Greetings again from New Hampshire! It seems fitting that my NOAA Teacher at Sea blogs are bookended at home in cooler 55 F rainy weather. The garden is in and looking forward to the hot sun that will follow.
Science and Technology Log
Part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is creating two lesson plans, one about science & technology, and the other about careers. I am looking forward to writing and improving those lessons based on student feedback. My 9th graders began this process by analyzing data I took home from one of the CTD sites. NOAA scientist Kevin was generous with his time. He gave me data binned by meter and took the time to make sure all of the information was clear. Since the CTD array collects data eight times a second, the dataset would have been a little unruly otherwise. Back in the classroom, my students created a list of questions that could be looked at based on the data available. They then created data stories that explored questions such as:
Is there a correlation between oxygen and fluorescence?
How does depth correlate to sound velocity?
How big are the differences in temperature?
What is the variability of fluorescence?
How does the temperature change as you go deeper in the water?
How does salinity between shallow and deeper parts vary?
Is there a correlation between pressure and salinity?
Is there a correlation between depth and density?
Does oxygen vary?
The amount of data out there can feel overwhelming sometimes. There is a greater need than ever before to know how to sift through information and critique it. Giving students constant opportunities to practice how to interpret data is important. This process also connected the information they learned from the blog posts to the next step in science research. Once the data is collected, it needs analysis and interpretation. The ability to critically analyze information is vital to an informed citizenry.
I’ve been back home for almost two weeks and it’s been back to the end-of-school groove. Sometimes it feels surreal that recently I was on a real working fisheries vessel. I have taken solo trips before so I know the feeling of going through a unique experience only to return home to everyone just normally moving forward as life does. It can feel a little jarring. This one felt even more so even though I was in contact the whole time.
It was great getting questions and comments in person. I was happy to hear people from age 6 to 96 were following along when I was away. I am not naturally a journaler, but I appreciate the ability to reread my own experiences later. It will also provide a tool for my teaching.
The week I returned to school was Spirit Week. It happened to be character day when I was asked to speak to the School Board about my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. Not everyone can say they have talked to their School Board about their time at sea, while dressed as a pirate. Of course, the experience is not over. I still have those lesson plans in the works and there are other loose ends to tie up (such as this final post). I also look forward to continuing through the network of NOAA Teacher at Sea alumni. NOAA is such a rich resource for science and science learning. I am very thankful for the opportunities NOAA Teacher at Sea has afforded me as a science educator and to the crew and science team from my time on NOAA Ship Pisces.
Did You Know?
Teacher at Sea has accepted teachers from all 50 states, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Guam since 1990. Interested? Any full time pre-K-12 teacher; community college, college, or university teacher; museum or aquarium educator; or adult education teacher may apply.
Research vessels do not just work during the day. It is a 24/7 operation. Tonight I checked in with the night shift to learn more about the sonar mapping that has been done in the dark ever since I boarded NOAA Ship Pisces.
The first thing I noticed entering the dry lab was a pad of paper with math all over it. Todd, the survey technician I interviewed earlier, had noticed the the picture the ship’s sonar was producing had a curved mustache-like error in the image. Details like temperature need to be taken into account because water has different properties in different conditions that affect how sound waves and light waves move through it. He used the SOH-CAH-TOA law to find the speed of sound where the face of the transducer head was orientated. He found a six meter difference between the laser angle and what the computer was calculating. Simple trigonometry on a pad of paper was able to check what an advanced computer system was not.
NOAA Ship Pisces is also equipped with an advanced multibeam sonar. (Sonar stands for SOund NAvigation and Ranging.) In fact, there are only eight like it in the world. One of Todd’s goals before he retires from NOAA is to tweak it and write about it so other people know more about operating it. Since they are so few and you need to go to them, there are fewer publications about it.
Another mapping device is the side scan sonar. It is towed behind the vessel and creates a 300 meter picture with a 50 meter blind spot in the center, which is what is underneath the device. Hydrographic vessels have more sonars to compensate for this blind spot. The purpose of the mapping is to identify new habitat areas, therefore expanding the sampling universe of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Surveys.
Up on the bridge looks much different. The lights are off and monitors are covered with red film to not ruin the crew’s night vision. Everything is black or red, with a little green coming from the radar displays. This is to see boats trying to cross too close in front of NOAA Ship Pisces or boats with their lights off.Lieutenant Noblitt and Ensign Brendel are manning the ship.
Ensign Brendel noted to me that, “We have all of this fancy equipment, but the most important equipment are these here binoculars.” They are always keeping a lookout. The technology on board is built for redundancy. There are two of most everything and the ship’s location is also marked on paper charts in case the modern equipment has problems.
There are international rules on the water, just like the rules of the road. The difference is there are no signs out here and it is even less likely you know who is following them. Each boat or ship has a series of lights that color codes who they are or what they are doing. Since NOAA Ship Pisces is restricted in maneuverability at night due to mapping, they have the right of way in most cases. It is also true that it takes longer for larger vessels to get out of the way of a smaller vessel, especially in those instances that the smaller one tries to pass a little too close. This did happen the night before. It reminds me of lifeguarding. It is mostly watching, punctuated with moments of serious activity where training on how to remain calm, collected, and smart is key.
It has been a privilege seeing and touching many species I have not witnessed before. Adding to the list of caught species is bonito (Sarda sarda) and red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). I always think it is funny when the genus and species is the same name. We have also seen Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) jumping around. There are 21 species of marine mammals indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, most in deep water off of the continental shelf. I also learned that there are no seals down here.
One of the neatest experiences this trip was interacting with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates). It has a pad that looks like a shoe’s sole that grips to create a suction that sticks them to their species of choice. The one we caught prefers hosts like sharks, turtles…and sometimes science teachers.
Did You Know?
Fishing boats use colored lights to indicate what kind of fishing they are doing, as the old proverb goes red over white fishing at night, green over white trawling tonight. Vessels also use international maritime signal flags for communication during the day.
The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) array is another important tool. It goes down at each station, which means data is captured ten-twelve times a day. It drops 50 m/min so it only takes minutes to reach the bottom where other winch/device systems can take an hour to do the same. This array scans eight times per second for the following environmental factors:
Conductivity (converts to salinity in ppt)
Dissolved oxygen (mg/mL)
Descent rate (m/sec)
Sound velocity (m/sec)
There are two sensors for most readings and the difference between them is shown in real time and recorded. For example, the dissolved oxygen sensor is most apt to have calibration issues. If the two sensors are off each other by 0.1 mg/L then something needs to be done.
Software programs filter the data to cut out superfluous numbers such as when the CTD is acclimating in the water for three minutes prior to diving. Another program aligns the readings when the water is working through the sensors. Since a portion of water will reach one sensor first, then another, then another, and so on, the data from each exact portion of water is aligned with each environmental factor. There are many other sophisticated software programs that clean up the data for use besides these two.
These readings are uploaded to the Navy every twelve hours, which provides almost real-time data of the Gulf. The military uses this environmental data to determine how sound will travel through sound channels by locating thermoclines as well as identifying submarines. NOAA describes a thermocline as, “the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below.” Sound channels are how whales are able to communicate over long distances.
The transmissometer measures the optical properties of the water, which allows scientists to track particulates in the water. Many of these are clay particles suspended in the water column. Atmospheric scientists are interested in particulates in the air and measure 400 m. In the water, 0.5 m is recorded since too many particulate affects visibility very quickly. This affects the cameras since light reflecting off the clay can further reduce visibility.
Fluorescence allows scientists to measure chlorophyll A in the water. The chlorophyll molecule is what absorbs energy in photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Therefore, it is an indicator of the concentration of organisms that make up the base of food chains. In an ecosystem, it’s all about the little things! Oxygen, salinity, clay particles, photosynthetic organisms, and more (most we can not actually see), create a foundation that affects the fish we catch more than those fish affect the little things.
The relationship between abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors is fascinating. Oxygen is a great example. When nitrates and phosphates wash down the Mississippi River from the breadbasket of America, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can make algae go crazy and lead to algae blooms. The algae then use up the oxygen, creating dead zones. Fish can move higher up the water column or away from the area, but organisms fixed to the substrate (of which there are many in a reef system) can not. Over time, too many algae blooms can affect the productivity of an area.
Salt domes were created millions of years ago when an ancient sea dried up prior to reflooding into what we have today. Some salt domes melted and pressurized into super saline water, which sinks and pools. These areas create unique microclimates suitable to species like some mussels. A microclimate is a small or restricted area with a climate unique to what surrounds it.
Another great example is how geology affects biology. Some of these salt domes collapsed leaving granite spires 30-35 meters tall and 10 meters across. These solid substrates create a magical biological trickle down effect. The algae and coral attach to the hard rock, and soon bigger and bigger organisms populate this microclimate. Similar microclimates are created in the Gulf of Mexico from oil rigs and other hard surfaces humans add to the water.
Jillian’s net also takes a ride with the CTD. She is a PhD student at Texas A&M University studying the abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico because it is the primary food source of some commercially important larval fish species. Her net is sized to capture the hundreds of different zooplankton species that may be populating the area. The term zooplankton comes from the Greek zoo (animal) and planktos (wanderer/drifter). Many are microscopic, but Jillian’s samples reveal some translucent critters you can see with the naked eye. Her work and the work of others like her ensures we will have a deeper understanding of the ocean.
Prior to this I had never been to the Gulf of Mexico other than on a cruise ship (not exactly the place to learn a lot of science). It has been unexpected to see differences and parallels between the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Maine, which I am more familiar. NOAA scientist, John, described the Gulf to me as, “a big bathtub.” In both, the geology of the area, which was formed millions of years ago, affects that way these ecosystems run.
Quote of the Day: Jillian: “Joey, are we fishing at this station?” Joey: “I dunno. I haven’t had my coffee yet.” Jillian: “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon!”
Did You Know?
Zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are smaller than zooplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Larger species are found in colder water.
Air Temperature: 19.3 C, Water Temperature: 24.13 C
Salinity: 35.6184 PSU, Conditions: 25% cloud cover, little to no wind or waves
Science and Technology Log
When the Bandit reel lines go down, it becomes a fun game to guess what, if anything, is going to come up. Even at their shallowest, we are dropping thirty baited hooks (ten per reel) down 50 meters, deep enough to not see any action going on. Many times these vertical long lines are dropping over 100 meters to the seafloor.
There is a lot more radio communication than you might expect when we fish. Today, scientists Joey and Kevin swapped jobs and Kevin ran controls inside the dry lab. That person chooses what locations we are fishing and runs the operations when we do. He tells the people outside when to drop their baited lines, when there is a minute left before reeling them back, and when to “take them home.” Each of the three reels has a deckhand who radios when each step is complete such as attaching each hook to the line and lowering it to the bottom. The bridge is also in radio communication. There can also be some playful banter about who is not catching fish lately.
Sometimes you know a fish or two are on. The arc on top of the Bandit reel bends down under the stress of whatever is fighting and the orange top buoy bobs up and down against the normal flow of the waves. James, the deckhand I fish with, usually says, “I hope it ain’t no shark.” (Today we did indeed get three sharks attacking out bait when it hit the water). My reel also got seven fish the first time we tried today. This is much better than how we were doing earlier in the week. Each fish gets a numbered tag that correlates to the hook on its reel and each reel has different colored tags. Everything is written down. So far we have caught the following fish species:
Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
Vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens)
Greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili)
Gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)
Goldface tilefish (Caulolatilus chrysops)
Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)
According to the NOAA Fisheries Economics of the United States (2014) commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico Region landed 1.1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish, earning $1 billion for their harvest that year. In 2013, the red snapper fishery alone brought in a value of over $21 million dockside. On top of that, approximately 2.9 million recreational anglers fished in the Gulf of Mexico Region in 2014 as well. There are also fish-related industries that compound the economic effects of fisheries in the Gulf. The work that is being done is more than just understanding the ecology. Our gilled neighbors downstairs of NOAA Ship Pisces affect a lot of human lives too. It is refreshing to remember everything that is connected to our dinner.
