Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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In order to check whether the tide gauge is working or not, a tidal observation needs to take place.  Over the course of several hours, the tide is measured as it rises or falls on graduated staffs and is recorded and compared to our tidal gauge data.  Credit Brian Glunz for the photo.

While horizontal control base stations are used to improve the accuracy of the positions of all points on a surface by providing a fixed known location to compare to GPS coordinates, constantly changing tides present another challenge in of its own.  With tides in the survey area ranging 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 ft.), depths can vary widely for various shallow-water hazards depending on the strength of the tide.  Consequently, accurate tide data must be recorded during the survey and in close proximity of the survey site since tides vary widely depending on topography, weather systems, and other factors.  This is where tide stations come into play and are necessary to accurately gauge the vertical level of water throughout the survey area.

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Surveying equipment is used to check benchmarks near the tide station in the upper left for any movement.  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Hannah Marshburn is recording data from the leveling process with Ensign Matthew Sharr sighting a staff held in place by Ensign Mason Carroll and Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus.

Before a survey is started in an area, a tide station can be set up within the survey area to measure local tides. The tide stations use solar cells to generate electricity to power a small compressor on land that sends air through a hose that is attached to the ocean bottom in a near-shore environment.  The tide gauge can measure how much pressure is needed to generate a bubble out the end of the hose, the greater the pressure, the deeper the water.  These pressure gradients correlate to a certain depth of water while the depth of the water is tied to a nearby benchmark of surveyed elevation.  This information is then transmitted out to tide reporting sites online.  For additional data on tide patterns, the information on tide levels can be downloaded from the gauge in refining survey data.  In order to ensure that a tide gauge is working correctly, manual tide observations are periodically made at the same location. Additionally, the benchmarks near the tide gauge go through a process called “leveling.” This is survey work that compares all of the secondary benchmarks in the area to the primary benchmark.  If none of the benchmarks have moved relative to each other, it is safer to assume that the benchmarks still represent the elevation that they were originally surveyed.  Once the survey in the area is completed, the tidal gauge is packed up to be used at another location.  Since the portion of the tidal gauge that releases the pressurized bubble is under the entire tidal water column, a dive team is required to remove the remaining equipment.  The entire tidal gauge site is returned to how it looked before the station was set up.  Only the survey benchmarks remain for future use.

Personal Log:

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From left to right Ensign Tyler Fifield charts our course while Able Seaman Godfrey Gittens has the helm with Ensign Lander Van Hoef controlling the power to propulsion.  Bridge usually has at least one officer and one deck member on watch at all times.  Ensign Fifield has been in NOAA and on the Fairweather for two years and has a background in marine safety and environmental protection.  AB Gittens spent 4 years in the Navy, 20 years on commercial and military marine contracted vessels, and has now worked for NOAA for a couple of months.  Ensign Van Hoef has a background in mathematics and has been on the Fairweather for six months.

Dear Mr. Cody,

On our cruise ship there are officers that wear uniforms who run the ship.  They also look out for the safety of everyone onboard.  They are very nice and know a lot about how to keep the ship running and get the cruise ship to each stop on our vacation.  They work with each department on the ship to make sure everything runs properly and people stay safe.  It has been a great trip to Alaska, and now we are at our last stop.  Goodbye Alaska!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and has been corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has officers, the NOAA Corps, to help run the ship and carry out NOAA’s mission by utilizing NOAA’s fleet of ships and aircraft and by staffing key land-based positions throughout the organization.  The NOAA Corps ensures that trained personnel are always available to carry out NOAA’s missions using cutting-edge science and technology.  This gives NOAA the flexibility it needs to complete many types of varied research since officers are trained to fulfill many types of missions.  This gives NOAA the ability to respond quickly to scientific and technological needs and helps retain a continuity of operations and protocol throughout the vast fleet and area of operations.  In order to be considered for acceptance into the NOAA Corp, applicants must have at least a four year degree in a field of study relating to NOAA’s scientific and technological interests.  Once accepted into the program, they go through five months of training at the United States Coast Guard Academy where they develop an understanding of NOAA’s mission, maritime and nautical skills, and general ship and boat operation skills.  After successful completion of the training, NOAA officers are placed on a ship in the fleet for three years of sea duty to begin their new career.

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Chief Electronics Technician Sean Donovan performs his daily check of communications systems on the bridge.  CET Donovan served as a naval service ground electronic technician for 11 years in the Navy and has been in NOAA for 8 months.

On the Fairweather NOAA Corp officers help run and manage the ship and launch boats.  They navigate the ship and stand watch on the bridge.  They work with the other departments to ensure that the mission is accomplished and everyone remains safe during the mission.  On a hydrographic survey ship such as the Fairweather, Corps officers commonly have the position of sheet manager for hydrographic survey regions as collateral duties allowing them the opportunity to plan the logistics of hydrographic survey areas and learn how to use software associated with hydrographic data collection and analysis. Additionally, officers will be assigned to other scientific missions as they arise since the Fairweather will participate in a variety of scientific projects throughout the year.

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Able Seaman Carl Coonce controls the hydraulic system that is picking up a launch boat from a survey mission.  AB Coonce has been in NOAA for 12 years.  He was also on the NOAA ships Albatross and Bigalow.  He has been on the Fairweather for five years.  He started out in NOAA as a second cook and then a chief steward, but he wanted to learn more about ships; so, he made the move to the deck department commenting, “When you go out on deck, all differences are set aside.  We lookout for each other.”

A hydrographic ship such as the Fairweather requires many departments to work together  including the NOAA Corps officers to accomplish the mission.  There is the deck department and engineering department and the steward department as I have discussed their role in previous posts.  However, there are also electronic technicians that assist the survey in all of its technological aspects including the ship’s servers, electronics, radar, and communication systems.  Since technology plays a critical role in the collection and analysis of data, a hydrographic ship depends on these systems to carry out its scientific research.

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Acting Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician John Doroba prepares a boat launch for another portion of the hydrographic survey.  ACHST Doroba is the lead survey technician for this leg.  He has a background in geography, physical science, and information systems with a decade of work experience in and out of NOAA relating to surveying and related technology.

The survey department does the bulk of the collection and analysis of hydrographic data.  Depending on experience and education background, someone in survey may start out as a junior survey technician or assistant survey technician and advance up to a survey technician, senior survey technician, and possibly a chief survey technician.  With each step more years of experience is required because a greater amount of responsibility comes with each position concerning that survey.  Survey technicians generally need to have a background in the physical sciences or in computer science.  Technology and physical science go hand-in-hand in hydrographic survey work by applying and analyzing scientific data through the lens of advanced technology and software.  One needs to be capable in both areas in order to be proficient in the survey department.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Steve Eykelhoff collects hydrographic data during a launch.  HAST Eykelhoff has a background in geology and hydrology.  He has worked on many mapping projects including mapping the Erie Canal and the Hudson River.

It really comes down to people working together as a team to get something done.  In the case of the Fairweather, all of this talent and dedication has been brought together in a team of NOAA Corps, engineers, deck, survey, technicians, and stewards to carry out a remarkable array of scientific work safely and efficiently.  This team is always ready for that next big mission because they work together and help each other.  Yes, Dillion, my time here on the Fairweather is also drawing to a close.  I have enjoyed the three weeks onboard and have learned a lot from a very friendly and informative and driven crew.  I thank all of those who were willing to show me what their job in NOAA is like and the underlying concepts that are important to their careers.  I learned a great deal concerning NOAA careers and the science that is carried out onboard a NOAA hydrographic ship.  Thank you!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the United States consisting of more than 300 officers that operate NOAA’s fleet of 16 ships and 9 aircraft.

Can You Guess What This Is?111_0918 (2)

A. a ship  B. a hydrographic survey  C. a NOAA vessel  D. a final farewell to an amazing ship and crew

You should already know the answer if you have been following this blog!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an azimuth circle.  The Fairweather has an azimuth circle onboard.  While it is not typically used for navigation, it is yet another technology that remains as a holdover from earlier seafaring times and as a potential navigation tool available when all modern equipment has failed.  The azimuth circle can be used to measure the position of a celestial body for navigation purposes or to get a bearing on an object visible from the ship.)

Spencer Cody: What Remains Unseen, June 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 16˚C (60˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,013 hPa (1,013 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus is cataloguing all of the discreet hazards and objects by location and by photographic evidence that will be available for the new nautical charts once the survey is complete.

Uncovering potential dangers to navigation often requires more that acoustic equipment to adequately document the hazard.  Many hazards are in water that is shallow enough to potentially damage equipment if a boat were to be operating in that area and may also require special description to provide guidance for those trying to interpret the hazard through nautical charts and changing tides.  This is one of the key reasons so much planning must be placed into assigning survey areas determining the size and extent of polygons for mapping.  Depending on the complexity of the area’s structures, the polygon assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch.  Near-shore objects may require a smaller boat to adequately access the shallow water to move in among multiple hazards.  This is where a smaller boat like the Fairweather’s skiff can play a role.  The skiff can be sent out to map where these near-shore hazards are using equipment that that will mark the object with a GPS coordinate to provide its location.  Additionally, a photograph of the hazard is taken in order to provide a greater reference to the extent of the object and what it looks like above or below the water.  This information is collected and catalogued; so, the resulting nautical chart will have detailed resources and references to existing nautical hazards.

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Ensign Pat Debroisse covers nautical hazards such as rocks and kelp indicated throughout a very shallow and hazardous inlet.

Nautical hazards are not the only feature found on charts.  Nautical charts also have a description of the ocean bottom at various points throughout the charts.  These points may indicate a rocky bottom or a bottom consisting of silt, sand, or mud.  This information can be important for local traffic in terms of boating and anchoring and other issues. In order to collect samples from the bottom, a launch boat drops a diving probe that consists of a steel trap door that collects and holds a specimen in a canister that can be brought up to the boat.  Once the sample is brought up to the boat, it is analyzed for rock size and texture along with other components such as shell material in order to assign a designation.  This information is collected and catalogued so that the resulting nautical chart update will include all of the detailed information for all nautical hazards within the survey area.

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Bottom samples are taken with a heavy steel torpedo-shaped probe that is designed to sink quickly, dive into the ocean bottom, clamp shut, and return a sample to the boat.  Credit Ensign Joseph Brinkley for the photo.

