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.

Donna Knutson: Dredging, June 16, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – June 24, 2016


2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast
Date: June 16, 2016




Mission and Geographical Area: 

The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank.  NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.

Me hat

Science and Technology:

Latitude:  40 32.475 N

Longitude:  67 59.499 W

Clouds: overcast

Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles

Wind: 7.4 knots

Wave Height: 1-4 ft.

Water Temperature:  53 F

Air Temperature:  63 F

Sea Level Pressure:  29.9 in of Hg

Water Depth: 103 m


Science Blog:

Paired with the HabCam, dredging adds more data points to the scallop survey and also to habitat mapping.   Various locations are dredged based on a stratified random sampling design.  This method uses the topography of the ocean bottom as a platform and then overlays a grid system on top. The dredged areas, which are selected randomly by a computer program, allow for a good distribution of samples from the area based on topography and depth.

Vic and Tasha sewing up the net on the dredge.
Vic and Tasha sewing up the net on the dredge.

A typical dredge that used for the survey is similar to those used by commercial fisherman, but it is smaller with a width of 8 ft. and weight of 2000 lbs.  It is towed behind a ship with a 9/16 cable attached to a standard winch.  Dredges are made from a heavy metal such as steel and is covered in a chain mesh that is open in the front and closed on the other three sides making a chain linked net made of circular rings.

A fisherman’s dredge has rings large enough for smaller animals to fall through and become released to the bottom once again.  The dredge in a survey has a mesh lining to trap more creatures in order to do a full survey of the animals occupying a specific habitat.

There are three categories of catch received in a dredge: substrate, animals and shell.  A qualitative assessment on percent abundance of each is done for every dredge.  Not all animals are measured, but all are noted in the database.

Dredge being dumped on sorting table.
Dredge being dumped on sorting table.

A length measurement is taken for every scallop, goosefish (also called monkfish), cod, haddock, as well as many types of flounder and skate. A combined mass is taken for each species in that dredged sample.  Some animals are not measured for length, like the wave whelk (a snail), Jonah crab, and fish such as pipefish, ocean pout, red hake, sand lance; for these and several other types of fish, just a count and weight of each species is recorded.

Sorting the dredged material.
Sorting the dredged material.

Other animals may be present, but not

counted or measured and therefore are called bycatch.  Sand dollars make up the majority of bycatch. Sponges, the polychaete Aphrodite, hermit crabs, shrimp and various shells are also sorted through but not counted or measured.

Ocean pout
Ocean pout

All of the dredge material that is captured is returned to the ocean upon the required sorting, counting and measuring.  Unfortunately, most of the fish and invertebrates do not survive the ordeal.  That is why it is important to have a good sampling method and procedure to get the best results from the fewest dredge stations needed.

Goosefish, often called Monkfish, eat anything.
Goosefish, often called Monkfish, eat anything.

The dredge is placed on the bottom for only fifteen minutes.  There are sensors on the frame of the dredge so computers can monitor when the collection was started and when to stop.  Sensors also make certain each dredge is positioned correctly in the water to get the best representation of animals in that small sample area.

Entering the name of the animals to be measured.
Entering the name of the animals to be measured.

Even with sensors and scientists monitoring computers and taking animal measurements, the dredging can only give a 30-40% efficiency rating of the actual animals present. Dredging with the aid of the HabCam and partnerships with many scientific organizations, along with data from commercial fisherman and observer data, create a picture of abundance and distribution which can be mapped.

Adductor muscle the "meat" of the scallop. This on is unhealthy.
Adductor muscle the “meat” of the scallop. This one is unhealthy.

In the scallop survey the emphasis is on where are the most scallops present and this aids fisherman in selecting the best places to fish.  The survey also suggests where areas should be closed to fishing for a period, allowing scallops to grow and mature before harvesting.

This management practice of opening closed areas on a rotational basis has been accepted as beneficial for science, management, and fishermen. This method of balancing conservation and fishing protects habitats while still supplying the world with a food supply that is highly valued.

