NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 7, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 41°31.3’N Lon 071°20.8W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 010° 9kts
Sea Level Pressure 1019.8
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22°C Air 28°
Science and Technology Log
Flexibility is the key. Our sail date was changed several times due to mechanical issues. I’m ok with that. It beats getting out in the middle of the ocean and not having things work properly. We weren’t sure exactly when the Bigelow would sail as of Thursday, but were pretty sure it would be today at 10:00 am. NOAA had me fly out to get onboard.
What a blessing that was. I was able to get acclimated (used to) to the ship, meet some crew members, and organize my belongings.
That is a big deal since when docked, nothing is moving. Once we got underway, the ship rocks and rolls. Pencils loose in a drawer aren’t a good idea. Where to store the flashlight? Can I find my necklace in the morning? It’s about routine. The locker (my closet) is noisy to open and close and must be kept closed when underway. Try not to forget things since you have to open that door again–and you have to hold the door since it swings and will bang. Someone is always sleeping. Right now my roommate is sleeping so I am thankful I have a quiet keyboard. She has earplugs in and told me I wouldn’t bother her. I also got to pick my berth (bed), which is on the bottom. There will be four of us in the room when everyone arrives tonight–all scientists.
So far I have had no “duties” other than blogging. When we start trawling, I will work noon-midnight. One of the scientists on my watch, Nicole, gave me a tour today and explained what I will be doing. My foul weather gear consists of heavy orange bib coveralls, a heavy yellow jacket with super long sleeves, and big rubber boots which come up to my knees. I brought inserts to go in the boots since I’ll be standing–a lot. Bought some new shoes that are slip-ons so I can get out of my foul weather gear as soon as we are done processing the fish. I learned that we probably will have over 100 trawls on this leg of the Autumn Trawl Survey and we will climb in and out of our gear often.
Let me explain a bit about how things will happen. Over the ship’s intercom, which will be heard everywhere except our staterooms, the galley, and the lounge, there is a (Bing….Bong….) “Attention on the Bigelow. Streaming….” This means the nets are being let out and will be at the bottom about 20 minutes. What can I do for 20 minutes? Help me out and vote on my poll.
As the net is let out, blue “trawl doors” attached to the net sink to the bottom, holding the net down and keeping the mouth of the net open. Now, the amount of time it takes to bring the net up varies. The net could have been 24 m down or 350 m down. When they start bringing in the net, the NOAA crew will make an announcement (Bing….Bong….)”Haul back.” They will show me how to find the depth on the equipment so I will be able to judge when to be ready. When the net comes up, the fish will be dumped on a table called a checker. If there are too many, they get dumped on the deck (called a deck tow). I hope it fits in the checker since it will be less work. Imagine picking up all those fish from the deck and putting them in containers.
Once in the checker, they will be fed to a conveyor belt which takes them into the wet lab for processing. We will sort the critters and organic “trash” into buckets by species. (I cringed at the word trash being used for wonderful creatures such as sponges and corals. However, Nicole explained that these are just not our main animals of interest. It is similar to weeds. A weed is any plant you don’t want in a specific flower bed. I love wildflowers, but they don’t always work well in my garden.)
The person in charge (called the “watch” chief) will weigh and label the fish and send the container on. Some fish will be selected for extra information. Others will be released into the sea. Animals that we keep will be for further research.
The work we are doing is very important to monitor the ocean’s health. Health to the ocean, means health to us. If the ocean isn’t healthy, we had better find out why and correct it. It’s like a nurse takes your temperature and looks at your symptoms when you are sick. We are the nurses checking on the sea. Others will analyze the symptoms and come up with a plan to correct any problems. I will give more information on our work later.
Meet the NOAA Crew
Ensign Erick Estela Gomez is originally from Puerto Rico. Most of my dealings when I boarded the ship were with him since he was the OOD, Officer of the Deck, for the weekend. In between his filling in reports and checking on the ship’s systems, we had a chance to talk. He is very personable and has a brilliant smile. Maybe his smile is infectious since he just got engaged to be married and is very happy. Added to his many abilities, he speaks four languages. He explained that he received an Environmental Science degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Most NOAA officers have a science or engineering degree or 60 credit hours in math and science. I need to check my records and see if I have that much. Maybe I could be a NOAA Corps officer.
Ensign Estela’s favorite part of his job is steering the ship. I enjoyed doing that when aboard the Pisces. It is a challenge. While he was off doing a chore, I sat in one of the two tall chairs on the bridge (operations center of ship). When he was done, he explained, very politely, that it is ship’s custom that no one except the captain sit in those chairs. He has been an ensign 1.5 years and said he will not sit in one of those as a sign of respect until he has earned it himself by being appointed to be a captain of a ship. I guess I always figured it was like Captain Kirk leaving Scotty or Spock in charge and they would sit in his chair to give orders. But, Ensign Estela has a lot of respect for earning one’s rank and will sit there when appropriate. So, no cool chair for me on the bridge now.
Ensign Estela paused to really consider what tool he couldn’t live without when doing his job since he uses a lot of important tools. He decided on radar. It can be very foggy and this tool helps avoid collisions (crashes). If he invented a tool, it would be a fog-clearing machine to be able to see smaller vessels (boats) or obstructions.
There are collateral (other) duties for him. He is responsible for inventorying all the equipment on board. Every computer. Every pillow. He also needs to make sure things are in working order. If boots wear out, he needs to order more. That means managing a lot of paper so he needs organization skills. His main duty, however, is navigation officer. He checks the tides and currents and posts all that information on a white board on the bridge. Maintaining charts, ship’s routes, and flags indicating our status are part of his job. I enjoyed learning a bit more from Ensign Estela on plotting the course using triangles. Triangles provide a nice straight edge.
His advice to my students, and any young person, is to keep up your math and science. Don’t sit in front of the TV or computer, get outside and do things. It’s obvious he does since he bicycles, fishes, and enjoys salsa dancing for relaxation. We call this Sharpening the Saw.
This week my students are studying how to communicate across distances on the ocean. How do ships communicate, for example? A ship might not have a radio. Flags work. There is a flag which states what country you are from. There are flags that say you have a net or a diver in the water. There are flags which tell your call sign if you want to speak by radio. There is even a flag for every letter of the alphabet. All these flags are up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship.
Did You Know?
The ship usually uses true north for navigation. However, if that system fails, it uses magnetic north. North is 0°. That is like 90° on a coordinate grid. That is a bit confusing. We use degrees on maps all the time. Just remember that 0°N is used for navigation and wind direction.
Question of the Day
Something to Think About
A tradition on board a ship is to remove one’s hat in the mess hall (dining area) and to not wear foul weather gear there. The mess hall was used during war as the hospital. People died on those tables and it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat. Hats are often used to show respect. People remove their hats at a ball game to sing the national anthem. Men tip their hats to acknowledge a woman’s presence. People remove their hats in eating establishments. It is good to learn a country’s or culture’s (such as a ship) customs so as not to offend someone. That is also a sign of respect. When visiting churches while a tourist in Russia, I covered my head and wore a skirt, as is their custom. On board ship, once I leave my room for my watch, I shouldn’t return until my watch is over. That means carrying my computer, cameras, notes, jacket, phone, cup, water bottle, etc. with me so I don’t disturb those asleep. It’s just like being quiet in the halls at school. Guess what? They don’t want us talking in these halls either since someone is always sleeping. It is rude to disturb others, whether it be their sleep or learning.