Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temp: 15.5 Degrees Celsius
ind Speed: 7 – 12 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8 Degrees Celsius Water Depth: 10 Meters
Sea treasures in the night time deep Bongo; a Hatchet Fish, Lantern Fish and Krill.
A close up of a few of the organisms found in the bottom trawl; a baby flounder, baby haddock and shrimp.
An Eel larva found during on the night oceanography watch.
Science and Technology Log
As I mentioned in my previous blogs, there are many layers of science that are happening simultaneously that support the AMAPPS project (see April 9th blog). One of these layers is monitoring the ecosystem with oceanography. In the April 9th blog I explained all about the Bongo Nets, and in April 15th blog I explained about the VPR and it’s plankton picture data. While the rest of the ship slept, the night time oceanography team – Betsy Broughton (scientist from NEFSC in Woods Hole), John Rosendale (lab technician from NOAA Fisheries Howard Labratory in Sandy Hook) and Brian Dennis (volunteer) were busy conducting Benthic science with the Beam Trawl and Van Veen Grab Sampler.
Although this equipment was not used every night, I was lucky enough to have stayed up some of the night to see these two in action. The Benthic Zone, in a body of water, like the ocean refers to the very bottom of that aquatic ecosystem. The night time science team use a Beam Trawl or a bottom fishing net that is towed along the bottom of the ocean to take a sample of the organisms that live there. The Beam Trawl is attached to a winch that is on the stern of the boat, that one is much larger than the winch that is used to lower the Bongo Nets. The trawl is lowered down until it touches the bottom and then towed along the bottom picking up whatever is in its path. The trawl is then brought to the surface and the sample is sorted in the wet lab and preserved in formaldehyde just like the other samples. The Van Veen Grab Sampler is lowered into the water by the same smaller winch that is used for the Bongo Nets along the port side of the ship. The grab is rigged so that when it touches the bottom of the ocean, two arms open up and grab a large sample of the sediment at the bottom of the ocean. To me it looked just like the suffer muck I know as “clam flats.” Once the Van Veen Grab is brought up to the surface, the arms of the grab are released and the sediment is dropped into a bucket. From there the soil is washed over and over using several sized sieves until all of the muck is washed away and just the organisms, shells and assorted bottom treasures are left. This sample, once cleaned, is also brought back to the chemistry lab for processing in formaldehyde. The scientists worked at a much faster pace to get all the sediment removed and the samples processed. It was fun to be able to watch and help out.
Betsy teaching me how to run the computer software for the CTD.
For most of the trip, my “assigned” task has been to work with Jerry Prezioso as the day Oceanography team. Jerry and I are in charge of the mid-day Bongo Nets (see April 9th blog). Sometimes we are up early and timing is such that our morning Bongo Net overlapped with night crew’s scheduled time. Sometimes they would start the morning Bongo and Jerry and I would take over and finish the work, or we would just all work together to get it done twice as fast. Since there were more people to help in the morning, Betsy Broughton (see April 15th blog) was available to help teach me how to run the computer software that was attached to the Bongo called a CTD Sensor.
The graph on the computer software of the Conductivity, Temperature and density data the CTD collects as the Bongo drops to its lowest depth.
CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth and it sits above the Bongo Net collecting this data that it sends back to the computers. Generally one scientist is in charge of running the software that turns on the CTD and gets it to start collecting data as it is dropped down into the deep water. The person on the computer is in charge of knowing how deep the Bongo Net should go and telling the winch operator when to pull the Bongo Net back up to the surface. They are also responsible for letting the NOAA Corps officer on the Bridge know when the equipment is ready and telling the winch operator the speed at which the Bongo should be dropped. If this information is not relayed correctly the Bongo Net could go crashing into the bottom of the ocean. It took a couple of days of Betsy overseeing what I was doing, but in no time at all, Jerry felt confident enough in me to leave me at the helm and let me run the software on my own. From net washer to computer software operator, I was moving up!
The night oceanography team bringing the Beam Trawl out of the water to sort the sample.
The bottom soil samples get several washings through sieves before they can be processed.
The organisms found in the bottom soil samples are very different than the plankton we find in the Bongo nets.
Betsy and volunteer sorting the organisms from the Beam Trawl.
The Van Veen Grab entering the water in the middle of the night.
This is me processing the bottom soil samples into a jar of rose formaldehyde.
Night Oceanographer J. R giving the bottom soil sample iit’s fist wash in to a bin to extract the organisms..
Night time Winch operator Gilly and deck hand Dante preparing the Vanveen grab for collecting a bottom soil sample.
Betsy picking arrow worms out of the sieve for processing from the bottom soil samples.
Weather Data from the Bridge Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 2 feet
Air Temperature: 72.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 71.0ºF
Science and Technology Log
The water wasn’t as smooth today as it was yesterday, but the divers still were very successful. One fish survey was completed today. A few dives were made to check shackles on the anchors of a receiver and to retrieve a railroad tie at one of the receiver sites. The divers also began the Marine Debris Surveys today. A total of 6 surveys were conducted. Five of the six groups were able to find the marking pin. Those sites had no marine debris. The sixth site could not find the marking pin and therefore were not able to fully complete the survey. The divers did find a lot of fishing line at this site, which they removed.
Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location. Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Richard LaPalme
The weather is forecasted to start turning tomorrow. The divers are scheduled to complete morning dives, but most likely will not be able to complete afternoon dives due to poor weather. In the morning, Lauren and Hampton will complete one fish survey and one marine debris survey. The second boat will have Katie, Richard, Sarah Webb, and Randy. This group will conduct two marine debris surveys. Hopefully they will be able to get the dives in tomorrow, but safety comes first.
Over the past week I have been talking to all the crew members learning about their different jobs. There are basically several groups on the ship. There is the scientific party. This group conducts different research on the ship. These groups are constantly changing and are the guests of the ship. The permanent groups are the Commissioned Officers, Engineering Department, Deck Department, Survey Department, and the Stewards. All the departments are incredibly important and play vital roles in the operation of the ship. The Commissioned officers are in charge of the movements of the ship. The Engineering department controls the mechanical aspects of the ship. The Deck Department operates the cranes and maintains the small boats. The scientific and electronic equipment is controlled by the Survey Department and the Stewards keep all the crew well nourished. (For a more detailed description of these roles, please visit the GRNMS website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/log_04242014.html )
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn
Today I want to focus on the Commissioned Officers. The Commissioned Officers are members of the NOAA Corps. NOAA Corps members can be found on the 19 NOAA Ships and 12 NOAA Aircraft. They can be found working on projects on the land, in the air, and at sea. The NOAA Corps was originally established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 with the responsibility of surveying the coasts. Today the NOAA Corps works in a variety of fields including oceanography, fisheries, engineering, earth sciences, and meteorology. NOAA Corps provide the leadership and operational support to meet NOAA’s mission of surveying the Earth’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere to ensure the economic and physical well-being of the Nation.
All NOAA Corps officers hold at least a baccalaureate degree, preferably in science or engineering. All officers must have completed at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework and must have completed college level calculus and physics. Other requirements include passing a mental and physical as well as a background check. You also must be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before your 62nd birthday.
Each new NOAA Corps officer must complete an initial training program that lasts about 5 months. The NOAA Corps now conducts this program with the US Coast Guard. During this training officers learn about maritime activities such as navigation, ship handling, and emergency and rescue procedures. The training also teaches the officers about military procedures such as marching, drills, and the military ranks, structures and protocols. After completing the training, NOAA Corps members continue their training aboard a ship. This training lasts around 12 to 15 months. During this time the new officer is trained by the experienced officers. After the training period, the new officer must pass a test to demonstrate mastery of the necessary skills. Some ships do this as an oral test format where the officers ask the new officer how to they would handle certain situations. On the Nancy Foster, a life ring is thrown overboard and the new officer has to retrieve it. This simulates a Man Overboard. After the new officer passes the test they earn a permanent position on the ship. This position will last between 2 to 3 years. Officers are reassigned positions every 2 to 3 years. They rotate between ship and land based positions. Land based positions can include working at NOAA Labs, Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Administrative offices.
Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship’s path on paper. ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.
I honestly did not know that the NOAA Corps existed until this trip. I really wished I had known about it earlier, not only for myself, but for my students. I do hope that my former and current (as well as future) students consider looking
into the NOAA Corps. It is a wonderful way to serve your country while still working with the sciences.
Did You Know?
There are seven uniformed services in the United States. These include the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, NOAA Corps, and the Public Health Service.
I had one of the most fun experiences last night. I went up to the bridge to get the weather data as well as watch the sunset. Executive Officer LCDR Mark Blankenship and Junior Officer Ensign Conor Maginn were on duty. The ship was recording acoustics for the Fish Acoustics project. To do this, the ship makes several short passes over a specific area. The ship was set on autopilot to complete this task. ENG Maginn would make small adjustments to keep the ship on the desired path. As soon as the acoustics survey was complete, XO Blankenship asked if I wanted to drive the ship. They took the ship off autopilot and I drove for an hour. I had to steer it into the wind for a while so that the survey technician could fill the dive compressor which is used to fill the SCUBA tanks and then I had to steer around some sailboats. I ended by getting the ship back to the site that they ended the sonar mapping from the previous night.
It was very difficult. When driving the ship, you cannot rely on simply looking out the window (this is especially true in the dark). There are many tools and computers that you need to utilize. There are five different monitors you have to look at plus the rudder position and the compass. The rudder is controlled by a switch. It took me a while to learn how to keep the ship in a specific position. It is not like a car that will keep in a straight line. You constantly need to be move the rudder. Luckily, I had ENS Maginn guiding me. He was an excellent teacher.
The switch used to control the rudder.
This is the monitor used to control the ship’s movements.
Driving the ship was the one thing that I told my students I really wanted to do. When I told them that, I thought that there would be a steering wheel. I was very shocked not to find one. Rather, the ship feels like you are controlling a video game. It is controlled using switches, knobs, and joysticks. You move the rudder with a switch that rotates almost 180°.
The ship’s controls. No longer do you move a steering wheel. Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.
Sunset on the Nancy Foster Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS Photo: Richard LaPalme
The duty of the right eye is to plunge into the telescope, whereas the left eye interrogates the microscope” ― Leonora Carrington
WHERE I’LL BE:
Have you seen the video from the ship Okeanos? The Okeanos Live Feed is astounding and will draw you in, so give yourself a little time to absorb the privilege of ‘swimming’ 6000 feet below the ocean’s surface. You will hear in real time, biology/geology experts on the ship and scattered around the globe, sharing their opinions regarding the HD footage from miles below the surface. We live in such an amazing world that can be put under the microscope, telescope, replayed, enlarged and viewed ad infinitum. We have instant access to ultrasounds from our unborn babies, the slow motion HD replay of that Stanley Cup winning goal, the frivilous youtube video, the Hubble, and swipes through a loved one’s phone pictures. The fact that we can sit in our landlocked cubicles and watch as the Okeanos scientists discuss and decipher the unexplored underwater canyons is mesmerizing. There are so many times in our lives that the promises of technological advances are useless and unfulfilled, but the wealth of knowledge aboard the Okeanos and the instantaneous sharing of the science via the ship’s telepresence is a dream realized. I will be aboard the Okeanos Explorer during most of the month of May. Our mission will include using the ship’s multi-beam deep water sonar capabilities to map some exciting Atlantic Canyons off the coast of Florida, making a long transit all the way up the East Coast, and working with scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service on potentially discovering new spawning grounds for the threatened bluefin tuna.
WHAT I’LL MISS:
Hampshire Elementary School
The desire to explore is deeply woven into the fabric of all people, especially children. It is a privilege to spend my days teaching and exploring with 30 of the best ten and eleven year olds to ever walk the face of the earth. They work hard and are kinder than necessary. I am fortunate to teach with a phenomenal staff in the wonderful supportive community of Hampshire Elementary School. Hampshire, Illinois is a small town (population 5600) surrounded by an ocean of corn and bean fields. After a 30 minute drive east on a clear day you can just make out the top of the John Hancock Building and the rest of the skyline of downtown Chicago.
