Jennifer Dean: Extra Operations and Daily Duties, May 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 19, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 29°55.8590’ N
Longitude: 80°16.9468’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Wind Speed:  18.1 knots
Wind Direction: 210.6°
Visibility:  1 nautical mile
Air Temperature: 25.3°C
Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

Extra Operations- Zodiac Hurricane Fast Rescue Boat:
Occasionally these Fast Rescue Boats are used for more than real emergencies and drills, practicing the pick-up of a man-overboard and rescue diver missions, in the case of day 2 of my trip on NOAA Ship Pisces, a camera replacement part became necessary.  When a small crew change is needed or to pick up a repair part for an essential item, instead of bringing the ship to dock, the FRB (Fast Rescue Boat)  is sent in.

Lead Fishermen, Farron “Junior” Cornell was the FRB coxswain (driver/operator of a ship’s boat

The LF or Lead Fishermen,  Farron “Junior” Cornell was the FRB coxswain (driver/operator of a ship’s boat).  His navigation skills were developed by working in the hydrographic division that performs regular bathymetry readings using these vessels on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, making him a very capable pilot of this small watercraft in the NOAA fleet.  The FRB has seating for 6, with 2 aft of console, 1 forward of engine cover, 2 sitting on foredeck on engine cover and 1 prone on deck by stretcher.

Some other specs on the boat includes the following:
Length overall=6.81 meters including jet
Beam overall=2.59 meters
Fuel capacity=182 litres (48 US Gal)
Bollard Pull ~600 kg/5884 N
Endurance (hours @ 20 knots)~6.75 hours
Max  Horse Power=235kW, 315 hp
At Light Load Operation Displacement = 2150 kg/4750 lbs
Full Speed ~32 knots
Fuel System =48 US gallon tank


Engine Room Tour Pictures and Learnings:

Daily Duties: Freshwater NeedsReverse Osmosis and Evaporators
Freshwater is necessary for a variety of reasons beyond drinking water for the crew.  It is used for laundry, cooking, showers and on NOAA Ship Pisces, to fill the ballast water tanks.  Approximately 31 gallons of freshwater is used on average per person per day, with 29 people on board for 12 days, totaling nearly 11,000 gallons by the end of the trip.   One method to supply this freshwater supply is through reverse osmosis.  Osmosis is the diffusion of water across a membrane.


Normally water moves, without an energy input from high to low concentrations.  In reverse osmosis, water is moved in the opposite direction of its natural tendency to find equilibrium.  The force at which water wants to move through the membrane is called its osmotic pressure.  To get water to move against the osmotic pressure another force must be applied to counteract and overcome this tendency.  Sea water is found in abundance and can be forced across a semi-permeable membrane leaving the ions on one-side and the freshwater to be collected into containment chambers on the other side.  Technology has impacted this process by discoveries of better semi-permeable membranes that allow for faster and larger amounts of sea-water to be moved through the system.  Pisces uses reverse osmosis and a back-up freshwater system of 2 evaporators.  When the temperatures are high (as they were in the first few days of the cruise) the evaporators are the go-to system and make for tasty drinking water.

Evaporators take in sea water and distill the liquid water using waste heat collected from the engines that raises the temperature of water in the pipes.  This temperature provides the energy that forces the liquid freshwater to vaporize and enter its gaseous phase, then under pressure this vapor is condensed and can be collected and separated from the brine that is removed and discharged.


Wastewater:  There are different types of water that can be used for different tasks aboard a ship.  Typically gray water (which is relatively clean wastewater from showers and sinks but may contain soaps, oils, and human hair/skin)  is placed in the MSD (Marine Sanitation Device), which is similar to a septic system.  Black water is wastewater from toilets, or any water that has come into contact with fecal matter and may carry potential disease carrying pathogens. Black water is also treated in the MSD.  This black water sewage is first subjected to a macerator pump that breaks the fecal matter into smaller pieces, enzymes are added to further decompose and before disposal a bit of chlorine is added to ensure no bacteria remain alive.  This water can be disposed of into the ocean if the ship is over 12 miles offshore.  If the ship is within 12 miles the sewage must be either stored in containment system on board the vessel or taken to dock and disposed of by an in-shore treatment facility. For more information on the regulations for wastewater disposal while at sea see the  Ocean Dumping Act.

