Elli Simonen:  The Survey Team, July 27, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Elli Simonen (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 10-28, 2023

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands 

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pribilof Islands, Alaska

Date: July 27, 2023

Weather Data

Location: 55°54.11’N, 168°33.69W

Outside temperature: 11°C

Water temperature: 10.5°C

True Winds: 8nm, 211.9°

Skies: Overcast and Foggy

Visibility: 5nm

Sea Wave: 1 ft

Swell Wave: 2 ft

Science and Technology Log

The entire survey department has diverse backgrounds rooted in Science and each took different paths before coming to NOAA Ship Fairweather.  Their studies in college include Geography, Quantitative Geoscience, Environmental Science, Economic Environmental Policy, Space Studies, Physical Oceanology, Applied Math, Computer Science and Marine Biology.  

I wanted to highlight two people in the survey department who I worked with over the last 3 weeks.

Alex Dawson, Physical Scientist, Project Manager for the Pribilof Islands

Alex studied in one of the only hydrographic programs in the U.S. for undergraduates, at the College of Charleston.  This is a unique program where students gain technical, practical and research knowledge and experience.  Alex obtained bathymetric data and translated this into a research project.  She presented this information at a professional conference, which put her ahead of many of her peers.

In her current job at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, Alex is a Physical Scientist and a Project Manager.  She plans projects for the entire U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and planned this Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands; she is aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather for their Pribilof Island Surveys .   Each project takes about 2 to 6 months to plan depending on the complexity of the specific area being surveyed.  Alex and her team do this by looking at the environment of the area, known features and existing charts. She develops environmental compliance best management practices so the survey does not impact the local ecosystem or marine life.  Any features that are on existing charts such as obstructions, shipwrecks, rocks, or pipelines will be included in the project’s GIS files, and she determines if those features need to be investigated more thoroughly. This is all put together in a project package that is sent to the hydrographic ship– the footprint of the survey, any special features that need to be investigated, environmental compliance information, and any previous surveys in the last 20 years that may abut or overlap the planned survey area.  Alex also does hurricane response work; if a hurricane hits a port, then the port will be closed until a federal hydrographic survey comes in to make sure it is safe for commerce.  This is done as fast as possible, sometimes within 24 hours.

Which projects get fulfilled depends on the navigational risks of each area.  Alex explains: “Coast Survey determines which areas to survey within U.S. ports, harbors, and approaches, as well as U.S. waters more broadly, by using the risk-based Hydrographic Health Model. The model assesses risks to surface navigation from charted bathymetry and features, including both the likelihood of a risk (e.g. traffic density, known hazards to navigation, reported ship groundings, etc.) and the consequence of a risk (e.g. proximity to search and rescue stations, proximity  to public beaches, reefs, or marine sanctuaries, etc.). A resulting accuracy factor indicates the urgency (or lack thereof) for new hydrographic surveys.”

In Alex’s own words:
“I love mapping in general, but I think it’s really cool to map in an area such as the Pribilofs… to uncover what hasn’t been uncovered before – mapping where no one has mapped before.”

photo of a young woman standing on deck in front of a view of a teal-colored ocean and hilly green islands in the distance; the sky is blue with some low white clouds. Alex wears a navy blue sweatshirt with a NOAA logo and a silhouette of NOAA Ship Fairweather (with the numbers S-220) imposed on top of the logo. Her hair blows in the wind.
Alex Dawson aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather en route to the Pribilof Islands

Sara Ober, Hydrographic Survey Technician

Sara got her B.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A & M University.  After college, she worked for 5 years in Alaska as a fisheries observer contracted through NOAA through the North Pacific Observer Program.  She worked on smaller fishing boats to observe what they were catching and when.  The calendar of the fishing seasons and quotas in Alaskan waters are mostly federally managed and she would observe the catch at the beginning, close and during the season and pass on that data to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. 

Sara then became a survey technician with NOAA.  At the time, hydrography was new to Sara, but she is currently in her second year and likes training newer survey technicians on how to precisely look at the data and check for accuracy.  Every morning she makes sure everything is ready for the plan of the day in terms of surveying, ensures the processing from the night before is ready and addresses anything if needed.  She likes helping others learn and members of the survey team often go to her for advice.  