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

The food on the cruise ship is great. They have all of our meals ready and waiting.  There are many people who prepare and serve the food to us to make our trip enjoyable.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The food onboard the Fairweather is also very good.  Much of the work that they do happens so early in the morning that most never see it take place.  Our stewards take very good care of us by providing three meals a day, snacks, and grab bag lunches for all of our launches each day.  They need to start early in morning in order to get all of the bagged lunches for the launches prepared for leaving later that morning and breakfast. They start preparing sandwiches and soup for the launches at 5 AM and need to have breakfast ready by 7 AM; so, mornings are very busy for them.  A morning snack is often prepared shortly after breakfast for those on break followed by lunch and then an afternoon snack and finally dinner.  That is a lot of preparation, tear down, and clean up, and it all starts over the next day.  The steward department has a lot of experience in food preparation aiding them in meeting the daily demands of their careers while preparing delicious and nutritious food that the crew will enjoy.

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What are you doing at 5:15 in the morning?  Mornings are very busy for the steward department preparing lunches for the day’s hydrographic launches and breakfast for the entire crew.  From left to right, Chief Steward Frank Ford, Chief Cook Ace Burke, Second Cook Arlene Beahm, and Chief Cook Tyrone Baker.
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Chief Steward Frank Ford is preparing a delicious mid-morning snack for the crew.

Frank Ford is the chief steward. He has been in NOAA for six years.  Before joining NOAA he had attended culinary school and worked in food service for 30 years in the restaurant and hotel industry.  “I try to make meals that can remind everyone of a positive memory…comfort food,” Frank goes on to say, “Having good meals is part of having good morale on a ship.”  Frank and the others in the steward department must be flexible in the menu depending on produce availability onboard and available food stores as the mission progresses.

 

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Chief Cook Tyrone Baker helps prepare breakfast.

Tyrone Baker is the chief cook onboard. He has been in NOAA for 10 years and has 20 years of food service experience in the Navy.  Ace Burke has been with NOAA since 1991 and has served in many positions in deck and engineering and has been a steward for the last 15 years.  He came over from the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson to help the steward department as a chief cook. Arlene Beahm attended chefs school in New Orleans.  She has been with NOAA for 1 ½ years and started out as a general vessel assistant onboard the Fairweather and is now a second cook.

 

Did You Know?

Relying on GPS to know where a point is in the survey area is not accurate enough.  It can be off by as much as 1/10 of a meter.  In order to increase the accuracy of where all the points charted on the new map, the Fairweather carries horizontal control base stations onboard.  These base stations are set up on a fixed known location and are used to compare to the GPS coordinate points.  Utilizing such stations improves the accuracy of all points with the survey from 1/10 of a meter of uncertainty to 1/100 of a meter or a centimeter.

Can You Guess What This Is?109_0609 (2)

A. an alidade  B. a sextant  C. an azimuth circle  D. a telescope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was D. a CTD.  A CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor is needed for hydrographic surveys since the temperature and density of ocean water can alter how sound waves move through the water column. These properties must be accounted for when using acoustic technology to yield a very precise measurement of the ocean bottom.  The sensor is able to record depth by measuring the increase of pressure, the deeper the CTD sensor goes, the higher the pressure.  Using a combination of the Chen-Millero equation to relate pressure to depth and Snell’s Law to ray trace sound waves to the farthest extent of an acoustic swath, a vertical point below the water’s surface can be accurately measured.  Density is determined by conductivity, the greater the conductivity of the water sample running through the CTD, the greater the concentration of dissolved salt yielding a higher density.)

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N
Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W
Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)
Water Temp: 14˚C (58˚F)
Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Wind Speed: 6 kts (7 mph)
Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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“Killing dots” or manually flagging data points that are likely not accurately modeling hydrographic data is only the beginning of a very lengthy process of refining hydrographic data for new high-quality nautical charts.  Credit Hannah Marshburn for the photo.

In the last post, I talked about how we collect the hydrographic data.  The process of hydrographic data collection can be a challenge in of itself with all of the issues that can come up during the process.  But, what happens to this data once it is brought back to the Fairweather?  In many ways this is where the bulk of the work begins in hydrography.  As each boat files back to the ship, the data they bring back is downloaded onto our servers here on the ship to begin processing.  Just the process of downloading and transferring the information can be time consuming since some data files can be gigabytes worth of data.  This is why the Fairweather has servers with terabytes worth of storage to have the capacity to store and process large data files.  Once the data is downloaded, it is manually cleaned up.  A survey technician looks at small slices of hydrographic data and tries to determine what is the actual surface of the bottom and what is noise from the multibeam echosounder.  Leaving too many false data points in the slice of hydrographic data may cause the computer software to adjust the surface topography to reach up or below to something that in reality does not exist. The first phase of this is focused on just cleaning the data enough to prevent the hydrographic software from recognizing false topographies.  Even though the data that does not likely represent accurate hydrographic points are flagged and temporarily eliminated from the topographic calculation, the flagged data points are retained throughout the process to allow for one to go back and see what was flagged versus what was retained. It is important to retain this flagged data through this process in case data that was thought to be noise from the echosounder really did represent a surface feature on the bottom.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sam Candio is using a three dimensional viewer to clean the hydrographic data collected from that day’s launches.

Once this process is complete, the day’s section is added to a master file and map of the target survey area.  This needs to happen on a nightly basis since survey launches may need to be dispatched to an area that was missed or one in which the data is not sufficient to produce quality hydrographic images.  Each launch steadily fills in the patchwork of survey data; so, accounting for data, quality, and location are vitally important.  Losing track of data or poor quality data may require another launch to cover the same area.  After the survey area is filled in, refinement of the new map takes place.  This is where the crude cleanup transitions into a fine-tuned and detailed analysis of the data to yield smooth and accurate contours for the area mapped.  Data analysis and processing are the parts of hydrographic work that go unnoticed.  Since this work involves many hours using cutting-edge technology and software, it can be easy to underappreciate the amount of work survey technicians go through to progress the data through all of these steps to get to a quality product.

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

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A friendly humpback is keeping our survey launch company as we map our assigned polygon.

I know what you mean about the wildlife.  I am seeing wildlife all over the place too.  On our transit to our survey site from Juneau, I saw numerous marine mammals: hump back whales, dolphins, and killer whales.  On our last survey launch, we had two humpbacks stay within site of the boat the entire morning.  They are remarkable creatures.  Whenever we locate a marine mammal, we fill out a marine mammal reporting form allowing various interests to use these reports to estimate the population size and range of these animals.  The waters off the Alaskan coast are full of marine life for a reason.  It is a major upwelling area where nutrients from the ocean bottom are being forced up into the photic zone where organisms such as phytoplankton can use both the nutrients and sunlight to grow.  This provides a large amount of feed for organisms all the way up the food chain.  This area is also known for its kelp forests.  Yes, if you were on the sea bottom in these areas dominated by kelp, it would look like a forest!  Kelp are a very long- and fast-growing brown algae that provide food and habitat for many other marine organisms.

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Kelp forests form on relatively shallow rocky points and ledges allowing for the holdfasts to form and latch onto the bottom giving the resulting algae growth the opportunity to toward the surface to collect large amounts of sunlight for photosynthesis.

Did You Know?

The RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounders found onboard the survey launches use a 200 kHz or 400 kHz sound frequency.  This means the sound waves used fully cycle 200,000 or 400,000 times per second.  Some humans can hear sounds with pitches as high as 19 kHz while some bat and dolphin species can hear between 100 and 150 kHz.  No animal is known to have the capability to audibly hear any of the sound waves produced by the multibeam onboard our survey boats.  Animals that use echolocation tend to have much higher hearing ranges since they are using the same premise behind acoustic mapping in hydrography but to detect food and habitat.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a marker buoy  B. a water purification system  C. an electric bilge pump  D. a CTD sensor

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was A. a search and rescue transponder.  If a launch boat were to become disabled with no means of communication or if the boat needs to be abandoned, activating a search and rescue transponder may be the only available option left for help to find someone missing.  When the string is pulled and the cap is twisted, a signal for help is sent out in the form of 12 intense radar screen blips greatly increasing the odds for search and rescue to find someone in a timely manner.  The radar blips become arcs as a radar gets closer to the transponder until the radar source gets within a nautical mile in which the arcs become full circles showing rescue crews that the transponder is nearby.)

Spencer Cody: Filling in the Asterisk, June 10, 2016

NOAA Teahcer at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 10, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 60%

Wind Speed: 4 kts (5 mph)

Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Goodbye Juneau, we are off to our survey site just west of Prince of Wales Island in the southernmost part of Southeast Alaska.

On Sunday with everyone who needed to be here for the next leg of the hydrographic survey onboard, we set off for the survey site.  Transiting through Alaskan fjords and associated mountains is a real treat to say the least.  The abundance of wildlife and picturesque views of glaciers, mountains, and forests lend one easily susceptible to camera fatigue.  Every vista resembles a painting or photograph of significance.  The views are stunning and the wildlife breathtaking.  After a day’s worth of transiting, we arrived in our survey area just west of Prince of Wales Island on the southern tip of Southeast Alaska and its Alexander Archipelago.  The chain of islands that makes up the Alexander Archipelago represent the upper reaches of the submerged coastal range of mountains along the Pacific.  A mere 20,000 years ago, the sea level was roughly 120 meters (400 ft.) lower than what it is today as our planet was in the grips of the last major ice age.  To put that into perspective, the Fairweather is currently anchored in a calm bay with about 30 meters (100 ft.) of water.  During the recent ice age, this entire ship would be beached hanging precariously next to ledges dropping 100 meters (300 ft.) to the ocean below.  The mountains and steep island banks continue down to the sea floor providing for wildly changing topography below sea level.  This type of environment is perfectly geared toward Fairweather’s capabilities.

While mapping survey areas that include shallow near-shore water, the Fairweather anchors in a calm bay maximizing ideal conditions for launching and retrieving boats whenever possible.  Survey launches are dispatched out to their assigned polygons with the survey area while a skiff boat carries out near-shore marking of rocks and obstructions.  Each of the four survey launches have a RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounder to collect data for mapping.  Survey launches are sent out for much of the day and return with hydrographic data concerning their assigned area.  All of the data is compiled into one file after extensive processing and quality control.

Personal Log:

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Dillion enjoying Sitka, Alaska.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

We arrived in Sitka, Alaska, with bald eagles flying overhead.  The islands with the tall mountains are amazing.  Some even have snow on them still.  They have a lot of trees and wildlife.  The mountains are all over the island and come right down to the ocean with a very tall dormant volcano across the sound from Sitka.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

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Assisting Ensign Joseph Brinkley in lowering a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensor.  The CTD records temperature, salinity, and density.  All of these factors affect the speed of sound and must be factored into our data collection.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Dear Dillion,

We are not that far to the southeast of you in our survey area.  That is part of the challenge of mapping this area and ensuring that nautical maps are accurate and up to date.  Those tall mountains that you see so close to your ship really do continue down into the ocean in many places.  I was able to go out on one of our survey launches to see how hydrographic data is collected using the Fairweather’s fleet of survey launch boats.  It started with a mission and safety briefing before the launches were turned loose.  Our operations officer went over the assigned polygon mapping areas with us.  We were then reminded of some of the hazards that a small boat needs to be cognizant of such as the log debris in the water and the potential of grounding a boat on rocks.  Both our commanding officer and executive officer repeatedly stressed to us the importance of being careful and alert and always defaulting to safety versus more data collection.  Once the briefing was over, our boats were launched one at a time to our assigned survey polygons.  We were to map the area just north of the McFarland Islands.  Parts of the this area had known hazards hidden just below sea level.  Complicating matters was the fact that many of these hazards marked on existing maps were instances in which someone hit a rock but did not know the exact location or a rock was potentially spotted at low tide.  It was our job to carefully map the area without damaging the boat or putting any of the passengers in harm’s way.

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Keeping the boat on course as we collect a swath of hydrographic data in deep water devoid of rocks, kelp, or logs.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Mapping an assigned area can be anywhere between the two extremes of incredibly uneventful to nimbly avoiding obstacles while filling in the map.  Since the multibeam echosounder requires sound waves to travel farther through a deeper column of water, the swath covered by the beam is wider and takes longer to collect.  In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data.  When the boat is in shallow water, the reverse is true.  The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace.  This makes mapping shallow regions challenging.  The person navigating the boat must work with a narrower beam at faster speeds while avoiding the very hazards we were sent to map.  Additionally, in this area kelp forests are very common.  The long brown algae forms a tangled mass that can easily bind up a boat propeller.  Add massive floating logs from all the timber on these islands, and now you have a situation in which a trained driver needs to have all their wits about them.

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Narrowing the data collection to a range of depths in which the entire swath can be recorded minimizes the cleanup of false data points while not losing any of the pertinent hydrographic data.  Credit Amber Batts for the photo.

While the person navigating the boat tries to orderly fill in the polygon with a swath of hydrographic data, a person must be stationed at a work station inside the cabin modifying the data stream from the beam to help keep out noise from the data making the survey data as clean as possible.  Sloppy data can result in more time in cleanup during the night processing of data once the boats return to the Fairweather.  In addition, to control what is recorded, the station also determines when the multibeam echosounder is on or off.  It takes some practice to try to keep multiple tasks on multiple screens functioning within an acceptable range.  The topography in the map area also adds to the challenge since drop offs are commonplace.  There were many times were the difference from one end of the beam to the other end was 100 meters or more (300 feet or more).  It was like trying to survey the cliff and bottom of the canyon including the wall of the canyon in one swipe.  Sometimes the ridges are so steep underwater that shadows are produced in the data were the sound waves were blocked by the ridge and our relative angle to it preventing a complete swath.  This requires us to move over the ridge on the other side to map the gap.

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Slowly but surely, we are painting over the existing map with a detailed color-coating of contours of depth.

There is something inherently exciting about being the first to see topography in such detail.  Much of this area was last surveyed by lead line and other less advanced means of surveying than our current capabilities.  In many respects they were accurate, but as we filled in our data over the existing maps, one could not help but to feel like an explorer or as much as one can feel like an explorer in this modern age.  We were witnessing in our little assigned piece of the ocean something never seen before: land beneath the water in striking detail.  The rocks and navigational hazards no longer resembled mysteriously vague asterisks on a navigation map to be simply avoided.  We were replacing the fear of the unknown with the known by using science to peer into those asterisks on the map and paint them in a vivid array of well-defined contours later to be refined and made ready for the rest of the world to utilize and appreciate through upgraded navigation charts.  Once our assigned polygon was filled to the best of our abilities, we moved on to the next and so on until it was time to head back to the Fairweather completing another successful day of data collection.

Did You Know?

Kelp is a long brown algae that forms underwater forests that serve as an important habitat for many marine organisms.  Kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet.  Some species can grow a half a meter (1.5 ft.) per day reaching lengths of 80 m (260 ft.) long.

Can You Guess What This Is?

152_3283 (2)A. search and rescue transponder  B. an emergency flashlight  C. a marker buoy  D. a flare gun

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was B. an oil filter.  Getting an oil filter change for the Fairweather is a little different than for your car though the premise is similar.  The four long filters used for each of the two diesel engines onboard are many times larger to accommodate the oil volume and are more durable to handle circulating oil 24 hours a day.)

Spencer Cody: No Survey, No Problem, June 8, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 8, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 17˚C (63˚F)

Water Temp: 11˚C (52˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 52%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Refrigeration, boiler, and compressed air are just three of the many systems that are monitored and maintained from engineering.

With much of the survey team either on leave or not yet here for the next leg of the hydrographic survey, it can be easy to be lulled into the sense that not much is going on onboard the Fairweather while she is in port, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Actually, having the ship docked is an important time for departments to prepare for the next mission or carry out repairs and maintenance that would be more difficult to perform or would cause delays during an active survey mission.  On that note while the Fairweather was docked was a perfect time to see the largely unseen and unappreciated: engineering.  Engineering is loud and potentially hazardous even when the engines are not running, much less, when we are underway.  One of the key purposes of engineering is to monitor systems on the ship to make sure many of the comforts and conveniences that we take for granted seemingly just happen.  Sensors constantly monitor temperature, pressure, and other pertinent information alerting the crew when a component drifts outside of its normal range or is not functioning properly.  Catching an issue before it progresses into something that needs to be repaired is a constant goal.  Monitoring in engineering includes a wide array of systems that are vital to ship operations, not just propulsion.  Sanitation, heating, refrigeration, ventilation, fuel, and electric power are also monitored and regulated from engineering.  Just imagine spending the day without any of these systems while the loss of all of them would send us reeling to earlier seafaring days when humanity was entirely at the mercy of nature’s whim.

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Tommy Meissner, an oiler in the engineering department, is giving me a tour and overview of engineering.  The day after this photo was taken, he took and passed his junior engineer certification exam.  Congratulations Tommy!

Two diesel generators can produce enough power to power a small town.  Water systems pressurize and regulate water temperatures for use throughout the ship while filtration systems clean used water before it is released according to environmental regulations.  Meanwhile, enough salt water can be converted to freshwater to meet the needs of the ship and crew.  The method of freshwater production ingeniously uses scientific principles from gas laws to our advantage by boiling off freshwater from salt water under reduced air pressures increasing freshwater production while minimizing energy consumption.  Steam is generated to heat the water system and provide heat for radiators throughout the ship, and of course the two large diesel engines that are used to provide propulsion for the ship are also located in engineering.

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Chief Engineer Bill Ness using the ship’s crane to unload a crate of materials and equipment onto the pier.

How does one get to work in engineering onboard a ship like the Fairweather?  There are several different positions in the ship’s engineering department.  An oiler is largely responsible for maintenance, repair, and fabrication and must pass a qualifying test for this designation focusing on boilers, diesel technology, electrical, and some refrigeration.  Once the qualifying test is passed, the Coast Guard issues a Merchant Mariner credential.  Only then can one apply for that position.  Junior engineers must pass a test demonstrating that they have the working knowledge of the systems involved with engineering especially in areas of auxiliary systems and repair.  Junior engineers generally need less supervision for various operations than oilers and have a greater scope in responsibility that may also include small boat systems and repair.  The scale of responsibility does not stop there, but continues through Third, Second, and First Engineers.  Each involving a qualifying test and having more requirements involving education and experience.  Finally, the Chief Engineer heads the department.  This too requires a qualifying test and certain experience requirements.  There are two different ways in which one can progress through these different levels of responsibility.  They can attain the formal education or they can document the job-related experience.  Usually both play a role in where someone is ultimately positioned determining their role onboard the ship as part of an engineering team.

Personal Log:

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Deck crew Terry Ostermyer (lower, right) with Jason Gosine (middle) and I (left) degreasing cables for the hydraulic boat launching system.  It really needs a before and after photo to be appreciated.  Credit Randy Scott for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

The crew is very friendly.  They take care of everything that we need on our trip to Alaska.  They also take care of the ship.  They must have to do a lot of work to keep such a large ship going and take care of this many people on vacation at sea.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has a crew that takes care of the ship and its very own fleet of boats.  While in port, I worked with our deck department to get a very small sense of what they do on a day-to-day basis to keep the ship running.  The pitfall of having a lot of equipment and having the capability of doing many multifaceted missions is that all of this equipment needs to be maintained, cleaned, repaired, and operated.  This includes maintaining both the ship’s exterior and interior, deployment and retrieval of boats, buoys, arrays, and various other sampling and sensory systems.  When not assisting with carrying out a component of a mission such as launching a boat, the deck crew is often performing some sort of maintenance, standing watch, mooring and anchoring the ship, unloading and loading supplies, and stowing materials.  Depending on years of experience and whether they have a Merchant Mariner’s certification or not will determine the level of responsibility.  On a survey ship, the deck department specializes in boat launches and maintenance; so, the levels of responsibility reflect that central area of concern.  Beginning experience starts with general vessel assistant and ordinary seaman progressing through able seaman with Merchant Mariner’s certification and seaman surveyor or deck utility man to boatswain group leader to chief boatswain.  The chief boatswain is in charge of training and supervision regarding all of the areas pertinent to the deck department.  This is a stark contrast compared to the deck department on the Pisces that specialized in techniques associated with fish surveys.

