Tom Jenkins: Final Post, May 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: May 3rd, 2018

Personal Log

When I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I really didn’t know what to expect.  To learn more, I read through previous TAS blogs. It seemed that every teacher had a truly unique research cruise experience.  The type of mission, the ship (and it’s crew), and the composition of the science team were among other variables all factoring into their experiences.  To be truthful, the more I read, the more excited (maybe a tad anxious) I became about my upcoming adventure.

The ship that was utilized by the Northeastern Fisheries Science Center to carry out the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey was the Henry B. Bigelow.   Once onboard, I found this vessel so impressive, that I devoted an entire blog to the subject: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/16/tom-jenkins-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-teacher-at-sea-april-15-2018/

What I didn’t know at the time was that her crew was equally impressive.  Every single crew member made me feel extremely welcome. The officers on the bridge provided a wonderful overview of how they run the ship, the engineers did a great job of allowing me to explore many of the moving parts within this floating city.  The cooks did an amazing job of providing us with seemingly endless amounts of a wide range of very tasty food. In retrospect, I laugh at the fact that I originally planned to diet during my 18 days at sea!

I was selected for a fisheries cruise.  This meant I would serve as 1 of the 14 member science team aboard the ship (Read more about the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey by reading this blog: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/20/tom-jenkins-what-is-a-spring-bottom-trawl-survey-april-20-2018/).

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

While I did appreciate that few people have an opportunity to participate in this kind of study,  I couldn’t have imagined just how cool it was really going to be! Not only were there extremely large fish, but there was more diversity than I would have ever thought I would find off the coast of New England.  I found myself fascinated by fairly routine things: the length of a shrimp’s antenna, the dining habits of a lamprey, a skate’s eye, and the locomotion of an octopus. And that laundry list doesn’t even include the phronima that we found.  Did you know this intriguing little amphipod served as the inspiration for the namesake of the Alien movie franchise!? Obviously, I was able to witness wonders both large and small which stirred my intellectual curiosity and has inspired me to think of clever ways in which to incorporate these highly specialized adaptations into my curriculum.

After spending 16 nights aboard the Bigelow, I am convinced it’s the people that make the mission.  Not only was the ship’s crew great, but the science team was phenomenal! I can’t underestimate the value of this last statement as these were the people that shared almost every moment of my odyssey.  Without exception, they were knowledgeable, passionate, and all-around good people. I was encouraged to slow down as to better admire nature’s wonders. They were patient and took the time to explain ideas that would help me understand their scientific process.  These teachers helped me write blogs, answer my student’s questions, create video segments for an upcoming www.teachingchannel.org video, as well as brainstorm units of instruction for my classroom.  Their kindness as well as the aforementioned interactions quickly transitioned my initial role as an outsider (that was afraid to slow down the team) a to true member of the team that was also one of the gang.

To say my time spent as a Teacher at Sea was an incredible experience would be an understatement.   This immersive experience pushed me to grow in numerous ways. Thanks to this program, I am re-energized and find myself looking ahead to next school year.  While spending a significant amount time away from both my loved ones and students was a challenge, it was an adventure that I will never forget.

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise 

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise

Tom Jenkins: What is a Spring Bottom Trawl Survey? April 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 20, 2018

Personal Log

A few months ago, I learned about my selection to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  When I learned I was offered a spot aboard the Henry B. Bigelow to help with the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, my immediate reaction was “Yes!  I will do it!” I then quickly googled Spring Bottom Trawl Survey as I unsure exactly what I would be doing on my 18 day research cruise.

So, what is it?  The standardized Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) Spring Bottom Trawl Survey is annual event (an additional survey is conducted in the fall) that was initiated in 1968.  Its primary objective is to collect fishery-independent data during standardized research vessel surveys from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian shelf.   While out at sea, additional oceanographic and plankton data are collected. This allows for continuous monitoring of the health and status of marine resources and their habitat.

 

 

How is it planned?  The Chief Scientist will work with the ship’s officers to set a cruise track to a set of sampling locations that were randomly selected by a computer program (this eliminates bias).  A multitude of factors come into play while plotting the course for the day. These include: weather, time, the number of stations they would like to cover, the types of stations, as well as other factors.  Once the ship arrives at a station, several people aboard the vessel scout the location. A desirable sea floor (minimal slope, no obstacles, etc.), avoiding fixed gear (lobster pots for example), and minimal boat traffic are a few of the things that help them tow in a spot within the allowable radius from the original point.

 

 

What actually occurs once a towable spot is found?  Data from the location needs to be gathered as this will provide a reference for the scientists that will later be studying the organisms as well as the data mined from this specific spot.  This is done with a CTD (seen above). The ship’s crew will hoist this apparatus over the edge of the ship and lower this device to roughly 30 feet above the seafloor. Sometimes down to a depth of over 1,000 feet!   Knowing things like Conductivity, Temperature, and the Depth help researchers paint a more complete picture which will aid them in their effort to study and assess fish populations.