Valves for ballast water tanks
Valves for ballast water tanks on NOAA Ship Pisces that are filled with freshwater to prevent the spread of nonnative species

Ballast Water and New Regulations:  Ballast water tanks are compartments used to hold water to provide stability for the ship.  This balance is necessary for better maneuverability and improved propulsion through the water.  It can allow the crew to compensate and adjusts for changes in the ships cargo load or fuel/water weight changes over the course of a trip.  Historically this water has been drawn up from the surrounding sea water to fill the tanks.  Unfortunately, in the not so distant past, the ballast water from one location on the globe has been deposited into another area along with it, all of it foreign plants, animals and microbiota.  This act led to the introduction of a host of exotic and non-native species to this new area, some of which became invasive and wreaked havoc on the existing ecosystems.  Today there are a host of case studies in my students’ textbook like the Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and the European Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas) that were introduced in this way that resulted in devastating impacts both environmentally and economically to the invaded area.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed new regulations in September of 2017 calling for better management of this ballast water exchange.  Ballast Water Management Convention 2017.

Another high tech approach to this problem has been the development of a sea-water filtration systems, but these carry a heavy price tag that can range anywhere from  $750,000 to $5 million.

The engine room area is staffed by 7 crew members.  Back-up systems and  the amount of en route repair necessary to keep the ship running and safe was apparent in the engine room.  There were redundancies in the engines, HVAC, hydraulics, and fuel systems.  Spare parts are stored for unexpected breaks or other trouble-shooting needs.  The control panels throughout the tour had screens that not only allowed a check of every level of function on every system on the ship, there was another screen that demonstrated the electrical connections on how all these monitoring sensors were wired, in case a reading needed to be checked back to its source.

Engine 4
One of the 4 NOAA Ship Pisces CAT engines

Pictured here is a diesel engine on NOAA Ship Pisces. Pisces has 4 of these on board: 2 bigger engines that are CAT model 3512 vs. 2 smaller engines that are CAT 3508. When the ship is going at full steam they use 3 of 4 to provide power to turn the shaft, and when they need less power, they can modify their engine choices and power, therefore using less fuel.  CAT engines are models 3512 and 3508 diesel driven at provide 1360 KW and 910 KW, respectively.  There is also an emergency engine (CAT model 3306) on board as well providing 170 kw of power.

Control panels in engine room
Control panel of screens for monitoring and controlling all mechanical and tank/fluid functions


Steven Clement, first assistant engineer, is showing me some of the hydraulics in the engine room.

The pressurized fluid in these pipes are used to move devices.  Pisces is in the process of converting certain hydraulic systems to an organic and biodegradable “green” oil called Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs).

The Bridge

panopic bridge
NOAA Ship Pisces’ Bridge

This area is command central.  I decided to focus on only a few features for this blog from a handful of screens found in this room that monitor a variety of sensors and systems about both the ships conditions and the environmental factors surrounding the ship.   Commanding Officer CDR Nicholas Chrobak, NOAA demonstrated how to determine the difference on the radar screen of rain scatter vs. another vessel.  In the image the rain gives a similar color pattern and directionality, yet the ship appeared more angular and to have a different heading then those directed by wind patterns.  When clicking on the object or vessel another set of calculations began and within minutes a pop-up reading would indicate characteristics such as CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (Time of Closest Point Approach) as seen in the image.


These safety features let vessels avoid collisions and are constantly being calculated as the ship navigates.  GPS transponders on the ships send signals that allow for these readings to be monitored.    ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) charts provide a layered vector chart with  information about the surrounding waters and hazards to navigation.  One screen image displayed information about the dynamic positioning system.

ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System)

Paths and positions can be typed in that the software then can essentially take the wheel, controlling main propulsion, the bow thruster and rudder to keep the ship on a set heading, and either moving on a desired course or hold in a stationary position.  These computer-based navigation systems integrate GPS (Global Positioning System) information along with electronic navigational charts, radar and other sailing sensors to ensure the ship can navigate safely while effectively carrying out the mission at hand.