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Cannot paint because of a rain delay?  No problem.  There is always something else to do like heads and halls.  Deck crewmember Denek Salich is in the background.  Credit Randy Scott for the photo.

When I was with the Fairweather’s deck crew, they were working on taking an old coating of grease off cables and applying a new coating back on.  The cables are used to raise and lower the 28’ long hydrographic survey launches.  This will be a system that will be in use throughout the next leg; so, now is a great time to clean and replace that grease!  After using rags and degreasing agents to strip the old grease off, a new coating was added to the cables.  The crew is always conscientious about using chemicals that are friendly to the environment and proper containment strategies to prevent runoff from the deck directly into the ocean.  Deck crew need to be very flexible with the weather.  Since the weather was not cooperating for painting, we moved indoors and did “heads and halls,” sweeping and mopping hallways and stairs and cleaning bathrooms.  The Fairweather resembles an ant colony in its construction; so, heads and halls can be a lot of work even for a whole team of people, but as I am reminded by one of our deck crew, “Teamwork will make the dream work.”  It is, indeed, teamwork that makes Fairweather’s missions, not only possible, but successful.

Did You Know?

The boiler system produces steam that provides a heat source for the water system and the heating system.

Can You Guess What This Is?

155_3411 (2)A. an ocean desalinization unit  B. an oil filter  C. a fuel tank  D. a sewage treatment unit

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an incinerator.  You may not think of it as being a major problem, but one person can produce a lot of trash over the course of a week or weeks.  Imagine this same problem times 50!  Since the Fairweather must utilize its storage and equipment spaces efficiently, burnable wastes must be incinerated; otherwise, we would be stacking the trash to the ceiling in every available space.)

Spencer Cody: Fairweather in Transition – June 5, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 5, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 58˚ 17.882′ N

Longitude: 134˚ 24.759′ W

Air Temp: 15˚C (59˚F)

Water Temp: 8.9˚C (48˚F)

Ocean Depth: 9.7 m (31.8 ft. at low tide)

Relative Humidity: 67%

Wind Speed: 5.2 kts (6 mph)

Barometer: 1,025 hPa (1,025 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

Fairweather
Yes, the Fairweather needs to be prepared for everything imaginable:  spare parts, lines, tanks, survey equipment, safety equipment, tools, and more.  Preparedness is key to successful mission completion.

Now that I have been on the Fairweather for a few days I have had the opportunity to see much of the ship and learn about how it operates.  If ever there were an embodiment of the phrase newer is not always better, it might be the Fairweather.  Even though the Fairweather is approaching 50 years old, one cannot help but to attain an appreciation for the quality of her original construction and the ingenuity behind her design.  Rooms, compartments, and decks throughout the ship are designed to be watertight and to maximize fire containment.  Multiple compartments can be flooded without putting the entire ship in danger.  The ship is also designed to withstand sea ice due to its densely ribbed construction and extra think hull.  This makes the hull remarkably strong allowing the ship to cut through ice and withstand the additional pressure of ice-covered seas.

 

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One of the two massive Detroit electro-motive diesel engines that propel the ship.  Credit Tommy Meissner for the photo.

The Fairweather is built on redundancy for safety and practicality.  If one system gives out, another can be relied upon to at least allow the ship to get back to port or depending on the system continue the mission.  There are redundant systems throughout the ship involving everything from communications to essentials for sustaining the crew to navigation.  There are even redundant servers in case one set of survey data is compromised or physically damaged the other server may remain untouched.  Storage space is a premium on a ship that needs to be self-sufficient for weeks at a time to address foreseeable and unforeseeable events.  Every free space has a purpose for storing extra equipment, tools, parts, and materials.  Utility and efficiency are running themes throughout the ship.

Personal Log:

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The incoming and outgoing commanding officers read off their orders to signify the official change of command of the ship.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Onboard our ship the captain is in charge of the entire crew and ship.  People follow his orders and the chain of command to take care of the ship and its passengers.  It takes a very large crew to take care of all the passengers on a cruise ship and on such a long trip to Alaska and back.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has a captain whose ultimately responsible for the fate of the crew and the ship. While we are in Juneau, the Fairweather is undergoing a change of command.  On Wednesday we had a change of command ceremony.  It was a day of celebration and reflection on Fairweather‘s accomplishments.  As high-level officials throughout NOAA and other organizations arrived, their arrival was announced or “piped” throughout the entire ship over the intercom system.  Later in the day we had the official change over in a special ceremony attended by all of these dignitaries and guests with NOAA Corps officers dressed in full uniform.

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The Fairweather welcoming dignitaries and guests to the Change of Command ceremony.

After everyone read their remarks on the occasion, the time of the official change over was at hand.  The Reading of Orders ceremony was carried out where both the outgoing and incoming commanding officers read their orders for their new assignments.  Insignia on each officer’s uniform was changed by the spouses officially indicating the new commanding officer and the outgoing commanding officer.  With that Lieutenant Commander Mark Van Waes replaced Commander David Zezula as the CO for the Fairweather becoming its 18th commanding officer.  As the new CO gave his arriving remarks, he reminded us that “Command of a ship is many things…it is an honor to know that the leadership of this organization places special trust in your skills and abilities to hold this position…command is a privilege; of the hundreds of those who have served aboard the Fairweather, only 18 have been the commanding officer…command is a responsibility…for the ship…to the mission…and to the people.”  The Dependents Day Cruise and Change of Command Ceremony made for an eventful week while in port in Juneau.  Now we prepare for our first hydrographic mission with our new CO.

Did You Know?

The Fairweather has a total tonnage of 1,591 tons, displacement of 1,800 tons, a length of 231 feet, and is A1 ice rated meaning it can safely navigate ice covered seas with the assistance of an ice breaker.

Can You Guess What This Is?

TrashA. power generator  B. heat sensor  C. an incinerator  D. RESON multibeam echosounder

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was B. a speaking tube.  Speaking tubes or voice pipes were commonly used going back to the early 1800s to relay information from a lookout to the bridge or decks below.  They were phased out during the 20th century by sound-powered telephone networks and later communication innovations.  They continue to be used as a reliable backup to more-modern communication methods.)

Spencer Cody: Of Geology, Time, and Ice, June 2, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Spencer Cody
Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather
May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska
Date: June 2, 2016
Observational Data:
Latitude:  58˚ 17.882′ N
Longitude:  134˚ 24.759′ W

Weather Data from the Bridge:  
Air Temp: 16˚C (61˚F)
Water Temp: 8.9˚C (48˚F)
Ocean Depth:  9.7 m (31.8 ft. at low tide)
Relative Humidity:  56%
Wind Speed:  18 kts (21 mph)
Barometer:  1,006 hPa (1,006 mbar)

 

Science and Technology Log: After a full day of flying, I arrived in Juneau, Alaska, on Sunday.  The Fairweather came into dock early the next morning to host a very special occasion for friends, family, and the public.  It was a Dependents Day Cruise to go with the Memorial Day celebration.  It was an opportunity for those

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The NOAA Ship Fairweather in the bottom center docked in Juneau, Alaska, preparing for her next hydrographic leg.

who work onboard the Fairweather to show others outside of NOAA what they do while the crew, friends, family, and guests sailed onboard to the Taku glacier in Taku Inlet and back to dock in Juneau.  The day was filled with demonstrations on what the crew does in order to complete their missions and the significance of having a ship such as the Fairweather fulfill its assigned tasks.  We were split up into multiple groups in order to cover the basics of ship operations and the science and research carried out by the crew.  Guests were treated to demonstrations of bridge operations, hydrographic survey techniques and equipment, dive operations and control station demonstrations.  One highlight of the many demonstrations that were carried out

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The crew demonstrate a launch and retrieval of one of the hydrographic survey launches.  The Fairweather has four of these 28′ boats including three additional boats for fast rescue and utility purposes.

was the showing of how the launch boats are lowered into the water and then retrieved.  The Fairweather was maneuvered in such a way that the launch boat was provided a small patch of sea that was calm, a “duck pond,” by blocking the oncoming waves for the launch boat.  While this was not necessary for the weather that day, it did drive home the point about the many ingenious methods that must be employed in carrying out day-to-day operations on a vessel like the Fairweather.  By the time these demonstrations and tours were concluded, we had arrived at the Taku Inlet to see the Taku glacier.

Seeing something that is massive enough to carve solid rock such as the Taku glacier was awe inspiring.  This brings us to one of the key reasons for the complexity of the local geology and the sea channels that the Fairweather will be mapping on the next leg.  After periods of uplift and mountain building, the terrain was recently sculpted with rivers of ice flowing outward to lower sea levels from the ice fields above.  Glaciers encapsulated much of Southeastern Alaska up until the Wisconsin glaciation came to an end about 14,000 years ago.  During this same time, the Laurentide continental glacier still covered much of East River South Dakota.  As the glaciers receded, the ocean levels rose to accommodate the global deluge of melt water.  What was once

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The Taku glacier at the end of Taku Inlet displays the forces of erosion at a remarkable scale.

glaciated land is now well below sea level.  Since glaciers have a remarkable power of erosion, U-shaped valleys have been carved throughout this region.  Where these valleys dip below sea level, they frequently end up becoming important bays or passageways for commercial and private traffic.  Glaciation has also given these passageways some unique characteristics that makes having reliable navigation mapping critical.  Many of the navigable passageways in Southeastern Alaska are your characteristic fjords.  They have been carved deeply by the weight of hundreds or even thousands of feet of ice; yet, they are usually narrow with valley walls that run vertically straight into the air.  This topography largely continues below sea level meaning that in many locations the passageways, straits, and canals formed by glacial action can quickly deviate from hundreds of feet deep to shoals in a matter of very short distances.  The complexity and potential hazards of these fjords is enhanced through the process of glacial isostatic adjustment when the earth shifts back upward after the massive weight of a glacier subsides.  Take these relatively recent geological and climatological

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Much of the rock of the area shows obvious signs of glacial action scouring across the landscape such as this rock near the Mendenhall glacier outside of Juneau.

processes and apply them to the complex system of islands of the Alexander Archipelago that was formed through shifting transform boundaries between the North American and Pacific plates.  Now one can start to appreciate the degree to which timely mapping is needed for this part of the world requiring precision and accuracy in order to provide nautical charts that cater to the needs of growing commercial and private interests in the area.

