Victoria Obenchain: Launching Boats, July 9, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25 – July 6, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 9, 2018

Science and Technology Log

My last few days at sea were rather exciting.  Wednesday, I got to attend some medical training necessary at sea in the morning, and then in the afternoon we practiced safety drills. The whole crew ran through what to do in the case of three different ship emergencies: Fire, Abandon Ship and Man Overboard.  These drills were pretty life-like, they had a fog machine which they use to simulate smoke for the fire drill. Once the alarm was triggered people gather in their assigned areas; roll was taken, firemen and women suited up and headed to the location where smoke was detected, and from there teams are sent out to assess damage or spreading of the fire, while medical personnel stood prepared for any assistance needed. The abandon ship drill required all men and women on board to acquire their life preserver and full immersion suit, and head to their lifeboat loading locations. Roll is then taken and an appointed recorder jots down the last location of the ship. Once this is done, men and women would have deployed the life rafts and boarded (luckily we did not have to). And for the man overboard drill they threw their beloved mannequin Oscar overboard in a life vest and had everyone aboard practice getting in their look out positions. Once Oscar was spotted, they turned the ship around, deployed an emergency boat and had a rescue swimmer retrieve him.

Fast Rescue Boat
Deployed emergency boat for rescue of the beloved mannequin, Oscar.

These drills are necessary so that everyone on board knows what to do in these situations. While no one hopes these emergencies will happen, knowing what to do is incredibly important for everyone’s safety.

Thursday was maybe my favorite day on board. Due to the fact that there are a handful of new personnel on board, practice launching and recovering the survey launch boats was necessary. There are 4 launch boats on top of NOAA Ship Fairweather, each equipped with their own sonar equipment. These boats sit in cradles and can be lowered and raised from the sea using davits (recall the video from the “Safety First blog a few days ago). These four boats can be deployed in an area to allow for faster mapping of a region and to allow for shallower areas to be mapped, which the NOAA Ship Fairweather may not be able to access.  Since this is a big operation, and one which is done frequently, practice is needed so everyone can do this safely and efficiently.


With the aid of Ali Johnson as my line coach, I got to help launch and recover two of the survey launch boats from the davits on the top of the ship into the Bering Sea. This is an important job for all personnel to learn, as it is a key part of most survey missions. Learning line handling helps to make sure the survey launches are securely held close to the ship to prevent damage and to safely allow people on and off the launch boats as they are placed in the sea.  From learning how to handle the bow and aft lines, to releasing and attaching the davit hooks, and throwing lines from the launches to the ship (which I do poorly with my left hand), all is done in a specific manner. While the practice was done for the new staff on board, it was fun to be involved for the day and I got to see the beauty of the NOAA Ship Fairweather from the Bering Sea.

And I truly enjoyed being on the small launch boats. I then understood what many of the officers mentioned when they told me they enjoyed the small boat work. It’s just fun!


My trip ended in Nome, Alaska, which was in and of itself an experience. Students, you will see pictures later.  I am extremely thankful for the crew on board NOAA Ship Fairweather, they are a wonderful mix of passionate, fun professionals. I learned so much!

Personal Log

Being a Teacher at Sea is a strange, yet wonderful experience. Being a teacher, I normally spend the vast majority of my day at work being in charge of my classroom and beautiful students; leading lesson and activities, checking-in with those who need extra help and setting up/tearing down labs all day, as well as hopefully getting some papers graded. However during this experience, I was the student, learning from others about their expertise, experience and passions, as well as their challenges; being in charge of nothing.  And given that I had no prior knowledge of hydrography, other than its definition, I was increasingly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm those on board had for this type of work.  It drove my interest and desire to learn all I could from the crew. In fact, I often thought those on board were older than they were, as they are wiser beyond their years in many area of science, technology, maritime studies, NOAA Ship Fairweather specifics and Alaskan wildlife.

Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather
Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather

NOAA offers teachers the opportunities to take part in different research done by their ships throughout the research season as a Teacher at Sea. The 3 main types of cruises offered to teachers include (taken from the NOAA Teacher at Sea website):

  • Fisheries research cruises perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats.
  • Oceanographic research cruises perform physical science studies to increase our understanding of the world’s oceans and climate.
  • Hydrographic survey cruises scan the coastal sea floor to locate submerged obstructions and navigational hazards for the creation and update of the nation’s nautical charts.

I was excited to be placed on a Hydrographic Survey boat, as this is an area in my curriculum I can develop with my students, and one which I think they are going to enjoy learning about!

While I was sad to leave, and half way through had a “I wish I would have known about this type of work when I was first looking at jobs” moment (which I realize was not the goal of this fellowship or of my schools for sending me), I am super excited to both teach my students about this important work and also be a representative of this awesome opportunity for teachers. I will wear my NOAA Teacher at Sea swag with pride!

Teacher at Sea gear!
Me in my awesome Teacher at Sea gear!


Victoria Obenchain: Robots in the Arctic, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 61o 04.7’ N
  • Longitude: 167o 53.5’ W
  • Wind Speed: 4 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, southwest
  • Visibility: 150 feet
  • Air Temperature: 9.8o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center have partnered up to test out an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), a programmable robotic survey boat. In two weeks, they will be deploying the ASV in the Arctic, in the Point Hope vicinity, where NOAA Ship Fairweather has been tasked to map the ocean.


There are many benefits to using the ASV for ocean mapping. First, it is able to survey in shallower waters than the launch boats, especially along coastlines. This data will be helpful to those who work on predicting storm surges and flooding for coastal communities. Second, the ASV can survey in potentially dangerous areas the launches would not be able to gain access to, such as in rocky areas or areas where there may be sandbars, that data will be helpful for smaller boats who use the area. Third, it can provide additional survey capacity in conjunction with the launches. For example, 4 launch boats could be sent out and an ASV to get an area surveyed, cutting down on the time required to accomplish missions. And lastly, if trained personnel are not available to drive or survey in a launch, this gives an additional option to the crew to accomplish the survey.

While those benefits are the goal of using ASV’s in the future, this summer’s mission with the ASV is to allow people to get acquainted with the robot, work out issues with software and the robot itself, and see how effective this tool is. The crew will practice deploying and recovering the robot. While robots can make jobs easier and possibly even safer for humans, until it is tested, you are never sure if they will actually be helpful. Robots in general tend to be finicky, have no sense of danger, and are not be able to work when waves are too high. Additionally, sometimes how we presume something will work in theory plays out differently in practice. I see this in my classroom all the time when the first and fourth graders are working with their robots and inventions, so trial and error is important, especially with a new tool. However, with any luck, this will serve as an excellent resource for the future of ocean hydrography.

How do you keep spirits high in Alaska, on a research vessel?

The crew on NOAA Ship Fairweather seems to have the right idea when it comes to keeping moral high. As I have said before, living and working in the same smallish space can have it challenges. Yet this ship has been doing scientific hydrographic research for 50 years, and has people on board who love their job and this small community. So how do they do it? I have learned a few of their ways.

They are a super welcoming community. They accept each other, and the different perspectives people bring to the job, and make each other feel appreciated. This welcoming attitude plays well for those who visit, as well.

They have Carrie, a chef who makes three delicious meals a day with her fellow stewards. She uses quality foods, remembers everyone’s likes and dislikes, and cheerfully greets everyone as the come into the mess line. Everyone on board looks forward to meals and especially her desserts! From cookies, carrot cake, puddings to even cheese cake; she is keeping everyone a bit spoiled- especially me!

They have a gym on board. There are machines, weights, group challenges and goal setting going on. Working out helps people have an outlet for their stress and any pent up energy. Also, it can help you feel better after having a bit too much dessert one night!