In the future, Sara is hoping to combine her marine biology and hydrography experiences together and do benthic habitat map work.  The benthic zone is the ecological region found at the bottom of a body of water.  Sara would like to use sonar data to see what the seafloor looks like and why fish live there, as well as predict where they migrate to. 

In Sara’s own words: 

“I really like hydrography, the technical part is fun and new to me.  I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do. Being able to visually see something is very cool to me and having such an impact on things.  We can see our direct impact when we submit our data and later on when nautical charts get updated.  It’s like, this is what I did and here’s the final product. 

I love being in Alaska.  I like working on a ship, I think it’s fun.”

a young woman in a gray sweatshirt sits at a computer and smiles for the camera
Sara Ober working in the Survey Department aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

Personal Log

We will be arriving at port tomorrow in Dutch Harbor and my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather is coming to a close.  I want to thank the entire crew for showing and explaining to me the amazing work they do and making me feel at home.  The crew is highly skilled, patient, respectful and willing to pretty much do anything to help the mission.  Their commitment to Science, to NOAA and to each other is commendable. 

I especially want to thank LT Taylor Krabiel and Commanding Officer CMD Meghan McGovern for their hospitality, guidance, continuous check-ins, and making the most of my time.

Elli Simonen:  Survey Launches, July 24, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Elli Simonen (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 10, 2023 – July 28, 2023

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands 

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pribilof Islands, Alaska

Date: July 24, 2023

Weather Data

Location:  56°36.8259’N,169°32.2224’W

Outside temperature: 11°C

Water temperature: 10°C

True Winds: 16kn, 185.4°

Skies: Foggy with Drizzy Rain

Visibility: 5nmSea

Wave: 1-2 ft

Swell Wave: 1 ft

Science and Technology Log

We are currently at anchor off the north shore of Saint George Island and the survey launches are going out daily to survey a portion of the surrounding waters.  I have been on the survey launches twice, each time surveying a different area.

Survey Launch July 22, 2023

The Pribilof Islands are the breeding grounds for more than two thirds of the world’s fur seal population and their numbers peak in July.  Our surveying operations do their best not to disturb the Fur Seals.  I was on a launch that was assigned the harbor.  However, upon entering, we saw a colony of Fur Seals and had to turn back around.  We then went onto survey another area in open water.  Later that morning, the winds increased and all survey launches returned to the ship out of caution for the weather.

view over the edge of a survey launch vessel of the harbor on a small island. it's a cloudy day, and the sky, trees, and water are all shades of blue-gray. the only color comes from the bright orange life ring mounted on the vessel.

Entering the harbor at Saint George

view at a distance of fur seals swimming near the shore of St George island. the fur seals appear as small dark shapes poking out from the water. the land is covered in large gray boulders.

Fur Seals in the Saint George harbor

Survey Launch July 23, 2023

We went out to survey an area closer to shore and were out all day – a good weather day.  We surveyed using set lines; this is where survey lines are parallel and evenly spaced apart. During post survey data processing, these lines of coverage will be used to update soundings on the chart. Set lines are used in areas of shallow water where there is not much bathymetric data, such as the Pribilof Islands.  This process allows the survey team to complete a larger survey area in less time.  

Our surveying boundary close to shore is defined by the navigational area limit line (NALL), which is the distance from shore that vessels can reasonably navigate.  The other boundaries are mapped out by the survey team ensuring coverage of the entire area.  During surveying in addition to depth data, any information about features that can impact navigation need to be noted.  This can include an outcrop of rocks, shipwrecks or a kelp forest.  We did see a kelp forest close to the shoreline during this survey, and indicated that in our data.  Kelp forests can increase or decrease in size depending on the year and water temperature, but generally stay in the same place.

The swath is the width of the survey lines.  During surveying the swath gets larger as the depth increases.  In this survey, as you move away from shore the depth becomes deeper, so the width of the swath increases as well.  This is due to the fact that the MBES angle is fixed and the depth is related to the swath by the tangent function.

photo of a computer screen showing, in a large window, a map of the survey area. black lines surrounded by swaths of bright red, green, or yellow bands of color snake up and down the map, representing the transects surveyed.

Screen showing the set line spacing and data taken near the shore.

cliffs along the shore of St George, as seen from a survey launch. the water is turquoise-colored in the foreground and brownish closer to shore. tall cliffs of black, brown, and gray colors, with some green growth at higher points, rise out of the photo. there are white specks - the seabirds - all over the cliffs.

Close to the shoreline of Saint George.  The color change of the water indicates a kelp forest.  Thousands of sea birds are on the cliffs.

calculations on a whiteboard. at top is a simple depiction of a boat, labeled 'launch.' a triangle extends down from the bottom of the launch toward the seafloor. the top angle (between the lines extending from the launch) is labeled 130 degrees. arrows show the direction of the echosounder pings (labeled MBES) toward the seafloor. The height of the triangle is labeled "depth" and the base "width of the swath."
Below this image is a drawing of a right-angle triangle, one half of the above. The top angle is labeled 65 degrees (half of 130 degrees), the height is labeled "Depth" and the base is labeled "1/2 swath." 
written calculations read: tan (theta) = opposite side length / adjacent side length. tan 65 degrees = (1/2 swath)/depth. (depth)(tan 65 degrees) = 1/2 swath. 2 (depth)(tan 65 degrees) = swath. 2(depth)(~2.1) = swath, ~4.2 (depth) = swath.

How the width of the swath can be calculated.

headshot of Elli on a survey launch vessel. she's wearing a heavy jacket and a Teacher at Sea beanie. we can see St George's island in the background.

TAS Elli Simonen on a survey launch close to shore of Saint George, one of the Pribilof Islands

At the Helm of the Survey Launches

Coxswains are responsible for steering and navigating the survey launches.  They use a variety of instruments and sensors to maintain safety and guide the survey launches over the planned survey lines. The heading is the direction the bow of the ship is pointing, expressed as a degree measurement from 0° to 360°. We were mainly surveying lines that were running north-south and the heading measurement was 0° when we went north and 180° south.

a small black instrument panel showing the heading, currently 002.0 (close to 0).

Heading indicator showing the direction of the survey launch and allows for autopilot.

a compass mounted to a surface on the survey launch. it reads close to 0 N.

Magnetic Compass showing heading on the survey launches.

photo of a computer screen showing a map of the survey area

Screen for coxswains on survey launches showing depth, the water column and survey lines.

two people at the helm of the survey launch vessel. Elli grips the helm while Ashley looks on. we can see gray ocean surface out the windows. the compass is mounted to the dashboard above the helm.

TAS Elli Simonen attempting to steer the Survey Launch with NOAA Corps member ENS Ashley Howell.  It is much harder than it looks!

Personal Log

Day to Day

Most of my days have been spent on the ship or lately, on survey launches.  If I’m on the ship, I usually spend most of the day in the survey room with the survey technicians.  Breakfast is served from 7-8 am, lunch is from 11-12 pm and dinner is 5-6 pm.  Sometimes a movie is shown in the lounge in the evenings, but the other day we streamed the Women’s World Cup to see the USA win their opening game! 

Some of the common areas of the ship

view of the survey room. a large island in the center contains cabinets and a map table. computer desks line the walls. four people sit working at computers, while a fifth stands reading something.

The survey room where all the survey technicians have their work stations.

view of the galley, or kitchen, from the service bar on the outside.

The galley with lunch available

tables and chairs in the dining area. the legs of the chairs have been capped with cut open tennis balls to slow sliding during rough conditions.

The mess, where we all eat meals.

three washing machines and two dryers in the laundry room of NOAA Ship Fairweather.

Washers, dryers and soap are provided for everyone’s use.

Did You Know?

Elli Simonen: Geology, Engineering and Mapping, July 19, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Elli Simonen (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 10, 2023 – July 28, 2023

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands 

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pribilof Islands, Alaska

Date: July 19, 2023
Weather DataLocation: 57°11.82’N, 170°27.52’W

Outside temperature: 13°C

Water temperature: 11°C

True Winds: Direction 242.4°, 13.7 kn

Skies: Overcast and Foggy

Visibility: 2 nm

Sea Wave: 2 ft

Swell Wave:  Direction 240°, 4 feet height

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived at the Pribilof Islands after being en route from Kodiak for 3 days.  We are currently surveying.

