Looking Back On 30 Years of Teachers at Sea

This week, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program. Join us as we look back at the history and accomplishments of this groundbreaking program.

Since 1990, more than 850 teachers have sailed aboard NOAA research ships. They serve as valued crew members, conducting hands-on research and learning more about the science that informs our conservation and management efforts.

This unique professional enhancement opportunity is made possible by the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. For three decades, the Teacher at Sea program has helped teachers participate in annual NOAA research surveys conducted by our scientists. Teachers from around the country embark on a two to three week expedition at sea. They gain invaluable on-the-job experience and communicate their journey through a series of blogs and lesson plans.

After their research cruise, teachers take their newfound knowledge back to their classrooms and hometowns. Teacher at Sea alumni have worked with more than 500,000 students and 3 million other people at conferences and other outreach events. The Teacher at Sea Alumni Association was created in 2011 to provide a way for teachers to continue learning and network with others who’ve had the same experience.  

Teacher at Sea Program Manager Jennifer Hammond said, “Teachers at Sea are great ambassadors for NOAA science. We accept Pre-K through college-level teachers in all subject areas who demonstrate they can communicate the science back to their classrooms, whether they’ve taught for one year or 20 years. The original goal of the program was for teachers to get an opportunity to see how we conduct at-sea research and introduce them to NOAA careers, specifically NOAA Corps and at-sea science.”

History of the Program

The program started in NOAA’s Office of Marine Aviation Operations in 1990. NOAA Corps Officer Lt. Ilene Byron placed the first Teacher at Sea, Debora Mosher (pictured right), on the NOAA Ship Oregon II to help conduct an Atlantic scallop survey. 

Mosher said the experience allowed her to see “…the reality of scientific research—the expertise, the planning, the time, the effort, the dangers, the data, the equipment, the cataloging and computing of numbers, the frustrations. But most importantly, I saw the information and careful analysis would help us understand the natural world.”

Experiencing Real-World Science at Sea

By doing the science, the teachers gain a greater connection to the science. They see firsthand how our surveys translate to the real-world and they learn how to communicate the experience to their students. They also become an integral part of the research team. “The teachers learn that problem-solving and team-building are a much bigger component of science than they thought. You have to rely on each other and the equipment you have at-hand,” Hammond said.

Some of these teachers have never had a real-world research experience before. Their first trip out to sea can be intimidating regardless of background and skill level. The Teacher at Sea program puts teachers squarely in the shoes of their students, who encounter new and complex lessons every day at school. For many teachers, their experience at sea reminded them what it felt like to be a student. It allowed them to change their teaching habits to more effectively reach students who feel overwhelmed by new class material.

Program Benefits Teachers—and Scientists

It’s not just the teachers and students that benefit from the program. NOAA scientists are eager to work with Teachers at Sea. “Teachers are suited for sea,” Hammond said. “They stand up all day long, they get no lunch break, rare bathroom breaks, they’re constantly adapting to their class and lesson plans. They’re prepared for rapid change, they work long days, and they tend to be a group that doesn’t sleep much. Scientists find them hard working, energetic, motivated, and appreciative of the experience. They’re such a wonderful contribution to the research team. This is why more than 70 NOAA scientists request Teachers at Sea to join their surveys each year.”

Although we could not send teachers to sea this year, the program continues to support the educational community through the Teacher at Sea Alumni Association.

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 6, March 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015

Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 18, 2015

Day 6: 3/18/15

7th and 8th grade students from Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences in Oxnard, California, along with elementary students from South Carolina, decorated Styrofoam cups that Peter and I took with us on the Shimada. We brought these cups to show our students the amazing power of underwater pressure.  The depths at which the ROV and CTD Niskin Rosette traveled during the voyage were much further than a human body could physically handle without being in some sort of pressurized submersible.   Human bodies currently experience air pressure when we are at sea level, though we don’t feel the pressure because the fluids in our bodies are pressing outwards with the equal amount of force.  However, once you start traveling underwater, the greater the pressure of the water pushing down on your being.  As one NOAA website states: “For every 33 feet (10.06 meters) you go down, the pressure increases by 14.5 psi. In the deepest ocean, the pressure is equivalent to the weight of an elephant balanced on a postage stamp, or the equivalent of one person trying to support 50 jumbo jets!” (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/pressure.html)

cups on CTD rosette
Peter and I with the students’ cups tied to the CTD Niskin Rosette

To illustrate how powerful the water pressure is in the deep ocean, Peter and I used Styrofoam cups to demonstrate this concept.  First, we stuffed paper towels into the cups so that they would retain their shapes during a dive down to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Next, we attached the cups to the CTD Niskin rosette. The crew launched the CTD into the ocean and it plunged downwards to a depth of 550 meters. As the cups descended deeper and deeper, the increasing water pressure compressed the air out from between the Styrofoam beads that make up the cup.  What was left was a significantly shrunken version of our cups. Here are the before and after pictures:

cups before dive
The cups before the dive

The CTD Niskin rosette also collected data as it traveled downwards. Water filtered through the machine and sensors gathered information about temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen levels. The tubes on the CTD could also be programmed to collect water samples at certain depths, which they did on the return trip to the surface. This allowed the scientists to collect the water to test for different water quality factors at a later date.

rosette and cups ready to go
The cups and CTD Niskin Rosette prepare to go overboard
reviewing the data
Peter and ST Gunter review the data that is being uploaded from CTD Niskin Rosette during its dive.

Media Day

Today, the scientists and Shimada team were joined by media crews from the LA times and the Santa Barbara Independent, along with some of NOAA’s education outreach specialists. The reporters took a tour around the Shimada and they interviewed the scientists about their important work.  From Peter Etnoyer, and his team’s work on Lophelia and ocean acidification, Branwen Williams’ research on deep-sea coral, Laura Kracker and team’s mapping of uncharted Sanctuary regions, to the MARE team’s innovative ROV technology, the media had quite a bit to report about! 

The reporters were even able to watch the ROV take its final dive of the trip to collect one last acanthogoria sample. One of Branwen’s and Peter’s goals is to be able to determine the ages of these beautiful organisms through the work they do. If they are able to create baseline data for how old an acanthogoria is, based on size and height, then there will be less of a need to collect these specimens in the future. Instead, they will be able to determine age based on looking at the footage during an ROV dive and using the laser measurements on the ROV camera to decide how old the coral is.

Chris Caldow
Chris Caldow, NOAA research coordinator and organizer of our expedition, speaks with the media.
media watching dive
The media crew watches the ROV’s final dive of the trip
Acanthagoria sample
Gathering around the Acanthogoria sample

Until next time….

My journey on the Shimada finally came to a close today. NOAA sent out their local research vessel, the Shearwater, to meet us in the waters off Santa Cruz Island. Many of the scientists, along with the MARE team and myself boarded the Shearwater and watched as the Shimada became smaller and smaller in the distance. It was very sad to say goodbye, but Chris Caldow and the sonar team will continue on the Shimada with their important mapping of the Sanctuary for the next several days.

Shearwater approach
The Shearwater makes its approach to bring us back to shore
Bell M. Shimada
Saying goodbye to the Bell M. Shimada

Our Backyard

Being able to explore the seldom-visited parts of our sanctuary with the scientists and NOAA crew was a once in a lifetime experience. The research these scientists are doing to uncover the hidden depths of the sanctuary is also helping to illustrate how our actions on land have a direct impact on our oceans.

When we learn more about these rarely seen regions of our Sanctuary and about the deep-sea organisms that make their home there, these places and creatures become something that we grow to love and care about. This exploratory research is so important, because as someone on the trip said; “we cannot protect what we don’t know is there.” This is especially relevant for myself and the students from Haydock, because the Channel Islands truly are our backyard; we can see the Islands and Sanctuary from the shores of our city of Oxnard.  When we feel a greater connection to a place such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, we are more likely to take part in the stewardship and protection of it for our future generations.

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children” (unknown)

To learn more about the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, click on the following link:


To learn more about MARE and the ROVs check out their website: http://www.maregroup.org/

For more information about Peter Etnoyer’s work, click the following link:


For more information about Branwen Williams work, use the following link:


sunset in Channel Islands NMS
Sunset in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 4, March 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015

Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 16, 2015

Day 4: Monday 3/16/15

The visiting sonar technician left this afternoon on NOAA’s Shark Cat boat after working diligently to fix the ship’s sonar system throughout the past few days.  As of now, the ME 70 sonar is up and running.  This equals exciting news for the sonar team that has been waiting patiently to begin their projects.  The Shimada actually has two sonar machines; one works with a single beam, while the other, the ME 70 has multiple beams that can cover a much greater amount of territory in the same amount of time.

Shark Cat boat
The Shark Cat alongside the Shimada

How does sonar work?

Sonar technology is a way for us to create images of what is below the surface of the ocean.  The sonar system, which is attached to the bottom of the ship, sends out an acoustic signal towards the ocean floor and then measures how long it takes for the sound to bounce back to the boat. By measuring this, the sonar creates a picture of the depth of the ocean floor in that area.  

Mike and Will
Mike and Will look at data generated from the sonar system

A secondary measurement that is also occurring when the sonar machine is running is called backscatter.  Backscatter measures the intensity, or loudness, of the sound as it echoes back to the ship.  The softer the sound when it reflected back means the softer the type of surface it is bouncing off of, such as sand.  The louder and more severe the sound is equates to a harder surface floor, such as rocky ledges.  As Andy explained to me, think about bouncing a ping-pong ball on a carpet vs. hardwood floor.  The ping-pong ball will have a much stronger bounce off of a hard surface v. a softer one.  Will also explained that based on the backscatter sound we can determine fine details such as whether the sand is fine or coarse.

Simrad ME70
Simrad ME70, Scientific multibeam echo sounder

Both of these sonar features create an image of what the ocean floor looks like, its physical features, habitat types and any potential hazards that may exist below the surface.  This is critical for creating nautical charts and it is also important for the navigation of the ROV, so it doesn’t stumble upon any unexpected obstacles while traveling underwater. 

Shimada seamount
An example of an image created by the sonar system

Another feature that sonar is used for on this ship is to measure fish abundance.  The sound waves travel down and bounce off of the fishes’ swim bladders.  Swim bladders are gas filled bladders found in many fish that helps them stay buoyant.  Using this method, scientists could use sonar to gauge fish populations, instead of catching fish to see what is out there.

An example of an image created by the sonar system
Scientists looking at sonar screens

So far in the trip, Laura Kracker and her team (Mike Annis, Will Sautter and Erin Weller) have been using the working sonar to map fish populations in the area.  Tonight, however, they will use the ME 70 for a test run to map out areas of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary that have never been mapped before!  This data could be used to create brand new nautical maps, to help scientists have a better idea of what the hidden part of our sanctuary looks like and to determine which regions might be best habitats for fish or coral.   Tomorrow, the ROV team will send the ROV to the sites that were mapped the previous night to check out features that were discovered on the seafloor and to explore the newly mapped regions. 

sonar team
The sonar team hard at work (from left Mike, Will, Laura, Erin)

Life at Sea

When setting out on this journey, students asked me what life would be like living on a ship.  I spoke with several of the crew members on the ship about what it is like to be out at sea for days at a time.   So here is an image of what it has been like so far, from the perspective of some of the crew and from my own experiences:

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
The Bell M. Shimada by the Channel Islands

The Bell M. Shimada is an enormous ship, over 200 feet in length.  I have been here for four days now and still have not explored the entire place!  The ship is approx. six stories tall, though on the ship they refer to the different levels as decks, not stories.  The Shimada is run from a platform on the third deck, known as the bridge.  The steering of the ship takes place from the bridge and there is always an assigned lookout person, whose job is to look out the windows to see what is going on around the ship.  The bridge is also equipped with radars that can detect boat traffic or other obstacles.  

A lot of communication goes back and forth between the scientists in the ROV command room and the bridge.  The bridge must ensure that the ship stays steady and follows the ROV during its dive.  If the ship moves too much it can yank the ROV around or the cables from the ROV could get caught or damaged under the ship.  

The Bridge
The Bridge
Andy and CO
Andy shows our Commanding Officer how to operate the ROV

The areas where we sleep on the ship are called staterooms.  Almost all of them consist of bunk beds and have a toilet and shower area.  I am rooming with Erin, one of the scientists working on the sonar mapping project.  Erin and her team work during the night after the ROV runs, so typically she is going to bed shortly before I wake up for the day.  We have both been working hard to stay quiet enough to let each other catch up on our sleep!

One of the staterooms

The Shimada has many features that I was not expecting on a ship, such as an exercise room equipped with treadmills and weights.  We even have Internet access here!  Another unexpected feature is the lounge/ theater room that is across the hall from my stateroom.  It has plush reclining chairs, a huge flat screen TV, and all the DVDs you could ever hope to watch, including the newest movies. 

When talking with the crew about what they love most about their jobs, many of them referred to how being part of a NOAA boat allows them incredible travel opportunities.  One person I spoke with has been to 52 different countries throughout his career with NOAA!  Another benefit of a maritime career such as this is that NOAA pays for part of your education.  It requires special schooling and credentials to be able to be an engineer or commanding officer on a ship, and NOAA helps offset those costs.  One of the biggest challenges of the job, however, is being away from family and friends for such long periods of time.  Some of the crew explained to me that they may be out at sea for 30 days at a time, sometimes even longer.

            One great perk to life aboard is the food.  Two chefs prepare all of the meals on the Shimada for us.  Similar to our lunch time at school, the meals are served at the same time each day in what is called the mess hall.  If you oversleep and miss breakfast, not too worry; there is cereal and other snacks available around the clock.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner on the ship, and we have even had the treat of fresh salads and homemade desserts! 

2C Boyd and CS Phillips preparing delicious meals

The ship stays running smoothly thanks to the help of the engineers and crew members.  They work behind the scenes around the clock to keep the ship afloat.

Chief Engineer
Our Chief Engineer
ET and SF
Our Electronics Tech and SF Alves

My absolute favorite location on the ship is called the flying bridge.  It has 3 tall chairs that look out over the ocean and an almost 360 degree view of the sea.  The chairs have been used on previous excursions for scientists to sit and count marine mammals as part of their survey.  It is a great place to watch the sunset from.

view from flying bridge
The view from the flying bridge
An epic sunset over the Islands

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Days 2 & 3, March 14-15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015

Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 14-15, 2015

Day 2:  Saturday 3/14/15 

Happy Pi Day everyone!  The second day on the ship was productive and incredible.  The weather was fantastic throughout the entire day, with hardly any wind and a sheet glass ocean.  The stillness of the water made it easy to spot wildlife, and during the day we saw multiple pods of dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of sea birds such as cormorants and brown pelicans.

view from Shimada
A beautiful day aboard the Bell M. Shimada in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Dolphins swimming alongside the Shimada

The beautiful weather also made for smooth conditions to launch the ROV.  The ROV took three dives today at different locations and depths each time.  Peter and his team picked the locations around the Islands, staying true to spots they had visited in previous years.  Part of their research involves looking at the same coral beds over the course of many years and recording what they observe and noting any changes that may have occurred.  They are observing how the coral, specifically the species Lophelia pertusa, reacts to changes in pH levels and temperature.  This information is important in finding indicators for how our ocean is being affected by warmer temperatures and ocean acidification.

Retrieving the Beagle ROV
Retrieving the Beagle ROV from its first dive of the day
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV

So what exactly is ocean acidification?

As humans, we release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and have been doing so in large quantities since the Industrial Revolution.  Carbon dioxide is released during combustion, when we drive our cars, power our houses and factories, use electricity, burn things, cut down trees, etc. 

The ocean acts as a sponge and absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  However, as levels of COrise in the atmosphere, so do the levels of CO2 in the ocean.  This is not great news for our ocean or the organisms that make their home there.  When CO2 mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction occurs that causes the pH of the seawater to lower and become more acidic.  This process is called ocean acidification.

Even slight changes in pH levels can have large affects on marine organisms, such as fish and plankton.  Ocean acidification also reduces the amounts of calcium carbonate minerals that are needed by shell-building organisms to build their shells and skeletons.  The damage to these shell-building organisms, including many types of plankton, oysters, coral, and sea urchins, can have a negative ripple effect throughout the entire ocean food web.  An important part of the mission of this trip is to see how ocean acidification is affecting different types of deep-sea coral, such as Lophelia pertusa, that use calcium carbonate minerals to build their skeletons.

pH scale

The scientists and the MARE team conducted three ROV dives throughout the day.  The first dive brought up an outstanding Lophelia sample, and along with it a bizarre deep-sea creature called a basket star.  Basket stars are a type of invertebrate that are related to brittle stars.  Even though they feed mostly on zooplankton, they have long spindly arms that can reach to over a meter in length.   It was astonishing to be able to see this alien looking creature alive and moving!

Day 3: Sunday 3/15/15

After long hours and a late night, the MARE team was able to get the manipulator arm on the ROV up and running, after having technical difficulties with it during the first half of our trip.  This was perfect timing for the first ROV dive of the day in the waters between Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands.  The goal of this dive was to find scientist Branwen Williams a type coral known as Acanthogorgia.  This coral is incredibly beautiful; tall, fan-like and golden in color.

coral and shark egg case
An Acanthogorgia with a cat shark egg case

Bombs Away:   Branwen hoped to collect samples of this coral to take back to her lab for testing.  She and her team of students and scientists will use these samples to ascertain how old the corals are, how fast they grow and what are they eating.  Branwen explained to me that coral, similar to trees, have growth rings that can be used to determine age as well as other factors.  She mentioned that when looking at age, she looks for the pattern of the “bomb curve” within the coral rings and that provides scientists with a relative date of how old the corals are.  The “bomb curve” is a concentration of radiocarbon (14C) that is found in corals in every ocean in the world.  The concentration of radiocarbon is a direct product of the bomb testing that took place starting in the 1950’s and produced large amounts of this radiocarbon into the atmosphere.  The ocean absorbed that particular type of carbon, and in turn it was absorbed by the corals, who are suspension feeders.  Suspension feeding means that corals eat by stretching their tentacles out to catch tiny particles that are floating by.  So scientists identify the start and peak of the bomb testing in the radiocarbon stored in the coral skeleton to determine growth rates and then the ages of the corals. This was very shocking to me that corals in every ocean have this radiocarbon in their bodies, and clear evidence of how much human actions impact the entire globe.

team looks at samples
The team looks to see what samples have been collected
The Chief Boatswain prepares to operate the winch that will help lift the ROV out of the water
MARE and NOAA crew work together to make sure the ROV makes it back on board safe and sound

Diving Deep:  The ROV was dispatched into the water and soon sunk to around 200 meters.  As it cruised along the ocean floor the team watched as a variety of rockfish scuttled by.  The ROV has two sets of lasers that shoot out in front of it, each spaced 10 centimeters apart.  This gives the scientists an idea of the size of objects or organisms that pass in front of the camera.

The team located the Acanthogorgia habitat and got to work collecting samples using the manipulator arm.  The manipulator arm reminds me of the claw game found in most arcades.  Andy remotely operated the arm, while Dirk worked simultaneously to control the ROV.  Together they were able to collect three exceptional samples, including two Acanthogorgia corals attached to hefty rocks. Each time the manipulator arm reached towards a coral, the whole crew of the Shimada held in their breath in suspense.  Would the arm be able to grasp its target?  The live footage from the ROV is now being streamed throughout the entire ship; in the lounges and staterooms too, so Andy and Dirk had a quite an audience cheering them on!

ROV watch party
Andy and Dirk work the controllers while Peter, Branwen and Leslie watch closely nearby

The samples made it back to the ship safely.  Branwen prepared the coral to take back to the Keck Science Department of the Claremont College where she and her students will conduct their research about this little known species of coral.

Thinking about the effort it takes to research deep-sea coral, involving ROVs and commissioning ships to reach their remote locations, it’s no wonder we know little about them and so much more about their shallow water relatives.

Branwen and coral
Branwen and one of the Acanthogorgia samples
Dirk and Andy coral
Dirk and Andy after a job well done
Chief Survey Tech and ROV
Our Chief Survey Tech waits patiently to assist with the next ROV dive.

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 1, March 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015

Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: Friday, March 13, 2015

One of NOAA’s research ships: the Bell M. Shimada

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, my home away from home for the next six days!  

Science Log

Today marks my first official day aboard the Shimada as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  My name is Sarah Raskin and I am an educator at Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school in Oxnard, California.  For the next week, I have the opportunity to join NOAA scientists from across the United States on a deep-sea science expedition in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. I am hoping to bring back what I learn to the students at Haydock and to paint a picture of what it is like to work on real-life science out in the field.

Scientists group photo
The scientists starting from the left: Peter Etnoyer, Rick Botman, Branwen Williams, Andrew Shuler, Erin Weller, Will Sautter, Steve Holz, Leslie Wickes, Andy Lauermann, Chris Caldow, Dirk Rosen, Mike Annis, Laura Kracker.

The location for our expedition is in the waters off of the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.  The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) covers 1,470 square miles of water surrounding Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands and is home to a large amount of diverse species.  On this expedition, scientists will use an ROV (a remotely operated underwater vehicle) to examine deep-sea coral and the water chemistry around those coral beds.  One of the most surprising facts for me before beginning this journey was to learn that coral grows in cold water deep-sea habitats, having only previously associated coral with warm water environments.  

During this expedition, scientists will also look at how the corals are affected by ocean acidification.  It will be interesting to see what their findings are:  how do our actions on land affect organisms, such as coral, that live in the deep sea?

Ventura County watershed
A Ventura County watershed: from the mountains to the sea.
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island (Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary)

The scientists will collect live samples of the coral to take back to their labs for further ocean acidification testing.  Throughout this trip, scientists will also use sonar to map the ocean floor. The information gathered from the sonar will help provide direction for where to send our ROV.  The new images generated from the sonar could also be used to bring up-to-date sea floor maps of the Sanctuary, many of which have not been updated since they were created in the 1930s!  Another feature of the sonar is to map out locations and quantities of fish populations in the area.  This information is vital to sanctuaries and marine protected areas, as it contributes important information about why these areas are important to protect.

Science in the field is much different than science in a laboratory setting.  There are so many factors to take into account: weather, ocean conditions, the working conditions of the equipment and many more unforeseen circumstances.  The scientists and ship crew must each do their parts and work closely together as a team to make the research possible.  During the first day aboard the researchers have faced quite a few challenges…  Maybe because we set sail on Friday the 13th

The morning began with impromptu safety drills.  Similar to the fire drills that we have at our school, the ship also conducts regular drills.  Today we had both a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.  The abandon ship drill prepares the crew for an emergency event that would require us to leave the ship immediately.  It also involved donning a safety suit, a giant red neoprene wetsuit that is designed to keep you warm if you needed to jump into the ocean.

Fire drill on the ship
Fire drill on the ship
Sarah in survival suit
A picture of me in the survival suit

Later in the afternoon, the team took the ROV out for its first outing of the trip.  Chris Caldow (the expedition lead) and the scientists from Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) chose a spot on the ocean floor that was sandy and flat with few physical features to snag on for its initial run.  The ROV, which is named the Beagle, is an amazing piece of machinery.  It is designed to be able to function in depths of down to 500 meters.  It is also equipped with a high definition video camera that will take footage of what is going on under the sea.  If the scientists see something of interest, the Beagle ROV has a manipulator arm to collect samples.  The arm feature is also used to deploy different types of sensors that will keep track of information, such as temperature, over a longer period of time.

MARE's Beagle ROV
MARE (Marine Applied Research and Exploration) Beagle ROV

The launch of the ROV was exciting.  Most of the crew gathered around to watch its release, and as it made it’s way down to the sea floor, it began streaming video footage to monitors inside of the laboratories on the ship.  It was pretty incredible to be able to see the bottom of the sea floor with such clarity.  So far, we have spotted multiple species of rockfish and an egg case of a skate.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

ROV footage
Watching streaming video footage from the ROV

Back to one of our challenges: the key sonar machine is currently out of order.  When things break on a ship, it can be a bit tricky to fix.  It’s definitely not as simple as running to the nearest hardware store to pick up a new piece of equipment.  When something is not working out here, it can involve scuba diving under the ship to fix something or sailing back to the mainland if there is a real issue.  So tomorrow there will be a boat coming out to meet our ship and bringing with it equipment and a trained sonar technician to hopefully solve our problems.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Update: Science in the Field

The Beagle ROV journeyed into the depth once more last night.  This time the mission was to find deep-sea coral beds, in particular one species called Lophelia pertusa, and bubble gum coral. 

Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa

The MARE team (Dirk Rosen, Andy Lauermann, Steve Holz and Rick Botman) worked with scientists Peter Etnoyer, Leslie Wickes, Andrew Shuler and Branwen Williams to locate a coral bed that they had visited previously in 2010 and 2014.  Using GPS coordinates, the MARE team was able to locate the exact site of the coral bed that Peter and his team had worked with in earlier years.  There were quite a few high-fives and cheers of excitement in the lab when the ROV made its way to the familiar patch of bright red bubble gum coral. 

Branwen and Dirk
Branwen and Dirk scout the sea floor for coral beds

The team dropped a temperature gauge at that location that will take and record a temperature reading every five minutes for the next six months.  After that, Peter and his team will return on a second expedition to retrieve the device.  The temperature gauge is tied to a rope attached to a lead weight and a flotation device covered with bright reflective tape.  Andrew explained that the reflective tape would stand out in the headlights of the ROV, making it much easier to spot when they return for it half a year later.

Andrew temperature sensor
Andrew holds up one of the temperature sensors that will be deployed with the ROV

The Beagle also retrieved its first coral sample of Lophelia pertusa, which it brought to the surface.  Picking up samples from the deep in no easy feat.  Andy and Dirk control the ROV from the deck with controls that look similar to something you would find on a video game consul.  Sitting along side them, scientists Peter, Leslie and Branwen direct them to which coral specimens look the best for their sample.  Then using either the manipulator arm or a shovel like feature on the boat, the ROV controller works quickly to scoop the organism into a basket attached to the front of the machine.

Scientists watch footage
The scientists watch live video feed from the ROV

Once the ROV safely made it back on board, the scientists worked quickly to get the coral and its little inhabitants, such as deep-sea brittle stars and crabs, into cold water tanks as fast as possible.  While the coral doesn’t seem to mind the pressure difference between the deep-sea and surface, it does not handle the temperature differential as well.

Leslie removes coral for storage in the fresh water tanks
crab on coral
A deep-sea crab that hitched a ride up to the surface on the Lophelia

The team also took water samples from the water near the coral sites, which they will test later for pH.  They are hoping to find out whether coral changes the composition of the water surrounding it.  In order to collect the water samples, Branwen Williams (a scientist and professor from Keck Science Department at Claremont College), Leslie, and Andrew retrieved water samples using a CTD-Niskin rosette.  They took water samples at the depth of the coral beds (approx. 290 meters) and then every 25 meters up from there.   Once they filled bottles with the water, it was important to immediately “fix” the water samples.  This means putting a poison, such as mercuric chloride into the water sample to kill off any living organisms, such as zooplankton or phytoplankton, that might be photosynthesizing or respiring and changing the pH levels of the water samples.  This gives the scientists a snapshot of what the water chemistry is like at a particular place and time.

Sarah Raskin: Pre-Trip, March 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015

Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Ms. Raskin will be joining NOAA scientists on a research expedition in the waters around the Channel Islands. NOAA scientists will be using ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles) to look at deep­-sea coral and water chemistry and the effects of ocean acidification.

The water pressure in the deep sea is very strong… which makes for a fun science activity! Students in Ms. Alstot’s Environmental Science class decorated styrofoam cups which Ms. Raskin will take with her on the boat. Those cups will go down in the ROV and when they return to the surface, the extreme pressure will have shrunken the cups! Stay tuned to see how it turns out.

The final products: These cups are ready to go for a dive!

John Clark,Headed Home Early, October 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: October 1, 2013

Science and Technology  Log 

A few hours into our shift midnight we get the word we have been expecting for several days – government shutdown. Our mission will be cut a few days short. That reality means the Bigelow has 24 hours to return to its homeport of Newport,  R.I.  It takes us 10 hours and we dock around 1 in the afternoon. With our fisheries operations suddenly declared over comes clean-up time, and we spend the next 6 hours of our shift cleaning up the on‐board fish lab. It is a time consuming but important process. The lab needs to be spotless and “fish scent” free before we can call our work finished on this cruise.  The lab is literally solid stainless steel and every surface gets washed and suds downed so there is no residue remaining.

Eau de fishes
Fish scales hiding under a flap!

Our work is inspected by a member of the crew. If it were the military, the officer would have had white gloves on I believe, just like in the old movies, rolling his finger over a remote spot looking for the dust we missed. But this is a shining stainless steel fish lab so there are two simultaneous inspections going on at once – the one with the eyes and the one with the nose.  It takes us twice to pass the visual inspection as small collections of fish scales are spotted in a few out-of‐the way areas. It takes us one more pass to clear the smell inspection. Up and down the line we walk, we can all smell the faint lingering perfume of “eau de fishes,” but we are having trouble finding it. We keep following our noses and there it is. Hiding under a black rubber flap at the end of the fish sorting line we find a small collection of fish scales revealed  when the flap is removed for inspection.  With that little section cleaned up and sprayed down the lab is declared done! There is a smile of satisfaction from the team. It is that attention to detail that explains why the lab never smelled of fish when I first boarded the ship 10 days ago nor has it smelled of fish at any time during our voyage. There is a personal pride in leaving the lab in the same shape we found  it. Super clean, all gear and samples stowed, and ready for the next crew to come on board – whenever that turns out to be.

The abrupt and unexpected end to the cruise leaves me scrambling to change my travel plans. Like the ship, I have a limited amount of time to make it home on my government travel orders. The NOAA Teacher at Sea team goes above and beyond to rebook my flights and find me a room for the night.

Personal Log 

On the serendipitous side, the change in plans gives me a little time to see Newport, a town famous for its mansions and the Tennis Hall of Fame.  My first  stop is  the Tennis  Hall  of  Fame.  My father was a first class  tennis  player who invested many  hours  attempting to

teach his  son the game. Despite the passion in  our  home  for  the  great  sport  we  never  made it  to  the  Tennis  Hall  of  Fame in  Newport.  Today I get the  chance to fulfill that  bucket  list  goal. I still remember being court side as a young boy at The  Philadelphia Indoor Championships watching the likes of Charlie Pasarell, Arthur Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. There was even a picture of the grass court lawn of the Germantown Cricket Club from its days a USTA championship venue before the move to Forest Hill, NY. I grew up playing on those tennis courts as my father belonged to that  club. Good memories.

Clark Log 4b

There was also a  “court tennis” court, the game believed to be the precursor  to outdoor  tennis. Court  tennis derived from playing a  tennis  type  game  inside a walled‐in  court yard.  Using  the  roof and  the  wall and the open side windows to beat your opponent is all part of the game. I played court tennis as a  young teen. It’s a very unique game that is only played in a few spots now. There are only 38 court tennis courts in the world and Newport has two of them. If you like tennis, give court tennis a go if  you ever get the  chance.

The tennis court

Thoughts of a leisurely stroll evolve into a brisk walk as I head toward the ultimate and most famous Newport mansion: The Breakers, the 100,000 plus square foot summer home of the Vanderbilt family. This house has to be toured to understand the conspicuous consumption as a  pastime of the then super rich. My 2000 square foot  home would fit entirely inside  the  grand  hall  of  the  Breakers.  In  fact you could stack my home three high and they would still be below the Breaker’s ceiling. A ceiling inspired by Paris, a billiard room with walls of solid marble overlooking the ocean, a floor of thousands of mosaic floor tiles all put  down by hand one by one, a stair case from Gone With the Wind, and 20 bathrooms to choose from all speak  to the wealth and pursuit of elegance enjoyed by  the Vanderbilt clan. It is a lifestyle of a bye–gone era often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” It is  an apt description.

Clark Log 4dClark Log 4e

Clark Log 4g

After sightseeing, it’s off to the bus stop for my shuttle to the Newport Airport where I take off at dawn the next morning to head for  home. I’m  leaving  so  early that the complementary coffee isn’t out yet! After an uneventful flight comes the end to an amazing adventure. Nothing left now except laundry and memories. And lots of great ideas for lesson plans to work into my classes. Thank you NOAA Teacher at Sea Program for offering me the learning experience of a lifetime. I cannot wait to get back and share the experiences with my students.

Clark Log 4h

John Clark, September 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea John Clark

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

September 23 – October 4, 2013

Clark Log 3gMission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 27, 2013

Science and Technology  Log 

It’s going to be a busy night trawling and processing our catch.  Yippee. I like  being busy as the time passes more quickly and I learn about more fish. A large number of trawling areas are all clustered together for our shift. For the most part that means the time needed to collect data on one trawl is close to the amount of time needed for the ship to reach the next trawling area. The first trawl was a highlight for me as we collected, for the first time,  a few puffer fish and one managed to stay inflated so I had a picture taken with that one.

We found a puffer
We found a puffer

However, on this night there was more than just puffer fish to be photographed with. On this night we caught the big one that didn’t get away. One trawl brings in an amazing catch of 6 very large striped bass and among them is a new record: The largest striped bass ever hauled in by NOAA Fisheries! The crew let me hold it up. It was very heavy and  I kept hoping it would not start flopping around. I could just see myself letting go and watching it slip off the deck and back into the sea. Fortunately, our newly caught prize reacted passively to my photo op. I felt very lucky that the big fish was processed at the station I was working at. When Jakub put the big fish on the scale it was like a game show – special sounds were emitted from our speakers and out came the printed label confirming our prize  – “FREEZ – biggest fish ever “-‐-‐the largest Morone Saxatilis (striped bass) ever caught by a NOAA Fisheries research ship.  It was four feet long. I kept  waiting for the balloons to come down from the ceiling.

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

Every member of the science team sorts fish but at the  data  collection tables my role  in the  fish lab is one of “recorder”. I’m teamed  with  another scientist who serves  as  the “cutter”, in this  case Jakub. That person collects the information I enter into the computer. The amount of data collected  depends on  the quantity and  type of fish  caught in  the net. I help  record  data on length, weight, sex, sexual development, diet, and scales. Sometimes fish specimens or parts of a fish, like the backbone of a goose fish, are preserved. On other occasions, fish, often the small ones are frozen for further study. Not every scientist can make it on to the Bigelow to be directly part of the trip so species data and samples are collected in accordance with their requests.

Collecting data from a fish as large as our striped bass is not easy. It is as big as the processing sink at our data collection  station and it takes Jakub’s skill with a hacksaw-‐-‐yes I said hacksaw-‐-‐to open up the back of the head  of the striped  bass and retrieve  the  otolith, the  two small bones  found behind the head that are  studied to determine  age. When we  were  done, the fish was bagged and placed in the deep freeze for  further  study upon our return. On the good side we only froze one of the six striped bass that we caught so we got to enjoy some great seafood for dinner. The team filleted over 18 pounds of striped bass for the chef to cook up.

Too big for the basket
Too big for the basket

More Going On: 

Processing the  trawl is not the  only data  collection activity taking place on the  Bigelow.  Before most trawls begin the command comes down to “deploy the bongos”. They are actually a pair  of  closed end nets similar to nets used to catch butterflies only much longer. The name bongo comes from the deployment apparatus that holds the pair of nets. The top resembles a set of bongo drums with one net attached to each one. Their purpose, once deployed, is to collect plankton samples for further study. Many fish live off plankton until they are themselves eaten by a predator farther up the food chain so the health of plankton is critical to the success of  the ecological food chain in the oceans.


Before some other trawls, comes the command to deploy the CTD device. When submerged to a target  depth  and  running in  the water as the ship  steams forward, this long fire extinguisher sized  device measures conductivity and temperature at specified depths of the ocean. It is another tool for measuring the health of the ocean and how current water conditions can impact the health  of the marine life and also the food chain in the area.

Personal Log 

On a personal note, I filleted a fish for the first time today – a  flounder. Tanya, one  of the science crew taught me how to do it. I was so excited about the outcome that I did another one!

Processing fish
Processing fish

Clark Log 3gg

A mix of fish
A mix of fish

Paired trawl
Paired trawl

Learning to fillet
Learning to fillet

John Clark, September 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea John Clark

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

September 23 – October 4, 2013

The galley
The galley

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 25, 2013

Science and Technology  Log 

I was  told  that  the  first  12  hour night watch shift was the hardest for staving off sleep and those who spoke were right. Tonight’s  overnight shift seems to be flying by and I’m certainly awake. Lots of trawling and sorting this  evening with four sorts complete by 6am. One was just full of dogfish, the shark looking fish,  and  they  process  quickly  because  other  than  weight  and  length there is little request for other data. The dogfish were sorted at the bucket end of the job so determining sex had already been completed by the time the fish get to my workstation. Again I’m under the mentorship of Jakub who can process fish faster than I can print and place labels on the storage envelopes. The placement of the labels is my weakness as I have no fingernails and removing the paper backing from the sticky label is awkward and time consuming. Still tonight I’m showing speed improvement over last night. Well at least I’m getting the labels on straight most of the time.

Sorting fish
Sorting fish

In  addition  to  the  dogfish,  we  have  processed  large  quantities  of  skate  (the  one  that  looks  like a  sting  ray to me), left  eyed flounders, croakers (no relation to the frog), and sea robins of which there are two types, northern and stripe. The sea robins are  very colorful with the  array of spines just behind the  mouth. And yes it hurts when one of the spines goes through your glove. Sadly for me sorting has been less exciting tonight.  With  the big fish being grabbed off at the front of the line there has been little left for me to sort. I feel like the goal keeper in soccer  – just  don’t let them get past me. To my great surprise, so far I’ve experienced no real fear of touching the fish. The gloves are very nice to work with.

Species in specific buckets
Species in specific buckets

And let us not overlook the squid. There have been pulled in by the hundreds in the runs today. There are two types of squids, long fin (the lolligo) and short fin (the illex). What they both have in common is the ability to make an incredible mess. They are slimy on the outside and  inky on the inside. They remind me of a fishy candy bar with really big eyes. And  for all the fish  that enjoy their squid  treat the species  is,  of  course,  (wait  for  it) just  eye  candy.  The  stories  about  the  inking  are  really  true. When  upset, they give  off ink; lots of ink. And  they are very upset by the time they reach the data collection stations. If you could bottle their ink you would  never need  to  refill your pen  again. They are also  very, very  plentiful which  might explain  why there are no requests to collect additional data beyond  how long they are. I guess they are not eye candy to marine scientists. However, there vastness is also their virtue. As a food source for many larger species of marine life, an absence of large quantities of squid in our trawling nets would be a bad sign for the marine ecosystem below us.

Safety equipment
Safety equipment

When the squid are missing, our friend the Skate (which of  the four  types does not  matter)  is glad to pick up  the slack on  the “messy to work with” front. As this species makes it down the sorting and data collecting line the internal panic button goes  off and they exude this thick, slimy substance  that covers their bodies and makes them very slippery customers at  the weigh stations.  It turns out the small spines on the tails were placed there so that fisheries researchers could have a fighting chance to handle them without dropping. Still, a skate sliding onto the floor is a frequent event and provides comic relief for all working at the data collection stations.

Clark Log 2There was new species in the  nets tonight, the  Coronet fish which looks like  along  drink straw with stripes  and a string attached to the back end. It is  pencil thick and about a foot long without the string. We only caught it twice during the trip. The rest of the hauls replicate past  sorting as dogfish, robins, skates, squid, croakers, and flounder are the bulk of the catch. I’ve been told that the diversity and size of the trawl should  be more abundant as we steam along the coastline heading north  from the lower coast of  New Jersey. Our last trawl of the shift, the nets deployed collect two species new for our voyage, but ones I actually recognized despite my limited knowledge of fish – the Horseshoe Crab and a lobster! I grew up seeing those on the Jersey shore.  We only got one lobster and after measuring  it we let  go  back  to  grow  some  more.  It  only  weighed in at less than two pounds.

Personal Log 

The foul weather suit we wear to work the line does not leave the staging room where they are stored as wearing them around the ship is not  allowed. After  watching others, I have mastered the art  of  pushing the wader pants over the rubber boots and  thus leaving them set-‐up  for quick donning and  removal of  gear  throughout  the shift.

While the work is very interesting on board, the highlight of each  day is meal time. Even though I work the night  shift (which ends at  noon) I take a nap right after my shift so I can  be  up  and  alert in  time  for dinner. My favorite has been  the T-‐bone steaks with Monterey seasoning and  any of the fish cooked up from our trawling like scallops or flounder. The chef, Dennis, and his assistant, Jeremy serve up some really fine cuisine. Not fancy but very tasty. There is a new soup every day at  lunch and so far my favorite has been the cream of tomato. I went back for seconds! Of course, breakfast is the meal all of us on the night watch  look forward  to  as there is no  meal service between midnight and  7am. After 7 hours of just snacking and  coffee, we are ready for  some solid food by the time breakfast  is served.

Seas continue to be  very calm and the  weather sunny and pleasant. That’s quite a surprise for the North Atlantic in the fall. And  the sunrise today was amazing. The Executive Officer, Chad Cary, shared that the weather we are experiencing should continue for at least four more days. I am  grateful  for  the  calm weather – less  chance  to  experience  sea  sickness.  That is something I’m determined to avoid if possible.

John Clark, Hi Ho, Hi Ho It’s Off to Work We Go, September 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 24, 2013

Survival suits!
Survival suits!

Science and Technology  Log 

Today is my first full 12 hour shift day. I’m on the night crew working midnight to noon. Since we left port yesterday I’ve been  trying to  adjust my internal clock for pulling daily “all night”ers.  On Monday, after we  left port, safety briefs for all hands occurred once we made it out to sea and I got to complete my initiation into the Teacher at Sea alumni program  – the donning of  the Gumby suit as I call it. It is actually a bright red wet suit that covers your entire body and makes you look like a TV Claymation figure from the old TV show. In actuality it is designed to help you survive if  you need to abandon ship. Pictures are  of course taken to preserve this rite of passage.

The Henry B. Bigelow is a specially-built NOAA vessel designed to conduct fisheries research at sea.  Its purpose is to collect data that will help scientists assess the health of the Northern Coastal Atlantic Ocean and the fish populations that inhabit it. The work is invaluable to the commercial fishing industry.

The Bigelow in port
The Bigelow in port

Yesterday, I learned how we will go about collecting fisheries data. Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Peter Chase, has selected  locations for sampling the local fish population and the ship officers have developed a sailing plan that will enable the ship to visit all those locations, weather permitting, during the course of the voyage. To me its sounds like a well-‐planned  game of connecting the dots. At each target location, a trawling net  will be deployed and dragged near the bottom of the sea for a 20 minute period at a speed of 3 knots. Hence the reason  this voyage is identified as a bottom trawl survey mission. To drag the bottom without damaging the nets is not easy and there are five spare nets on board in case something goes wrong. To minimize the chance of damaging the net during a tow, the survey technicians use the wide beam sonar equipment to survey the bottom prior to deployment. Their goal is to identify a smooth path for the net to follow. The fish collected in the net are sorted and studied, based on selected criteria, once on board. A  specially designed transport system moves the fish from the net to the sorting and data collection stations inside the wet lab. I’m very excited to see how it actually works during my upcoming shift.

The big net.
The big net.

Work is already underway when our night crew checks in. The ship runs 24/7  and the nets have been down  and trawling since 7pm. Fish sorting and data collection  are  already underway.  I don my foul  weather gear which  looks  like a set of waders used for British fly fishing.  There is also a top jacket  but the weather is pleasant  tonight and the layer is not needed. I just need to sport some gloves and get to work. I’m involved with processing  two trawls of fish right away. I’m assigned to work with an experienced member of the science team, Jakub. We will be collecting information on the species of fish caught on each trawl.  Jakub carries out the role as cutter, collecting the physical  information or fish parts needed by the scientists. My role is recorder and  I enter data about the particular fish  being evaluated  as well package up  and  store the parts of the fish  being retained  for future study.

Ship equipment
Ship equipment

Data collection on each fish harvest is a very detailed. Fish are sorted by species as they come down the moving sorting line where they arrive after coming up the conveyer belt system from the “dump”  tank, so  named  because that is where the full nets deposit their  bounty. Everybody on the line sorts fish. Big fish get  pulled off  first  by the experienced scientists at  the start  of  belt  and then volunteers such as I pull off the smaller fish. Each  fish  is placed  into  a bucket by type of fish. There are three types of buckets and each bucket has a  bar code  tag. The  big laundry  looking  baskets  hold  the  big  fish,  five  gallon  paint buckets hold  the smaller fish, and  one gallon  buckets (placed  above the sorting line) hold  the unexpected  or small species. On  each  run  there is generally one fish  that is not sorted  and  goes all the way to the end untouched and unceremoniously ends up in the catch-‐all container at the  end of the  line. The watch leader weighs the buckets and then links the bar code on the bucket to the type of fish in it. From there  the  buckets are  ready for data  collection.

Clark Log 1d
The sorting line

After sorting the fish, individual data collection begins “by the bucket” where simultaneously at three different stations the sizing, weighing, and computer requested activities  occur. By  random sample certain work  is  performed on that fish. It  gets weighed and usually opened up to retrieve something from inside the fish. Today, I’ve observed several types of  data collection. Frequently requested are removal of  the otolith, two small bones in the head that  are used to help determine the age of  the fish. For bigger fish with vertebra,  such  as  the  goose  fish,  there  are periodic  requests  to  remove a  part  of  the backbone and  ship  it off for testing. Determining sex is recorded  for many computer tagged  fish  and  several are checked stomach contents.

Of the tools used to record data from the fish, the magic magnetized measuring system is the neatest. It’s  rapid  fire  data  collecting  at  its  finest.  The  fish  goes  flat  on  the measuring  board;  head  at  the  zero point, and  then a quick touch  with  a magnetized block at the end  of the fish  records the length  and  weight. Sadly, it marks the end of tall tales about the big  one that got  away and keeps getting bigger as the story is retold. The length of  the specimen is accurately recorded for  posterity in an instant.


clark 1e

Personal Log

Flying into Providence  over the  end of Long Island and the  New England coast line  is breath taking. A jagged,  sandy  coast  line  dotted  with  summer  homes  just  beyond  the  sand dunes. To line  up  for  final  approach we  fly right over Newport where  the  Henry B. Bigelow is berthed at the  Navy base  there. However, I  am  not  able  to  spot  the  NOAA  fisheries  vessel that  will be my home for the next two weeks from the air.Clark Log 4b

I arrive a day prior  to sailing so I have half a day to see the sites of Newport, Rhode Island  and  I know exactly where  I’m headed – the Tennis Hall of  Fame. My father was a first class tennis player who invested  many  hours  attempting  to  teach  his  son  the  game.  Despite  the  passion in  our  home  for  the great sport we  never made  it to the  Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. Today I fulfilled that bucket  list  goal. I still remember being  court side  as a  young boy at The  Philadelphia  Indoor Championship watching the likes of  Charlie Pasarell, Arthur  Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing  on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. Also  in  the museum, to  my surprise, was a picture of the grass court lawn of the  Germantown Cricket Club from its days as a USTA championship venue. I  grew up playing on  those  grass tennis courts as my father  belonged to that  club. After seeing that picture, I left the museum knowing my father  got  as much out  of  the visit  as I did.

Story Miller, July 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Story Miller
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 20, 2010

Time: 1240
Latitude: 53°51N
Wind: 7 knots (approx. 8.055mph)
Direction: 202° (SW)
Sea Temperature: 9.22°C (approx. 48.596°F)
Air Temperature: 9.82°C (approx. 49.676°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1023.8

Scientific Information

Figure 1: View of the low fog, clouds and sunset in Dutch Harbor the night of the delay.

What Is NOAA and How Can You Get Involved?
NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and is part of the United States Department of Commerce. NOAA is involved around the world and there are many different avenues one could become involved with. For example, some people are involved in forecasting the location of the next hurricane strike, which means that you could be responsible for saving the lives of people living in those areas. If climate change is of a particular interest, you could aid in the monitoring of global weather systems to make climate predictions for the future. If ecological studies suit you, a job with NOAA could involve collecting data from costal environments to continue efforts of preserving healthy ecosystems. Perhaps your studies and data analysis would aid in the critical decision making processes of businesses around the world, such as creating and enforcing policies for the fisheries industry to maintain its resources for the future.  Mapping is equally important and part of your experience with NOAA could involve creating or enhancing navigational data to aid in the protection of ships and prevent potential accidents. Finally, perhaps you are interested in commanding a NOAA ship or piloting a NOAA aircraft. In that case, you could become part of the NOAA Corps.

The Mission

The primary mission of the Oscar Dyson is the Walleye Pollock survey, which consists of conducting Acoustic Surveys and Fishery Survey Trawls. The acoustic survey relies on sonar waves that are powerful enough to detect fish at different depths. Once the fish is located on the sonar screen, the trawl net is then accurately deployed to a specific depth depending on where the targeted fish species are located. This depth can range from 16 meters from the surface all the way down to 3 meters from the bottom.  The net is then hauled onto the ship’s aft deck and the contents are spread on the table in the lab for sorting and identification. Different species, such as the Walleye Pollock, will be measured for size, sex, and age before being released overboard. Some other species like Pacific Cod and Arrowtooth Flounder will be collected for additional studies.

Delays, Delays!

Monday, July 19th appeared to be a rare, sunny day in Dutch Harbor for most of the afternoon. We were scheduled to leave Dutch Harbor at 1500h but due to baggage problems for those who recently arrived in Dutch Harbor, we were delayed until the next day. Because of the short airstrip in Dutch Harbor, the sizes of the airplanes are smaller than those of regular airports. Currently Pen Air uses SAAB Turboprop airplanes. These planes are small and hold about thirty passengers. They are typically used for small air carriers for short commutes.  Another critical factor involved with flights is weight. For every passenger, think of the additional weight of all the bags each person has. Most people fly with one or two bags, each weighing 50lbs or less and in our case, some people also had additional bags carrying scientific equipment.

Figure 2: A typical foggy day in Dutch Harbor, Monday, July 19th, 2010

Weight in an airplane causes the plane to use more fuel and smaller airplanes cannot carry as much fuel as the other airplanes, such as Boeing 737 aircraft, commonly used for longer commutes by larger airlines. Because of the distance between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, full flights generally need to make a stop in the small villages of King Salmon or Cold Bay to refuel. Other difficulties faced by the airport in Dutch Harbor are that the airstrip is a “daylight only” landing zone and the weather can be quite hazardous. Winds reaching up to 90 mph are not uncommon and in the summer, low fog becomes a visibility issue. If the pilots do not have a specific range of visibility, they cannot land. Therefore, the necessity of refueling in Cold Bay or King Salmon is critical because many times when the plane reaches the airport and hazardous weather conditions are preventing a safe landing, the airplane must have enough fuel to circle the airport in hope for a sliver of time when landing conditions are safe and, if necessary, enough fuel to fly all the way back to King Salmon or Cold Bay. Again, weight is an issue in the fuel consumption of an airplane and therefore, on full flights, the airplane must sometimes “bump” bags, which means that sometimes your checked bag will not make it on the flight you are on and will be scheduled on a later flight. This of course isn’t a bad plan except that the weather in Dutch can change from one extreme to the next in a matter of fifteen minutes. In our case, to add to the difficulty of getting our bags, it was explained to us that because the air had become warmer, it lessened the lift on the airplane which was another reason why the planes did not carry very many bags that day. With all these important technicalities, one could maybe understand why flying into Dutch Harbor can be difficult. Therefore, some people have successful flights and others experience the “flight to nowhere” which involves flying part or the entire three hours to Dutch Harbor, circling or waiting in Cold Bay, and then flying back to Anchorage. One could say that you are not a local until you have experienced this situation a few times!

Personal Log:

My first day on the boat proved to be interesting as I quickly learned my way around the ship. I sometimes make the analogy of myself being like a rat in a maze trying to find the cheese. In a way it is accurate because the cook on board has made some fantastic dinners and I’ve been successful at finding the mess hall by simply following my nose! For supper on Monday night, we had a buffet-style dinner and I was pleasantly surprised with the menu as I helped myself to prime rib and king crab legs!

Figure 3: Me in front of the Oscar Dyson, Monday, July 19th, 2010 (notice the extreme weather change!)

On Tuesday, we were able to get underway at approximately 1300. Before pulling away from the dock, we needed to test our FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) to make sure it was functional in the possible event of an emergency. Once we knew the FRB was functional, we hauled it back onto the boat. As soon as we began to move, I went to the flying bridge (the highest deck on the ship) to catch a glimpse of Dutch Harbor and to watch the local birds sitting on the water. Most of the birds I saw were tufted puffins. I always find them amusing because if you get near them when they have eaten too many fish, they try to fly away but their belly is too heavy. Therefore they simply skim over the water, wings flapping intensely, and bellies dragging over the top of the water!

Figure 4: Lead Fisherman Dennis Boggs and Skilled Fisherman Mike Tortorella testing the FRB

Some advances in healthcare that I am extremely excited about is that I have found a seasickness medication that does not knock me out in under 5 minutes and that works for a long period of time. Thank you Meclizine!
Currently we are underway and have approximately 381 miles northwest to travel before we make our waypoint which will take approximately 28 hours. As of right now, my job has been to get acclimated to the ship. Work will begin Thursday at sunrise, about 0700).  My current shifts will run from 0400h to 1600h each day. I cannot wait to begin the first part of my assignment!

Animals Spotted By Me Today:
Blackfooted Albatross
Tufted Puffin
Sea Otter
Fur Seal

Something To Ponder:
Regarding NOAA fish surveys, such as the Pollock Survey I’m participating in, what impacts would the scientific information collected have on the fishery industry regarding revenue and long term success?

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.


Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Anne Byford, June 11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location:  off the coast of New England
June 11, 2010

Weather Data at 1:35pm
EDT: Clear, 14.4˚C
Location at 1:35pm
EDT: Lat: 40 30.07 N
Long: 69 08.66 W
Water Depth: 77.5 m
4th Day at Sea

Why Count Sea Scallops?

That had to be the most common question I got asked before coming on this trip. Much of the information below is from the NOAA FishWatch website (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/atl_sea_scallop.htm).

Economically, sea scallops are an important species; in 2008 the scallop harvest was about 53.5 million pounds and was worth about $370 million. The population is not currently considered to be overfished and has been above minimum sustainable levels since 2001. Formal management began in 1982 with the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fisheries Management Plan. The management plan includes limiting new permits, restrictions on gear and on the number of crew on a boat. Since about 2000, the biomass of scallops has been increasing. Biomass is estimated by using the weight of scallops per tow on cruises like this one. Combinations of biomass estimates and estimates of the commercial catch are used to update and adjust the management plan.

Sea Scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are filter feeders. They can live up to 20 years and begin reproducing at about 2 years, with maximum fertility reached at 4 years. A single female scallop can produce up to 270 million eggs in her life. This high reproductive capacity has helped the scallop population recover relatively quickly. Gender can be determined by the color of the gonad; females are orange while the male gonad is white. Adult scallops average between 6 and 7 inches from hinge to tip (called height) but can be as big as 9 inches. Age can be estimated by counting the rings on the shell. Scallops can “swim” by opening and closing the two shells. This is a useful adaptation for escaping from predators, including flounder, cod, lobsters, crabs, and sea stars. Scallops are harvested for the adductor muscle (the one that opens and closes the shell). There is no commercial aquaculture of scallops in the US as of August 2009.

scallop dorsal and ventral

Personal Log

A storm moved through beginning on Wed. evening (day 2) and stayed with us most of Thursday. By the end of shift on Wednesday, we were working on deck in full foul weather gear and life jackets. Thursday we had an 8 hour steam between dredge sites and by the end of shift on Thursday, the seas had begun to smooth out. Friday was quite nice, weather-wise.

I am learning to shuck scallops, though I am about half the speed of many on the boat. I am also learning to tell the various types of flounder and other fish apart as well. It’s not always obvious which type of founder or hake is which.

New Species

Goose fish (aka monk fish), several more varieties of flounder, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, eel pout, some very large skates, 3 types of sea stars and 1 type of brittle star.

Richard Chewning, June 15th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 15th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: eastern Bering Sea
Time: 1530
Latitude: N 55 47.020
Longitude: W 165 24.970
Cloud Cover: overcast
Wind: 14 knots
Temperature: 6.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1003.7 mbar

Science and Technology Log

In addition to researchers on the lookout for seabirds, the Oscar Dyson is also hosting researchers hoping to catch a glimpse of some the world’s largest animals: marine mammals. Either ocean dwelling or relying on the ocean for food, marine mammals include cetaceans (whales, porpoises, and dolphins), manatees, sea lions, sea otters, walrus, and polar bears. Although marine mammals can be enormous in size (the largest blue whale ever recorded by National Marine Mammal Laboratory scientists was 98 feet long or almost the length of a ten story building laid on its side!), studying marine mammals at sea can be challenging as they spend only a short time at the surface. Joining the Dyson from the NMML on this cruise are Suzanne Yin, Paula Olson, and Ernesto Vazquez. As a full time observer, Yin spends most of the year on assignment on various vessels sailing on one body of water or another and only occasionally is to be found transitioning through her home of San Francisco, California. Paula calls San Diego, California home and spends most of her time when not observing at sea working on a photo identification database of blue and killer whales. Ernesto is a contract biologist from La Paz, Mexico and has been working on and off with NOAA for several years. Ernesto has worked with several projects for the Mexican government including ecological management of the Gulf of California Islands.

Yin keeping warm from the cold

Ernesto keeping sharp lookout for marine mammals

Paula keeping an eye on the horizon

Yin, Paula, and Ernesto undoubtedly have the best view on the Oscar Dyson. Working as a three member team, they search for their illusive quarry from the flying bridge. The flying bridge is the open air platform above the bridge where the ship’s radar, communication equipment, and weather sensors are located. One observer is positioned both on the front left and front right corners of the flying bridge. Each observer is responsible for scanning the water directly in front to a line perpendicular to the ship forming a right angle. Two powerful BIG EYE binoculars are used to scan this to scan this 90 degree arc. These binoculars are so powerful they can spot a ship on the horizon at over ten miles (even before the Dyson’s radar can detect the vessel!). The third person is stationed in the middle of the flying bridge and is responsible for surveying directly ahead of the ship and for scanning the blind spot just in front of the ship that is too close for the BIG EYES to see. This person is also responsible for entering sightings into a computer database via a lap top computer. The three observers rotate positions every thirty minutes and take a thirty minute break after one full rotation. One complete shift lasts two hours. Yin, Paula, and Ernesto start soon after breakfast and will continue observing until 9:30 at night if conditions allow.

Dall’s porpoise

Weather can produce many challenges for marine mammal observers as they are exposed to the elements for hours at a time. Fortunately, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto are well prepared. Covered from head to toe wearing insulated Mustang suits (the name come from the manufacturer), they are pretty well protected from light spray, wind, and cold. Although a certain amount of the face is always exposed, a shoulder high wind shield helps deflect most of the spray and wind. In addition to wind chill and wind burn, a strong wind can also produce large rolling waves called swells that make viewing through the BIG EYES next to impossible. Sometimes reducing visibility so much that the bow can barely be seen the bridge, fog is undoubtedly a marine mammal observer’s greatest adversary.

Humpback whales through the Big Eyes

Salmon fishing operation through the Big Eyes

So far during the cruise, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto have spotted many blows on the horizon and have identified several species of marine mammals. A common sighting is the Dall’s porpoise. Your eyes are easily drawn towards these fun marine mammals as they produce characteristic white splashes by repeatedly breaking the water’s surface exposing a white stripe on their side. Blows from fin whales have also been regularly observed. Other sightings include killer whales, humpback whales, Pacific white sided dolphins, and a rare sighting of a Baird’s beaked whale.

Personal Log

Life aboard a constantly moving platform can take a little getting used to! I imagine if a person doesn’t live in an area frequented by earthquakes, one will easily take for granted the fact that the ground usually remains stable and firm underfoot (I know I did!). Over the last view days, steady winds from the south have conspired to create conditions ideal for rolling seas. Large swells (waves created by winds far away) make the Dyson very animated as we push forward on our survey transects. In addition to making deployments of gear more difficult, routine personal tasks soon assume a challenging nature as well. Whether you are simply getting dressed in the morning, trying to make your way to your seat with lunch in hand, or taking a shower in the evening, a constantly pitching and rolling deck will make even a seasoned deckhand wobble and stumble from time to time.

Building seas

A piece of advice I have often heard during these conditions calls for “one hand for you and one for the ship”. Maintaining three points of contact with ship, especially when moving between decks, can save you from being tossed off balance. The crew is very considerate of these conditions and allows even more understanding than customary when you bump into shipmates. I have also learned the importance of securing any loose equipment and personal items after usage during rough seas as they might not be in the same place when you return. In addition to waking several times during the night and having a restless sleep, these conditions will also leave you feeling stiff and fatigued in the morning after a bumpy night of being tossed around in your rack. Once you muster the strength to get moving, your legs become surprisingly tired as you constantly try to keep your balance. Along with the rest of the crew, the Dyson also feels the effects of jogging through rough seas as you constantly hear the rhythmic sounds of the bow plowing though the next wave and of the ship’s superstructure groaning under the strain.

Measuring the Dyson’s roll

Passing through the fog

Did you know? Fog is essentially a cloud on the ground’s surface.