NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 30 – June 13, 2019
Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau
Date: May 31, 2019
Latitude: 28°29.0’ N
Longitude: 079°34.1’ W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 155
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 27.6 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.7
Science and Technology Log
Today and tomorrow I am learning all about the who and how of making the ship go. Ric Gabona, the Acting Chief Marine Engineer, has been teaching me all about the mechanics of powering the ship, managing waste, and providing clean drinking water. Today I will focus on two aspects of making it possible to live on a ship for weeks on end. First, I will teach you about waste management. Second, I will explain how freshwater is made to support cooking, drinking, cleaning, and bathing needs. In conjunction, all of these systems contribute to our comfort on board but also our safety.
Waste on board has many forms and it all must be handled in some way or it can lead to some pretty stinky situations. The main forms of waste I will focus on include human waste and the waste that goes down the drains. The waste is broken down into two categories. Black water and gray water. Gray water is any water that goes down the drain as a result of us washing dishes, our hands, or ourselves. Gray water is allowed to be discharged once we are 3 miles from shore. The water does not need to be treated and can be let off the ship through the discharge valve. Black water is water that is contaminated with our sewage. It can be discharged when we are 12 miles from shore. Black water goes into a machine through a macerator pump and it gets hit with electricity breaking the solid materials into smaller particles that can be discharged into the ocean.
Discharge of gray or black water has its limitations. These discharge locations follow strict rules set in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The CFR are set by the federal government and the regulations tell you where (how far from shore) you are allowed to discharge both gray and black water. However, sometimes Okeanos Explorer is in areas where black water cannot be discharged so the black water must be turned into gray water. At this point, once the black water has been mashed it will pass through a chlorine filter that will treat any contamination and then the waste can be discharged. However, there are places where nothing can be discharged such as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i. When in these no discharge areas the ship will store the gray and black water and then discharge when regulated to do so.
It is important to follow these regulations because as Ric says, “We are ocean stewards.” It is important that ships such as Okeanos Explorer be able to explore the ocean while making the smallest environmental impact as possible. The engineers and other ship and science mission personnel are dedicated to reducing our impact as much as possible when out at sea.
Water makes up 60% of the human body and is vital for life. However, 71% of the water on earth is saltwater, not able to be taken up by humans, making it challenging to access freshwater unless you live near an inland freshwater system like where I come from up in Ohio along the Great Lakes. While out at sea, we have no access to freshwater and we cannot store freshwater from land on the ship so we must make it. On Okeanos Explorer freshwater is made using two types of systems, reverse osmosis and desalination. Reverse osmosis is used by seabirds to turn saltwater into freshwater. Saltwater passes through a semipermeable membrane allowing the smaller water particles to pass through while leaving the larger salt particles and other impurities behind. If you are seabird, you excrete this salt by spitting it out the salt glands at the top part of your bill or if you are a ship out through a separate pipe as brine, a yellow colored super salty liquid. The other method on the ship used to make water is desalination. Desalination is the process of boiling salt water, trapping the water that evaporates (freshwater), and then discharging the salty water left behind. The engineers could use a separate boiling system to heat the salt water however they have a much more inventive and practical way of heating the water. But before I can let you know of their ingenious solution we must learn how the engines run. Oops! Sorry, I need to go. Need to switch my laundry. So sorry. We will explore ship movement and the engines in the next blog. Stay tuned…
I really enjoyed learning all about the mechanics of operating the ship. It takes lots of very skilled people to make the equipment work and I love the ingenuity of the machines and those who run them. Space is limited on a ship and I am just fascinated by how they deal with the challenges of managing waste and making freshwater 50 plus nautical miles from coast for up to 49 people. Today was a great learning day for me. I do not know much about engines, wastewater treatment, and water purification systems so I really learned a lot today. I now have one more puzzle piece of ship operations under my belt with many more to go.
Aside from my lesson in thermodynamics, combustion, chemistry, physics, and other sciences that I have not touched since college, I learned about the safety operations on the vessel. Today we practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. We learned where we need to go on the ship should one of these events ever occur and which safety gear is needed. I donned my immersion suit and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) to make sure they fit and all the pieces/parts work. Being in the ocean would be a bad time to realize something isn’t right. Donning the safety suit was a funny situation for all movement is super restricted and you feel like a beached whale trying to perform Swan Lake on point shoes.
However, with some help from my friends we were all able to get suited up in case an emergency should arise.
Tonight I look forward to another sunset at sea, some yoga on the deck, and seeing a spectacular star display.
Did You Know?
Eating an apple a day while at sea can keep seasickness at bay.
Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!
Mess Deck: Space that crew eat aboard ship
Fantail: Rear deck of a ship
Pipe: Announcement on the ship via a PA system
Muster: Process of accounting for a group of people. Used in safety drills on a ship such as a fire or abandon ship drills.
Stateroom: Sleeping quarters on the ship
Abeam: On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the ship’s keel
Bearing: The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects
Animals Seen Today
1 flying fish
Whales (Too far away to tell what they were but we saw their spouts!)