Geology of the Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian islands stretch from North America into the Pacific and contain 40 active volcanoes.  This string of islands is where the Pacific Plate sinks under the North American Plate causing some of the largest earthquakes of the last 100 years.  NOAA Ship Fairweather often receives alerts about Volcanic Eruptions including information about ash in the water when sailing around the Aleutian Islands.

On July 15th at 10:48 pm, at a depth of 13 miles, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck just south of the Aleutian Peninsula, triggering a tsunami watch and then warning.  NOAA Ship Fairweather was in the direct vicinity, but did not feel a noticeable shake. Luckily the tsunami watch and warning were canceled shortly after, and the earthquake did not cause significant wave heights.  Investigation of observed water levels at the Sand Point, AK tide station showed some variability when compared to the tide predictions.

a photo of a graph displayed on a computer screen. The graph is titled NOAA/NOS/CO-OPS Observed Water Levels at 9459450, Sand Point AK from 2023/07/15 12:00 LST_LDT to 2023/07/16 23:59 LST_LDT. We can see that the x-axis displays time - starting at 18:00 hours on July 15, with grid marks every 3 hours until 09:00 hours on July 16. the y-axis is out of view. A dotted blue line labeled "predictions" rises smoothly to a high point around 01:30 on July 16, and then dips again. A solid red line, labeled "water levels," mostly tracks the "predictions" line but is visibly wobbly around midnight on on July 16.

Observed water levels the night of the earthquake and tsunami warning.

Video showing the Bow of NOAA Ship Fairweather sailing just south of the Aleutian Peninsula

Engineering On Board

The engineering team on NOAA Ship Fairweather consists of 8 engineers.  They are in charge of maintaining the engine, all power and water on board.  They typically work in 4-8 hour shifts, 24-hours per day, to ensure everything is running smoothly.  The ship’s two main engines power shafts that are connected to controllable pitch propellers.  To move a boat forward, both the pitch of the propellers and Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) are adjusted.  Pitch is the angle of the propeller blades and RPM is how many times the propellers rotate per minute. 

The engine room also supplies clean potable water for the entire ship.  Through the process of reverse osmosis, sea water is compressed in cylinders and salt is filtered out.  The water then goes through multi-stage and UV filters to ensure safe sanitation. 

Power is supplied by three generators and one emergency generator.  These generators power all electric, navigational and satellite receiver systems.

an engine in the engine room

One of the Engines

a tank, pipes of different sizes, a control panel

Reverse Osmosis Unit, used to make potable water from seawater

Elli, wearing her Teacher at Sea hat, stands in front of a large floor-to-ceiling control panel. Behind her there is a closed door with a yellow sign cautioning people to wear ear protection beyond that point.

TAS Elli Simonen in the Engine Room

Surveying with NOAA Ship Fairweather

We have been surveying at the Pribilof Islands for the last 1-2 days.  We are surveying using the ship and the team is on a 24 hour rotation.  The survey area is divided up into polygons, or smaller areas, of which we completely cover one at a time.  The ship drives back and forth in overlapping lines over the designated polygon.  In addition to the MBES data, we gather both backscatter and water column data as well.

Backscatter is a visual representation of the surface of the seafloor.  Backscatter provides information about the intensity of the returned echos, from which the “hardness” of the bottom as well as other characteristics can be used to differentiate between different types of seafloor composition.  Darker colors represent harder surfaces such as rocks and hard coral and lighter colors represent softer surfaces such as sand and mud.  This information is important for ships to know for anchoring purposes, as well as benthic habitat characteristics.

The water column data shows us what is under the ship throughout the water column– from the surface of the water to the seafloor.  It detects bubbles, objects protruding from the seafloor, fish, or even a whale or a seal.

a triangular swath of echosounder data in different colors (red, green, blue) indicating the intensity of the returned echoes

Water column Data

photo of a computer screen displaying seafloor bathymetry (in black and white) from backscatter

Backscatter showing a representation of the seafloor

Finnegan and Elli sit in desk chairs in front of an array of computer monitors. There's a bookshelf filled with binders, an electrical box mounted to the wall, papers clipped to another wall. Finnegan and Elli are both wearing navy-colored NOAA logo-ed apparel.

