NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
May 28 – June 7, 2017
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 7, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 050°NE
Wind Speed: 13 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1006.7 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 14.8°C
Air Temperature: 12.8°C
The Eve of Debarkation (Tuesday, June 6)
Today is the eve of my debarkation (exit from NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter). Our estimated time of arrival (ETA) to Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport is 10 a.m. tomorrow, June 7th. Before I disembark, the sea apparently wants to me remind me of its size and force. Gordon Gunter has been rocked back and forth by the powerful waves that built to around 5 feet overnight. Nonetheless, it is full steam ahead to finish collecting samples from the remaining oceanography stations. All hands on deck, as the saying goes. The navigational team steer the vessel, engineers busy themselves in the engine room, deck hands keep constant watch, scientists plan for the final stations, and the stewards continue to provide the most delicious meals ever. I am determined to not let a bumpy ship ride affect my appetite. It is my last full day aboard Gordon Gunter, and I plan to enjoy every sight, sound, and bite.
Coming into Port (Wednesday, June 7)
I am concluding my log on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, in port. It seems fitting that my blog finish where it took life 10 days ago. When I first set foot on the gangway a week and a half ago, I had no idea of the adventure that lay in front of me. I have had so many new experiences during the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey—from sailing the Gulf of Maine to collecting plankton samples, along with many special events in between.
I have grown accustomed to life on board Gordon Gunter. The constant rattling of the ship and the never-ending blowing of the air-conditioner no longer bother me, they soothe me. It is remarkable what we as humans can do when we just do it. At this time last year I never would have imagined working on a research vessel in the North Atlantic. It is nice proving yourself wrong. There is always a new experience waiting. Why hesitate? The memories I have made from the Teacher at Sea program will be amongst the ones I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I won’t keep the experience and the memories just for myself either. Back home at Simpson Elementary School, 670 eager 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders are waiting to experience oceanography and life at sea vicariously through their librarian. Through the knowledge I have gained about the EcoMon Survey, my blog, photographs, and videos, I am prepared to steer my students toward an understanding and appreciation of the work that is being done by NOAA. Gordon Gunter steered us in the right direction throughout the entire mission, and I plan to do the same for students in my library media center.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Many types of zooplankton and phytoplankton are microscopic, unable to be seen by the naked eye. From 300 plus meters out, birds can appear to be specks blowing in the wind. But with a microscope and a pair of binoculars, we can see ocean life much more clearly. The organisms seem to grow in size when viewed through the lenses of these magnification devices. From the smallest fish larvae to the largest Blue Whale, the ocean is home to millions of species. All the data collected during the EcoMon Survey (plankton samples, wildlife observers, ship’s log of weather conditions, and GPS coordinates) creates a bigger picture of the ocean’s ecosystem. None of the data aboard Gordon Gunter is used in isolation. Science is interconnected amongst several variables.
Take for instance the avian observers’ data which is most useful when analyzed in terms of the current environmental conditions in which each bird or marine animal was seen: sea temperature, wind speed, and water currents. This kind of data in conjunction with the plankton samples will help scientists create predictive models of the marine environment. Our understanding of the hydrographic and planktonic components of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem will help us prepare for a more sustainable future where marine life flourishes.
To explain the purpose behind the the EcoMon Surveys, I would like to share an excerpt written by Chief Scientist, Jerry Prezioso during the 1st Leg of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey:
My answer would be that we need to do these ecosystem monitoring surveys because we are on the front lines of observing and documenting first hand what’s going on in our coastal and offshore waters. The science staff, aided by the ship’s command and crew, is working 24 / 7 to document as much as they can about the water conditions, not just on the surface but down to 500 meters, by measuring light, chlorophyll, and oxygen levels as well as nutrients available. Water column temperatures and salinities are profiled and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) levels are checked as a way of measuring seawater acidity at the surface, mid-water and bottom depths. What planktonic organisms are present? Plankton tows across the continental shelf down to 200 meters are made to collect them. What large marine organisms such as whales, turtles and seabirds are present in different areas and at different times of the year, and are they different from one year to the next? From one decade to the next? Two seabird observers work throughout the daylight hours to document and photograph large marine organisms encountered along our cruise track. Without this information being gathered on a regular basis and in a consistent manner over a long period of time, we would have no way of knowing if things are changing at all. [Source — Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist]
Just as the ocean changes, so does the science aboard the ship. So, what’s next for Gordon Gunter? Three days after my debarkation from the vessel, Gunter will be employed on an exploratory survey of Bluefin Tuna. This is quite an iconic survey since scientists could be on the brink of a new discovery. Bluefin Tuna were once thought to only spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea. That is until researchers began to find Bluefin Tuna larvae in the deep waters between the Gulf Stream and the northeast United States. Fifty years ago fishermen believed Bluefin Tuna were indeed spawning in this part of the Gulf Stream, but it was never thoroughly researched. The next survey aboard Gordon Gunter (June 10-24) will collect zooplankton samples which scientists predict will contain Bluefin Tuna larvae. The North Gulf Stream is not an area regularly surveyed for Bluefin Tuna. It is quite exciting. The data will tell scientists about the life history and genetics of these high-profile fish. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter has executed countless science missions, each special in its own right. Yes, it is time for me to say farewell to Gordon Gunter, but another group of researchers won’t be far behind to await their turn to come aboard.
360-degree of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
A BIG Thank You!
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the NOAA crew for such an amazing voyage I would like to thank the ship’s stewards, Chief Steward, Margaret Coyle and 2nd Cook, Paul Acob. Their hospitality cannot be matched. From day one, they treated me like family. They prepared each meal with care just like my mother and grandmother do. I cannot imagine enjoying another ship’s food like I have that aboard Gordon Gunter. To the stewards, thank you.
I would like to thank the deck team for their continual hard work throughout the cruise. Chief Boatswain, Jerome Taylor is the definition of leadership. I watched on countless occasions his knack for explaining the most difficult of tasks to others. Jerome knows the ship and all her components like the back of his hand. The deck crew left no stone unturned as they carried out their duties. To the deck crew, thank you.
I would like to thank the engineers. Without the engineering team our cruise would not have been possible. The engineers keep the heart of the ship running, the engine. I am astounded by the engineers’ ability to maintain and repair all of Gordon Gunter’s technical equipment: engines, pumps, electrical wiring, communication systems, and refrigeration equipment. To the engineers, thank you.
I would like to thank the wonderful science team, who patiently taught me the ropes and addressed each of my questions. It is because of their knowledge that I was able to share the research being done during our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. To the science team, thank you.
I would like to thank the NOAA Corps officers who welcomed me and my questions at all times. These technically skilled officers are what make scientific projects like the EcoMon successful. They remained steadfast in the way of any challenge. They ensured the successful completion of our mission. To the NOAA Corps officers, thank you.
NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps): “Stewards of the Sea”
NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. With 321 officers, the NOAA Corps serves throughout the agency to support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives. [Source — NOAA Corps]
All officer candidates must attend an initial 19-week Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC). The curriculum is challenging, with on board ship-handling exercises coupled with classroom instruction in leadership, officer bearing, NOAA mission and history, ship handling, basic seamanship, firefighting, navigation, and first aid. BOTC is held at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where new NOAA Corps recruits train alongside Coast Guard officer candidates before receiving their first assignment to a NOAA ship for up to 3 years of sea duty. [Source — NOAA Corps] The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is built on honor, respect, and commitment.
Meet Gordon Gunter’s NOAA Corps Officers
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Lindsay Kurelja!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? As Commanding Officer (CO) I am wholly responsible for everything that happens on board. I’m the captain of the boat. I am in charge of all people and actions that happen on board.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I started going to sea when I was 18. That’s 20 years.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I stay on a four hour watch on the bridge where I am in charge of the navigational chart and maneuvering of the vessel. I also disperse myself amongst managing the four departments on board to concentrate on the engineering and maintenance side of things.
What is your educational background? I graduated from Texas Maritime Academy with a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Marine Transportation which gave me a third mate unlimited license with the U.S. Coast Guard. I then came straight to work for NOAA.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Our navigational equipment. Nothing is more important to a navigational officer than a pair of dividers and a set of triangles.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite marine animal are Ctenophoras. Ctenophoras are little jellyfish that are unique in the evolutionary scale because of their abilities despite the lack of brains.
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Chad Meckley!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Executive Officer (XO) aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. I am second in command after the Commanding Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Yes. This is my third sea assignment. My first sea assignment was for two years on the Albatross IV. I also sailed aboard the McArthur II for a year, I did six months on the Henry Bigelow, and I was certified while sailing on the Coast Guard Cutter EAGLE. I have had quite a bit of sea time so far in my career.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? If I am not on the bridge on watch, you can find me in my office. As XO one of my primary responsibilities is administrative work—from time and attendance to purchasing.
What is your educational background? I earned a bachelor’s degree at Shippensburg State University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. I studied Geography and Environmental Science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The biggest tool we have aboard the ship that we use more than anything are the nautical charts. Without our nautical charts, we wouldn’t be going anywhere. We could not get safely from point A to point B and accomplish our mission of science and service aboard these vessels.
What is your favorite marine animal? That’s a tough one because there’s so many cool animals in the sea and on top of the sea. I am really fascinated by Moray eels. The way they move through the water and their freaky, beady eyes make them really neat animals.
Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade, Libby Mackie!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Operations Officer on board. One step below the Executive Officer. I do the coordination of the scientists.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I had some experience at sea when I was in the NAVY. Even though I never went underway in the NAVY, but I did have a second job on some of the dive boats in Hawaii. After I got out of the NAVY and went to school I got some small boat time there. Other ships I have sailed on with NOAA are the Oscar Dyson, the Reuben Lasker, and the Bell M. Shimada.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge and in the dry lab with the scientists.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science in Marine Biology and an associate’s degree in Mandarin.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The coffee machine!
What is your favorite marine animal? Octopus.
Meet Ensign, Alyssa Thompson!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a Junior Officer. I reported here May 20th of last year. I am the Navigation Officer and Safety Officer. I am an ensign, so I do all of the navigational planning. I also drive the ship.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I have been at sea with the NOAA Corps for over a year now.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge, driving the ship.
What is your educational background? I went to Virginia Tech. I earned my undergraduate degree in Biology/Animal Sciences. I took a lot of Fisheries classes, too. I interned in Florida researching stingrays and general marine biology with the University of Florida.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Probably radar. I could not live without the radar. It shows you all of your contacts, your targets, especially in the fog up here in the Northeast. Radar is a wonderful tool because there are times you can’t see anything. Sometimes we have only a half mile visibility, and so the radar will pick up contacts to help you maneuver best.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins. I love dolphins, always have.
Meet ENS, Lola Ajilore!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?
I am a NOAA Corps Junior Officer. I joined NOAA in July of 2016. I work with navigation, and I am the secondary Environmental Compliance Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not yet. I have only been at sea for one month.
What is your educational background? I earned my undergraduate degree in Environmental Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University. I have a master’s in Environmental Science from John Hopkins University.
What is most challenging about your work? It is a challenge learning to drive a ship. It is much different from a car, especially because there are no brakes. I also miss being around my family. You miss out on a lot of special events like birthdays when you work at sea.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins!
Meet Ensign, Mike Fuller!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am an Augmenting Junior Officer on Gordon Gunter for the time being until I head off to my permanent duty station.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not in this position. I did have some research experience when I was at the University of Miami.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? Most of my work is on the bridge standing watch and operating the actual ship itself—general ship driving and operations.
What is your educational/training background? Those who decide to do the NOAA Corps are required to have a science background. My background is in Marine Science and Biology. I studied a lot of invertebrates in university. After university I went to a 19-week training course where the NOAA Corps trains alongside the Coast Guard learning about different maritime regulations and standard operating procedures.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? From a very broad standpoint the tool we use regularly are our navigational charts. You can’t do anything without those. That’s how we setup the entire cruise. It gives us all the information we need to know for safe sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? There’s so many, it’s hard to pick. My favorite would have to be a species of crinoid that you find in really old rocks. They are a really cool invertebrate.
Meet Ensign, Mary Claire Youpel!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the newest Junior Officer aboard the Gordon Gunter. I just reported; this is my first sea assignment.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Limited. I did research at Louisiana State University during grad school. My lab worked on Red Snapper research in the Gulf of Mexico. This is my first time going out to sea with NOAA.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I work in the bridge or the pilot house. This is where we drive the ship.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science from the University of Illinois-Champaign in Environmental Science. I have a master’s of science in Oceanography and Coastal Studies from Louisiana State University. I also have a master’s of Public Administration from Louisiana State University.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Radar, because it helps us navigate safely on our track lines.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Great White Shark.
For my final glossary of new terms and phrases, I would like to share ways to say goodbye. It has been difficult for me to find parting words for all of those I have worked with and got to know the past 10 days. If you cannot think of one way to say goodbye, try 10!
- Take care.
- See you later.
- So long.
- Au revoir.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Corps traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson. In 1970, NOAA was created to develop a coordinated approach to oceanographic and atmospheric research and subsequent legislation converted the commissioned officer corps to the NOAA Corps. [Source — NOAA Corps] https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/about