Tom Savage: Farewell Fairweather and the Drifter Buoy, August 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 23, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  87  43.9 N
Longitude – 152  28.3  W
Air temperature: 12 C
Dry bulb   12 C
Wet bulb  11 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 2 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1011.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 2000 K feet
Waves: 0 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm

 

Science and Technology Log

Today we deployed the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather off the southeast coast of Kodiak Island Alaska, at 3:30 pm Alaskan time zone. The buoy will be transmitting its location for approximately one year. During this time, students will be have the opportunity to logon and track its progress.

This project is very exciting for many of my students at the Henderson County Early College and elementary students at Atkinson Elementary (Mills River, NC) and Hillandale Elementary (Henderson County, NC) that have participated in my “Young Scientists” program.  Prior to my journey to Alaska, I visited those elementary schools introducing them to the mapping that we were going to collect and the important mission of NOAA.  As part of this outreach, students designed stickers that I placed on the buoy prior to deployment yesterday.  In addition, Ms. Sarah Hills, a middle school science teacher from the country of Turkey, is also going to track its progress.

An interesting note: my “Young Scientists” program was inspired in 2015 after participating in my first Teacher at Sea trip on board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni coordinator Jenn Annetta and Emily Susko for supporting this effort!

 

Drifter buoy
Deploying the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather – Photo by NOAA

All schools are welcome to track its current location. Visit the following site  http://osmc.noaa.gov/Monitor/OSMC/OSMC.html. In the upper left hand corner enter the WMO ID# 2101601 and then click the refresh map in the right hand corner.

The last day at sea, crew members had the opportunity to fish from the ship in a region called the “Eight Ball,” which is a shoal just of to the southwest of Kodiak Island.  Within ten minutes, the reels were active hauling in Halibut.  I have never seen fish this big before and Eric reeled in the biggest catch weighing around 50 lbs! Alaska is a big state with big fish!

Halibut
Eric hauling in his catch! Photo by Tom

Personal Log

This is my last day on board the Fairweather. For three weeks I witnessed a young NOAA Corps crew orchestrate an amazing level of professionalism and responsibilities to ensure a productive mission. While on board and I met new friends and I have learned so much and will be bringing home new lessons and activities for years to come.  The crew on board the ship has been very warm, patient and very happy to help answer questions. I am very honored to be selected for a second cruise and have enjoyed every minute; thank you so much!  As we sailed into Kodiak Island, witnessed an eye catching sunrise, wow!

Kodiak Sunrise
Sunrise, Kodiak Island – photo by Tom

 

I wish the crew of the Fairweather,  Fair winds and happy seas.

Tom

Tom Savage: What Other Scientific Data is Collected Besides Ocean Floor Mapping? August 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  55   44 N
Longitude – 165  23.04  W
Air temperature: 8 C
Dry bulb   8 C
Wet bulb  8 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 9 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1008.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 1 feet

Sunrise: 7:10 am
Sunset: 11:01 pm

 

Science and Technology 

There are other data being collected besides ocean floor mapping using the Bottom sampler.  Ocean floor samples are collected at many positions along the track line.

This is quite a gizmo, at the end is a metal scoop that collects soil samples once it hits the ocean floor. On both sides of the pole near my right hand, there is two underwater lights that is activated prior to deployment and a GoPro placed in a waterproof compartment.  The camera is operated from a wireless connection and the remote control device  is attached by Velcro to your wrist, just like a watch.  The device weighs around 35 pounds.

Bottom Sampler
Bottom Sampler – photo by Megan Shapiro

Once the sample is retracted and emptied on the deck, the size of the aggregate is measured using a scale and recorded. Why is this information useful ?  This data will be used used by mariners when assessing the best place to deploy an anchor. An ocean bottom containing a muddy composition is preferred as it helps to keep in place both the anchor and chain. Below is a sample we retrieved off of Point Hope, Alaska.   Using the bottom sample below, what are your thoughts, is this an ideal located to drop anchor?

Ocean Sample Scale
Bottom sample compared to Ocean Sample Scale ~ photo by Tom

 

Dropping an anchor for a ship is not a 5 minute job.  I recall fishing with my cousin in his small boat when I was in elementary school; we would arrive at an ideal location to catch lake bass and toss our anchor overboard. It was nothing fancy, a large plastic bucket filled with sand.  With the rope attached, we lowered the bucket “anchor” tie it off with some slack and for the most part it kept us from moving.  Anchoring a large 1,500 ton ship requires around 30 minutes to secure and the ocean depth would determine the amount of chain to use.  The anchor weighs 3,000 lbs and 400 – 700 feet of chain is deployed; this depends on the ocean depth. This brings the total weight of anchor and chain to around 48,000 pounds.  The anchor itself does not secure the ship, it is the combined weight of the chain and anchor.  After the chain is deployed, officers monitor the ships movement to ensure the anchor is not dragging using ECDIS, which uses a GPS feed that tracks the ship’s movement. Interesting fact, the Fairweather can hold 100,000 gallons of fuel, for ship stability purposes the fuel supply never gets below 40,000 gallons.

Personal Log

During the past few days, the sea has been a bit rough, but I love it especially at night, falling asleep is so much easier. It looks like Wednesday, I will be deploying the drifter buoy, stay tuned there will be an entire blog dedicated to it, including how to login and track its movement!. So far on this cruise I have not been able to view the constellations at night, the big obstacle is the fog.  Remember, the sun sets at around 11:30 pm and because of our latitude, it does not get very dark at night.  The other big issue has been the weather the past few days, mostly overcast and fog. As we transit to Kodiak Island, the weather forecast does not mention much about the sun, though we are in Alaska on the water!

Something else interesting to note; recall a few blogs ago I discussed relative humidity as a comfort gauge? It is the dew point temperature that meteorologist use for predicting rainfall, if the dew point temperature is 75 and the air temp is 76 F near the surface rain is almost guaranteed. Cruising in the Unga Strait within the Aleutian Islands today, the cloud deck is roughly currently at 1,000 feet. It is at that location where the dew point and air temperature match and cloud formation begins. This is what we call the LCL, lifting condensation level.

Last night I was talked into played the bass guitar for the first time, playing with the band on board.  They brought me up to par quickly, it was fun! I left the singing to the professionals, our deck hand Kyle and the XO (Executive Officer) Mike!

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom

Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  64   42.8 N
Longitude – 171  16.8  W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb   6.2 C
Wet bulb  6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm

 

Personal Log

I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather?  So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.

Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog.  The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.

During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills.  Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”

(Fun fact:  at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio].  For example:  the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard.  The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name.  You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).

Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel;  the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship.  Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters.  These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !

 

Flares
Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

What are the working conditions like on board? 

At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet.  Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to.  At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.

NavigatingFog
View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

Where do you sleep? 

Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by.  Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?

Stateroom
My stateroom – photo by Tom

Generally, when sharing a stateroom,  roommates will have different working shifts.

Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents !  When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.

Fairweather's Galley
Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom

 

Are there any activities? 

Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.

ExerciseRoom
The exercise room – photo by Tom

 

There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.

The lounge
The lounge

 

What are the working hours like?

During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office.  One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it.  The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.

 

Buoy Retrieval
Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA

 

The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room.  Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship;  the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires.  Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.

Tom in Engine Room
Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle

 

Until next time,  happy sailing !

~ Tom

Tom Savage: The Physical Geography of the Aleutian Islands, August 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  68   38.8 N
Longitude – 166  23.8  W
Air temperature: 10 C
Dry bulb   10 C
Wet bulb  8.9 C
Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles   (8.8 miles)
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1007  millibars
Cloud Height: 2 K feet
Waves: 6 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:51 pm

Physical Geography of Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian Islands are a product of a subduction zone between the North American and the Pacific Plate and known as the Aleutian Arc. Along this boundary, the Pacific Plate is being subducted underneath the North American Plate due to the difference in density.  As a result, the plate heats up, melts and forms volcanoes.  In this case the islands are classified as volcanic arcs.  As a result of this collision, along the boundary the Aleutian Trench was formed and the deepest section measures 25,663 ft!  For comparison purposes, the deepest point in the ocean is located in the Mariana’s Trench at 36,070 feet (6.8 miles)! Through the use of radioisotopic dating of basalt rocks throughout the Aleutians, geologists have concluded the formation of the island chain occurred 35 million years ago. (USGS). Today, there are 14 volcanic islands and an additional 55 smaller islands making up the island chain.

ConvergentBoundary
The Aleutian Islands – yellow line indicates subduction boundary (Courtesy of US Geologic Survey)

On the map above, the Aleutian Islands appear small. However, they extend an area of 6,821 sq mi and extend out to 1,200 miles!  In comparison, North Carolina from the westernmost point to the Outer Banks is 560 miles, half of the Aleutian Islands.  It takes roughly ten hours to drive from Murphy NC (western NC)  to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since this region of the North American plate and the Pacific Plate are both oceanic plates, Island Arcs are formed.  This is the same classification as the Bahamas, located southeast of Florida.

North American and Pacific Plates
Convergence of North American and Pacific Plates – Image courtesy of US Geologic Survey

 

Oceanic-OceanicPlate
Convergence of two Oceanic Plate – Image courtesy of US Geologic Survey

The image above depicts a cross section of the geological forces that shaped the Aleutian Islands.  As the two plates collide, the oceanic crust is subducted under the lithosphere further offshore thus generating the island arcs.  Unlike the west coasts of Washington, Oregon and California,  there is an oceanic/continental collision of plates resulting in the formation of volcanoes further on the continental crust, hundreds of miles inland.  Examples are Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helen’s which erupted in 1980.

Alpine Glaciers are prevalent throughout the mountainous region of Alaska. What about the Aleutians Islands? Today there are a few small alpine glaciers existing on Aleutian Islands. Alpine glacier on the Attu Island is one example, which is the western most island.

 

Personal Log 

One truth about being at sea is don’t trust the wall, floor or ceiling. Sometimes, the wall will become the floor or the ceiling will become the wall 🙂 Lately, the seas have become this ongoing amusement park ride.  Although the weather has been a bit rough, data collection continues with the ship.  The weather outside is more reflective of fall and winter back in North Carolina, though we have not seen any snow flakes.  After surfing the waves yesterday while collecting data, today the hydrographers are processing data collected over the past few days.

Yesterday was whale day!  Early afternoon, humpbacks were spotted from the port side of the ship (left side).   As the afternoon went on, humpbacks were spotted all around the Fairweather, at distances of 0.5 miles to 5 miles.  Humpbacks are considered the “Clowns of the Seas” according to many marine biologists.  Identifying whales can be tricky especially if they are distances greater than a few miles. Humpbacks are famous for breaching the water and putting on a show,  Yesterday we did not witness this behavior, however they were showing off their beautiful flukes.

Humpback whale fluke
Humpback whale fluke, photo courtesy of NOAA

 

Question of the Day:    Which whale species, when surfacing, generates a v shape blow?

Until next time, happy sailing!
Tom

Thomas Savage: Meet the Crew, August 14, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 8.8
Dry bulb   8.8 C
Wet bulb  7 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles   (10.5 miles)
Wind speed: 23 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 999 millibars
Cloud Height: 10K feet
Waves: 2 foot

Meet the Crew

It takes a lot of personnel to ensure a successful mission. There are over forty personnel onboard this ship. During the past week, I have had opportunities to get to know them.

