the energy of sound waves spoken into it (so that the phone still can work even if the generators fail — awesome, right??)

Ensign Micki Ream plotting a course on the bridge

Ensign Micki Ream uses old-fashioned compass-and-straightedge geometric constructions and calculations to plot a course through Hecate Strait on the bridge.

Bicycles for use ashore during liberty

Bicycles for use ashore during liberty

Port ladder to launches alongside Rainier

Launch crews usually board launch vessels by walking directly level off the deck onto the smaller boats while the davits hold the small launch vessels in place. This Jacob’s ladder is lowered to launch vessels like the skiff when they are placed in the water alongside NOAA Ship Rainier.

Fishing poles

Fishing poles, to be used only when licensed and permitted

A cool light and electric fixture

A cool-looking light and electric fixture

A hatch on the fantail

A hatch on the fantail that leads to After Steering

The winch control mechanism for the "fish"

The “fish” is a very heavy brass device that is towed on a strong Kevlar-sheathed electric cable up to 600 meters behind the ship, and it requires a sophisticated winch mechanism for casting, retrieval, and transfer of data to the computer system aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.

A lifebuoy and the "fish"

On the fantail the “fish,” a part of the Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP), is the very heavy CTD device that is towed by winch behind NOAA Ship Rainier, usually during multi-beam sonar data acquisition. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water, all of which affect the speed of sound from and to the ship’s sonar device.  (The lifebuoy is a nearby safety measure, of course.)

One of many ladders

One of many ladders (which is what staircases are called aboard ship)

The skiff secured on the fantail

The skiff secured on the fantail underneath a sign that reminds everyone of NOAA’s culture of safety

Stowage space

All stowage space is used efficiently aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

The emergency pull station, just in case

The emergency pull station, just in case

The galley service line

The galley service line

Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying deck

Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying bridge

Launch vessels secured in starboard davits

Launch vessels secured within the starboard davits

A tie-down the port deck

Line (rope in use aboard a ship) is one of the most important tools on a ship for tying, supporting, securing, pulling, and hoisting, and so it is treated with proper respect at all times.

Warnings on the stack

Noise, fire, and heavy equipment can be dangerous if not addressed with caution, as these signs on the stack warn.

Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)

Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)

Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background

Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background

Alidade on the port bridge wing

The alidade on the port bridge wing, which is used for determining a “true” line of sight for navigation

I aligned the photos to give you a more authentic feel of passing waves.  Oh, I hope that you didn’t get seasick!  If you did, just head to the dispensary on D deck near the bow amidships, and then go on deck and look at the horizon so that your inner ears and your eyes can agree about which way actually is up.

Now that you’ve seen many random angles in no particular order — but  — maybe you also need a tour to put the whole package together into a meaningful map of NOAA Ship Rainier.  Fortunately, HAST Christiane Reiser created a video of just such a tour for visitors, and you can watch it here.

The gangplank

This is the gangway to board Rainier when the ship is docked. Uniformed personnel must salute the colors when boarding or exiting the vessel.

… And now you’re ready to come aboard!

Remember always that half the fun of the journey is getting there… but the other half is actually being somewhere.  So look at the scenery in the world around you — wherever you happen to be — as you keep exploring, my friends.

Did You Know?

Before you board a seagoing vessel, you’d better be able to talk the talk.  People on ships have a vernacular that can sound like a foreign language if you’re not familiar with the terminology, so here’s a list of some key words worth knowing before you come aboard, with definitions and descriptions from a glossary of terms provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a partner agency of NOAA with regard to training crew members and making nautical travels safer:

  • Starboard:  The right side of the ship when facing forward.  The name is a very old one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon term steorbord, or steering-board.  Ancient vessels were steered not by a rudder amidships, but by a long oar or steering-board extended over the vessel’s right side aft.  This became known, in time, as the steering-board side or starboard.
  • Port:  The left side of the ship when facing forward.  The original term was “larboard,” but the possibility of confusing shouted or indistinct orders to steer to larboard with steering to starboard at a crucial moment was both obvious and serious.  The term was legally changed to ‘port’ in the British Navy in 1844, and in the American Navy in 1846.  The word ‘port’ was taken from the fact that ships traditionally took on cargo over their left sides (i.e., the side of the vessel facing the port).  This was probably a holdover from much earlier times when ships had steering-boards over the right side aft; obviously, you couldn’t maneuver such a vessel starboard side to the pier without crushing your steering oar.
  • Wings:  Extensions to either side of the ship.  Specifically, the port and starboard wings of the bridge are open areas to either side of the bridge, used by lookouts and for signaling.
  • Bow:  The forward end of any vessel.  The word may come from the Old Icelandic bogr, meaning “shoulder.”
  • Stern:  The rear of any vessel.  The word came from the Norse stjorn, meaning “steering.”
  • Deck:  What you walk on aboard ship.
  • Below:  Below decks, as in “going below to C Deck,” never “down.”
  • Fore:  An adverb, meaning “toward the bow.”
  • Aft:  An adverb, meaning “toward the stern.”
  • Boat:  Any small craft, as opposed to a ship, which carries boats.
  • Ship:  A general term for any large, ocean-going vessel (as opposed to a boat).  Originally, it referred specifically to a vessel with three or more masts, all square-rigged.
  • Stateroom:  An officer’s or passenger’s cabin aboard a merchant ship, or the cabin of an officer other than the captain aboard a naval ship.  The term may be derived from the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, ships often had a cabin reserved for royal or noble passengers.
  • Stack:  The ship’s funnel on an engine-powered vessel.
  • Bridge:  The control or command center of any power vessel.  The term arose in the mid-19th century, when the “bridge” was a structure very much like a footbridge stretched across the vessel between or immediately in front of the paddle wheels.
  • Galley:  The ship’s kitchen, where food is prepared.  The origin is uncertain but may have arisen with the ship’s cook and helpers thinking of themselves as “galley slaves.” (A galley was originally a fighting ship propelled by oars rowed by slaves, from the Latin galea.)
  • MessPart of the ship’s company that eats together, (such as the officers’ mess) and, by extension, the place where they eat.
  • Head:  The bathroom.
  • Ladder:  On shipboard, all stairs are called “ladders.”

