NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015
Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast
Date: May 24, 2015, Day 6 of Voyage
Interview with Geoff Shook, Survey Tech
What is your job here on the ship?
What does that mean?
I have two similar but different jobs
- Run and monitor the ship’s scientific equipment
- I help fix things when they break down
- I am the Liaison between the ship and the scientific party (we mean everything). Anything the scientist needs, the survey techs help provide it.
- I know the capabilities of equipment.
- For example, the fish lab is one of the most high tech fish labs in the world. Incredibly advanced.
- We work within the science spaces, so we are always around. Point of contact!
- I work with deck department and with their help I deploy a lot of gear
- Jack of all trades. We get to be involved with a little bit everything;computer software, electronics, plumbing, carpentry etc. I am also on the bridge for lookout sometimes.
Right now, I am planning for the marine mammal and deep water coral cruise. We are also taking multi-beam data when we pass through certain points on this cruise that helps us prepare for future cruises.
When you are in the dry lab with us (deploying the bongo plankton nets or Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) unit) what do all of the techy things on your computer mean?
- Left side of the screen: Winch Data (winch data, line speeds (how fast they are moving), depth, depth of instrument, how much line is out). There is also data from the ship’s meteorological sensors available as well.
- Performance of the winches as well as the instrument information.
- Weather conditions that relate to the deployment of the instrument.
- For example, wind conditions (speed and direction)
- Set the wind on the starboard side so that the boat gets pushed away from the instruments and lines.
- Right side of the screen: the Vertical profile of theCTD. Watching this to make sure theCTD is functioning correctly. Oceanographers use it differently, for example trying to find the chlorophyll maximum depth and the thermocline, where the temperature changes suddenly with depth.
- My job is to make sure that the equipment is functional and collecting accurate, valid data.
- Whenever the sensor on the CTD on the bongos is activated by seawater, the numbers show up on Geoff’s screen. He then announces, “We’ve got numbers, lets Bongo!” It’s literally my favorite quote of the trip and makes me laugh every time he says it.
- CTD numbers means that it is on, functioning properly, and is ready to be deployed.
- Sometimes there is a software/ hardware glitch, or a plug or connection might fail. If this happens, the cast cannot be completed. So observing the CTD output is very important.
- Label printing! This has Ot (Other), I (Ichthyoplankton), Z (zooplankton) designations to indicate the type of nets used on the bongo frames.
- I will also do post processing, which summarizes everything.
- To me its important to make sure we are properly collecting accurate data for the end user, I care about how the data is collected. I need to make sure that the sensors are all working and displaying the accurate data so that scientists can go ahead and use that data in their research.
How do you get trained to be a survey tech?
(He laughs.) Truthfully, it’s a lot of On the Job Training (OJT). I read manuals and study our various equipment, and so I have a full understanding of how all of our equipment works and how to fix something when it breaks.
*As a side note from the XO: You need a degree in science and some motivation to be a survey tech, and its a great job for recent college graduates because survey techs make pretty good money, ball-parking approximately $60,000 annually, and sometimes even more depending on the sailing schedule.*
While these next trainings are not directly part of my job as survey tech, the two trainings below are a part of being a well-rounded ship crew member.
- Ship SCUBA divers- NOAA Dive School. This allows us to check on the ship’s echo-sounders, seawater intakes, propeller and rudder.
- Medpic training – one of the ship’s medics. I do anything from minor first aid to assessing an injury to responding to medical emergencies. I am qualified to administer medicine but not prescribe it.
My background is actually in fisheries. I worked in a fisheries lab as a fisheries scientist, which is why I was originally brought onto the Henry B. Bigelow in the first place. I then realized I was more interested in the vessel operations, so I made the switch over to the survey department.
I was hired to do a lot of Bottom Trawl Surveys and would only go on cruises when they pertained to that particular survey. While I wasn’t on board a research vessel, I was a sailing instructor and a substitute teacher. I taught 8th grade social studies for a year as a long-term sub and what I’ve learned is that it’s most important to teach students how to learn. It’s something that I use to explain new boat protocols and equipment to new crew.
I think that working and going to sea is a very unique experience, and even though the romantic idea of being on a research vessel is very different from the reality, it’s still an interesting life and I love it. I love going to sea. I’ve spent about a decade of half year ship time on vessels. My wife keeps asking me, “When are you done going to sea?” My reply would be that I don’t know if I can ever be done. The ocean’s siren call always seems to call me back.