TAS Elli Simonen with Survey Technician Finnegan Sougioultzoglou

Personal Log

Safety and Routine Checks

Before coming on board, I did not realize all the preemptive safety measures that need to be taken to ensure the health and safety of everyone on board.  The staff and crew need to be self-sustaining on all accounts; another person, equipment or supplies cannot be added mid-sail.  There are cooks onboard as well as medical staff.  There are 3 drills and situations that the entire crew participates in, including myself – Fire, Mariner Overboard and Abandon Ship.  You need to know the pattern of alarms for each, as well as where to go and what to do.  For example, for Mariner Overboard I go to the fantail of the ship, with others, and point at the person in the water until a small boat can go out and rescue them.  Each one of these drills is practiced periodically. Additionally there are two sets of rounds every hour, 24 hours a day – a deck round and engine rounds.  Deck rounds check all public spaces for anything abnormal.  Engine rounds check the engine room to see if everything is working properly.  Every week, refrigerators are checked for correct temperatures and water is checked for potential bacteria.

New Terms/Phrases

I’ve learned several acronyms and initials since I have been on board NOAA Ship Fairweather.  Sometimes I feel two consecutive sentences cannot be said without some type of abbreviation.  These are some that have become part of my vocabulary: 

  • HIC: Hydrographer in Charge
  • POD: Plan of the Day
  • SOP: Standard Operating Procedure
  • NM: Nautical Miles
  • CO: Commanding Officer

Elli Simonen: Data, Calibrating Data and Surveying, July 15, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Elli Simonen (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 10, 2023 – July 28, 2023

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands 

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pribilof Islands, Alaska

Date: July 16, 2023

Weather Data

Location: 55’21.02° N, 161’02.02° W

Outside temperature: 11°C

Water temperature: 10°C

True Winds:  337°, 6.5 kts

Skies: Overcast and Cloudy

Science and Technology Log

What is Surveying?

I was in port with the NOAA Ship Fairweather for a little under a week but right now we are en route to the Pribilof Islands.  During the time at port, the survey team surveyed surrounding areas, calibrated equipment and practiced troubleshooting survey systems. The goal of surveying is to gather the bathymetry data of the seafloor, or the depths and shape of the seafloor. 

Surveying equipment is located on NOAA Ship Fairweather as well as four smaller boats called survey launches, which each get deployed from the ship.  Depending on the mission, sea conditions and the project plan, the ship or launches may both be used, or a combination of both. 

Global Positioning System (GPS) records position. The Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) measures the motion of the ship.   Multibeam Echosounder (MBES) is when sound is pinged from a vessel to the seafloor and the time lapse is used to determine the depth of the seafloor.  MBES is a type of sonar that uses multiple beams to get a more complete picture of the seafloor with depths and characteristics.  After the data is pinpointed to a specific location, variability associated with tides is also taken into account by transforming the data vertically to the mean lowest low tide. Bathymetry data taken on NOAA Ship Fairweather as well as its four survey launches appears as strips on a map, as the ship or boat moves. 

Data is measured to the mean lowest low tide because that level of water is on average the lowest of any tide for a given area.  Using the lowest depth in navigation is conservative, thus allowing vessels to navigate safely through mapped waters. 

photo of two adjacent computer monitors with different views of the collected survey data imposed on charts or maps

Survey Data shown as green strips.

a small boat (a survey launch) mounted on the port side of NOAA Ship Fairweather, as seen from the deck in front of another mounted launch (only partially visible).  Beyond the side of the ship, the still water of a bay extends toward the steep green hill that lines the far side. Another launch, already deployed, is visible on the water at a distance.

Survey launches being stored on NOAA Ship Fairweather as well as one deployed in the harbor

Elli stands on the deck of a small boat. She's wearing a life vest and her Teacher at Sea hat. We have a partial view of the launch's wheelhouse to her left and an electronic winch to the right. Behind Elli the waters are calm, and we can see mountains in the distance.

