Dawn White: Finally Fishing! June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dawn White

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 19 – July 1, 2017

 

Mission: West Coast Sardine Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: June 27, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: June 27, 2017                                                         Wind Speed: 28.9 kts with gusts
Time: 9:15 p.m.                                                                 Latitude: 4828.20N
Temperature: 13.4oC                                                      Longitude: 12634.66W

Science and Technology Log

White_Lasker route 6-27

The red line indicates the route of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker transiting along the coast of Vancouver Island

We finally reached the tip of Vancouver Island on Sunday evening, June 25. It would be our first night of fishing.  The red line indicates the route taken by the Reuben Lasker as we transited along the coast to the northernmost tip of the island.  The blue lines indicate the path to be taken for regular interval acoustic monitoring for schools of fish.  Based on the acoustics results, a decision would be made as to where the fishing would occur at night.

 

 

 

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Crew deploying the fishing net

The photo at left shows the crew completing the deployment of the fishing net.  You can see the large winch that will release and retrieve the main body of the net.  The net will be set out for about 45 minutes.  During this time there are many variables that will be monitored.  Sensors attached to the net will collect data on time spent at each depth.  Other factors being monitored include temperature, wind speed, swell size,  and lat/long of trawl. In addition, there are four water-activated “pingers” attached to the net that emit sounds at frequencies known to disturb larger mammals in an effort to reduce accidental captures.

Once the net has been retrieved, the scientists collect the catch in large baskets and begin the process of weighing and sorting.  The first night’s catch was primarily made up of a very unique colonial type of organism called a pyrosome. The side nets and codend (mesh covered end of the main net where most of the catch is collected) were packed with these the first couple of trawls.

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Many pyrosomes were mixed in with the catch.

You can see many pyrosomes mixed in with the rest of the catch here.  They are the pink colored cylindrical organisms.  They have been increasing in population over the past couple of years as well as appearing further north than ever observed before.  A nice overview of the pyrosome influx and volumes observed was recently reported in an article published by Environment entitled “Jellied sea creatures confound scientists, fishermen on U.S. Pacific Coast”. You can review the article here.

The trawl net being used was part of the research project, as it possessed modifications aimed at capturing and quantifying organisms that made it through an apparatus called the extruder door.  The purpose for this opening is to allow for larger mammals and non-target organisms to pass through the net relatively unharmed should they get caught.  Two additional pocket nets had been added to the main net for the specific purpose of monitoring what made it through the mesh.

This far north, the researchers were expecting to find mostly juvenile herring and salmon.  On our second night of fishing we actually had several species of fish and other marine animalia to i.d. The amount and type of data collected depended on the species of organism.  In some cases, we collected just the mass of the group of organisms as a whole.  For other species, we collected mass, lengths, presence/absence of an adipose fin, DNA samples from a fin clip, and more.  Certain species were tagged, bagged, and frozen for further study in a land-based lab.  It’s so interesting to see the variety we pull out of the net each trawl!

Some of the species collected can be seen below:

Extension question for my students reading this:

What traits could you use to differentiate between the juvenile salmon and Pacific herring?

 

Personal Log:

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Here are some of the scientists making sure the correct data is collected and recorded from one of our catches.

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Here I am (in yellow) with some of the scientists (L to R: Emily, Amy, and Angela) getting ready to receive the evening’s catch.

First trawl starts as close to sunset as possible, which for this latitude has been somewhere between 9:30-10:00 p.m. There is always this air of anticipation as we wait for the net to be emptied.  It has been enlightening to work with the science staff as they evaluate each sample.  The number of reference sheets and data recording forms is incredible.  It seems like you would need to take a course in data management just to ensure you were familiar enough with the requirements to not overlook some detail of importance.

The photo of the group above was taken about 11:00 p.m.  I was worried initially that I would not be able to flip my sleep schedule to match the work schedule, but it has been much more doable than I thought it would be.  Our staterooms are dark and quiet, so going to bed in the morning really doesn’t feel any different that at night.  Thanks to the extensive movie collection and my ability to keep downloading books to read on Kindle, I have had plenty of filler for downtime and that “reading before bed” I always do.

Time to go to work…..

 

Did You Know?

There are 36 species of dolphin worldwide, including 4 species of river dolphins.  Quite a few of the Common Bottlenose Dolphin followed the ship out of the harbor in San Diego, riding along on the wake produced by the ship.  On the way up the coast of California I saw a couple of Dall’s Porpoises (not in the dolphin family, but quite similar in appearance).  Then as we traveled south along Victoria Island there were a couple of Pacific White-Sided dolphins enjoying games along-side the ship. It is so exciting to see these animals out in their native habitat!

Every night before the ship drops the fishing net, a member of the science team is sent to the bridge to perform a 30-minute mammal watch.  The surrounding waters are observed closely for any signs of these and other larger species.  The investigators do their best to ensure that only the small fish species intended for capture are what enters the net.  Should there be a sighting, the ship moves on another 5 miles in an effort to avoid any accidental captures.  The scientists and crew work very hard to minimize the impact of their studies on the surrounding ecosystems.