There is a combination of old and new at Hampshire Elementary. Many of the students’ parents attended this school and that lends an attitude of trust and support between faculty and parents. We as teachers appreciate that and there isn’t any desire to transfer to other schools in the district. On these warm spring days, the bike racks outside the school fill up and parents may let their children walk up town to Chicken Dip for a cone. While there are many “old school” attributes to our school, we also keep up with the new technologies. All of our classrooms have interactive white boards and teachers have personal laptops. The students have nearly constant access to two computer labs and a high percentage have internet access in their homes. I teach fifth graders; actually, we teach each other and I try to facilitate that. I have taught for a few years now. . . . since 1980! My favorite thing about a classroom is watching the students solve problems. One of the problems that I hope to help them solve is how our actions in the Midwest affect our planet’s oceans. I want them to see firsthand how things we put in our streams and atmosphere in Illinois can eventually affect the reefs and spawning grounds of organisms thousands of miles away. It is my hope too that one of these Hampshire Whippurs might someday be one of the NOAA scientists who make a key discovery that allows economic development without destroying fragile habitats.
I will also miss my four children during the busy month of May. I will miss Mollie moving out of her dorm and arriving home from Hope College, Sophie’s role in Prairie Ridge High School’s performance of “Sixteen and More”, Izzie’s performances in Spoghtlight Theater’performance of “Willy Wonka”, and (hopefully) a lot of Chicago Blackhawk’s playoff games with my son, Owen.
FOUR fine kids
WHERE I’VE BEEN:
Living a thousand miles from the ocean is not where I thought I’d live when I was a boy. I loved the sea and always thought I’d live on the shore. When I was young, my family traveled back to my birthplace in Ireland by ship. I was quite happy to stand at the stern for hours and watch the wake disappear into the horizon. During the summers, when we’d go camping in Florida or Cape Cod, it was always the ocean that drew my interest. When teaching in Coventry, England on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange, I went to the coast in Eastbourne or Wales as often as I could afford. Now, camping with my own children along the shores of Lake Michigan at Pentwater and Warren Dunes has to suffice for a “seaside experience” though there is something so much more intoxicating about the salt water breezes. It is a lifelong goal to spend an extended time out at sea. To combine that with teaching is an incredible privilege. Thank you to NOAA, my family, and my WONDERful students and friends.
Weather Data from the Bridge Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 0-1 feet
Air Temperature: 71.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 70.2ºF
Science and Technology Log
The dive operations on the Nancy Foster have continued to progress. The Fish Telemetry Project has been very successful. All the receivers that needed replacing have been replaced and Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman has downloaded the data. She has run into a small delay in identifying many of the fish because the database with the microchip numbers has not been updated. Right now we know that there have been several mystery visitors to GRNMS. Hopefully the identities of these fish will be revealed soon. It is exciting to see where these fish have traveled from. The dive team continues to work on this project by servicing the other receivers in the water. They dive to the receivers and try to clean off any organism growing on receivers as well as make sure that the receivers are still securely attached to their anchors. There are currently 18 receivers in GRNMS. The receivers are replaced every 4 to 6 months, depending on the location.
Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver. Photo: Sarah Webb
The Fish Acoustics project is also progressing very well. Lauren Hessemann is the team’s fish ID expert. She continues to make about 4 dives a day to six specific sites. She needs to record each site twice. The ship than travels to these sites and records the acoustics (fish noises). Lauren is always accompanied by a second diver who is tasked with filming the fish. A scientist will use Lauren’s data and the video to compare it to the acoustics that were recorded from these sites.
The divers have reported seeing many interesting animals. The team has observed seven sea turtles, all floating at the surface. Many curious black seabass have been seen. These fish like to investigate and will swim very close to the divers. The divers have reported that if you look behind you while swimming, many times a small school of black seabass are following. Some usual sightings have included several guitarfish and many Jackknife fish. So far there have not been any Lionfish sightings. It is believed that the cold winter has prevented their migration to GRNMS.
Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water Photo: Amy Rath
An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole. Photo: Richard LaPalme
I have been able to go out on two different dive boats. I am not able to get in the water, but I have been able to assist from the surface. At the surface I help the divers get in and out of the boat, keep the dive and projects logs, as well as assist with the site markers. Site markers are small anchors attached to a buoy with a long rope. These markers need to be dropped at precise GPS locations. They are used by the divers to find the specific location for the assigned tasks. It is very important to have accurate drops. Many times divers are looking for specific objects or very precise locations. The marker is what they use to find these items.
Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.
An excellent placement of the dive marker. Photo: Hampton Harbin
I have had the opportunity to sail with two different coxswains. A Coxswain is a person who is in charge or steers a boat. Yesterday I was with coxswain Jim Pontz. Jim is an Able Seaman on the Nancy Foster. Today I was with Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio. Carmen has been a NOAA Corps member for a year and a half. Both Jim and Carmen explained the role of the coxswain during dives. The coxswain will drive the divers out to their dive site, but their role does not end there. They need to accurately place the dive marker. They then assist the divers getting into the water. Once the divers are in the water, the coxswains must be extremely vigilant. They need to keep a constant eye on the diver marker buoy. This lets the coxswain know the general area that the divers will be located in. If it is a calm day with small waves and low currents, this part is easy. However, most days there is a current or there are waves which cause the dive boat to drift making it difficult to stay in a specific location. The coxswain needs to also keep constant watch of the divers. You are able to “see” where the divers are based on the air bubbles that reach the surface. By tracking the bubbles, you know the path of the divers. The coxswain needs to make sure the boat is close to the divers, but not on top of the divers. While the divers are in the water, the coxswain serves the important role of being the diver’s lookout and ultimately their protection at the surface. They need to stand watch for any hazards such as other boats or dangerous wildlife and they need to be ready to get the divers out of the water in the event of an emergency.
Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen wraps up the stern line
Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive
The dives all have gone very well and the team has been progressing. Tomorrow they will finish the receiver dives and will begin the Marine Debris Surveys. The purpose of these surveys is to analyze the types of debris in GRNMS as well as the location of the debris. There are nine sites that have been marked for debris surveys. The sites have been marked with metal pins. The survey will occur over a 50 meter distance. The divers will swim the 50 meters and will look 2 meters to the right and left of the line. As the divers swim they will be recording the types, amount, and the specific locations of the debris. The normal types of debris found in GRNMS are fishing line, beer bottles, and cans. Hopefully the divers will not see a lot of debris.
Did You Know?
In order to dive on a NOAA mission, divers must be NOAA Dive Certified. This is a lengthily process that includes having a minimum of 25 previous open water dives, completing NOAA diving coursework and passing a series of tests. NOAA has different classes of divers. There are scientific divers and working divers. Scientific divers can perform only scientific tasks including making observations and collecting data. Working divers can complete construction and troubleshooting tasks under the water.
Life on the ship is always interesting. I am constantly learning and am having a great time. Today was particularly exciting. At lunch time one of the dive boats was brought to the side of the Nancy Foster and was raised to the hip (the side of the ship, even with the deck, but not onboard). The boat was being held out of the water by the crane. Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio NOAA Corps Officer with GRNMS Jared Halonen were in the boat while Sarah Fangman and I were standing on the Nancy Foster. We were loading the dive boat with our equipment when someone spotted a large dorsal fin right next to the Nancy Foster. The fin belonged to a shark that we estimate to be 14 feet long. We are not certain of the species. You can see the photo below. It was shot through polarized sunglasses, so there is a bit of a glare. People on the ship are guessing that it is a Great White or Bull Shark. Photos have been sent to fish experts and we are waiting for confirmation.
The shark who decided to swim along the ship. We are still trying to identify it.
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Jared Halonen, Sarah Fangman, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark
Our shark friend decided to stay next to the ship, swimming back and forth hovering many times under the dive boat. He was at the surface for about 10 minutes when it was decided to move the Nancy Foster so that the dive boat could safely be deployed. Once we were away from the shark, the dive boat was deployed. The four of us set off to our dive site. We made it to the site and dropped the dive marker. We were leaving that site to drop a second marker when we noticed a dorsal fin heading toward the first marker. We drove toward the dorsal fin to get a better look at the shark. It was an 8 foot long hammerhead. After some discussion the divers, Sarah and Jared, did get into the water. They had safe dives and did not see any more sharks. The initial sightings of the two different sharks was exciting.
Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.
Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman Photo: Amy Rath
Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive. Photo: Sarah Webb
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to not only return to sea for the first time in twenty years, but to do so as part of a scientific research team. With two days remaining before I fly to meet the NOAA shipHenry B. Bigelow in Providence, RI, I am busily packing and checking over my to-do lists. My fifth grade students at Mark Twain Elementary in Westerville, OH gave me a heart-warming send-off, as did my colleagues. I look forward to sharing this experience with them.
My fifth graders exploring a pond ecosystem
My family and I live in Mount Vernon, OH, a small town about an hour northeast of Columbus.
Downtown Mount Vernon
I enjoy reading (favorite authors include Patrick O’Brian, Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, and George R.R. Martin), running, photography, and playing guitar. My wife, Amy, works for the Philander Chase Corporation at Kenyon College in Gambier. My daughter is in fifth grade, and is both an avid reader and an athlete, participating in competitive gymnastics and softball. She plays the piano, and has chosen the viola as her instrument for middle school orchestra. My son is in kindergarten, loves books and anything related to dinosaurs and Mario Brothers. He also enjoys soccer and banging away on his drum set.
Family at the Beach
As a member of the 2014 Teacher at Sea field season, I am honored and excited to work with scientists and maritime professionals in their effort to survey marine species indigenous to the Gulf of Maine fisheries. Having taught science to fifth graders for the past seven years, I feel that this experience will be invaluable in helping me understand how scientists actually engage in their work, knowledge that I will put to good in use upon returning to my classroom. I can hardly wait to get underway!
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temp: 10.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 15 -20 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8 Degrees Celsius ater Depth: 10 Meters
Genevieve and I hanging out with the Birder Team and some of the Marine Mammal teams on watch.
Me watching for birds that Nick can help me identify.
Nick on his Birder watch, always on the look out!
Michael Force looking for birds even when he is not on watch.
Mike and Erik on the fly bridge as we were coming into the Cape Cod canal.
J. R. one of the night crew visiting Mike while on watch.
Science and Technology Log
One of the other groups of scientist that have not received as much attention so far are our Birders. We have two Sea Bird Observers on this trip; Michael Force and Nick Metheny . The work of the birders supports the AMAPPS project by giving addition information about the health of the ecosystem the Marine Mammals live in. Many people don’t realize that out on the open ocean Sea Birds are the top predators. They are a good indicator as to the health of the ecosystem because they are closely linked with the sea holding most of the bird’s vital food source. If there is a change in the birds food sources the birds are likely to be affected. Birds are easy to see and can be used as a quick and easy indicator without having to get into the ocean. What they mainly do during the day is rotate watching for birds between the two birders every 2 hours. Once they are up on the Flying Bridge with the Marine Mammal Observers, they will choose one side of the ship and watch for birds in quadrant or arch that stretches from the bow of the ship to the beam which is 90 degree to the side out 300 meter, they call this a strip transect. They will use this know area to calculate populations of birds in entire area. The birders are not using the “big eyes” like the Marine Mammal Observers; they spot bird with the naked eye. The birding team really needs to be able to identify every bird they see, they need to be expert birders. The data they collect will go the scientist at the NEFSC and be linked to the physical oceanography to better understand the birds use of the ocean and quantify their habitat. In different places in the ocean the birders will find very different species of birds depending on what is underneath. On this trip The Sea Birds Observers had a very exciting bird watching day because they spotted a rare Bermuda Petrel. This bird was thought to be extinct for over 300 years but because of intensive conservation efforts the Bermuda Petrel is making a comeback. The sighting was the first for Canada, as we were in Canadian waters and it was the most northerly sighting. The birder team was very, very excited.
This is Michael Force. Mike is a Contract Sea Bird Observer.
Science Spot Light
Science Spot Light: Meet Michael Force. Michael is a Canadian native. Mike refers to himself as Contract Sea Bird Observers for NOAA, which means he doesn’t work out of a specific office; he is just hired by contract for the duration of the cruise. He has been contracting with NOAA as a Sea Bird Observer on ships for 26 years. He has been one 26 different ships all over the world in places like Antarctica, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and of course the Atlantic. During this trip Michael exceeded 3700 days at sea!!! His hobby is also birding, which means that Michael works his hobbies into his career. He never thought he would be able watch birds and get paid for it!
On this trip we had some pretty rough weather. There were several days were we just had to hunker down and ride it out, or make a run from a storm and secure the boat in a protected place like Cape Cod Bay. This gave the scientist and sometimes the crew extra time on their hands to hang out and make friends, do computer work, watch movies, or participate in the ships cribbage tournament. I didn’t make it very far as I have not played seriously in several years, but it was fun to see the tournament continue for the entire trip. Our resident birder mentioned earlier, Michael Force, was the one who organized the entire tournament and was the one who really kept the momentum going. Mike was nice enough to play me in a few practice rounds where he taught me a good moto “pegging wins games!” Mike and his fellow birder Nick were in the top three spots, along with one of the mammal observers and professional photographer Todd Pusser. It was a very entertaining way to pass the time in bad weather or off duty before bed.
Second place in the Cribbage Tournament, Todd Pusser!
Third place in the Cribbage Tournament, Michael Force!
Genevieve and I watch the final rounds. It was nail biting!
First place in the trips Cribbage Tournament, Nick Metheny!
The top 3 winners of the Cribbage Tournament! The birders took charge!
Much like the the lab reports we do in class, hydrographers have a tremendous amount of work to do prior to going into the field. As we make the transit from Rainier’s home port of Newport to our charting location of Kodiak Island, hydrographers are working long hours in the plotting room planning their season’s work. Today’s log is about a software program called CARIS that hydrographers use to plan their project and guide data collection through the season. This morning, Ensign Micki Ream planned her season’s work in the Plot Room on CARIS. This afternoon, she walked out the plot room door and onto the bridge where she navigated Rainier through the narrow Blackney Passage of the Inside Passage. Prior to taking over the bridge, I watched as Ensign Ream as she plotted her project area for the season. She has been assigned Cape Uganik, an area of North Kodiak Island in the vicinity of Raspberry Island. The area was chosen to survey due to boat traffic and because the last survey completed was in 1908 by lead line. Here you can see the original survey report and an image of how data was collect at that time (1908 Survey of Ensign Ream’s Survey Area). Ensign Micki Ream explained that the charts were called “sheets,” because originally, they were sheets of paper, sent out with the surveyor into the field. While we still call them sheets, they are now in electronic form, just like the sheet below representing one of two project areas ENS Ream will most likely work on this summer.
Ensign Ream’s task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts. Challenge: print a copy of this map and come up with 30 smaller polygons to assign to your team to survey before you scroll down to see Ensign Ream’s plan.
Why make polygons instead of sending several launches out to your work area and tell them to start on opposite ends and meet in the middle? The polygons are a way for hydrographers to break a large amount of work into manageable tasks. Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, explains “polygons are designed based upon the depth of the water, the time it will take to complete, and the oceanographic condition, particularly speed of sound through water. Areas that are suspected to have a higher variability in sound speed will get smaller polygons to manage errors from sound speed.”
Also, imagine sending several launch boats out into a large area to work without telling them where to go. Polygons provide a plan for several boats to work safely in an area without running into each other. It allows areas to be assigned to people based upon their skills. The coxswains, boat drivers, with a lot of experience and skill, will take the near shore polygons, and the newer coxswains will take less hazardous, deeper water.
Another reason to break your sheet into polygons is to maintain team moral. By breaking a large task into small assignments people feel a sense of accomplishment. As she divided her large polygon into 30 smaller polygons, Ensign Micki Ream kept in mind many variables. First, she considers the depth of the water. The sonar produces a swath of data as the survey vessel proceeds along its course. As the water gets deeper, the swath gets wider, so you can make a bigger polygon in deeper water. As she drew her polygons, she followed contour lines as much as possible while keeping lines straight. The more like a quadrilateral a polygon is, the easier it is for a boat to cover the area, just like mowing a rectangular lawn. In her polygons, she cut out areas that are blue (shallow), rocky areas and kelp beds, because those areas are hazardous to boats. While the hydrographer in charge and coxswain (boat driver), should use best practices and not survey these areas by boat, sometimes they rely on the polygon assignment.
Here is Ensign Ream’s Proposal for how to complete this summer’s work. How does it compare to your proposal?
Once she has drawn up her plan, Ensign Micki Ream roughly measures the average length and width of her polygons and puts that data into a Polygon Time Log form that a co-worker created on Rainier last season. The form also takes into account the depth and gives an estimate of time it will take to complete the polygon. This Time Log is just one of the many pieces of technology or equipment that crew invents to make their lives and jobs easier.
Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.
The fun part of this process is naming your polygons so that hydrographers in the field can report back to you their progress. Traditional alphabetical and numerical labels are often used, but Ensign Micki Ream is naming some of her polygons after ’90s rock bands this year. Once the polygon is named, the sheet manager, Ensign Ream, develops a boat sheet for a hydrographer in charge (HIC): this is their assignment for the day. Typically, they send out three to four people on a launch, including the HIC, coxswain and an extra hand. There are always new people aboard Rainier, so there are often other people in the launch being trained. There are enough immersion suits for 4 people but ideally there are three people to help with launching the boat and completing the day’s work. Communication between the HIC and coxswain is essential to get data for ocean depths in all areas of their polygon as they determine the direction to collect data in their work area. Now, at least, the hydrographer and coxswain know where to start and stop, and are confident that their sheet manager has done her best to send them into a safe area to collect the data needed to make new charts.
Since Ensign Ream’s polygon plan is an estimate, the time to complete each polygon may be longer or shorter than estimated. Variables such as the constantly changing depth of the ocean, weather, experience and equipment of the crew collecting data, and a myriad of other variables, known and unknown, make scheduling and completing surveys a constantly moving target. There are two guarantees however: flexibility is required to work on the crew and ultimately winter will force a pause to Rainier’s work.
Spotlight on a Scientist
Although I have been on Rainier for only several days, I am blown away by the incredible skills crew members acquire in short amounts of time. Ensign Micki Ream is the perfect example: In January, 2013, she joined the NOAA Corps which provides operational support for NOAA’s scientific missions. During a six month officer training, she was trained in the basics of navigation. On June 2, 2013, she joined Rainier crew. In February, 2014 NOAA sent her to a one month Basic Hydrography School where she learned hydrography principles and how to use various software programs. Throughout her short time at NOAA, she has had significant and varied on the job training with scientific, managerial and navigational work.The rest of her skills are on the job training with an end goal of Officer of the Deck (similar to a mate in commercial sailing) and Hydrographer in Charge.
Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90’s rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas. There is plenty of room for creativity!
Ensign Micki Ream does have a background in science which she is putting to use every day. Originally from Seattle, she started her career with NOAA in June, 2009, after obtaining a Marine Biology degree at Stanford University. Her first position was with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Program, which provided her with an internship and scholarship to acquire a Master’s Degree, also from Stanford, in Communicating Ocean Science. Just a little over one year after coming to NOAA Corps, she is a hydrographer in training and safely navigating a very impressive ship as part of a bridge team, including highly skilled navigational experts such as Ensign J.C. Clark and Commander Brennan. Where else could you get training, experience and on the job support in so many diverse areas but with NOAA Hydro?
Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.
The food is absolutely amazing on board. Tonight’s dinner options were roast prime beef, cut to order, au jus, creamy smoked salmon casserole, farro vegetable casserole, baked potatoes with fixings, asparagus and several different kinds of cake and fruit. In the evenings, snacks are also available. My biggest challenge has been to pace myself with the the quantity of food I eat, particularly since taking long hikes after dinner is not an option. I feel very well cared for aboard Rainier.
This is the front door to the snack freezer. For me, the answer is clearly “No.”