 


LT Stephen Moulton at the helm
LT Stephen Moulton at the helm

Stephen Moulton Operations Officer (in training) LT – NOAA

How did you first get involved in NOAA?

I was in the Coast Guard Reserves for eight years with some active time and trying to go back for active duty.

While working in Silver Spring, MD working as an industrial hygienist for an engineering company, I walked by NOAA Administration and inquired about jobs, applied for NOAA Corps and was accepted into training at the Coast Guard academy in 2012.  Processed out of Coast Guard into NOAA Corps as an Officer in Training.

What is your job on board the Fairweather?

Operations Officer (in training). My job is to setup ships daily plan. This includes making sure we have the equipment, personnel and a good idea as to what the weather conditions will be for successful operation. Once we collect the data at sea, my job is to ensure the data is processed and meets NOAA’s standards and that it gets compiled into the correct format for distribution to our NOAA Pacific Hydrographic Branch. This data primarily gets converted into nautical charts which is used by mariners such as cargo ships, the US Coast Guard and recreational cruise passenger ships

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I love being on the water and love driving the ship, making a 200-ton vessel do what you want by using the wind and seas, and navigating around other ships.

Where do you spend most of your time?

Most time is now spent in operations, training for what the ship needs to being doing with its time and funding, keeping us on the ship’s mission, which is surveying.

How long have you been on board?

3 months

When you were in high school did you have any vision of working at sea? 

No,  I attended Assumption College and graduated with degree in global and environmental studies.   It was tough finding a job with that degree, the only types of jobs with that degree is being a foreign officer .

What do you enjoy most abut living on board?

It makes a lot things convenient, commute to work is a walk upstairs, gym is down the stairs and meals are cooked and you have no dishes to clean. Everything you need is on board. Being able to explore the mountains and wild life in Juneau while the ship was under repair is another bonus.

What is the most challenging?

Being far from my family who are in Rhode Island with two adopted kids.

Which other NOAA ships have your served?

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, an east coast hydrographic survey from 2013 -2015 as an ensign. Spent 3 years on land as a CO-OPS handled tide gauge stations and operated small boats and traveled 4 weeks at a time for tide gauge maintenance along east coast team. Locations included Great Lakes and Puerto Rico.

Where do you see yourself in NOAA in the future?

Finishing up land assignment in Silver Spring Maryland and going out as an XO on a fisheries vessel in the Northeast such as NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow.

 


 Simon Swart
Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Simon Swart in the plot room

Simon Swart – Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician

Where did you attend college and what was your degree in?  

Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. BA in Environmental Science.  Originally from the Cayman Islands and lived in San Francisco for ten years.

How did you get involved with NOAA?  

Found out through scientific papers and knew I wanted to work with maps and applied science.  I have been working aboard the Fairweather for five months.

Where is home?  

San Francisco where my dad resides.

Describe your job?

It changes a lot depending on what is currently occurring.  Six hour shifts on six hours off it simply depends on what is occurring in a day. While the boat launches are collecting data you are reviewing information and then process the data when it returns.

What do you enjoy most about being at sea?

Everything, love being on the water, that has a lot to do with growing up near the ocean. Every time I step outside on deck, it never ceases to amaze me with the beauty.

What are some challenges with ship life? 

Living in close proximity with forty people living in close quarters.

What is your favorite place you have visited while working for NOAA?

Traveling through the Aleutian Islands.  I still felt we were out far in the ocean with these beautiful islands.

Do you want to stay in the Alaskan region?

Yes, I have been wanting to traveling around Alaska since I was in high school.  When I originally applied for NOAA, it did not specify Alaska.

What do you enjoy doing while you are off the ship, off duty? 

It depends where the ship is located, hiking and fishing is what I enjoy most. Enjoy meeting and getting to know the local people at different ports.  When returning to these ports, it is nice to get together with them and go hiking.


Sam Candio
Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician Sam Candio

Sam Candio- Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician

What is your primary role?

Oversight of all the data, including the quality control and training new personnel.

Where are from?

New Jersey and attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington. And majored in BS Marine Biology.  Cape Fear Community College associates degree  Marine technology. This program is very good and this program has 95% job placement success. Got a job almost immediately after graduation

How did you get involved with NOAA

I saw a job online and applied for it, always wanted to work for NOAA.

How many ships have you worked?

Have worked on board the Fairweather for three years.

What is your favorite place you have visited while on board?

Yakutat, near Juneau. There is an incredible glacier there, one of the only advancing glaciers in south east Alaska. There are eighteen thousand foot mountains in this region. It is also home to the northern most surf shop. You enjoy surfing in Alaska.

What do you enjoy the most about living on a ship?

I enjoy visiting all these remote places that few people get to see. For instance seeing the sun never setting and going to remote islands to set up remote GPS base stations.

What is your advice for anyone interested in cartography or marine biology

Attend Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, they have a great employment success rate of 95%. Start interning / volunteering as soon as you can. The community college also has a good research vessel with lots of hands on training. I traveled on two cruises, one to Baltimore and one to Bahamas.  Each cruise has a different focus such as fish identification, mapping, bottom profiling and navigation.


Oiler Kyle in the Engine Room
Oiler Kyle Mosier in the Engine Room

Kyle Mosier – Oiler

Where are you from?

Grew up in Federal Way, Washington and moved to Gig Harbor, Washington, after high school to attend college.

What is your degree in?  

AA degree from Pierce College, Lakewood, Washington. Then attended Seattle Maritime Academy with a focus of Engineering.

What is your primary role on the ship? 

Maintain and repair equipment on engines and clean air filters for ships air supply and staterooms, and oil changes on our generators. Also, work on a lot of special projects on board with the engineering team.

How did you you get involved with NOAA?

I heard about it during maritime school and my Port Captain had worked for NOAA and heard good things about it and then applied. They called me back for an interview over the phone and then sent me to Newport Oregon for a pre-employment physical. Then traveled to Norfolk Virginia for orientation.

What do you do while you are off duty?

I love to write and passionate about stories and writing books. First I start by brainstorming ideas from the places I have gone to and the experiences I have and the people I meet. It helps for plot and settings. This job helps me with that as we travel all over the northwest region. In one of my books I used my experience seeing glaciers and used that as an awesome setting. The types of books I write are science fiction, mystery and adventure. I have over twenty books that have been published and a series of books entitled Katrina the Angel.  My newest one, Natalie and the Search for Atlantis, is a Science Fiction which is the ninth one in the “Katrina the Angel” series. It is my most proud book that I have written and the longest. Writing makes me happy and hope one day to make it a career.

What do you enjoy the most about being at sea?  

What I like most is the places we have gone to such as traveling around Alaska with a great crew. Juneau, Alaska, is my favorite. It has great people and everything is within walking distance. There are many places to go hiking and places that have Karaoke.

If someone wants to go out and buy one of your novels where can they purchase one?

Kindle device or Amazon.

What do you find most challenging about being on board the ship? 

Unable to go home often

Do you have any plans as to working on another NOAA ship

No, I enjoy it on the Fairweather


JO Cabot Zucker
JO Cabot Zucker pilots a launch vessel

Cabot Zucker – Junior Officer

Where are you from?

Coastal town called Jupiter, Florida

Where did you attend College?

Went to the University of Florida and studied Wildlife Ecology and Sustainable Development

How did you first get involved in the NOAA Corps? 

I was on vacation in North Carolina and saw a job posting regarding the NOAA Corps.

What are the requirements for getting accepted into the NOAA Corps? 

You need a four year degree and they like to see experience in marine science or physical science preferably and being well rounded. There is a physical and medical screening pretty much the same as the military.

What are your responsibilities? 

My main responsibility is to drive and safely navigate the ship and support its mission.  Other collateral duties include, damage control, small boat officer assist with ship fleet inspection and inventory management on the ship.  Included with this is other administrative paper work and tasks.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I really like how dynamic, challenging and a lot of responsibility. and I love the challenging work environment and how I continually learn new skills. I have been on this ship for two months.

During these two months, what is the most amazing view you have seen?  

The transition through the Aleutian Islands, the scenery there includes snow covered volcanoes, intense scenery of jagged cliffs. Saw lots of whales, puffins and other sea birds.

What is some of the challenges with working on a ship?

There is constant distractions and its such a dynamic environment.  Plans are constantly changing and you have to adapt and get the work done. Being away from my wife has been challenging and I will see her in December for three weeks.

What place have you visited while serving the ship that you enjoyed the most? 

I enjoyed Juneau, hiking the mountain and snow fields. Visited the Mendenhall Glacier and enjoyed fishing. We caught Pinks and Chum which are both types of Salmon.

 

Personal Log

I have now been at sea for over one week. The weather for the most part has been remarkable, sunshine.   Last night we sailed into a sheltered area south of Point Hope, Kotzebue Sound, as the remnants of a tropical storm spun by. The wind gusts were recorded at 30 knots and the seas peaked around 8 feet.  The Fairweather handled the rough seas well and rocked me to sleep. We are sailing back to the Point Hope area to conduct more surveying during this remainder of this week.  At Point Hope, the sun rises at 6:20 am and sets at 12:04 am. As each day passes, the daylight is getting shorter by 10 minutes as we head into fall.   On December 21st,  the sun will be directly overhead at 21 degrees south Latitude and marks is the winter solstice. Using the image below, notice that the sun is shining a 90 degree angle directly above the Earth at 21 degrees south latitude. Locate the Arctic Circle and imagine the globe spinning, what do you see or not see at the Arctic Circle during the Winter Solstice?

Diagram of Earth at Winter Solstice
Diagram of Earth at Winter Solstice. Image from thenorthwestforager.com.

Question of the Day How much sunlight will Point Hope receive December 21st during the Winter Solstice?

 

Answer from yesterday  Answer is 74% relative humidity.

Relative humidity measures how much water vapor the atmosphere can hold at a specific temperature.  Relative humidity is really a measurement of comfort and that is why meteorologist use this especially during the summer months.  At warmer temperatures, the atmosphere can hold large amounts of water vapor.  In the south, we always relate high humidity with hot temperatures. As the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, water will cling to the nearest object, you; thus it becomes uncomfortable.  However, at cooler temperatures, the atmosphere cannot hold that much water vapor, so the atmosphere can reach 100%, but it is comfortable as there simply is not a lot of water in the atmosphere.

Until next time, happy sailing!

Tom

 

 

 

 

Tom Savage: Surveying the Coastline of Point Hope, Alaska, August 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 12, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Dry bulb 8   Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology

Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor?  As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857.  The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.

This data was compiled by NOAA using 10 different sources. For further information as how this data was compiled visit https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/mar14/alaska-sea-ice.html. 

The light grey indicates  0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift.  The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack.  The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.

Sea Ice Concentration August 1857
Sea Ice Concentration August 1857
Ice Concentration August 1957
Ice Concentration August 1957
Sea Ice Concentration August 2016
Sea Ice Concentration August 2016

Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts.  Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.

As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important.  Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore.  In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing).  In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.

 

Safety Briefing
Safety Briefing by LT Manda – photo by Tom Savage

 

Deploying a launch boat
Deploying a launch boat – photo by Tom Savage

The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.

deploying CTD
TAS Tom Savage deploying the conductivity, temperature and density probe ~ photo by Megan Shapiro

The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.

Coxswain
Coxswain Zucker – photo by Tom Savage

The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.

 

 

 

 

Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data
Hydrographer Megan analyzing the data

As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected.  The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting.  Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!

 

Personal Log

I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities.  Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July!  For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?

Question of the day.  Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above?      Data table below……    Answer in the next blog

What is the relative humidity?
What is the relative humidity?

 

Until next time, happy sailing !

Tom

Thomas Savage: Which radars are used on the bridge? August 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 6, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 14 knots
Visibility: 5 nautical  miles
Barometer: 1007.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Cloud Height: 10,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology 

The focus of the NOAA ship Fairweather is to generate and update existing maps of the ocean floor called hydrography. The ship is outfitted with state of the art mapping equipment which uses single and multibeam sonar in capturing the physical topography of the ocean floor (more on this in a future blog).  The region we are mapping is located off the coast of Point Hope in north west Alaska.  It takes an amazing amount of technology especially navigational tools located in the bridge to navigate the ship within this challenging region called the Chukchi Sea.  There are two types of radar on the bridge used to navigate the ship using different radio frequencies, the X band and S band.

The X Band radar generates radio waves with 3 cm and 9 GHz, respectively. The radar is positioned high above the bridge and has the ability to pick up ships up to 40 miles in the distance. During the best weather conditions, officers on the bridge can see the horizon at a distance of 6 miles with the highest powered binoculars and make out other vessels out to about 14 miles. This radar extends the visual range of officers especially identifying ships that are not visible through the use of binoculars. This radar is useful for detecting smaller objects such as small boats in the vicinity of the ship, due to its ability to better resolve smaller objects.

The S Band radar generates radio waves with 9cm and 3 GHz … for context, a microwave oven operates at around 2.5 GHz; a car radio receives at 0.1 GHz (though most people think in MHz… e.g. “You’re listening to The Mountain on 105.9 (MHz)”… the lower frequency of the radio means it’s even less affected by rain and can travel even farther – both good things if you’re running a radio station). This type sound wave have longer distances between each crest. As a result, the sound wave can better track larger objects than the X band and objects at greater distances. In addition, this radar can be used to detect ships through walls of rain. This radar is used by weather forecasters to track types of precipitation, direction and severity and to identify possible rotations that could develop tornado. Another unique property of this radar is its ability to track precipitation on the other side of mountains. In this region of Point Hope, the Brooks Range is visible to the east and knowing the precipitation and direction is important for planning ship operations.

 

X Band Radar
Ensign Tennyson operating the X Band Radar

Another vital role of these radars is to track current position of the ship when anchored. By using four known coordinates of physical objects on land, in our case, the Brooks Range, located to our east, and known peninsulas are targeted. Officers will use the alidade (and compass rose) located outside the bridge to get their bearings and confirm the ships geographic coordinates. This information reveals whether the ship’s anchor is being dragged.

Alidade
Ensign Tennyson operating an alidade

 

Geography – Point Hope is located just above the Arctic Circle; why is NOAA mapping this region?  The sea ice in this region of Point Hope continues to disappear as a reflection of increased global temperatures. This has generated an opportunity for merchant ships to sail north of Canada instead of using the Panama Canal. The mapping of the ocean floor will provide mariners accurate maps resulting in safer passage.

Personal Log

My journey began at 6 am as my plane from the Asheville airport departed. Traveling over Alaska viewing the Rockies and glaciers from the window has been inspiring and reveals how big Alaska really is.  As soon as I landed in Nome, Alaska, around 1 am eastern time, I was reminded again how important it is to be flexible when participating in any NOAA research. After meeting up with the junior officer at the airport, he informed me that the ship is leaving in two hours due to an approaching storm. Scientists conducting research on board a ship at sea are always at the mercy of mother nature. Everyone on board NOAA’s hydrographic ship Fairweather has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made my transition to life at sea smooth. The tradition of excellent food on board NOAA ships continues!!

Flying out of Asheville
Flying out of Asheville

 

I am looking forward to learning as much as I can during this three week adventure and bring back inspiring lessons and labs to the classroom. It is always my hope and vision to provide real world science in action to excite and encourage our students to explore and possible explore careers in science.

Until next time, happy sailing !

~ Tom

 

 

 

 

Tom Savage: Introduction, June 1, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: June 1, 2018

Introduction

Greetings from Western North Carolina.  My name is Tom Savage, and I am a high school Science teacher at the Henderson County Early College on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, NC.  I currently teach Chemistry, Earth Science, Physical Science and coach our Science Olympiad Team. This is my fourteenth year teaching and ninth year teaching at the early college.

Science Olympiad team
Science Olympiad team placed first this year at UNC – Asheville, NC !

 

Exactly three years ago, I was preparing for my first NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage aboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. During that mission, we conducted a cetacean (whale) inventory off the coast of New England in a region called Georges Bank. It was a trip of a lifetime and it had a profound impact on my teaching and my students.  As a result, students in my physical science classes are now identifying whales species based on their sound acoustics. In addition, I began a new elementary outreach program, “Young Scientist.”  Through activities, elementary children are exposed to the many sounds marine mammals produce for communication. Embedded within these lessons is the the marine mammals that reside in our oceans and NOAA’s mission in safe guarding these fragile ecosystems. Collaboration continues today with acoustician scientist Genevieve Davis, from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, located in the small scientific community of Woods Hole on Cape Cod.

Stickers for the Drifter Buoy
“Sounds of the Sea” ~ elementary children designing stickers to be attached to the drifter buoy.

I was very excited and honored to be chosen for another “once in a lifetime adventure,” two in one lifetime! This year I will be assisting with a hydrographic survey in and around the inside passages of southeast Alaska on NOAA Ship Fairweather! The goal of the survey is to map the ocean floor through the use of SONAR for the purpose of updating nautical charts. Using sound waves for mapping will compliment my marine mammal lesson plans. On this mission, we will be deploying a drifter buoy in which students will be tracking during the year as it will be transmitting realtime locations.

I have always had a fascination with the oceans. During the summer of 2013,  I spent a week with eighteen other science teachers from across the county, scuba diving within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This week long program was sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and NOAA.  This exceptional professional development provided an opportunity to explore, photograph and develop lesson plans with a focus on coral reefs. I also learned about how important the Gulf of Mexico is to the oil industry. I had the opportunity to dive under an abandoned oil platform and discovered the rich, abundant animal life and how these structures improve the fish population.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked for six years in the GIS (Geographic Information System) field collecting, developing and designing maps for many purposes; ocean floor mapping is not on the list. I also worked for five years as a park ranger at many national parks including the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Acadia. Working at these national treasures was wonderful and very beneficial to my teaching.

Discover SCUBA

Providing young adults with as many experiences and career possibilities is the hallmark of my teaching. During the year, I arrange a “Discover SCUBA” at the local YMCA. Students who have participated in this have gone on to become certified. In the fall I have offered “Discover Flying” at a local airport, sponsored by the “Young Eagles” program. Here students fly around our school and community witnessing their home from the air. A few students have gone on to study various aviation careers.

Preparing for flight
Preparing for flight !

The most difficult part of being at sea for such a long time is missing my family.  They all enjoy the ocean! I have been diving with my son since he was 12 and this summer my daughter will earn her junior certification.

MacKenzie and Julianna
My children, MacKenzie and Julianna

I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!  Please send any questions that you may have and I will respond in a timely manner.

Until next time; happy sailing!

 

Tom Savage: Meet the Staff and Scientists, June 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Meet the Staff and Scientists

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 15 C
Wind speed: 5 knots
Wind direction: coming from the North West
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1009 millibars

Personal Log

My journey has come to a conclusion, and we are one hour from docking at the naval base in Newport, RI. What a privilege it is to be a part of this scientific mission. The substantial photos, videos, data and experiences will greatly enhance my physical and earth science curriculum and further my goal of getting students interested in fields of science. This journey has reinforced my position that a nation cannot advance and improve the quality of life without scientific research.

I would like to thank the scientists on board during this cruise, Mr. Pete Duley and Dr. Danielle Cholewiak

 

Teacher & Chief Scientist
Me, Pete Duley and Danielle “Dani” Cholewiak

Science and Technology Log

Every job aboard a research vessel is mission critical, and one is not more important than the other. During this excursion, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the crew and scientists that made this tour a success.

 

IMG_0579
Executive Officer (XO), Patrick Murphy, NOAA Corps

Pat began his career studying Physics at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and earned a master’s degree in oceanography while attending Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When asked how he got involved in the NOAA Corps, he mentioned there were two well defined career paths as an oceanographer: NOAA or teaching. He advises students who are considering the NOAA Corps to build operational leadership skills and to demonstrate that you can work in a team and complete a job when assigned.

A few of his favorite places he has visited while employed with the NOAA Corps: Farallone Islands Ca, Alaska bays and inside passages when hiding from storms, and Dutch Harbor located among the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

 

Yin-AMAPPS-HBigelow-17Jun2015-Julianne-1349
Julianne, Acoustician

Julianne is a recent graduate of Oregon State University and received a BS in zoology, and she is currently working on her master’s degree. Her path with NOAA started as a recipient of the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program. This program provides students with scholarship money and paid internships with the goal of fostering multidisciplinary training opportunities within NOAA. After graduating from Oregon State University, Julianne worked in Alaska at a remote salmon hatchery, Snettisham Hatchery. She is currently an acoustician with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center as a research analyst focusing on real-time acoustic tracking of baleen whales and the North Atlantic right whale migratory corridor project.

 

Genevieve, Research Analyst

Genevieve was also a NOAA Hollings scholar and worked on North Atlantic Right Whale calling behavior across seasons. Genevieve joined NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries acoustics team as a research analyst focusing on baleen whale acoustics and as an elementary school educational outreach program at the center. She is working on her doctorate in Environmental Biology with a focus on baleen distributions and migrations.

 

MMPA17355_HMoors-Murphy_ (35)
Hillary, whales specialist for Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.

Hilary became interested in whales at the age of five. “My mom was always super interested in the ocean and we went whale watching often.” She studied marine biology with a focus on seal acoustics. Getting on a boat to see and study marine animals is what she enjoys most about her job.

When asked about advice for students who want to study marine biology. “Get experience whenever you can, especially if you have the opportunity to work in a lab. Having experience is crucial. Volunteering with a professor who is studying seals led me to an avenue in whale biology.”

 

IMG_0674
Dennis, Chief Steward

Prior to joining NOAA, Dennis had a career with the Navy for 20 years. Dennis has one of the most important jobs on the ship, keeping everyone fed. He is absolutely amazing!  While I was on duty on the Fly Bridge, around four in the afternoon, aromas from the galley drifted to the Fly Bridge.  It was a nightly contest to guess what would be served in the galley. His cooking is so unique that all of our guesses were incorrect; we went 0/5 that week. One night, steak was served for dinner and it was the best steak I have ever had.  Thanks Dennis!

 

IMG_0500
Marjorie , Research Fishery Biologist

Marjorie works for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Her job focuses on collecting data from commercial fishing operations. This data provides valuable information on determining if certain fish populations can maintain a healthy marine mammal population.

She earned an undergraduate degree in Natural resources from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She is currently working on a doctorate in Marine Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Best wishes to all !

Tom

Tom Savage: Tuning in to Sei Whales, June 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Tuning in to Sei Whales

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 16, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 13 C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: coming from the North West
Relative humidity: 95%
Barometer: 1004 millibars

Personal Log

Today is my third day at sea and I’m enjoying every moment; time onboard the ship flies. Although time onboard is dwindling, lots of discovery remains. Sunday brought sunny skies and warm temperatures, another perfect day for whale identification. It has been a real joy working with this exceptional group of professionals. Everyone is very supportive of each other and mission focused.

Science and Technology Log

The mission of this cruise is Cetacean research, but what exactly is a Cetacean? Cetus is a Latin word used in the context of biology defined as “whale”. Whales and dolphins are included within this order of classification. As stated in my earlier blogs, we are focusing on sei whales, pronounced ‘say” and beaked whales.

Why study sei and beaked whales? These whales are some of the least studied and scientists know relatively little about them. Information collected so far on sei whales: they have poleward migration trends, feed on small fish, krill and copepods (small crustaceans), and are thought to be populated along boundaries of elevated sea floors such as Georges Bank. Along the border of Georges Bank, upwelling of small prey occur due to ocean currents creating a perfect feeding ground for whales. Sei whales will also skim the ocean surface for food. Unfortunately, due to this feeding habit, many sei whales are struck and killed by large ships.

The other type of whale we are searching for are beaked whales. These whales are extremely difficult to identify due to their feeding and swimming behaviors. They are deep divers and spend a lot of time at depths of more than a thousand feet feeding on squid and fish. When they surface, they are inconspicuous and not acrobatic, and they are very difficult to see. Because they are found offshore in very deep waters, there are few opportunities to study them. Most of what is known about these species comes from individuals that have stranded on beaches where people can find them.

Spectrogram
Acoustician scientist, Chris, analyzing a spectrogram

One method scientists on board use to detect the presence of sei whales is to listen for them using hydrophones (underwater microphones). For this cruise, the acousticians are deploying sonobuoys: short term recorders that can transmit live audio feed through VHF channels. Sei whales generate tonal calls and produce a “down sweep “ from high to low frequency with a range from of 80 – 30 Hz. Sei whales are classified as a Baleen Whale.

Sei whale
Sei whale, photo courtesy Northeast Marine Fisheries, NOAA Whale permit mmpa # 17355

Baleen whales produce tonal calls typically under 1 kHz. For some species, like the humpback whale, song is known to be produced only by males, presumably to attract mates. After deploying the sonobuoy, we quickly began receiving signature tonal calls of sei whales. A sound spectrogram is used to interpret and project these acoustics on a graph with frequency on the y axis (vertical) and time on the x axis (horizontal). The darker plots indicate that the whale is close and lighter plots are weaker signals. Sometimes they will call in doubles or triple sweeps. Below is an example of a sei whale tonal call of the coast of Nova Scotia. Can you find the call?

Spectrograph
Sei whale acoustic sample recorded off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Scientists are not sure at this point what purpose these calls serve; for example, they could be used to maintain contact between individuals, attract mates, or advertise feeding areas.

Atlantic White Sided Dolphin
Atlantic White Sided Dolphin Photo taken by Hillary Moors-Murphy

Scientists are also trying to understand the oceanographic and habitat factors that are correlated with sei whale distribution. One question is what kind of prey are in the areas where sei whales are and are not found. In the evening hours, fishing nets are deployed to take a sample of organisms present in the ocean at that location. Shallow nets, called bongos, are used to take samples of zooplankton in the water down to 200m. Tonight, we are in deeper waters and the mid-water trawl net went down to 650 meters for 45 minutes. The net is then pulled in and fish are identified, counted and entered into a computer database. As mentioned above, sei whales like to feed on copepods and small arthropods. Guess what we pulled out of the bongo nets last night?

Copepod Soup
Copepod soup. A delicious dinner for sei whales!

Until next time, happy sailing!

Tom

Tom Savage: Whales to the Left, Whales to the Right, June 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 12, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 18 C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: coming from north west
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1015 millibars

Personal Log

Today is my second day at sea and I can finally walk to various places on the ship in less time. I have found sleeping on the ship to be very easy as the ship rocks back and forth. I really enjoy being at sea; it is very tranquil at times and I am not rushed to go anywhere except my assigned duty locations. While on deck observing, the sights and smell of the ocean invokes memories of my former home in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After a full day of observing whales in the sunshine I was very excited to conduct some star-gazing at night. At 2200, as I opened the first hatch outside, I walked into a wall of fog and was reminded quickly that I am miles offshore on Georges Bank in June!

Science and Technology Log

Sighting whales yesterday was very slow, but today made up for it. The weather was perfect, as the sky was mostly sunny with few high cirrus clouds early. Today I was assigned to the Flying Bridge for observations all day. There are three stations and we rotate every thirty minutes. The stations are Big Eyes on port and starboard sides and a computer in the center for data entry. We use different terms for orientation on the ship. For instance, the front of the ship is called the bow. While facing the bow, the left side is called the port and the right side starboard.

DiscussingSightings
Discussing sightings on the “Fly Bridge”

My rotation began on the port side of the ship using the “Big Eyes”. After a half hour, your eyes become tired, strained and shifting to the computer to enter whale sighting helps. At the computer we enter whale sighting data called out by observers.

LookingThroughBigEyes
Looking through the “Big Eyes”. Do you see anything?

In addition to recording the identification of animals; other important attributes are called out by the observers such as bearings and direction headings. Looking through the “big eyes”, a range finder is located from center with a scale from 0 – 24, and is called the reticle. To properly calculate distance, the observer needs to adjust the “Big Eyes” to align zero with the ocean horizon. This is very difficult since the ship is always in motion. The “Big Eyes” in the image above is not correctly aligned. There is a chart we used to translate the reticle values to distance.

An early morning break was followed by an amazing hour of multiple whale sightings. Fin, humpback whales and pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphin sightings were all around the ship. One humpback whale came within twenty feet of the boat. The afternoon was less active but we tracked pilot whales later which were not seen during morning rotations.

ViewFlyBridge
View from the “Fly Bridge” looking down on the “Rolling Bridge”

 

Until next time, happy sailing!

~ Tom

 

Tom Savage: In Search of Whales, June 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 15 C
Wind speed: 22 knots
Wind direction: coming from south-east
Relative humidity: 95%
Barometer: 1010 millibars

Personal Log

My first day at sea began at the bow of the ship searching for Sei and Beaked Whales. What a privilege it is to wake up and walk to the front of a research vessel to start your work day. The early morning hours were ideal for sighting whales as we experienced sunny skies and calm seas. The weather conditions deteriorated into the afternoon and made sightings very challenging.  To accurately record the distance from the ship to the marine animals, the observer needs to see the visual horizon. This wind speed also increased during the day causing the ship to move in all directions impacting our accuracy.

IMG_0383
Using the “Big Eyes”

Preparing for a complex research mission is not easy and takes months of planning. Due to the complexity of this mission, we were delayed three days to ensure that all scientific equipment and gear was properly working. During this delay, the mission’s chief scientist, Dr. Danielle Cholewiak, has been exceptional in welcoming me. I took her advice and stayed in Falmouth, Massachusetts, which is near Woods Hole. Woods Hole is home to NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Woods Hole is a village in the town of Falmouth with a strong science contingent including Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute which are private research institutions not directly affiliated with NOAA.

During this time, I had the privilege of meeting other scientists who are participating on this mission, Mike and Lorenzo. Mike will be collecting data on sea birds and Lorenzo is an acoustics (sound) specialist from Scotland.

Everyone on board NOAA’s research vessel Henry B. Bigelow has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made my transition to life at sea smooth.

The food on board the ship is amazing; my Teacher at Sea colleagues were correct.

Science and Technology Log

Although visual whale sightings were difficult today, this did not prevent the scientists from using other technologies to detect the animals. Today, a Sonobouy was deployed for the purpose of detecting a “call” from Sei Whales. Like a human voice, whales produce sounds for communication. Each species of whale has  unique vocalizations with distinctive frequency range and timing characteristics, and the sonobouy is used to detect these sounds and to track their location. The sonobouy contains a single omni-directional hydrophone, particle motion sensors and a magnetic compass.

 

Sonobouy
Preparing the Sonobouy

This device is deployed from stern of the ship. The sonobuoy is configured to drift at a depth of 90 feet and send back acoustic signals to the vessel by VHF radio, where the data are processed using computer software.  The hydrophone is connected to the sonobouy by 90 feet of thin wire. This technology is relatively new in detecting whales for NOAA, but have been used extensively by the Navy for locating submarines. Today, the sonobouy did detect sounds from Sei whales (called “downsweeps”). The acoustics team plan on launching another sonobouy tonight and depending on this outcome will determine our travel plans for tomorrow.

Until next time, happy sailing!

~ Tom

Tom Savage, Introduction, June 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
     (Almost)  On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
        June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise:  North Atlantic
Date: June 2, 2015

Personal Log

Greetings from Western NC.  My name is Tom Savage, and I am a Science teacher at the Henderson County Early College in Flat Rock, NC. I currently teach Chemistry, Earth Science, Biology and Physical Science. In a few days I will be flying to Rhode Island and boarding NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow, a research vessel. We will be traveling in the North Atlantic region, mostly in Georges Bank which is located east of Cape Cod and the Islands.  The research mission will focus on two types of whales: Sei and Beaked Whales. Our primary goals will be photo-ID and biopsy collection, acoustic recording, and prey sampling.  I am looking forward to learning about the marine life and ocean ecosystem, and I look forward to sharing this knowledge with my students.

This will not be the first time that I have been out to sea.  A few years ago, I spent a week with eighteen other science teachers from across the county, scuba diving within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This week long program was sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and NOAA.  This exceptional professional development provided an opportunity to explore, photograph and develop lesson plans with a focus on coral reefs. I also learned about how important the Gulf of Mexico is to the oil industry.  I had the opportunity to dive under an abandoned oil platform and discovered the rich, abundant animal life and how these structures improve the fish population.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked as a park ranger at many national parks including the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Acadia. Working at these national treasures was wonderful and very beneficial to my teaching.

Providing young adults with as many experiences and career possibilities is the hallmark of my teaching. During the year, I arrange a “Discover SCUBA” at the local YMCA. Students who have participated in this have gone on to become certified. In the fall I have offered “Discover Flying” at a local airport, sponsored by the “Young Eagles” program. Here students fly around our school and community witnessing their home from the air. A few students have gone on to study various aviation careers.

Flying
“Discover Flying”

 

I am very excited in learning about the many career opportunities that are available on NOAA research vessels. It would be very rewarding to see a few of my students become employed with the NOAA Corps or follow a career in science due to this voyage.

Regards,

~  Tom