 

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

We boarded our ship in San Francisco and cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge passing by Alcatraz Island.  At sea I had the chance to tour the ship.  It is huge!  It holds 1,800 passengers and has a crew of 932.  I am still learning how to get around the ship.  It is like a little city on the ocean.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

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Dillion finally at sea en route to his first stop in Alaska.

Dear Dillion,

I boarded the Fairweather the day after I arrived in Juneau.  I, too, am still learning my way around the ship and learning the names of the crew.  Everyone on the crew has been very helpful in helping me find my way around the ship and learning about what they do to make the Fairweather’s mission successful.  The Fairweather is designed to hold more than 50 crew members consisting of NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck, survey, stewards, and electronic technicians.  While your cruise ship is built for comfort for vacationers, the Fairweather is built for utility and efficiency in accomplishing a wide range of tasks.  Though the Fairweather’s primary role is to carry out hydrographic mapping of the sea floor in order to provide reliable navigation charts and increase our understanding of the ocean floor, the ship’s crew has been involved in numerous other projects in just the last year including launching wave and weather monitoring buoys, contributing data to surveys tracking changing climate in the Arctic, participating in marine

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Unpacking and settling into my stateroom aboard the Fairweather.

mammal observations and new marine mammal survey techniques, carrying out phytoplankton tows, aiding the Navy in glider development, mapping nautical obstructions, and retrieving climate and ocean sensors.

 

Did You Know?

The Fairweather was launched in 1967 and named after Mount Fairweather in Alaska.  She was constructed along with two other sister ships, the Rainier, in service, and the Mount Mitchell, retired from NOAA service.  All three ships were named after tall mountains in the United States.

Can You Guess What This Is?

152_3230 (2)

A. a vent   B. a speaking tube   C. a horn   D. a periscope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

Spencer Cody: 1,000 Miles or 70 Million Years, Whichever Is Closer – May 16, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Soon To Be Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

 

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  Southeast Alaska Survey

Date: May 13, 2016

Personal Log:

Dillion
Dillion packing for his trip to Alaska with his family.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

I am looking forward to relaxing and having a good time.  Also, I have been on a ship two years ago which was on the Carnival Sunshine.  I’m excited to explore new things on the ship.  I’m looking forward to seeing the glaciers and seeing new things and learning new things!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

I hope you enjoy your trip to Alaska with your family. Your cruise sounds very exciting.  We missed you on the geology trip to the Black Hills, but Mrs. Kaiser was able to find a creative way to bring you with us.  I look forward to hearing more about your trip when you get back and your continued correspondence concerning your trip.  I am sure we will have a number of things in common with our trips to Alaska.  Take care.

As I look forward to another mission with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather and the prospect of again being embedded among NOAA’s ocean research, I cannot help but to think back to our recent geology trip earlier this month and the implications of geology on geography on my next NOAA mission.  The NOAA Ship Fairweather promises to be a very different experience than my experience aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

Needles
While Dillion was on his Alaska trip with his family, Mrs. Kaiser found a clever way to bring him with us.  Look closely for Dillion on our tour through the Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

The Pisces was a survey ship that usually focused on fisheries missions similar to the Reef Fish Study that I worked on in 2014 while the Fairweather represents another key component of the NOAA fleet, the hydrographic ship.  Yes, this is where geology meets mapping, and when these two come together in the ocean, it is NOAA’s task to ensure that the data needed to manage and safely navigate coastal waters is up to date and accurate.

It can be a challenge to ponder upon an obvious connection to the ocean in a state like South Dakota.  During our geology field trip this May, there were times when we were no more than a few miles from the very center of North America’s landlocked isolation.  It may be quite fitting that North America’s pole of inaccessibility, the point at which one is the farthest from every ocean shore is in the Badlands of South Dakota where 100 miles to each horizon one can look in such a place and easily be led to the conclusion that this is, indeed, an ocean-less planet that stretches endlessly into beautiful desolation.

Badlands II
If you squint you can just make out the sea shore in the distance…just kidding.  The Badlands of South Dakota are as far as one can get from all shores in North America, more than 1,000 miles in every direction.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

But, that is the illusion of South Dakota. The reality is that we live on an ocean planet that is dominated ecologically and cyclically and in every conceivable way by a giant reservoir of water far bigger than the vastness of the great North American interior.  The reality is that ocean deposits built much of what South Dakota is today through hundreds of millions of years of deposition.  The reality is that South Dakotans are tied to the ocean in a multitude of ways, yet it slips the grasp of our awareness and often our understanding.  Imagine the challenge with our students in South Dakota who have few, if any, personal experiences to draw upon when science teachers cover oceanography and other ocean sciences in classes throughout the state.  Thankfully, programs such as NOAA’s Teacher at Sea are tremendously helpful in confronting this challenge through this valuable education and research program.

I have two primary goals during my mission:  connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and vocational pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers.  Basically, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my mission and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA.  I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity, yet again, through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  This is truly another great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.

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There was once an ocean here…70 million years ago.  The great North American interior is largely comprised of ocean deposits of varying composition.  Hundreds of vertical feet of this ancient marine mud, Pierre Shale, is exposed through much of West River South Dakota serving as a constant reminder of our ancient watery origins.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

As with me I will be starting my eleventh year of teaching in Hoven this August.  I teach 7-12 science:  Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics.  I am also the testing coordinator and student adviser for our school district.  Like most staff members in a small school, one must get accustomed to wearing many hats with many roles.  I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences.  It keeps my brain entertained and occupied!  Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in.  It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town.  I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning experience for students.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks.  I will miss them and did get a little home sick the last time with their absence.

I am counting down the days until I fly out on May 29 to Juneau, Alaska, where the Fairweather will be leaving.  I am to report a week early in order to work with the crew of the Fairweather on tidal gauges.  After my work with gauges, I will embark with the Fairweather on its mission and disembark in Ketchikan, Alaska.  I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission.  I look forward to learning more about the various technological aspects of the mission and will report more on the subject once I am underway.  For more information about the Fairweather, visit the Fairweather homepage.

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My family and I and Einstein.

Spencer Cody: NOAA Careers, June 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 10, 2014
 
Observational Data:
Latitude:  28˚ 4.545 N
Longitude:  90˚ 43.557 W
Air Temp: 28.4˚C (83.1˚F)
Water Temp: 25.4˚C (77.7˚F)
Ocean Depth:  148.0 m (486 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  80%
Wind Speed:  11.8 kts (13.6 mph)
Barometer:  1,011.1 hPa (1,011.1 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Adria McClain, a survey technician, works on meteorological and oceanographic data collection in the acoustics lab.

It takes many different types of skill sets with many different types of backgrounds to make a NOAA mission like this a success.  Since it takes all kinds of people to get the job done, NOAA needs people with all of these backgrounds working together as a team for a common goal.  Maybe a NOAA career is in your future?

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Physical scientist Joe Tegeder is tracking the progress of one of the night-long mapping missions. Since the mapping grids commonly resemble a tightly-knit zig-zag of mapping trails, they are commonly referred to as “mowing the lawn.” Such a pattern is needed in order to properly map a given area.

Do you have an interest in meteorology or oceanography?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Adria McClain; Adria is a survey technician who is responsible for collecting meteorological and oceanographic data and managing and maintaining the databases that store these observations.  She also helps integrate the Pisces’ system resources with each visiting science party.  She has an undergraduate degree in biology, a masters in physical oceanography and meteorology.  She was on active duty in the Navy for 10 years with the Meteorology and Oceanography Community or METOC.  During those ten years, she served two tours with the Naval Oceanographic Office where she was a hydrographer using sonar to make nautical charts for the Department of Defense.  She also served one tour at the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center where she developed atmospheric and ocean models.  She states that she very much likes her job even though she still has a lot to learn about fish and fishery biology since she does not have a background in those areas.

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Lead fisherman Joe Flora is maintaining the weather deck by power washing surfaces. An advanced ship like the Pisces is a major investment in science and must be carefully maintained for future use.

Do you have an interest in the physical sciences and mapping?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Joe Tegeder; Joe is a physical scientist who is responsible for using the acoustics equipment onboard specifically the ME-70 and the EK-60 in order to map fish habitat on the ocean bottom.  He has both an undergraduate and graduate degree in marine science.  He currently works for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for NOAA where he primarily works with updating nautical charts in the U.S. waters of the Pacific.  Previously, he worked for the Naval Oceanographic Office where he helped map out harbors from around the world to develop anti-mining operations for possible future military missions.

Do you have an interest in doing the hands-on operational work required to carry out fisheries science?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Joe Flora; Joe is the lead fisherman onboard the Pisces.  He helps implement all of the operational aspects of science missions by launching and retrieving science equipment, operating bandit reels, and cleaning and maintaining the ship in general.  He was with the Military Sealift Command for eight years where he worked on refueling ships and transport operations involving cargo and ammunition.  For the last nine years, he has worked in NOAA onboard the ships Thomas Jefferson, Gordon Gunter, and the Pisces.  He has been on the Pisces for six years.

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NOAA Corps officers are manning the bridge overseeing operations and ship resources. From left to right:  Ensign Johnson, Commander Fischel, and Lieutenant Commander Mowitt.

Do you have an interest in hands-on science and exploration?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet the NOAA Corps; they navigate the ship, allocate and coordinate the ship’s resources with the crew and the embarking science party, and most importantly make sure all hands are kept out of harm’s way by implementing proper safety procedures and protocols.  They bring all of the component parts together for a successful mission and try to make it as functional and as successful as possible.  Applicants to the NOAA Corps must possess a minimum of a four year degree with a minimum of 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework.  All of the officers onboard the Pisces have one thing in common:  they have a background in science, mostly biology and marine biology.  They also had to complete Basic Officer Training Classes after which they reported to a NOAA ship to serve onboard for two years where they learned watch duties and various other collateral duties along with all of the ship’s systems and operations.  In addition to assigned duties, they needed to know how to deploy and recover a diverse array of equipment including fishing gear, oceanographic instrumentation, sonar devices, and underwater cameras.  I could tell right away on the cruise that the officers had an inherent interest in science since they were always dropping in to see what we were working on exhibiting a genuine curiosity in the science that was going on.  NOAA officers are rotated out of their work positions spending a certain period of time out to sea and on land in varying geographical areas with alternating assignments.  This gives them a well-rounded experience in many aspects of NOAA’s mission.

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Members of the science party processing and recording fish specimens in the wet lab. Pictured from left to right are Paul Felts, John Moser, Adam Pollack, and Harriet Nash.

Do you have an interest in working with food preparation and presentation?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Moises Martinez and Mark Potter; Moises is the chief steward.  His responsibilities include making sure there is enough storage for food, linens, and toiletries.  He is also responsible for hospitality onboard the ship and cleaning of the galley and mess.  He works with the second cook to preplan menus, but he really tries to take requests from the scientists and crew and responds accordingly.  He knows that there is not as much to do at sea during downtime as on land; so, he appreciates how much people look forward toward their meals; he tries to make everyone happy when possible.  He was in the Navy for eight years where he realized his interest in preparing food.  Later he worked two years in Italy with the Military Sealift Command as a cook and a baker.  When he came back to the United States, he found out that NOAA was trying to contact him to see if he was still interested in working for them.  He found this to be surprising since he had forgotten that he had applied through NOAA before he left for Italy two years prior.  He started out as a second cook for NOAA and has worked his way up the last six years.  Meet Mark; he is the second cook onboard the Pisces.  His responsibilities include cleaning, preparing food, cooking, and restocking.  He used to work in computer servicing but had to make a career change due to the economic downturn.  He liked preparing food; so, he decided to go back to school.  He went to Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, Michigan, where he worked with some world class chefs to learn what he needed to know in order to work onboard the Pisces.  Prior to his assignment on the Pisces, he worked on freighters and research vessels in the Great Lakes for a couple of years.

Do you have an interest in engineering and mechanical systems?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Jake DeMello; Jake is the chief engineer for the Pisces.  His responsibilities include maintaining any mechanical, propulsion, or electrical system.  He works to ensure that these systems are running safely and efficiently.  He has worked for NOAA for six years.  Prior to NOAA he worked in engineering on cruise ships and tankers.  He has a BA in marine engineering from the California Maritime Academy and is licensed as an unlimited chief engineer through the Coast Guard.

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The science party’s chief scientist, Kevin Rademacher, is coordinating from the dry lab a camera array drop with the bridge and the crew out on the weather deck.

Do you have an interest in science?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet the fishery research biologists onboard the Pisces; this includes the science party’s chief scientist and fishery research biologist, Kevin Rademacher, fishery research biologist Paul Felts, and fishery research biologist John Moser.  Other members of the science party include fishery biologist Adam Pollack and guest scientist Harriet Nash.  In order to be a fishery biologist, one needs a degree that includes courses such as limnology, ichthyology, fishery biology, and various other aquatic topics.  A background including technology, computer programming, and statistics is also useful when data analysis software is needed to produce maps and other displays of research data.  Having research experience that gives one the ability to do the data collection and processing, trouble-shooting, and analysis that is needed to carry out fishery research is also necessary.

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Jim Johnson works on the camera array after another full day of scheduled camera drops and data acquisition.

Do you have an interest in computers, computer programming, and electronics?  If so, NOAA needs you!  Meet Jim Johnson; Jim is an electronics technician for this mission.  His responsibilities include data downloading and maintenance and repair of the camera array system.  He started working for NOAA as a contractor and has been a NOAA employee for the last five years.  He has a four year degree in electronic engineering technology and a background in computers, technology, and computer programming.

Personal Log:  Unfortunately, my time on the Pisces is quickly coming to an end as the science carried out by the Pisces continues on for another leg of the SEAMAP survey.  I am so grateful for this experience and this remarkable program that NOAA has in place to provide such research experiences for teachers.  I look forward to developing materials in my classroom from this experience and making an impact on my students’ lives by sharing my experiences with STEM related NOAA careers.  I am also thankful to all of the crew and scientists of the Pisces for showing patience in everything from explaining basic ship operations and procedures to showing me how to carry out some of the science onboard.  The hands-on nature of the cruise made it an extremely valuable learning experience.  It is my hope that this program will continue offering such opportunities to educators well into the future.  I truly believe that the future of STEM-related jobs in the United States depends on programs like this to develop tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.

Spencer Cody: A Floating City of Life, June 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 6, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 18.164 N
Longitude:  92˚ 26.145 W
Air Temp: 27.7˚C (81.9˚F)
Water Temp: 25.5˚C (77.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  86.1 m (282 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  76%
Wind Speed:  3.9 kts (4.5 mph)
Barometer:  1,011.5 hPa (1,011.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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The floating mats of Sargassum stay afloat due to a series of small air bladders. The floating brown algae provides habitat for a diverse assortment of sea life.

It has been the subject of many ocean myths and legends:  ships becoming trapped in mats of thick, unrelenting seaweed.  Of course, such stories are not true, but the giant mats of seaweed that inspired such fear in sailors hundreds of years ago are very real and are an important component of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem.  The Carthaginians and later the Romans first described a portion of the Atlantic covered in seaweed.  By the 15th century, the Portuguese had named the area the Sargasso Sea after the sargaco rock rose that grew in their water wells back home, which appeared to be similar to the seaweed that grew on the surface of the water in stagnant parts of the Atlantic.  From this comes the genus name Sargassum or as it is commonly referred to along the Gulf coast as gulfweed.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Sargassum can form large mats acres in size.  These large mats of brown algae provide a floating micro-ecosystem in the Gulf.  Sargassum is a food source for many marine organisms.  The mats also serve as a nursery for fish and invertebrate eggs and developing young.  The thick mats provide structure and cover in an ocean environment that may be lacking in the necessary cover to support the development of their young and to keep them hid from potential predators.  Within the mats many types of marine herbivores can be found.  The presence of various herbivores draws in fish to feed on those organisms grazing on the Sargassum.  In fact, some organisms have evolved to look like Sargassum for protection.  One good example of this is a type of frogfish called the sargassum fish.  The sargassum fish can appear to be brown, yellow, or olive depending on whatever color they need to be in order to blend in with the mat of algae.

 

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Hardhat, life jacket, and work gloves are needed during operations on the weather deck. This is a picture of me placing a float on one of our bandit reel lines.  Credit Kevin Rademacher for the photo.

Personal Log: 

Safety is always a key concern when going on a survey aboard a research vessel such as the Pisces.  This is especially true when a ship is moving and lifting the sensors and equipment to facilitate the science the Pisces is carrying out.  Whenever we are launching or retrieving either the CTD or camera array, protective gear including a hardhat and a life jacket are required.  Whenever we are using a bandit reel, the same equipment is needed as well.  Losing someone overboard is a constant concern.  That is why these precautions are taken whenever operations are occurring on a weather deck and is why we have drills for a man overboard situation to recover someone as fast as possible.

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Water hoses along with other fire suppression equipment are tested during one of our mandatory fire drills.

As with any building, fire is a serious threat.  On a ship fire is a threat that endangers everyone onboard.  Everyone is given an assignment list on their bunk card.  Each bunk card lists the person’s individual emergency billet assignments for a fire, abandon ship, and a man overboard.  During a fire everyone may end up becoming a part of the fire suppression crew.  People need to report to there assigned stations.  During a drill a mock fire is assessed and contained, and fire suppression equipment is tested out.  The Pisces is designed to contain fire wherever possible by having heavy fireproof doors throughout the ship making it more difficult for fire to spread to other decks.

If an emergency requires the ship to be abandoned, people are required to report to specific life raft stations with life jackets, a survival suit, and other items in order to leave the ship behind.  Life jackets and survival suits are found in our staterooms and throughout the ship.  This is an act of last resort once every attempt to save the ship has been made.  The Pisces is specifically designed to prevent water from entering cabins and corridors by using water tight doors.  This is designed to either prevent taking on water or at least slow the process down enough to abandon ship.

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Survival suits are both water tight and thermally insulated keeping a person who needs to abandon ship dry and warm. A flotation device is wrapped around the neck, which inflates, keeping the floating person upright in the water.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

Other general precautions must be observed onboard.  Passengers and crew are not allowed to run while onboard for several reasons.  The watertight doors come up from the floor by nearly a foot in addition to many other obstacles.  Places like any of the weather decks or the wet lab where we process fish specimens are often wet and slippery.  Perhaps the most obvious reason one should be careful moving around onboard is the movement of the ship itself.  Large waves and swells can send the ship into an unpredictable motion.  This makes even walking or standing difficult at times and is certainly disorienting.  The Pisces has several features to accommodate this problem.  Handle bars and railings are found throughout the ship in order to stabilize yourself during swells.  Having a handle bar in the shower may seem rather over the top, but when your morning shower starts to resemble a theme park ride that you may have been on before, then you will start to understand why that feature is there.  Cabinet and drawers are self-locking; otherwise, they would constantly slide in and out, which is why we had to tape down many of the drawers in the dry lab that do not have this feature.  When you are on a moving ship, everything takes a little longer to do than on land.  It is just something you have to get used to.

Did You Know?

Even water temperatures as high as 80˚F can be a hypothermia risk if exposed to it for long periods of time.  Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.

Spencer Cody: Sea of Life, June 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 4, 2014
 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 51.464 N
Longitude:  93˚ 17.745 W
Air Temp: 27.1˚C (80.8˚F)
Water Temp: 24.5˚C (76.1˚F)
Ocean Depth:  141.5 m (464 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  81%
Wind Speed:  14.8 kts (17.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,012.3 hPa (1,012.3 mbar)
 

Science and Technology Log:

The degree to which the Gulf of Mexico is rich in sea life is truly stunning.  The Gulf produces more fish, shrimp, and shellfish than the waters of New England, the Chesapeake, mid- and south-Atlantic combined; consequently, the SEAMAP survey area includes a wide variety of sea life with great abundance.  A lot is riding on our ability to understand and manage the Gulf of Mexico.  According to a 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the five U.S. Gulf states harvested 1.3 billion pounds of commercial shellfish and fish.  In that same year, the Gulf produced 82% of the U.S. shrimp harvest, and 59% of the U.S. oyster harvest, and over a billion pounds of fish.  Maintaining the Gulf as a productive fishery for years into the future is essential to the U.S. economy and its food production.  So, what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf?  In general, many commercially valuable species in the Gulf are showing signs of strain due to over harvesting and various environmental factors.  However, compared to waters in some parts of the neighboring Caribbean that have had commercially valuable reef fish devastated by lax regulation and enforcement, some parts of the Gulf appear relatively pristine.

This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.
This is a picture of me taking measurements of one of our target commercial fish species. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

One area of concern is our red snapper stocks.  It can be a difficult population to maintain since major swings in reproduction occur from year to year.  This can give both recreational and commercial fishermen a false sense that a population is doing well; however, with red snappers one thirty-year-old female lays more eggs than 30 one-year-old females.  Therefore, it is in our best interests to ensure some older fish survive for reproduction. This same trend can be applied to other commercial fish in the Gulf further complicating management efforts.

The populations of both red snapper and vermillion snapper are showing signs of recovery since setting harvesting restrictions. Red snapper still has a ways to go to get to the targeted sustainable population.  Currently, the red snapper population is only 13% of the target population level while the vermillion snapper is now at 92% of its target population.  Both populations are well below levels documented early in the 20th century. We see a similar problem with some of the grouper in the Gulf.

Species such as the gag grouper and red grouper have faced similar declines due to overfishing, and both have shown signs of recovery while the gag grouper is still under a population rebuilding plan.  While the bandit reels are targeting fish stocks that often have commercial or recreational value, the camera array reveals the context to the rest of the story about the habitat that is up to several hundred feet below our feet.

Just as freshwater fish back home are often attracted to some sort of structure, reef fish exhibit the same tendencies.  Survey areas where we catch few, if any, fish using the bandit reels often appear as barren, flat muddy or sandy bottoms.  This stands in stark contrast with the rich communities that congregate around structure.

Areas in the Gulf that have structure often have a remarkable array of fish and an even wider ranging variety in invertebrates.  So far on this cruise, we have viewed dozens of species of fish representing groups as diverse as snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, triggerfish, pufferfish, anglefish, damselfish, jacks, porgies, and tilefish.

The invertebrate diversity at these sites spans many phyla including sea fans, sea sponges, crabs, brittle stars, sea lilies, shrimp, tunicates, and various types of algae.  One may wonder why structure is found in these places.  In many cases these communities thrive on ancient coral reefs.  These reefs are no longer living themselves since the 150 to 300 feet we often find them in is too deep for the colonial animals that make up coral to have symbiotic algae living with them.  There is simply not enough light at that depth for the types of algae normally associated with coral to carry out photosynthesis.  Then how did corals get to such depths in the first place?  Twelve thousand years ago large ice sheets existed across much of the northern hemisphere.  These continental glaciers locked up approximately 100 feet of ocean sea level into ice at the peak of glaciation.  Therefore, many of our survey sections are directly over where the Gulf coast once was in very recent geological time.  Once the global climate warmed, the glacial ice sheets collapsed and filled the ocean basins to their present day sea levels leaving the existing coral reefs in near darkness.

Personal Log:

In addition to all of the sea life that I have seen directly relating to the survey, I have seen numerous species as a result of incidental catches or just from casual observations from the ship.  The Gulf is home to more than a dozen shark species.  A hammerhead and possibly a bull shark were spotted from the Pisces during the cruise.  Several unidentified sharks were attracted to the mackerel that we were using for bait on our bandit reels and the fish that we were reeling in on our lines.  Trying to reel in your catch and pull off ten hooks from your line before the sharks get a hold of it really adds a whole new element of excitement to fishing that I had never had to deal with before.  Other sea life that I have seen include barracuda, a wahoo, a bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphins, large mats of brown algae called Sargassum, and the many living things that live among the Sargassum, which I will talk more about in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish stocks throughout the ocean are threatened by over-harvesting and environmental issues.  You can learn more about the status of key marine species and issues relating to our seafood supply at the NOAA FishWatch.gov site.

Spencer Cody: Science at Sea, June 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 1, 2014

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 50.503 N
Longitude:  93˚ 46.791 W
Air Temp: 26.3˚C (79.3˚F)
Water Temp: 23.3˚C (73.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  126.8 m (416 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  84%
Wind Speed:  7.8 kts (9.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,009.5 hPa (1,009.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log: 

It was not until the Pisces arrived at its first survey area off the coast of Texas that I was able to appreciate the volume of scientific data collection that this vessel could collect.  It took most of the 27th and all of the 28th to arrive at our initial survey area.  While in transit, the Pisces is constantly collecting data.  Data such as air temperature, wind direction, relative humidity, wind speed, and barometric pressure are recorded and periodically reported back to NOAA and the National Weather Service and from other marine vessels to improve data on meteorological events in the Gulf and weather forecasts.

In addition to collecting meteorological data, the Pisces uses a fishery acoustics system called the ER-60 to track depth and various sea floor features.  This system can also be used to monitor biomass such as fish, coral, and even plankton.  Once we arrived at our initial survey area within the SEAMAP survey grid, the amount of science conducted increased dramatically.  In the survey areas, the camera array is dropped to the sea floor to survey fish populations.  In most cases we are looking at fish habitat from 50 to 120 m deep.  Video and still photos are taken of fish attracted to the bait bag filled with squid.  To ensure that sampling is both consistent and unbiased for the survey, pictures and video are pulled at random from all four cameras on the camera array.  It is important that the same procedures are carried out throughout the SEAMAP survey gird concerning data collection in order to be able to reliably compare different survey areas and track species development and abundance.

In order to assist the camera array in obtaining accurate information about precisely how deep the camera array is when it is recording fish population data, a Temperature Depth Recorder or TDR is attached to the camera array to compare position in the water column to what the ship’s fishery acoustics system is displaying.  This is necessary in case the camera array has fallen off an underwater cliff or is hung up on some other topographic feature.

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The Conductivity Temperature and Depth or CTD submersible probe can measure the salinity of the water, temperature, pressure, plankton concentrations, dissolved gases, and water samples at different depths.

The Conductivity Temperature and Depth submersible aids the ship’s acoustic equipment in determining an accurate depth of the ocean bottom.  Since sound travels at different velocities in water that has different densities and temperatures, information regarding the salinity and temperature of the water must be fed into the ship’s fishery acoustics system to calibrate the system for it to accurately read the bottom depths.  If temperature or salinity are not taken into account, the depth will either be too shallow or too deep compared to the true value.

The Pisces not only has the ER-60 for fishery acoustics, but it also has a state of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder, the ME-70, that has 27 transducers that are aligned in a configuration allowing for scans of wide swaths of the ocean bottom.  In fact, the Pisces has engines that are specifically designed to run quietly enough to accommodate such advanced acoustic equipment.  The ME-70 is used for mapping various sample areas of the SEAMAP survey.

While the camera array can be used to measure the length of some of the fish viewed, it cannot reliably determine characteristics such as age or sex.  Determining age or sex just through appearance can be very tricky in the Gulf and is frequently unreliable.  Many species of fish will grow at different rates depending on available forage and other environmental factors.  This is an issue that is also commonly encountered among freshwater fish in South Dakota.  Complicating fish characteristics even further, many reef fish are one or the other sex at different phases of their lives.  They are not strictly male or female but change roles depending on complex physical or environmental factors.  With so many factors complicating these characteristics, live catches are necessary to determine the full story of what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf.

For live catches we use bandit reels.  Bandit reels are similar in concept to a standard fishing rod and reel except they are built for heavy duty sea fishing.  The reel and rod are attached to the side of the ship.  One hundred pound test line is used with a five pound sinker weight.  Each line for the bandit reels has ten hooks, a small float that keeps the hooks in a vertical column, and a large float that keeps the ten hooks just above the ocean bottom.   Again, in order to guard against bias in the results, we use the bandit reels with a set procedure.  For our survey we are using three bandit reels at a time each with ten hooks.  The bandit reel stations are in radio communication with the dry lab, where the chief scientist is coordinating the sampling, and the bridge, which is keeping the ship in position for the lines preventing lines from running under the ship.  Since we want to be as objective as possible without contributing to any type of bias in the sampling, each line was in the water for exactly five minutes.  Even though it may have went against every natural inclination of most fishermen and fisherwomen, we were not allowed to jig our lines or do anything that might attract more fish to our bait.  In addition to standardizing the number of hooks and the length of time spent fishing, three different sizes of hooks are used and rotated out from each bandit reel station; consequently, one of each of the three hook sizes is always being used for each survey area.

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White, nickel-sized disk-like structures called otoliths can reliably age fish. They are inner ear structures that grow in size as a fish ages allowing calcium carbonate deposits to form over the course of its life. Scientists can read these calcium carbonate deposit rings like rings in a tree to determine the age of the fish.  Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.
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After all the measurements are taken of the fish and their otoliths and gonads have been sampled, the information must be added to the database for use in the SEAMAP Survey. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

After five minutes of fishing, the lines are brought up and fish are tagged one through ten to keep fish identified with a specific hook and depth.  The tagged fish are then taken to the wet lab for measurement readings.  In the wet lab, fish length, weight, sex, and phase of reproductive development are recorded.  Since reproductive development, and sometimes even sex, can be difficult to determine, a sample of each fish’s gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and placed in a labeled specimen vial for confirmation in the lab back on land.  The otoliths (inner ear bones) are removed from the fish, as well, in order to reliably age the fish back in the lab.  Once the measurements are recorded, they need to be added to the database to be compiled with the gonad and otolith specimens.  This is just a small piece of the monitoring that is occurring in the Gulf through NOAA.  The Gulf of Mexico is a remarkably diverse expanse of ocean and requires significant scientific research in order to understand and track fish populations and the habitat and forage that sustain them.  Without these types of intensive scientific studies on the ocean, we could not possibly manage or attempt to conserve a natural resource that we would, otherwise, have little to no understanding of.

Personal Log:

Since we had arrived off the coast of Texas a couple of days ago, we have been slowly back tracking to Pascagoula as we go through our survey areas.  The weather has been beautiful the last couple of days; however, sea swells do cause the boat to jostle around a bit.  Each day we see more species on the surface of the water and through our camera array under the water.  Since the science log is rather long for this post, I will talk more about life at sea and the different types of organisms we are encountering in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish identification can be a tricky business in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many species of Gulf fish alter their physical appearance depending on their reproductive development, environmental factors, or phase of physical development.  Fish will even appear to have different patterns depending on whether they are viewed under our out of water.

Spencer Cody: A Sea of Uncertainty, May 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Date:  May 28, 2014

 

Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 1.564 N

Longitude:  92˚ 19.000 W

Air Temp: 26.2˚C (79.2˚F)

Water Temp: 23.3˚C (73.9˚F)

Relative Humidity:  90%

Wind Speed:  16.3 kts  (18.8 mph)

Barometer:  1,011.9 hPa (1,011 mbar)

Personal Log:

Aftermath of a fire early Sunday morning that destroyed most of the high school.  Credit Jill Cody for the photo
This is the aftermath of a fire early Sunday morning that destroyed most of the high school in Hoven.  My classroom is in the lower left of this picture.  Credit Jill Cody for the photo

I see the pictures, the video, and the news stories, and it is still hard to accept the reality of what happened Sunday morning.  For those of you who are not familiar with my town and the events surrounding it, our community suffered a great loss over the weekend by losing much of the high school to a fire.  Since I was on vacation when it happened and had to leave directly from that to the Pisces, I never saw the fire or the resulting damage, and I suppose reality will finally sink in three weeks from now when I see my school and classroom in person to see what science materials and equipment is salvageable.  My sympathies to those affected by this tragedy.  However, I am heartened by my community’s initial response of determination to rebuild our school and to continue our tradition of offering high quality education to rural South Dakota.  Though the future remains uncertain, I stand with those who support saving our school district and will be there to help see this transition through.  I will proceed with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program while keeping in mind that I am now helping move forward the recovery from this tragedy by advancing and enhancing the future of science education in Hoven and beyond.

Back in the Gulf, I flew into Gulfport, Mississippi, on Monday, May 26, and took a taxi to the Pisces in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  By chance I met a crewmember who noticed the NOAA Teacher at Sea t-shirt I was wearing at the airport.  He too had flown in on the same plane that I had from Atlanta.  He was very interesting to talk to learn about many of the diverse backgrounds needed to operate a ship like the Pisces.  In our conversation he had talked about why he joined NOAA and some of his past work that had given him the experience necessary for the job.  Since he is a crewmember on the deck crew, experience at sea and ship operations is a necessity.  The crew allows for day-to-day operations, ensures safety of the ship and the passengers, and assists with the research in its logistics and implementation where necessary.  The crewmember I talked to had extensive experience working at sea on cargo ships and looked forward to his future work with NOAA and was very interested in all the science that the Pisces carries out.  In general, the crew can be divided up into the following categories:  deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, and engineering.  The deck crew carries out the implementation of operations and day-to-day maintenance of the decks.  The officers are members of the NOAA Corps, one of seven uniformed services of the United States.  The stewards maintain the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room) providing meals to everyone on the Pisces.  The technicians process data and maintain data collection systems and other electronics.  Engineering operates and maintains the ship’s engines, equipment, and various electrical and operational systems.  Whether it is the deck crew, officers, stewards, technicians, or engineering, all are needed to make the science carried out by the science party possible.

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A picture of me on the top deck of the Pisces as we leave Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the Flower Gardens off the coast of Texas.  The USS America is in the background.  Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.

I arrived at the Pisces during the afternoon on the 26th.  This was very helpful in giving me some time to explore the area in Pascagoula and the ship before takeoff the next day.  I was assigned a very nice stateroom that I am sharing with another member of the science party.  I was surprised that our accommodations were so spacious.  We get our own desk, tv, sink, bathroom, and shower.  It reminded me of living in the college dorm my freshman year minus the group showers; so, I was more than pleased with the living arrangements.  Looking around Pascagoula directly adjacent to where the Pisces was docked, I was amazed at all of the heavy industry concentrated around the Pascagoula River.  The river hummed with activity day and night with trains, cargo ships, tugboats, oil and gas well repair work, ship repair work, fishing operations, and tourism.  It was quite remarkable to see where some of the goods that we buy in stores back in South Dakota first make their landing on the North American continent and to get a sense of the scale of the sea-based operations needed to make international trade possible.  The ocean is how you are able to sell your beans to Brazil or wheat to China.  It is the economical lifeblood that connects all of us, but we seldom think of what happens to our goods beyond the retail store or the elevator.  We just know the system works and take the infrastructure behind it for granted.  Though South Dakota is more than a thousand miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it is linked by trade with the rest of the world through the Gulf.

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The NOAA ship Pisces is a state-of-the art research vessel.  Even when in transit to a specific operational location, it is always recording data and making observations of the ocean and the atmosphere.

Onboard the ship I was able to explore the different decks.  The Pisces is a large ship, but it is not until you move around on the decks that you realize how much space is needed to carry out all of the diverse series of scientific operations.  The Pisces is equipped with a hydraulic crane with the ability to lift 10,000 pounds, which is needed to raise and lower science equipment and remove and replace the gangway, the walkway needed to board and get off the ship while it is docked.  The ship also has a giant spool called a net reel where they store the fishing nets used for trawling missions and a series of winches with thousands of feet of wire to lower scientific instruments into the depths of the ocean.  Even when the Pisces is not carrying out any specific operations while in transit to an operation point, the ship is utilizing every opportunity to gather data on the ocean and the atmosphere.  The Pisces is specifically designed to run quietly to allow for state-of-the-art acoustic sensors to gather information on topographic features of the bottom and even information on various types of biomass in the water column such as fish, plankton, and the different types of coral on the ocean bottom.  The ship is also always taking meteorological readings for scientific use, calibration, and navigation.  Wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, water temperature, barometric pressure are just some of the observations that are constantly being compiled; therefore, even in the dead of night in our transit, the Pisces is carrying out valuable scientific research and monitoring.

Science and Technology Log:

We are enroute to the Flower Gardens, one of the northern most reef forming corals in the world.  In fact, the Flower Gardens were not officially documented to have extensive coral reefs until the early 1960s when researchers started to investigate rumors of coral reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  What research divers found was amazing:  a pristine coral reef not touched by poaching or pollution.  We are scheduled to arrive at the reefs this evening, May 28.  We will begin the fish surveys using the camera array and bandit reels tomorrow, as well, to document fish populations among the coral reef structures.

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One means of surveying fish abundance and size is using this submersible camera array. It is equipped with four cameras that are used for random sampling for survey data.  The array is fitted with a bait bag filled with squid in order to attract fish such as grouper and snapper.

Did you know?

The world’s coral reefs contain a remarkably rich and diverse multitude of life, yet they are threatened by poaching, pollution, disease, invasive species, and increasing ocean temperatures and acidity.

Spencer Cody: From the Center of the Continent to the Edge of the Continental Shelf, May 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Soon To Be Onboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

 

Mission:  Reef Fish Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the continental shelf edge off the coast of Louisiana

Date: May 9, 2014

 

Personal Log:

Pole of inaccessibility…I admit I was shocked to see that South Dakota claimed such a dubious geographical title in a recent issue of National Geographic.  South Dakota is technically not the geographical center of North America; that title goes to North Dakota.  South Dakota, however, does carry the rather obscure title of being a pole of inaccessibility for the North American continent, the point farthest from all North American shorelines.  Basically, if you live in South Dakota, you live at least 1,000 miles from a coast…any coast!  Perhaps our isolation from the ocean is more than a physical measurement on a map.  How often do South Dakotans think of living on an ocean planet?  Indeed, our perception of the world is seemingly skewed considering we live smack in the middle of that 30% we call land.  Living in South Dakota, it is easy to forget about the ocean and its impact on our daily lives.  We live as far from it as one can in North America; yet, we are inseparably bound to it.  The seafood you eat, the nearly subconscious purchases of foreign goods you make, the moisture we receive, the crops you sell, and even a large portion of the air that we breathe link us all to the ocean’s central value in our lives; therefore, understanding the ocean and the ocean sciences is vital to our daily lives even to landlocked South Dakotans.

Stoney Butte, South Dakota
South Dakota, a sea of former and current grassland! (Credit Spencer Cody for photo)

Here is where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Teacher at Sea program come into play.  It has become obvious to me since my selection as a Teacher at Sea that very few people in this region associate NOAA with ocean research.  They seem to know that NOAA plays a role in researching the atmosphere such as working with the National Weather Service to forecast storms, but they never make a connection to the ocean even if it is the second word in NOAA’s namesake.

It is understandable that South Dakotans in general would assume this because the only exposure we have to NOAA in this part of the country deals with storm and weather forecasting.  In reality NOAA operates a fleet of ocean research vessels that cover the expanse of U.S. waters and beyond in order to increase our understanding of what we really have in our oceans and how it all interacts with each of its differing component parts.  Also, NOAA has its own uniformed service called the NOAA Corps, which keeps the fleet operational and aids and assists in ocean research.  My goals as a Teacher at Sea are twofold:  connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and training-related pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers.  Essentially, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my cruise and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA.  I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  This is truly a great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.

Spencer Cody Hoven, SD
I enjoy geology, paleontology, and many other sciences. It is probably a safe guess that a large dinosaur left this track behind.

More about me…I will be starting my ninth year of teaching in Hoven this August. I teach 7-12 science:  Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics.  I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences.  It is hard to get bored when you teach everything.  Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in.  It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town.  I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning environment for students.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks.  I will miss them, but also realize that my four-year old daughter being present on a research vessel would make any productive research almost impossible.  She is very rambunctious.

I am counting down the days until I fly out on the 26th to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Pisces will be leaving and returning after the mission is completed.  I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission.  Researching fish species abundances associated with the topography of the Gulf of Mexico has so many implications because our mission is just a small piece of a giant survey puzzle that includes nearly the entire edge of the North American shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ships in the survey area have been using many innovative ways of monitoring reef fish abundance.  I look forward to learning more about this technology and will report more on the subject once I am underway.  For more information about the Pisces, visit the Pisces homepage or track our movements using the NOAA ship tracker.

Isle Royale National Park Spencer Cody
My wife and two kids on vacation at Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior.