Elizabeth Nyman: The NOAA Corps, June 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 4, 2013

Weather Data:
Wind Speed: 18.11 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 27.51 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 18.2 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1013.1 mb

Science and Technology Log

The weather has been rather difficult here over the past day or so. Yesterday, the winds were so bad that we had to cancel fishing from our bandit reels. We had winds up to 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour! So far today’s weather seems to be much the same, so no fishing today either.

Gray day
It’s been a very wet and gray couple of days at sea.

We keep putting the camera array in the water, even though we can’t fish. But with the winds, waves, and current as strong as they are, the team has to be much more careful about getting the camera in the water and getting it back out again. The cameras are very expensive, so they have to take care that nothing happens to them. It’s been taking a couple of tries to get the boat lined up enough to get the camera array out of the water. Thus, the whole process takes much longer in the rougher weather.

deploying camera array
This is me helping to deploy the camera array in better weather.

Since the science has been a little slower than usual, I figured that I would use today’s post to talk a little bit more about the crew in command of the Pisces, and how the ship gets to these sometimes remote places to conduct our scientific research.

bridge window
The view from the bridge. Forecast: rain.

The ship’s officers come from the NOAA Corps. NOAA has its own commissioned officers, 321 in total, spread across 19 ships and 12 airplanes. I’d never known that NOAA had its own officers, so I’ve been fascinated to learn how the process works. In some ways, it’s similar to any other uniformed branch of service, with basic eligibility requirements – US citizenship, pass a medical exam, etc. There are also some that are a little more specialized to NOAA, though. For example, you need a bachelor’s degree, with at least 42 credit hours in “science, math, or engineering course work pertaining to NOAA’s missions.”

Applications are competitive, with those for the next cycle being accepted until August of this year. You have to be able to get and maintain a Secret level clearance to be a NOAA Officer, so they’re selective for a reason.

The officers have to be aware and involved with the scientific work on board. They’re responsible for putting the ship into position for the operations to occur. The scientific team selects sites for survey out here in the Gulf, but it’s the ship’s officers that put us in position to drop the camera and/or go fishing, when the weather allows. They also have to be aware of what’s going on with the science team, to make sure that our fishing lines don’t catch on the bottom of the boat, or that the cameras aren’t damaged when the deck crew raises and lowers the array.

The science only happens when everyone works together.

Personal Log

Life on a boat is different. There’s the obvious, with it taking a while to learn to walk again or with seasickness, if you’re so inclined. (I’ve been spared that misfortune so far, even with the bad weather!)

One thing unique to boats is the amount of different doors.


There are a series of watertight doors, designed to protect the rest of the ship if a portion floods. These doors would hopefully contain any problems that occurred and keep the ship afloat. All of the doors that open to the outside are watertight.

watertight door
These doors can be very loud when you open them, so you have to be careful. The ship has crew working 24 hours a day, which means there’s always someone sleeping.

In addition to the watertight doors, some of the interior doors act as fire boundaries. They’re very, very heavy – I can turn the handle and lean into them and they don’t move. It’s heavy for a reason, though. We have A60 doors on the Pisces, which have been designed to withstand an open flame for up to an hour.

Not all interior doors are fire boundaries though, just as not all doors were meant to be watertight. For example, in the hallway that leads to my bunk, the stairwell to my deck has a fireproof door but my room itself only has a “normal” door. The other end of the hallway opens up to the outside, so it has a watertight door.

I’m definitely getting a workout every time I go in and out of a room!

Did You Know?

The United Nations has a specialized agency devoted to maintaining safety in maritime shipping called the International Maritime Organization, or IMO. The IMO regulates everything from pollution from ships to the design of the ships themselves.

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