Oktay Ince: Driving the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and Seasickness!, June 26, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Sunday, June 26, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31.9′ N
Longitude: 81° 57.3′ 00 W
Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 23 °C
Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 25 °C
Wet Bulb Temperature: 21 °C
Relative Humidity: 78 %
Barometric Pressure: 1014 mb

Science and Technology Log

Today, I am going to talk about anchoring the ship in Lake Erie, and some multibeam and side-scan images that NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson obtained a while ago from different assignments. 

The ship is mostly done scanning offshore portions of Lake Erie (2-7 nautical miles) from Lorain to Cleveland, OH, except near the shoreline. Waters near the shore are harder to scan for a ship like Thomas Jefferson because the water is shallower towards the coastline. Therefore, the ship decided to anchor closer inshore and launch its two boats to scan those areas. As I said before, the same multibeam and side-scan sonar beam technology is also in these boats. For the next couple of days while the ship is anchored, the boats will collect nearshore bathymetric data outside of Cleveland, OH. 

The anchor is made of metal and is attached to the ship by a metal chain. First, it is important to decide where to anchor by looking at the chart. It’s usually preferred to anchor in sandy locations for stronger holding of the ship. However, most of the area we are surveying has a mud bottom, which is also okay for holding the anchor. The weight of the anchor is 3,500 lbs.!  Once the ship was anchored, it swung around the chain due to the wind. The engine was off and we stayed there for about 4 days. Even though the engine was off, the generators were on. I will talk more about engines and generators in my next post. 

Okay, let’s go back to multibeam and side-scan sonar. When the multibeam sonar scans to evaluate the depth of the water, the results can be shown in color schemes based on depth ranges.  For example, during data acquisition we determined that 0-3.5 meters is black, 3.5- 5 meters is red, 5-10 is green and so on and so forth. This color coding is arbitrary as long as we have a legend at the bottom of the image that shows the depth of each color. 

a computer screen displays depth data
Scanning the water (color-coded legend on the left). The depth of water is not less than 5m.

There was one interesting thing I learned today. Side-scan sonar can also show the presence of fish. During our data collection, we found schools of fish that are both small and big. How do we know the object we found is a school of fish? Well, often the shadow of an object in a sonar image can tell more information than the image of the object itself. If the object’s image has a shadow that is not attached to the object then it may be fish. Since the fish is swimming in the water, its shadow would look unattached in the image. We not only found a school of smaller fish, but also found a school of bigger fish. How do we know that they are big?  The shadow can tell you!  When looking at the image, we can identify individual fish as a dot, and the shadow can be measured to determine the size. 

photo of a computer screen showing side scan sonar image when no objects are detected; the lake bottom looks grainy orange
Scan scan sonar image- There is no object detected. Use this image as a reference to interpret the following side scan images.
a side scan sonar image with specks of light and specks of shadow, offset to the right. theses objects and their shadows are highlighted in a blue rectangle. an additional caption reads: "Larger fish - can see individual bright spots and individual shadows"
Side scan sonar image shows larger fish presence in Lake Erie (Credit: NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson).
a side scan sonar image with two objects that look like balls of light, and their offset shadows. caption reads: "Schools of small bait fish"
Side scan sonar image shows schools of small bait fish presence in Lake Erie. (Credit: NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson)
side scan sonar image of shipwreck, multibeam bathymetry model of shipwreck
Both side scan and multibeam sonar imagery of a ship wreck from PREVIOUS mission of NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson. (Credit: NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson)
comparison of sidescan and multibeam sonar imaging of lake bottom
Both side scan and multibeam sonar imagery of bottom near Rocky River, Ohio during our this leg of acquisition. (Credit: NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson)

Personal Log

I am almost halfway through my expedition in Lake Erie. When I say I am learning, I do not mean that I am listening and observing what others say, and jotting down what I heard. I mean that I am hands on, doing what others do on the ship. My title on the small boat is “Crew-IT,” meaning crew in-training, and they teach me everything that I need to know. I was even on the deck (ship control center) navigating the ship for about 10 minutes. It wasn’t that complicated to navigate a 208 ft long NOAA ship after all! 

Oktay stands at the helm of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson; three other crewmembers on bridge
Driving NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
Oktay stands at a navigation table on the bridge, looking over a clipboard; water visible out the bridge windows
Checking ship’s daily logs

I am not the only one who is training. There are many others, too: NOAA Corps officers, technicians, visitors, etc. The ship is not only completing its mission, but is constantly a training ground for others. 

Okay, let me talk about my first time being sea sick. Except, I didn’t know what it was until somebody told me so the next day. So, I woke up earlier than usual that morning around 6 am. Because I had a full day boat assignment, I had to be fully ready. I packed a book to read, my camera, selfie stick and my notebook. I put on my sunscreen, and of course, my long pants. After eating my scrambled eggs with light roasted coffee, I quickly went down to my state room to brush my teeth to make sure I was on time for the 8 am safety briefing in the survey room. A safety briefing happens every day the small boats go out. We go over what work needs to be done for the day (general overview), what the weather will be like, and what the following days will look like. It takes about 15 minutes. At 8:15 am, we put on our safety gear (always confused whether to wear a crash helmet or hard hat), and lined up to be boarded. In about 10 minutes, we were on the boat, did routine safety checks, and started to survey. The weather was so hot and the bugs were of course in full bloom. Besides the hot “bug-gy” weather, the Lake was churning so bad that I couldn’t stand still. I had to either sit or stand while holding onto something. On that day, we were out until 7 pm. When we got back on the ship, I was so hungry but also so tired that I could not eat much. When people are late for the dinner which is eaten between 4:30pm to 5:30 pm, you make your orders before you leave for the boat, and they prepare your plate and put it in the fridge. I couldn’t eat anything that I ordered. Instead I ate an apple and went straight to bed. 

I started to have a headache that I knew would eventually turn into a migraine. It was 10 pm, and my headache turned into a migraine. My migraine was so bad that my lids became so heavy that I could not open it. I was constantly turning in the bed, thinking that it would eventually go away once I slept. Nope! Nothing worked. I woke around 2 in the morning, took a shower and decided to take some ibuprofen. The medicine kicked in quickly and the next thing I remember was waking up at 7:30 am. I talked to my friend Justin that morning about what happened to me last night. He said that some people experience sea sickness in the form of a headache and suggested that I take the seasick medicine and eat a good, solid breakfast next time. I guess this is what I am going to do from now on when I have a boat assignment! 

Did you know?

  • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is holding about 130,000 gallons of fuel which could last about 45 days. The ship has 33 tanks across the ship that includes fuel, drinking water, sewage, dirty water, etc. 
  • There is a “speed limit” on waterways? For example; Canada allows speed limit of 10 knots (11.5 miles/18.5 kilometers) in areas where the North Atlantic right whale have been reported in Gulf of Saint Lawrence which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The North Atlantic right whale, which is much larger than a humpback or a gray whale, is one of the most endangered whale species. More information about the species can be found here. Lake Erie doesn’t have speed regulation on open water unless there is a violation of marine laws or criminal activity.
illustration of a North Atlantic right whale
The North Atlantic right whale (Credit: NOAA fisheries)

Oktay Ince: How Much You can Get From Bottom Sampling in Water Surfaces, June 24, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Friday, June 24, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31′ 52 N

Longitude: 82° 12′ 00 W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 23.9 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 22.4 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 16.9 °C

Relative Humidity: 62 %

Barometric Pressure: 1018 mb

Science and Technology Log

I believe you have a pretty good idea what we are doing on the ship. We are mapping Lake Erie. We are all familiar with general maps, right? The ones we see in schools, maybe having a nice globe on our writing desk, or even every day on TV when meteorologists forecast what the weather looks like. Maps are everywhere.  Those maps are simple visual representations of any information we are interested in, such as cities, countries, mountains, rivers, oceans, roads etc. 

Similarly, we also have a map for oceans, seas and lakes so that whoever wants to use Lake Erie “road” will use this map to navigate themselves safely. In the science of hydrography, these maps are called nautical charts. During my past two blogs, I have kind of explained how scientists map the waters. They use multibeam sonar to get the depth of the water and side scan sonar to take images of the bottom. I also described the condition of water such as salinity and temperature.

Lowering Down CTD instrument manually

Now, you may wonder what other data hydrographers collect that goes on the chart. The field units collect data on what material is at the bottom. The easiest way to do it is bottom sampling. They simply send a clamp-like instrument with a rope attached over the side of the boat, and when it hits the bottom it automatically closes itself and catches whatever it is at the bottom. And then, you pull up the rope and examine what type of materials are at the bottom.  This information is so crucial for many reasons. For example, ships need to know where to anchor near the shore. Thomas Jefferson prefers sandy places so that the sand holds the anchor very strong. They stay away from rocky, boulder places to prevent the anchor from getting snagged. So, when a ship comes closer to Cleveland, not only do they know how to navigate the ship safely but also where to anchor. If it can’t anchor it poses a great risk not only for the ship but also for the public at the coastal region. You get the idea! The bottom sampling information is important. It seems simple to do, correct? Yes it is! But the information it provides is extremely important for government and public stakeholders. 

Bottom sampling can be used for other purposes such as what kind of organisms live there, what is the chemical and mineral composition, or even to know what life was like in the past. You can time travel by just looking at the sediment sampling of the sea/lake floor. However, the mission of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is to find what material is at the bottom and navigationally significant, and ships use this information to use where to anchor. 

Let’s go back and discuss more about the importance of studying seafloor composition. The more I research this topic the more I find it fascinating to get how much information we can obtain. I came across an article titled “ THE FUTURE BURIED in the DEEP ” by Jeremy Schwab, and it has very interesting information about why bottom sampling information is used. It is even used by NASA scientists who are studying conditions on other planets and moons that might support life. What mind-blowing research to do. I guess now I am interested in studying bottom sampling!

Personal Log

Speaking of bottom sampling, yah yah yah! You are tired of me repeating that. You may say “We got it Oktay, it is important. Tell me something else.” Well, I am going to share how one experience I had in the past came in handy, and how it led to something I never thought of.

When you do bottom sampling, sometimes you get mud, but if you are lucky you also get benthic organisms which live at the bottom of the lake/sea. In the case of Lake Erie, all we got is mud. Nothing else. Of course, it raises the question, why? I will leave you with that. 

You may argue that even though there is no visible biology, there are tons of microorganisms potentially living in that mud. Yes, you are right. However, since we are not doing microbiological studies, and I don’t have my microscopes to see what is in there, I can’t see those microorganisms. So it looked boring to me, and I went straight back inside of the ship. Plus, I was tired of bugs that were eating me all over. I swear I think they were “Superbugs”, resistant to bug spray. I put bug spray all over me including my clothes, and they still bit me! Who knows, they might be mutated by all the industrial chemicals around Lake Erie, and compared to the chemical composition of bug spray, they were like “Is that all you got, Oktay!” 

a white wall of the ship covered in small dark specks (bugs)
Swarm of bugs all over the ship

Sitting at a desk in the survey room, there was a call asking “Is the Teacher at Sea around? Could you please tell him to come down to the deck? We found an interesting bottom sample we think he should see ”. The officer responded, “Yes he is here and coming over”. I rushed to the deck and checked out what it was. The sample they took consists completely of mussels. Immediately, I took several pictures of them and wondered about what kinds of species they were. Then, it clicked! I can use my “Seek app” to identify them and put them into the “iNatural” database. Now, here is the good part. I learned about these two apps from naturalists and scientists who studied biodiversity in Acadia National Park, Maine last summer when I was an Earthwatch teacher fellow. You may know that the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world and scientists are studying the effects of climate change in this place.  I guess there is homework for you in there. Read about how climate change affects biodiversity in Acadia National Park and the Gulf of Maine, and what it means to the rest of the U.S. and the world. 

Anyway, I took my phone and identified the species by using the Seek app. They were all zebra mussels. Then, I added my observation into the iNatural database. Since there were millions of bugs there, I decided why not identify these creatures as well!  I found out that almost all of them are Giant Mayflies. Quite a few of them belong to the Genus called Chironomus, but the Seek app could not identify its species name. Of course, I put those observations into the iNaturalist database, too. At the end, I had a sense of relief because at least I knew what they were. By the way, zebra mussels are an invasive species and based on my research it was first seen back in the 90s in Lake Erie. Zebra mussels are filtering Lake Erie for sure, which is a good thing, but I wonder what environmental changes it created here since they are an invasive species.

Shortly after I logged my observations in iNaturalist, there was an email starting with a title  “A new update in the last 24 hours from iNaturalist”. Usually I receive any emails relating to activity in my iNaturalist – whether somebody comments on what I posted or giving species identification, etc. I opened up my email and it said that “Lower Lake Erie Region CSI” curators added some of your observations.” That means, the observations I made ended up in their project as well. The aim of the Lower Lake Erie Region Citizen Science Initiative is to identify the various species living (biodiversity) in the southern Lake Erie region. Having a feeling of contributing something to science made me feel accomplished against these voracious bugs! At least for now. 

Why am I talking about all of this! I wanted to make sure you know that if I hadn’t participated in the study back in Maine, I wouldn’t have known about these apps, and I wouldn’t have made my observations while doing something else on the ship that could help some other scientists! 

I guess this experience also made me realize how important it is to have been exposed to different environments and learning different things as a human being. You never know when, where, and how you will use what you know. I strongly believe that the more you know and experience different things, the more you make informed decisions. In other words, when you are at a point where you need to make a choice (life is all about choices), your decision would be closer to the truth than someone who has not experienced what you experienced. 

Hahaha! Sorry for my philosophical thoughts. These are the emotions I have while typing this blog post, while comfortably sitting on my table in my “office” (remember it is located in the mess deck where food is eaten), with a cup of hot bergamot oil flavored early gray black tea on my right side. 

You may ask the same question as some of my colleagues ask me. What on earth are you doing on a research vessel for twelve days, learning all these sciences, technologies, skills, and tools that you may never use in your classroom or teaching career? Or I was once asked, why are you spending your summer with these programs? Why don’t you enjoy your much needed summer break? They may even say, why are you thinking about school work? I am not sure what they mean about “school work”? Clearly, there is a different interpretation of school work among educators. 

My answer is always this – “I love to learn, and I love to experience new things.” For me, learning is everywhere at any time. Whether it is in school, home, holidays, summer breaks… it doesn’t matter. If a learning opportunity comes up, I get excited and try to experience it – that’s it. When you have that mindset, it doesn’t matter whether you are teaching in school, playing at home with your kids, or sailing on a ship exploring the water!

As a concluding remark, I suggest you do the same thing. No matter what profession you have, always be curious, be a life-long learner, and be out of your comfort zone. 

Hope to see you in my next post. 

Did you know?

  • Lake Erie is the warmest of all of the Great Lakes (southernmost positioned of all the other lakes), but it also freezes over more than other lakes (because it is the shallowest of all). 
  • The water in Lake Erie was so polluted that it created “dead zones” due to algae blooms by the 1960s, and in 1969, the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire.

Oktay Ince: Happy Summer Solstice Day and World Hydrography Day! June 21, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31′ 52 N

Longitude: 82° 12′ 00 W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 21 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 22 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 23.5 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 22.9 °C

Relative Humidity: 55 %

Barometric Pressure: 25.5 in

Science and Technology Log

Learning is in full swing on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. Previously, I talked about the multibeam sonar that the ship uses to map the bottom of Lake Erie. I also talked about how this technology related to other real-world applications. I hope I inspired you there. 

Now, I am going to talk about another technology that Thomas Jefferson uses- side scan sonar. The technology basically detects and creates images of objects on the lake/ocean floor. The ship concurrently uses both technologies. Side scan sonar technology takes images of the bottom of Lake Erie and multibeam sonar records the depth;  the seafloor/lakebed data is also known as bathymetry. For instance, if there is a big obstacle or a shipwreck in Lake Erie, side scan sonar would show an image.  Then, multibeam sonar  would be used to get the  depth of the obstacle. 

How does side scan sonar work differently than multibeam sonar?

If you remember from my previous post, multibeam sonar sends sound waves down towards the lake bottom. Side scan sonar also sends out sound waves, but from both sides of its transducer, sweeping the seafloor like a fan-shaped beam of a flashlight. So, the data needs to be composed of both the image and depth which allows a more comprehensive map of the seafloor. 

A third technology used with the multibeam and side scan sonars is called “moving vessel profiler (MVP)”. The MVP is similar to a conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) cast as it collects electrical conductivity, temperature, and pressure (to get depth) of water. The benefit of the MVP is that the ship can continue moving and receive sound speed information, rather than coming to a complete stop to deploy a CTD. This improves efficiency, allowing the ship to collect more data. 

The MVP is a metal structure that looks like a big fish- also known as a towfish-  located at the tail of the ship. As the ship moves, the instrument trails behind it, about a meter below the water’s surface. Sensors to collect sound speed information are located inside the towfish. When the MVP is deployed, the towfish free falls to the lake/sea bottom, before being automatically brought to the surface by the ship’s winch.  Then, the ship receives a profile of the water column’s salinity and temperature, and can apply the sound speed measurements to the multibeam data. This information is critical for ensuring acquired depth measurements are in the proper location on the lakebed/seafloor. For the sake of Thomas Jefferson’s mission, CTD data is enough to process multibeam. However, other research vessels could have additional sensors within the MVP including some that measure chemical and biological parameters such as dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll fluorescence, etc. 

The MVP Training; Deployment of Towfish

  • Oktay, in a hard hat and life vest and Teacher at Sea shirt, poses for a photo on deck as other crewmembers stand around in the background
  • Oktay and other crewmembers stand around on deck
  • Oktay, wearing hard hat and life vest, stands at a control panel; other crewmembers look on
  • Oktay, wearing hard hat and life vest, operates a lever on a control panel on the back deck of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
  • Oktay, wearing hard hat and life vest, speaks into a radio

Let’s elaborate a few science concepts here. Conductivity is a measure of water’s capability to pass electrical flow. It does that based on how many ions are in the water. Therefore, the more ions present, the higher the conductivity of water. Ions are mainly coming from dissolved salts and inorganic materials such as alkalis, chlorides, sulfides, and carbonate compounds. These ions (positive/negative charges) in the water create electric current, so it conducts electricity. 

Using the concept of electrical properties of dissolved salts, scientists measure the electrical conductivity of water so that they know the amount of salt present in the water (salinity). As you would expect, Lake Erie is freshwater so salinity is essentially zero. 

Conductivity is one of the most useful and commonly measured water quality parameters. Knowing changes of dissolved solids in the water is an indicator of change in a water system. Different life forms adapted to different salt concentrations in the water. Even a slight change to this parameter could have a disastrous effect on life forms in water which creates a cascade of effects in other systems. 

Personal Log

It was my second day on ship, and also the summer solstice. Today, sunrise was at 5:55 am and sunset was at 9:07 pm. It was the longest day for Lake Erie, indeed! It was also World Hydrography Day, yay! I am honored and humbled to be a part of Thomas Jefferson’s crew and to be the first Teacher at Sea on Great Lakes, especially on the longest day of the year and on World Hydrography Day in Lake Erie!

After eating my breakfast, I headed to MVP training. It sounded complicated but once I was on it, it was easy to navigate the instrument at sea. Then, I was called for my first boat ride. The ship has several “small” boats to assist in data collection, and they are beneficial for transiting and collecting bathymetry in more shallow places on the water. We had three people on the boat, doing side scan data collection closer to the shorelines. We also did several CTD casts, for nearshore sound speed profiles! On the ship the MVP can collect CTD data more frequently, whereas on the boat, we had to manually put it in the water every 4 hours. The boat was amazing, and I felt like I was on a private vacation boat! However, in this case, I was not only having fun, but also doing citizen science. I learned so much about the side scan, why it is used, and how the data helps the overall mission of Thomas Jefferson

Deployment of our launch vessel
Recovery of our launch vessel

In this personal blog, instead of just including all the cool things I have done on the ship, I want to share some of my opinions about what I feel about my experience so far. 

I would say about one-third of the crew on the ship are women  in their twenties and thirties. Many of them are NOAA Corps officers and survey technicians/scientists. What an inspiring environment for women in STEM! They are involved in everything from navigating the ship to collecting data, from driving the boat to doing hands-on activities. I strongly believe that our female crew members are such an inspiration for future generations who will make things better!

Another feeling I have is how people are passionate about what they do. For example, I never thought a Commanding Officer (CO) and Executive Officer (XO) would be so friendly and approachable . I’m glad Thomas Jefferson has a great executive team. I’ve been having great conversations during lunch or any place I go on the ship. In one of our lovely conversations, both CO and XO strongly encouraged me to bring my students to visit the ship to give a tour. I said “This is exactly what I am here for!” I want to bring back my experiences to my school and community, and I can’t wait to bring them to the ship! They will absolutely love it. 

In my last note, I should say that people who choose their careers based on their passion, are the ones who are successful, and also constantly inspire others to follow their footsteps. I have seen this in many professions across different fields. It is especially obvious when you have a public service job like educators, officers, doctors… You always have to do more than what your job asks you to do. If this is not something you are passionate about then the job becomes torture rather than enjoying. 

Here, on Thomas Jefferson, seeing these men and women on a research vessel, working tirelessly around the clock, collecting data, once again proved to me that you have to be passionate about what you do. 

Anyway, I think it is enough for me to stop talking about what I feel. But, you should know this – always follow your passion. That’s when you will find your real purpose in life. 

Do you know?

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, known as the NOAA Corps, is one of the eight federal uniformed services of the United States. Those officers are made up of scientifically and technically trained officers. It is one of two U.S. uniformed services (the other being the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps) that consists only of commissioned officers, with no enlisted or warrant officer ranks. 
  • To become a NOAA Corps officer, applicants must hold a baccalaureate degree, preferably in a major course of study related to NOAA’s scientific or technical activities. When selected for appointment, officer candidates must satisfactorily pass a mental and physical examination. For more information check out NOAA Corps eligibility requirements here.

Oktay Ince: Learning of a Lifetime Begins! June 21, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Monday, June 20, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31′ 52 N

Longitude: 82° 12′ 00 W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 25 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 19.88 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 25 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 18 °C

Relative Humidity: 88.93

Barometric Pressure: 28.57 in

Science and Technology Log

I have been immersed in many science concepts in my very first day on the ship. Science is everywhere from how the engine works to navigating the ship to mapping the lake/ocean floor. I guess first I’ll start with explaining the science behind the research that the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson does in Lake Erie. 

NOAA’s Ship Thomas Jefferson uses technology called multibeam sonar to map the seafloor and detect objects in the water column or along the seafloor. It is mounted on the bottom of the ship, also known as the ship’s hull. A multibeam sonar sends out multiple, simultaneous sonar beams (or sound beams) in a fan-shaped pattern which allows it to cover the space both directly under the ship and out to each side and then listen for reflections (echo). 

An illustration of how a ship like Thomas Jefferson collects multibeam data. A cutaway view of the ocean depicts the multibeam sonar as a swath along the topography of the ocean floor.
An illustration of how a ship like Thomas Jefferson collects multibeam data (Credit: NOAA)

Why are sound waves used in water but not radar or light waves? 

Because sound waves travel farther in the water than radar and light waves, and sound waves are  created by vibrations. That means that sound waves travel faster in denser substances because the molecules are densely packed together.  When one molecule vibrates the amount of time to vibrate neighboring molecules is shorter, meaning sound  travels faster. What a great way to talk about different waves here but I am going to leave it here for curious readers like yourself to explore!

So, sound waves. If you were to compare one bottle of water with one bottle of air, the one bottle of water would have 800 times more particles than the bottle it has air (According to Scientific American). 

Here it comes to the question. Do sound waves travel differently in saltwater than freshwater? The answer is yes! Because seawater has more particles due to salt (salinity) than freshwater. Remember, the more particles there are in a substance, the faster the sound can travel through it. The comparison can be extended among sea, ocean and freshwater systems. 

Many sea mammals use sonar to communicate with each other. Take the humpback whales, for example. Researchers believe that humpback whales’ low frequency sounds can travel more than 10,000 miles in the ocean. Imagine you are a whale singing, how far can you reach out? Mind blowing!

This also reminds me of the science behind human hearing. Our ear detects the sound vibrations that travel from the air through the ear canal and strike the eardrum and vibrate. These vibrations are then passed to three tiny bones in the middle ear. Those tiny bones then amplify the sound by sending out sound waves to the FLUID-FILLED hearing organ called the cochlea. Meaning, we as humans, eventually use water to amplify what we heard outside in the air. 

What a great way to learn the physics of sound within real-world applications. I challenge you to find out more real-world applications of sound. 

Personal Log

While I have so many  science concepts to talk about, I also have so many other things to talk about. 

Let me start off by saying what I did when I got on the ship prior to our departure the next day. First, I received Covid-19 testing prior to boarding and thankfully after getting a negative result, I was allowed on the ship. The OOD (Officer of the Deck) showed me my stateroom (where I sleep). It is like a bunkhouse with two people and I chose to sleep on the top. Between two staterooms, there is one common bathroom with showers. Every room has safety equipment, refrigerators, lockers etc. It was really way better than I expected. 

Anyway, soon after one of the ship’s deck officers told us that we were  meeting at a restaurant for dinner at 7pm. While I was enjoying my hot fried coconut jumbo shrimp ( it was so hot that it didn’t cool even 15 minutes later!), one of the crew members asked my name. I responded to him in a way that could be pronounced in English. After waiting a couple of seconds, he responded “ Benim adim Justin, sen Türkçe biliyor musun?” With the shock that Justin gave me, I couldn’t say a single word. Justin said – “My name is Justin, and do you speak Turkish?” He knew that I am of Turkish origin and wanted to make sure I could speak. If the time of this conversation is around 8 pm then we had so much deep conversation that we couldn’t keep track of time and realized it was around midnight when we got back to the ship. His wife is Turkish and he knows how to speak Turkish very well. Imagine how odd it is to meet a person on a ship who happens to know how to speak Turkish in a place far from Turkey. Justin is an electronics  technician (ET) for the ship. Ohh I forgot to tell you, we also went bowling after the restaurant.

When I got to my stateroom, it was well past midnight. Even though I drove 4 hours on the road and was worn out from the day, spending more than 9 hours with this incredible team recharged me. I couldn’t be more excited about what my days will look like onward. 

I put my head down and could hear the loud generator noise. I was so tired that I could not get up to put my ear plugs on. I slept like a torn out elephant until the next morning! 

I ate my veggie burger with scrambled eggs in the mess deck (crew eating area) for breakfast, spinach ravioli for lunch, and baked salmon with alfredo sauce macaroni and potatoes for dinner. Believe it or not, their mess deck is sooo awesome that I picked one convenient spot as my “office” desk. You can find every type of snack (that includes ice cream), tea, coffee… in this small place. There are coffee makers, water fill stations, soda machines just to name a few. NOAA is clearly taking care of their crew very well. Keep up the good work NOAA!

We departed around 2:30 pm from Cleveland and headed out to the Lake where we started to survey. About an hour and a half later, the ship started sending out multibeam sound waves and our official work started. Again, there is more talk about the crew, the work they do, and how I feel. I think I will intentionally make you curious more about my adventures and stop here. 

view of water in Lake Erie
It was heartbreaking to see so many dead fish flooding on Cleveland shores.

Did you know?

First Fact: The last time a NOAA ship visited the Great Lakes was in the early 1990s which means updated nautical charts of the Great Lakes are long overdue. Ohio’s primary economic force comes from manufacturing, and many factories rely on water systems in Ohio such as the Ohio River and Great Lakes. Updating nautical charts for the Great Lakes is significant, not only for Ohioans, but also the entire nation. 

Second Fact: Water in the Great Lakes (consists of five lakes: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario) comes from thousands of streams and rivers and the flow of water continues to move eastward. Lake Superior drains into Lake Michigan/Huron via the St. Mary’s River. Lake Huron drains into Lake Erie via the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario via the Niagara River. The entire system eventually flows to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River. Four of the five lakes are shared by two nations, the U.S. and Canada; only Lake Michigan is entirely within the U.S.

Oktay Ince: An Introduction, June 16, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Anticipating Departure on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie/Lake Michigan

Date: June 16, 2022

Introduction

Greetings from Beavercreek, Ohio. My name is Oktay Ince, and I will be posting here over the next couple of weeks about my experiences from NOAA’s research vessel, Thomas Jefferson, as an educator conducting a hydrographic survey of Lake Erie/Lake Michigan! I’ll drive up to Cleveland on June 19, which will take about 3.5 hours from where I live now. My official work will start on June 20th, though. I can’t wait to have this once in a lifetime opportunity and share them all with you! Stay tuned …

Long Awaited Journey!

Back on January 27, 2020, I received a congratulations email from the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.  “ Dear Applicant, On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Selection Committee, we are pleased to inform you that you were selected to be a finalist for the 2020 season”. At first, I was confused about what it means to be a finalist in this incredible program. Was I selected? Was I on the waiting list or did I have to meet certain criteria to be fully eligible to participate? The answer came later in the letter. I have to be medically cleared in order to sail. That includes a Tuberculosis (TB) test prior to sail. 

After completing all the necessary documents, I received an email on February 20 stating that I was medically cleared to sail and able to participate in the 2020 NOAA Teacher at Sea Program! Yay!!! We then had our first informational meeting on March 3.

A week after that, on March 10, a disappointing email came in! Due to the nationwide spread of Covid-19, our sailing season was canceled! However, there was a positive note at the end, “ We are planning to keep each of you in finalist status for our 2021 season.” I thought, well at least we are sailing the following year in 2021, not thinking that the pandemic would stay with us for two LONG years. 

By December 14, 2021, there was a hope to sail in the 2022 season. After confirming my interest in sailing and TB test (yes, again!), I received another congratulatory email on March 11, 2022 stating that I would be one of the teachers who will sail in the 2022 season! On April 28, I learned that I’ll be sailing NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson on June 20- July 1, 2022 on the Great Lakes conducting a hydrographic survey of Lake Erie!

And here was the most exciting part: I will be the FIRST NOAA Teacher at Sea on the Great Lakes!

About Me

Destiny favors prepared minds” 

– once said Louis Pastor, a famous 18th century French microbiologist who invented the process of pasteurization and pioneered many scientific discoveries that we use today. 

Whether Pastor said or not, this quote well defines my philosophy in life. As a little boy from the hills of central Anatolia, I dreamed of going places I’d never been before and learning as much as I could to help to make the world a better place. I always seek to learn, meet new people, and have new experiences. 

Studying Biodiversity at Acadia National Park, Maine 2021

Here I am, about to explore the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, Great Lakes, by total area and second-largest by total volume.

I am entering my 8th year in the field of education with my new position as an assistant principal of academics at the Horizon Science Academy High School in Columbus, Ohio. I taught various science subjects including biology, chemistry, and genetics; and health science pathway courses including health science and technology, medical terminology, patient care and pharmacy technician in the career technical education program in our school. 

What am I going to do on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson?

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is a hydrographic survey ship, meaning it collects bathymetric data (i.e. map the seafloor) to support nautical charting, modeling, and research, but also collect other environmental data to support a variety of ecosystem sciences. In this research assignment, Thomas Jefferson will collect data from the Cleveland, Ohio area as well as the vicinity of South Bass Island and Presque Isle. At the end of the project, the data will allow us to identify hazards and changes to the seafloor, provide critical data for updating NOAA’s nautical charting products, and improve maritime safety. 

I am anticipating assisting with the acquisition of survey data on survey launches, scanning data to assist with the final processing of data, and riding on small support boats to help with the installation of shore positioning stations and tide gauges. 

My Goals while in the  NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

Through this program, I hope to accomplish the following objectives: 

  1. Learn how NOAA’s scientists map ocean/lake floor and how they communicate their data with related stakeholders. The process of collecting ocean/lake data, analyzing and communicating this vital information with the public is something I am interested in to bring back to my school. 
  2. Explore ocean related careers and interview with those who are interested in sharing their experiences within their career journey. Presenting those careers to our students through PBL projects, or career exploration days will increase ocean-related careers within our school building. 
  3. Increase my knowledge on the Great Lakes and its significance locally and globally. This is significant because Ohio’s streams flow into either the Ohio River or Lake Erie, and eventually both release their water into the Atlantic Ocean. I want to make sure our students know their local water systems well and how they connect globally. 

About NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific and regulatory agency within the Department of Commerce. Its mission is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, ocean, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources”. 

NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic products. Source: NOAA’s Official Website

About NOAA’s Teacher At Sea Program

The NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) Program provides once-in-a-life time opportunity for educators by sending teachers to sea aboard NOAA research and survey ships to work under the world renowned NOAA’s scientists, officers and crew. Teachers will then share what they learn with their students, districts and communities. For more information, check out their official website

About NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is hydrographic survey vessel that maps the ocean to aid maritime commerce, improve coastal resilience, and understand the maritime environment. The ship officially entered the NOAA fleet in 2003 (formerly the U.S. Naval Ship Littlehales) and was renamed for President Thomas Jefferson. You may find more information about NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson here.