NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 13, 2014
Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 10, 2014
Science and Technology Log:
Last night and afternoon was by far the craziest we’ve seen on the Oscar Dyson. The winds were up to 35 knots (about 40 miles an hour). The waves were averaging 12 feet in height, and sometimes reaching 15-18 feet in height. Right now I’m sitting on the bridge and waves are around 8 feet. With every rise the horizon disappears and I’m looking up at stark grey clouds. With every drop the window fills with views of the sea, with the horizon appearing just below the top of the window frames.
Ensign Gilman, a member of NOAA Corps, explains to me how the same thing that makes the Bering Sea good for fish makes things rough for fishermen.
“This part of the Bering Sea is shallow compared to the open ocean. That makes the water easier for the wind to pick up and create waves. When strong winds come off Russia and Alaska, it kicks up a lot of wave action,” Ensign Gilman says.
“It’s not so much about the swells (wave height),” he continues. “It’s about the steepness of the wave, and how much time you have to recover from the last wave.” He starts counting between the waves… “one… two… three… three seconds between wave heights… that’s a pretty high frequency. With no time to recover, the ship can get rocked around pretty rough.”
Rough is right! Last night I got shook around like the last jelly bean in the jar. I seriously considered finding some rope to tie myself into my bunk. There were moments when it seemed an angry giraffe was jumping on my bunk. I may or may not have shouted angrily at Sir Isaac Newton that night.
Which brings us to Sea Sickness.
Lt. Paul Hoffman, a Physician’s Assistant with the U.S. Public Health Service, explains how sea sickness works.
“The inner ears are made up of tubes that allow us to sense motion in three ways,” Hoffman explains. “Forward/back, left/right, and up/down. While that’s the main way our brain tells us where we are, we use other senses as well.” He goes on to explain that every point of contact… feet and hands, especially, tell the brain more information about where we are in the world.
“But another, very important piece, are your eyes. Your eyes are a way to confirm where you are in the world. Sea Sickness tends to happen when your ears are experiencing motion that your eyes can’t confirm,” Hoffman says.
For example, when you’re getting bounced around in your cabin (room), but nothing around you APPEARS to be moving (walls, chair, desk, etc) your brain, essentially, freaks out. It’s not connected to anything rational. It’s not enough to say “Duhh, brain, I’m on a boat. Of course this happens.” It happens in a part of the brain that’s not controlled by conscious thought. You can’t, as far as I can tell, think your way out of it.
Hoffman goes on to explain a very simple solution: Go look at the sea.
“When you get out on deck, the motion of the boat doesn’t stop, but your eyes can look at the horizon… they can confirm what your ears have been trying to tell you… that you really are going up and down. And while it won’t stop the boat from bouncing you around, your stomach will probably feel a lot better,” Hoffman says.
And he’s right. Being up on the bridge… watching the Oscar Dyson plow into those stout waves… my brain has settled into things. The world is back to normal. Well, as normal as things can get on a ship more than a third of the way around the world, that is.
Let’s meet a few of the good folks on the Oscar Dyson.
NOAA Crew Member Alyssa Pourmonir
Job Title: Survey Technician
Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I’m a liaison between crew and scientists, work with scientists in the wet lab, put sensors onto the trawling nets, focus on safety, maintaining all scientific data and equipment on board.” A liaison is someone who connects two people or groups of people.
Education Level Required: “A Bachelors degree in the sciences.” Alyssa has a BS in Marine and Environmental Science from SUNY Maritime with minors in oceanography and meteorology.
Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a life guard/swim instructor in high school, then I was in the Coast Guard for three years. Life guarding is the BEST job in high school!”
Goal: “I strive to bring about positive change in the world through science.”
Weirdest thing you ever took out of the Sea: “Lump Sucker: They have big flappy eyebrows… they kinda look like a bowling ball.”
Dirtiest job you’ve ever had to do on a ship: “Sexing the fish (by cutting them open and looking at the fish’s gonads… sometimes they explode!) is pretty gross, but cleaning the PCO2 filter is nasty. There are these marine organisms that get in there and cling to the filter and you have to push them off with your hands… they get all slimy!”
NOAA Rotating Technician Ricardo Guevara
Job Title: Electronics Technician
Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I maintain and upkeep most of the low voltage electronics on the ship, like computer networking, radio, television systems, sensors, navigation systems. All the equipment that can “talk,” that can communicate with other devices, I take care of that.”
Education level Required: High school diploma and experience. “I have a high school diploma and some college. The majority of my knowledge comes from experience… 23 years in the military.”
Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a telecommunications specialist with the United States Air Force… I managed encryption systems and associated keymat for secure communications.” This means he worked with secret codes.
Trickiest problem you’ve solved for NOAA: “There was a science station way out on the outer edge of the Hawaiian Islands that was running their internet off of dial-up via satellite phone when the whole thing shut down on them… ‘Blue Screen of Death’ style. We couldn’t just swap out the computer because of all the sensitive information on it. I figured out how to repair the disk without tearing the machine apart. Folks were extremely happy with the result… it was very important to the scientists’ work.”
What are you working on now? “I’m migrating most of the ship’s computers from windows xp to Windows 7. I’m also troubleshooting the DirecTV system. The problem with DirecTV is that the Multi-Switch for the receivers isn’t communicating directly with the satellite. Our antenna sees the satellite, but the satellite cannot ‘shake hands’ with our receiver system.” And that means no Red Sox games on TV! Having entertainment available for the crew is important when you’re out to sea for two to three weeks at a time!
What’s a challenging part of your job on the Dyson? “I don’t like it, but I do it when I have to… sometimes in this job you have to work pretty high up. Sometimes I have to climb the ship’s mast for antenna and wind sensor maintenance. It’s windy up there… and eagles aren’t afraid of you up there. That’s their place!”
Lt. Paul Hoffman
Job Title: Physician Assistant (or P.A.) with the U.S. Public Health Service
Responsibilities on the Dyson: He’s effectively the ship’s doctor. “Whenever a NOAA ship travels outside 200 miles of the U.S. coast, they need to be able to provide an increased level of medical care. That’s what I do,” says Hoffman.
Education required for this career: “Usually a Masters degree from a Physician’s Assistant school with certification.”
Job or career you’ve had before this: “Ten and a half years in the U.S. Army, I started off as an EMT. Then I went on to LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) school, and then blessed with a chance to go on to PA school. I served in Iraq in 2007-2008, then returned for 2010-2011.”
Most satisfying thing you’ve seen or done in your career: “Knowing that you personally had an impact on somebody’s life… keeping somebody alive. We stabilized one of our soldiers and then had a helicopter evac (evacuation) under adverse situations. Situations like that are what make being a PA worthwhile.”
Could you explain what the Public Health Service is for folks that might not be familiar with it?
“The Public Health Service is one of the seven branches of the U.S. Military. It’s a non-weaponized, non-combative, all-officer corps that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services. We’re entirely medical related. Primary deployments (when they get sent into action) are related to national emergency situations… hurricanes, earth quakes… anywhere where state and local resources are overrun… they can request additional resources… that’s where we step in. Hurricane Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti… a lot of officers saw deployment there. Personally, I’ve been employed in Indian Health Services in California and NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center (AOC)… they’re the hurricane hunters,” Hoffman concludes.
Kids, when you’ve been around Lt. Hoffman for a while, you realize “adverse conditions” to him are a little tougher than a traffic jam or missing a homework assignment. I’ve decided to call him, and the rest of the Public Health Service, “The Batman of Health Care.” When somebody lights up the Bat Signal, they’re there to help people feel better.
Coming up next: International Teamwork!