Staci DeSchryver: Exploring HICEAS on the High Seas! June 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  Cetacean Study

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Hawaiian EEZ

Current Location:  Impatiently waiting to sail in Centennial, Colorado

Date:  June 20

Weather Data from the “Bridge” (AKA My Sun Porch):

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Here’s the weather data from the “Bridge” in Centennial. (In Station Model format, of course. How else would we practice?)

 

Personal Log – An Introduction

Hello!  My name is Staci DeSchryver and I will be traveling this upcoming July on the Oscar Elton Sette as part of the HICEAS program!

I am an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO.  This August will kick off my 14th (yikes!) year teaching.  I know you might be thinking, “Why Oceanography in a landlocked state?”  Well, the reason why I can and do teach Oceanography is because of Teacher At Sea.  I am an alumna, so this is my second official voyage through the Teacher At Sea program.  It was all of the wonderful people I met, lessons I learned, and science that I participated in on the

 

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This is my husband, Stephen, and I, at the game that sent the Broncos to the Superbowl!

 

Oscar Dyson in 2011 that led me to encourage my school to put an Oceanography course in place for seniors as a capstone course.  This past year was the first year for the Oceanography and Meteorology courses, and they were very well received!  I have three sections of each class next year, as well!  (Shout out to all my recent senior grads reading this post! You were awesome!)  We study our World’s Ocean from the top of the water column all the way to the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench, and from the tiniest atom all the way up to the largest whale.  I  believe it is one of the most comprehensive courses offered to our students – incorporating geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, but then again, I’m a bit biased.

Apart from being a teacher, I am a wife to my husband of 8 years, Stephen.  We don’t have children, but we do have two hedgehogs, Tank and Willa, who keep us reasonably busy.  Willa only has one eye, and Tank is named Tank because he’s abnormally large for a hedgie.  They are the best lil’ hedgies we know.  We enjoy camping, rock climbing, and hiking – the typical Coloradans, though we are both originally from Michigan.  When we aren’t spending time together, I like to dance ballet, read, write, and I recently picked up a new weightlifting habit, which has led me to an entire new lifestyle of health and wellness with an occasional interjection of things like Ice Cream topped with caramel and Nachos when in the “off” season (hey, nobody’s perfect).

I will be leaving for Honolulu, Hawaii on July 4th to meet up with the fine scientists that make up the HICEAS team.  What is HICEAS?  Read below to find out more about HICEAS and the research we will be doing onboard!

Science Log

The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) is a study of Cetaceans (Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises) and their habitats.  Cetaceans live in the ocean, and are characterized by being carnivorous (we will get along just fine at the dinner table) and having fins (since I am a poor swimmer, I will humbly yield to what I can only assume is their instinctive expertise).  This means that the study will cover all manners of these majestic creatures – from whales that are definitely easily identifiable as whales to whales that look like dolphins but are actually whales to porpoises that really look like whales but are actually dolphins and dolphins that look like dolphins that are dolphins and…  are you exhausted yet?  Here’s some good news – porpoises aren’t very common in Hawaiian waters, so that takes some of the stress out of identifying one of those groups, though we will still be on the lookout.  Here’s where it gets tricky – it won’t be enough to just sight a whale, for example and say, “Hey! We have a whale!”  The observers will be identifying the actual species of the whale (or dolphin or possible-porpoise).  The observers who tackle this task are sharp and quick at what is truly a difficult and impressive skill.  I’m sure this will be immediately confirmed when they spot, identify, and carry on before I say, “Wait! Where do you see it?”

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This is the research area for the HICEAS project. Map/photo is credited directly to the HICEAS website, https://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/hiceas/whats_hiceas.php

There are 25 cetacean species native to Hawaiian waters, so that’s a big order to fill for the observers.  And we will be out on the water until we locate every last one.  Just kidding.  But we will be looking to spot all of these species, and once found, we will do our best to estimate how many there are overall as a stock estimate.  Ideally, these cetacean species will be classified into three categories – delphinids (dolphins and a few dolphin-like whales), deep diving whales (whales with teeth), and baleen whales (of the “swim away!” variety).  Once identified in this broad sense, they will then be identified by species.  However, I do have a feeling these two categorizations happen all at once.

Once the data is collected, there is an equation that is used to project stock estimates for the whole of the Pacific.  More on this later, but I will just start by saying for all you math folk out there, it’s some seriously sophisticated data extrapolation.  It involves maths that I have yet to master, but I have a month to figure it out, so it’s not looking too bleak for me just yet.  In the meantime, I’m spending my time trying to figure out which cetaceans that look like dolphins are actually possible-porpoises, and which dolphins that look like dolphins are actually whales.

Goals and Objectives of the HICEAS

The HICEAS study operates as a part of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC), both under the NOAA umbrella.  Our chief scientist is Dr. Erin Oleson, who will be the lead on this leg of the cruise. HICEAS last collected data in 2010, and is now ready for the next round of stock assessments.  HICEAS is a 187-day study, of which we will be participating in approximately 30 of those days for this particular leg.  Our research area is 2.5 million square kilometers, and covers the whole of the Hawaiian Archipelago and it’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ!  The HICEAS study has three primary goals:

  1.  Estimate the number of cetaceans in Hawaii.
  2.  Examine their population structure.
  3.   Understand their habitat.