TAS Elli Simonen aboard one of the survey launches.

Calibrating the Data

During our time in port we took out some of the survey launches to perform a patch test; that is, calibration procedures to ensure the data we collect is as accurate as possible.  A correctly calibrated system will show the same mapping of the seafloor in repeated tests, without the influence of confounding variables – speed, direction and ship motion. In a patch test, time delay, pitch, roll and heading are calculated multiple times over different depths, obstructions and slopes on the seafloor and compared to known data.  The obstruction we surveyed was a shipwreck.

view of two computer monitors, two keyboards, and two computer mice on a desk

Planning the Patch Test

photo of a computer screen; it is difficult to see what is being displayed, but Elli has circled one area and added the label "shipwreck"

Map of the planned surveys for the Patch Test.

photo of a computer screen displaying bathymetric data. much of the area appears flat (colored teal blue) but there is a small, raised, orange portion in the shape of a ship lying on its side

Survey Data showing the Wreck

To correct for how the speed of sound changes in ocean water, during surveying every four hours Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) is measured.  The CTD measures Salinity and Pressure of the Water Column, aspects that can change the speed of sound.  The CTD is used to further calibrate data because different depths have different levels of salinity and temperature, and therefore distort how fast the sound travels. CTD data is used in post-processing to correct for any distortions.

 a conductivity, temperature, an depth probe stored in front of a computer tower inside the survey launch's wheelhouse. the probe looks like a white cylinder strapped inside a metal frame that tapers at the top

CTD on the survey launches.

three crewmembers, wearing orange life vests and white hard hats, stand around a piece of equipment mounted at the corner of the aft deck of NOAA Ship Fairweather. a computer is mounted in a blue frame; above extends a blue boom and pulley. a coil of rope hangs on the side. Beyond the ship, the waters are gray with some caps, distant mountain ranges appear in shades of dark blue, and a cloudy, gray-white sky tops the picture.

Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP), a type of CTD that can be used while the ship is in motion, being deployed on NOAA Ship Fairweather by members of the surveying team.

Where does the data go?

Once the survey technicians gather bathymetry data, they still need to edit it before passing it along to National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), who package it for public view and is the data repository for environmental data in the U.S. and the U.S. Office of Coast Survey who create navigational charts. Editing the data involves rejecting spurious noise that MBES picked up that is out of range or incorrect.  This data then is transformed into charts and more standardized bathymetry data.

two people look at a computer screen in the computer lab. The survey tech, seated at the computer station, points toward multicolored swaths against a black background on the right monitor. Elli stands be hind him to view over his shoulder. On the desk are messy folders and papers, a small potted plant, and an action figure.

Survey Technician showing TAS Elli Simonen the process of cleaning survey data

Personal Log

Members of the survey team are all smart, respectful and patient and take the time to explain to me the science at play no matter how many questions I have.  I spend the majority of my day with the survey team but also explore other areas of the ship.  I have now been onboard for over a week and things are beginning to feel routine.  The sun does not set here until about 10:30pm and rises around 6am.  Meals are served at regular times and more importantly, at least to me, coffee is available 24/7.

a view of Elli's stateroom. To the left is a metal warddrobe and a metal sink. To the right is a filing cabinet, a simple bed, and the edge of a metal chest of drawers. There's an open porthole along the back wall, and light shines through it onto the wall, forming a bright circle above the bed.

This is TAS Elli’s room aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather at 9:45pm

view through a sea-sprayed porthole of water and mountains. the sun is low in the sky.

View out my window in the Gulf of Alaska.

Did you know?

screenshot of a political map of the continents of the world, with North America at the center. Neon green lines color the North American coastline and extend in webs throughout the rest of the ocean. the map is titled "Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Viewer."

This map shows, in green, the areas of the world that have bathymetry data, from NCEI, https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/maps/iho_dcdb/

Animals Seen

an otter floats on its back in the water.