There is a ship store, which stocks essentials, candy, people’s favorite sodas, and some ship memorabilia. And let’s be honest, sometimes you need a Diet Coke, M&M’s, or a Zip Fizz to help you get 41,000% of your daily B12! All profits go into the staff’s moral fund. This can get used for the staff to have extra snacks, excursions and community evenings on the boat.

They have a Moral, Wellness and Recreation committee (MWR). This group of 5 individuals plan and put on community events some evenings while at sea, excursions while in port and support other community gathering events.

General community gatherings take place regularly. While I have been on board, there have been movie and TV show nights where people gather in the lounge and watch together. A board game evening where those interested gathered to battle each other at Settlers of Catan. A Rock Band evening where even I found myself singing and playing guitar with officers, visitors and the CO and XO of the ship.

There is a Finer Things Club where people listen to classical music, light fake candles, share candies, cheeses and other items not on the ships menu with one another. And just have some nice, classy relaxation time with one another.


They have access to a huge collection of movies; both old and brand new. This creates much excitement and joy for many. In addition to that, there is an extensive board game collection, model planes that can be built and puzzles for those who prefer quieter evenings.

They celebrate holiday and maritime events in a big way! The MWR club decorates the ships common areas for such events, and works overtime to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. From drawing decorative hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, carving pumpkins for Halloween and making red white and blue rag tapestries for Independence Day; even though they are at sea, they are not missing out!



Everyone helps out when one department needs it. This helps create unity among the staff and for everyone to get to know each other better. Those in Survey help out the Deck Department for docking and launching, and if someone gets sick or a department is low in personnel, they sign up to help out that department.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the ship, so I will be posting one more blog when I return home. My experience has been so enlightening about NOAA, hydrography, Alaska, and life on a ship! I can not wait to share this with all of you, my students!  For those of you still reading along this summer, this is the path we have taken from Juneau to Nome, AK. I unfortunately will not be continuing on with NOAA Ship Fairweather as they venture farther north, but am so impressed with their dedication and skill in making our coastlines safe for both the mariners in the area and the environment.


Our route to Nome, AK.

Victoria Obenchain: NOAA Corps Officers, July 3, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 3, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 54o 53.1’ N
  • Long.: 162o 30.8’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 29 knots
  • Wind direction: East, southeast
  • Temperature: 10.0oC
  • Visibility: 4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast/Hazy

Personal Log

I am writing my personal log first this time, because I am just in awe of the beauty around me. We pulled in to Kodiak, AK on Sunday to pick up an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) which will be used later in the summer, and to refuel. The scenery here is just amazing, I spent the day on the Flying Bridge (the highest point I am allowed to stand) and just took in the sun, scenery and beauty. The water was a crystal royal blue, the mountains a bright green topped with white snow; and as we finally pulled out, fascinating sea life appeared all around us. From jellyfish, sea otters, porpoises, whales and puffins; it was beautiful. While I was not fast enough with my camera when an animal decided to grace my presence, here are some pictures of the scenery.

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers of the NOAA Corps work hard to keep our ship on course and accomplish the ship’s mission. The ship has a wide range of officers; senior officers who are within a few years of retirement, officers who have worked on multiple assignments and are working their way up the ranks to one day being a commanding officer (CO) of their own ship, down to junior officers who have just joined NOAA a few months ago and are still learning all they need to know to be a part of this amazing team.  They are an incredible example of respect, self discipline, perseverance and teamwork.

Officers on the bridge of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Today, the newer junior officers had a chance to take part in a docking and launching ship simulation. The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines. The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions. The officers yelled out the commands and the other players responded accordingly, much like they would do as an Officer on Duty. The ship on the screen then would move as it would in the sea. Junior officers could then see how a ship would respond to their calls. Docking and launching are done very little once on a mission, so junior officers might not get too many chances to practice this important skill. This seemed to get everyone a bit involved.

Every few years, officers rotate between ship deployments and land assignments. While an officer may really love their current assignment or position, this change in location and assignment allows them to learn new skills and develop as NOAA officers. NOAA’s commitment to science and technology has attracted some of the most passionate and scientifically-minded individuals to this career path; developing their skills and challenging them to grow within their field seems to be something NOAA has excelled at. On board NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers are constantly learning, pushing or supporting each other and following a chain of command with the highest respect.  I am constantly impressed with their knowledge of the ship, the engines, native sea life, navigational skills, safety protocols, survey planning (yes they do surveys, too!) and patience, especially with a very interested and inquisitive Teacher at Sea.

ENS Lawler and ENS Junge keeping us on course.

NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniform services in our country. NOAA’s mission has a scientific focus, so all officers have an undergraduate degree in a scientific field and some level of science expertise. While many are excited to join this amazing team, there are some challenges outside the work itself. A ship assignment is not the easiest of jobs; to be in a self-contained area which serves as both your work and your home, one that may offer you little privacy and connections to the outside world when cell service is not available or wifi is slow, and yet together they lift each other up, help each other succeed and move past disagreements quickly, as they are all going through some of the same issues.

I have spent some time talking to a few of the newer officers about why they joined NOAA Corps. They are all so passionate about their job, yet, only one of them, when they were in middle school or high school, even thought this would be where they are today.  For time and space reasons, not to mention for my students’ attention spans, I will paraphrase a few of them below.

What was appealing about joining NOAA Corps?

-I really wanted to go to sea, and do science. I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-NOAA Corps moves you around every few years, between land and sea assignments. This allows you to never get stagnant in your skills, you are always learning. – LT Steve Moulton

-Before this I was in the Coast Guard reserves and working on my science graduate degree, and this seemed like a good next step. What cemented it for me was when I got to go to Antarctica for some research on a ship for 37 days, it made me realize this was what I wanted to do. -ENS William Abbott

What are the best days like on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-Driving the ship in cool places and in interesting, challenging passes. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-I like doing the small boat surveys; small boat operations and data collection, and getting diving practice in when possible. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

-Just being on the bridge, orienting yourself with where you are, and figuring out the big picture when it comes to the ship. – ENS William Abbott

-Being on the bridge with your co-workers, figuring things out together, it can be really fun. -ENS Jeff Calderon

What challenges are there to working on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-It can be a lot of pressure to perform your job well. You are responsible for those on board. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-Being on a ship for so long, it starts to feel small, and you miss things like gardening and just the land in general. – ENS Linda Junge

-There is a lot of electronic equipment to become acquainted with and know how to work without thinking about. – ENS Cabot Zucker

What are you looking forward to in your NOAA Career?

-My next assignment is in Maryland, I’ll be doing small boat surveys and mapping in the Chesapeake Bay. It will be nice to be closer to home. – ENS Patrick Lawler

– Hopefully getting sent to Antarctica, they have a station there. It would be cool to work there for a bit. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

-Hopefully going to dive school. I also like that throughout this job I will be constantly learning. – ENS Cabot Zucker

-I hope to be getting into pilot training/flight school within a few years.- ENS Jeff Calderon

What did you want to be growing up or what did you see yourself doing when you were older?

-Totally wanted to be a baseball player… or I guess something with Marine Biology or Marine Science, doing field research. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-Was very interested in being a pilot for a bit of a time. Sometimes I was unsure, but definitely knew I wanted to travel! – ENS Linda Junge

-I wanted to be on a ship, my Mom and Godmother worked on ships, this was kind of where I saw myself. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

– The stereotypical mad scientist. Yep, that’s what I thought. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

Is there anything else you would tell someone about this job, in particular some adorable science loving, students who maybe have not heard much about this type of career?

-This is a lot of fun! It’s a good mix of science, active and outside work, and you get to see the world. –ENS Kevin Tennyson

– I definitely did not know about this growing up! I would say to look at Maritime Academies for those who might be interested. There are a lot of ship jobs out there that pay well and offer you fun interesting work that is not behind a desk. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

– A ship is a cool environment to work in, not just for NOAA, any ship job can be great. If you are interested in research options to more exotic or isolated places, employers like those who have ship work skills. Those people can usually be resourceful and diffuse stressful situations; because, well you have to be able to. And it’s cool… so why not be on a ship? – ENS Linda Junge

– This job is all about adventure, it will definitely challenge you! – LT Steve Moulton

One last thing: I got a very short video of some porpoises, check them out!

Victoria Obenchain: Surveying with Fairweather, June 30, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 30th, 2018

 Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 57o 57.7’ N
  • Long.: 145o 45.7’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 1 knot
  • Wind direction: West, southwest
  • Temperature: 10.8oC
  • Visibility: 6.4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Cloudy

 Science and Technology Log

The last two days have been surveying days. With the MVP (described in the last blog) deployed, the survey team got to work. This ship uses multibeam sonar which is affixed below the ship. Since surveying can be done at all times of day, 3 teams were created to do Survey Watch; each team worked two 4 hour blocks during the day to make sure the data was collected correctly.  I was luckily placed on one of the teams, working the 3:30-7:30pm shift and the 3:30-7:30am shift. While these may not be the most normal of work day times, especially the latter, I was excited to be included and experience how work gets done on this ship.

This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts a MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.
This image, courtesy of NOAA, depicts a MBSS beam below the ship and the mapped results off the stern.
Ali Johnson monitoring 5 screens to make sure the sonar mapping is done correctly.
Ali Johnson monitoring 5 screens to make sure the sonar mapping is done correctly.

I was teamed up with two amazing female scientists and surveyors on Survey Watch, Megan Shapiro and Ali Johnson.

Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation
Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation

Megan is from Maryland and got her undergraduate degree from UNC Wilmington in Marine Biology Conservation. She has a love for whales and that is what brought her to Alaska, as she used to work in Seward, Alaska as a deck hand and naturalist on whale watching excursions. To NOAA’s luck, this is where Megan learned about NOAA Ship Fairweather and its hydrographic mission.  Megan joined the ship about three month ago and has gotten tons of on the job training to help her learn how to map the sea floor.

Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College.
Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College.

Ali Johnson is from Iowa, and got her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, with a dual minor in Biology and Coastal Management from Eckerd College. She learned about NOAA and its work with sonar while she was volunteering at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.  NOAA was actually using sonar in the preserve to help learn about diurnal fish migrations and predator prey relationships in the area.

While on Survey Watch, Megan and Ali monitor the ships sonar readings along the sea floor, deploy the MVP continuously throughout the trek to gather up to date data, and make sure the information is being recorded correctly. They work along side the officers to monitor the ship’s course to make a full coverage map of the area, which means having the ship go back and forth, like a lawn mower might do in your yard, until all pieces of an area are mapped. And then once all the sonar soundings are in, weeks of processing that data starts. They use correctors for the data, such as: tides, roll and pitch of the boat, sound speed, and position, to then help create the most accurate representation of the sea floor.


I wanted to know more about these amazing scientists. NOAA Ship Fairweather is a fairly large ship which can hold approximately 50 people, Megan and Ali are two of the only five women who work onboard.

What is the most rewarding part of this job?

Megan: Probably knowing that the work I am doing is going to be making the nautical charts used by mariners all over the world, it’s cool to know I am taking part in that.

Ali: I like the high quality and accuracy of data we provide, it allows for others to use the data in other applications, such as tsunami and hurricane planning, hazard mitigation and in other facets of NOAA.

What are some of the perks working for NOAA and on NOAA Ship Fairweather?

Megan: Getting to travel to new places and getting to meet a lot of new people, many of which are like minded.

Ali: We get to travel and gain access to remote areas of the world which are stunning. I like being out on the water as well. Additionally, we get access to new release movies before they hit stores, so that’s pretty nice, too!

What are some of the challenges to this type of work?

Megan: It’s hard staying in touch with friends and family since the ship is normally out of cell service range and the wifi can be slow. Additionally, I miss cooking! While the ship offers us great cooked meals, I sometimes miss cooking for myself.

Ali: One of the biggest challenges is just being away from cities. If we wanted to go to the east coast, or home for a long weekend, its kind of hard. It is a 17 hour trip, from Juneau, with all the connections.

What have been some of the coolest or most memorable moments on the job?

Megan: While processing the data for an area known as Tracy Arm, my coworker and I discovered a previously unknown underwater trench! When we were looking at the area during processing, the area looked like it had a cut or dip in the surface. Once it was 3-d imaged you could see the trench. It was pretty cool.


Ali: Last year, a fishing/crabbing vessel, F/V Destination, went down in February with six on board. NOAA Ship Fairweather was passing through the area in June, and it had yet to be found. Since we were in the last known area of the vessel the Coast Guard asked us if we could spend a day or two in the area and use our sonar to see if we could help find it. We had only planned on spending one day looking since we were on our way to the Arctic, but when that day was done we decided to do one last pass and on the 26th hour the sonar ended up finding it. It was nice to be able to provide the families with closure.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Megan: I wanted to be a zoo keeper! Or really anything with animals, I thought about being a teacher, too.

Ali: I knew I wanted to do something with the oceans. Originally I wanted to work with ocean animals, possibly mammals or cephalopods.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Megan: Hopefully, having a farm by the ocean where I can have lots of dogs. I would love to have an Irish Wolf Hound, Collie and a Borzio in particular. Maybe get my masters in Marine Biology and continue studying whales.

Ali: Maybe I’ll be retire from NOAA by then and look into starting a nonprofit for the ocean. I’ll probably live somewhere warm and tropical; maybe lead a dive school to get others interested in the ocean, as well. And I’ll have some dogs, too!

Personal Log

I keep finding myself outside the ship to view the Alaskan coastline or to scope for animals. It is truly beautiful here.  So far I have been lucky enough to see quite a few whales, sea lions, porpoises and sea birds including albatross. It is a bit cold, so I can only be outside for a little bit, but I find the time completely worth it. Soon my time will be up and I want to be able to remember this experience and the Alaskan beauty I am in.

Alaskan coastline
Alaskan coastline



Vickie Obenchain: Starting a Hydrographic Survey, June 28, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 26 – July 6, 2018


Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Alaska

Date: June 28th, 2018

Weather from the Bridge

  • Latitude: 54o 25.5’ N
  • Longitude: 134o 13.7’ W
  • Wind Speed: 13 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, Southwest
  • Temperature: 12.2 oC
  • Visibility: 10 nautical miles
  • Wave Height: 1 foot
  • Current Sky Conditions: Overcast


Science and Technology Log

This morning I spent some time on the bridge with the officers. NOAA Ship Fairweather is manned day and night with men and women making sure we are safely on course. While the ship is equipped with GPS, the ship is also full of experienced mariners who plot our position on paper nautical charts to help guarantee the technology is working correctly and helps the officers orient themselves with the area.  Every 15 minutes, an officer plots our position either by using GPS coordinates, radar returns, or fixed land triangulation using an alidade. This last mode of determining our coordinates, at least to me, is the most difficult. You must use 3 fixed land points on either side of the ship, determine their direction using the compass on the alidade and then using sliding protractors plot our triangulated position on the chart. Both Executive Officer (XO) Michael Gonsalves and ENS Cabot Zucker have been incredibly helpful in teaching me these different plotting techniques.

plotting our course
XO Gonsalves in the foreground and ENS Zucker in the back plotting our course.

Today we are headed to the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System. This is a strike slip fault line extending 746 miles off shore of Vancouver Island to the Fairweather range in southeast Alaska.  USGS has partnered with NOAA Ship Fairweather to help to create part of a comprehensive map of one of the fastest moving underwater tectonic plates in the world, moving of a slip rate of 2 inches a year. Over the next 24 hours they will survey the area using multibeam sonar to help complete the mapping which as taken almost 4 years to complete.

To start this, the survey team had to deploy a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) into the water. The MVP follows behind the ship and by detecting water temperature and salinity of the water, the MVP can then determine the speed of sound in water needed to accurately detect the sea floor. With this knowledge the survey team can correctly calibrate their sonar to map the sea floor. Below you will see Sam Candio and Simon Swart of the survey team deploying the MVP.


Next blog will cover the amazing people working with the sonar, all times of day and night to make the sea floor maps! (Stay tuned!!)


Another short term visitor on this ship is a college student from Loyola University Chicago, Paul Campion, who is on board doing an internship with NOAA. Each year NOAA accepts approximately 130 college sophomores into their two-year-long Hollings internship program to give students an opportunity to take part in research, gain job experience and see what NOAA does.  While on board, Paul has been working with the survey team to learn how they do their work, as well as create his own project.  Paul has been looking at the electronic navigational charts (ENC) used today by most mariners which show the depth of the sea floor. As NOAA Ship Fairweather surveys an area, these ENC’s can then be updated with more accurate and up to date data. While some areas may remain the same, some areas may show changes or even characteristics which may not have been mapped prior and need to be highlighted.  Paul has been working to help create an efficient way to show where the ENCs are different to the new NOAA Ship Fairweather data and may need to be altered or updated.

Paul Campion
Paul Campion pointing out a beautiful glacier!

Personal Log

Since we are out in the sea, and do not have neighboring island chains around us, the boat has been tossed around a bit more and is definitely rolling around in the waves. Luckily, I have not been sick… yet. I have been taking sea sickness pills, and making sure I get plenty of fresh air, but the boat is definitely more difficult to work in. You find yourself moving both with the boat’s inertia and then having to fight against it to move. Walking uses walls and railings, sitting requires holding on to the closest counter top or nailed down object and to get into rooms you need to shove doors away from you to open them, yet hold on so they don’t swing completely away from you and slam the opposite wall. It is kind of challenging and yet amusing.

After lunch today, I went to take a shower. I was given some good advice since I had not done this when the boat was in open water. These words of advice included: Use the walls, kind of squat down to lower your center of gravity, don’t take a razor with you (nothing good will come of that), and if the soap drops be especially careful! All things I took to heart and I am glad to report I am clean, unscratched and ready for another day.


Vickie Obenchain: Safety First! June 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 26th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 58o 11.3’ N
  • Longitude: 134o 23.2’ W
  • Wind Speed: 6 knots
  • Wind Direction: East
  • Visibility: 7 nautical miles
  • Air Temperature: 12.5o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: 99% Cloud over made up of mainly stratus clouds, with a consistent drizzle
(Picture taken before consistent drizzle started.)
(Picture taken before consistent drizzle started.)

Science and Technology Log

I joined the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Juneau where it has been undergoing upgrades to its propulsion control. Due to these upgrades, yesterday and today the ship has been conducting sea trials to learn how the new upgrades work, train their crew on them and to make sure everything is calibrated accurately before we head out to sea and continue on the ship’s mission.

NOAA Ship Fairweather is a 231 foot long hydrographic (hydro meaning “water”, graphic meaning “drawing”) survey ship which helps map the sea floor and update nautical maps using sonar. A communications specialist contracting for NOAA, Gina Digiantonio, said it best (I will paraphrase her here): Would you jump into a body of water not knowing how deep it was? Or would you want to know you weren’t going to get hurt? This is the same thing ships and vessels have to plan for; will they run aground, hit rocks, is it safe enough for them to get through? By knowing the depth of the sea floor, mariners can avoid dangerous and expensive accidents to both their vessels and the environment.

This research is done not only with NOAA Ship Fairweather, but with the help of 4 smaller boats, or launches, on board. Each launch is equipped with its own sonar equipment which when all in use, help get large areas of the sea floor mapped at once.  Below you can watch one of these 8 ton launches being lowered into the Juneau harbor.

This work is incredibly important. Some nautical charts in the area date back to before the 1900’s with lesser bottom coverage and some areas in use are not mapped at all. With the forecast of complete loss of summer sea ice by 2050 in the Northwestern Alaska area, and with that the increase in commercial vessel traffic; the need for accurate maps to ensure safety of all vessels and the surrounding environment is important work.

Since I am a visitor on the NOAA Ship Fairweather; I, along with a few other visitors and new employees, took part in a safety orientation in case of emergencies. We learned where life vests and life boats are located, where to go in case of an emergency and what calls are used to notify those on the ship, as well as the procedures associated with each situation. Additionally, we had to practice getting into an immersion suit in case we had to abandon ship. These are full body wet suits which are waterproof and help prevent hypothermia.  Mine was a bit big, so I was given a smaller one. You can see me modeling a larger one here:

(Picture of me in immersion suit kindly taken by ENS Lawler)
(Picture of me in immersion suit kindly taken by ENS Lawler)

Personal Log:

I got to Juneau a day before the ship was set to start sea trials so I was able to visit Mendenhall Glacier which is about 12 miles outside of Juneau with two other visitors of NOAA Ship Fairweather.   As many glaciers are retreating around the globe, I felt lucky to go visit this one!

Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years
Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years

The 13 mile glacier stops at the Mendenhall Lake inside a fairly large valley which the glacier has helped to carve over the last 3,000 years.  Evidence of the glaciers movement is seen on the rocks, as they are polished from where miles of heavy ice has slid over them, over time.   This glacier has been retreating for the last 500 years and in doing so it has made new ecosystems around Juneau. These ecosystems include: a wetland for migrating birds, Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through (pictured below). The glacier’s retreat is noticeable from pictures taken over time at the visitor center.

Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through
Mendenhall Lake which provides a wildlife habitat for native animals such as beavers and bears, not to mention a recreation area to kayak in, and a beautiful conifer rain forest I got to hike through


Vickie Obenchain: Alaska Here I come! June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria (Vickie) Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25 – July 6, 2018

Mission:   Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: June 22nd, 2018


Personal Log

Hello, my name is Vickie Obenchain and I am the K-5 science specialist and 6-8 middle school science teacher at the Saklan School in Moraga, California. I was an outdoor environmental educator before becoming a classroom teacher and found water ways fascinating, as they can show you the health of an area, see human impact and also connect so many areas of the world and environments.  Now in the classroom, as my school is very close to the San Francisco Bay, water and ocean topics are always a discussion in my science classes.

Tomorrow, I leave for northwest Alaska to take apart in oceanic research on board NOAA Ship Fairweather. I will be working with NOAA scientists to help map the ocean floor around Alaska to help boats maneuver along those water ways, as most commerce comes either by boat or plane. Accurate up to date data is necessary to help also with storm surges and wave modeling.

NOAA Ship Fairweather_Photo courtesy NOAA__1513364385969__w960

NOAA Ship Fairweather (Courtesy of NOAA)

I am very excited to take part in this research. Being chosen to be a Teacher At Sea and learn along other scientists, take part in important research and travel to an area I have never seen before excites me to think of what all learning opportunities I will be able to bring back to my classroom. Most of all, I am excited to share with my students what a scientist’s life may look like; as they may get inspired themselves.

The weather in Alaska looks like it is in the 50’s and 60’s during the day and down into the 40’s at night, so I am packing a bit warmer clothes then I have been wearing the last week. Along with my awesome new NOAA Teacher At Sea swag I received to make me feel like one of the gang.

I hope you will follow along with me this summer!