Studies like the HICEAS are pretty rare (2002, 2010, and now 2017), so the scientists are doing their best to work together to collect as much information as they possibly can during the study.  From what I can gather in lead-up chats with on board scientist Kym Yano, we will be traveling along lines called “transects” in the Pacific Ocean, looking for all the popular Cetacean hangouts.  When a cetacean is sighted, we move toward the lil’ guy (or gal) and all his friends to take an estimate, and if it permits, a biopsy.  There is a second team of scientists working below deck listening for Cetacean gossip (whale calls) as well.  Acoustic scientists will record the whale or dolphin calls for later review and confirmation of identification of species, and, of course, general awesomeness.

But that’s not all!

We will also be dropping CTD’s twice per day, which is pretty standard ocean scientific practice.  Recall that the CTD will give us an idea of temperature, salinity, and pressure variations with depth, alerting us to the presence and locations of any of the “clines” – thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline.  Recall that in areas near the equator, rapid changes of temperature, salinity, and density with depth are pretty common year-round, but at the middle latitudes, these form and dissipate through the course of the solar year. These density changes with depth can block nutrients from moving to the surface, which can act as a cutoff to primary production.  Further, the CTD readings will help the acoustic scientists to do their work, as salinity and temperature variations will change the speed of sound in water.

There will also be a team working to sight sea birds and other marine life that doesn’t fall under the cetacean study (think sea turtles and other fun marine life).  This study is enormous in scope.  And I’m so excited to be a part of it!

Pop Quiz:

What is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin?  

It has to do with 3 identifiers:  Faces, Fins, and Figures.

According to NOAA’s Ocean Service Website…

Faces:  Dolphins have prominent “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth, while Porpoises have smaller mouths and teeth shaped like spades.

Fins: Dolphin’s dorsal (back) fins are curved, while porpoises fins are more triangle-shaped

Figures: Dolphins are leaner, and porpoises are more “portly.”

Dolphins are far more prevalent, and far more talkative.  But both species are wicked-smart, using sonar to communicate underwater.

Resources:

HICEAS website

Bradford, A. L., Forney, K. A., Oleson, E. M., & Barlow, J. (2017). Abundance estimates of cetaceans from a line-transect survey within the U.S. Hawaiian Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Fishery Bulletin, 115(2), 129-142. doi:10.7755/fb.115.2.1

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn White: Sampling the Pacific, June 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

 Dawn White

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 19 – July 1, 2017

 

Mission: West Coast Sardine Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: June 25, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

 

Date: June 25, 2017                                                         Wind Speed: 22 kts

Time: 4:00 p.m.                                                                 Latitude: 5026.55N

Temperature: 14.3oC                                                      Longitude: 12808.11W

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Although the scientists have not performed any fishing trawls since departing San Diego, there is a survey crew on board that has continuously been monitoring the water column for a variety of factors using acoustics and an instrument called a Conductivity/Temp/Depth (CTD) probe.

Last night I was able to observe the launch and retrieval of a small, handheld CTD probe.  It looks very much like a 2 ft torpedo. The electronics and sensors built into the probe measure such factors as salinity, sound speed, depth, and water temperature.  This smaller probe is launched off the tail of the boat and let out on a line of filament from a reel that appears very similar to a typical fishing reel.  It does not take more than a couple of minutes for the probe to sink to a depth of about 300 meters.  Data is collected from the probe at various depths on the way down.  Once the probe has reached its target depth, it is simple reeled back in using a winch to retrieve it.  This requires quite a bit of energy as the probe is deployed with enough line for it to end up about 3 miles behind the ship.  The data from this probe is then blue-toothed to the program used by those monitoring the water column acoustically.  It help the techs make corrections in their acoustical readings.

 

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Surveyor Jian Liu and scientist Juan Zwolinski deploy the smaller CTD probe off the stern of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

 

The Reuben Lasker also carries a larger version of the CTD probe with the additional capabilities such as water collection at various depths.  However, this version requires the ship to be stationary.  Taking measurements with the unit slows down the work of the day as each stop takes about 30 minutes from launch until retrieval.  The launch of the larger CTD can be seen below.

 

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CTD Probe in steel protected basket

 

The data from the CDT probe is recorded real-time on the survey team’s computers.  Below you can see how this data presents itself on their video screens.

 

On the left video display you can see that there are several variables that are plotted against a depth vs. temperature. The green line tracks fluorescence (a measure of the chlorophyll concentration); the light blue line tracks dissolved oxygen; the red line represents temperature; the blue line is for salinity.

 

Extension question for my students reading this:  What correlations or relationships do you see happening as you observe the change in variables relative to changes in depth?

 

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Route of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

Here is the route taken by the Reuben Lasker during the past 24 hours or so.  As you can see from the chart, the ship has now reached the northern-most end of Vancouver Island.  This is where the CDT recordings, marine mammal watching, deployment of two sets of plankton nets (to be explained later) and fish trawling will begin along the predetermined transect lines.

Note at the base of the screen the other parameters that are continuously recorded as the ship moves from place to place.

 

 

Personal Log

The action on-board is increasing dramatically today.  We have arrived at our outermost destination today, along the northernmost coast of Vancouver Island.  The sights from the bridge are amazing…all this blue water and rugged, pine covered coastline.  I am still waiting for that orca whale sighting!

The waves are up today but I’m holding my own.  Yeay!  Especially as the night fishing will begin in a few hours.

Unique activity of the day – I just finished a load of laundry!  The ship possesses 3 small washer/dryer units so we can redo our towels and whatever else we have used up during the course of this first week.  How serviceable can you get! I’ll retrieve mine as soon as dinner is over.  We have set meal hours and if you miss…it’s leftovers for you!  Best part of this is I am actually ready to eat a normal meal, even with the ship rocking the way it is today.

I have now been assigned deck boots and a heavy duty set of rain gear to cover up with when the fish sorting begins.  I can’t wait to see what all we pull up from these nutrient rich waters!

 

Did You Know?

Much of the data collected by the CTD and acoustic equipment from the Reuben Lasker is entered into a large data set managed by CalCOFI (California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation).  Anyone interested in utilizing and analyzing this data can access it via the organization’s website located here.  There is an incredible amount of information regarding the work and research completed by this group found on this site. Check it out!

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing

Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Marsha Lenz: In Honor of the Seafarer, June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

 June 8-28, 2017

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Appropriate attire is important for fishing.

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

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Sorting fish requires teamwork.

Latitude: 55 42.0 N

Longitude: 156 16.4 W

Time: 1000

Visibility: 6 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 199

Wind Speed: 11 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C

Air Temperature: 10°C

Science and Technology Log

For the science/technology part of the blog, I usually focus on one part of the sciences that we are participating in every day, a piece of technology on the boat, or one specific career that one of the 31 people on board have. Today, however, I’d like to share the big picture of how the science, the careers, and the technology all interact and intersect with each other. I have spent countless hours in the Acoustics lab, in the Fish lab, on the Bridge, and in the Chem lab with a diverse group of extremely skilled and talented people. Here’s what I have witnessed over and over again: They is constantly troubleshooting, coding, and then creating a product/outcome.

For example, let’s just take a look at the Fish lab. (Almost) everything in the lab was designed and created by the NOAA team of scientists for the specific purpose of collecting data on pollock populations. They did not buy the software anywhere. They created it. Over the past three weeks, I have witnessed, on an on-going basis, the scientists in the lab, create, refine, and test their codes for the various programs that they use for their data entry and end of survey reports.

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Abigail created a code to illustrate how many otoliths were caught on each transect.

Just yesterday, Abigail created a new code to create a chart that shows how many otoliths were collected from each transect line. This part of the program had not yet been made, so she did it. This is something that happens throughout the day, all day long.

 

When the team needed a quick way to measure and record the lengths of the fish (using a ruler and writing down every length on a piece of paper and then recording that into the computer database took a long time!), they designed AND created the Ichthystick. This records the length of each fish electronically, and then it enters that data directly into the database. It saves a lot of time. They even put my name into the system as one of the scientists!

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The list of things that the scientists create goes on and on: from charts, to computer programs, to the equipment that they use to collect the data. It was a really important reminder for me of how essential teaching coding and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is in the classroom. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, it’s often hard for schools, especially very rural ones, to integrate these topics into the daily classroom routine. I really want to ensure that my students have the skills and knowledge to continue in the sciences so that they, too, can have careers that allow them to use their creativity and intelligence, meet great people, and use these abilities to help protect and care for the planet we live on.

Personal Log

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Though there were some gray days, the views still brought everyone outside.

We are now on our transit home. I have very mixed feelings about being back on land and heading back to Humboldt County. I will be back in the comfort of my living room in 2 days. Of course, I am very excited to see my kids, visit with my friends, and take walks in the forests. Yet, there is a part of me that is already feeling a bit nostalgic for the friendships that I have built on board and the soothing rolling of the ocean. Though we worked 12 hour days, the people that I worked with made the time go by fast. Though the thought of spending three weeks on a boat with 30 total strangers might seem like an uncomfortable eternity, the days quickly blended together into a memorable event that I will not forget for a long time. We laughed at the littlest things, ate 3 meals a days together (excellent meals, I might add. Thank you so much Kimrie and Lenette!), made fun of bad movies, shared personal stories of struggles or hardships, showed off pictures of our children, and took moments to exercise (bring on the Plank Challenge!). We played cards, drew silly pictures, savored chocolate and fancy cheese, discussed the challenges that future generations face, and lengthed A LOT of fish. It is not often that one has an opportunity to spend 12 hours a day with the same people (total strangers, I might add), for 3 weeks straight, in a confined space.

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Team Plank Oscar Dyson found ways to practice planking  in between hauls.

