Spencer Cody: A Sea of Uncertainty, May 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Date:  May 28, 2014


Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 1.564 N

Longitude:  92˚ 19.000 W

Air Temp: 26.2˚C (79.2˚F)

Water Temp: 23.3˚C (73.9˚F)

Relative Humidity:  90%

Wind Speed:  16.3 kts  (18.8 mph)

Barometer:  1,011.9 hPa (1,011 mbar)

Personal Log:

Aftermath of a fire early Sunday morning that destroyed most of the high school.  Credit Jill Cody for the photo

This is the aftermath of a fire early Sunday morning that destroyed most of the high school in Hoven.  My classroom is in the lower left of this picture.  Credit Jill Cody for the photo

I see the pictures, the video, and the news stories, and it is still hard to accept the reality of what happened Sunday morning.  For those of you who are not familiar with my town and the events surrounding it, our community suffered a great loss over the weekend by losing much of the high school to a fire.  Since I was on vacation when it happened and had to leave directly from that to the Pisces, I never saw the fire or the resulting damage, and I suppose reality will finally sink in three weeks from now when I see my school and classroom in person to see what science materials and equipment is salvageable.  My sympathies to those affected by this tragedy.  However, I am heartened by my community’s initial response of determination to rebuild our school and to continue our tradition of offering high quality education to rural South Dakota.  Though the future remains uncertain, I stand with those who support saving our school district and will be there to help see this transition through.  I will proceed with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program while keeping in mind that I am now helping move forward the recovery from this tragedy by advancing and enhancing the future of science education in Hoven and beyond.

Back in the Gulf, I flew into Gulfport, Mississippi, on Monday, May 26, and took a taxi to the Pisces in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  By chance I met a crewmember who noticed the NOAA Teacher at Sea t-shirt I was wearing at the airport.  He too had flown in on the same plane that I had from Atlanta.  He was very interesting to talk to learn about many of the diverse backgrounds needed to operate a ship like the Pisces.  In our conversation he had talked about why he joined NOAA and some of his past work that had given him the experience necessary for the job.  Since he is a crewmember on the deck crew, experience at sea and ship operations is a necessity.  The crew allows for day-to-day operations, ensures safety of the ship and the passengers, and assists with the research in its logistics and implementation where necessary.  The crewmember I talked to had extensive experience working at sea on cargo ships and looked forward to his future work with NOAA and was very interested in all the science that the Pisces carries out.  In general, the crew can be divided up into the following categories:  deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, and engineering.  The deck crew carries out the implementation of operations and day-to-day maintenance of the decks.  The officers are members of the NOAA Corps, one of seven uniformed services of the United States.  The stewards maintain the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room) providing meals to everyone on the Pisces.  The technicians process data and maintain data collection systems and other electronics.  Engineering operates and maintains the ship’s engines, equipment, and various electrical and operational systems.  Whether it is the deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, or engineering, all are needed to make the science carried out by the science party possible.


A picture of me on the top deck of the Pisces as we leave Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the Flower Gardens off the coast of Texas.  The USS America is in the background.  Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.

I arrived at the Pisces during the afternoon on the 26th.  This was very helpful in giving me some time to explore the area in Pascagoula and the ship before takeoff the next day.  I was assigned a very nice stateroom that I am sharing with another member of the science party.  I was surprised that our accommodations were so spacious.  We get our own desk, tv, sink, bathroom, and shower.  It reminded me of living in the college dorm my freshman year minus the group showers; so, I was more than pleased with the living arrangements.  Looking around Pascagoula directly adjacent to where the Pisces was docked, I was amazed at all of the heavy industry concentrated around the Pascagoula River.  The river hummed with activity day and night with trains, cargo ships, tugboats, oil and gas well repair work, ship repair work, fishing operations, and tourism.  It was quite remarkable to see where some of the goods that we buy in stores back in South Dakota first make their landing on the North American continent and to get a sense of the scale of the sea-based operations needed to make international trade possible.  The ocean is how you are able to sell your beans to Brazil or wheat to China.  It is the economical lifeblood that connects all of us, but we seldom think of what happens to our goods beyond the retail store or the elevator.  We just know the system works and take the infrastructure behind it for granted.  Though South Dakota is more than a thousand miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it is linked by trade with the rest of the world through the Gulf.


The NOAA ship Pisces is a state-of-the art research vessel.  Even when in transit to a specific operational location, it is always recording data and making observations of the ocean and the atmosphere.