Yaara Crane: Engineering a Floating Town, June 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013


My roommate, Ensign Kristin, is teaching me how to steer at the helm.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013

Latitude: 38.81°N
Longitude: 75.06°W

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed:  13.50 knots|
Surface Water Temperature: 22.61°C
Air Temperature:  23.30°C
Relative Humidity: 87.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1001.38mb

TJ sunset

Sunset over the bow of the Thomas Jefferson.

Science and Technology Log

At any given time, the Thomas Jefferson is home to about 30-40 individuals. These individuals come from all walks of life to become deck hands, engineers, stewards, scientists, or officers. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with Chief Engineer Tom learning about how his team of engineers works to keep this home afloat and functional. There are currently 4 licensed engineers, and 3 QMEDs (Qualified Members of the Engine Department) aboard the TJ.

engineering console

The engineering control console keeps and eye on all of the mechanics of the ship. If the bridge loses control, the engineers could steer the ship from here!

How do you become an engineer on a NOAA ship?  There are two routes to becoming an engineer on a NOAA ship. If you wanted to start working immediately aboard a ship, you could apply to start as an undocumented engineer. You are required to work 180 days at sea, pass a basic safety course, and then would become eligible to take a test to become a QMED. Another 1080 days would make you eligible to take a licensing test to become third engineer. From there, time and more licensing tests help you work up the ranks. There are a myriad of licensing tests that depend on the horsepower of the ship you want to work on. For example, most NOAA ships require the same license, but the NOAA ship Ron Brown has more horsepower and requires what is called an unlimited license. All licensing falls under the purview of the U.S. Coast Guard and various federal regulations. A different route to becoming an engineer involves attending a four-year program at a maritime academy. The maritime academy gives graduates the necessary skills to move straight into a third engineer position because it includes internships and semester at sea opportunities. The students from the academy must still take all of the same licensing tests. Clearly, engineers must have a great amount of knowledge as part of their toolkit no matter their background.

What really stood out to me was when Tom mentioned the fact that the word engineer comes from engine. The primary purpose of the engineer is to make sure that the ship has enough power for all of the tasks that happen around the clock. The TJ has two engines for propulsion and three generators for electricity that can be put online to boost the power output. When I was in the engine room yesterday, second engineer Steve was on watch and communicating with the bridge about having more power for their bow thruster. The bow thruster increases the maneuverability of the ship when it is slowing down, such as when anchoring. Steve made sure that Generator 1 was providing the energy needed for this particular task while Generator 2 was providing power for the rest of the ship’s needs. Overall, the Thomas Jefferson can hold approximately 198,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and uses about 1,500 gallons a day for all of its operations.

RO comparison

Can you tell which of these reverse osmosis machines is working, and which one is offline?

Most of the engineering equipment comes in duplicate just in case anything breaks down. For example, there are two reverse osmosis machines whose purpose is to turn seawater into potable water. One of them is currently down, so it is imperative that we have a second aboard. Reverse osmosis is the process by which seawater is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane in order to filter out the solutes, and only allow the water solvent through. The solute (sea salt) can then be dumped right back into the ocean. The water that is collected must be chlorinated before use, but will then go on to the galley, bathrooms, laundry, etc. The TJ can store around 21,500 gallons of freshwater and uses about 2,500 gallons of fresh water a day.


The internal workings of reverse osmosis. Image credit:

When being built, NOAA ships are outfitted for water usage in different ways, and Tom is busy planning how to make the ship more energy efficient. The TJ does not have the ability to use and recycle gray water or sea water very efficiently. Some NOAA ships have the ability to use seawater in the toilets, but the TJ does not. Have you ever thought of how much water is used when flushing a toilet? Well, you might have to think of that if you live in a desert area, or on a ship! Tom will be able to reduce the amount of water used in each flush by about 1.4 gallons with a simple valve that he plans on installing when the ship is docked for some maintenance work this summer. If we assume that there are 35 people on board the ship, and each person flushes 5 times a day, then the TJ can save 245 gallons of water each day with just a simple upgrade. This amounts to a reduction in water use of around 10% a day!

Tom has thought through many other types of upgrades, most not so simple, to better put to use the resources on board. Instead of using reverse osmosis, some NOAA ships make water through an evaporator. An evaporator is a much more efficient way of creating water because it needs a reduced pressure and average temperature near 160°F. On ships that have evaporators, water is diverted into pipes near the heat of the main engine so that the waste energy created by the engine can be transferred to reduce the amount of energy needed in the evaporator.