My only regret is not having made the time to sit and down and have an “interview” with every single person on the ship. It was through my interviews with people that I was struck by the unique story that each person has. I felt that it was not only important to listen to their history, but also to share it. I only intended to interview a few people on the ship, but once I got started, I felt like I couldn’t stop. The life of a seafaring person is under appreciated in our society. Yet, we rely on fishermen/women to provide the nation with all of the seafood that is eaten. We also rely on marine scientists, survey technicians, NOAA Corps, stewards, observers, NOAA Engineers, and deck hands to help us with this and to give us valuable information about the health of our oceans and marine life.

Through my conversations and interviews, I have learned that the life of a seafarer requires a lot of sacrifice. Life at sea has many challenges. Much of the crew spends many months at a time away from their families. They spend 24/7 rolling around on the ocean, in very small spaces. Most of time, the ocean is yielding and the gentle rocking of the boat can soothe one into a deep slumber. Yet, there are also times, when she roars her head a bit and reminds us that we are just a speck in the vastness of her depth and power.

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Being a survey technician requires a lot of hard work.

The life of a seafarer, even a part-time one, is not for everyone.   They can’t just go to the store to go shopping, visit the dentist for a toothache, or go to the movies with a friend. They may miss important milestone events, such as their kid’s graduation or their parent’s 75th birthday. It can be trying to be separated from the daily musings of friends and family. There are days when all they see is gray sky and gray ocean. The Internet connection on a vessel is hit or miss (if you have one at all!) so they can’t easily stay connected with loved ones. It can begin to feel lonely and isolated.   I am grateful for all the seafarers, in whatever capacity they serve, who sacrifice so much, in the name of science, sustainable fishing, and the well being of our oceans.

In addition to the seafarers, I would also like to acknowledge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Before embarking on my adventure as a Teacher At Sea, I had very little idea of what NOAA was and even less of an idea as to what they did. I knew that they gave me my weather forecast and that they studied the oceans and the atmosphere. I now know that NOAA is so much more than just that. In my first blog out at sea, I looked online to see what NOAA does. I wrote, “Its mission is to ‘understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources’. This is easily condensed into three words: Science, Service and Stewardship.” This makes so much more sense to me now. Without NOAA and its close to 12,000 scientists, engineers, and staff who work for them, we would not be able to study and monitor specific areas of our earth. It is through NOAA that we can continue to be informed and make the correct choices to be responsible stewards of this delicate planet.

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Rick Towler designs many of the fishing  data programs and equipment that are used on the Oscar Dyson.

I know that I will continue to reflect on these last three weeks as I settle back into my own routine on land. As I become reacquainted with these routines, I know that my time as a Teacher At Sea will slowly settle further and further back into my bank of life- changing experiences and will become one of the endless memories that help make me who I am. I do hope though to keep some of the insights that I have gained on this research cruise in the forefront of my educational teachings. I look forward to sharing what I learned with my future fifth graders. Let us all continue to be good stewards and tread lightly.

I would like to thank everyone on the Oscar Dyson. Everyone including the CO, the XO, and all of the NOAA Corps officers, the Engineers, the deck crew, the survey technicians, the observers, the stewards, and the science team all made me feel very welcome and at home. Everyone was patient with me as I learned the ways of the seafarer and the ins and outs of the Oscar Dyson. I also want to thank everyone with the NOAA Teacher At Sea program for allowing this opportunity to happen for me and publishing my blog posts. I am eternally grateful.

Did You Know?

The Oscar Dyson has six onboard laboratories: a wet lab, dry lab, electronics/computer lab, bio lab, acoustics lab and hydrographics lab. The ship carries a multibeam echo sounder that collects information about the sea floor and the contents of the water column.

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I even  found a Pi joke!

 

Interview with Bruce Mokiao

Lead Fisherman

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Bruce’s smile and positive attitude were contagious.

What is your position here on the Oscar Dyson?

I am the lead fisherman on the boat.

How long have you been doing this?

I have been doing this for 16 years.

What got you interested in living your life on the sea?

Well, it was a couple of things. First, it was the Conservation Corps. That, and fishing. I didn’t know about NOAA until I was fishing commercially.   The person who picked up the fish that we brought back was a NOAA employee. I learned a lot about NOAA from him. I thought that it would be a good way to make a living and support my family.

What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job is fishing, of course. I also like the data. It is all very interesting. I like science. I love this ship. I also really like the people that I work with. The crew makes a big difference in your day to day duties.

What is your job description?

I run the night shift. I supervise some of the other deck hands and I am the assistant to the chief botswain. I also mop and do general maintenance of things on the ship. I fix nets. I am basically in charge of running the fishing side of things.

 What are your hours?

I work from 2315 (11:15 pm) to 1145. I like running the night shift.

What are some of the challenges with your job?

Well, the environment is challenging. I am still getting used to living in Alaska. I am from Hawaii, so it is a big change for me. Alaska gets cold. I miss being with my family. That is also hard for me. And then, decision-making is hard. I have to think things through to make sure that the decisions I make on the ship will not have negative consequences. There is a lot of responsibility in my hands.

What motivates you every day?

My family. When my days get hard, I think about my family. My kids give my energy. I have 3. One is about to get married. I also think of the Chinese word for power, Yo Jer. I remind myself that I am “Yo jer” and that gives me the power to keep going.

Do you have any advice for my students?

Yes! Go to school. Go to a lot of school. Do what you can do to find opportunities. Find something that you love to do and things will fall into place. Live life to its fullest. Life does get hard sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up.

♥♥♥♥

Thank you to EVERYONE that helped make this happen!

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The sunrise next to Mt. Pavlof was a memorable event.

Melissa Barker: Going Fishing, June 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 25, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28 30.0 N

Longitude: 94 00.4 W

Air temp: 26.7 C

Water temp: 28.8 C

Wind direction: 130 degrees

Wind speed: 14 knots

Sky: rain squall

Science and Technology Log

We left port Friday evening and by 10:00pm we were fishing. We move from stations to station, often in a zig zag pattern to retrieve our samples. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the stations we will visit are randomly generated for us. I will use this post to give you an idea of what we do at each station.

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CTD instrument ready for deployment

As we come upon a station, we first deploy a scientific instrument called the CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth which it measures. Additionally, this instrument measures dissolved oxygen. During day light hours, we also take additional environmental data including water color, percent cloud cover and wave height. At least once per day, we take a water sample which will be titrated using the Winkler method to double check our dissolved oxygen readings. The CTD is first calibrated at the surface for three minutes, then lowered to approximately two meters above the bottom, with a maximum depth of 200 meters. Teamwork is critical here as the officers in the bridge announce that we have arrived at a station. The Science Field Party Chief (FPC), Andre, tells the fisherman the depth and watches the data come into a computer in the dry lab near the stern. They are all in radio communication to make sure everything goes smoothly.

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Trawl headed into the water

Then the fishermen prepare to deploy a 40-foot trawl within a 2.5 mile radius of the station coordinates. Again, with communication from the fisherman, bridge and the FPC, the trawl is lowered into the ocean and moves along the bottom collecting organisms for exactly 30 minutes after which the trawl is raised and the net is brought onto the boat. The organisms caught in the net are then released into baskets,which are weighed on deck to get a total mass for the catch.

 

 

Then the fun begins! The full catch is poured out into the trough or if big enough, brought in via a conveyor belt. If the catch is 24 kg or under, we will log the entire catch.

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Catch poured out into the trough

If it is over 24 kg, then we will split the catch and log a representative sample. When splitting the catch, we first place all the organisms in the trough and roughly divide the catch in half. Before we send the half that we will not log back to the ocean, we must pull out commercial species, such as shrimp and snapper, and any individual species not found in the half we will log. Then we take the half of the catch that we will log and start the sorting.

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Splitting the catch

We sort all organisms that are the same species into one basket, then count and take a total mass for each species group. You can see images below of a sorted catch.

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Sorted fish

For most species, we will sample up to 20 random individuals. We record length for all 20 and then take a mass and sex every fifth organism. Logging is a bit different for shrimp, we will record length, mass and sex for all organisms up to 200 individuals. We will do the same for any other commercial species.

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Measuring a fish with the Limnoterra board

We use a Limnoterra measuring board with a magnetic wand which gives an accurate length by connecting to a magnetic strip on the board. This tool saves a lot of time and allow us to get accurate measurements.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about what we are finding and learning from our data.

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Trying to sex a fish which can be sometimes be challenging

Personal Log

I am starting to find my sea legs. The seas were a bit rough as we left port after the storm. It was touch and go for the first 24-36 hours, but with the help of Meclizine (a motion sickness medication) and sea bands (wrist bands that push on a pressure point in your wrist) I am now feeling pretty good. I’m also getting used to the constant movement of the Oregon II which makes everyday activities like walking, showering and sleeping quite interesting. When I lay down in bed and close my eyes, I can feel the troughs of the waves push me down into my mattress and then I spring up at the tops of the waves. It is very relaxing and helps lull me to sleep. When showering, I frequently need to hold on so as to not fall over. As some of you know, I have a habit of moving pretty fast around school. Often in a rush to check items off my to-do list or get to my classes. On the boat, we need to move slowly due to the constant motion. You also never know when someone is going to open a door into the hallway or come around the corner. There is not much space, so you must move slowly and cautiously.

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Day shift crew from left to right: David, Tyler, Field Party Chief Andre, Sarah and Melissa

I am also getting use to the fish smell in the wet lab where I spend most of time when working. I’m on the day shift, which runs from noon to midnight. I’ve tried to soak up as much information as I can over the last couple days and have really enjoyed the learning. The hardest part for me is trying to learn scientific names for the 30-40 species we find in each catch. The Latin names go in one ear and out the other. Having never worked with fish, this part pretty challenging, but luckily Andre is very patient and always willing to answer my questions. My day-shift teammates, Tyler, David and Sarah, are terrific, keep the atmosphere fun and teach me each day. It has been really interesting to see the increase and decrease of certain species from different stations.