Personal Blog:

Being part of a dredging team is exciting.  It is a high energy time from the moment the contents are dropped on the sorting platform to the end when everything is rinsed off to get ready for the next drop.

Katryn "Kat" Delgado
Kateryn “Kat” Delgado

I wanted to take pictures of everything, but with gloves on it was hard to participate and help out or just be the bystander/photographer. Kateryn Delgado from Queens NY, a volunteer/student/scientist/yoga instructor/photographer, was very helpful.  She was involved in other surveys and often took pictures for me.

I did find it sad that the animals we sorting were not going to live long once returned to sea, but that is a part of the dredging that is inevitable.  Raw data needs to be collected.  After measuring, a percentage of the scallops were dissected to get their sex, abductor muscle (meat), and stomach.  Shell size was compared to the meat and gonad mass and is also used to age the scallop.  The stomach was removed to test for microplastics.  Dr. Gallager and his research team are studying microplastics in the ocean.   Scallops filter relatively large particles for a filter feeder, and therefore are a good species to monitor the abundance of plastics at the bottom of the ocean.DSCN7891 (2)sunset

The weather has been nice, not very warm, but the waves are low.  Just the way I like them.  We are making our way back to Woods Hole to refuel and get groceries.  I didn’t realize we would split up the leg into two parts.  We should be in around 10:00 a.m.  I’m going to go for a long walk since there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise on the ship.  Hope it’s sunny!


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)

Staci DeSchryver: Fossilotimus Abundicus! August 6th, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska, Kalsin Bay
Heading: 213.0 (Stationary)
Date: August 6, 2011,  11:24 pm

Weather Data From the Bridge: click to view station model
Dry Bulb Temp:  10.8C
Wet Bulb temp:  9.9C
Skies: Partly Cloudy, Stratocumulus
Pressure:  1013.3mb, falling then steady
Dewpoint:  10C

Science and Technology Log

As part of our stay on shore, we took some time to travel out to a place called Fossil Beach.  Fossil Beach is located on the south-eastern side of Kodiak Island, on Chiniak Bay.  It is a popular attraction on Kodiak because it is near the Kodiak launch complex (a defense missile base !) and it is a popular surf beach.  I, however, find it incredible for a completely separate reason:  an utter abundance of fossils!

There isn’t much background information to be found on Fossil Beach.  The greatest extent one might find on the internet is “Drive southeast on the only road out of Kodiak.  Find fossils.”  To the layperson going out fossil hunting, that should be enough information.  But for me, however…I wanted to know much more about the conditions of formation, the types of fossils found there, and the age of the rocks in which I was digging.  As it turns out, if I wanted to dig up information on Fossil Beach, I would have to be as clever as I was the day I discovered so many of our extinct marine critter shells.   This experience turned into a bit of a scientific research project for me, as I formed hypotheses, tested my predictions, and revised my original ideas based on new findings.  This, kids, is science.

Walking around the outcrop gave some insights into the environment in which this rock strata formed.  The fossils were definitely nested in dark, muddy shale.  I noticed lots of mollusks, particularly clamshells, at first glance.  Shells were deposited in big, thick, chunks and layers.  What I noticed initially is that they weren’t really fossils.  A fossil, by definition, has been mineralized to a certain extent.   These weren’t.  However, some scientists conclude that the actual fossilization process is not necessary to call a particular dead animal a fossil – the only requirement is an extended period of time locked up in a rock.

fossil beach
Here is just one example of the plethora of fossils found at fossil beach! it's hard to walk away and not try to find the story of these guys.

What are the criteria for fossil formation?  A dead critter needs rapid burial and possession of hard parts.  An anoxic environment helps, as well.  Most soft-bodied critters do not survive the fossilization process, as their flesh will decay so rapidly that there isn’t enough time to fossilize.  It is not unheard of, however, to find soft parts fossilized.  For example, a fly or mosquito trapped in amber is considered to be a fossil – its entire body intact in the clear, honey-colored stone.

