Teacher at Sea Blog
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 25th-July 6th, 2018
Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska
Date: June 30th, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
- Lat.: 57o 57.7’ N
- Long.: 145o 45.7’ W
- Sea wave height: 1 foot
- Wind speed: 1 knot
- Wind direction: West, southwest
- Temperature: 10.8oC
- Visibility: 6.4 nautical miles
- Sky Conditions: Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
The last two days have been surveying days. With the MVP (described in the last blog) deployed, the survey team got to work. This ship uses multibeam sonar which is affixed below the ship. Since surveying can be done at all times of day, 3 teams were created to do Survey Watch; each team worked two 4 hour blocks during the day to make sure the data was collected correctly. I was luckily placed on one of the teams, working the 3:30-7:30pm shift and the 3:30-7:30am shift. While these may not be the most normal of work day times, especially the latter, I was excited to be included and experience how work gets done on this ship.
I was teamed up with two amazing female scientists and surveyors on Survey Watch, Megan Shapiro and Ali Johnson.
Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation. She has a love for whales and that is what brought her to Alaska, as she used to work in Seward, Alaska as a deck hand and naturalist on whale watching excursions. To NOAA’s luck, this is where Megan learned about NOAA Ship Fairweather and its hydrographic mission. Megan joined the ship about three month ago and has gotten tons of on the job training to help her learn how to map the sea floor.
Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College. She learned about NOAA and its work with sonar while she was volunteering at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia. NOAA was actually using sonar in the preserve to help learn about diurnal fish migrations and predator prey relationships in the area.
While on Survey Watch, Megan and Ali monitor the ships sonar readings along the sea floor, deploy the MVP continuously throughout the trek to gather up to date data, and make sure the information is being recorded correctly. They work along side the officers to monitor the ship’s course to make a full coverage map of the area, which means having the ship go back and forth, like a lawn mower might do in your yard, until all pieces of an area are mapped. And then once all the sonar soundings are in, weeks of processing that data starts. They use correctors for the data, such as: tides, roll and pitch of the boat, sound speed, and position, to then help create the most accurate representation of the sea floor.
I wanted to know more about these amazing scientists. NOAA Ship Fairweather is a fairly large ship which can hold approximately 50 people, Megan and Ali are two of the only five women who work onboard.
What is the most rewarding part of this job?
Megan: Probably knowing that the work I am doing is going to be making the nautical charts used by mariners all over the world, it’s cool to know I am taking part in that.
Ali: I like the high quality and accuracy of data we provide, it allows for others to use the data in other applications, such as tsunami and hurricane planning, hazard mitigation and in other facets of NOAA.
What are some of the perks working for NOAA and on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
Megan: Getting to travel to new places and getting to meet a lot of new people, many of which are like minded.
Ali: We get to travel and gain access to remote areas of the world which are stunning. I like being out on the water as well. Additionally, we get access to new release movies before they hit stores, so that’s pretty nice, too!
What are some of the challenges to this type of work?
Megan: It’s hard staying in touch with friends and family since the ship is normally out of cell service range and the wifi can be slow. Additionally, I miss cooking! While the ship offers us great cooked meals, I sometimes miss cooking for myself.
Ali: One of the biggest challenges is just being away from cities. If we wanted to go to the east coast, or home for a long weekend, its kind of hard. It is a 17 hour trip, from Juneau, with all the connections.
What have been some of the coolest or most memorable moments on the job?
Megan: While processing the data for an area known as Tracy Arm, my coworker and I discovered a previously unknown underwater trench! When we were looking at the area during processing, the area looked like it had a cut or dip in the surface. Once it was 3-d imaged you could see the trench. It was pretty cool.
Ali: Last year, a fishing/crabbing vessel, F/V Destination, went down in February with six on board. NOAA Ship Fairweather was passing through the area in June, and it had yet to be found. Since we were in the last known area of the vessel the Coast Guard asked us if we could spend a day or two in the area and use our sonar to see if we could help find it. We had only planned on spending one day looking since we were on our way to the Arctic, but when that day was done we decided to do one last pass and on the 26th hour the sonar ended up finding it. It was nice to be able to provide the families with closure.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Megan: I wanted to be a zoo keeper! Or really anything with animals, I thought about being a teacher, too.
Ali: I knew I wanted to do something with the oceans. Originally I wanted to work with ocean animals, possibly mammals or cephalopods.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Megan: Hopefully, having a farm by the ocean where I can have lots of dogs. I would love to have an Irish Wolf Hound, Collie and a Borzio in particular. Maybe get my masters in Marine Biology and continue studying whales.
Ali: Maybe I’ll be retire from NOAA by then and look into starting a nonprofit for the ocean. I’ll probably live somewhere warm and tropical; maybe lead a dive school to get others interested in the ocean, as well. And I’ll have some dogs, too!
I keep finding myself outside the ship to view the Alaskan coastline or to scope for animals. It is truly beautiful here. So far I have been lucky enough to see quite a few whales, sea lions, porpoises and sea birds including albatross. It is a bit cold, so I can only be outside for a little bit, but I find the time completely worth it. Soon my time will be up and I want to be able to remember this experience and the Alaskan beauty I am in.