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Melissa and Tyler measuring fish in the wet lab

Did You Know?

The Texas shrimp fishery closed on May 15, 2017 and will re-open on a yet to be determined date in July. This is what is referred to as the “Texas Closure”. The shrimp data that we are collecting will be sent to the state to help them determine the health of the fishery and when to open it back up. According to the Coastal Fisheries Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), “The closure is designed to allow escapement of shrimp out to the gulf where they can grow to a larger, more valuable size before they are vulnerable to harvest. The goal is to provide shrimp of a size that are more valuable for the shrimping industry while ensuring sustainable stocks in the future.”

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A large Brown Shrimp: Penaeus aztecus

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

How many different species did you find? (Owen, Sylvia, Tyler, Maylei, Ben)

The number of species we find varies with each trawl, but recently we have been finding about 35-40 species per trawl. The picture below show the diversity a typical catch.

 What organisms other than fish did you find? (Badri, Tyler, Alexa, Lorena, Wanda)

We find many other species besides fish. Some of the more common groups of organisms we find are squid, jelly fish, shrimp, sea stars, scallops, crabs, and vacated shells. Occasionally we catch a small shark or sting ray.

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Example catch diversity

Helen Haskell: Mud Volcano, Morale and Moving On, June 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 24, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  20 knots

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  1016.0 hPa

Air temperature: 13.2C

Cloud cover: 100%

Location: Gulf of Alaska, 58°58.3N, 138° 49.7W

 

Science and Technology Log

In the last final week of this long three week leg, survey work on Fairweather has been varied. As data collection for this area has drawn to a close, it has been late nights for the sheet managers, who are making sure all of the holidays (the areas of missing data) are collected, crosslines are accomplished in all areas, and that they have what they need to do a complete report of the area.

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Some of the Fairweather crew getting ready to launch small boats for the last data acquisition.

Earlier this week the ship completed an additional smaller project out in the Alaskan gulf. Fairweather was tasked with collecting hydrographic data on a subsurface mud volcano that has been discovered southwest of Ketchikan near the Queen Charlotte –Fairweather fault system.  Sailing during the day to the location, the surveying began late evening.  Rather than using the small launches, Fairweather’s sonar was used.  The survey area was quite large and the boundary extended to the edge of Canadian waters. Just as with the small launches, casts had to be done to factor in the water’s salinity and temperature in order to get accurate data. The water column profiling measurement device for Fairweather is located on the stern and once launched can be operated electronically, by hydrographers.

 

Hydrographers were divided into shifts, working two four hour shifts, throughout the 24 hour data acquisition period.  From 12am-4am, hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Drew Leonard, and I, check on the quality of data acquisition and monitored the related software.  As we sailed over the vent of the volcano hundreds of meters below the surface, the sonar picked up gas releases, probably methane, coming from the vent.  This volcano is potentially part of a volcanic field in this area.  I am excited to read and learn more about these mud volcanoes on the active fault in this area and to integrate it into my geology class at school.  For more information about mud volcanos in this region, visit https://eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska

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Drew Leonard and Hannah Marshburn observe the sonar at work

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The mud volcano (within the elevated red area; the white triangle is our ship

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Possible methane plumes ‘caught’ by the sonar

Life and work on a ship requires the crew here to learn many things, both about the scientific mission and methodology but also about the ship itself and the safety protocols. NOAA provides training for crew in many different forms, some in situ, some electronically, and others during the non field-season in the form of  land-based workshops. Here on Fairweather, workbooks are provided to prepare officers and survey techs to help qualify them as Hydrographers-In-Charge (HIC).  Individuals work through these books and hand-on trainings to increase their understanding of the mission, the science content, their ability to work with survey systems, launches, field equipment and to serve as backup coxswains on the launches if necessary.

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The work

In wrapping up the work in the area west of Prince of Wales Island, one last task was to dismantle the Base Station that the hydrographers had set up at the beginning of the project. The Base Station houses a GPS and receiver that transmits the data to the ship.  

 

Back on the ship, a route was planned by the NOAA Corps officers  and charted both electronically and on the paper charts.  It was time for Fairweather to say goodbye to this region of Alaska and to begin the journey north.

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ENS Linda Junge plots the route to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond on the chart

While June 21 is a date associated with the solstice, it is also World Hydrography Day.  In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on oceans and law of the sea, and encouraged entities/nations to work with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The idea is to increase knowledge of and promote safe marine navigation.  As a result, World Hydrography Day was formed and is used as a method to increase knowledge and understanding of hydrography to the general public. Currently only about 10% of the world’s oceans and 50% of the coastal waterways have been directly measured. Much of the rest of the world is dependent on estimates from satellite gravity based measurements or has no data.  Most people tend not to think about the role hydrography and knowledge of the seafloor plays in our day to day live. While there is the obvious correlation with safe navigation, seafloor knowledge is important for laying cables and pipelines, to develop maritime boundaries and to help make predictions of what tsunamis waves and hurricanes would do.  World Hydrography Day 2017 celebrates the 96th anniversary of the IHO.  To celebrate this day, other than continuing to acquire data for the project, the crew gathered together to watch a film from 1976 of Fairweather in Alaska conducting hydrography. While much of the technology has changed and the ship retrofitted, there was a lot of familiarity with the ship and with the job being done.  

Personal Log

Being on a ship for weeks at a time, working everyday can take its toll.  Over the last couple of days I can see in the faces of the survey crew that, just like the end of a school year, while there still a lot to do before ‘the end’ and people are tired, they are looking forward to a change of pace with their upcoming time in port. The ship is scheduled to be in Kodiak for over a week, allowing for mid-season repairs to be completed. Meanwhile the hydrographers will continue to work on data from this leg and look ahead to the upcoming ones; the deck crew will continue the multitude of tasks that always need to be done; the engineers will continue to fix, clean and monitor the launches, the engines and the myriad of equipment on the ship.  The NOAA Corps officers will continue their rotation of duties. The stewards will continue to provide food for everyone.  It’s the field season. Everyone is still busy, but there will be off-duty time on land and opportunities to explore the area.

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The Finer Things Club for this leg: (L, clockwise) with LT Manda, ENS Junge, Coxswain/deck crew Nick Granazio, XO Gonsalves, Hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Steve Eykelhoff

One important concept that is apparent on Fairweather is keeping an eye on everyone’s welfare and well being.  Part of the XO’s (Executive Officer) role is to help with morale of all the crew, and to this end, the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) group is key in regular small events.  When the ship is in port, optional excursions are arranged and transportation is available to and from the town during evenings and weekend hours. On Sunday evenings, Sundae Sunday happens at 7pm where people come together to have ice cream; The Finer Things Club happens once per leg, and foods such as cheese and crackers, olives and chocolate are served; on World Hydrography Day, the MWR group arranged a ‘holiday hunt’ on the ship with prizes, and ‘hydrography/Fairweather charades’ was played that evening after we had watched the 1976 Fairweather film. Each evening the Fairweather ship’s store opens and folk can purchase their favorite soda or chocolate bar, or in my case, a Fairweather hoodie.

 

It will take three days approximately to get to Kodiak. Rather than going directly across the Gulf of Alaska from Southeast Alaska, Fairweather moved north through Tlevak Strait, which includes a rather narrow section of water with islands and rocks close on both sides.  Having had several weeks of cloud and rain, we were graced with clear blue skies and a warm evening as we headed north. Whales swam in the distance and small islands covered in vegetation rose vertically out of the water. On route we were able to stop for several hours in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. Here the crew were able to explore on land for a while, hike to hot springs and a lake, and take in some more of the beauty of Alaska.  It was an incredible blue sky morning (only the third so far this summer according to the locals) , snow was on the peaks around us and bald eagles sat in the nearby trees.  

 

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Morale and wellness also come in the form of good food. During my time here on I have been fed excellent food three times a day by the stewards, Ava Speights, Ace Burke, Tyrone Baker and Rory Bacon.  The other day I was able to sit down with Ava, acting Chief Steward, and ask her about her job and how the food is planned and prepared for. She was busy making a menu for the upcoming legs of Fairweather and ordering food that would be shipped to Kodiak, and later on, shipped to Nome.    She discussed how the budget works and the lead time needed to get produce and supplies to these northern regions.   

As my time on Fairweather is coming to an end, I realize that each day contains new normals, and that, after over three weeks here, there will be several transitions to go through such as being back on land and not on a rolling ship, not having food made for me and dishes washed for me, and leaving cloudy cool 50°F weather and cloudy skies to heat waves in New Mexico.   I am taking back with me a large amount of new knowledge and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom and school.  I am also taking back life-changing memories and hopefully long term connections with people from Fairweather and a desire to come back to Alaska.  I know that once I get back to New Mexico more questions will come forth and the Fairweather crew should be prepared to be hearing from me as I figure out how best to use the science in the classroom and in my community.  It’s a little bittersweet leaving, knowing that the crew have four months or more of the field season, and that by the time they head back to dry dock for the winter, that we will be over halfway through the first semester of the next school year.  I am really thankful to everyone on board for teaching me so much and making this an incredible adventure for me.  

 

Word of the day: Turnover:  Part of the nature of ship life,  I have discovered is that crew come and go. The NOAA Corps officers have an approximate two year stint on a ship before a three year rotation on land.  Deck crew, stewards and engineers are often on ships for multiple seasons, but can apply to move locations and transfer to other ships.  ‘Augmenters’ are crew from all departments who come on to ships for one or two legs at a time to fill in when a ship is short-staffed or someone has taken vacation.  At the end of each leg, people leave the ship and new people join the ship.  The only certain thing here is that there is and always will be staffing changes.  

Fact of the day:  On our journey north of Tlevak Strait, Fairweather was using fuel at the rate of 0.15mpg.   We’ve seen a couple of much larger cruise ships recently and an even larger container ship. Estimate their fuel consumption!

What is this?:

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Acronym of the day:

MWR group – Morale, Welfare and Recreation group