 

 

After both the preliminary data is gathered and the scouting is complete, the fisherman aboard the ship will kick it into high gear.  Fishing aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is an impressive feat of engineering.  Once in the water and fishing the net is about 36 feet across at the opening (the wings), and about 90 feet long; which is loaded with sensors, is fed out the back using a set of winches.  These reactive winches control the wires which manipulate the net to ensure the best trawl possible which will hopefully result in a representative sample for the science team to process (This system is known as “autotrawl” and it aims at maintaining equal pressure by both winches, enabling more consistent performance especially in rough weather, and also reduces the amount of damage due to of “hangs”).

 

 

Once out of the net, the organisms are then loaded into the checker pen.  A member of the science team will then slowly feed them onto the conveyor belt which then carries them inside the wet lab.  The other members of the science team will then sort the various species of marine life into buckets of various sizes. Each of the containers has an attached bar-code tag which is then scanned and associated with the species that is in the container.  This ensures that everything that comes off of the belt is accounted for during processing.

 

 

In the wet lab, there are three processing stations.  Once a bucket arrives at the work area, the tag will then be scanned into the computer will tell members of the science team the specific data as well as the specimens to gather.  Data includes things such as mass, length, sex, age structures (otoliths (a calcified part of the inner ear), illicium (the long fleshy filament attached to the forehead of anglerfish), & scales) and stomach contents whereas specimens can be the entire body or a specific part.  Examples of additional requested include things such as fin clips (DNA), and gonads (reproductive information).

 

 

After the specimens are processed, they are carefully preserved for later use.  Some things such as otoliths can preserved in an envelope whereas something like a stomach needs to be placed in a jar which is then filled with a fluid (formalin solution) that will keep its contents fresh.  Large freezers aboard the ship allow the science team to quickly freeze bagged specimens which will allow high quality samples to be shipped to research facilities; not only in northeast, but to laboratories all around the world.

20180420_081751

Night Shift Crew

(The amazing 12am-12pm team that teaches the Teacher at Sea)

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.

Tom Jenkins: A Day in the Life of a Teacher at Sea, April 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 15, 2018

Personal Log

Stairwell

A ladder well on Henry B. Bigelow

The ladder wells.  On the Henry B. Bigelow these sets of steps will take you everywhere that you need to go throughout the day.  Life on a ship is interesting in the fact you don’t ever leave while on your mission.  This is where you sleep, where you eat, where you work and where you hang out with your friends.

One of the most frequently received questions from my students back home is about life on the ship.  Since the past couple of days have been relatively slow in terms of fishing (due to inclement weather), I have decided to highlight the areas of the ship where I spend the most of my time.

My room (likely about the size of your own room at home) happens to be a quad which means I share my room with 3 other people.  In addition to two bunk beds, we have a work area (w/a small TV) and a compact bathroom.  While it is definitely a bit cramped, the 4 of us are split between the 2 shifts (My shift is 12am-12pm.).   The end result is that there are no more than 2 people in the room at any time, so it ends up working out quite well.  Notice the handle in the shower.  This comes in handy when you are trying to clean up and not wipe out as sometimes the ship can move around quite a bit!  You may also notice the emergency billet  on the door.  This tells each member of the crew where to go and also what to do during emergency situations.

 

The food on the ship has been amazing.  As students in my classroom will attest, I swore I was going to go on a diet during this cruise .  While that would be possible, given there are always tons of healthy options, it’s not everyday when there is a BBQ spare rib option for lunch!  Additionally, when you are working off and on over the course of your 12 hour shift, eating food is sometimes a good way to pass the time.  While I don’t think I have gained weight, I definitely do not think I will lose weight over the final 12 days of the cruise.

 

The labs where the scientists work are obviously where we spend a large part of our day (or my case, night).  The picture to the left is where many of the fish are cataloged and processed.  The photo in the top right are where some of the specimens are preserved for later examination in not only NOAA facilities, but also other other research facilities around the world.  The area in the bottom is a planning/observation space where the science team goes to gather, plan and share information related to their research mission.

 

Finally, there is the lounge and fitness area.  The lounge is really nice with large recliners which are a wonderful way to relax after a long shift.  There is Direct TV which is nice for both sports and news and the ship also has an impressive collection of movies for the crew to enjoy.  The fitness area in the bottom right is my favorite space on the ship.  While neither expansive nor pretty, it is a great place to go to burn off steam.  There is a TV and enough equipment to break a sweat.  Although I must admit, its extremely challenging to use an elliptical during a storm with rough seas.  Especially with low ceilings! 🙂

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.

Tom Jenkins: Teacher at Sea, Not at Sea. Yet… April 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 14, 2018

So…What to do when you are a NOAA Teacher at Sea, you are at the port and you are not yet out to sea?  You leverage your NOAA connections within the scientific community to learn more about things related to various aspects of NOAA’s mission.

On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be part of a NOAA group that toured UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology.  This recently opened, cutting edge facility provided a wonderful insights into the study of marine life.

School for Marine Science & Technology

UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Tom at UMass Dartmouth

Me touring UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Lab at UMass Dartmouth

Lab at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

While on our special tour, members of the NOAA Fisheries team were able to exchange knowledge with the team that helped build and is currently getting this amazing research space up and running to full capacity.

We learned about some of the various aquatic species that are indigenous to the region (see below) and the current research surrounding these impressive life forms.

Inside a Tank

Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Tom and specimen

Me holding a specimen from the tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Inside of Tank 2

Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

And I also learned about some of the technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow on our upcoming research mission.

Example net

Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow

More tech examples

Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow

While spending time around the dock, I took time to explore and learn more about some of the equipment that is used to gather data at sea.  Notice the NOAA environmental buoy to far left and the crane aboard the Henry Bigelow. While watching a Coast Guard Ship (with a similar crane) effortlessly load and unload these massive buoys, I couldn’t help but to start brainstorming an engineering design lesson that would help capture this really cool process.  Hopefully, ideas similar to these will continue to be developed over the next couple of weeks and will result in all kinds of new curricula for my classroom.

Tom on Buoy

Me on a NOAA environmental buoy

Crane on Bigelow

The crane aboard the Henry Bigelow

Tom and other buoys

Me in front of a row of navigational buoys

Tomorrow, we are once again set to sail out.  The past few days have allowed me to learn about the marine life that we will be gathering, the ways in which we will be doing it and has also allowed me to get to know the wonderful people I will be working with during my research mission.  To say that I am excited would be an understatement.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, please feel free to leave any comments below.

Tom Jenkins: Introductory Post, April 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Jenkins

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey

Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast

Date: April 6, 2018

Introduction

Now that word is out about my NOAA Teacher at Sea selection, I am being asked many questions about my upcoming research mission.  The truth of the matter is that I am unsure exactly what to expect. While the administrators of the program have done a great job of communicating information, NOAA has many different objectives.  Even the missions, which are annual events, appear to be unique experiences as there are so many variables involved when doing research at sea.

One thing I know for sure is that almost 3 weeks out at sea seems like a long time, especially for someone that has lived in Ohio for his entire life.  Clark County, Ohio (where I teach 8th Grade Science and STEM at Greenon Jr./Sr. High School) is probably what most people think of when they think of “Midwestern living.” A mixture of agriculture and fading industry, we are a close-knit community, which is something John Cougar Mellencamp would find familiar.  While we have plenty of creeks and lakes, many of my students have never seen the ocean. I have been fortunate enough to go on a handful of cruises, but have never been at sea for more than 10 consecutive days, and those included stops along the way.  I am fairly confident I will do fine, but I am also packing motion sickness medication to be on the safe side. Fingers crossed!

Greenon Jr/Sr High School

Greenon Jr/Sr High School

I will live aboard the NOAA research vessel Henry Bigelow (Follow this link for additional information).  This 209 feet long, state-of-the-art, research vessel is likely a giant step up from what you may have seen on “Deadliest Catch.”  While it is definitely built for collecting fish and other biomass, it conducts trawl sampling (think of a long, specialized net that is dragged behind the ship).  NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow is equipped with many advanced features including a modern wet lab which allows scientists (and me!) to sort, weigh, measure, and examine the catch.  This information is then added to NOAA’s extensive database which provides our country’s scientists with valuable information regarding the status of the organisms that reside within the ocean.

downloadfile

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Another question that I am frequently asked is, “What about your students?”  The best part about this arrangement is, not only will I be immersed in authentic scientific research (which will add value to my educational practice), but the use of Google Classroom will allow my students to share my adventures from the field.  In addition to frequent online updates where I will answer questions and discuss ongoing research and associated phenomena, my students will use NOAA educational resources to learn more about our oceans and the life within them.

As I prepare to leave in a few days, I am full of emotion.  I am obviously very excited to be afforded this unique opportunity.  I love travel, adventure, and learning, so this research cruise will be a perfect fit.  I will work alongside 37 people (sailors, fisherman, scientists, and engineers to name a few) who are very good at what they do for a living.  I can’t wait to pick their brains to learn how I can incorporate their knowledge into my classroom. All of that being said, I will definitely miss both my family and my students.  I look forward to returning home and sharing my experiences with them.

Please check back over the next few weeks as I will write additional blogs regarding my NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure.  I would love to make this blog series interactive, so if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below.