Today was a beautiful day on NOAA Ship Pisces. The wind was slight and the water was as close to mirror as I expect to see. Kevin told me that the geography of the Gulf makes for fast changing weather. It may storm up quickly, but it also means it calms down overnight too. No queasiness for anyone today!
After another delicious and varied dinner by the talented stewards we were treated to a Man Overboard drill. It was entertainment to us, but serious practice for the crew. Lieutenant Noblitt and deckhand Junior were lowered in the ship’s Zodiac boat. On the other side of the vessel Ensign Rock was suited in a wetsuit & snorkel and jumped overboard as the person to rescue. After the lookouts on the Zodiac found her, Ensign Brendel jumped in for the practice rescue.
Quote of the Day: Kevin: “Joey, don’t go too far.” Joey: “Where am I going to go!?!” Life on a boat summed up…
Did You Know?
Sometimes we get other neat things on board. Rhodolith (from the Greek “rhodo=red” and “lithos=stone”) are red algae colonies that build up upon older, dead rhodoliths over time. We also got dead man’s fingers. This is the common name for Codium sp.
Mother Nature has put a hamper on surveying for right now. Field work requires patience and tenacity, which is appropriate given that is the motto of NOAA Ship Pisces: Patiencia Et Tenacitas. During this downtime I was able to interview a couple members of the crew. Our first interview is with the Operations (Ops) Officer, LT. Noblitt:
The NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the U.S. What are possible paths to join and requirements? Do you need a college degree to apply? Yes, you need a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. The only path is through the application process which starts with contacting a recruiter. NOAA Corps officers are always willing to work with interested applicants and are willing to give tours as well as to field any and all questions.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I decided I wanted to pursue a career with the NOAA Corps during graduate school when I realized that I desired a career path which combined my appreciation for sailing tall ships and pursuing scientific research.
What is your rank and what responsibilities does that entail? I am an O3, Lieutenant; the responsibilities include operational management. A lot of day to day operations and preparation for scientific requests, ship port logistics, and some supervision. Operation Officers keep the mission moving forward and always try to plan for what is next.
Why is your work important? By supporting the scientists we are able to assist in enhancing public knowledge, awareness, and growth of the scientific community which ultimately not only benefits the Department of Commerce but the environment for which we are working in.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? There is nothing better then operating a ship. I enjoy the feel of the vessel and harnessing the elements to make the ship move how I choose. I enjoy knowing that I am working on something that is bigger than just the ship. This job is a microcosm of all the science that is going on around the world and knowing that we are contributing to the growth of the nation, well nothing can really compete with that.
What is the most challenging part of your work? In all honesty, being away from family simply does get challenging at times. You are guaranteed to miss birthdays, special events, and even births of your children. Gratification comes from knowing that you are providing everything you can for your family.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Now this is an interesting question; I would have to say there really is not just one tool as a NOAA Corps Officer we pride ourselves in being versatile. If it weren’t for the ability to use multiple tools we would not be capable of running and operating a ship.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? On average the ship sails 295 days a year.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? You are living the average day. Day and night operations three meals a day and keeping operations moving smoothly, all this happens as the ship becomes a living entity and takes on a personality of her own.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? In the beginning and early on in a NOAA Corps career an Officer may feel underutilized especially in regards to their educational background when they are working on trivial duties, however with growth over time our scientific backgrounds serve us more than we realize.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a uniformed service or a maritime career? If you are seeking to travel and discover an unknown lifestyle at sea; being a Commissioned Officer is a truly diverse whirlwind of experiences that goes by faster then you realize.
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA? If I was not working for NOAA I would probably try working for a similar governmental entity, or even NOAA as a civilian, studying near coastal benthic (bottom of aquatic) ecosystems.
Our second interview is with Todd Walsh, who is a Survey Technician on NOAA Ship Pisces:
What is your title and what responsibilities does that entail?
Operations and some equipment maintenance of position sensors, sonars, and software. You need to know water chemistry because you also take water samples such as temperature, depth, conductivity to determine the speed of sound. From that we can make sure the sonar is working right, so you need the math to make it happen.
Pisces is different than some other NOAA vessels because it has a lot of other sensors. On some other NOAA vessels I have worked on there are also smaller boats that have the same equipment to keep in shape. You also need to analyze the data and make recommendations in a 60 page report in 90 days.
What are the requirements to apply for this job? A bachelor’s of science in computer mapping, engineering, geology, meteorology, or some other similar degree.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I was a project engineer for an engineering company prior to this. We did work on airports, bridges, etc. I retired and then I went back to work in 2009 and I’ve been working for NOAA ever since. I got involved with NOAA because I wanted to see Hawaii and I found a job on board a ship that would take me there. I’ve now worked in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific.
Why is your work important? No matter which NOAA division you are working at it is integral to commerce in the country. The work we are doing here is important for red snapper and other fisheries. The work I did in the Bering Strait helped determine crab stocks. Ever watch Deadliest Catch? I got to play darts with the captain of the Time Bandit. There’s a different code for people who are mariners. You help each other out.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I like that we get to go exploring in places that most people never get to go (in fact, some places have never been visited before), with equipment that is cutting edge. There are always puzzles to solve. You also meet a lot of different people.
Working on NOAA vessels as a survey technician means keeping state-of-the-art equipment and software operational.
Sonar picture of a ship wreck Todd mapped out.
What is the most challenging part of your work? It is: -Man versus nature. -Man versus machine. -Man versus self because you are pushed to your limits. Another challenge is missing my wife and kids.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Since you are stuck on a boat, the biggest tool is to be able to deal with that through being friendly and having ways to occupy yourself in downtime.
Work-wise, it used to be the calculator. Now it’s the computer because it can do so much. All the calculations that used to be done by pen and calculator are now by computer. Cameras are also very useful.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? Used to be 8 months out of 12. That’s tough since there is no cellphone coverage but some ships are close enough to shore to use them. The oceanographic vessel Ronald H.Brown went around the world for 3 years.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? I’m relatively new to this ship, but all ships are unique depending on what they’re studying. Each ship is a different adventure.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? When I was in Alaska training less experienced survey technicians in the Bering Strait, I got to see really neat stuff like being next to a feeding orca, atop a glacier, and got too close to a grizzly bear.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a maritime career? Stick with the science classes and you can never go wrong with learning more math.
When bringing in a camera array today that was left out overnight, a huge wave crashed aboard all the way up to the top of the bridge. At that same time I was in my stateroom laying down trying to avoid seasickness. I could hear the metal moving, the engines running strong, and knew something interesting was happening. I almost went down to check out the action, but decided against bumping into everyone during higher seas operations and potentially really getting sick.
Quote of the Day:
Joey asked which stateroom I am in and I say, “The one next to the turny-door-thingy.” to which Joey replies, “You mean the hatch?” What can I say? If you can not remember a word, at least be descriptive.
Did You Know?
NOAA operates the nation’s largest fleet of oceanographic research and survey ships. It is America’s environmental intelligence agency.
Long line fishing is one way to gather fish population data. Another is remote sensing with camera arrays. The benefit of this is it is less invasive. The downside is it is more expensive and you can not collect fish samples. The goal has been to do ten-twelve camera array deployments a day.
There are two camera arrays set up: Orthogonal Stereo Camera Array (OSCAR) and an array containing a 360 degree spherical view camera pod and a single stereo camera (Frank). OSCAR runs technology that has been used since 2008. There have been many incarnations of camera technology used for the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey since 1991. The OSCAR setup uses four stereo cameras that capture single video and stereo pair still images. Frank uses six cameras that can be stitched together to give a full 360 viewing area. This work is used to determine trends in abundance of species, although there are a few years of holes in the data as the transition from catch to camera took place. OSCAR setup and the Frank setup (affectionately called that due to its pieced together parts like Frankenstein’s Monster) both run to provide comparisons between the different technology. One of the other devices on Frank is an Abyss by GoPro.
GoPros’ Abyss device may be a cheaper, off the rack option, but they do not do as well in low light conditions. Choosing gear is always a balance between cost and wants. For that you need to spend more for custom scientific equipment.
Researchers are always working to stay current to gather the best data. This requires frequent upgrades to hardware and software. It also means modern scientific researchers must possess the skills and fortitude to adapt to ever changing technology. The ability to continually learn, troubleshoot, and engineer on the fly when something breaks are skills to learn. This is something all current students can take to heart.
Together, camera arrays, vertical long lines, and fish trap methods give a more accurate view of beneath the waves.
Quote of the day regarding launching the camera arrays: “You gotta remember, I’m gonna make that lady fly.”-James
Another important science lesson is that zero is a number. There have been camera problems to work through and we have not been catching fish. Sometimes that zero is from equipment that stopped running. Those zeros are errors that can be removed from the data set.
With fishing, we record if the bait is still attached or not, even if we do not catch any. It is always fun to put thirty hooks down and not know what is going to appear until we reel them up. It is also disappointing not to catch anything. Data is data. It is important for determining species abundance.
I have enjoyed learning how to record on the data sheets, bait the hooks, de-bait the hooks (so there is always fresh bait), and a lot of little parts that are a part of the overall experience.
When we are working, the ship goes to a predetermined location and stops. The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) Water Column Profiler is dropped in first (to be featured in a future post) then raised after data collection is done. Next either OSCAR or Frank goes down. Every few stops we also do the vertical long line fishing. The ship then goes on to the next stop, which takes about twenty minutes. That time is spent breaking down fish (when they are caught) and troubleshooting equipment.
Salinity: 35.9301 PSU, Conditions: sunny, no clouds, small waves
Science and Technology Log
There are several ways data is collected for the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey in order to have a more complete understanding of the reef system. One of them is fishing with vertical long lines with Bandit reels. We are fishing for snapper species (Lutjanus sp.), grouper species (Serranidae sp.), and certain species of amberjack (Seriola sp.). There are three reels mounted on the vessel’s starboard side. The fishing works by dropping a weighted line with ten mackerel-baited hooks per reel, which then ends with an orange float. The boat is kept as still as possible and we wait a designated period of time before reeling up the lines.
I fished with deckhand James and Texas A&M graduate student, Jillian. The other lines were fished by NOAA scientists Joey, Kevin, John, and other deckhands. Our first try we caught two large spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) sharks that escaped back to sea. The other lines caught smaller sharks and a couple red snappers. We ended up catching and returning six sharks.
Even though we were not aiming to catch sharks, they are part of the ecosystem and the data is collected. The data is written down on paper first and then transferred to computer databases. Some of the sharks required wrangling and less data was collected before releasing them live to prevent harm to shark and people.
The red snappers were weighed, measured in different ways, sexed, the sexual development was determined, and then retained, meaning we kept the fish. The otoliths (ear bones) and gonads (reproductive parts) were also weighed, labeled with an unique bar code, and stored for later analysis down at the Panama City Lab.
Determining variability of fish ages is possible due to this important work. Otoliths work similar to aging tree rings. Under a microscope you can clearly read each year. By comparing fish size to gonads, it has been determined a thirty-year-old red snapper can produce more eggs than 30 one year old red snappers. It is easy to see the research conducted on NOAA Ship Pisces is vital to managing and protecting our nation’s seafood supply.
The movement aboard a ship this size is different than smaller vessels I’ve been on such as a ferry, lobster boat, and other research vessels. Right now we are expecting to not work Thursday due to high seas and wind. The NOAA Ship Pisces’s 208 feet sways in every direction-up, down, all around. The adjustment period for acclimating to this unpredictable movement is referred to as, “getting your sealegs.” This is also an apt metaphor for my time adapting to life on board.
Other than research protocols, Teachers at Sea need to learn what to do in case of emergencies. The science staff, including myself, received a safety briefing before leaving port. Each person is assigned a muster station where they are to report if there is a Fire or Man Overboard. A separate location is assigned for Abandon Ship. Each emergency has a designated series of short or long horn blasts from the ship so it is clear to all what is happening.
Later, the whole ship drilled Abandon Ship. As fast as possible, we each carried our personal flotation device (PFD) and survival suit (referred to as a Gumby suit) to our life raft station. I then practiced how to get the suit on in less than a minute.
Did You Know?
As a New Englander, I talk faster than most people on NOAA Ship Pisces, whose home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi.
There are a lot of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. We have not seen any other vessels out here, but can often see a half dozen rigs at a time. In fact, NOAA Ship Pisces was recognized for, “outstanding and successful emergency mobilization by providing acoustic monitoring survey operations under hazardous and arduous navigation conditions in support of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill recovery efforts.”
It is beautiful here in Houston and Galveston, Texas: sunny, light wind, pleasant-looking clouds, and around 80 F.
Science and Technology Log
People benefit from collaboration and science is brought further, faster and better because of it. This is true of Federal agencies as well. NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have been scientific partners for decades.
A place where the important work of these Federal agencies intersects is Earth. Good Earth systems research requires a complement of remote-sensing technology, modeling, and ground truthing. This interagency partnership makes clear the need for specialized expertise in different areas, which complement each other. The results are also cost-saving. A classic example is NOAA and NASA’s work with weather, climate, and other environmental satellites. Without these our nation would not know when to evacuate due to hurricanes or tornadoes, plus so much more. There are many ways NOAA and NASA work together to give us a better “eyes in the sky.”
Satellites and other research result in massive amounts of data. This is where sophisticated computer modeling helps. Despite all of our improvements in technology, at some point you need to put people on the ground…or sea or space.
Today I visited the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas (JSC). It is the famed headquarters of U.S. manned space flight. The facility was purposely built like a college campus to foster collaboration and innovation. Just like my upcoming trip aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, people need to go! They need to be there, whether that be space or sea, to figure out the science. No amount of satellites or computer modeling can replace what is gained by the human experience. We have pretty amazing robots now, but nothing beats good old fashioned people power.
For my mission, we are looking at the abundance of fish species. There is remote sensing used as well, but we also need to fish, and get out in open water by ship. This is vital for the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The International Space Station (ISS) puts humans in space. There have been many positive effects from this work in our everyday lives such as Velcro, water recycling technology, MRI machines, cell phones, and fire fighting respirators. Working in microgravity is also bringing us one step closer to ending breast cancer.
You can interpret the title of this blog post a few different ways. Independently and together, NOAA and NASA work to progress science. These effects have built over decades to benefit humanity and our relationship with Earth in numerous ways. The two agencies are also continuing on this journey. It remains a work in progress. Our future depends on it.
Yesterday was an auspicious start to my trip. The museum itself is a treat for all ages as well as the tram tours. There are two tram tours you can take at Johnson Space Center, the red and blue. A trip to JSC is definitely not complete without a tour! I took both and enjoyed the high quality audio commentary from astronauts of many missions that accompany the drive.
First stop was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. I wish I was there during the workweek to see it in action. There are mockups of the International Space Station (ISS) for training, a model Russian Soyuz space capsule (which is how our astronauts now get into space since the last shuttle retired in 2011), tests related to the future of manned space flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, manned rovers for future asteroid and Mars missions, and even a robotics playing field where high school teams compete.
The other tour took me to the White Flight Control Room. Since 1996, this mission control center has been used for shuttle missions, ISS mission control, and is now used for simulations to train mission controllers. It was noted that the room will become one of deep historical significance when it becomes Orion Mission Control.
Both tours end at Rocket Park. It is awe-inspiring to see a Mercury-Redstone spacecraft-booster like the one that propelled New Hampshire’s own Alan Shepard into space. I stood next to a F-1 rocket engine and then it was time to see, in my opinion, the crown jewel of Rocket Park: The Saturn V (Five). Even in person it is difficult to grasp its size.
NASA Johnson Space Center deftly combines the romantic and sometimes tragic history of manned space flight with the hopes and excitement of current and future missions.
Did You Know?
We landed on the moon in 1969. The average age of NASA engineers in the Apollo program was 27. This means that when they heard President Kennedy say, “We choose to go to the moon” many were still in school!
This is one I think about every time I fly…We landed on the moon before adding wheels on luggage.
Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.
It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.
Science and Technology Log
I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.
We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.
I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.
I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!
There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:
Preparing students to be productive citizens.
Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.
I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.
My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.
Did You Know?
NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.