Although I have a particular interest in wastewater treatment and energy usage, these are by no means the extent of the engineer’s tasks. They are also responsible for checking fuel levels, keeping the air conditioning running (crucial considering the heat generated by the servers required to hold all of the ship’s scientific data), maintaining a workshop, being the ship’s electricians, and much more. Finally, they also work to keep up the morale of everyone in this floating town.

 Personal Log

I am trying to keep myself busy learning about all of the aspects of the ship. It is difficult to throw myself into the data analysis because the CARIS program is so complex; however, I spend lots of time watching the scientists plug at it. I have also been spending a lot of time on the bridge where some of the officers have been letting me help to collect hourly weather data, and teaching me to take navigational fixes. It is interesting to see that even with all of the digital data, the bridge officers must still take time to read a wall-mounted barometer and interpret cloud formations in the sky. For navigation, the officers still need to know how to use a compass and protractor, which brought me back to 1998 and my days in geometry class.

I also love hearing travel stories from the many people on board. Keith, a deckhand, has travelled all over the world on a NOAA ship based in Hawaii. It motivates me to continue to find opportunities to expand my horizons and see the world. I hope that I can also motivate my students back at Annandale to get creative with their ambitions.

 Did You Know?

Officers must be on watch 24/7, even when at anchor. To help preserve their night vision after the sun sets, the bridge is stocked with red plastic squares which are mounted over the screens to help minimize glare from white light.

night vision

The monitors on the bridge at night.

Sarah Boehm: Shrimp Galore, June 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2013

Weather at 20:40
Air temperature: 29.8 °C (85.64° F)
Barometer: 1007 mb
Humidity: 65   %
Wind direction:  221 °
Wind speed: 8.4  knots
Water temp: 29.2° C
Latitude: 29.05° N
Longitud: 88.69 ° W

Science and Technology Log

I have been on board for a week now and have learned a lot about the fish of the Gulf of Mexico. We have collected data on over 300 different species at 129 trawl stations So what happens with all this data?

Our work out here is part of SEAMAP – South East Area Monitoring and Assessment Program – a joint venture between NOAA and the states to better understand the populations of fish and invertebrates along the coast of the Gulf and Atlantic. The information we are collecting on Oregon II is combined with the data from other ships that do surveys in closer to land. The groundfish surveys began in the 1950s and happen each summer and fall. All this data tells a story of each species – how many individuals there are, how big they are, and where they prefer to live. This information can then be used to better manage the fishing industry so that marine populations stay strong.

We gather data about every species we pull up in our nets, but we pay special attention to the ones that are fished commercially like shrimp and red snapper. There are several shrimp species out here, but one we see a lot of is the brown shrimp.

Brown Shrimp

Brown Shrimp

The brown shrimp are found from Massachusetts to the Gulf. They live for about 1 ½ years and can be up to 7 inches long. Their lives start as eggs deep in the waters of the Gulf and Atlantic. After they hatch, tiny baby shrimp float in to the shallow water of estuaries (coastal areas where fresh river water mixes with sea water). They grow larger in the protected waters of the estuaries and eventually migrate out into deeper, saltier water.  They live on the bottom of the sea, moving out farther into deeper water as they grow larger. You can learn more about brown shrimp on NOAA’s Fish Watch website.

For most species we haul in we record length on up to 20 individuals, and weight and sex for only every 5th individual. But for brown shrimp we measure the length, weight and sex of up to 200 individuals. Sometimes we pull up a lot of shrimp like the 419 brown shrimp in just one trawl last night. To tell male from female you flip the shrimp over and check the spot in between its walking legs (in front) and swimming legs (in back).  A female has a wider plate. A male has extra fuzzy bits on the inside of the front swimming legs.

Male and Female Shrimp

The shrimp on the left is a female and the one on the right is male.

Shrimp fishing is a big industry here in the Gulf. Last year 221 million pounds of shrimp were taken by fishing boats from the states along the Gulf. Commercial fishing boats use similar nets to ours, but they are larger and trawl underwater for much longer. Just like we pull up many fish in addition to shrimp, shrimping boats have a large bycatch. Part of our research is to monitor the bycatch species to help make management decisions that protect them, too. NOAA works with the fishing industry to develop nets with Bycatch Reduction Devices that allow unwanted fish to escape.

shrimp boat

A fishing boat trawling for shrimp

Let me answer a few more student questions. Jared, we don’t wear lab coats; we mostly wear old t-shirts and shorts that definitely get wet, muddy and slimy working with the fish. A lab coat would help keep me clean, but it is hot and humid in our lab and the extra layer would be uncomfortable. Sabrina, we have found some plastic and other trash in the water, but have not seen any animals tangled in it. Deliana, we do all our work from the ship, so we don’t swim underwater with the fish. When they do surveys of reef fish earlier in the year they send a video camera underwater to learn more about the fish, but the scientists still stay on board.

silver fish

Clockwise from top: Rough Scad, Silver Jenny, Dusky Anchovy, Long Spine Porgy

brown fish

Shoal Flounder on the left and Big Eye Sea Robin on the right

Julissa asked about colors of our fish. Most of our fish come in two colors – silver or brown. We catch fish that live on the bottom of the sea or swim near the bottom and these colors help them camouflage with the sand and mud. But there are some that have splashes of color.

