Nichia Huxtable: Day 3, April 30, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nichia Huxtable
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
April 28-May 9

Mission: CINMS Mapping
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: April 30, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 3-4 foot swells; clear skys; wind at 29kts
Science and Technology Log:
Ah, technology! Nothing illuminates the darkness of ignorance like these modern marvels of human innovation. Except, of course, when they aren’t working correctly…which is where we find ourselves on day three of the mission.

Troubleshooting on the Shimada.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a review of what the Shimada is doing and why the mission is so important. If you were a biologist studying mountain lions, you would have a pretty good understanding of where they might be found. You could refer to detailed range and habitat maps and would be able to make management decisions based on some pretty accurate information.

Now, let’s say you are a marine biologist studying sharks around the Channel Islands. Your sharks prefer a sandy seafloor, so you pull up a map that has these areas identified…oh, wait, a map like this doesn’t exist.


NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Perhaps you work for the US Navy and would like to lay down a cable with the least amount of habitat damage, so you pull up a map that identifies fragile, deep sea coral habitat…oh, wait, that doesn’t exist, either!

Most of us know the importance of terrestrial topographic, habitat, and species range maps, yet in many marine ecosystems, such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, these data are virtually nonexistent. How crazy to think that we don’t even have information critical to making numerous important decisions! For example, this information is crucial to creating safe navigational routes, placement of pipes and cables, and locations of key fish habitats. This is why the Shimada’s mission of mapping areas around the Channel Islands is so important.


Multibeam SONAR

Multibeam SONAR

There are three different pieces of equipment used to make these maps: ME70, EK60, and REMUS-600 AUV. The ME70 is a multibeam echosounder used for seabed and habitat mapping, the EK60 is an echo sounder used to estimate fish stock and species, and the REMUS-600 is used to map areas too deep for the ME70 or the provide higher-resolution imaging of specific areas of interest. The current technological issues revolve around the ME70. The ME70 works by sending out a sonic “ping.” When the ping hits an object, it bounces back to the ship and is recorded by the computer. All sorts of information can be gathered based on the quality of the returned ping (which I will discuss in later posts), but right now the ME70 is not pinging at the correct rate. It is going much too slowly: only 1 ping per second, whereas it should be pinging roughly 5 times per second. Just like when you have an issue with your computer, the scientists on board are using the satellite phone to call the customer support representative for the ME70 company to try to figure out what the problem is. Another problem is that the ME70 and EK60 are not synching, which means that they cannot be used simultaneously because of interference issues. Last night data was collected using only the EK60, while right now data is being collected using only the ME70. The scientists and crew are obviously trying to figure out how to synchronize



the two systems so that both can collect data at the same time. Finally, the AUV has not yet been deployed because of bad weather (not because it cannot be deployed, but because it would be difficult to retrieve). Monday’s forecast, however, looks very promising, so stay tuned to see how these issues resolve!



Personal Log:
I am constantly awed by the amount of teamwork required to complete a scientific mission such as this. The diversity of duties and expertise of the people involved is mind-boggling: everyone from a ship steward to the Chief Scientist has a crucial role to play and, without each, the mission would fall apart.

Shimada survey techs

Running cables and solving problems

For example, the scientific team consists of hydrographers, AUV operators, marine biologists, and physical scientists. The ship’s crew consists of NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck, stewards, and survey crew. Each person has their specialty, yet everyone has to work together to solve the inevitable problems that arise.
Finally, I suppose I should mention the crazy weather we had on our first day at sea. The San Francisco Bay was beautiful, but as soon as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, the waves grew larger and the passengers began to turn various shades of green. Even though I don’t usually get seasick, I took Dramamine just in case (which, as the swells reaches 15-20 feet, turned out to be a very wise decision). I spent a couple of hours on the bridge riding nature’s finest roller coaster, then turned in for the night and slept 11 hours. What a way to start a mission!

Shimada leaving San Fran

Shimada departing San Francisco.

Did You Know?
The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980 and encompasses 1470 square miles.

Word of the Day:
Bathymetry is the measurement of the depths of large bodies of water, including the oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes.



Denise Harrington, Getting Ready for an Adventure, April 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist.  Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.


I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing.  In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska.  I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon.  I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts.  It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.

As an avid sea kayaker, I was able to share my deeper understanding of the ocean with fellow paddlers. Photo courtesy of Bill Vonnegut

Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!

On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions.  I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.”   When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!

Another important commercial catch is grouper.  My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon.  NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.

I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship?  Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink?  Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.

I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school.  Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

liz with a crab


During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries.  Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”

Nichia Huxtable: Preparing to Sail! April 20, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nichia Huxtable
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
April 28 – May 9, 2016 


Mission: CINMS Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: April 20, 2016


Personal Log

Stardate 8130: Well, not really, but isn’t that the way all logs should start? My name is Nichia Huxtable and I teach biology at Fillmore High School in beautiful Ventura County. Fillmore is a wonderful small town with a rich agricultural history and a picturesque downtown. The best part about Fillmore, however, is the absolutely amazing students that I have the pleasure of working with every day. They are friendly, curious, polite, and funny, and are the reason why I am participating this NOAA expedition.

fam pic 2

The husband and offspring

So, you ask, how can a teacher participating in a research expedition benefit the students? Are you taking them with you? Ah, good question! No, I am not taking them with me, although they will be joining me in spirit. First, I will need to learn. The mission of this trip is to create high resolution maps of sections of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). We will be using scientific equipment and techniques that I never even knew existed and I will be interviewing the scientists and crew members to get a better understanding of who they are and what they do. The whole time I will be posting updates and pictures on this very blog, so be sure to check back often!



Second, when I return to Fillmore, I’ll use my newly acquired knowledge to develop classroom lessons that will bring this amazing science back to my students. These lessons will revolve around three learning goals: 1) the ecological importance of marine sanctuaries, 2) methods scientists use to collect, analyze, and share data, and 3) exposure to new career pathways and possibilities. In order to reach as many students as possible, these lessons and activities will also be shared with other teachers in my district and, in fact, any teacher who would like them.

I cannot even explain how excited I am to participate in this research trip! My background is in wildlife biology, so while I have plenty of experience with kangaroo rat and leopard lizard surveys, I am far less familiar with the science of oceanography.

The next time you see me, I will be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean helping to identify what’s under the water surrounding the Channel Islands. See you then!

PS- Please be sure to check the links to the Ship and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary!