NOAA Teacher at Sea
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
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.
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 Needs– Reverse 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.