NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 25 – July 6, 2018
Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 28° 59.9′ N
Longitude: 093° 50.4′ W
Visibility: 10+ nm
Sky Condition: 2/8 (2 out of 8 parts have cloud cover)
Wind: 170°, 8 knots (kts)
Temperature: Sea water: 29.8 ° C, Air: 28.8 ° C
Science and Technology Log
Upon early evening arrival to Corpus Christi, TX, I was greeted by ENS Taylor Krabiel with a friendly sign at the airport arrival gate. We made a short drive to the port in Corpus Christi and boarded NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.
ENS Krabiel provided a quick and thorough tour of the Thomas Jefferson including the well-stocked mess (including a fresh salad and fruit bar, ice cream freezer and espresso machine), gym, complementary laundry facilities, all offices and staterooms, the plot (survey) room, and multiple outdoor decks. He was also patient as I repeatedly lost direction of the stairwell, multiple decks (floors) and doors. It is evident that ENS Krabiel has experience as a teacher because his enthusiasm about the ship, projects, personnel, and patience with newcomers seems to come naturally.
One fact he shared about the ship is that the Thomas Jefferson makes its own water through reverse osmosis. This means that all hands (everyone aboard the ship) generally do not need to worry about water rationing. I hope to take a tour and find out more about this process during the next couple of weeks.
He also mentioned that the U.S. via NOAA is one of the only countries that provide nautical chart data at no cost to the public. Private parties may use these accessible charts and make their own modifications.
The CO, Commanding Officer, of the ship and I discussed various careers aboard the Thomas Jefferson. CO explained that ship personnel in blue uniforms are hired through NOAA Corps and follow military rankings while professional mariners include the survey team, engineers, stewards, and deck department. There are also electronics technicians who are hired as civil servants. I found it astonishing that some crew members have been with the Thomas Jefferson since NOAA acquired the ship in 2003. I was able to have my first breakfast aboard the ship with Puddin’ Gilliam, Junior Engineer, who has been with the ship since then.
It was interesting observing the plans for departure from Corpus Christi come together. I sat in on a safety brief discussing the strict plan of navigation. It takes roughly two hours to navigate through a narrow, 21-mile long channel out of the port. Coming too close to the sides of the channel could cause the ship to run aground, while coming too close to oncoming ships could cause additional damage. There are also several points of crossways where ships could be coming from a different direction. All of these variables require critical communication and a concise plan. Junior Officer, ENS Jacquelyn Putnam, lead the brief and displayed digital Mercator projections of the navigation plan. She claims that navigation is her favorite part of her job. In addition, it was decided that the assistance of a pilot (someone who boards the ship while docked and departs at the jetty) would provide ideal support in navigating the ship.
During a project brief lead by FOO (Field Operations Officer) Lt. Anthony Klemm, I learned that the primary mission is to accurately complete the survey of a section of the Gulf of Mexico. The area was last surveyed in the 1930s. Already, the survey team has submitted updates including the removal of two wrecks or obstructions previously documented in the narrow fairway leading to Galveston. This inaccurate documentation of obstructions that were no longer present could have been causing ships to deviate from the fairway or move unnecessarily into the oncoming lane of traffic. In addition, the surveys done by NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson allow for validation of surveys completed by other organizations such as BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).
ENS Taylor Krabiel launches a towfish sonar device.
Basics of the survey process include launching two types of sonar which work together to provide in-depth views of the ocean floor. Sonar sends a sound wave at a speed around 1500 meters per second in salt water. Using this information and the time it takes for the sonar wave to return to the device, the distance can be calculated using Distance = Speed x Time. The sonar images generated are then processed, saved, and analyzed by the survey team. ENS Putnam mentioned that it is important to validate the data by using multiple scans, “buttoning-up” or finalizing, and re-surveying areas that generated poor data. At times, areas of interest (like a wreck) or areas of safety concern are further investigated by completing another scan on the main ship or by sending a launch (smaller boat).
While Tom Loftin, Chief Electronics Technician, was getting my computer set-up on the ship’s wifi, we heard a call for “All Hands on deck.” I looked at him and asked if that meant us. He replied, “Yep, let’s go!” We joined everyone on the ship to form an assembly line to assist with unpacking crates and passing food down into the mess. The crew would get excited about certain items like the ice cream and blueberries while questioning other generic items with nondescript labels.
Starting at the very beginning before we even left port, there has been no end to teamwork, positive morale, and camaraderie presented on the ship. I have discussed this with multiple crew members and all have said that teamwork and constant communication is critical. Several examples include: the departure from Corpus Christi, observing the survey and bridge communication while sonar is in the water, and the timely “Plan of the Day” email sent out by Lt. Charles Wisotzkey. ENS Putnam mentioned that nothing can be accomplished without a well-functioning team. She further stated that clearly defined roles and the importance of everyone’s job makes the team function well.
It has been a lot of fun to be around this crew. Everyone is kind and highly accommodating thus far. Outside the XO’s (executive officer) office is a sign that says, “Work hard and be nice to others.” I am excited to be here and to witness such a well-functioning team.
Peaks and Valleys
+ I enjoyed observing the departure process and launching the sonar devices.
+ I’ve seen over 30 dolphins scattered around the Gulf.
+I enjoy catching up with people during meal times. The food isn’t bad!
– I experienced my first bought of sea sickness immediately upon leaving the jetty. Seas were a bit rough (an estimated 8 feet) and I retired to my stateroom (bedroom) early without eating dinner.
– I accidentally locked myself out of the shared head (bathroom).