Laura Guertin: The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is on its way to… September 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 4, 2014
Location from the Bridge: 41o 20.042′ N, 71o 27.252′ W

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Ahoy, everyone! The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is off on another exciting hydrographic survey in the Atlantic Ocean. You will notice that my blog posts will now be divided into two sections – one titled Science and Technology Log, and the other titled Personal Log. The Science and Technology log will be… well, you guessed it, a report on the science, technology, and/or career aspects of this current expedition. The Personal Log is… yes, you guessed it again, where I will be sharing some of my personal experiences about participating as a visiting scientist and educator on this NOAA ship. I’ll also try to include random trivia or an informational paragraph at the end. And students, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you – a special shout-out and special section will be written for my students in my oceanography course back on campus this fall.

So, let’s start!


Science and Technology Log

Why hydrography?

Since we are currently in transit to our new location and haven’t yet started our survey, I want to make sure I drive this point home (or sail this point home?)… Why do hydrography in the first place? Why do we need hydrographers/ocean surveyors?  In this audio file from NOAA’s Diving Deeper podcast series, they answer this exact question – why hydrography is important not just for commercial and recreational boaters, but for everyone.  Take a listen!  (The podcast is 3:39 min.  If the audio is not appearing or playing for you, please click here to access, date 07/05/2012.)


If the podcast wasn’t enough to convince you as to why we need surveys of the oceans, check out this video from Mary Glackin, NOAA’s Deputy Under Secretary, as she recognizes the nation’s hydrographers on World Hydrography Day (June 21). She explains how hydrography supports the U.S. economy, keeps mariners safe, and protects our coastal communities and ecosystems.  (The video is 3:15 min.  If the video is not appearing or playing for you, please click here to access.)

By the way, do you have World Hydrography Day marked on your calendar??? It is celebrated every year on June 21.  Learn more about World Hydrography Day at the WHD website and the website for the International Hydrographic Organization.


How does NOAA know where to survey?

For NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, several considerations go into prioritizing survey plans, which are laid out several years in advance. Coast Survey asks specific questions about each potential survey area.

  • Is it considered a critical area? If so, how old are the most current survey data?
  • Have local pilots or port authorities submitted reports of shoaling, obstructions or other concerns?
  • Does the U.S. Coast Guard or other stakeholders from the maritime community (e.g., fisheries, energy, pipelines) need surveys for economic development or ecological protection?

Want to know where the NOAA hydrographic survey fleet is heading in the 2014 field season? The NOAA Coast Survey blog has a post from April 22 that details the survey projects in Alaska, on the west coast, Gulf of Mexico, and on the east coast.


East coast hydrographic survey locations for NOAA's 2014 field season.
East coast hydrographic survey locations for NOAA’s 2014 field season.


More to come about our specific hydrographic survey on the Thomas Jefferson coming soon in the next blog post (once we arrive on location)!



Personal Log

I was excited to arrive at NOAA’s Atlantic Marine Operations Center on Sept. 1st.  I knew the overall statistics on the size of the ship, but when I came around the corner on the base and saw the Thomas Jefferson for the first time – WOW!  I was so impressed with how she looked and the size – 208 feet in length never looked so long!  I called to the ship and the officer on duty, ENS Diane Perry, welcomed me on board.  She gave me an incredibly thorough tour of the ship, and I immediately felt comfortable and ready to start!

On the first day of class, one of my students asked the question: “How safe is oceanography as a career?”  Safety is a top priority for everyone on board this ship and all NOAA ships, and the safety checks and equipment are visible everywhere.  In fact, within 24 hours of leaving the dock, all newcomers to the ship (such as myself) were required to go through safety training.  I learned about three different types of emergency situations, each with their own type of alarm signals and reporting station.  The “Fire and Emergency” alarm is a continuous alarm for 10 seconds, and I report to my team on the “vent boundary” section of the outside deck.  The “Abandon Ship” alarm is six short blasts followed by one prolonged blast, and I report to my team with a hat, long-sleeve shirt, life vest, and survival suit on the port side of Deck 2 (photo of me in a survival suit to come in the future!).  Finally, the “Man Overboard” alarm is three prolonged blasts, and I report to my team on the starboard side of Deck 2.  Then, when training finished, we had our first “Fire and Emergency” drill, followed immediately by a “Abandon Ship” drill – and I was ready!  It turns out that NOAA runs these two drills every week, and the “Man Overboard” drill once a month.  We haven’t even started our research yet, but students, I have to tell you that I feel really safe being on a ship on the sea.  Everyone on the ship is trained in First Aid and CPR, and everyone takes on the role of fire fighter and emergency responder if a situation arises – and by “everyone,” I mean “everyone” from the engineers to the cooks.


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Everyone I’m meeting on the ship, from the NOAA Corps officers to civilian workers, is so helpful and friendly.  Their enthusiasm for their job clearly came through when we were getting ready to leave port, and I look forward to being a part of this team for the next three weeks.



OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions.  Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #3.  Your response to #1 will be relatively short, #2 & #3 should be longer.

  1. Find in this blog post where it says the Thomas Jefferson will be this field season (also mentioned on the NOAA Coast Survey site). Then, go to the NOAA Ship Tracker website to see where the Thomas Jefferson is currently located (you may need to zoom in – look for the letters “TJ” on the map.  If you click on the letters, it will give you some more information about the title of our project and our latitude and longitude coordinates.). Are we heading where we planned to be (based on the image above)? Where are we currently? (Please list the date of when you answered this question.)
  2. The 2014 theme of World Hydrography Day was “Hydrography ‒ More Than Nautical Charts.” NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey invited the public to contribute articles that illustrate the theme, and they compiled these articles into a PDF. The articles in this collection, contributed by government and private experts, reflect the diversity of users of hydrography, with interests from marine ecology, archeology, energy and water resource management, and emergency response.  See this page for a listing of article authors and topics.
    • Select one article to read from the PDF (link presented here again).
    • In your response box, type the title of the article you selected to read.  Then, include a description of which Ocean Literacy Principles this articles addresses, and how (*think back to our second day of class, we reviewed the Ocean Science Literacy Principles tying in to the Introduction to Octopus!)  If the article you selected does not fit any of the Literacy Principles, make suggestions for how the author could have written the article differently to apply to the Principles.
  3. Now keep that Ocean Science Literacy document handy, and let’s think outside the box… let’s pretend that the International Hydrographic Organization has asked you to come up with a theme for World Hydrography Day 2015.  What theme would you propose, and why?  And how would that theme tie in to not only hydrography, but the Ocean Literacy Principles?


One of the Thomas Jefferson anchors
One of the Thomas Jefferson anchors

Random ship fact!

This random ship fact is inspired by a question one of my oceanography students asked on the first day of class – how does an anchor keep a ship in one place in the ocean?  JO Diane Perry shared with me more than I ever knew there was to know about anchors!  On a ship such as the Thomas Jefferson, anchors are lowered on chains.  The ship lets out enough chain so that it is 5-to-7 times the depth of the water.  The anchor chains are marked off (with paint) in a unit called a “shot”, which is the equivalent of 90 feet.  Although the design of the anchor makes it look like it can hook in to the ocean floor to secure the ship, it is actually the weight of the chain that holds the ship in place.

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