The Mess Deck and Galley:

This location serves up delicious and nutritious meals.  Not only do the stewards provide the essential food groups, they provide vegetarian options and make individual plates for those that may miss a meal during shift work.

mess deck
The mess

Dana Reid, who I interviewed below, made me some amazing omelets on the trip and had a positive friendly greeting each time I saw him. I decided a few days into the cruise to start taking pictures of my meals as proof for the nature of how well fed the crew is on these adventures.



dana and ray
Steward CS Ray Mabanta and 2C Dana Reid in the galley of NOAA Ship Pisces

Each day a new screen of menus appeared on the ship’s monitors, along with other rotating information from quotes, to weather to safety information.

Personal Log

Today a possible shipwreck is evident on the sonar maps from the previous night’s multibeam readings.  If weather permits, the science team plans to check out the unknown structure en route to the next MPA. This scientific study reminds me of one of the reasons I fell in love with science.  There is that sense of discovery.  Unlike pirates and a search for sunken gold, the treasure to be found here is hopefully a diversity of fish species and thriving deep coral communities.  I found myself a bit lost during the discussions of fishing regulations for these areas designated as MPAs (Marine Protected Areas).  I had always thought ‘protected’ would mean prohibitive to fishing.   So I did a little research and will share a little of the basics learned.  And I hope someday these regulations will become more restrictive in these fragile habitats.

The MPA , “marine protected area”  definition according to the implementation of an Executive Order 13158 is “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” But what that actually means in terms of the size of the area and approach to conservation, or the level protection and the fishing regulations seems to vary from location to location.  The regulations are governed by a variety of factors from the stakeholders, agencies and scientists to the population numbers and resilience of the habitat to distances offshore.
For more information on MPAs visit

Did You Know?
Some species of coral, like Ivory Tree Coral, Oculina varicosa, can live without their zooxanthellae.

Oculina varicosa
Oculina varicosa

Very little is known about how they do this or how their zooxanthellae symbiotic partners return to their coral home after expulsion.

Fact or Fiction?
Oculina varicosa can grow to up to 10 feet high and have a growth rate of ½ inch per year. Check out the scientific validity of this statement at one of the following links:

What’s My Story? Dana Reid
The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

Dana in scullery
Dana Reid pictured here in the scullery, the ship’s kitchen area for cleaning dishes

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?  Second Cook. His job description includes assisting the Chief Steward in preparing meals and maintaining cleanliness of the galley (kitchen), mess deck (tables picture where crew eats), scullery (part of the kitchen where dishes get washed) fridge/freezer and storage areas.

How long have you worked for NOAA?  5th year

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? His favorite part of this job is getting a chance to take care of people, putting a smile on people’s faces and making them happy.  His least favorites are tasks that involve standing in the freezer for extended periods of time to stock and rotate foods.  In addition he mentioned that he isn’t too fond of waking up very early in the morning.

When did you first become interested in this career and why?  His initial food as a career-interest started when he was in high school working for Pizza Hut.  He later found himself working for 2 years cooking fried chicken for Popeyes.  His interest in the maritime portion of his career also began right after high school when he joined the Navy.  In the Navy he worked in everything from the galley to a plane captain and jet mechanic.  During his time in the Navy he worked on 5 different carriers and went on 9 different detachments including Desert Storm. After hurricane Katrina in 2006 he found himself interested in finding another job through government service and began working on a variety of NOAA’s vessels.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?  He found the culture and terrain of Oahu one of his most interesting.  He enjoys hiking and Hawaii, Alaska and Seattle have been amazing places to visit.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? He spends the majority of his time prepping  (washing and chopping)  vegetables and a majority of his time washing dishes.  In addition he is responsible for keeping beverages and dry goods stocked. 

Questions from students in Environmental Science at Camas High School

  • How is cooking at sea different from cooking on land?
    He said that he needs to spend more effort to keep his balance and if in rough weather the ship rocks. This impacts his meal making if he is trying to cook an omelet and if mixing something in keeping the bowl from sliding across the prep table.  He mentioned that occasionally when baking a cake that it might come out lopsided depending upon the angle of the ship and timing of placement in the oven.
  • What do you have to consider when planning and cooking a meal?
    He plans according to what meal of the day it is, breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The number of people to cook for, number of vegetarians and the part of the world the cruise is happening in are all factored in when planning and making meals. For example, when he has been in Hawaii he’d consider cooking something more tropical – cooking with fish, coconut and pineapple; if in the Southeast they tend to make more southern style cooking, sausage/steak lots of greens; if in the Northeast more food items like lobster and clam chowder make their way onto the menu.
  • What is the best meal you can make on the ship, and what is the worst? He said he makes a pretty good Gumbo. He said one of his weakness is cooking with curry and said that the Chief Steward is more skilled with dishes of that flavor.
  • How many meals do you make in a day? 3; In addition he hosts occasional special events like ice cream socials, banana splits or grilling party with smoker cooking steaks to hamburgers on the back deck.



47 Replies to “Jennifer Dean: Extra Operations and Daily Duties, May 19, 2018”

  1. I thought it was very cool that they sent out a boat with the replacement parts for that camera. Are there any less expensive ways to filter ballast water instead of the 5 million dollar filter?

  2. Wow!!! When I first read that you’d found a possible shipwreck I thought you meant a recent one. An ancient ship teaming with fish species is so much better. Are there species which live best in such habitats?

    1. it seems to depend on depth- today we are at 250 meters and seeing many different species that don’t exist at shallower levels- like glass sponges

  3. How have engines used on boats changed throughout history? Have they gotten smaller, and more energy efficient? Is there hope for even smaller, and better engines in the future?

    1. I don’t know about smaller- the ships have probably got bigger- and i think there is a power vs. efficiency as well as fuel consumption to consider; diesels give power and probably last longer; i am sure engines will continue to improve but I think their basic design remains the same- he had a huge manual of thousands of different kinds of engines- but things come down to cost- if you have functioning system that is older you aren’t going to replace it with the newest best thing on the market

  4. The method of using reverse osmosis to obtain fresh water is very interesting! How much osmotic pressure is required to get fresh water?

    1. there are -unfortunately- lionfish everywhere…not sure if they came in with ballast water or not- but they are definitely invasive in many areas

  5. It looks like you eat really well on the ship. Is there a limited variety of food on board? What are your sleeping arrangements? Are they comfortable?

    1. everything in some ways are limited. i seem to have unlimited amounts and i don’t think i want for anything….they showed me where to find hot cocoa. and we even have chocolate covered peanut m and m’s…all sorts of snack items and drink choices- from Naked drinks to juice to milk. Pop is available – but i am avoiding it. i am in a bunk bed- on the top. i am fairly tired at the end of each day so haven’t had trouble sleeping. but i do miss my bed. getting up and down from a top bunk on a swaying ship down a metal ladder a bit challenging when sleepy.

  6. I was wondering if the fast rescue boat could fit you all if there was an emergency on the boat? Looks like you are having fun!

    1. no- only holds 6….there are life boats for all of us though- and we are each assigned to report to one in an emergency

    1. we didn’t get to investigate- the ROV had a problem and we only have a certain window of time to dive…so we missed the window and had to move on and then it got repaired by the next morning. Things on the ship are in constant states of repair. And real science is about trouble-shooting and problem- solving. THe still camera system is still not working reliably…it went out again about 10 minutes into the second dive today

  7. Hey, I talked about reverse osmosis in my magnet application! Cool to see it getting used!

    Fact or Fiction: Half fact. This species can grow 1/2 per year or even more in some cases, but the largest tend to only grow to 150 cm, or about 5 feet tall,

    1. yes- and actually some of these corals can grow up to 100 feet….but we have destroyed most of them. some sad dives of just coral rubble

  8. Out of all the meals you have had on the ship, which one was your favorite? Since this is about a two-week trip, is all of the food frozen or refrigerated? Are you able to steer the FRB and help out on fixing/replacing items?

    1. Food is both from frozen (like some of the veggies and meat) and fresh- the salad bar items. My favorite has been the crab legs and the cheese cake. But Dana makes a great omelet as well. I have been a bit spoiled with regards to food…I am sure I have gained at least 5 pounds. No- I did not get to go the FRB…i only got lucky in seeing it return to the ship because I happened to go out on the back deck first thing that morning to look at the ocean. And no- I am not handy at all. SO not helping much with any sort of repair. Wish I was good at that. It is not one of my talents.

  9. Is the reverse osmosis machine efficient enough to supply freshwater? Because I thought methods of desalinating salt water into freshwater was inefficient.

    1. they prefer the evaporator on hot days. i think it must be more efficient then other methods. technology is improving and desalination viable for ships like this.

  10. When you were talking about the food that you are given on the ship, I was wondering what the cost/effects of storing, keeping the food safe to eat, and how do they transport the food in an efficient way?

    1. They have dry storage and they have fridges and freezers. Everything is kept really organized and cleaned- and they turn all the labels and move everything forward to make sure all product is safe and fresh. THey also buy things that are local so that it is cheaper. I am kind of amazed at the food options – that is up to the CO apparently- and they submit what they want to buy and then it gets approved or not from whatever the budget is for the ship and the grant. He did mention that having lobster for all of us would have been something ridiculous like an extra $1,000. THat is why we had crab legs instead….but they were very very good.

  11. Why can the water that is sanitized not be dumped in the 12 miles near the shore? Is it because of contamination towards the humans and living species? Why use evaporation instead of the ways they do on land like on a sewage treatment plant?

    1. great question- i will answer this and discuss when i return; evaporation is to make freshwater- not related to the sewage treatment- that goes in a separate tank that is similar to a septic tank…unfortunately with the ocean (like they used to think about our air) i think this policy stems from the idea that the solution to pollution is dilution 🙁

  12. Stay safe! Also, that is fiction, Oculina varicosa can’t grow up to 10 feet. The article says, “Size range in Oculina varicosa found in shallow water is from 10 – 25 cm, with an average size of 15 cm. Deepwater specimens can range from 25 – 150 cm; with a typical size of 100 cm”.

  13. It’s amazing to me that so there are so many complex systems and technologies aboard the ship to provide water, balance, food, etc – and all that stuff is floating and moving through the water.

  14. As you said, “Unfortunately, in the not so distant past, the ballast water from one location on the globe has been deposited into another area along with it, all of it foreign plants, animals and microbiota”. If the ballast water had displaced animals along with the plants and microbiota, what is the size of the hole of the ballast water intake? Could this pose a big threat to marine organisms?

  15. Sounds cool! How efficient are reverse osmosis and the evaporators, in terms of how many gallons of freshwater they can supply in a day, or if they can even supply freshwater at the same rate that the boat consumes it?

  16. Wow sounds cool how easy it is to change saltwater to pure drinking water! What do you do if the waste water or ballast water (grey or black water) leaks in the ship? What safety procedures are there for problems related to the water treatment/leakage?

  17. Looking at all of the blogs, it seems like this boat is huge!! How large is it actually, and was it easy to get lost on the first couple of days?

  18. I’m sure the ship is very big with all of the moving parts that are occurring with the science at hand. My question is were you able to go to all of the areas of the ship (like the bridge, dock, and operating room) and explore those areas? Are there any areas that you wished you were able to explore more?

  19. What was the best meal you ate while on the ship? Dana’s favorite part of being on the ship was making people smile, what was yours?

  20. All the food looked really good! How many chefs did they have to cook all the food, and about how long did it take them to cook for the entire crew? Also, did they make special orders for people that requested them or did they just follow the food schedule?

  21. This is all really interesting! What is the most fascinating part for you about how the ship works/ how it uses and reuses resources?

  22. Very interesting! I’m kind of a gearhead, do you have any more statistics about the ship? How much torque do the engines produce? I want to know everything about it

  23. Wow!! I’d never considered the necessity of water distillation on long boat rides, but that makes a lot of sense

  24. I know the first few days were on the warmer side of things, but were there any days with really bad weather, enough to make you worry at all? I would think it would be interesting to see some of the destroyed coral and the thriving coral side in real life.

  25. With only one rescue boat: the Zodiac with a capacity of 6, and 29 crew members, what is done if everyone needs to get off the ship?

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