Onboard the ship I was able to explore the different decks.  The Pisces is a large ship, but it is not until you move around on the decks that you realize how much space is needed to carry out all of the diverse series of scientific operations.  The Pisces is equipped with a hydraulic crane with the ability to lift 10,000 pounds, which is needed to raise and lower science equipment and remove and replace the gangway, the walkway needed to board and get off the ship while it is docked.  The ship also has a giant spool called a net reel where they store the fishing nets used for trawling missions and a series of winches with thousands of feet of wire to lower scientific instruments into the depths of the ocean.  Even when the Pisces is not carrying out any specific operations while in transit to an operation point, the ship is utilizing every opportunity to gather data on the ocean and the atmosphere.  The Pisces is specifically designed to run quietly to allow for state-of-the-art acoustic sensors to gather information on topographic features of the bottom and even information on various types of biomass in the water column such as fish, plankton, and the different types of coral on the ocean bottom.  The ship is also always taking meteorological readings for scientific use, calibration, and navigation.  Wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, water temperature, barometric pressure are just some of the observations that are constantly being compiled; therefore, even in the dead of night in our transit, the Pisces is carrying out valuable scientific research and monitoring.

Science and Technology Log:

We are enroute to the Flower Gardens, one of the northern most reef forming corals in the world.  In fact, the Flower Gardens were not officially documented to have extensive coral reefs until the early 1960s when researchers started to investigate rumors of coral reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  What research divers found was amazing:  a pristine coral reef not touched by poaching or pollution.  We are scheduled to arrive at the reefs this evening, May 28.  We will begin the fish surveys using the camera array and bandit reels tomorrow, as well, to document fish populations among the coral reef structures.


One means of surveying fish abundance and size is using this submersible camera array. It is equipped with four cameras that are used for random sampling for survey data.  The array is fitted with a bait bag filled with squid in order to attract fish such as grouper and snapper.

Did you know?

The world’s coral reefs contain a remarkably rich and diverse multitude of life, yet they are threatened by poaching, pollution, disease, invasive species, and increasing ocean temperatures and acidity.

Carol Schnaiter: Leaving the Midwest! May 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carol Schnaiter
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 6 – June 21, 2014

In just a little over two weeks, I will be leaving the green, flat fields of the Midwest to board the NOAA ship Oregon II and sail out of Pascagoula, MS! This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a scientific research team to learn what lives below the water and to bring this back to my students. I am honored to have been selected as part of the 2014 NOAA Teacher At Sea class and look forward to this exciting adventure. While on the ship we will be doing a summer groundfish survey. I am really looking forward to finding out more about this groundfish survey. We have been learning about the food web, so my students will be interested in learning about this too!

Nab the Invader

Learning about invasive species of the Great Lakes

Presently I am finishing my thirty-fourth year of teaching, with the past fourteen years being the kindergarten through fourth grade science teacher at Amboy Central School in Amboy, IL. Amboy is a beautiful, rural town of about 2400 people in Northern Illinois and no matter what direction you leave Amboy, you will see farms and fields. I have lived in Amboy for the past thirty-four years with my husband, Jeff. We have two daughters; Amanda who is married to Jeremy and they live in MA and Jessica who will be leaving for OK in the fall, and our faithful dog, Ginger. The Midwest has been my home for my entire life and after this long, cold winter we just survived, I am looking forward to being in the Gulf for two weeks.

Working together to clean up at the Amboy Marsh!

Being the elementary science teacher is a very rewarding, dream job and I am grateful that the school board and administration continue to support this program. I am able to see every student in our school, plus having a science room full of experiments, live animals, and technology is great. There is never a dull moment in our room as we are always finding new ideas to learn about. Right now the third and fourth grade students are just finishing their units on invasive species, so I will be keeping my eyes out for anything that should not be in the Gulf! I am also a NOAA Climate Steward and I am hoping to learn how the changing climate is affecting the Gulf and to add this information to our unit in fourth grade.

Family at daughter Amanda's wedding

Family at daughter Amanda’s wedding

I enjoy traveling to visit family and friends and learning about new things-you can never know too much! I will post to this blog while at sea, so please be sure to check back after June 7th!

David Murk: Sun Sets on This Story, May 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.


Taken by LTJG Begun

Taken by LTJG Begun


Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Weather Data from the Bridge – Tuesday, May 20

We are at: 36⁰N, 074⁰W

Weather: Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 12 Knots from 270⁰ (use your 360⁰ compass)

Temperature: Water is 15⁰ Celsius, as is the air.

Our present location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technology :

“We’ll start the first plankton tow around 1:30 or 2,” said Chris Taylor (NOAA Fisheries scientist). Note to selfmake sure I have sunscreen… Then Chris added – “a.m. not p.m.” – new note to self- forget sunscreen, instead buy travel mug at ship store.”   Ever since our plankton tow net was damaged in Florida, Chris has been on his computer and conferring w/ his office, the CO and Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator on how to get another net. Thanks to a lot of people’s flexibility, a net was found. So, like taking an early morning run to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, we took a run into Cape Canaveral and met a charter boat with net and frame.

After searching for samples on the west side of the Gulf Stream, we are now crossing it and going fishing on the east side of this “river” that moves more water per second than all the world’s rivers combined.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gulfstreamspeed.html )

There are many different ways to do plankton tows, each for a different purpose. An underwater sled is hauled behind the boat called a “Continuous Plankton Recorder” that is like a conveyor belt and does what the name implies. Our method was to use a frame about the size of a hockey net (GO BLACKHAWKS!)  attached to a fine screen net. The tapered net was about 18 feet (6 meters) long and was towed off the side of the ship. The trick is to have the net rise and fall at the surface and down to 60 feet below the surface. Tyler Sheff (Chief Boatswain) found every available weight to attach to the frame and cable that held the net. After a few trials and adding about 200 pounds to the net it worked like a charm.

Picture taken by LTJG Begun

Picture taken by LTJG Begun

By 4 a.m. we were pulling in our first haul. Amongst the Sargassum plants were FISH! Chris and I meticulously washed the net with salt water and then he separated out all the plankton (phytoplankton are the plants and zoo plankton are microscopic animals). He then put each tow’s sample in alcohol for preservation to send to the lab for genetic analysis to see if some of the many fish larvae and eggs were indeed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

Going Fishin'!

Going Fishin’!


Taken by LTJG Begun

Taken by LTJG Begun

ChrisTaylor washing sargassum


Juvenile (and very healthy) pufferfish amongst plankton.

Did you know?

First – find the differences in these two pictures :

George S. Blake - courtesy of Wikipedia

George S. Blake – courtesy of Wikipedia

Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA

Okeanos Explorer -photo courtesy of NOAA


We have spent a large amount of time on the Stetson Mesa on the Blake Plateau. Why the name “Blake Plateau”?  Short answer is that it is named after a ship that was named after a man.  The ships above both were ships designed to explore.  The urge to explore and answer questions brought about from those explorations is timeless. NOAA’s origins were during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. This branch of the country’s uniformed service will continue to evolve. America’s 21st century premier exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer, is following in the footsteps of the 19th century’s premier exploratory ship – the George S. Blake. That ship was named after the man who saved the Constitution. (and you thought it was Nicholas Cage)   But that’s a story for another time and can be found at:


and :

George S. Blake’s claim to fame

And one loose end – speaking of finding the differences in photos- and kudos to TAS Denise Harrington & Kalina’s dad for finding the difference in my second blog’s mystery photo challenge of the fact that because of rough seas, the rails on the tables in the mess can be raised to prevent food from sliding to the floor.


Personal Log 

Everyone’s nose has turned toward home. Some of the crew have been out to sea since February and the missing and euphoria for terra firma and the lap of family is thick.   The same for me with Mollie, Sophie, Izzie and Owen, I miss them tremendously. I’m so anxious to see the best fifth graders ever and my other friends and family. We really don’t need a quote to send it home but Frank Herbert’s words hit the nail on the head.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

The Okeanos Explorer will get a facelift in North Kingston and head out in August.

I’ll come back for 3 glorious days with my class, forever changed by the privilege of getting a view into other people’s lives.

Saying thank you for this experience is a must.

  • I have to thank NOAA for selecting me for this opportunity. So many others more deserving, but I’m glad someone was asleep at the bridge last winter and allowed me to sneak in.
  • Expedition leader- Derek Sowers for his constant humor and patience at having to rewrite my drafts so as not to incur costly and lengthy litigation and Chris Taylor for not getting mad that I bungled the salinity #’s.
  • Commander Ramos and his Officers Pralgo, Rose, Begun, and Pawlenko for their tolerance with the interns and me constantly seeking permission to enter the bridge. They also shared with me a wealth of knowledge and career opportunities in NOAA for my students.  Gracias to the other crew- TR, Pedro, and James and Head and Second Engineers Vinnie and Nancy, and Chief Boatswain Tyler for their willingess to answer questions and give me time and not complain when i was standing in exactly the wrong spot.
  • The mapping interns, Danielle, Kalina, and Sam for their appetite for hilarity, work and meals.
  • To Vanessa and Jackie for always being quick to laugh or answer my questions.
  • To my mom and sister for taking care of business and Lil’ Sebastian.
  • To Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. York, Mrs. Helminski, Dr. Scarpino, Char, Diane and my students for allowing me this time away.
  • And most of all to Mollie, Sophie, Izzie , Owen and Jacqui for going full sail during the windiest month of the year.

I miss my class


Spencer Cody: From the Center of the Continent to the Edge of the Continental Shelf, May 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Soon To Be Onboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014


Mission:  Reef Fish Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the continental shelf edge off the coast of Louisiana

Date: May 9, 2014


Personal Log:

Pole of inaccessibility…I admit I was shocked to see that South Dakota claimed such a dubious geographical title in a recent issue of National Geographic.  South Dakota is technically not the geographical center of North America; that title goes to North Dakota.  South Dakota, however, does carry the rather obscure title of being a pole of inaccessibility for the North American continent, the point farthest from all North American shorelines.  Basically, if you live in South Dakota, you live at least 1,000 miles from a coast…any coast!  Perhaps our isolation from the ocean is more than a physical measurement on a map.  How often do South Dakotans think of living on an ocean planet?  Indeed, our perception of the world is seemingly skewed considering we live smack in the middle of that 30% we call land.  Living in South Dakota, it is easy to forget about the ocean and its impact on our daily lives.  We live as far from it as one can in North America; yet, we are inseparably bound to it.  The seafood you eat, the nearly subconscious purchases of foreign goods you make, the moisture we receive, the crops you sell, and even a large portion of the air that we breathe link us all to the ocean’s central value in our lives; therefore, understanding the ocean and the ocean sciences is vital to our daily lives even to landlocked South Dakotans.

Stoney Butte, South Dakota

South Dakota, a sea of former and current grassland! (Credit Spencer Cody for photo)

Here is where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Teacher at Sea program come into play.  It has become obvious to me since my selection as a Teacher at Sea that very few people in this region associate NOAA with ocean research.  They seem to know that NOAA plays a role in researching the atmosphere such as working with the National Weather Service to forecast storms, but they never make a connection to the ocean even if it is the second word in NOAA’s namesake.

It is understandable that South Dakotans in general would assume this because the only exposure we have to NOAA in this part of the country deals with storm and weather forecasting.  In reality NOAA operates a fleet of ocean research vessels that cover the expanse of U.S. waters and beyond in order to increase our understanding of what we really have in our oceans and how it all interacts with each of its differing component parts.  Also, NOAA has its own uniformed service called the NOAA Corps, which keeps the fleet operational and aids and assists in ocean research.  My goals as a Teacher at Sea are twofold:  connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and training-related pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers.  Essentially, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my cruise and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA.  I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  This is truly a great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.

Spencer Cody Hoven, SD

I enjoy geology, paleontology, and many other sciences. It is probably a safe guess that a large dinosaur left this track behind.

More about me…I will be starting my ninth year of teaching in Hoven this August. I teach 7-12 science:  Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics.  I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences.  It is hard to get bored when you teach everything.  Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in.  It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town.  I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning environment for students.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks.  I will miss them, but also realize that my four-year old daughter being present on a research vessel would make any productive research almost impossible.  She is very rambunctious.

I am counting down the days until I fly out on the 26th to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Pisces will be leaving and returning after the mission is completed.  I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission.  Researching fish species abundances associated with the topography of the Gulf of Mexico has so many implications because our mission is just a small piece of a giant survey puzzle that includes nearly the entire edge of the North American shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ships in the survey area have been using many innovative ways of monitoring reef fish abundance.  I look forward to learning more about this technology and will report more on the subject once I am underway.  For more information about the Pisces, visit the Pisces homepage or track our movements using the NOAA ship tracker.

Isle Royale National Park Spencer Cody

My wife and two kids on vacation at Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior.



David Murk, Why Are We Here? . . . . Wish You Were Here, May 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.


Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Date: May 16, 2014


Weather Data from the Bridge

We are at 28⁰ N – 079⁰ W heading west from Cape Canaveral, Florida:

Weather:  Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 20 knots out of the northwest.

Water  Depth: 444 fathoms or 812 feet.

Temperature: water : 27° Celsius

Air temperature: 22°Celsius (I heard there was snow in Illinois, so I’ll leave the temp. in Celsius)

Our location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).


Science and Technology Log

Storms and subsequent rainbows with dolphins cavorting in the Okeanos Explorer’s bow wake get you asking the big questions.

Why are we here?

Not in the larger philosophical, sense but why is the Okeanos Explorer at 29⁰N, 79⁰W? With 95% of the ocean unexplored, why did NOAA choose the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) to map? I went to Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator for this cruise, to find out.

Derek is a Physical Scientist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), which is the program that leads the scientific missions on the Okeanos Explorer. In preparation for the ship’s explorations this year, OER staff asked many scientists and ocean managers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic southeastern seacoast for priority areas for ocean exploration.The main purpose for the Okeanos Explorer is to explore largely unknown parts of the ocean and then put the data and discoveries out there for other scientists to use as a foundation for further research and improved stewardship. OER staff boil all these ideas down to a few and talk about the pros and cons of the final exploration focus areas. Once an operation’s area is determined for a cruise, OER then asks scientists what additional science can be done in these areas while the ship is planning to go there.

Much of this “extra” science benefits other parts of NOAA – such as the scientists that study fisheries and marine habitat. To manage this extra scientific work, the ship often hosts visiting scientists. On the current cruise, Chris Taylor from NOAA Fisheries Oceanography Branch joined the cruise to lead the plankton tow and oceanographic measurement work to search for Bluefin Tuna larvae in this part of the ocean and to understand the ocean chemistry here. It is important to NOAA to multi task and utilize the ship 24/7 to accomplish numerous scientific objectives. During March and April, lots of details were nailed down and by the middle of April Derek knew that the expedition could include time to do the plankton tows and extra water sampling.

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Now, just like a family vacation, things happen along the way that require everyone to make changes. A road could be closed, someone could get sick, the car could break down. These expeditions are no different. So, how do decisions happen at sea?

The crew of the Okeanos Explorer are responsible for safe operation of the ship and for supporting the visiting scientists in accomplishing their objectives for the cruise. The visiting scientists, as led by the Expedition Coordinator, must make decisions about how, where, and what needs to get done to accomplish the science objectives of the cruise. The Expedition Coordinator discusses these plans with the ship’s Operations Officer and she consults with the head of the various department on the ship (Deck, Engineering, Medical, etc.) and the Commanding Officer to most effectively support safely achieving the science team’s goals. There is a daily Operations Meeting for all of these leaders to meet and ensure coordination throughout the day so that things run smoothly on the ship. The Commanding Officer is responsible for making sure the crew implements their duties, while the Expedition Coordinator (often called the Chief Scientist) is responsible for making sure the scientists implement their duties.

For complex decisions, like our present decision whether or not to go inshore to get a replacement plankton net, lots of factors are weighed and the final call is with the Expedition Coordinator and the CO. The Expedition Coordinator weighs trading off seafloor mapping time with getting more plankton data and decides if it is worth it to go get the net. Commander Ramos must decide if it is safe and reasonable to do so and makes the final decision of where and what the ship does.

For seafloor mapping work that happens 24 hours a day, there are three teams of two people who “stand watch” on 8 hour work shifts (called a “watch”). Each watch has a watch leader that works at the direction of the Expedition Coordinator. The Watch Leader ensures the quality of the mapping work accomplished during their 8 hour watch. The ship’s Survey Technician, Jacklyn James, works closely with the visiting mapping scientists to run all of the complex computer systems under standard operating procedures.

Here is an example of how routine small decisions are made. Let’s say that Vanessa Self-Miller (see personal log) is on duty as the Watch Leader and wants to have the ship move over 500 meters to get better sonar coverage of the seafloor below.

Vanessa uses the intercom to call the deck officer on the bridge and tells the officer she would like the ship to move over 500 meters. The officer checks the AIS (see last blog) and sea conditions to see if this would be a safe maneuver for the ship. The reasons for not approving the mapping team’s request would almost always be safety based. Most of the time, the officer says “Sure Thing. Roger That.” and in the space of a few minutes the ship has changed course as requested.

The answer to “why are we here?”  is a complex, time-consuming endeavor, but when it works, like on this expedition, it is magic to watch unfold.

Personal log

Wish you were here.


The storm was not one of those Illinois summer thunderstorms that come racing in from Iowa – gathering energy like a 5th grade class the last few weeks of school. Nope. No simultaneous lightning thunder howitzers that you feel in your spine; just some lightning and wind gusts to 50 knots, but I sure wanted to see how things looked from the bridge once I heard the foghorn. The bridge on the Okeanos Explorer is one of my favorite places on this ship. I always ask permission for entry and if the circumstances allow, the officer on duty will grant it.

Operations Officer Lt.Rose’s IPod was playing Pink Floyd while she divided her attention between the myriad of dials and screens and  talking navigation with mapping intern Kalina Grabb.   AB Tepper-Rasmussen and NOAA Corps Officer LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Bryan Begun peered into the foggy soup and monitored the AIS.

The irony of the moment struck me because while the crew unconsciously played percussion on the brass rail overhead or mumbled lyrics and David Gilmour and Roger Waters sang about not needing an education, there was so much education and proof of education going on in this little room. That is the defining image I’ll always have of this space on the Okeanos Explorer. It is a place where the acquisition and exhibition of knowledge are so evident and invigorating. You can’t spend more than 4 minutes in this space without learning something or being amazed at how smart these people are and how devoted they are to use that knowledge to carry out the science of this mission.   On this particular night, the skies lifted and we had hopes of seeing a launch at Canaveral, 40 miles to the west.   Lt. Rose announced to the whole ship that a double rainbow could be seen portside and even the dolphins responded to her call to educate the right side of our brains.

Dolphins after the storm (picture courtesy of John Santic)

Dolphins after the storm
(picture courtesy of John Santic)

Lieutenant Junior Grade Begun and Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb checking the error of the gyrocompass using the azimuth


What else have I been doing?

In addition to spending time on the bridge- I have been helping with the XBT launches, using the photometer to add data to the NOAA’s Aerosol Project – with the ever faithful Muffin from good ol’ Hampshire Elementary and preparing for a night launch of CTD and plankton tows – more on that next blog.

Launching the XBT – taken by Expedition Coordinator, Derek Sowers

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Preparing for night launch of CTD and plankton tows.(photo taken by LTJG Bryan Begun)


Vanessa Self-Miller

Vanessa Self-Miller

Like all women, Vanessa Self-Miller’s mom was great at multi-tasking. While she got things rolling for the evening in the household, Vanessa was her mom’s guinea pig for the next day’s science lessons for her 6th grade students at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Louisiana. She also instilled a love of the scientific method in her daughter.

Her father was a math guy and found out early that Vanessa was going to be the 3rd wheel with her brother on typical father son activities that involved mechanics or being out in nature.   That nurturing and her work ethic prompted Vanessa to get a degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She went on to work for the U.S. Navy as a hydrographer doing a lot of mapping harbors and near the shore. She received her masters degree in Hyrdrographic Science from University of Southern Mississippi.

Now she is thrilled to be a physical scientist/hyrdrographer for NOAA.   While it is a challenge to coordinate job related travel with her husband and two children, she loves working for NOAA. NOAA respects a work-life balance and that allows her to pursue her passions in life. She wants to encourage all students but especially the young girls to start early in their path to a career in science. She feels that how parents nurture their girls is important in their seeking employment in the fields of science.

On a personal note, any time a question came up from this naive teacher or any of the mapping interns, Vanessa was able to answer it completely and without pause. She encourages all the 5th graders out there, male or female, to pursue their scientific oceanographic dreams. NOAA will need today’s fifth graders to investigate sea level rise and all the Ocean Engineering energy products that our country will need twenty years from now. There will always be a need for scientists who love to explore and want to work for NOAA.

Chris Henricksen: Marine Life is Amazing! May 14, 2014

Christopher Henricksen

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 6 – May 16, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank & Gulf of Maine

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey

Date: May 14, 2014

Air Temp: 9.7°C (49.46°F)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10.76mph

Barometer: 1016.2mb

Science and Technology Log

The abundance and diversity of marine life in these waters is amazing.  Depending on the ship’s location, and the depth of a trawl, one may see any number of different species on the sorting table.  Bony fish, such as haddock, cod, red fish, dory, ocean pout, silver and red hake, winter flounder, four-spot flounder, longhorn sculpin and on and on.  In deeper waters (around 200 meters), one is likely to see crustaceans such as lobsters, which can get really big!  We also haul in scallops, shrimp, octopi, small sharks, such as dogfin and chain dog, a variety of sea stars, and squid.

Scientists who may not be aboard the Henry B. Bigelow make requests for different data regarding any of the species mentioned above.  Sometimes, a scientist needs a whole organism preserved, or just a part of its anatomy, such as the gonads, or the otoliths (ear bones that are used to determine age of a bony fish).  Often, all a scientist needs are measurements, which the ship’s science team input into a computer database, and which the scientist may access later as part of his or her research.

pic of preserving specimens

preserving specimens

Below are some of the astonishing critters I have seen on this cruise.  Enjoy!


Personal Log

I am so impressed by the people I have met aboard the Henry B. Bigelow.  Everyone is courteous and helpful and, above all, professional.  These folks take great pride in their work, and they enjoy doing it.  I visited the bridge yesterday, where the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Officer of the Deck (OOD) both welcomed me and were more than happy to answer my questions and to explain what they were doing at any given time.  The same can be said of the deckhands.  They don’t mind my questions, and they are amazing at what they do, which includes near constant physical labor. The scientists and techs I am working with are dedicated and do an outstanding job of teaching volunteers, such as myself, the ins and outs of processing a haul, and collecting the resultant data. These folks come from all walks of life, but one thing they have in common is a love for their job and it shows.

pic of fish lab

Science team at work in fish lab

On another personal note, I did laundry yesterday.  As one can imagine, working with marine life can be a seriously smelly endeavor, and keeping yourself and your clothing clean and fresh is a must.  The ship has a laundry room stocked with everything you need to wash and dry your clothes.  It’s a nice feeling to know that I will not leave the ship smelling like the creatures that inhabit deep blue sea.

David Murk: Do You Know Your ABCs? May 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: Off the Coast of Florida and Georgia – Western portion of the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa)
Date: May 14, 2014

Weather data from Bridge:

We are sailing south and are at 28.55 degrees  North, 79.44 degrees  West

Wind: 23 knots out of the southeast.
Visibility: 10 miles
Water Depth in feet: 653 feet
Temperature: 27 degrees Celsius  – both sea and air temp. are 80 degrees!

Our location can also be found at:  (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technolgy Log:


Can you understand this sentence?

“During a watch change, the XO checked the AIS then handed control over to the  CO.  When contacted by the mapping room regarding the XBT launch and CTD termination check, the CO said,“Roger that”.  

After reading this- you’ll have a better idea what some of these acronyms mean and how we use them on the Okeanos Explorer. In other words, you’ll be able to say- “roger that” to show you understand and agree.

Let’s start with the XO and CO  –  They are easy and make sense.

CO – The Commanding Officer – He or she is responsible for everything on the ship. (see Personal Log for more information on Commander Ramos of the Okeanos Explorer)

XO – The Executive Officer – Reports to the Commanding Officer and is second in command.

AIS –What is it and why do we need it?

Okeanos Explorer AIS screen

Okeanos Explorer AIS screen

Automatic Identification System.  The Okeanos Explorer has an electronic chart display that includes a symbol for every ship within radio range.  Each ship “symbol” tells Commander Ramos the name of the ship, the actual size of the ship, where that ship is going, how fast it’s going, when or if it will cross our path, and a lot of other information just by “clicking” on a ship symbol!  Here is a link to get more information on AIS.  I also took a picture of the Okeanos Explorer AIS screen and below that there’s the actual picture of our closest neighbor,  the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon) .  If the CO feels like the ship is going to need to change course, he will inform the scientists in the mapping room right away.  Safety and science RULE!

Explanation of AIS

Our closest neighbor,  the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon).

Our closest neighbor, the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon).

XBT- What is it and why do we need one?

Sam Grosenick, mapping intern, launches the XBT.

Sam Grosenick, mapping intern, launches the XBT.

Every two or three hours the mapping team calls the bridge (the driver seat of the ship) and asks permission to launch an XBT – which is short for an eXpendable BathyThermograph.   That’s a heavy weighted probe that is dropped from a ship and allows us to measure the temperature as it falls through the water. WHY do we need to measure the temperature of the water if we are using sonar?  Sound waves travel at different speeds in different temperature water, just like they travel at different speeds in cold air than warm air.  So they need to know the temperature of the water to help calculate how fast the sound or ping that the ship’s sonar sends out so they can map the bottom of the ocean.  A very thin wire sends the temperature data to the ship where the mapping team records it.  There is more information about XBT’s here:

explanation of XBT

NOAA’s network of XBT data

CTD – What is it and why do we need one?

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Chief Boatswain Tyler Sheff prepare for a dawn launch of the CTD

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Chief Boatswain Tyler Sheff prepare for a dawn launch of the CTD

Many oceanographic missions use CTD’s.  The Okeanos Explorer is no exception.  CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth, and refers to the electronic instruments that measure these properties. The grey cylinders are water sampling bottles and the big white frame protects everything.   WHY do scientists need CTD’s? Scientists use a CTD to measure the chemistry of the Ocean from surface to bottom.  The CTD can go down to near the bottom and the cylinders close when the scientist on board ship pushes a key on the computer and close so that a water sample is captured at that depth.  It’s a lot easier than swimming down there and opening up a jar and closing it.

WHY do they want to know about conductivity? Why do they care how much electricity can go through the water?   If the water can conduct more electricity, then it has a higher salinity, i.e. more salt.   That helps the scientists know the density of the water at that depth and can help inform them of the biology and ocean currents of that area.

It’s a CTD, not a railing! (picture taken by Kalina Grabb)

It’s a CTD, not a railing! (picture taken by Kalina Grabb)

Close-up of CTD

Close-up of CTD

More info on a CTD from NOAA

CTD vertical cast


Personal Log 

Commander Ramos at the helm

Commander Ramos at the helm

As I mentioned in last blog, everyone plays a part on the Okeanos Explorer.  The CO plays a big part in making sure the scientists achieve their goals.  The man in charge- Commander Ricardo Ramos answered a few of my questions last night  in his office in the forward part of the ship.

When I say Oregon Trail, fifth graders usually think of covered wagons.  I doubt that they think of a family of immigrants from Mexico deciding to leave family and friends in sunny Los Angeles and hit the trail north to rainy Oregon. But the devastating riots in Watts in the 1960s caused Commander Ricardo Ramos’s parents to do exactly that. There were some adjustments to be made to life in tiny Klamath Falls, Oregon but his parents, 3 brothers and sister were up to the challenge of no family support and a new community.  The family worked for Weyerhaeuser and Commander Ramos knew he did not want to work in the plant the rest of his life.  It was never IF he’d go to college, but “WHERE”.  He was the second of the five children to attend college, earning 2 Associates degrees and a degree in Electrical Engineering.   After entering NOAA and gaining his masters from Averett University, he spent time on various NOAA ships and in other capacities.  He is also a graduate of Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program.

He had a couple words of advice for elementary school students.  First, take advantage of all learning opportunities, for you will never know when you might need the knowledge you will gain.  Second, that communication, both written and oral,  is probably the most important part of his job.  He is not afraid of getting input and editing of his writing for the job.  His greatest reward is realizing that he is charge of a tremendous asset of the United States that provides a platform for scientist to explore our vast oceans.


Did You Know? 

My ship – The Okeanos Explorer is about  70 meters - the length of the top of the  arch on the Eiffel Tower!

My ship – The Okeanos Explorer is about 70 meters – the length of the top of the arch on the Eiffel Tower!

Displacement – When you think displacement, you probably think of a quick definition like “moved aside” that we learned when we made aluminum foil boats.  When you get in a kiddie pool, bathtub or any body of water, you move aside water. If you measure the weight or amount of water that you move aside, that is your displacement.  The Okeanos Explorer moves aside a lot of water – more than 2,500 TONS of water.  That’s about 700,000- gallons of water that gets displaced.  The ship is 224 feet long and 43 feet wide in its widest part.  Now, I don’t know about you – but I start thinking about the really big ships and tankers that we see passing by the Okeanos Explorer on the radar (their ‘deets’ are given to us by the AIS system – See the Section on ABC’s for an explanation of AIS) Well, there was a ship called “The Knock Nevis” and it was 1500 feet long!  Did it displace water?  You bet!. 650,000 tons of water when fully loaded! (use a ton of water = gallon converter on google to figure out how many gallons that is). Let’s just say that it’s a lot more than our little MUFFIN – the winner of the Coon Creek Boat Race.

MUFFIN, the boat race “WINNER” and Mr. Murk on the high seas. (picture taken by Sam Grosenick)

MUFFIN, the boat race “WINNER” and Mr. Murk on the high seas.
(picture taken by Sam Grosenick)