Helen Haskell: Alaska, Here I Come… May 22, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: May 22, 2017

Weather Data

If anyone has been to New Mexico, you will have experienced the blue skies, the sunshine, and a range in temperatures, with storms blowing in, and dust devils swirling sand and debris all around.  This week, in the lead up to my trip we seem to have had it all.  Snow just to the west of the city, blue skies, cooler than average temperatures for May, and sudden rainshowers.  Today however, it is 90F and the swamp cooler is being turned on for the first warm but windy day of the summer.  

Science and Technology Log

So what is a hydrographic survey?  The Fairweather is one of NOAA’s many research vessels, but unlike many of the others that focus on life in the ocean, the Fairweather conducts surveys using SONAR to examine the ocean floor. This is an aspect of ocean navigation that most of us don’t consider, but looking for changes to the ocean or river floor, as a result of plate tectonics, natural disasters, coastline changes, and even sunken vessels.  Here’s a link to more information: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/navigation/hydro/ 

Personal Log

Living in the desert Southwest, I am and I feel far from the ocean. Water is a scarcity in the desert, but when we find it we are drawn to it, even if it is a spring seeping out of the rock up a dry wash. Just a couple of weeks ago I was on a boat, a beautiful 18 foot sea kayak, paddling with some of my students at Lake Powell.  Paddling up to explore side canyons with tall orange sandstone walls rising hundreds of feet, seeing willows and cottonwoods trying to re-establish as water levels recede, I wondered where and when I would be going with NOAA Teachers At Sea. Out of internet range for a week can do wonders for the soul, but I was eager to learn about my NOAA TAS placement.  

On the drive back to Albuquerque, NM, we pulled into the small gas station in White Mesa, near Blanding, UT.  My phone ‘beeped’ and emails came flooding in. Buried in the list of unread messages was the email from Jennifer Hammond, welcoming me back from my trip and giving me basic details  – Alaska to do hydrography…. I think perhaps I began jumping up and down at that point but you’d have to ask one of the students who was there….the reality is though, I would have been excited with any location and any science mission, but I’ve never been to Alaska and as someone who teaches geology, including bathymetry and subduction zones and other aspects of the ocean floor, this couldn’t be more relevant.

Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to increase my professional development and personal experience with learning about the ocean. Slowly I am incorporating oceanography more and more into my desert classroom. Some people ask why, when we are hundreds of miles from any coast line.  Not surprisingly there is always more to the story, beginning in New Mexico millions of years ago.  My modern desert region had several geologic episodes where it hosted inland seas, and students can visit the top of our Sandia Mountains that skirt the eastern edge of the city and find brachiopods and crinoids, fossils in the Pennsylvanian limestone and remnants of the ocean now securely seated at 10,000 feet.   The geologic connection is in fact an easy one to make. The challenge for me as a teacher is connecting my students to this modern day ecosystem so many miles away, one that many of them have not seen, or at least have not spent time with, and, in reality, have learned very little about.  Our oceans, as we know, are instrumental in the planet’s systems… Without securing a knowledge of how oceans function, we are unable to understand how Earth fully works and how our daily actions and choices have global impacts.

Back in the classroom, I shared my news with my students. In the lead up to the end of the school year we’ve been examining the website that contains information on the Fairweather, discussed SONAR, hypothesized what it would be like to live on a ship, and used Google Earth to figure out where Ketchikan and Kodiak, AK are.  Our discussions further our quest to learn more about density, buoyancy and how boats float.  A challenge was issued and students experimented trying to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy – for it to not sink or float.

IMG_1282

Students experiment with ways to make a glass vial have neutral buoyancy

Students also began to create a list of questions that they would like me to answer while I am on the Fairweather…..stay tuned for some of the answers.

Questions about the ship and location of research Questions about living on a ship Science-related questions
How many rooms are on the ship?

How do ships not sink since they are made of metal?

Would it matter if there was a big animal under the ship?

What happens to all the sewage?

Is there a weight limit on the boat?

Who is the Captain?

What is the fastest it may go?

Will it snow where you are going and if so will it affect the boat or the research?

Does the boat sail every summer?

How many miles are you travelling?

What temperature will it be?

What are some jobs on the boat?

Is there ice in the ocean where you are going?

What does the ship’s mast do?

What is the hardest part about taking care of the boat?

How long did it take to build?

If you fall off, what do you do?

Can you take a shower?

What does the ship provide me?

When do I get to sleep on the boat?

Do we catch any of the food we eat?

How much food is brought on the ship for a voyage?

Are the seas going to be rough?

What is included in the bedroom?

How hard is it to work on the ship?

Will you have to wear dirty clothes? Do they have a washer and dryer?

Will you fish?

Will you go swimming?

How many people are traveling with you?

Do you get seasick?

Are there going to be other women on the boat?

Do the other workers get seasick?

What age could you go on a trip like this?

Do you share a room?

How does the SONAR actually work?

Does Ms Haskell get to operate the SONAR machinery?

Do you do any research about ocean life?

How accurate is the scanner?

How deep is the trench up by the Aleutian islands?

What is the deepest the ocean will be?

Will you see whales?

What is the favorite animal you have seen on the ship?

What’s it like to feel an earthquake on a ship?

Are there any sunken ships or warships like the USS New Mexico up there?

Are the oceans deeper or shallower than others?

The next month promises to be a great adventure and a fantastic way for me as a teacher to learn more current science research, to explore an area of the world I have never been, and for the ‘desert dwelling ocean rookie’ to become well acquainted with the diversity of jobs and life on a research ship.  As a ‘birder’ I hope to add new birds to my life list, maybe see a new mammal or two, and incorporate much more understanding of this part of the world into my classroom and community.  Stay tuned.  

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