Dwarf Goatfish

Dwarf Goatfish

Lesser Blue Crab

Lesser Blue Crab

Personal Log

Several students had questions about food on board, so let me reassure you I am eating well.

the stewards

Stewards Walter and Lydell

The two stewards on board, Walter and Lydell, are responsible for feeding 30 people on board. The food is good, plentiful and there are several options at each meal. One challenge is that people on board are working different schedules and can’t always make meal times. If you ask ahead of time, they will save you a plate of food for later. There are also snacks and sandwich fixings available all the time. To give you an idea of what I am eating, yesterday I had a freshly baked muffin and juice for breakfast, a chicken fajita and Mexican veggies for lunch, fried rice, stir fry and a salad for dinner, and then some ice cream with fruit for a late night snack.

How much food does it take to feed 30 people for 2 weeks? Walter gave me a few numbers for this trip: 80 pounds of chicken, 35 dozen eggs, 100 pounds of potatoes, 12 gallons of ice cream, and a whole lot of coffee. Jennixa wondered what would happen if we ran out of food – the answer is that we would head back to land and buy more. But I’m pretty sure Walter has enough on board. Damian asked if we eat what we catch – and yes, some of the shrimp and red snapper have gone to the galley after being measured.  They were delicious.

CDCPS science students – How are the colors of fish an adaptation to survival?



Sarah Boehm: Groundfish Survey Basics, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 25, 2013

Air temperature: 29.4 C (84.9 F)
Barometer: 1015 mb
Humidity: 71%
Wind direction: 55°
Wind speed: 7 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Latitude: 27.99°
Longitude: 92.99°

Science and Technology Log

Greetings from the Oregon II in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I am very impressed by all the questions my students have asked in comments on the first blog post. Now I guess I need to start answering some of them.

Oregon II

The Oregon II at the pier in Galveston. To answer Taina’s question, it is 170 feet long.


The Oregon II left the port of Galveston, Texas on Sunday afternoon. As we worked our way out to open water I enjoyed watching the pelicans, terns and frigate birds soaring and diving for fish. Occasionally a few dolphins would surface briefly, only to disappear again under the water. The shipping channels were packed with large ships, mostly oil tankers servicing the rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico in this region. The farther we got from land, the less busy our surroundings became. With only a few boats and rigs on the horizon, the full moon rose in front of us as we cruised to the southeast.  You can follow the path the ship takes on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.


The Oregon II dwarfed by a cruise ship in the port of Galveston.


Terns visiting the ship as we leave Galveston.

We didn’t reach the first sampling site until nearly midnight. The ship functions on a 24 hour working cycle with the science crew broken into two shifts: the night shift works from midnight to noon and the day shift works from noon to midnight.   I am on the day shift, along with 2 scientists from the lab at Pascagoula, Mississippi and 2 student interns.

There are many different aspects to the fisheries research taking place on board. On my first shift yesterday I concentrated on the sorting and measuring of fish, so that is where I will start in this blog.


A net being pulled out of the water.

The net is dragged across the ocean floor behind the ship for a half hour, and then pulled up on board, bulging with fish. The net is emptied into buckets and the total catch is weighed. If it is a small catch we keep the whole thing to work up, but if the catch is large we keep some and throw the rest back in the water. The ones we will work with are emptied into the trough in the wet lab – a multicolored heap of writhing, slimy fish just waiting to be sorted. While the rolling of the ship didn’t bother my stomach, when faced with all those smelly fish I suddenly felt rather nauseous. I had a moment of doubt that I could really handle this work 12 hours a day for two weeks. But once I dipped my hands in and concentrated on sorting out the species my stomach settled.

sorting fish

Caitlin begins the sorting process.

While this seems a simple task, many species are similar in appearance. Looking carefully at shapes of jaws or the placement of spots, we sort them out with one species per container. Last night we had 40 – 60 different species in each trawl, with fish, crabs, shrimp, jellies and more. Once everything is sorted we count the number of individuals in each species and measure their total weight. All this information goes into the computer. The next step is to measure the individuals. There are two work stations for this step, each with a measuring board, a scale and a computer. We work in partners, with one person handling the fish and the other manning the computer. The measuring board is a fancy piece of technology that is attached to the computer. You line the specimen up and simply touch a magnetic stick to the board at the end of the fish. The computer then records the length in millimeters. Next you put the fish on the scale to record its weight. Like the measuring board, the scale is attached to the computer and it records in kilograms out to the thousandths place value. Then you determine if the fish is a male or female or “unknown”. We will bag, label, and freeze a few specimens if a scientist back at the lab has requested it, and then the rest of the catch is tossed back into the sea. By the time we finish all this, the ship has probably reached the next trawl site and the process begins again.

measuring shrimp

Measuring the length of a brown shrimp.

Nick asked about the largest fish we have found. Yesterday’s weight winner was this 5 kg red snapper.

red snapper

This red snapper was the largest fish of the first day.

The weirdest fish we found was a spotted batfish. It uses those odd fins to walk on the bottom of the sea. Its brown bumpy skin camouflages with the bottom. Suspended off its head is a fishing lure to attract prey.

spotted batfish

Spotted Batfish

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Kevin wanted to know if we would see any sharks. We have caught a few small ones, and have seen a few larger ones off the stern (back) of the boat.

Personal Log

Jaelene asked if it would be cold, and the simple answer to that is no, not on the Gulf in summer. When I stepped out of the airport in Texas I was immediately hit by the hot, humid air. We have had a mild spring in Massachusetts – which is a blessing since most schools do not have air conditioning – and so the intensity of the sun, the heat and humidity combined to make me rather uncomfortable as I explored the port city of Galveston. Now that we are out on the water a constant breeze helps make things more comfortable…as does the air conditioning in the living quarters of the ship. The wet lab is not air conditioned, so all the fish work is rather hot and sticky.

Guillermo, Michelle and Doranny all asked about my room on board. It is a rather small space I share with Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. We each have a bunk and storage space. The room also has a sink and a chair. Rachel works a 4 hour shift early each morning and another 4 hour shift in the evening. This means when I finish work she is already asleep, but will be getting up for work in just a few hours. So being quiet and considerate of the other person is important. The curtain you can pull across your bunk is helpful to keep out light and provide privacy. Our room does not have a window, so it is dark all the time. This is helpful when people need to sleep at odd hours. It is also surprisingly quiet – or maybe a better way to describe it is that the constant background noise of the engines drowns out other noises. I have been sleeping great, even with the rocking and rolling of the ship. Kiara asked about falling out of bed, and that has not happened to me yet. I suppose it could if seas got really rough. I hope not to experience that.


My stateroom. The bottom bunk is mine.

CDCPS science students – Remember you should be reading and responding to two different blog posts (two responses to the same post is not enough). Also please re-read your writing to make sure it makes sense and has correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization.

Why do you think sharks hang out around our boat?

Can you read this clock? What time is it?

ship clock

A clock on board. Can you tell the time?

Virginia Warren: Introduction, June 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Virginia Warren
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
July 9 – 17, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Thursday, June 27, 2013

Personal Log:

Virginia Warren, 2013 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Virginia Warren, 2013 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hello, my name is Virginia Warren and I live in Theodore, Alabama. I teach 5th grade science and social studies at Breitling Elementary School in Grand Bay. I am really excited to have been chosen by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to be a part of their Teacher at Sea program! I believe that one of my biggest responsibilities as a teacher is to educate my students about the importance of protecting and conserving the earth and its seas so that they will continue to thrive for many generations to come. Both Theodore and Grand Bay are only minutes from the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast has abundance of what I think are the prettiest, sugar-white-sand beaches the world has to offer. Growing up on the Gulf Coast has created a love and passion in my heart for the sea and all the wonder creatures that live in it! I’m so thankful to NOAA for giving me the opportunity to be a real scientist and to learn more about the scientific research behind protecting the seas that I love so much.

Beautiful Dauphin Island, Alabama!  Courtesy of

Beautiful Dauphin Island, Alabama! 

Science and Technology Log:

I will be sailing from Woods Hole, Massachusetts aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp to participate in an Atlantic sea scallop survey. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp was built in 2006, is 146 feet long, and is the newest vessel in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment fleet. You can take a virtual tour of the ship by clicking here. If you would like to follow the ship while I am at sea you can track the ship here (Google Earth is required).

The purpose of a sea scallop survey is to protect this important fishery from being over-harvested. Traditionally scientists will dredge the bottom of the ocean with a scallop dredge to collect samples. NOAA uses the information collected from the surveys to make decisions about which areas are okay to harvest scallops.

The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is equipped with a relatively new piece of equipment called the HabCam, short for Habitat Camera Mapping System. The HabCam is a less invasive way to survey populations and allows scientists to see what is on the ocean floor. This is an alternative method of surveying, compared to dredging. I look forward to learning how both methods of surveying work.

What I Hope to Learn:

I am so excited to be able to learn firsthand what it’s like to be a real scientist and to be able to participate in a genuine research experience. I hope to learn more about the scientific process and pass the knowledge I learn on to my students. I am also excited to learn about the different types of sea life found in the North West Atlantic Ocean and compare that with what I know of sea life from home on the Gulf of Mexico.

Please follow me on this adventure as I post my experiences on this blog. Let me know what you think by leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of every blog entry.

Robert Ulmer: The Company You Keep, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.075’, W 134⁰20.96’

(southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 25, 2013

Weather conditions:  Misty rain under a blanket of thick clouds and fog, 13.76⁰C, 84.88% relative humidity, 1001.09 mb of atmospheric pressure, very light variable winds (speed of less than 1.5 knots with a heading between 344⁰ and 11⁰)

  • Remember that headings on a ship are measured around a full 360⁰ circle clockwise from north.  Therefore, 344⁰ and 22⁰ are only 38⁰ apart directionally.
NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, underway in Behm Canal

The operation of NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, requires the cooperation of a large, hard-working, and multi-talented crew.

Explorer’s Log:  The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier

Especially as we leave the confines of childhood, society views us, at least in part, by our intentional decisions about which people make up our circle of friends and our group of colleagues.  Certainly such outside judgments can be unfair when based only on short-term glimpses, predisposed biases, or moments misunderstood for lack of context, but I think that long-term observations of our personal associations can provide meaningful information about us.