Otter swimming near NOAA Ship Fairweather

Elli Simonen: Welcome to Alaska, July 12, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Elli Simonen (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 10, 2023 – July 28, 2023

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey of the Pribilof Islands 

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pribilof Islands, Alaska

Location (In Port): 57⁰43.8384’N, 152⁰30.8319’W

Date: July 12, 2023

Hi Everyone, my name is Elli and this week, I arrived in Kodiak, Alaska and right now I am aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.  This is my first time in Alaska as well as my first time being on a scientific research ship.  I teach high school Mathematics, specifically Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Special Music School, a public school located in New York City.  I also instruct two classes at the College and Graduate level as an adjunct lecturer at City College and Hunter College. My high school students are musically gifted and many go onto Music Conservatory Education.  I am constantly in awe of their talent, grit and perseverance in pursuit of becoming better musicians.  My students at the college and graduate levels are all learning how to be educators in the New York City school system.  Their sense of purpose, commitment and openness to new ideas is inspiring.

a view of Elli, from the shoulders up, on the deck of NOAA Ship Fairweather. In the background, we see another ship, water, and steep green hills rising beyond the far side of the port. Elli is wearing her NOAA Teacher at Sea hat, which gives away that this image has been reversed - the logo and the writing are backward.

Elli aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

I am a Math for America (MfA) Master Teacher and first heard of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) in 2019 through MfA – I researched the TAS program, and thought this is something I definitely want to do, and applied.  I was accepted in the 2020 cohort, but because of COVID was rolled over to 2023 so here I am, three and a half years later embarking on a hydrographic survey of the Pribilof Islands.  

I have been teaching math for 20 years and at various points have had experiences learning about the oceans and marine life.  I started my career as a Peace Corps Volunteer and lived in Zanzibar, Tanzania for 2 years.  In addition to teaching math, I was able to take students to study the coral reefs that surround the island through the Chumbe Environmental Education Program.  They snorkeled, learned about coral and how to preserve and protect this environment.  I also like to scuba dive and have completed over 90 dives at various places around the world– learning not only about shoreline habitat at each diving spot I visited, but how different facets of the ocean interact.  In 2019, I was awarded a Fund for Teachers Grant where I traveled to Australia, scuba dived and learned first hand about the Great Barrier Reef.  And now, I’m still on a journey to learn more about the world’s oceans and marine environments, this time with NOAA in the waters around Alaska.

view of a diver (Elli) underwater in front of a coral head. sand and coral all appear with a blue-green tint. In the foreground, swimming closer to the photographer than Elli is, is a fish, perhaps a kind of grouper. It is the focus of the photo.

​Elli scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia​

So, what is a hydrographic survey you might ask?  And where are the Pribilof Islands?  The Pribilof Islands are four volcanic islands about 300 miles west of mainland Alaska in the south Bering Sea and about 250 miles north of the Aleutian Islands; the two largest islands are Saint Paul and Saint George.  A Hydrographic survey uses sonar data to interpret the ocean floor and coastlines which then is used to produce Nautical charts. The Pribilof Islands Hydrographic Survey will map the ocean floor and surrounding coastline to provide updated accurate charts of this area. The Pribilof Islands have not been mapped since the 1950’s.  

I will be onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.  The ship embarks in Kodiak, Alaska and disembarks in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska.  I am very much looking forward to spending time with the Science team on NOAA Ship Fairweather and learning about what everyone does on a NOAA ship.  I plan on taking this information back with me to New York City and bringing this real-world research experience into my classroom.

NOAA Ship Fairweather at a dock; the dock, a building, and a line of trees are visible beyond. This photo was taken at some distance across the water, capturing the full length of the ship. We can see one survey launch vessel in the water adjacent to the ship. Another remains mounted on board.

NOAA Ship Fairweather

Did you know?

  • NOAA has three different types of Scientific research ships: Hydrographic surveys, Fisheries survey and Oceanographic research
  • Since 1990, the TAS program has sailed more than 850 teachers aboard their ships.  Teachers have come from every state and 4 territories.  (For any fellow teachers reading this, TAS has cohorts every year and applications are due in the Fall.)
  • Each summer more than a million northern fur seals arrive at the Pribilof Islands to breed and raise their young, representing the largest gathering of sea mammals in the world. (https://www.travelalaska.com/Destinations/Cities-Towns/Pribilof-Islands)
  • About 230 fishing vessels take shelter on the southwest shore of St. George during Crabbing Season.