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.

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.

Sargassum
Sargassum

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)

Pre-trip Pondering

 NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
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 

Dave Grant, November 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
November 6 – December 3, 2008

MissionVOCALS, an international field experiment designed to better understand the physical and chemical processes of oceanic climate systems
Geographical area of cruise: Southeast Pacific
Date: November 16, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 10:16 UTC Sunset: 23:16 UTC
Wind: AM Slight; PM Slight
Seas: 4’
Precipitation: 0.0
Pressure: 1015

Science and Technology Log 

Flotsam and Jetsam “Never bring anything onto a boat that you can’t afford to lose.” (Nancy Church – Cape Cod Museum of Natural History)

Except for the anchor, there are very few items that go overboard intentionally on a ship. A hat blown off your head by the wind becomes flotsam, but something deliberately discarded is jetsamARGO  is the international program that deploys and monitors a global network of autonomous floats that monitor ocean conditions (“Taking the pulse of the oceans.”). The buoys are deployed from a variety of vessels and one of the main advantages is that a vessel does not have to slow down or stop to launch them. Because of this, a vessel dedicated to research is not required, and commercial and even cruise ships have participated in this world-ocean study.

Drifter currents
Drifter currents

Drifters have been distributed since 1999 and continuously monitor temperature, salinity and currents. They will provide a global network spread out on a 3º by 3º ocean grid (180-miles by 180miles). Data transmitted automatically to satellites is broadcast to the Global Drifter Program and available continuously to researchers.

Stickers on the drifter buoy
Stickers on the drifter buoy

Teachers and students also are involved through the Adopt-a-Drifter Program and we deployed drifters marked with decals from two schools partnered through it: Universite Nancy (France) and Grandview Elementary School – Grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Drifters actively transmit data for over a year, but like anything in the sea, can become the home for bio-fouling organisms that can interfere with their operation. We deployed several of them. The simplest are blue-andwhite basket ball-sized floats with a drogue (a large sock-like bag) that acts as a sea anchor or drift sock so that the movement of the drifter is by current, not wind. Once in the water, the packing materials dissolve, the drogue sinks to about 15 meters, and the currents, satellites, scientists and students do the rest. All researchers have to do to explore the oceans is log-on to the drifter website with a computer.  

“After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds… Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves… (After the Sea-Ship – Walt Whitman)

Dave holding the drifter buoy
Dave holding the drifter buoy

Other larger drifters are shipped in sturdy but degradable cardboard cartons. These too are launched off the stern and the shipping boxes rapidly fall apart after the water dissolves the glue. They are rather mysterious since we did not actually see what they look like, but I’ve seen others in the repair shop at WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). They are tube-shaped and designed to automatically sink to as deep as 1000-meters, and then rise periodically to broadcast their data. What a wonderful journey they will have to share with the world when they start reporting their data in dark and stormy seas and on sunny days. Falling away astern of us, floating high and looking coffin-like, I was reminded of Queequeg’s casket and some of the most memorable lines from Moby Dick:  “These are times of dreamy solitude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin; one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it…”

Drifter array
Drifter array

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 9.23.30 PM

Personal Log 

Drifter in the water on its way!
Drifter in the water on its way!

We have had a great string of days. I have settled into an interesting work routine with  helpful and interesting scientists and crew. Weather balloons and sondes are released every four hours and the readouts from their fights are very informative. Along with the evening lectures, the week has been like a short semester on meteorology. Hourly water sampling has gone well too, and we are learning more about these peculiar eddies of warm and cold water each day.

My roommate (RW) is very nice and accommodating, and since we work different hours and find the best way to relax is with headphones and a book, the room does not seem crowded at all. There are a few items I am glad I brought, and I suggest they be added to the TAS list: coveralls, ski cap, knee pads and eye drops. The coveralls are great for cool mornings on deck and to quickly pull on for the weekly “abandon ship” drills, since you are required to report to your muster station in long pants and sleeves, and with a hat. My light-weight volleyball knee-pads are good if I have to kneel on the metal deck for a while to take pictures. And eye drops are a relief since we do get wind almost every day, and some very bright days since we are headed into the Austral Summer, and the sun’s position is moving south every day.

Crew holding the Argos drifter
Crew holding the Argos drifter

I have been checking my Almanac, and perhaps as early as tomorrow, our course will cross paths with the sun’s southern movement, and it will be directly overhead at Noon. This can only occur at locations in the “Tropics” (Between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) and I have heard sailors refer to it as a “Lahaina Noon.” This term comes from the old sailing days when whalers made port stops at Lahaina on Maui. When it occurs there, fence posts, and for that matter, people, do not cast a shadow. Hopefully the clouds will clear around midday and we will be able to see the phenomenon.

“Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves Where life and it ventures are laid, The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves May see us in sunshine and shade.” (Sun and Shadow by Oliver Wendell Holmes – 1857) 

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 

To learn HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN HYDROGRAPHIC PROJECT, go to this NOAA website.