With Ai Wei Wei's zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With Ai Wei Wei’s zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With the crew after the 5K race at O'Leno State Park

After the 5K race at O’Leno State Park

My closest circle of friends – intentionally – is populated by a rich gumbo of personalities, ideas, ideals, physiques, insights, humors, tastes, preferences, and behaviors, all of which serve to stimulate my mind, activate my creativity, enrich my soul, entertain my spirit, and motivate my direction.  In other words, they are the scaffolding that supports me and the team that carries me along through so many parts of my own explorations.  Jasmine’s appreciation of intelligence and beauty, Collin’s sharp wit, Reece’s focused intensity, Dad’s analysis, Mom’s honesty, Lisa’s support, Grandma Madeline’s generosity, Aunt Marilyn’s and Uncle Marc’s welcome, Aunt Lynn’s spunkiness, Cheryl’s cool, Dillon’s quiet observation, Jack’s vision, Teresa’s organization, Bob’s perspective, Katy’s goodness, Chris’s enthusiasm, Emilee’s wonder, Kyle’s repartee, Casey’s lyricism, Will’s genuineness, Rien’s kindness, Tyler’s motivation, Zach’s creativity, Brian’s investment in service, Matt’s passion for justice, Gary’s sense of direction, Tommy’s helpfulness, Silas’s wordsmithery, Loubert’s jocularity, Jonathan’s love….

And then add the brilliant and rich colors and flavors and voices of my larger group of friends and acquaintances:  the teachers, administrators, students, and neighbors who daily contribute their own stories and wisdoms to my experiences, and the result – again, intentionally – is very nearly a portrait of me… or at least the me that I aspire to become in my own journeys.

(For my varied generations of readers, think of the Magnificent Seven, the Fellowship of the Ring, and/or the Order of the Phoenix.  This is my posse.)

In other words, we often are judged and almost always are defined by the company we keep.

Wedding celebration

Wedding celebration

The NOAA Ship Rainier is no exception.  Beyond the mechanical body of the ship herself, the personnel here are the essence of the vessel that carries them.

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge.

Smart and funny, resourceful and dedicated, skilled and hard-working, the crew members of NOAA Ship Rainier are an impressive bunch, all of whom have enriched me in the short time that I’ve been aboard, and all of whom do their jobs and interact in ways that produce superb results.  And the wholeness of their shared strengths, talents, and personalities is far greater than the sum of their individual aspects, as always is the case when a team is well-assembled.

MB_2, Red Bluff Bay, Chatham Strait, Alaska, June 23, 2013

One of the NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers appreciates the beauty of Southeast Alaska.

For more than 150 (and sometimes more than 250!) days per year, the men and women aboard ships in the NOAA fleet sacrifice time away from their own homes, friends, and families – and regularly that remoteness isolates them from news, television, phone, and internet for days or weeks at a time – in service to the public at large through their assigned missions at sea.  Currently, nearly four dozen crew members serve aboard Rainier in several departments, each of which serves its own set of functions, but all of which are unified by their shared mission, like the instrumental sections of an orchestra in the production of a symphony.

NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, sharply outfitted aboard ship in their navy blue ODUs (operational dress uniforms), is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States government.  For this leg of the mission, the officers  aboard Rainier serve under Acting Commanding Officer (ACO) Mark Van Waes and Executive Officer (XO) Holly Jablonski to perform three sets of functions:  administrative, navigational, and participatory.  As the administrators of the ship, the officers are responsible for everything from payroll to purchases, and communications to goodwill.  In the navigational capacity, the officers are responsible for charting the courses to be traveled by the ship and moving the vessel along those courses, sometimes with helm in hand and sometimes by giving the command orders to effectuate those maneuvers.  Finally, aboard Rainier and her sister hydrographic vessels, the junior officers are trained members of the hydrographic survey team, participating at all levels in the gathering and processing of data regarding the floor of the sea.  Ultimately, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps members work to define the missions of Rainier and oversee the execution of those missions.

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier.

Deck Department

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow.

Beyond the uniformed NOAA Corps crew members, Rainier also employs many highly-skilled civilian merchant mariners who work around the clock to support the officers in the duties of navigation and sailing of the ship while it is underway.  Essentially, while following the decisive command orders of the Officer Corps, the Deck Department handles the endless details involved in steering the ship and its smaller boats, along with deploying and anchoring those vessels.  Under the departmental leadership of Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”) Jim Kruger, the members of the Deck Department all hold various levels of U.S. Coast Guard ratings in navigational watch-standing and deck operations, and their experiences and proficiencies earn them respect with regard to many facets of decision-making and operations on the bridge.

(The NOAA Corps and the Deck Department together have been responsible for the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through the waterways of Southeast Alaska during my weeks aboard.  To see a cool video of NOAA’s travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage made using stop-motion photography by Ensign John Kidd, click here.)

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day's launches

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day’s launches.

Survey Department

The members of the Survey Department aboard NOAA Ship Rainier are civilian scientists (working hand-in-hand with survey-trained NOAA Corps officers) who have been trained in the specialized work of conducting surveys of the sea floor using single-beam sonar, multi-beam sonar, tidal gauges and leveling devices, CTD devices (to gather data about conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water column), and several very highly-technical components of computer hardware and software packages.

Only the highest point of this 150-meter-wide rock remains above the water line at high tide.

Can you see the horizontal lines on this rock formation? They are caused by cyclical changes in the elevation of the sea water as a result of tidal forces. Only the highest point (around where the bald eagle is perched) of this 150-meter-wide set of rocks (extending beyond the boundaries of this image in both directions several times the width of what this photograph shows) remains above the water line at high tide. However, the portions that become submerged remain extremely dangerous to seagoing vessels, which is why the work of the Survey Department is so important.

From Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technicians (HASTs) upward through the ranks to Chief Survey Technician (CST) Jim Jacobson, they are superb problem-solvers and analysts with undergraduate- and graduate-level degrees in the cartography, biology, geography, systems analysis, and many other fields of scientific expertise, and one survey technician aboard Rainier is an experienced mariner who transferred into the Survey Department with a broad educational background ranging from the humanities to computer science.  The members of the Survey Department spend countless hours gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and integrating data to produce nautical charts and related work products to make travel by water safer for everyone at sea.

Two-dimensional slice of data

The Survey Department compiles raw sonar and quantitative data from the ship and the launch vessels and first converts those data into a graphic file that looks like this…

... which becomes this ...

… which is a slice of this image …


… which then goes through this sounding selection stage before eventually being finalized into a nautical chart for public use.

Physical Scientists

 NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait

NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait.

One or two physical scientists join the ship’s crew for most of the field season from one of two NOAA Hydrographic offices (in Seattle, Washington and Norfolk, Virginia), where their jobs consist of reviewing the hydrographic surveys submitted by the ships to make sure that they meet NOAA’s high standards for survey data, and compiling those surveys into products used to update the approximately 1000 nautical charts that NOAA maintains.  The ship benefits from the physical scientists’ time on board by having a person familiar with office processing of survey data while the surveys are “in the field,” and also by receiving an extra experienced hand for daily survey operations.  The physical scientists also get a refresher on hydro data collection and processing along with a better understanding of the problems that the field deals with on a daily basis, and they bring this up-to-date knowledge back to the office to share with coworkers there.

Engineering Department

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

The Engineering Department is a combination of U.S. Coast Guard licensed Engineering Officers (CME, 1AE, 2AE, and 3AE) and unlicensed engineering personnel (Junior Engineer, Oiler, and GVA).  Their work is concerned with the maintenance of the physical plant of the ship — everything from stopping leaks to making mechanical adjustments necessary for Rainier‘s proper and efficient running in the water.  The engineers are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who wield multiple tools with great dexterity as needs arise.

Electronics Technicians

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin hard at work

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin is hard at work.

The Electronics Technician aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (some ships have a larger department) has the important role of making sure that the many computerized systems — both hardware and software — are properly networked and functional so that navigation and survey operations can proceed effectively and efficiently.  Having trained on radar equipment with the U.S. Navy “back in the days of glass tubes,” ET Jeff Martin is an expert’s expert, adept at prediction and troubleshooting, and skilled at developing plans for moving systems forward with the ship’s mission.

Steward Department

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

The Steward Department runs the galley (the ship’s kitchen) and currently is composed of four crew members aboard Rainier.  Specifically, they are responsible for menu preparation, food acquisition, recipe creation, baking, and meal preparation for the 40+ people who must eat three meals (and often have snacks) spread across the entire day, both underway and at port, including special meals for away-from-the-galley groups (like launch vessels and shore parties), when local goods (like fish, fruits, and vegetables) are available, and/or for crew members or guests with dietary restrictions.  An army moves on its stomach.  The meals aboard this ship, by the way, show great diversity, technique, and nutritional value, including grilled fish and steaks, vegetarian casseroles, curried pastas, homemade soups, fresh salads, and a wide variety of delicious breakfast foods, snacks, and desserts.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

So those are the current citizens of the seagoing vessel NOAA Ship Rainier, harmonizing within a common chord, travelers who together explore the seas by working together to achieve their unified mission.  They are the excellent company that I keep on this leg of the exploration.

As you endeavor upon your own journeys, remember always to choose your company wisely so that your efforts are supported when challenging, insulated when vulnerable, motivated when difficult, and celebrated when successful.  And once you are surrounded by those good people, keep exploring, my friends.

Even the sea otters take some time to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Sea otters enjoy one another’s company along their way.

Personal Log:  Enjoy yourself along the way

Although they all work long, hard hours at their many assigned tasks, members of the team aboard NOAA Ship Rainier also enjoy one another’s company and occasionally get to have a good time.  Sharing an isolated, moving home barely 70 meters long with four dozen people for several weeks at a time guarantees social interaction, and the sounds of testimonies of laughter and friendship regularly fill the air in and around the ship, both among the workstations and away from the ship.

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

One of Carl's many catches

One of Carl’s many catches

Since joining the crew of Rainier just a week and a half ago – and beyond the many exciting excursions that are simply part of the regular jobs here – I already have been invited to join various smaller groups in exploring a town, dining in a local eatery, watching a movie, climbing a glacier, fishing in the waters of Bay of Pillars, walking on a beach, and kayaking through beautiful Red Bluff Bay past stunning waterfalls, huge mountains, and crystal-clear icy streams, including a spontaneous hike into the deep and wild, verdant and  untrammeled woods above the shore, following uncut paths usually trod only by deer and bears on their way to the frigid water running down from the snow-capped peaks high above.

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the stream

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the frigid stream.

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods (armed with bear spray and an adventurer's spirit)

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods, armed with bear spray and an adventurer’s spirit!

Truly, the people aboard Rainier know how to enjoy the gift of life.  And I feel honored, flattered, privileged, and happy to be included among these new friends on their great adventures.

Beautiful waterfall in Red Bluff Bay

A beautiful waterfall that Theresa, Evan, and I explored in Red Bluff Bay

Yaara Crane: My Morning on a Survey Launch, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013

survey boat on TJ

The survey boat is moving from its cradle on the deck of the TJ.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 

Latitude: 38.84°N
Longitude: 75.04°W

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed: 8.35 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 21.29°C
Air Temperature:  22.80°C
Relative Humidity: 82.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1011.36mb

hydro survey boat

The survey launch on its way

Todd and Yaara

I am talking with the HIC about the notations on the nautical chart for our survey grounds.

Science and Technology Log

As promised, today’s post is going to be about the Hydrographic Survey Launches. The Thomas Jefferson has two of these boats that are generally launched by 8:00am and return to the ship at 5:30pm. On Tuesday, my official role was Hydrographer in Training. I joined HIC Todd and Coxn Junior for a day of surveying on boat 3102. After a morning of seasickness, they returned me to the TJ around 11:30 to recuperate. However, I was still able to experience a little of what they do every day and the hilarious camaraderie between the two!

In general, the survey launches do the same work as the Thomas Jefferson, just on a smaller scale. The TJ can only drive on lines with a minimum depth of 30 feet, but the survey launches can go to a minimum depth of 12 feet which allows them to get much closer to shoals and the coast. Every morning, the launch survey teams have a meeting with the FOO and XO in the survey room to discuss logistics and safety. My boat was headed out to survey grounds on a new sheet near Cape May, New Jersey. Specifically, we were driving lines in the Prissy Wicks Shoal. This particular region has highly variable depths and created quite a challenge for the HIC and Coxn for two reasons: you cannot navigate in straight lines over shoals, and the shoals constantly change so you must drive slowly in case an area is shallower than charted.

HIC Todd

Todd is at his workstation in the cabin.

Todd has been a HIC for both the Rainier and the Thomas Jefferson. In this position, he was worked with many Teachers at Sea, and gave me lots of great resources to bring back to school. The HIC sits inside the cabin and makes sure that all of the equipment is working together and logging the correct data. Just like on the ship, he has an MBES, HYPACK, and POS-MV to help him do his job. However, unlike the ship, he does not have an MVP, and must launch a CTD every four hours to measure the sound velocity profile in the water column. Measuring the sound velocity profile is an important part of correcting the MBES data for improved accuracy. Remember, the equipment is very sensitive to changes in the water because the farther the sound waves travel, the more they are affected by changes in the density of the medium through which they travel.


Junior is doing his best to keep us on the line

Junior’s job as Coxn is to work with the HIC to safely navigate the boat on the survey lines. The Coxn has a monitor controlled by the HIC to help him see the current chart and line. Junior gave me the opportunity to try driving, and I barely lasted 15 seconds before I was off the line! Tuesday was particularly complex because we were in a highly trafficked waterway, shoals appeared out of nowhere, and there was a very strong current around the cape. When another boat appears in the line, the Coxn must bring his boat to a standstill while staying on the line so that data collection does not have to stop. If the survey line goes over an area that is particularly shallow, a decision needs to be made about how to get around the shoal without hitting the bottom. A lot of good-natured yelling happens between the Coxn and HIC so that they can hear each other and be in constant communication.

Once the survey launch has returned to the main ship, the data is downloaded onto a server from which the hydrographers can move the data into CARIS. Eventually all of that data will be turned into a new nautical chart to help marine vessels maneuver through the waters.

survey lines

What looks like highlighting is the multi-beam data from the survey launches. The colors get warmer (red) as the depth gets shallower

Today’s Acronyms and Abbreviations (some old, some new)

HIC – Hydrographer in Charge

Coxn – Coxswain

FOO – Field Operations Officer

XO – Executive Officer

MBES – Multi-Beam Echo Sounder

MVP – Moving Vessel Profiler

HYPACK – Surprise, not an acronym! This is just the name of the software.

POSMV – Positioning Orientation System Marine Vessel

SSS – Side Scan Sonar

CTD – Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

CARIS – Computer-Aided Resource Information System. This software allows scientists to process the data that comes from HYPACK. Hypack collects data one line at a time, while CARIS allows you to combine the lines into a new nautical chart.

Prissy Wicks

The chart of Prissy Wicks Shoal shows the extreme changes in depths in a very small area.

Personal Log

Well, my bout of seasickness started about half an hour into my time on the survey launch. I started off in the cabin with the HIC, and the swells in the water got to me immediately. I spent the rest of the time on the deck with the Coxn trying to keep my eyes on the horizon. Through it all, I still managed to get a glimpse of some dolphins playing in the swells and saw many different types of boats and ships sailing around. When I was returned to the ship, I immediately felt better. However, the medical officer took precautionary measures and measured my blood pressure (totally normal, as usual for me) and prescribed 1.5 Liters of water before bed for the night. I took a nice long nap, and woke up in time for a delicious vegetable casserole for dinner. I am feeling back to 100% today, and hope to stay awake tonight. The TJ runs 24 hour operations, so I will pop by the bridge and survey rooms to see what it looks like after dark.

emergency signal

This sign is placed in each room as a reminder of what to do in case of emergencies.

Did You Know?

While at sea, it is required to perform at least one safety drill a week. Today, we had a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.

abandon ship suit
As part of my safety orientation, I had to put on the survival suit. I think I need a smaller size…

My assigned muster locations for emergencies.