My first question, of course, was “what was the environment of formation for this particular set of fossils?”  Meaning, what type of environment did these critters live in before they croaked?  We can narrow it down to two distinct, but broadly categorized areas:  land? Or sea?   Well, let’s think for a moment about the standard conditions for fossil formation and use that to define the environment of formation.  Criteria 1:  Rapid burial.  Criteria 2:  Possession of hard parts.  Criteria 3:  Anoxic environment.  Consider for a moment rapid burial.  In what places may we find rapid burial?  Volcanic eruptions?  Maybe.   Land or mudslide?  Also a viable solution.  The next step is to rule out (or in) these two options.  In a volcanic eruption, the fossils would most certainly be nested in a layer of ash.  In a mudslide or a landslide, these critters would be nested in coarse-grained rock like sandstone. In our mystery case, we have fossils buried in a shale – which is a fine-grained, silty rock associated with slow-moving or stagnant water.  Neither of these options work.

Let’s try criteria 2 – possession of hard parts.  These shells are mainly mollusk – in particular clam shells.  Where do clams live?  The water.  It wouldn’t make sense for a clam to be fossilized in the middle of the desert, now would it?  In addition, the presence of shale does not necessarily indicate rapid burial, but it does indicate that if it were at the bottom of the ocean, it would be undisturbed for many years as it was buried.

Criteria 3 – an anoxic environment.  In this case, if a clam dies at the bottom of the ocean, it may be considered an anoxic environment, but not for certain.

Hypothesis:  confirmed.  These critters once roamed our seas, based on Criteria 2.

Here is an example of calcareous concretions - something I saw at fossil beach, and later used the article to confirm that this formation was indeed the Narrow Cape Formation. The Narrow Cape Formation is characterized partly by this conspicuous row of calcareous concretions. Two points for cross-referencing evidence to a published document! Woot! Minus two point for not putting something next to it for scaling purposes - the concretion is about the size of a soccer ball. Par for the course.

The next question to ask was “how long ago did the fossilization party take place?”  This one is a little more difficult to answer, but with some stealthy sleuthing and some assistance from my fellow Teacher at Sea, Cat, we came to a reasonable conclusion regarding the time frame.

At first glance on a large geologic map of Alaska, Fossil Beach is described as a Paleozoic Era beach.  However, this map was so broad and basic that if we were to “zoom” in on it right down to fossil beach, our perceptions would change about the age and conditions of formation.

I thought I saw large ammonite fossils at the beach, which would have confirmed my suspicions about a Paleozoic beach.  What didn’t fit, however, was that the mollusk fossils were not “fossilized” – and a Paleozoic/Mesozoic fossil like an ammonite would make the rock layers any age between 542 and 206 million years old.  Now, it’s not completely unheard of to find fossil in your midst that has retained all of its qualities and still be extremely old – there are a few fossils out there that are considered fossils, but haven’t “fossilized” in the traditional sense.  But 206 million years?  One would suspect that is plenty of time for a fossil to fossilize.  It didn’t jive.  This was my first clue that maybe this beach was much younger than the broad geologic map suggested.

The broad geologic map is a bit like a mosaic.  When viewed from far away, all a person may see is the color “blue”.  Up close, however, the intricate pieces that make up the mosaic are individually selected for their different shades and textures.  With the broad geologic map of Alaska, I discovered it wasn’t detailed enough to give me the information I needed.  At a distance, there is one big picture – the colors on the map key indicate that the rock formations that make up Kodiak are predominantly Paleozoic Sedimentary rocks.  This is a bit like calling a brand new pair of Louis Vuitton peep toe black patent leather heels “shoes.”  It just doesn’t do it justice.

After looking further, Cat found a great article published online that discusses the nature of the formation of the beach. (I will cite it at the end of the post).  Most of the information following comes from that particular document.

The article also cites an abundance of microfossils. These could be an example of microfossils. They could also be nothing, but given the location, I'm pretty sure we have something, here.

The paper focuses on Sitkinak Island, an island just to the south of Kodiak, but it also mentions that the formation of rocks is one and the same.  The Kodiak formation is just a bit younger.  As it turns out, the rocks are deposited as part of the Narrow Cape Formation, a late Oligocene/early Miocene formation.  This translates into somewhere on the order of 10 million years old or so.  In particular, the paper cites the Juanian stage, which is the time frame that encompasses the last portion of the Oligocene and the first portion of the Miocene.

Even more interesting is that this paper reveals the type of ocean these particular fossils came from.  They originated from the outer edge of the neritic zone to the continental shelf.  If you recall, the neritic zone is the point at which the lowest of the low tide is all the way out to a depth of 200 meters.  Furthermore, the study reveals that the water was a cool-temperate marine climate, which means that the warmest water at the surface was about 10oC for approximately 3-4 months out of the year.

It was great to uncover the mysteries of fossil beach.  The only mystery remains is, what about the Ammonite I thought I found?  At this time, I absolutely cannot reconcile what happened there.  There are a couple of strong leads in terms of solutions to this question:  first, it may not be an ammonite at all.  Second, the broad geologic map does indicate Paleozoic sedimentary rock, which would be a perfect candidate for a critter like an ammonite.  Maybe the ammonites were from a completely different rock formation?

This is the mysterious ammonite (?) fossil. I'm not sure anymore if this is what this large critter is. I hope someone out there can help shed some light on this mysterious former beast.

Until I get back to land and get my hands on a copy of the Roadside Geology of Alaska (I looked everywhere in Kodiak to no avail!) this will have to suffice for my level of satisfaction with respect to fossil beach.  Check back to this blog often to see if my predictions were right!

Personal Log

Well, wouldn’t ya know it?  A tsunami line is painted right on base here at the Coast Guard!  There is no reason to travel or hike a ridiculous  amount when you can just stay right here and visit.  (However, for more information on ridiculous Alaskan hikes, please visit my other blog at www.mrsdisonaboat.blogspot.com – you’ll love it.)  We did see the line on the first day, I just haven’t had time to blog about it again, plus it took a considerable amount of time for me to finally get up the nerve to ask someone to stop a car so I could snag a picture!

It didn’t look that imposing at first.   At first glance, it looked like it was only about 3 or 4 feet from the ground.  I thought to myself, “Gee, this doesn’t look so bad…” until I walked up to the line.  It was bigger than I was!  Holy cow!  Even if I reached my arms all the way above my head, I couldn’t touch the lower portion of the line.  The picture is extremely deceptive, that’s for sure!  I thought about what it would be like to be a person who hears the siren warning of the impending emergency, and what it would be like to make for higher ground, hoping that however high you climbed would be enough to save you from the wicked influx of water.

Eesh…  I am thankful that so few lost their lives, but the sight of that line is a bit imposing.  Also (and not at the expense of the destruction, of course) wickedly, beastly cool.

Wow! The water level for this particular tsunami is enormous!

In other news, we have successfully thrown off the bow lines and set sail!  We were supposed to head out yesterday, but then something went wrong with the water system, causing a delay, and then one of the officers got sick and had to go home.  Luckily, we had a replacement officer standing by to take over.  We are so sorry that she came down ill, but so grateful that we had someone to take over!  As we left Women’s Bay this morning, I saw many otters playing about in the bull kelp.  Those little critters are too dang cute for words!  They poked their heads up for a few moments before doing a graceful backflip back in to the water.  But the most impressive sight of all took place about thirty minutes after we set sail.  Up on the flying bridge, we saw the telltale blow of a whale.  This was followed by two or three playful fluke slaps on the surface of the water.

breaching whale
Here, you can see the breaching whale....wait...Marshmallow! Get out of the way! Just kidding, I didn't get a picture of the whale breach - that happens so quickly! I have a lot of respect for people who can get a snapshot of such a cool experience!

And then, because he (or she) was as excited as we were to be sailing, the whale performed for us the most impressive breach!  You, go, sister!  We like the ocean, too!  In my fumbling wonder, I of course, took 9 or so pictures of the breaching whale using stop-motion photography for you to see below.  Too bad Marshmallow is in the way.

I am so happy and thankful to be out on the sea.  Now I see why people love it so much.  It has an interesting dichotomy.  On one hand, I feel so small – a large, blue, fog-covered expanse stretches out before me, nothing in sight for miles and miles.  On the other hand, I feel enormous.  As we left the bay, we traveled past the peninsula we had walked on so many times before.  Along the shoreline was an oil spill containment kit stored in a freight-train style container.  It looked so tiny from where we stood on the flying bridge.  It was as if we swapped positions – now we were the behemoths, and the spill kit was nothing more than a busted up shoreside lego.

I’m fascinated by the scales of this magnificent place – more so about how I fit in to them.  Everywhere I turn, the sizes of things – animals, projects, decks, horizons, anti-seasick meds, stories, waves, meals, ocean expanses, rock outcrops – everything, everything is large, even that which is the tiniest and seemingly insignificant.  Here is the place where small things commit powerful acts  – a tiny three-foot swell makes its presence known in more ways than one, and a small anti-seasick pill can keep me from worshipping at the feet of its effects.  A big ocean can throw around an enormous ship, and a humpback whale can effortlessly cut through it with its imposing  fins.  A project seemingly small (at least in this context of one ship, one crew, one survey leg, and one set of scientists) can spread awareness about the health of our fisheries to a something the size of a nation.  To top it off, we are completing it along the coast of our largest state – one that blends quietly in with our neighbors to the north, but not forgotten as a beautiful and expansive supplier of natural resources.  Everything small is large out here, and everything large is large.  For those who have spent too long at the dock, today they are home.  For those who have never left a dock before, today we feel your freedom.  And we love it, too.

*Information on Sitinak Island/Fossil Beach was summarized from the following:

Allison, Richard C.  A late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene molluscan fauna from Sitinak Island, Alaska.  United States Department of the Interior, Washington; 1981.

Pre-trip Pondering

JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011
Personal Log
I will be traveling in a few short weeks to join the crew of the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska.  During the voyage, I will be keeping this log up to date and documenting my “adventures” with a cartoon series as well.  
I hope that you will follow along, ask lots of questions, and travel with me digitally.  
Until our next adventure, Cat 

Robert Oddo, July 30, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Oddo
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown 
July 11 – August 10, 2009 

Mission: PIRATA (Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic)
Geographical area of cruise: Tropical Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2009

Deploying a buoy
Deploying a buoy

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Outside Temperature 25.50oC
Relative Humidity 87%
Sea Surface Temperature 25.75oC
Barometric Pressure 1017.3 inches
Latitude 20 09.721 N Longitude 33 34.806 W

Science and Technology Log 

On the 28th of July we did our 34th CTD and changed out our third buoy and started to steam west back towards the states. We have a break now from our 12-hour shifts and only have one more buoy to change out and only one more CTD to deploy. I wanted to write about a couple of things that I have noticed over the last couple weeks when sampling that I thought were noteworthy. The seawater we collect from 1500 feet down in the ocean, even though we are in the tropics, is still very cold. It is about 4 degrees C or 39 degrees F while the sea surface temperature is around 26 degrees C or 79 degrees F.

Nightly Science Seminar
Nightly Science Seminar

Another thing that is really cool is that when we are doing CTDs at night the lights from the ship attract squid and you can watch the squid chasing flying fish at the surface.  The last thing that is strange, is that every once in a while even though we are hundreds of miles away from land, a butterfly or dragonfly darts around the ship. You just wonder where they have come from.  Every night around 8 pm, there is meeting of all the scientists onboard. We usually get a weather briefing and then someone will give a seminar on the work they are doing. There are many links between the work that each scientist is doing on this ship and this is an important way to share ideas, get feedback and create new questions.

Personal Log 

There is down time on the ship and I wrote about the movies earlier.   We have a ping-pong table set up in the main lab where we play in our spare time. Since we are so far from any land, safety is very important on the ship. We have fire drills and abandon ship drills weekly. After the drill there is a briefing and the safety officer discusses some of the safety equipment the ship has and its use.  Today we went out to the fantail and the officers demonstrated how to use flares and smoke signals.

A little ping pong in the main lab (left) and flare demonstration (right)
A little ping pong in the main lab (left) and flare demonstration (right)

Research cruise plan
Research cruise plan


Tiffany Risch, August 2, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tiffany Risch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
July 28 – August 8, 2008

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: South of Long Island, NY
Date: August 2, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 

  • Mostly cloudy with isolated showers
  • Surface winds: 5 to 10 knots
  • Waves: Swells 2-4 feet
  • Water temperature:  23o Celsius
  • Visibility:  7 nautical miles

The dredge being brought back up onto the ship after being deployed
The dredge being brought back up onto the ship after being deployed

Science and Technology Log 

As I began my shift, I noticed on the map hanging in the dry lab that we are working our way towards an area southeast of Nantucket called Georges Bank.  Georges Bank is a shallow rise underwater where a variety of sea life can be found. Before long, we were called to the deck for our first station of the morning.  We set the dredge, hauled it back, sorted the catch, measured and recorded data, and moved on to the next station. Recording data and sorting are two of my favorite things to do, especially when it involves shucking the clams for the meat to be measured!  My watch seemed to be on a record pace, as we managed to complete seven hauls all before breakfast at 5:00am.  This process happens around the clock on the DELAWARE II, maximizing the amount of data we collect while at sea for two weeks.  

Later in the day, the winch that is used to haul the dredge back from the water suffered a power problem.  I and the person controlling the dredge noticed this right away, as one of my jobs is to switch the power on to the pump that the dredge uses.  I alerted my watch chief, and also the chief scientist for this cruise who quickly began to assess the situation.  Over the next hour or so, things became very busy on the back deck as the captain, engineers, and scientists tried to solve the problem.  They did manage to get the power back to the winch again, which enabled the dredge to be brought back onboard the ship. The amount of talent exhibited by so many people on this ship continues to amaze me.  They always have answers for everything, and Plan B for any situation is always on their minds!

Collecting and sorting the variety of marine life that we find. Here, TAS Risch holds up some sea stars.
Collecting and sorting the variety of marine life that we find. Here, TAS Risch holds up some sea stars.

Personal Log 

Today was a really exciting day of sorting, as my watch found a variety of different organisms.  I actually saw a live scallop clapping in the bucket after it was hauled up!  Other interesting creatures included a Little Skate (Raja erinacea), which is a fish made of cartilage and is closely related to rays and sharks, a sea robin, sea squirts, hermit crabs, some sea stars, and even a few flounders. One of the more unusual characters that we encountered onboard was called a Yellow boring sponge, otherwise known as a Sulfur sponge or “Monkey Dung”. We take measurements of all of these things and quickly return them to their home in the ocean. Very early this morning, around 1:00am I visited the bridge, or the area where the captain controls and steers the ship from, to see what everything looks like at night. Crew member Claire Surrey was on the bridge tonight, making sure the ship stayed on its course.  The area was very quiet and dimly lit by the various monitors that broadcast

information back to the officer in charge.  The ocean was pitch black, and I could only see faint lights of a few other ships bobbing up and down in the waves very far away.  What a cool experience to see the ocean at night, with a starry sky, and know that all types of instruments are guiding my voyage through the sea!

New Words/Terms Learned 

Min-logs:  sense temperature, depth, and pressure underwater on the dredge, and are brought back to the surface and recorded via computer.

Starboard: the right side of a ship

Port: the left side of the ship

Mark Friedman, June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Friedman
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 8-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey and ocean seafloor mapping
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 8-9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mark Friedman, helps deploy the CTD prior to surveys in SE Alaskan environs.

Science and Technology Log 

This is a NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) ship based out of the U.S. Northwest. This ship is primarily dedicated to the construction and updating of marine navigational charts that are of importance to marine commerce, navigation and general recreation. To do this they use SONAR waves emitted from the bottom of the launch boats. (Underwater sound waves travel at 1500 meters per second, four times as fast as sound in air.) Data obtained by the ships surveyors are sent to marine map makers (cartographers) in Seattle and also NOAA’S base in Silver Spring, Maryland where they are processed and constructed and made available to the public in paper or digital format.

June 8 

Arrived Juneau Alaska. Greeted at the airport by the ship’s XO (Executive Officer).  Onboard I was issued a bunk (or a rack as mariners call it) and given a ship tour.  Once settled I visited the town, including a significant museum of history, artifacts and anthropology of the indigenous peoples and early European settlers. Juneau is a stopping off point for many of the Northwest cruise ships cruising the inside passage.

June 9 

Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK
Snowcapped mountains surround the inside passage south of Juneau, AK

Safety instructions: multiple videos on asbestos, personal safety, fire emergencies. Drill practice: Abandon ship, Man overboard. Survival suit issued along with multiple style life vests, hardhat. Underway from Juneau 1600 for destinations near Sitka to begin depth soundings for marine navigational chart additions and corrections. All is well. Bright outside and it’s nearly 9pm Wednesday night.  Sunset is at 10pm and sunrise at 3:15am. It is a long day by our usual Los Angeles standards. The water is 41 degrees (so you don’t want to fall in or risk hypothermia (rapid loss of base body temperature (Who can guess the temperature of hypothermia?) which rapidly sets in) and the air a cool and misty 51 degrees.

Green conifers line the banks and small islands proliferate in the inner passage here just south of Sitka. The inside passage was made by a combination of glaciers, volcanic and plate tectonic action (subduction of North American and Pacific plates). The tide differential from high to low can be extreme…nearing 30 feet in the Juneau harbor!  Spruce and pine trees abound, and snow-capped mountains on either side of us rise up majestically as we move along at about 12 knots (nautical speed terminology, or about 15 mph). The spruce are afflicted by the same type of exponential pine beetle growth that is devastating California and Southwest evergreens. No drought up here so scientists have no hypothesis yet as to the cause.

I had to get up at 4am yesterday (even earlier than my usual 5am school day rise) for a wild ride thru close straits (aptly named Peril) (must get there at high tide so there is enough clearance beneath and currents are not as dangerous with increased volume of water) entering Sitka for our first series of data collection, cartography of inside passage.

The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER
The bridge of NOAA Ship RAINIER

RAINIER to the Rescue 

There is an important heavy emphasis on safety and special cold water survival suits and vests, have been issued to all crew members, followed by instruction donning them and knowing out stations to report to for such rises as “fire onboard” and “man overboard.” We have already had an abandon ship drill. Yesterday after I joined three boats of marine surveyors which go out to surrounding areas in 29 foot launches to begin data collection thru the use of sonar, the RAINIER saved two fisherpeople whose boat had taken on water and was rapidly sinking. RAINIER heard their MAYDAY and was within 2 miles so they sent a rapid launch to the scene and got there even before the Coast Guard. Fortunately the fisherpeople had on their survival suits so they were not in too much shock when they were rescued. It brought home to me the importance of these survival suits that are like insulated neoprene wetsuits that are watertight. I’m always wearing some type of floatation vest while on deck or in the launch, colored bright orange for easy sighting when bobbing up and down in choppy seas.

Personal Log 

I saw some favorites yesterday too…but not too close. Sea otters and whales but too far away to identify. The most common up here now are the humpbacks. The gray whales that have migrated up from Baja California, the ones that can bee seen off the California coast are already further north feasting on that yummy krill, a marine crustacean key to the food web). And the ship’s cuisine—fine and more than plentiful prepared by multiple professional chefs…lots of healthy food and Tapatio, my newfound hot sauce delight thanks to my Mexicano and Latino students.

Fortunately there is a gym so I hopefully won’t come back TOO much heavier. Crew and staff of about 50…mostly young, lots of women for a big change from my last extended marine experience six years ago on the R/V New Horizon out of Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.

Vocabulary and Marine Terminology Hydrography- the science of measuring, describing and mapping the sea bottom, mudflats and the positions of stationary objects (seamounts, shipwrecks, etc.) Cartographer-makes nautical charts for the aid of moving ships on the ocean Echosounder-high resolution instrument to record depths of ocean bottom using SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging – similar to some marine mammals use of echolocation). Also a side-scan sonar can be used and is on the RAINIER. CTD-Instrument to collect and register conductivity (flow of electrical current), temperature and depth. Deployed by ship launches in each surveyed area to obtain data and make calculations on sound speeds of sonar under various conditions (deeper, warmer and saltier water increases the speed of sound waves due to density) Sound speed- Sound travels at a speed of 1500 meters/second faster than thru air that is 380 meters per second. (This enables whales to communicate over hundreds of m8iles of water)

Get Your Hands Wet 


John Sammons, July 31, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Sammons
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 25 – August 4, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: July 31, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41° 26’ N
Longitude: 66° 34’ W
Visibility: <1 mile
Wind direction: NW (306 degrees)
Wind speed: 7 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Swell wave height: 1’
Sea water temperature: 15°C
Sea level pressure: 1023.3 millibars
Cloud cover: 90% fog, haze, dust

Screen shot 2014-03-01 at 8.35.50 AM

Question of the Day: Predict the mass and size of each scallop pictured above. Match them with the masses and lengths shown below.

Scallops Masses and Lengths

Yesterday’s Answer: Answers may be different.

  1. flat body allows it to lay camouflaged on the bottom
  2. tail fin allows it to move through the water
  3. spiny back and tail protect it from predators
  4. long, slender body allows it to move faster through the water
  5. strong muscle allows it to close the shell to keep out predators
  6. strong arms allow it to pry open shells for food

Science and Technology Log

“Scallops are a family of bivalve mollusks; there are several hundred species of scallops, found in marine environments all over the world.  Like most other bivalves, they consume phytoplankton and other small particles by filter-feeding. Unlike many bivalves (e.g., clams, which bury in the sediments), they live on the bottom surface, and can move by swimming. Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus, also known giant scallops or deep sea scallops) live only in the northwest Atlantic from Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Sea scallops usually spawn in late summer or early fall, though spring spawning may also occur. After hatching, larvae stay in the water column for 4-6 weeks. At settlement, they attach to a hard object by means of byssal threads produced by a gland at the end of their foot.”

*Thanks to Dvora Hart, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, for supplying the scallop information. 

On Sunday, I was able to operate the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth instrument by myself. This instrument is lowered into the water at every third designated stations. Data is collected as the instrument descends to the bottom. This data includes salinity (saltiness), temperature, and depth of the water. This is important since various marine animals require ideal temperatures to survive. Today’s CTD went down to 80 meters (think 80 meter sticks deep) and recorded a temperature of about 5 °C. That ‘s cold!

Personal Log

Scallop Catch 

The heavy dredge is ready for another timely tow,
Expect to catch the scallops, to the surface they will go.
Dropping to the bottom where its 80 meters deep,
Spending fifteen minutes dragging and bringing in the keep.
Then they’re sorted on the surface while hiding in their shell,
The aging/growth ridges on their outside’s what they tell.