NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
May 31 – June 11, 2018
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean along the California Coast
Date: June 5, 2018
Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33º 42.135 N
Longitude: 119º 15.440 W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Direction: 125.98º (Southeasterly Winds)
Air Temperature: 17.35º C
Science and Technology Log
I arrived on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker on Wednesday, May 31st. However, we just left the Port of San Francisco last night (June 2nd) because the ship had to make sure everything was running properly and pass multiple inspections. Safety is a serious thing out here, and I appreciate that very much. Once we had the green light, we sailed out of San Francisco Bay underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The winds were about 25 knots (almost 29 mph) with 10 foot swells. Conditions like this are not ideal for data collection, so we sailed about 220 nautical miles to the South where conditions were more promising. I spent my first night on the job acclimating to the evening schedule. In that time, I learned about some of the equipment and programs we use to collect and analyze our catches and samples.
The first thing that I noticed was a GPS system used to track the ship’s location and the locations for each trawl. The boat icon shows the location of the ship, and the dots indicate locations where we plan to survey. Those with a triangle inside are the trawling locations, while the others indicate spots where we need to perform CTD tests. This systems marks locations using latitude and longitude, and can provide an estimated time of arrival.
The second program I learned about was NOAA’S Scientific Computer System (SCS). This system allows the ship to record a variety of environmental and positional data immediately into the computer. While some data is still recorded by hand, this system reduces human recording errors, in turn allowing for analyses that accurately represent the data collected. I also had the opportunity to interview our Survey Technician, Jaclyn Mazzella. Jackie is one of the NOAA Crew members on board, but she is also one of the most important people that serves as a liaison for both the scientists and the crew. Read the interview below:
What are the responsibilities of the Survey Technician?
The Survey Technician is responsible for data management. All the data collected on the ship is recorded in the Scientific Computer System Database. This includes data from the thermometers, anemometer (wind speed), TSG (thermosalinograph), fluorometer, etc. The data is organized and then delivered as a data package to the scientists. There are two major types of files, continuous files and snapshot files. A continuous file may include data that is taken every 30 seconds, like latitude and longitude, speed over ground, course over ground, etc. A snapshot file provides information about a very specific event. For example, their system records every single step in the trawling process, including the moment the net hits the water, “shooting the doors” that hold the net open, begin fishing, and then every step in the return of that process. While this is happening, all the environmental parameters are simultaneously and continuously being recorded. Jackie maintains these files until the end of a survey and then gives the data to the chief scientist in a document known as the MOA, or the Marine Operations Abstract. The information is also sent to the National Center for Environmental Information, the world’s largest active archive of environmental data. These archives are available to the public.
Why did you apply to work for NOAA?
At first, I didn’t know what NOAA was. I originally wanted to study things like Marine Biology, Astronomy, and Physics. I was attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College as a liberal arts major. I planned to transfer to another school for Physics and Astronomy, but my counselor suggested another option, knowing my interest in Marine Science. I then went to SUNY Maritime in the Bronx to study Marine Environmental Science (State University of New York), a school I never knew existed considering I lived right down from the street from it. Upon graduation, I received an email from a former classmate also working for NOAA, stating that NOAA was seeking Maritime Majors for this position. She gave me a contact, I sent my resume, and I got the job.
What is the most important tool you need to do your job?
The SCS is the most important thing I need, and am fortunate that NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker has up-to-date, top-of-the-line equipment. We are one of the most technologically advanced ships in the world. We also have back-ups for almost everything on board which is nice to have while at Sea.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing this position as a career?
Being a Survey Technician requires you to have a degree in science. Be certain that if you apply for a position, be sure to know what you are applying for. Much of my training was on the job training, and I was fortunate to work with Phil White, Chief Survey Technician with years of experience. I learned a lot from him. Phil also developed course for those wanting and needing to learn the ins and outs of a Survey Technician.
If you didn’t work for NOAA, what career would you choose?
Working in Astronomy or Physics because I had a strong interest in both. However, I would say that joining NOAA was one of the best decisions I ever made. I came from a rough background growing up, and now I get to experience things I never would have imagined. NOAA provides an acceptable salary, nice benefits, leave time, vacation time, and paid overtime. When I take leave, I travel to other countries. This is something I always wanted to do.
What are your hobbies?
I love trying new foods when we go in port. I love drawing, painting, and playing video games. And I love to travel. I’ve already been to Egypt, Qatar, Europe. In the next year for two occasions, I plant to travel to Italy, then [for my honeymoon] to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Maldives.
Analyzing data can be a daunting task. “R,” a coding language used for statistical computing and graphics, allows scientists to analyze their data in a variety of ways. The program can be used to perform statistical computations of large amounts of data to show underlying patterns and trends. It can also be used to create plots of specific sects of data if one wanted to highlight a location or time. Many scientists like this program because it is very user friendly, and if one needs help with a program (code), there is a free and open community of users available to provide advice and feedback.
When I arrived at the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, we expected to sail on May 31st. However, we were delayed in port for 2 extra days, officially leaving port on June 2nd. During the waiting period, I explored the piers along the Embarcadero. I had the chance to visit the Exploratorium, the Bay Aquarium, and the famous Pier 39. Pier 39 is where the Sea lions aggregate every day and, apparently, have been doing so for 28 years.
I hiked up the stairs to Coit Tower, a historic landmark built in 1933 (Lillian Hitchcock Coit, a rich socialite, bequeathed over $100,000 back in 1929 to restore and beautify sections of San Francisco). Hey WINS girls, remember how we climb the steps coming out of Tumbling Waters, and how you felt like you were going to die before you reached the top…I almost died twice climbing those stairs! By the second time it was easier.
When on the ship, I would read or sit out on deck and watch the pelicans, gulls, cormorants, terns, and common murres. I also got to do a little bird watching heading to Coit Tower, where I saw lots of Anna’s humming birds, chestnut-backed chickadees, and song sparrows. It was interesting because I don’t recognize the calls of west coast birds. Even the song sparrow, which are also common Philadelphia, have a variation in their song, like an accent or a dialect.
As of June 2nd, we have been out to sea. I’ve been assigned to night shift, which means I will be working a lot on sorting the overnight hauls (Stay tuned for the next blog). However, the weather leaving the bay on the first night was rough, so we sailed south to find calmer waters. I didn’t mind so much because as soon as we passed the Golden Gate Bridge, I got to see something I wanted to see my whole life, humpback whales! It was worth the wait.