Sue Zupko, Miscellaneous, September 18, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 18, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 39°10.4’N     Lon 0714°18.7W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 153° 5kts
Sea Level Pressure 1015.1
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22.3°C
Air 21°

Science and Technology Log

Flags are just one way the ship communicates. There is equipment which ships use to communicate information to other ships. Ships in the area appear on the Bigelow’s radar. The NOAA Corps can even find out their name and what type of ship it is. It’s almost like an email address which lets you know who is sending you the message. We have had naval vessels, sailboats, yachts, container ships, research vessels, cruise ships, etc. appear on radar.

The Bigelow has a protocol (rule) which says if another ship comes within one mile of our perimeter (the radar even shows the big circle like a halo around its position), the officer on duty must make radio contact and ask them to change course. This is especially important if we are trawling or dropping the bongo (plankton net) or CTD. All this information gets logged into the Deck Log which is an official document. It is critical for the officers to keep accurate information and observations during their watch so others know what has been happening and for future reference should the ship have an emergency.

Last night on the fly bridge I noticed that the green and white lights were on. I knew from talking to Ensign Estela that this was the signal at night for “we are trawling”.

Bridge light controls for signals.

Bridge light controls for signals.

Flags, lights, radar, radio, Facebook , web pages and email. These are all methods the Bigelow has used to communicate while I’ve been aboard.

Personal Log

Dave filets a flounder

Dave filets a flounder

We were sharing stories on our watch and Dave told of when he sailed in the Pacific for a Sea Semester, sailing as mariners of old did. He had to navigate using the stars. We were able to do that on the flying bridge last night. The Big Dipper was visible and it was clear we were traveling NW. Soon, the ship changed course (direction) and headed right toward Polaris (the North Star) so we knew we were traveling north.

This is our last day of trawling. Tomorrow we steam back to Newport and get in late. People are excited to see their families again. I have to wait until Saturday to return home since my plane leaves early that day. We weren’t sure what time we would get in on Friday and there were no later flights for me. I am looking forward to seeing my family, but sad to be leaving the sea. Fortunately, we only had a couple of “rockin’ an a rollin’ ” days which made me feel a little “off”. When that happened, everyone was so kind. Many people asked if I was feeling better when they saw me after the waves died down. Crackers were a big help.

Atlantic City

Atlantic City (courtesy of Wikimedia)

Currently (no pun intended) we are off the Jersey shore and can see Atlantic City.  My mother used to live near the shore when she was a little girl and her father had a boat. She loved the ocean. No doubt the shore has changed quite a bit in 75 years. The ocean is a change agent. Man is, too. Our land, climate, and weather often change as a result of the sea–currents, tides, storms all contribute. We help change the ocean, too. Hopefully, we are getting better about it by not dumping pollutants in as much as we once did. Part of NOAA’s mission is to check for pollutants to help keep the marine environment healthy. Yes, the ocean is vast, but man’s lack of understanding of the ocean causes us to do things which are harmful to the ocean environment. I worry about all the plastics wrapping the fresh foods in the supermarkets now. We used to just pick the items we wanted in the meat and produce sections. Now most things are pre-wrapped and much is processed. We need convenience due to our busy lives, but at what cost to our environment and our health? Perhaps we need to visit the farmer’s market more and ask for meat to be in more biodegradable wrappers.

As I sit here enjoying the sun glistening off the ripples caused by a gentle breeze, I realize how much I love the ocean. Its storms and the wildness of it have my respect, but there is a draw to its vastness, the incredible diversity within it, its changeability, and variety of colors. I am so grateful for this opportunity to discover and learn by sailing with NOAA. So far, I know of at least one of my students who is in college for marine biology. I wonder what influence these NOAA experiences will have on my current and future students.

Miscellaneous Information

The ship has a system similar to your car’s odometer. It measures short trips as well as total miles covered. According to the MX420 GPS on the ship on the bridge, the Bigelow has traveled 54,254 nm.

MX420 GPS shows how many miles it has traveled.

MX420 GPS shows how many miles it has traveled.

Getting ready for processing fish is similar to how fire fighters dress. Jump in the boots, pull up the pants, and you’re ready. We head out to the conveyor belt and sort the fish. Many hands make the work load light. Here we are sorting croakers and weakfish. If one person on the line misses a fish, the next one gets it. Then we consolidate similar species into one container.

After removing a fish’s otolith, they are stored in envelopes and put into this sorting system. The samples are taken back to the lab to determine the age of the fish.


It’s a Win-Win situation. Skilled Fisherman, Steve, catches up on light reading about sharks in the Dry Lab. He then goes out and helps deploy the CTD  and Bongo nets.  He also taught me to mop floors on the bridge.  A skilled fisherman is multi-talented and, as I learned, can do many things very well.

Engineer, Kevin Van Lohuizen

Engineer, Kevin Van Lohuizen

Engineers, such as Kevin Van Lohuizen, who is on temporary assignment from the Reuben Lasker, works often in 107° heat. They are responsible for fixing anything mechanical broken on the ship from the washing machine to toilets to generators. They can “do it all”. Thank goodness for the engineers. Kevin earned his Bachelor’s of Marine Engineering Technology from the California Maritime Academy. By the way, Kevin says you should always have a flashlight with you on a ship in case the lights fail.

Rudder in hold.

Rudder in hold.

The rudder is double-actuated which means it can add a little bit of turning ability . The Bigelow‘s rudder, which turns the ship, has a small turning radius similar to a sports car (turns on a dime) rather than the normal rudder’s radius which is more like a truck (turns take forever and need a lot of space). There are two pumps for the rudder, which are switched daily.

What happens to Styrofoam cups when submerged in a bag to 300 m and are brought back up? My students colored Styrofoam cups with Sharpees and we submerged them. I had it in the dry lab and was asked to open the bag in the wet lab. Why do you think that would be? This bag was totally full when submerged. Look at it afterwards.

Remember that a clean ship is a happy ship? At the end of the last watch, everyone starts cleaning, from the Chief Scientist to the lowly Teacher at Sea.  We were all handed scrub brushes and a pail of soapy water. The deck hands cleaned the net and the deck. The other watch scrubbed all the buckets (I found them on the fantail at 1:30 am doing this).

 

Did You Know?

There are over 26,000 species of bony fish, making fish the most speciose vertebrate animal (by number of species).

Question of the Day

What are plankton and why are they important? Plankton are plants and animals which cannot move on their own and rely on currents and wind to move them. Phytoplankton make about 80% of our oxygen and are the basis of the marine food chain. What do you think?

Vocabulary

Planktos in Greek means “wanderer”. Plankton is derived from this.

Something to Think About

Tallest bar shows most of the fish were measured at that length.

Tallest bar shows most of the fish were measured at that length.

Nicole was explaining that the protocols are set up by scientists looking for certain data about catch. She always seems to know when the jaguar will scream, meaning we need a special measurement or to preserve a sample. She had me pull down a monitor and pull up the fish we were processing at the time and had me pull up a bar graph for that species.  She showed how for every 1 cm of length of the fish, the protocol was to ask for information. When I measured and it was longer or shorter than the average, we had more processing to do. Once we hit our quota for that protocol, the rest were just measured and added in. So, if my fish ranged from 19-21 cm, I would have to do special measurements or get samples for just three fish within that range. If the range was 15-25, it could be a lot more, depending on the lengths of the fish caught. The more fish sampled the more it falls into a bell curve, similar to our heights. You’ll notice some students are tall, others are short, most fall in between. They don’t need to repeat getting the information on every fish–it would probably be pretty close to the same data.

Challenge Yourself

Carry cloth bags to the grocery store rather than using their plastic or paper bags. In many areas stores charge for each plastic bag. Recycle as much as possible and encourage others to do the same. Yes, it takes a little effort, but if more people did this we would reduce our trash going to landfills or into the ocean.

Sunset from flying bridge of the Bigelow

Sunset from flying bridge of the Bigelow

Animals Seen Today

We saw a lot of the same species all day. We collected Sea Robins, rays, skates, and Croakers by the hundreds, even thousands. I was able to measure a 40 pound ray and several large skates. Earlier this week we had rays which were so big, we had to call out all the deckhands from the watch and several scientists to weigh and measure them using the crane. One was 240 pounds and the other just 192 pounds.

Sue Zupko, Drifters, September 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 16, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 36°54.2’N     Lon 075°40.9’W
Present Weather CLR
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 300° 5-8 kts
Sea Level Pressure 1013.8
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 24.3°C
Air 22.7°

Science and Technology Log

When on a field trip to Dauphin Island Sea Lab with my 5th grade students, I saw an exhibit about NOAA’s drifter program at the Estuarium. It seemed interesting to follow drifters on the ocean’s currents and learn more about our planet in the process. When I returned home from the trip, I visited the NOAA Adopt a Drifter site to see how my classes could get involved. The requirements include having an international partner with whom to share lessons and information. I was fortunate enough to find Sarah Hills of the TED Istanbul College through internet sites for teachers interested in collaborating. Her 6th grade English classes just began the school year and are studying maps. We both applied in late spring to the program as a team, explained our ideas for sharing information, and were accepted. Not only were we assigned one drifter, but two.

To create ownership for participants, NOAA sent stickers for us to sign and attach to the drifter. I was set to sail at the beginning of September so Mrs. Hills signed for her students. In addition to our friends’ stickers from Turkey, I attached stickers to the drifters signed by crew members, my students, friends, the science crew on board, and the NOAA officers on the Bigelow.

Stickers on Drifter

Stickers on Drifter

Sunday we deployed our drifters. They had come in a large cardboard box which had been sitting on the stern of the ship for almost two weeks. The directions were very simple. I just had to write down the identification number, rip off the magnet to turn it on, toss the drifter overboard, and write down the coordinates and time.

Drifters shipped to Bigelow and stowed in shipping box on fantail.

Drifters shipped to Bigelow and stowed in shipping box on fantail.

We were working close to the Gulf Stream so the captain had us enter the Gulf Stream so the drifters would catch that strong current and move out to sea. The water was pretty rough in the Gulf Stream, but, oh, the color of the water was a beautiful blue. When deploying (tossing it in the water) the drifter, I was not to remove any of the cardboard since the salt water would soften it and allow the drogue down below to drop down underwater (and it wouldn’t expand on the ship causing serious injury to us). The bosun (chief deckhand) suggested we push it off the fish board on the port stern quarter rather than tossing due to a lack of room.

Drifter Deployment Team

Drifter Deployment Team

The captain took pictures for me with my camera and the chief scientist ran the GoPro (a video camera). Must be an important operation when my two head bosses on the ship participate. We also had deckhands, Steve and James, our survey technician, Geoff, and Ensign Estela joining in on the fun.

After deploying the drifters, we watched them float in the Gulf Stream behind us.  Where do you think they will end up? Track them and see where they are.

Both drifters came online when tossed in the water. However, one of them turned off shortly after it began its journey. Only time will tell if it turns back on.

I wrote down the necessary data on the form NOAA provided, took a picture of it, and sent it to the Drifter Team back at NOAA. They needed to assign them tracking numbers and put the link to the drifters on the web site.

The drifters last about 400 days. Click here to learn more.

Meet John Galbraith, our Chief Scientist

Chief scientist, John Galbraith, prepares to examine the nets

Chief scientist, John Galbraith, prepares to examine the nets

John is a mild-mannered man. He thinks through his answers and is very thorough to make sure his listener understands what he means. John has worked with NOAA for 23 years. I asked what he would be doing if he didn’t work with NOAA and he said, “Something outside with fish.” Can you guess what his hobbies are? There really is just one. Fishing. He loves fly fishing, trawling, casting, deep-sea fishing, you name it. If it involves fish, he loves it. As a matter of fact, he was so passionate about fish growing up that people always told him he would be a marine scientist. He grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and loved to be outside, especially with fish.

John is passionate about the state of the environment. When I asked why he believes what we are doing with the Autumn Trawl Survey is important, he stated that it is imperative to monitor the health of our ocean through the survey. Data about fish populations (or most environmental science) must be collected over a long period of time, and using the same method, in order to make comparisons. Is what’s happening today different than what was happening 40 years ago with our fish populations? John said, “If we didn’t know what was there 20 years ago, for example, we wouldn’t know if the population of a fish species is more or less abundant.” This is the information we are gathering for scientists to evaluate.

What we are doing directly affects commercial and recreational fishing. He called this “pressure” since fisherman are changing the population of the fish they are catching. So, the surveys are looking to see what impact these pressures have on the fish. The data is used to help make or change rules for fisherman. So, if the population of a species is declining, and the larger fish are the ones needed for reproduction, for example, a rule might be installed saying that fish of a certain size cannot be kept. I found this in Canada when I went fishing this summer for Walleyed Pike. We could only keep four fish a day, and only one of those could be over 18 inches long. This helped preserve the ones who will keep reproducing so the species won’t disappear. Conversely, if there are a huge amount of a species of fish, the rules could change to allow more larger fish to be kept.

John loves his job because he loves seeing the diversity of fish. He spends 50% of his time on the boat to catch fish and the other 50% identifying fish in the lab. People are sent to him when they need a “fish expert”.

John said if he had to name the one tool he couldn’t live without it would be his fish database by Oracle. It is computer software to catalogue fish species. There is even a way to easily create web pages, which he really likes.

Now, related to this is a tool which already exists that he would love, but is very expensive. When we get certain little fish in the net, they are damaged (smushed) badly. He would like unlimited genetic testing of fish to verify the species. It would speed up identification of the fish.

John’s strength in getting the word out about fish is through his passion and willingness to teach others. Cruises such as the one I am on are the perfect opportunity to teach others. I predict a book or magazine article about fish or fish identification to be in his future so he can share his love of fish even more.

John’s advice to young people is to get stronger in math and science when it comes to school. When not at school, get outside and observe the world around you. So there is a tree on your hike. Do you know what kind it is? How tall will it grow? What lives on or in it? Look in the water. What type of fish are there? How is the type of water (pond, stream, lake) related to the fish that live there? Learn about your environment. Catch frogs and turtles and find out about them. John says all types of learning are important. He graduated from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Interestingly, several people on this ship graduated from there.

Personal Log

There are several types of doors on a ship. One is what you find in a home with a handle rather than a knob. Then, there are heavy doors with a wheel for certain bulkhead doors going outside. And, my favorite, the big handled doors between compartments inside.  These all used to be wheels, and I found them very difficult to manage when on my last cruise.

Did You Know?

Here is a mariner’s trick the captain was teaching the ensign on watch this morning. Remember these numbers. 6 & 10, 5 & 12. Did you know if you want to estimate a time of arrival (ETA) on a boat, you can calculate it quickly in your head? At 6 knots (kts) it takes 10 minutes to travel 1 nautical mile (nm). At 10 kts it takes 6 minutes to travel 1 nm. And at 5 kts it takes 12 minutes to travel 1 nm and at 12 kts it takes 5 minutes to travel 1 nm.

Question of the Day

How long would it take to travel 1 nm if steaming (traveling) at 20 kts?

Vocabulary

One of John’s favorite words: Congeners–These are things which appear incredibly similar; for fish it means the same genus, but different species. When I was trying to learn the different fish while sorting, I found the Croaker and the Spot to be similar. Both have a spot on their side, but the Spot’s spot is above his pectoral (side) fin and the Croaker’s is on its pectoral fin. The Pigfish, Butterfish, and Scup as well as the different Anchovies are difficult to identify when just learning.

 

However, although these fish appear similar, all are in different genera and some in different families. An example of congeners that we have seen this trip would be the Marbled Puffer, Sphoeroides dorsalis, the Northern Puffer, Sphoeroides maculatus, and the Bandtail Puffer, Sphoeroides spengleri. All have the same genus, Sphoeroides – which implies that they are all very similar looking fishes. In fact, their body shapes are almost identical, but they each have different color patterns.

Something to Think About

If you spend all your time sitting at a computer, will you have more or less opportunity to understand about our environment? Can you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste it?

Challenge Yourself

Follow John’s advice and get outside more than you have been. Exploring the world around you is a great way to Sharpen the Saw, as we say at Weatherly using The Leader in Me program.

Animals Seen Today

.

What is it?

Can you identify what this is? 

What is it

What is it

Write down your guesses in the comments for this post.

Sue Zupko, Diversity, September 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 13, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 35°38.1’N     Lon 074°50’W                    

Present Weather PC       
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 220° 5kts

Sea Level Pressure 1016.6
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 27.2°C
Air 28.4°

Science and Technology Log

If you want to learn about biodiversity, come on a NOAA Fisheries Cruise. We hear about the numerous fish in the ocean, but nothing really makes it come alive as does seeing it. There are pockets of animals in each of the strata. Different depths have different temperatures, bottom type, plants, etc. Let me explain a bit about my watch and what we are doing.

I was amazed by the diverse sounds. A crow. A jaguar screaming. A frog croak. Sloshing. Thumps. “Fine”. A ringing telephone. A whip cracking. A waterfall. Thunder. A pinball machine. Music playing. Some people singing along. Laughter. Chatter. The list is seemingly endless.

There are platforms we each stand on along the conveyor belt which brings the fish in to be processed from the checker on the deck. The first person in line and pulls out fish which might be harmful such as electric rays and large sharks. Hope she gets the Lionfish as well. Don’t want to be stuck by those spines. As the animals come down the line we sort them based on the instructions of the watch chief who has been outside to see the catch, comparing what we have.

Heath, our watch chief, programming our catch

Heath, our watch chief, programming our catch

Heath is my watch chief. So, he suits up in his PFD (life jacket–personal flotation device) and hardhat(helmet) to see what was put in the catcher and then tells us what to leave on the conveyor belt as it goes by. That is usually what is most numerous. Sometimes it’s trash, such as starfish and jellies , other times it’s Loligo squid One night we had a huge amount of scallops so a seemingly endless stream of scallops passed us by. I love eating scallops. It is amazing to view them up close. They have numerous eyes lining the inside of the shell.

Containers Small, Gallon, 10 Gallon, 1.47 Cubic Feet Baskets

Containers Small, Gallon, 10 Gallon, 1.47 Cubic Feet Baskets

Once the animals are sorted by species into containers, they then make their way down the conveyor to Heath. Heath scans the container which makes a telephone ringing sound. He enters/selects the name of the animal on his monitor (crow caws–actually except for animal id every time he does something his “ok” sound is a crow), checks our work to be sure the animals in the container are all the same, weighs the catch of that entire species, and sends the container on its way down the conveyor belt.

There are three processing stations along the conveyor. I have mostly worked with Nicole this week so far. She is a fabulous teacher. Very patient with my inexperience and points out when I do something correctly. That way I will repeat things the correct way. She also suggests better ways when I struggle. Heath explained that we process the containers with the most organisms in them first so no one is stuck at the end of the line doing a large container of animals when others are cleaning up. Some containers might just have one animal. This system works pretty well since everyone seems to finish at the same time.

1 Gallon Container

1 Gallon Container

There are two people at each of the three stations. One person is the fish processor and the other is the recorder. First, the processor scans the container. It buzzes and identifies the container and what the animal is. I was very proud of myself today. I have been assigned to work with Larry now. He left me on my own to process (though he was watching from across the conveyor). When I checked to see how to measure the fish I was working with, it said to measure the width of the carapace. Carapaces are found on turtles or crabs. It is their hard shell. I had a tiny fish. On a rocking ship, it is easy to push a wrong button on a screen and this container had the wrong name on it. Easy fix. Sent it back for reassigning a species and I picked it up when it came by again. “Nice catch on that,” Larry said. Made me feel proud that I recognized how to use the equipment, recognize certain species, and fix the problem. Nicole said if we make a mistake, it can always be fixed. Remember, we learn from mistakes. That’s what we stress in my classroom. Try it. If you fail, learn from the mistake and redo. That works with adults as well.

My favorite sound is the pinball machine that says the weight has been recorded. If the animal needs more processing than just being weighed, there is a sound (a jaguar scream or a whip cracking) to tell the team what to do. Sometimes we need to put the animal in a jar to be preserved. )

Other times we need to take a photograph, or it will ask what the animal’s sex is. We have had a lot of requests for fish to be frozen for study back in the lab. These are bagged and put into a large freezer  for the requesting scientist. The most common seems to be getting the otolith, the part of a fish that aids it in orientation, balance, and sound detection. These are tiny in most fish and require a little manila envelope that we put a sticker on identifying it. These special requests from the computer are all preset requests from scientists working in a scientific area back on shore.

 

The sound of the waterfall is the constant stream of salt water running down a shoot onto the floor. This picks up animals and trash that have dropped and washes them down drains or out the scuppers (small rectangular openings on the bottom of the wall at the floor which opens to the outside) on the sides of the room. The water is very warm and I’ve noticed that the sea water has been warmer than the air temperature. Another sound is the water sloshing around, similar to the sound in a bathtub when you move the water.

Saltwater helps keep the floor clean in the wet lab.

Saltwater helps keep the floor clean in the wet lab.

When I began this blog I was sitting on the O2 deck at a small table under the stairs. We kept changing direction at relatively slow speeds. I have learned that we were using the multi-beam sonar to look at the bottom to find an acceptable spot to trawl. I was excited to sit outside to work and gaze out over the ocean. During that time I spotted three pods of dolphins swimming. John Galbraith, our chief scientist, and I discussed last night how if you aren’t spending time observing something you will miss many things. So true. If I wasn’t observing the ocean frequently, what are the odds I would see a whale?

Meet Scientist Nicole Charriere 

Nicole with Slender Snipe Eel

Nicole with Slender Snipe Eel

Nicole has been my mentor for the past week. She is a sea-going biological technician, sailing about 130 days out of a year. She usually is on scallop surveys, but seems pretty expert in fish, shrimp, and clams as well. Her job on this cruise is to help provide leadership. There are several volunteers on this cruise, me included, and some are novices just learning about fish. She explains about the protocols (a formal set of rules and procedures to be followed during a particular research experiment).

What Nicole likes about her job is she isn’t in an office all the time. Trawls are different every day. No two tows are the same, and there are a huge variety of species. She really enjoys the diversity of people she gets to work with. There are different scientists and crew members to meet each time. She is a scuba diver and knew she wanted a career with NOAA when she graduated college. She had a job on a commercial fishing vessel and was contacted by NOAA. Someone probably noticed her great work and let someone hiring at NOAA know.

There is something very ironic about Nicole working on a fishing vessel. She doesn’t like sea food. She recognizes its importance and that it is important for the world to have a reliable food source, but it isn’t her favorite.

Nicole’s advice to my students is to talk to everyone and learn. Make connections about what you learn. Work hard, since working hard and getting along with people on a team gets you noticed and when a job comes available, guess who gets hired? Not the person who is difficult to work with and is late constantly.

Nicole has an active lifestyle. In addition to scuba diving, she roller blades, plays guitar and keyboard, and plays soft ball and soccer. She knows a lot of people who are still looking for the perfect career for them. Nicole is thrilled to have found her dream job so early in her life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with this eloquent, interesting, and fun scientist.

Personal Log

Yeah! The captain put out an all-call and said there were pilot whales off the port side. We had just finished our watch and I headed out to the port side. There they were. I said, “They look like dolphins.” Both are cetaceans, both hunt fish, both are smart, both have a dorsal fin that sticks up out of the water. I believe I saw some earlier. One remained in one place with a huge fin sticking up. I hadn’t seen a dolphin do that before. They might swim in a circle going after a fish, but this behavior was a bit unusual.  At the time I just thought how big that dolphin was. Now, upon reflection, I believe that was a Pilot Whale.   That was so kind of the captain to announce the whales’ presence. The XO, Chad Cary, told me that Pilot Whales got their name since they are indicators of where the fish were. The fisherman just piloted their boats to where those whales were. Interesting way to get a name. Obviously, I’m pretty excited. Did you say I would see a whale on that poll?

Did You Know?

Deploying CTD

Deploying CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, sea water temperature, and depth (of where measurements are taken).

According to NOAA, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents which help drive the Earth’s climates. This seems analogous (similar) to the causes of wind when air moves from warm air to cold and back again.

Question of the Day

The CTD protocol states that it must stop 5 meters from the bottom to take its measurements. If the CTD descends at 37 m/s, how long will it take for the CTD to get in position to measure its readings and return to the surface if the bottom is 338 m from the surface?

Vocabulary

Salinity: The percentage of salt in the water. Think of it as if you had 1000 grams of water and mixed one gram of salt into it. This would be 1 ppt salinity. Our ocean averages about 35 ppt salinity. Our CTD found that the ocean’s salinity where we tested today was 34 ppt.

Something to Think About

We actually let out 361 m of wire with the CTD, but the bottom was only 338 m. Why did we let out more wire than the distance to the bottom when we dropped the CTD?

Animals Seen Today

Sue Zupko, Sing it, Willie–On the Road Again, September 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 10, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 37°38’N
Lon 075°15.8W
Present Weather CL
Visibility 10 +nm
Wind 025° 10kts

Sea Level Pressure 1016.2
Sea Wave Height 3-4 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 26.6°C
Air 24.8° C

Science and Technology Log

 

We are now “on the road again” trawling. The nets were lowered at about 7:30 am. I was surprised by how small our catch has been. The scientists are not at all surprised. They said because of the time of year, many fish are in the estuaries spawning (reproducing). Today we have been on the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of Delaware and Virginia. When we get in closer, the scientists say we will have a lot more fish in our net.

It is fascinating how they are selecting sites for sampling.The sea floor needs to be fairly flat to pull a net across. We learn what the bottom is like using sonar. A multi-beam sonar on the bottom of the hull is in the center of the ship. There is also a single-beam sonar there. They serve two different purposes. The single-beam looks straight down the water column. It is like a really bright penlight. This shows what is in the water column such as fish and plankton. It also can reach greater depths since its light is stronger. The multi-beam is more like a floodlight. It spreads out over the bottom revealing all the different levels of the ground. These sonar beams bounce off the bottom and send the ship information. The crew  watches the sonar information and scouts for a good area to drop our nets. Of course, there are certain areas where samples need to be taken. They are trying to repeat a tow at the same time every year within a strata area. “So what is a strata?” I asked.

Geoff Shook, our survey technician, reads the information on the display

Geoff Shook, our survey technician, reads the information on the display

Strata lines are like lines on a topographic map on land. It is called a bathymetric map underwater. The lines on a bathymetric map are called strata lines. These are based on the different depths. The net needs to be pulled within the same strata at the same time each year. As long as a tow is within the strata the habitat is about the same. In order to get accurate population information, they must make at least two tows within a strata. Some of the strata are hundreds of square miles. Strata are the same depth range and habitat. Closer to the continental shelf, the strata are much narrower. Closer to shore, they are much wider. For example, strata 70 is 281 square nautical miles (nm). It is 55-110 m deep and is next to the shelf. However, strata 73 is closer to shore, is 2145 sq. nm, and is 27-55 m deep. Their habitats are different so random samples need to be taken within each.

So, I think of it like a chess board within a strata. If we want a random sample, we could drop a piece of soft clay from about a 1/2 m above the board. Where it hits is where we tow in that strata. Our first tow is at D5. The second piece of clay could fall on H2. So, there is where we would sample.

Then, when the ship is over top of the strata we will sample, it must find a safe area to tow which won’t tangle or break the net. You can’t get a sample with a broken net.

Notice the wires on the spools which haul the nets. On the first one the wire is tightly wrapped. On the second one the wire has a gap. This could lead it to break or more easily tangle. We are doing a deep tow tonight outside of the “normal” range of 366 m deep. However, it will not only give us new information, but will, hopefully, help rewrap the wire on the second spool so it will be tight. Have you ever tangled a loose fishing line on your reel? It is somewhat similar to that so we are trying to prevent this from happening later.

So, what have I been doing while waiting for a tow to complete? It depends. One time I told jokes with the scientists. Another I had a snack. Once I ate dinner. Right now, I’m working on my blog. Nap is not an option. I’ll explain that later.

It was a Win-Win Wednesday. We got some great fish by going deep, we explored some very deep water, the wire was rewound properly onto the spool, and we will have a shrimp fest tomorrow.

Meet the Crew

Luke Staiger, 2nd Cook

Luke Staiger, 2nd Cook

The old adage “an army runs on its stomach” holds true for a research vessel. Meet Luke Staiger, our 2nd cook. Luke is with the Bigelow on temporary assignment from the Reuben Lasker  in San Diego. NOAA members get moved around short term as needed. Luke has been with NOAA for 12 years. He has been cooking since he was a kid. His most important tool is an 8″ all purpose knife. It must be sharp and long-handled. If he could invent the perfect tool for the job, what do you suppose it would be? That’s right, a knife that is comfortable to hold all day.

Luke worked in a buffet restaurant so this is the perfect situation for him since it’s all buffet. He worked his way up to cook after doing other jobs at the restaurant. I’m looking forward to a breakfast that he prepares since cooking breakfast is his favorite.

Luke recognizes how important the work is that NOAA does. We need to preserve our resources, such as water, he says. NOAA keeps an eye on things so we don’t lose sight of what matters. When not on a boat, Luke enjoys fixing up cars, especially adding stereo systems. Luke has an easy going personality and a ready smile, making it pleasant to work with him.

How did he find NOAA? Similar to others that I have interviewed, he looked online. NOAA has good benefits, you get to travel, and the experience is good. His advice to my students is to gain lots of experience in your field, even if it’s just volunteering. You will find work if you do a good job and have a lot of experience.

Personal Log

Remember I said I won’t get a nap during my 20 minutes between tows? It is interesting how our stateroom (cabin/bedroom) works. There are four of us in our stateroom. When I leave to go to work, I cannot go back until the end of my watch. I carry everything with me so it is like the private room for two other women. Then I only have one room mate. We get the room for 12 hours. There are curtains around our beds and we wear earplugs. I hardly know that the other scientist on my watch, Lacey, is even there. All I do is check to see if her curtain is closed. That means, “I’m asleep.”

Did You Know?

Did you know that there is an anchor-cleaning device onboard the ship? It sprays salt water at 150 psi (pounds per square inch). The anchor gets pretty dirty sitting on the ocean floor when we are at anchor. They don’t want all that dirt on the ship in the anchor locker, so it gets cleaned. A clean ship is a happy ship.

Question of the Day

Why would different depths affect which fish live there?

Vocabulary Word

Sonoluminescence. This is short bursts of light from imploding bubbles in water (or in a liquid) when excited (moved around) by sound. A mantis shrimp is capable of sonoluminescence because the high speed of its front legs is capable of creating and rapidly shrinking air bubbles. The bubble looks like a spark underwater with no fire.

Something to Think About

If we don’t preserve our fisheries, which is what NOAA is researching, soon there won’t be any fish.

Challenge Yourself

We used a deep-water protocol, which is between 183 and 366 m. If you are fishing in a strata that is 200 feet deep, would you fall in the deep-water protocol?

Animals Seen Today

Here are pictures of what we saw today in our really deep water trawl.

 

 

Sue Zupko, Destination: Calibration, September 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 41°31.3’N     Lon 071°20.8W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 010° 9kts
Sea Level Pressure 1019.8
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22°C  Air 28°

Science and Technology Log

Flexibility is the key. Our sail date was changed several times due to mechanical issues. I’m ok with that. It beats getting out in the middle of the ocean and not having things work properly. We weren’t sure exactly when the Bigelow would sail as of Thursday, but were pretty sure it would be today at 10:00 am. NOAA had me fly out to get onboard.

Arrival at airport

Arrival at airport

 

What a blessing that was. I was able to get acclimated (used to) to the ship, meet some crew members, and organize my belongings.

Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.

Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.

That is a big deal since when docked, nothing is moving. Once we got underway, the ship rocks and rolls. Pencils loose in a drawer aren’t a good idea. Where to store the flashlight? Can I find my necklace in the morning? It’s about routine. The locker (my closet) is noisy to open and close and must be kept closed when underway. Try not to forget things since you have to open that door again–and you have to hold the door since it swings and will bang. Someone is always sleeping. Right now my roommate is sleeping so I am thankful I have a quiet keyboard. She has earplugs in and told me I wouldn’t bother her. I also got to pick my berth (bed), which is on the bottom. There will be four of us in the room when everyone arrives tonight–all scientists.

So far I have had no “duties” other than blogging. When we start trawling, I will work noon-midnight. One of the scientists on my watch, Nicole, gave me a tour today and explained what I will be doing. My foul weather gear consists of heavy orange bib coveralls, a heavy yellow jacket with super long sleeves, and big rubber boots which come up to my knees. I brought inserts to go in the boots since I’ll be standing–a lot. Bought some new shoes that are slip-ons so I can get out of my foul weather gear as soon as we are done processing the fish. I learned that we probably will have over 100 trawls on this leg of the Autumn Trawl Survey and we will climb in and out of our gear often.

Let me explain a bit about how things will happen. Over the ship’s intercom, which will be heard everywhere except our staterooms, the galley, and the lounge, there is a (Bing….Bong….) “Attention on the Bigelow. Streaming….” This means the nets are being let out and will be at the bottom about 20 minutes. What can I do for 20 minutes? Help me out and vote on my poll.

The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.

The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.

As the net is let out, blue “trawl doors” attached to the net sink to the bottom, holding the net down and keeping the mouth of the net open. Now, the amount of time it takes to bring the net up varies. The net could have been 24 m down or 350 m down. When they start bringing in the net, the NOAA crew will make an announcement (Bing….Bong….)”Haul back.” They will show me how to find the depth on the equipment so I will be able to judge when to be ready. When the net comes up, the fish will be dumped on a table called a checker. If there are too many, they get dumped on the deck (called a deck tow). I hope it fits in the checker since it will be less work. Imagine picking up all those fish from the deck and putting them in containers.

Once in the checker, they will be fed to a conveyor belt which takes them into the wet lab for processing. We will sort the critters and organic “trash” into buckets by species. (I cringed at the word trash being used for wonderful creatures such as sponges and corals. However, Nicole explained that these are just not our main animals of interest. It is similar to weeds. A weed is any plant you don’t want in a specific flower bed. I love wildflowers, but they don’t always work well in my garden.)

The person in charge (called the “watch” chief) will weigh and label the fish and send the container on. Some fish will be selected for extra information. Others will be released into the sea. Animals that we keep will be for further research.

The work we are doing is very important to monitor the ocean’s health. Health to the ocean, means health to us. If the ocean isn’t healthy, we had better find out why and correct it. It’s like a nurse takes your temperature and looks at your symptoms when you are sick. We are the nurses checking on the sea. Others will analyze the symptoms and come up with a plan to correct any problems. I will give more information on our work later.

Meet the NOAA Crew

Ensign Erick Estela Gomez is originally from Puerto Rico. Most of my dealings when I boarded the ship were with him since he was the OOD, Officer of the Deck, for the weekend. In between his filling in reports and checking on the ship’s systems, we had a chance to talk. He is very personable and has a brilliant smile. Maybe his smile is infectious since he just got engaged to be married and is very happy. Added to his many abilities, he speaks four languages. He explained that he received an Environmental Science degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Most NOAA officers have a science or engineering degree or 60 credit hours in math and science. I need to check my records and see if I have that much. Maybe I could be a NOAA Corps officer.

Ensign Estela’s favorite part of his job is steering the ship. I enjoyed doing that when aboard the Pisces. It is a challenge. While he was off doing a chore, I sat in one of the two tall chairs on the bridge (operations center of ship). When he was done, he explained, very politely, that it is ship’s custom that no one except the captain sit in those chairs. He has been an ensign 1.5 years and said he will not sit in one of those as a sign of respect until he has earned it himself by being appointed to be a captain of a ship. I guess I always figured it was like Captain Kirk leaving Scotty or Spock in charge and they would sit in his chair to give orders. But, Ensign Estela has a lot of respect for earning one’s rank and will sit there when appropriate. So, no cool chair for me on the bridge now.

Ensign Estela paused to really consider what tool he couldn’t live without when doing his job since he uses a lot of important tools. He decided on radar. It can be very foggy and this tool helps avoid collisions (crashes). If he invented a tool, it would be a fog-clearing machine to be able to see smaller vessels (boats) or obstructions.

There are collateral (other) duties for him. He is responsible for inventorying all the equipment on board. Every computer. Every pillow. He also needs to make sure things are in working order. If boots wear out, he needs to order more. That means managing a lot of paper so he needs organization skills. His main duty, however, is navigation officer. He checks the tides and currents and posts all that information on a white board on the bridge. Maintaining charts, ship’s routes, and flags indicating our status are part of his job.  I enjoyed learning a bit more from Ensign Estela on plotting the course using triangles. Triangles provide a nice straight edge.

His advice to my students, and any young person, is to keep up your math and science. Don’t sit in front of the TV or computer, get outside and do things. It’s obvious he does since he bicycles, fishes, and enjoys salsa dancing for relaxation. We call this Sharpening the Saw.

Personal Log

This is the ships call sign.

This is the ships call sign.

This week my students are studying how to communicate across distances on the ocean. How do ships communicate, for example? A ship might not have a radio. Flags work. There is a flag which states what country you are from. There are flags that say you have a net or a diver in the water. There are flags which tell your call sign if you want to speak by radio. There is even a flag for every letter of the alphabet. All these flags are up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship.

Did You Know?

The ship usually uses true north for navigation. However, if that system fails, it uses magnetic north. North is 0°. That is like 90° on a coordinate grid. That is a bit confusing. We use degrees on maps all the time. Just remember that 0°N is used for navigation and wind direction.

Question of the Day 

Something to Think About

A tradition on board a ship is to remove one’s hat in the mess hall (dining area) and to not wear foul weather gear there. The mess hall was used during war as the hospital. People died on those tables and it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat. Hats are often used to show respect. People remove their hats at a ball game to sing the national anthem. Men tip their hats to acknowledge a woman’s presence. People remove their hats in eating establishments. It is good to learn a country’s or culture’s (such as a ship) customs so as not to offend someone. That is also a sign of respect. When visiting churches while a tourist in Russia, I covered my head and wore a skirt, as is their custom. On board ship, once I leave my room for my watch, I shouldn’t return until my watch is over. That means carrying my computer, cameras, notes, jacket, phone, cup, water bottle, etc. with me so I don’t disturb those asleep. It’s just like being quiet in the halls at school. Guess what? They don’t want us talking in these halls either since someone is always sleeping. It is rude to disturb others, whether it be their sleep or learning.

Sue Zupko, Getting Ready: Is it a Go? September 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
(soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg I
Geographical area of cruise:  Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 4, 2014

Personal Log

I am a teacher of the Gifted and Talented at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, AL.  I am so very humbled by the opportunity I have been given to conduct research aboard the Henry B. Bigelow with NOAA scientists.  This is my second NOAA cruise.  I studied deep-water corals aboard the Pisces in 2011 and thought it was my only chance to do something like that.  They told me if I did all my homework, and did all my projects well, that good things would come my way.  I say that to my students and this is an example of why one should do one’s homework and try hard.   You’d better believe that I did my best.  I love to learn so a NOAA research cruise and projects with my students are a perfect fit.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope. Diego in the background.

Me on the Pisces, It was cold in this lab.

In preparing for my first entry I asked my students for advice on what to include.  They insisted that I include a “shout out” to them and tell how fabulous our school is.

Here are a few highlights.  Weatherly has been recycling aluminum cans to help pay for our outdoor classroom since 1998 when I helped write a grant to get a trailer to collect cans and take them to the recycling center.  We have made thousands of dollars through the years and have an Alabama Certified Outdoor Classroom now.  Students, parents, faculty, and community volunteers help with it and enjoy learning there.  We have raised Monarch butterfly larvae, viewed Ladybug larvae under a microscope from the Tulip Poplar tree, grown melons, touched plants in the sensory garden, and myriad other activities.

We piloted a recycling program for our district.  Every classroom has a bin to collect clean paper and plastic.  It is collected weekly and tons of items have been recycled as a result.

We participate in a plastic bottle cap recycling program.  This is an annual contest city-wide and Weatherly counts and recycles thousands of caps to be made into paint buckets rather than taking up room in the landfill.  For many years we recycled phone books and were one of the top three recyclers.

In addition to helping the environment, we are a No Place for Hate school.  We also study about the ocean.  A lot.  I am the faculty advisor for our morning announcements.  Our quotes of the week this year are about the ocean and we highlight an ocean literacy principle  every day.  We now know that marine biologist Sylvia Earle pointed out that “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea.”

On my upcoming voyage with NOAA, I will launch two drifters.  In order to be selected for this drifter project, a teacher must have an international partner to share lessons with to learn about the ocean.  After an extensive search I found the perfect match.  Sarah Hills at the TED Istanbul College teaches English.  Her students will be studying map reading starting in September when they return to school.  We have already decided that our students will plot the course of the drifters and hypothesize where they will be at specific times based on the ocean currents and winds which will carry them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

These drifters measure ocean salinity, surface water temperature, velocities (speeds) of the current, and air pressure and are important for understanding more about our weather and the ocean.  I can’t wait to get our students communicating.  Weatherly’s school theme is “A Village of Learners and Leaders.”  Outside my classroom on the bulletin board are some wonderful items from Turkey provided by Mrs. Hills and it says, “A Global Village of Learners and Leaders.”  In preparation for tracking our drifters, we are currently tracking former hurricanes and researching how the ocean changes our planet.  On their exit ticket today, my 5th graders commented that they liked tracking the hurricanes since they will use the same technique to track my journey and the drifters.

I am so excited.  I have spoken with the Chief Scientist, John Galbraith, and understand that I will be working side-by-side with scientists on this fisheries cruise.  We will drop a trawl net behind our 209 foot long ship and catch marine creatures.  Our job will be to sort the fish (and other marine animals) and learn more about them using measurements and other means such as dissection.  Computers play a role in our study and my first assignment will be to collect data in the computer.  Wonder what program I will use, and is it similar to Excel which we use a lot?

I asked my fourth graders if they thought I might see a whale.  They all responded yes in that group.  What do you think?

Teachers at Sea need to be flexible, have fortitude, and follow orders.  Let me explain.  Right now I am waiting to see if my ship will even sail.  The engineers have found a problem and are working to make the ship seaworthy for our voyage.  Already our cruise date has changed twice.  I must be flexible and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.  There are always some changes, it seems, when dealing with the ocean.  On my last cruise a tropical depression (storm) formed over us and we couldn’t begin our research for an extra day.

Sailing is not for the faint of heart.  I must be able to work long hours in uncomfortable conditions (they say this is having fortitude).  They do supply my “foul weather” gear.  Wonder if I will smell like fish at the end of my shift.

One handy piece of equipment I will take is ear plugs.  The engines are loud and that helps when it is time to sleep.  My shift will be either from midnight to noon or noon to midnight.  That’s a long time to work.  If we have a good catch, we will be working a lot.  That is good for weight loss, as long as I don’t overdo with the fabulous food prepared by the stewards (cooks) in the galley (kitchen).

I was in the U.S. Army years ago and learned to follow orders, the third of the 3Fs.  There are NOAA officers whose orders I must follow for my safety and the safety of the other scientists.  I also must follow the orders of the NOAA Teacher at Sea directors and my chief scientist.  Add to that my principal and superintendent in my district.  That’s a lot of bosses giving orders.

Lastly, my students requested that I tell everyone our school motto.  “We are Weatherly Heights and we…GO THE EXTRA MILE.”  Well, pretty soon I can say, “We are the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow and we…GO THE EXTRA NAUTICAL MILE.”  Can’t wait to see what treasures we will uncover in the ocean.

Sue Zupko: 17 Life on the Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Jacksonville, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 24, 2011

If you are just beginning this blog, you might wish to go back to post #1 and start reading there.

Before reading this post further, take the quiz.

Life at Sea

Red sunset within clouds over the ocean

Dusk on a limitless ocean

Life at sea is things in miniature—except the view.  The ocean seems to stretch on forever.  It’s easy to see why people in ancient times thought you would fall off the edge if you got too close.  Explorers ventured out to prove them wrong.  Mathematicians and astronomers also studied it to try to discover the truth.   We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the universe since then, but there is so much more to explore and learn.  The ocean is just one of those unexplored and undiscovered places.

Men exiting a gate with suitcases

ROV Guys departing

After the scientists disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale, I stayed aboard the Pisces to learn about the workings of the ship while it steamed back to its home port of Pascagoula, MS.  After all, how often does one get an opportunity like this?  I had a tour of engineering, discussions on the bridge, conversations with the crew in the mess,  and a lesson on bandwidth.  This post is an attempt to describe some everyday things you need to know about going to sea with NOAA.

Safety

Shortly after we boarded, we had a briefing in the conference room.  This was mostly to cover safety issues and things to help us understand procedures.  Of course, meal time hours were shared.  I made a mental note of those hours since I knew I wouldn’t want to miss any meals. The stewards’ reputation for good meals preceded them.

ENS Michael Doig began our briefing by drawing the following on the white board.

______________________________

_______      _________      _________

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     __________________________________

Black submarine next to an orange tug in the center of the harbor

Nuclear Sub

I thought this was a clever way to introduce what he would later discuss—our alarm bell and whistle patterns.  Mike, a former high school teacher, brought this method of capturing the class’s attention to his work on the Pisces.  One of the first things we practiced after the briefing was the “fire” drill.  Mike explained that one long bell and whistle meant either fire, collision (I figured we would feel that as well), or security alert.  If we heard this, we were to bring our PFD (Personal Floatation Device—life preserver), located under our bunks, to the conference room, which was the mustering (gathering) station for the scientists.  Our chief scientist, Andy David, would take a head count and call 101 on the phone to report to the bridge our headcount.  Mike explained that fire is one of the big concerns on a ship.  It really needs to be taken seriously.  You can’t run out to the mailbox to gather as many families do for their emergency spot where everyone knows to go.  So, they gather the scientists together since we are more like guests and wouldn’t know the correct procedures to fight a fire.  Of course, for the first drill the alarm said the fire was near the conference room so we had to muster on the fantail (back-end of the ship).  It was interesting to watch the crew quickly go to their duty stations in full gear to fight the fire.

ENS Doig clasps face in alarm in front of fire alarm box

Oh, no! Ensign Doig poses in fake alarm.

During the course of our trip, I did hear alarms sound on the bridge from different locations.  Often it was something someone needed to check on.  None turned out to be real emergencies, but were alerts to the crew to check on something.  Thank goodness.  These were always attended to immediately—not just when the bridge crew finished what they were working on.  ENS Doig happened to be on duty when one of these alarms went off and I was on the bridge.  Knowing I was going to take a picture, he made a face full of alarm.  It’s good to have a sense of humor, especially since they had checked out the possibility of a fire and determined the cause for the alarm wasn’t a fire.

Sue posing in bulky orange body suit

Gumby survival suit

After we finished our fire drill (by the way, when the alarm sounds they always announce whether it is a drill or not), we were told we’d be practicing our abandon ship drill.  For this you must bring a hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, PFD, and your “Gumby suit” (survival suit) to your muster station.  The Gumby suit probably has some long special name, but no one calls it that.  It is located in one’s stateroom in an orange bag next to the door.  It has handles and even pictures and directions explaining how to put it on.  Those who hadn’t donned a suit recently, crew and scientists, had to put it on.  Never having been at sea, I, of course, had to put it on.  What a pain!  One hopes never to have to abandon ship, but it would be difficult to put that on in the water.  I am pretty sure I’d have it on within the required minute if we were doing the act of last resort and abandoning ship.  Easier putting it on aboard the ship than in the water.   The signal to abandon ship is  6 or more short bells and/or whistles followed by one long one.

The answer to the quiz is three short bells or whistles is the signal for man overboard.  Our mustering station was the conference room for this activity so a head count could be taken.

Sue in yellow helmet and orange PFD taking photograph with long lens

Get that shot!

When working with a crane or winch and lifting something over the side of the boat, you must wear a hard hat and PFD —even if you’re just watching.  My first experience with this was when I stepped out by the door to take a picture of the ROV being launched.  The fisherman standing nearby told me I had to get properly dressed.   They were just getting ready to launch and I needed to be ready.  Oops!  I went right in and put on my hard hat and PFD.  Stephanie Rogers captured that moment after I was properly attired.  I later learned that when entering or leaving a port, you had to wear a hard hat on the bow.   Lots of safety rules.

Stainless steel counters in long lab

Sliding doors at the far end of the wet lab close automatically.

If  there is a fire alarm, some doors automatically close and you must know about it so you won’t stand in the way if they start to close.  I think the door would win in a battle for possession of that space.  We have similar doors at the school which slam shut during fires.  Watch out!  In other words, on a ship, just as in school, safety is always on everyone’s mind.

Captain leaning over filing cabinet referring to book

Captain refers to book

On the bridge, someone is always assigned to watch.  The captain pulled out his book, COMDTINST M16672.2D: Navigation Rules (COLREGS), to show me the regulation which he had just quoted.  I’m telling you, there is a book for everything on the bridge and they use them.  Reading makes life so much easier.  The Inland Steering section, Rule 5, says the ship “must maintain proper look-out by sight and hearing”.  The watch officer cannot risk a collision.  There are two radar screens displayed prominently on the helm station.  What do you need to watch for?  Won’t the radar pick up the boats?  Well, no.  Large boats usually have a “black box” like airplanes, which have a transponder telling the ship’s name and what type of craft it is.

Small boat crossing in front of the Pisces' bow

Game of chicken

Small boats often don’t have this equipment and are a big threat.  I found that out the day after we left port.  Boaters don’t seem to realize that there might be someone besides them on the water.  Even in deep water small fishing boats would cut in front of us.   It often seemed like a game of “Chicken”.  Victor, an able-bodied seaman (special certification for those with extra training and skill) pointed out that whenever the winds pick up to 15 or 20 knots there are more than a few incidents of boaters getting in trouble and the Coast Guard alerts all ships to be aware and possibly assist in rescue.  Besides possibly tipping over, small boats cannot be seen in high swells until a large ship is almost upon them.  Many don’t have transponders or radios to contact anyone to communicate problems or questions.  Also, they often drink alcohol and drive.  Dumb!  I asked Victor what the Pisces would do if a small boat got too close.  Run ‘em down was not the answer.  Trying to radio them, calling to them with a loudspeaker, or blowing the horn usually gets their attention, he told me.

Grey sneakers with red short socks

Scott always had interesting socks.

You must wear shoes enclosed on the toes and heels.  It’s readily apparent why.  The stairs can be treacherous when you are flopping around.  In waves you could slide and hurt yourself, walk out of the shoes and twist an ankle, or slip on a wet deck.  I found out several reasons for the deck being wet: rain (no kidding), humidity (it’s amazing how quickly water vapor condenses on the deck and makes a pond that sloshes around), swabbing (cleaning), and potable water runoff.

Two pipes, one with blue valve the other with black valve on top

Fresh Water Overflow

The ship makes its own fresh water.  If there is too much in the potable (drinking) storage tank, the excess water will exit out a runoff valve onto the deck.  I discovered this one morning toward the beginning of the trip.  The engineer who explained it to me said that the people on the ship were conserving their water, most likely, and the excess from the tank drained off onto the deck.  I heard the captain make the same comment a week later about how the people on this research expedition were doing a good job conserving.  That made me feel really good.  Those short showers paid off.  Fun fact: it takes one gallon of diesel fuel to produce one gallon of fresh water on the ship.

Stuffed pelican sitting on rail in hall

Petey Pelican on handrail

“One hand for yourself, and one for the ship” is how you walk on a ship safely.  There are railings everywhere for you to hang on to.  It’s a challenge in choppy seas to carry something, such as a laptop, and successfully maneuver down the hall while holding on as well.  When the seas were about seven feet high I found it more than a little challenging to stand let alone walk.

Ship Tour

Looking down stairwell with white railings and black steps

Steep Stairs

Let me explain how a ship is laid out.  When I say there are a lot of stairs, I’m not kidding.  Before I knew anything about the ship, we took a tour of most of the places we’d be “living” and a few extras.  Of course it was all fascinating.  We started in the conference room on the deck right across from my stateroom.  That deck inside includes staterooms, the lounge and conference room, the dive locker (the ship has three divers who can inspect the propeller, rudder and underwater parts of the hull if there is a problem), and business office.  Outside is the rescue boat, a couple of winches, and the bow.

Two green oxygen tanks strapped to wall

Oxygen tanks at top of stairs on O-2 deck

We climbed some stairs and as we got there the guide told us that this was the O 2 deck.  At first I thought he was kidding since right in front of me were two oxygen tanks.  I asked for clarification and he said this is the deck with the staterooms of the NOAA officers, bosun, chief engineer, and chief scientist.  Hmmm…still didn’t make any sense to me.  What does that have to do with oxygen?  I kept my thoughts to myself.  Later I found a map of the ship.  I slept on the O-1 deck, the officers were on the O-2 deck, and the bridge was on the O-3 deck.  Hello!  It was the level name of the deck and had nothing to do with oxygen.  It was just a coincidence.  Too funny.

Climbing above the bridge was the “flying bridge” (I wonder if that’s because the flags are there).  It houses the radio towers and says, “Danger–Radiation Warning.”  We were told to let the bridge know when we were going up there.  It’s a great place to try to catch a cell phone signal or watch a sunrise.

Sue with feet up on base of wheeled watertight door

Had to throw my weight into this door leading to the exercise room.

Doors

On the Pisces, and I would assume on other ships, there are doors everywhere.  I was surprised at how much strength I needed to operate them.  When entering the lab from where the ROV was being piloted, which was the center of all the dive activity, I found that I had to “put my hip into it” to push it open.  As a matter of fact, I noticed I have a few door-pushing bruises.

There are doors for everything.  The fire and watertight doors are to keep you safe from fire and flood.  The refrigerator and freezer doors protect food from bacteria and keep them preserved until it’s time to eat.  There are doors to the bathroom (yeah), doors for lockers, doors for closets, doors for equipment, medicine cabinet doors, stateroom doors, doors, doors, doors.  Almost all doors have a latch at the ceiling behind them so they can be held open.  A swinging door is a real safety issue.  You either close it right after you use it or go through it, or you latch it open.  I found it a pain to have to keep closing my locker door.  It would swing with the waves and I didn’t want to have it wake anyone up.  The noise bugged me as well.  As you can see, I had a bit of trouble with the door leading to the exercise room down below the main deck.  The engineers could close it with one hand.  I was there for two weeks and, try as I might, it never got any easier.

Sue pushing into a door with a wheel

Wheeled water tight door with wind behind it

Close all watertight doors and fire doors, all the time.  Fire or flooding can lead to a rapid death.  The engineers and NOAA Corps constantly monitor for this.  Although it is a safety thing, opening and shutting doors was one of my biggest challenges on ship.  Good thing I have been working out with weights.  Opening those doors was often a very difficult—especially if there were a door or window open to the outside at the other end of the room.  I brought home several bruises on my hip for throwing my body into the door to get it open.  I once remarked that if someone ever opened the door to the ROV lab when I was pushing my way in from the other side, I’d go flying into the room.  Not cool since there is a counter right inside the door.  Think law of inertia.  Push hard against something (heavy door), it moves out of the way (someone opens it), you’re no longer stopped and off you fly (until you run into something).  Newton’s law of inertia….

Open door to a storage locker with ropes neatly coiled

Storage Locker

Exercise

Taking a walk on the ship for aerobic exercise isn’t easy.  The whole ship is only 209 feet long.  Well, you have to go through doors just about everywhere.  The only place I could have done this for any real length was to start near the wet lab, travel around to the right, over the fantail, up the stairs, up to the bow (front of ship), climb stairs to the bridge and turn around.  Can’t go farther since there are doors to enter the bridge.  When I needed to go just about anywhere inside the ship there were a minimum of two doors to open.  To get from my stateroom to the exercise room I had to go through three watertight or fire doors—and three to return.  When tired I’d pray for the door to open and someone to step through.

At night, make sure someone knows you are on deck.  ENS Doig told us to dial 101 and tell the bridge you’ll be outside in the dark.  Even better, take a buddy.  I also found it was good to carry a flashlight.  If you turn the flashlight off when on deck when you get where you are going, your eyes adjust and it seems almost as bright as day.  For this, you must extinguish (turn off) the flashlight.

Four white haired mops with buildings in the background

The Moppets

Politeness Counts

Living on a ship means if you want to make/keep friends, you are nice.  People are very close.  You can’t even walk two abreast down the hall.  If you enter a hallway and someone is half way down, wait for the other person to exit before entering yourself.  Same goes for the stairs.  If someone is coming down, or going up, don’t start until they pass you.  Not only is it polite, it’s just good common sense.

Jana on floor next to Sue in chair in stateroom

Buddies Jana and Sue

I was fortunate to have the Queen of Politeness, Jana Thoma, as a roommate.  She was always thinking of others and expressed thanks for everything they did–often several times.   I have thought of myself as pretty polite, but I don’t think I can even compare to Jana.  What a great example for me to follow.  She was always a patient teacher as she tried to help me learn about cnidarians.  Perhaps one of my students will work in her lab someday.

Ice machine, coffe pot, microwave, refrigerator

Drink station with juices, water, ice, coffee, etc

If someone drinks the last cup from a pot of coffee, he/she should make a fresh pot for the next folks.  Although I am not a coffee drinker, from the way this was stressed by the officers and stewards, it must be very frustrating for someone coming for a warm drink to not have it readily available.  They don’t have real long breaks.  Remember, they have a lot of doors to slow them down.  I think if they found out you took the last cup and didn’t refill the pot, you might be doing the Man Overboard drill as the victim (just kidding).

Clean up after yourself.  Seems like common sense.  The stewards are not your mother–they are busy working in the kitchen and cleaning.  They shouldn’t have to come and bus (clean) the tables.  You should take your dishes to the window, put the silverware in the water to soak, and put dishes, cups, bowls, and glasses in the plastic tub.  There are two trash cans.  One is for paper and plastic and a slop bucket for leftover food.  At Tremont food you don’t eat on your plate is called food waste.  If you take only what you’ll eat, this bucket has very little in it.  They separate the food from the other trash so it won’t get smelly.  They cover it with a lid and empty it when folks are all done eating for the day.

Jana peeking out from curtains in top bunk Sue peeking out from bottom bunk

Curtains were great for privacy

The ship runs 24 hours a day so someone is probably sleeping at any time.  Loved the curtains around the beds.  I could get up and not disturb Jana and vice versa.  Don’t slam doors.  This is not always easy, especially in rough seas.  I know I mumbled a couple of times “sorry” when the door slipped from my hands.  Locker doors and bathroom doors in staterooms also flop around and make a racket if left open.  I got in the habit of keeping these closed so they wouldn’t make noise.  Our bathroom door had a neat feature.  It had an automatic stay open fixture on it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work in rough seas so we had to prop open.  I know if we had told the engineers they would have fixed it, but we kept forgetting to mention it.

The Pisces has an entertainment room for when you or the crew is off duty.  There is a selection of DVDs and home theatre chairs to lounge in.  My stateroom was right across the hall from this lounge.  I never noticed anyone playing the TV too loudly.  Movies also would feed into the staterooms.  You could put the DVD on a certain channel and go watch while lying in bed.  If you put a movie in, the rule was to let it play to the end.  Someone might be watching it in their room.  I am not sure how many movies can be played at the same time, but it is several.  I put one in one time and didn’t get to watch since I had to go do some work.  I figure I can watch movies at home, but will probably only be in this situation once.

The walls are really thin between staterooms.  Conversations can be heard as can loud TV.  Jana and I found that it’s easy to have a not so quiet discussion, especially if telling jokes, and tried to whisper.  We did have a lot of fun and had to think of any neighbors who might be sleeping.  Laura had hours opposite us and was our neighbor.   One rule of politeness is to use headphones when listening to music so as not to disturb others.  I used to work the midnight shift and went to school in the morning.  Only had a few hours to sleep before going back to work.  My upstairs neighbor got a new sound system and literally rocked me awake .  I had to go upstairs and remind them that I slept during the day.  Headphones would have let me sleep in peace.  On a ship this seems to be doubly important because walls are so thin.  The one exception to the headphone and music rule is in engineering.  When I was exercising it was nice to have some good music playing.  This happened a couple of times and it made the walking on the treadmill more enjoyable.  I’m glad they were there in the next room working with the music on.

White basket with condiments neatly arranged with Jesse in background

Putting things where they belong makes it easy for those who eat next.

Use paper if not eating during scheduled times.  The stewards have to keep the dishes washed and if someone put dirty dishes in the bin, they would have to clean it.  I noticed the crew was polite and used disposables after hours.

Conservation

Remember to shut off the water when just lathering up in the shower.  This limits water use to about two minutes.  I learned to do this during the power outage we had for 5 days in north Alabama after the tornadoes on April 27.  My husband and I limited the length of our showers and had warm water for many days.  Jana and I both said we loved how the shower on the ship works—it makes short showers possible.  It has a knob in the middle to turn the water on and off.  The knob on the right adjusts the temperature.  When you turn the shower back on after lathering, the temp is the same as when it was shut off.  Very neat.

Reuse your cup.  One of the scientists said that she loves to bring her coffee cup which has a lid.  It’s her way of staying in touch with home when on a ship and she always has a drink nearby.  The best part is she is reusing her cup and limiting waste.  That’s very smart.

Besides limiting water use and reusing cups, the crew recycles their aluminum cans just as we do at our school.  The money is put in a special fund for things such as deaths, births, and celebrations.

Tips

Jana learned on another ship that if you leave the heat lamp on in the head (bathroom), the water from the shower dries on the floor quicker.  I would think it would also inhibit mold growth.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope.  Diego in the background.

It was cold in this lab.

I learned that temperatures vary on a ship.  The acoustics lab, filled with computers, is freezing.  I used to work in a computer center on the midnight shift.  I brought an afghan to wrap up in when sitting at my station and had to wear pants (women didn’t usually wear pants to work in this office back then).  However, it wasn’t as cold as the chemical lab where the scientists photographed specimens, cataloged their data, and examined specimens under the microscope.  Then, go outside and it would be 82° F (about 28° C).   Jason Moeller writes in his blog that it is a lot colder.  Check that out.  He dresses in many layers–with good reason.

One thing I’ll remember is how bright the stars are.  What is really cool about being on a ship at night is that there are no trees to get in the way when viewing the stars.  There is very little light pollution too.  If I ever get to go to sea again, I’d like an astronomer with me to point out all the constellations.  I have a lot of trouble seeing them since there are so many stars which crowd out the major stars in constellations.

Engineering

Chief engineer standing at large console watching gauges

Watching gauges in engineering.

I didn’t see the engineers very often unless they were fixing something nearby or eating.  They stayed below most of the time working on keeping the equipment purring or doing preventive maintenance.  Often they were making something using the lathe or other tools.  There is always something going on with them in their sauna-like work spaces. I did learn that they watched for a few bad things: squirting fluids, smoke, strange sounds, and changes in their gauges.

The engineers have to be able to fix just about anything.  When you’re out at sea on a mission, you don’t just stop and run down to the boat repair shop to get things fixed.  They bring the boat repair shop with them.  In engineering there are milling machines, lathes, welding equipment, and so much more.  I was impressed.  At one point I saw Joe Jacovino making a frame to hold a light they were going to be adding outside.  Another engineer, Steve Clement, was nominated for an award on the mission for making a part to repair a piece of scientific gear.

Drill press

Lots of useful machines to help keep the ship operational

I was very interested in engineering.  There was so much to learn there.  I took more videos than I did photographs there since it was difficult to take notes and juggle all the stuff I had.  My students can put together something with all the video I took.  It was more  as a reference to remind me of the facts that Chief Engineer, Brent Jones, was teaching me.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience.  I hope more teachers will apply to learn about the work that NOAA is doing and pass this on to their students.  I am looking forward to learning from the other Teachers at Sea.  We will have lots of stories and lessons to share.

I took zillions of pictures (well, it seems like it).  If you’d like to see some more, click here.