NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22 — July 3, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Monday, July 1, 2013
Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed: 21.77knots
Surface Water Temperature: 22.16°C
Air Temperature: 22.80°C
Relative Humidity: 98.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.61mb
Scientific Careers Log
During my time aboard the Thomas Jefferson, I have heard dozens of personal stories from individuals that come from all walks of life. I spent the past few days sitting down with a variety of these people to interview them about how they ended up a critical part of this ship. The following is just a short summary of my long conversations with each of these people. I found so much to write about, that today’s log will be about scientific careers, and tomorrow’s will focus on the non-scientific careers.
Of course, I had to begin my interviews with the man in charge: Commander Lawrence Krepp. CDR Krepp has been a NOAA Corps officer for over 20 years, and CO of the TJ since April of 2011. He particularly enjoys working on hydrographic ships, because they are the only ones in the fleet in which the CO is also the Chief Scientist. His background includes a degree in marine biology and work with the National Undersea Research Center. In addition to saving him from a meeting each day, the major perk to being Chief Scientist is that he is able to work much more closely with the FOO to accomplish the objectives of the science party while maintaining supervision of all of the ship’s operations. CDR Krepp is able to spend his mornings walking around the ship and checking in on the bridge, then the rest of his day is spent immersed in reviewing survey work and other administrative duties.
On a more personal level, the CO mentioned that he wished he had more time to really work with the officers on their skills. CDR Krepp mentioned that he minored in education when he was in college, so it seems a little bit of the teacher still remains. Turnover on ships is very high because officers alternate every 2-3 years between sea and land assignments, therefore he will try to improve knowledge around the ship through spontaneous questioning on various scenarios that could occur. However, he always keeps an eye on the ship’s navigation systems to make sure the ship is safe and secure. If there was one aspect of his ship that the CO could change, it would be to improve the environmental treatment of the various waste streams on the TJ. An independent energy audit of the Thomas Jefferson was conducted in 2010, and CDR Krepp hopes to make improvements to the ship during his tenure as CO. Finally, the CO will do various things around the ship to help boost morale. The people that work on the ship give up a lot of personal freedoms, especially time with family, so the CO participates in some of the team-building around the ship. For example, he consented to have his hair cut by the winner of a ship-wide raffle. Proceeds from the raffle go directly back to planning events that can happen when at a port of call, such as going to a baseball game. Thanks for the interview, Captain!
Next in line was Lieutenant Commander Christiaan van Westendorp, otherwise known as the XO. The XO actually earned the rank of Lieutenant during his six years as a Navy Officer, a portion of which was spent on a nuclear-powered Navy submarine. Navy command structures do not generally transfer directly over to the NOAA Corps, so the XO had to spend nearly an additional year as an Ensign before being given his Lieutenant rank with NOAA. He spent two years as a FOO, and then was hired as XO of the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler before coming to the TJ in November of 2012. LCDR van Westendorp will be on the TJ until the end of 2014, be given a land assignment for a few years, and then will most likely go to his final sea assignment as the CO and/or Chief Scientist of a NOAA ship. The XO is quick to point out that his career path is atypical of most NOAA officers, and he has been fortunate to be able to spend almost his entire NOAA career based out of Norfolk.
The XO is the main administrator, safety officer, and human resources officer on the ship, among other duties. These tasks involve a lot of paperwork, but also a lot of personal skills to work with any conflicts that might arise on the ship. His favorite part of his job is walking around the ship to keep in touch with everyone, and finding new challenges to tackle every day. LCDR van Westendorp echoes the opinion of many of the people I interviewed who just can’t get enough of the dynamism of life aboard a ship. Another aspect of the dynamism of the job is the exciting locales in which he has served. Since joining NOAA in September of 2005, the XO has had the opportunity to work in exotic locations such as Belize, Barbados, Suriname, Tahiti, and Hawaii. Thanks for the interview, XO!
Working my way down the NOAA Corps Officers brought me to the second-newest officer on board, Ensign Steve Moulton. Ensign Moulton spent nine years in the Coast Guard, and has had to start over working his way up in the NOAA ranks. Right now, he feels that he is in a very heavy learning period of his career. Although he majored in an environmental field in college, he still had to attend hydrography school to learn the complex software and details of the ship’s work. Additionally, he is learning his way around a lot of collateral duties such as being the morale officer, the navigation officer, and running the ship store. Together with 8 hours of watch and processing hydrographic data, he is kept incredibly busy.
The major lesson that Ensign Moulton has internalized is to learn from your mistakes. Conditions on a ship, particularly while on the helm, change very quickly. He feels supported to spend time improving his skills, and has learned that any corrections from senior officers should only come once! Even so, Ensign Moulton enjoys the camaraderie of the ship, and being fortunate enough to spend his career on the water. He grew up in Rhode Island, and feels very connected to life at sea. Thanks for the interview, Ensign!
My final scientist interview actually spends very little of his time at sea. James Miller, Physical Scientist, spends about 6-10 weeks on various East Coast NOAA ships throughout the year. He has worked for NOAA for three years, and is based out of NOAA’s Norfolk office. James joins the TJ and the Hassler for short periods to augment their scientific work and support the survey department. James normally spends his time on shore conducting quality assurance on the surveys that come directly from NOAA’s fleet of hydro ships and hydrographic contractors. He will compile these surveys into preliminary charts that will eventually be sent off to cartographers. James has picked up the knowledge for this career through his degree in Geology, an internship with NOAA arranged through Earth Resources Technology, and on-the-job training.
Although most of James’s job occurs behind a desk, he has had the opportunity to participate in a few more exciting NOAA ventures. For example, during the Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, James was tapped to augment on the Gordon Gunter. He has also been asked to augment on assignments to reopen major ports after large storms and hurricanes. These opportunities generally come following emergencies, so James may be asked to report to a ship with only 24 hours’ notice. Finally, as others have said, James’ favorite part of working for NOAA is the dynamism of the field. James feels that he is in a steady learning process as the field of hydrography continues to improve in technological capabilities and scientific methods. Thanks for the interview, James!
It is getting to that time where we will be headed to Norfolk soon. I have been growing steadily accustomed to life at sea, and am excited to share everything that I have learned. I think the major lesson I have taken from this experience is one of creativity. If you don’t look past what you have learned, you may never know what other opportunities exist. As a teacher, I also agree with the idea of dynamism being a huge motivation in a career. Every morning that I wake up, I have new lessons to teach and challenges to address. I hope to keep that perspective and sense of adventure when I return to my classroom in the fall.
Did You Know?
The nautical charts created by NOAA are available in digital format for free public use. Hydrographic data is collected by NOAA ships, as well as with the cooperation of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey.