Jamie Morris: Diving, Driving, and NOAA Corps, April 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Monday, April 28, 2014

 

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
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: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Richard LaPalme
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
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.
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.

For more information on the NOAA Corps, please visit: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/

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.

 

Personal Log

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.
The switch used to control the rudder.
This is the monitor used to control the ship's movements.
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.
The ship’s controls. No longer do you move a steering wheel. Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.

 

Additional Photos

 

Sunset on the Nancy Foster Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Sunset on the Nancy Foster
Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand.
Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide.
Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS
Photo: Richard LaPalme

 

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