Rebecca Loy, Sad to Say Goodbye, September 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 24, 2015

Current Location: Kodiak, Alaska

Noaa corps banner depicting work done by noaa corps officer and the logo's of NOAA Corps and DOC

While NOAA is a larger organization, I thought it might be nice for people to learn about the group that took such excellent care of me while I was at sea.  I am talking about the NOAA Corps.  These are the officers that get the ship where it needs to go safely.  NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States.  It has a long history starting as Survey of the Coast which was established by Thomas Jefferson in 1807.  The 321 officers in NOAA Corps not only work on and operate ships, but they also fly airplanes, facilitate research projects, conduct dive operations and work as staff throughout NOAA.

Press the link to learn more about NOAA Corps.  This could lead to an amazing career for someone!

Path to Rainier:

I thought it would be appropriate for me to highlight one of the NOAA officers.  They have all been wonderful to me and have taught me so much, it is hard for me to pick just one person.  I wish I could highlight them all.   One person that I could go to for anything, gave me my tour of Rainier and worked with me on the ship and on the shore is ENS Shelley Devereaux.

ENS Shelley Devereaux and I on the bridge.
ENS Shelley Devereaux and I on the bridge.

The NOAA Corps officers do so much.  I enjoyed sitting with ENS Devereaux and learning more about what she does and how she got to Rainier.   ENS Devereaux told me she does a little bit of everything, which is very true.  She works on navigation, standing watch, logistics of planning details for when the ship is inport including mail delivery and organizing the “liberty van” that takes crew into town.  ENS Devereaux does survey work and is the tide assistant (she was with me when we installed the tide gauge earlier).  I have only listed a few things here, all of the officers work very hard and are pretty amazing people!

ENS Devereaux started as a math major in college.  She also did some work as a bicycle mechanic, a pastry chef, worked as a research assistant for a bio lab and was a data manager for an educational non-profit.  She realized she missed science and went back to school to get her Master’s Degree in Geographic Information Systems.  She studied mapping applied to many areas of study including data visualization.

She learned about NOAA Corps when her uncle told her and her cousin about it.  ENS Devereaux’s cousin applied first and then she followed.  Her cousin in on Rainier’s sister ship, Fairweather.  Interestingly, the two cousins had a chance to meet up this past summer in the Arctic.

ENS Devereaux inputting data at the tide gauge installation.
ENS Devereaux inputting data at the tide gauge installation.

ENS Devereaux told me more about the NOAA Corps.  She had to undergo training for 6 months with the Coast Guard Academy (the two services work together for training).  There she learned ship navigation, firefighting, First Aid, driving the rescue boats and how to be an officer plus much more.  After her initial training, she had further training with NOAA for safety, teamwork, communication, leadership skills and problem solving.  ENS Devereaux truly enjoys the hands on work, being part of a team, serving and creating charts for safe navigation.

When I asked ENS Devereaux where she has been in the world, she told me she traveled to parts of Europe and Costa Rica, but the most interesting part is she backpacked by herself through Mongolia, China and Taiwan.  I was not surprised that this dynamic woman would take on this challenge.

Tide install with Rainier in the background.
Tide install with Rainier in the background.

Like all of the officers on Rainier, ENS Devereaux is a pretty spectacular person.  Knowing that people like her, including her NOAA Corps colleagues, are serving and taking care of our oceans is very reassuring.   Thank you for everything you have done for me and our planet.

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log:

Sunrise from Shelikoff Strait.
Sunrise from Shelikoff Strait.
Hello there!
Hello there!

My time here on Rainier is drawing to a close.  When I first arrived, it was all so new and exciting and I must admit it was a bit overwhelming.  Now, almost 3 weeks later, I feel like an integral part of this crew.  While this ship is incredible, it is the people who make it their work and home that make it truly special.

This hard working crew has included me in everything!  I was given every opportunity possible so I could bring this experience back to my community – and I have some wonderful ideas thanks to them!!!

Kizhuyak Bay
Kizhuyak Bay

I learned more than just how this ship runs or what hydrographic surveys are.   More importantly, I watched this group of people be problem solvers.  We often teach our students how to resolve a situation.  Being on Rainier showed me that this is a skill that needs to continually be exercised!

I thought this was an interesting beach photo.
I thought this was an interesting beach photo.

I appreciated how a situation would present itself and the crew would move into action!  This could be something less intense like planning our route from bay to bay around Kodiak Island to more involved problem solving such as repairs/maintenance to the MVP on the back of the ship.  A group of people would start thinking, brainstorming, testing, reviewing and thinking some more.  They came together from different departments and areas of expertise to solve an issue.  It was incredible to be a part of this process and something I plan to facilitate more in my teaching.

Watching the shore go by
Watching the shore go by
Tide install with sunrise
Tide install with sunrise

I have the greatest respect for this unique group of people.  I am going to miss a lot here… the easy comradery they have with each other, sharing our wish for better internet among the mountains, looking for wildlife or the aurora borealis together, eating PB&J sandwiches with the most incredible views, having dessert with lunch AND dinner, 18:00 movie time (6:00 PM for those of you on shore), watching the beautiful Alaskan coast go by, whales…whales and more whales, the unique names that are used throughout the ship (the Holodeck, Princess Suite, engineer Hollywood just to name a few), line handling and all kinds of deck work, learning how to use a crane and not getting the Bo’sun wet, watching the launches come out of and into their cradles, hanging on to EVERYTHING as the ship rolls and pitches (yes, even this), looking at ENS Kosten and ENS Devereaux’s beautiful photos, hearing about everyone’s incredible experiences- especially in the Arctic, bumping my head in engineering, and most importantly, being my nerdy self with people who understand!

I am very thankful to NOAA ship Rainier Commanding Officer EJ Van Den Ameele for being so kind and allowing me this opportunity, to Rainier’s officers and crew for being so helpful and supportive as I learned my way around asking a million and one questions (no joke, I should have kept track of how many I asked) and to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

I hope to make you all proud as I head back home and share this incredible experience!

Rainier from a launch in Kizhuyak Bay
Rainier from a launch in Kizhuyak Bay

 

Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.
A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website: http://www.gma.org/surfing/sats.html#nav

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.
Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele
With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele
Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.
Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

Rebecca Loy, Days of Data Aquisition! September 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 18, 2015

Current Location: Uganik, Viecoda and Terror Bays, Northern Kodiak Island, Alaska

After our tide gauge installation we were ready for data acquisition.  Back in the Plot Room with the NOAA officers and surveyors, we were using Rainier to get information for Sheet H12692 and later for sheet H12691.

The MVP before it was sent off the back of Rainier
The MVP before it was sent off the back of Rainier

The first thing we had to do was drop the MVP off the back of the ship.  On Rainier, the MVP is a Moving Vessel Profiler.  This small, but very important piece of equipment needs to be placed in the water before we begin scanning the ocean floor.  On Rainier, they use the MVP.  On the launches, they do the same thing, but they call it a CTD.

Information from the MVP during scanning
Information from the MVP during scanning Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

This important part of data acquisition is needed to check the conductivity of the water, the depth of where this is happening and the temperature.  To be more specific, sound travels differently when water has more salinity (conductivity), more pressure (depth) and fluctuating temperatures.  This information varies greatly from place to place.  Simple changes to this information could come from a variety of places.  There could be glacial runoff or streams coming into the bays that would change salinity and temperature.  Further down from the surface, water has more pressure from above.  Something as simple as the time of year – warmer water temperatures in the summer, cooler in the spring or fall can make a difference to the data collected.  This is all important information so Rainier and the launches check levels a great deal.  Here is some Rainier specific information on MVP/CTD.  For additional information, check out this great link about sound in the sea.  I  also found an interesting website about the difference between salt water and fresh water – why salt water and fresh water don’t always mix.  What else can you think of that might change the conductivity in ocean water?

Again, all of this information, including tidal readings and depth of the boat where the sonar is, will be put into the CARIS program for a great deal of work after we initially scan the ocean floor.

ENS Bissell and ENS Deveraux were here along with many surveyors as we scanned over their sheet with Rainier’s MBES.  Do you remember, this is the Multi Beam Echolocation Sounder that comes out of the bottom of the ship.

I initially thought we would be going back and forth over the area – sort of like when you mow the lawn.  You want to cover everything without repeating a space and wasting time, but also you don’t want to miss an area either (they call this missed area a “holiday” – kind of quirky,  but I couldn’t find anyone who knew why).  Today, Rainier was going in a zig-zag crossover pattern.

Looking at the radar where Rainier has been.
Looking at the ECDIS, an electronic chart, where Rainier has been.

I learned that they do this initially in an area for Quality Control.  Here, they just call it QC.  They scan an initial zig zag pattern so when they do the back and forth lawn mower type of scanning they will be able to match up the scans with the previous zig zag.  Again, they take their work very seriously and this a great way to make sure they are getting quality scans.

HAST Mike Bloom keeping an eye on all of the information coming in.
HAST Mike Bloom keeping an eye on all of the information coming in.

At first, I was able to experience collecting data on Rainier.  Then, one of the days I was assigned to survey launch RA6.  The launches are miniature versions of Rainier but they can go into areas that are more difficult for Rainier.  Every morning, after the American flag is raised, LT Pfundt holds a saftey briefing

RA6 being lowered alongside Rainier
RA6 being lowered alongside Rainier

After a bit of training for new crew and myself, the large davits brought the 16,000 pound survey launches out of their cradles and into the water, we loaded them up and off we went.  On the day I was out surveying, we had two launches working.  One was further inside Viecoda Bay while RA6 was out in the bay closer to the opening.  We went to our assigned polygon to begin work.  Eli Smith, the scientist in charge of this particular sheet named all of his polygons with tree names (I was told a story how a few years ago someone used silly names such as Fluffy Bunny to name their polygons).  We went to Eucalyptus first and began scanning the ocean floor.  About halfway through our initial scan we needed to stop and get a CTD reading.  We would do this a total of 3 times today.

LT Pfundt and ENS Bissell preparing the CDT to be lowered.
LT Pfundt and ENS Bissell preparing the CTD to be lowered.

Unlike the MVP on Rainier that gets dragged behind the ship for a specific time period, the CTD on the launches gets lowered to the ocean floor while the launch is not moving.  In the photo you can see LT Pfundt and ENS Bissell working with the CTD.  HAST Chris Palmer was also with us and he then checked to see if we received quality data and later would put all the information together in the Plot Room.

Our day continued for many (many… many…)  hours out scanning the ocean floor in polygons.  We had AB Anthony Wright at the helm driving us throughout the day.  He was kind enough to let ENS Bissell and I drive the boat for a while and he was an excellent teacher.

Some rough seas coming over the bow of RA6
Some rough seas coming over the bow of RA6

Eventually, the weather changed and we had some rough seas to work in.  Since we are looking for quality scans, we had to leave an area and go closer to shore to get away from big waves (when scans are not good they get “noise” and “blow-outs” that need to be re-scanned).  We also had to lower our speed from about 6 knots to 4 knots so our scans were clear.  A knot is a unit of speed that is equal to 1.151 miles per hour.  As you can see, we didn’t go very fast.

Remember, we are sending sound waves down to the bottom of the ocean and back.  The more we moved around the more difficulty the sound had coming back to us.  Keep in mind all this movement on top of the ocean, plus checking the quality of the water equals the computers needing to do a great deal of work.  The launches not only have multiple computer screens to use, but behind the person manning them was a stack of computer servers to process the data… and this was only the beginning of the work!

Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech Chris Palmer keeping track of data.
Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech Chris Palmer keeping track of data.
The computer servers on RA6
The computer servers on RA6

While we were out in the launch, we got a chance to see lots of whales and sea otters up close.  It was pretty exciting being out on the launch surrounded by nature and some amazing STEAM work!

I got to steer RA6 and call in to Rainier that we were 5 minutes from pick-up
I got to steer RA6 and call in to Rainier that we were 5 minutes from pick-up

Path to Rainier:

We chose to do a selfie! With Chief Engineer Garrett Urban
We chose to do a selfie! With Chief Engineer Garret Urban

For this entire trip I have been fascinated by the engineers running this ship.  They would pop up out of this door with a skull and cross bones on it having worked hard to keep this 46 year old ship running smoothly.   I chose to sit down with Chief Engineer Garret Urban.  We discussed his job as a Maritime Engineer.  As Chief, he is the boss of the engineering department and keeps a constant eye on things, hopefully they will be able to spot a situation that they can repair before it becomes a bigger problem.  Garret is on call 24 hours a day, but the engine department has 2 people on duty at all times.  Garret needs to maintain all the equipment, do repairs and do some administrative items such as scheduling and juggling what needs to be taken care of within a certain budget.  Like everything else on this ship, Garret made sure to point out that safety is paramount to everything they do in the engine room.  He told me he makes a plan for every day, but always needs to improvise and adapt!

Garret chose to go into the Navy right out of high school.  He mentioned he was not a fan of going to school and suggests the Navy for someone who is interested in this job and might not like traditional schools as much.  The Navy trained him very well.  He did say there are Maritime Engineering schools around the country and this is a very high need career!  Garret was actually on Rainier as a 1st engineer earlier on in his post-Navy career before he worked on NOAA ship Pisces.  After some time taking care of family business, working on luxury yachts and in the oil industry, Garret came back to NOAA this year.  He became Chief Engineer on Rainier this past summer.  Everyone here is very glad to have this hard working man around!

I was pretty excited when Garret offered me a tour of the engine room – while the ship was under way.  He set me up with ear plugs AND headphones to protect me from all the noise in the engine room.  Wow! Was I thankful for that!  This fascinating place in the lowest level of the ship is a maze of moving parts… I loved it!!

Double protection for me!
Double protection for me!
NOAA TAS engine room 025
Notice the pistons on this sign
One small area of the engine room looking down on one of the diesel engines. Same type they use for trains, but Rainier has 2.
A small area of the engine room looking down on one of the diesel engines. Same type they use for trains, but Rainier has 2.
Down in the noisy engine room - a fascinating place for me!!
Down in the noisy engine room – a fascinating place for me!!

Personal Log:

Underwater photo of two types of jellyfish. Look closely for the very small baby jellyfish.
Underwater photo of two types of jellyfish. Look closely for the very small baby jellyfish.
Holding a large starfish in Uginak Bay. Photo Credit: Shelley Deveraux
Holding a large starfish in Uganik Bay. Photo Credit: Shelley Deveraux

I have been truly enjoying the wildlife here in Alaska.  I wasn’t sure what I would see being later in the year.  Much to my surprise I have seen a great deal.  I have seen many bald eagles, porpoises, otters, whales and even lots of underwater photos of jellyfish, starfish and sea anemone.   One odd creature was a hooded nudibranch!!

A unique hooded nudibranch, a sea slug that comes in a variety of shapes and colors.
A unique hooded nudibranch, a sea slug that comes in a variety of shapes and colors.
One whale was just 20 feet from the launch!
One whale was just 20 feet from the launch!

I was very impressed by how the crew respects wild life.

An otter that watched us go by.
An otter that watched us go by.

One day, we had some whales nearby while we were scanning the ocean.  Usually the whales give us lots of room, but today a few were right in front of us.  Rainier actually stopped and backed up to give the whales room.  We then had to circle around to get back to our survey area.  I am still hopeful that I will safely see a Kodiak Bear… but not yet!

Rebecca Loy, Does Rainier Run on Diesel or STEAM?  September 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 14, 2015

Current Location: South Arm of Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

To answer this question, Rainier runs on both diesel and STEAM.  The diesel keeps this ship running where it needs to go and the engineers are masterful at keeping this ship maintained.  The STEAM is everywhere, and I am not just talking about water steam in a pipe or in the galley.  This ship has serious Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math!!

I met with acting (Executive Officer) XO LT Adam Pfundt and acting (Field Ops Officer) FOO LT Steve Loy (even though Loy is a unique name, we are not related – but it is pretty cool that another Loy is here).  They were discussing who was going to lead certain jobs.  I learned a great deal about the process needed.  During research, an area in review is called a “sheet”.  Why do you think they call the areas sheets and not something else?  Do you think there could be some historical mariner significance?

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed
Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Like most tasks on Rainier, research begins with a geographical area being assigned to a manager, assistant plus a mentor.  They will work together as a team on their sheet until the hydrographic branch of NOAA accepts the data.  Like I mentioned in my second blog entry, this could take weeks or months after the initial data collection to complete.

I have decided to use sheet number H12692, which was just assigned to the team of  ENS Matt Bissell, manager, ENS Shelley Deveraux as assistant, and LT Steve Loy as mentor this past week.  Can you find H12692 on the photo above?

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid
ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid. Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

All team members are responsible for maintaining work logs so they can report on them.  Even here writing & communication is very important – remember this when I help you with YOUR writing!  Here is a brief overview of the duties:

Sheet Manager – this is the biggest of the jobs given.  The sheet manager is responsible for organizing the team.  This person needs to prepare the area to be studied by separating it into more manageable areas called polygon plans.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.
Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

They decide which area gets studied by the large Rainier or if a smaller launch is needed.  The smaller launches are good for areas closer to the shore or shallow areas.

The manager has to know if Rainier should use its multibeam echolocation sounder (MBES) in large runs or drag its Side Scan Sonar (SSS) behind it in the area to be studied.  Another option the manager has to decide is do they need to use the MBES or Side Scan Sonars that are mounted on the smaller launches and where should this be.

The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed.
The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed. Photo Credit: ENS Matt Bissell

ENS Bissell has a many choices to make to get the best information possible.  Looking at the polygon grid ENS Bissell organized can you pick out which areas Rainier will cover?

Managers need to attend meetings and review data that was processed the night before.  They do this to see if any problems were encountered and if an area needs to be scanned again.  The manager uses the immense CARIS HIPS and SIPS marine data processing program, prepares dive teams if needed, does more reviewing of data and organizes the pilots that take the launches closer to shore.  This is truly just a brief overview.  Sheet Manager is a very important job.

Sheet Assistant – The assistant works very hard right alongside the Sheet Manager.  This person is in training as well and will someday be a Sheet Manager.  It is important for the Sheet Manager to give the assistant guidance to learn.   The assistant needs to ask questions so they can be an effective manager in the future.  They need to set up the launches, help with polygon plans, maintain the bottom sample notebook, load charts, assist with data acquisition and follow what the manager needs them to do.

ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area.
ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area. Photo credit: Anthony Wright

Sheet Mentor – The mentor’s role is an advisor to the manager, especially if this is the first time someone is managing.  They also train the sheet assistant and work between the FOO and the management team (in this case the FOO is also the mentor).  The more the mentor can teach the assistant the easier their transition will be from assistant to manager in the future.

Once all of the extensive planning is taken care of, this team begins to collect data.  This is the actual field work that Rainier does!  I know all of you at school were most excited to hear about this!

 

 

 

Drilling for tide marker "Echo" while HAST Mike Bloom looks on.
Drilling for tide benchmark “Echo” while HAST Mike Bloom looks on. Photo credit: Chris Palmer

To begin, we went ashore in the South Arm of Uganik Bay, northern Kodiak Island and had to place a tide gauge station.  To begin the scuba divers had to place part of the equipment called the orifice under water.  This orifice holds air bubbles.  When the tide is higher and the water level is high, more bubbles will be pushed out of the orifice letting the system know that the water level is up.  The more water pressure on the orifice, the higher the tide level and the opposite is also true.  This information is sent to the satellite links where solar panels and batteries keep everything powered so people on the ship can read the data.  We also had to place tide benchmarks in five different areas near the tide station.  I helped with tide benchmark 7588 E or “Echo” which was the fifth benchmark to go in.  Due to movement in the Earth, we need to have tide benchmarks throughout the areas we are studying so when the ship returns in 30 days they will have accurate information.

Tide gauge 1788 E
Tide benchmark 7588 E

 

I worked very hard drilling into just the right rock to cement it down (I actually drilled in 4 areas before this one, but the shale kept breaking apart, LT Pfundt found this great spot with a more stable rock).  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech (HAST) Michael Bloom and I made a great team working together.  It took 1 1/2 days to place everything, survey and link the systems plus take 3 hours of observations for the tides.  During this 3 hour period the observer checks the water level on the staff every 6 minutes.  This is a lot of close observation to make sure everything is running properly!

Surveying all the tide gauges!
Surveying all the tide benchmarks!

Do you know why we would need to know when the sea rises and falls?  Sometimes it can change over 6 feet in depth – two times per day here in the Pacific!!  We need to know the levels for the charts that are being made.  The researchers are looking at updating water depths on a chart.  They will use the tide level that is lowest to be safest.  This will give boats traveling above the best depth for clearance below them.  The opposite is true if there is bridge on a chart.  The researchers will use the highest tide depth so ships can know if they can make it under a bridge.  Knowing tides is very important to chart development!  Here is some more information on Vertical Control-Tides.

Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.
Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.  See the tall stick where water measurements were taken every 6 minutes.  In the back, are the satellite up-links with the GOES and Iridium data retrieval boxes under the blue tarp.

 

Path to Rainier

Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis
Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis

Another fascinating person on board is Hydrographic Survey Technician Eli Smith.  Eli has been on Rainier for 1 1/2 years now.  He started as a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech  in May of 2014.  Originally, he graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Geology.  I was curious how he went from being a geologist in the oil fields of Denver to working on the ocean.  While he was in Denver, Eli would take soil samples.  So many samples that he was called a “Mud Logger” which is a pretty interesting term even though Eli didn’t enjoy it very much.  He did a lot of “soul searching” and realized he needed to do something else.  Between remembering an ocean based field experience in college off the coast of Hawaii and contacting a career counselor, Eli was led to NOAA.  He was pleased when he was placed on Rainier.

On Rainier, Eli works a great deal up in the Plotting room or in another room called the “Hologram Room” where survey techs also work.  Currently, he is a sheet manager for sheet H12691.  This sheet includes Viekoda Bay and Terror Bay.  You can see his area in the photo above.  Eli has been  hard at work doing his own polygon plot and preparing plans for his sheet.  He is also part of the Tides Team placing tidal gauges in areas that are being studied.

When Eli is not working, he has his bike on board and likes to ride that when he can.  He is also a hiker and snowboarder.  I appreciate Eli spending some time with me telling me about himself and all your help on shore.  Thank you!

 

Personal Log

Being on this ship is like being part of a hard working family.  People are all over this ship.  I have come to appreciate the true gift that this crew gave me with my own stateroom, head and starboard side porthole.

I even have my own head!
I even have my own head!
Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.
Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.

I found out the room they gave me is called the “Princess Suite.”  I  learned this name comes from using the initials PS for the visiting Physical Scientists who often come aboard.  I extend an apology to visiting NOAA physical scientist Adam Argento.  You will learn about Adam in a future blog.  He did not get to sleep in the wonderful “Princess Suite” on this trip.

Jeff Miller: Sharks and Dead Zones, September 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 12, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Speed:  8.8 knots
Air Temp: 27,7°C
Sea Temp: 30.2°C
Seas: 1-2 meters
Sea Depth:  457 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  27 47.142 N
Long:  094 04.264 W

Science and Technology Log
On September 8 – 9, we surveyed a number of stations along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that were in shallow water between 10-30 meters (approximately 30-100 feet).  Interestingly, the number of sharks we caught at each station varied dramatically.  For example, we pulled up 65 sharks at station 136 and 53 sharks at station 137, whereas we caught only 5 sharks at station 138 and 2 sharks at station 139.  What could account for this large variance in the number of sharks caught at these locations?

Weighing a bonnethead shark
Weighing a bonnethead shark caught off the coast of Texas.

One key factor that is likely influencing shark distribution is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.  Oxygen is required by living organisms to produce the energy needed to fuel all their activities.  In water, dissolved oxygen levels above 5 mg/liter are needed for most marine organisms to thrive. Water with less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed hypoxic, meaning dissolved oxygen is below levels needed by most organisms to thrive and survive.  Water with less than 0.2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed anoxic (no oxygen) and results in  “dead zones” where little, if any, marine life can survive.

As part of several missions, including the ground fish and longline shark surveys, NOAA ships sample the levels of dissolved oxygen at survey stations in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Measurements of dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature are collected by a device called the CTD.   At each survey station, the CTD is deployed and it collects real-time measurements as it descends to the bottom and returns to the surface.

CTD
Standing with the CTD, which is used to measure dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature.

Data collected by the CTD is used to produce maps showing the relative levels of dissolved oxygen in coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico.    For more environmental data go to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

2015 Gulf Hypoxia Map
Map showing dissolved oxygen levels in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Red marks anoxic/hypoxic areas with low dissolved oxygen levels.  Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Environmental surveys demonstrate that large anoxic/hypoxic zones often exist along the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf.  Because low dissolved oxygen levels are harmful to marine organisms, the anoxic/hypoxic zones in the northern Gulf of Mexico could greatly impact commercially and ecologically important marine species.  Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that excess organic matter, especially nitrogen, from the Mississippi River drainage basin drives the development of anoxic/hypoxic waters.  Although natural sources contribute to the runoff, inputs from agricultural runoff, the burning of fossil fuels, and waste water treatment discharges have increased inputs to many times natural levels.

Runoff in the Mississippi basin
Map showing sources of nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River drainage basin. Source NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi River feeds large phytoplankton algae blooms at the surface.  Over time, excess algae and other organic materials sink to the bottom.  On the bottom, decomposition of this organic material by bacteria and other organisms consumes oxygen and leads to formation of anoxic/hypoxic zones.  These anoxic/hypoxic zones persist because waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico become stratified, which means the water is separated into horizontal layers with cold and/or saltier water at the bottom and warmer and/or fresher water at the surface. This layering separates bottom waters from the atmosphere and prevents re-supply of oxygen from the surface.

Since levels of dissolved oxygen can  greatly influence the distribution of marine life, we reasoned that the high variation in the number of sharks caught along the Louisiana/Texas coast could be the result of differences in dissolved oxygen.  To test this idea, we analyzed environmental data and shark numbers at survey stations along the Louisiana/Texas coast.  The graphs below show raw data collected by the CTD at stations 137 and 138.

CTD 137
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 137 (green line; raw data). At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.0 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 1.5 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

 

CTD 138
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 138 (green line; raw data).  At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.5 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 0 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

Putting together shark survey numbers with environmental data from the CTD we found that we caught very high numbers of sharks in hypoxic water and we caught very few sharks in anoxic water.  Similar results were observed at station 136 (hypoxic waters; 65 sharks caught) and station 139 (anoxic waters; 2 sharks caught).

Data table
Relationship between dissolved oxygen levels and numbers of sharks caught at stations 137 and 138.

What can explain this data?  One possible answer is that sharks will be found where there is food for them to eat.  Thus, many sharks may be moving in and out of hypoxic waters to catch prey that may be stressed or less active due to low oxygen levels.  In other words, sharks may be taking advantage of low oxygen conditions that make fish easier to catch.  In contrast, anoxic waters cannot support marine life so there will be very little food for sharks to eat and, therefore, few sharks will be present.  While this idea provides an explanation for our observations, more research, like the work being done aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, is needed to understand the distribution and movement of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Personal Log
My time aboard the Oregon II is drawing to a close as we move into the last weekend of the cruise.  We have now turned away from the Louisiana coast into deeper waters as we travel west to Galveston, Texas.  The weather has changed as well.  It has been sunny and hot for much of our trip, but clouds, rain, and wind have moved in.  Despite this change in weather, we continue to set longlines at survey stations along our route to Galveston.  The rain makes our job more challenging but our catch has been relatively light since we moved away from the coast into deeper waters.  Hopefully our fishing luck will change as we move closer to Galveston.  I would like to wrestle a few more sharks before my time on the Oregon II comes to an end.

Rebecca Loy, DC means Damage Control! September 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 13, 2015

Current Location: transitioning between Shelikoff Strait and Uganik Bay, North Kodiak Island, Alaska

As I mentioned earlier, safety is top priority here on Rainier.  The crew is required to have safety drills within 24 hours of leaving port.  This includes drills such as Fire and Emergency drills, Man Over Board (MOB) drills and Abandon Ship drills.

When I arrived I was quickly told how to find 2 ways out of my cabin.  My cabin also has a device called an EEBD – Emergency Escape Breathing Device that will allow me to breathe for 10 minutes in a smoky corridor if needed.  Each and every cabin has these and they are also in various places around the ship.

All new crew and visitors are given a thorough safety briefing before we leave port.  We started by doing some paperwork and discussing what everything means.  Then, ENS Danial Palance took us around the ship and showed us the important areas.  He made sure I could find my safe places to report to since I am so new to the ship.

My Rainier safety card
My Rainier safety card

Every person, including me, has a job during an emergency.  Each person is given a “bunk card” that is held near your sleeping bunk.  It lists the three main emergencies we practice and where each person reports to.

Fire and Emergency Drills – the ship’s whistle will blow for a long 10 second blast when there is a fire or other emergency.  Go ahead and slowly count to 10 to see how long it is – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3…

This will definitely get your attention!   If it is a drill it will be announced.  If not, it will say this is an emergency.  My job is to get to the “BRAVO station” which is on the Fantail or back of the ship near the boat shop.  My primary duty is to “assist as directed” if help is needed.   All over the ship are stations for the firefighters. What I find most interesting is these are not people they bring on board specifically… it is the crew you see around you who have also trained to be Firefighters and Advanced Firefighters!  ENS Palance is one of them!

The fire station in the mess hall.
The fire station in the mess hall.

Also throughout the ship you can see Fire Stations and fire extinguishers, fire alarm boxes, radios for communication.  Some of the areas with more dangerous items (like paint or the machine shop) are labeled “CO2 PROTECTED SPACE”.  I was most curious about this.  What do you think CO2 and fires have in common?  If you answered that fires need oxygen to burn and CO2 will put a fire out then you are correct.  In one area of the ship there are many large canisters with CO2 in them.  If there is a bad fire in one of the CO2 protected spaces, someone can send the CO2 to that area and put the fire out.  It will remove all the oxygen from the space.

Man Over Board drills – On a ship if someone falls into the water you will hear the whistle blow for 3 long blasts.

Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.
Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.

If you are the person who saw this, you will need to keep your eye on the person and let others know.  Everyone has a station for this as well.  My job is to report to the “Flying bridge” on top of the ship and be a lookout and help as needed.  The ship has many orange safety rings that can be throw overboard to someone.  There are also two rings with smoke signals attached that can be released from both port (left side) and starboard (right side) of the ship.  We learned how to release those as well.  Rainier has to do monthly drills for MOB.  They don’t actually put someone in the water for this, it is usually a buoy or it could be “Oscar” the medical mannequin (He must be Rainier’s version of “Buster” from the show Mythbusters).

In my survival suit!
In my survival suit!

Abandon Ship drills – Being out on the cold waters of Alaska and leaving this ship is a scary thought, but it needs to be practiced.  Everyone has their own Survival Suits to wear for these drills.  Check me out with mine!!  We also need to bring long sleeved shirts, warm hats and flotation devices with us.  I will be reporting to Liferaft #4 on the port side of the ship with Liferaft #3 on the starboard side as back up.  My indoor meeting place is in the Wardroom and, again, I assist as directed.  If we have to leave the ship, people have jobs to go get the EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the SART is a Search and Rescue Transponder and the GMDSS which are Global Maritime Distress Safety Signal.  All of these will help the Coast Guard rescue us!!

I have had my training, and you know what needs to be done.  Now, time for the real drills at sea!!!

Suddenly, we hear a long 10 second whistle… it was the drill for fire and emergency.  Everyone quickly went to their assigned areas.  There was a fire near the mess hall and the fire team was on the job!!  ENS McKay and AB Wright worked on putting the fire out.  Below are some pictures of them in their fire gear!

ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.
ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.
AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.
AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire drill turned into an Abandoned Ship drill.  Calmly and quickly, everyone gathered their survival suits, a warm hat, long sleeved shirt and their PFD (personal floatation device) and went to their station.  Everyone had to put their survival suits on.  ENS McKay was my group leader and he had to help me with mine.  He was incredibly fast putting his on and gave me some great pointers on being quicker in a real emergency.

Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits!
Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits! Photo Credit: Eli Smith
ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine.
ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine. Photo Credit: Eli Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While safety drills are important.  I hope we will never have to do this for real!

Path to Rainier

This crew is truly an incredible bunch.  I thought it would be interesting for others to see how people ended up working here.   While I would like to highlight everyone, I could only pick a few.

The first person I want everyone to meet is Able Seaman (AB) Lindsey Houska.  Lindsey is one of the deck hands on Rainier.   I wanted to know what path led her to this unique work place.

With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele
With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Lindsey started with a degree in Economics from South Dakota State University and worked in Montana for the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture) for 4 1/2 years.  She realized she wanted to get a bit more out of life than working at a desk.  She sold her house and car, stored her belongings with her parents and went to Indonesia to volunteer instructing farmers on better growing practices.  This was the beginning of her life adventures!  After 3 months living in Indonesia and 5 months traveling other areas of Southeast Asia, she headed out to Australia.  This incredibly hard working woman did a few jobs but ended up working on a commercial fishing vessel catching prawns on the West Coast of Australia.  Later, she got a job in Seattle and South East Alaska as a deck hand on a luxury yacht.  Realizing she had a love of positive environmental practices she wanted to do more for the world in general.  This is when Lindsey applied to work for NOAA.  NOAA are true stewards of the ocean!

On Rainier, Lindsey has been a very busy deck hand for nearly 2 years.  She loves working with all the other deck hands and they have an amazing camaraderie with each other.   I learned so much more about her job when we sat down together.  Lindsey is a trained fire fighter, has been to radar school and even has her captain’s license for smaller vessels.  She works hard with boat deployment, maintenance on the weather deck, inport bridge watch for security and anchor watch so the ship stays in place when it is at anchor.  She also works the cranes, does lookout on the flying bridge and can be a helmsman steering the ship.

In her free time, Lindsey can be found reading, working out in the gym on board, meditating for some quiet time and she also has a bicycle on board that she likes to ride when the ship is in port.  When I asked Lindsey what she did to reduce stress on the job, she said having a good sense of humor with colleagues goes a long way.  They also enjoy time in port together and having meals together.  This amazing woman has traveled all over the world including most of Southeast Asia, all over Australia and New Zealand.  She has been to Europe, Mexico, British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada.  Incredibly, but not surprising as I get to know her, many of the areas Lindsey backpacked to on her own!

I am truly impressed by this lady; how hard she works and how kind she has been to me.  Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me get to know you better!

Personal Log

So true!
So true!

TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST   Three words that I have discovered run Rainier.  I am incredibly impressed by the teamwork, communication, hard work and commitment to our oceans that is evident here.  The umbrella over all of this is an even bigger obligation to safety.  Above I have highlighted just a bit of what makes this ship work in regard to safety.  In future blogs you will read more about this topic when you learn about the people here.   Needless to say, even though we will be out in very big, deep waters and in narrow bays with tall mountains, I feel incredibly safe in the hands of this reliable crew.

Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.
Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.

Jeff Miller: Wrestling Sharks for Science, September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 29 25.103
Long:  W 092.36.483

Science and Technology Log
The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples.  The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.

Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage.  Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays.  There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.

Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world.  The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape.  A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier.  In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.

Blacktip shark
Measuring a blacktip shark on deck. The blacktip shark shows the typical body shape and fin placement of sharks. These physical characteristics decrease drag and help sharks move more efficiently through water.

When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark.  The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass).  Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water.  This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction.  The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.

Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck.  Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person.  To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits.  This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark.  If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.

Holding a sharpnose shark
Smaller sharks, like this sharpnose shark, can be held by firmly grabbing the shark just behind the head.

Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely.  When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time.  One person holds the head while the other holds the tail.  When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first.  Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler.  While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.

Holding a blacktip shark
Teamwork is required to handle larger sharks like this blacktip shark, which was caught because it preyed on a small sharpnose shark that was already on the hook.

 

Measuring a blacktip shark
Collecting measurements from a large blacktip shark.

 

Holding a blacktip shark
Holding a blacktip shark before determining its weight.

When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged.  We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark.  When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water.  Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.

Tiger shark in the cradle
Large sharks, like this tiger shark, are hoisted up on a cradle in order to be measured and tagged.

Personal Log
We are now in full work mode on the ship.  My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast.  After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch).  This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon.  I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day.  I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon.  My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations.  At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes.  We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads).  Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station.  The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart.  Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph).  At midnight, we switch roles with the night team.  Working with fish in temperatures reaching  the low 90°s will make you dirty.  Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed.  I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again.  It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun.  I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks.  This is one experience I will always remember.

Rebecca Loy, Land, Sea and Flexibility! September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 9, 2015

Current Location: Women’s Harbor, U.S. Coast Guard Base, Kodiak, Alaska

Science Log

Kodiak, Alaska is amazing and NOAA Ship Rainier is even more so.  When I arrived I learned that we were going to be in port for a few days.  Instead of leaving on Tuesday, September 08, 2015 we are scheduled to leave on Saturday.  Early in my planning and training I learned that FLEXIBILITY is very important and it has proven to be true.

NOAA TAS 2015 005
Rainier with the rising sun behind it at Women’s Bay

During this time at port, the entire crew is very busy with ship activities.  I thought this would be the perfect time to give some background on this amazing ship!  Here is a link to more detailed information Rainier information flyer.  An even more detailed, “let the geek out” link is   Rainier special details.

Rainier is named after Mount Rainier in Washington State and was put to work in 1968.  Do the math, how old is Rainier this year?  Rainier is a long 231 foot ship.  The breadth (width) is 42 feet and the draft, or how far down it sits in the water is 14 feet.  One of the most interesting facts about this vessel is the ice strengthened hull.  Rainier is one tough ship!!

To keep this unique ship running so well it has an incredible crew.  I have learned that there are 7 main areas of work.  I am only going to give a general overview so everyone can understand a little bit more about what happens here.  I will go into more detail with future blogs.

Wardroom – This is what the NOAA uniformed officers are called.  They can be seen wearing their blue uniforms.  The hydrographic officers have a more interesting job than the officers on other NOAA vessels because they act not only as officers getting the ship where it needs to go safely, but they also work right alongside the survey scientists making tidal observations and coastal maps.

The Rainier Officers working in the Plotting Room
Rainier Officers working in the Plotting Room

It makes a lot of sense for the people who are researching and creating the very important coastal maps to understand them.  There is no one better than the men and women who work with them every day!

Survey – These are the scientists who work with the officers to collect the data.  Collecting the data is just the beginning.  Once the data is collected they begin analyzing data and putting it to work.  Similar to students who have classwork, they get assignments that need to be met and deadlines to get the work done.  It can take weeks and months for the data to be put together to make the charts.

Engineering – The engineers are the inner working of the ship.  They are the men and women who keep Rainier going strong!  While here, there is a constant hum of mechanical parts (later the engines will be going and we will hear and feel those).

Just one of many areas the engineers work. This is an organized machine shop for repairs/fabricating.
Just one of many areas the engineers work. This is an organized machine shop for repairs/fabricating.

Everywhere you look inside the ship you can see something that the engineers are responsible for maintaining.  On my tour, I was amazed from top to bottom of the fans, gears, plumbing, wires, generators, motors, hydraulics, engines, heating/cooling, launch maintenance, refrigeration, distillers for water plus so much more that needs to be kept going.  As you can see, this is also a very busy department!

Deck – While the engineers maintain the inside of the ship, the deck crew maintains the outside or what is called the “weather deck”.   Here you will see the massive crane on the back of the ship and two smaller cranes at the front.

The large crane at the stern (back) of the ship.
The large crane at the stern (back) of the ship.

They work the two large anchors and the “windlass” or winch to pull them up along with the smaller launches (boats) that are attached to the ship and the davits (hoists) to put them in and out of the water.  The deck crew also make sure the ship is moored (tied up) properly plus so much more.

EET and ET – These are the two smallest departments, but they are needed to keep everyone working.  The EET is the electronics engineering technician.  He is an electrician that takes care of all the wiring throughout the ship.  The Rainier EET has been here for over 20 years.  The ET is the electronics technician and he builds, maintains and programs the computers and servers that are needed to run Rainier.

Steward – Have you heard the term “laughter is the best medicine?”  Here on Rainier the food is the best medicine and what keeps this crew connected and happy!

The incredibly clean and efficient galley on the Rainier
The incredibly clean and efficient galley on Rainier

The galley (kitchen) is incredibly clean, organized and delicious!  The selection of food has been healthy, varied and with just the right amount of sweet treats.  They are up very early and work later to keep this crew fed.  Every department has to come through here so they are the true backbone of the ship!

As I get to know the ship and crew more, I am continually amazed at the people here, how they communicate and work together and it all runs so smoothly.  I am looking forward to our upcoming adventures doing research around Kodiak Island.

Personal Log

Being chosen for this experience is a great honor for me.  I was here for only 24 hours and I had already seen so much of this beautiful area.  I was fortunate enough to get here the night before Labor Day so the crew and I had the day off.

One of the harbors in Kodiak, AK
One of the harbors in Kodiak, AK

I walked around the harbor town of Kodiak and then went hiking to Abercrombie State Park.  This now incredibly beautiful area of moss draped trees, cliffs and black rock/sand beaches was once a World War II gun site.  I saw the massive guns, the lookout that was half buried in the rock and the searchlight shelter.  Due to the northern site, there are times that the sun is not out for long so they had big searchlights that were rolled out of the structure to search for planes and ships out in the Pacific Ocean.  While there I got to see the resident Bald Eagles and other wildlife (no Kodiak bears yet but I keep looking).

Later, I was able to head to the southern shore of Kodiak Island to see where people surf on Surfer Beach.  Again, the sand is very dark and the waves were incredible.  I didn’t think Alaska was an area for surfing, but it is very popular.

The incredible Surfer Beach!
The incredible Surfer Beach!

After looking at Surfer Beach I was taken over to the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska.  I was able to let my Space Geek out.  Too bad I didn’t have my Blue Flight Suit, I could have had my picture taken there.  This is an active launch pad for launches over the Arctic.  They had an explosion here in November, 2014 (no one was hurt thankfully) so it is being repaired before more launches can take place.

An interesting sign at the Pacific Spaceport Alaska.
An interesting sign at the Pacific Spaceport Alaska.

On the ship, the crew is incredibly welcoming and helpful.  I am gradually learning my way around and how things work.  Off the ship, I used the time to connect with the local Kodiak High School and their award winning robotics team.  They are doing some pretty amazing things here with STEAM in this small coastal town.

More adventures to follow as we head out and I become a true Teacher At Sea, not just a Teacher In Port!

Jeff Miller: Fishing for Sharks and Fishes, September 6, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 6, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Wind Speed: 5.6 knots
Air Temp: 30.9°C
Sea Temp: 31.1°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 52 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 28 06.236
Long:  W 095 15.023

Science and Technology Log
Our first couple days of fishing have been a great learning experience for me despite the fact that the fish count has been relatively low (the last three sets we averaged less than 5 fish per 100 hooks).  There are a number of jobs to do at each survey station and I will rotate through each of them during my cruise. These jobs include baiting the hooks, numbering and setting the hooks on the main line, hauling in the hooks, measuring and weighing the sharks/fish, and processing the shark/fish for biological samples.

Numbering the baited hooks
Each gangion (the baited hook and its associate line) is tagged with a number before being attached to the main line.

 

Number clips
A number clip is attached to each gangion (baited hook and its associated line) to catalog each fish that is caught.

After the line is deployed for one hour, we haul in the catch.  As the gangions come in, one of us will collect empty hooks and place them back in the barrel to be ready for the next station.  Other members of the team will process the fish we catch.  The number of fish caught at each station can vary widely.  Our team (the daytime team) had two stations in a row where we caught fewer than five fish while the night team caught 57 fish at a single station.

Collecting empty hooks
Empty hooks are collected, left over bait is removed, and the gangion is placed back in the bucket to be ready for the next station.

So far we have caught a variety of fishes including golden tilefish, red snapper, sharpnose sharks, blacknose sharks, a scalloped hammerhead, black tip sharks, a spinner shark, and smooth dogfish.  The first set of hooks we deployed was at a deep water station (sea depth was approx. 300 meters or 985 feet) and we hooked 11 golden tilefish, including one that weighed 13 kg (28.6 pounds).

Golden tilefish
On our first set of hooks in deep water, we caught a number of golden tilefish including this fish that weighed nearly 30 pounds.

We collect a number of samples from fishes such as red snapper and golden tilefish.  First we collect otoliths, which are hard calcified structures of the inner ear that are located just behind the brain.  Scientists can read the rings of the otolith to determine the approximate age and growth rate of the fish.

Otolith
Otoliths can be read like tree rings to approximate the age and growth rate of bony fishes.  Photo credit: NOAA Marine Fisheries.

The answer to the poll is at the end of this post.

You can try to age fish like NOAA scientists do by using the Age Reading Demonstration created by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  Click here to visit the site.

When sharks are caught, we collect information about their size, gender, and sexual maturity.  You may be wondering, “how can you determine the sex of a shark?”  It ends up that the answer is actually quite simple.  Male sharks have two claspers along the inner margin of the pelvic fins that are used to insert sperm into the cloaca of a female.  Female sharks lack claspers.

Male female shark
Male and female sharks can be distinguished by the presence of claspers on male sharks.

Personal Log
After arriving at our first survey station on Thursday afternoon (Sep. 3), everyone on the ship is in full work mode.  We work around the clock in two groups: one team, which I belong to, works from noon to midnight, and the other team works from midnight to noon.  The crew and science teams work very well together – everyone has a specific job as we set out hooks, haul the catch, and process the fishes.  It’s a well oiled machine and I am grateful to the crew and my fellow science team members for helping me learn and take an active role the process.  I am not here as a passive observer.  I am truly part of the scientific team.

I have also learned a lot about the fishes we are catching.  For example, I have learned how to handle them on deck, how to process them for samples, and how to filet them for dinner.  I never fished much my life, so pretty much everything I am doing is new to me.

I have also adjusted well to life on the ship.  Before the cruise, I was concerned that I may get seasick since I am prone to motion sickness.  However, so far I have felt great even though we have been in relatively choppy seas (averaging about 1-2 meters or 3 to 6 feet) and the ship rocks constantly.  I have been using a scopolamine patch, an anticholinergic drug that decreases nausea and dizziness, and this likely is playing a role. Whether it’s just me or the medicine, I feel good, I’m sleeping well, and I am eating well.  The cooks are great and the food has been outstanding.  All in all, I am having an amazing experience.

Poll answer:  This fish is approximately nine years old (as determined by members of my science team aboard the Oregon II).

Jeff Miller: Cruising to the Survey Stations, September 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 2, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Air Temp:  24.7°C
Sea Temp:  29.6°C
Seas:  3-4 ft.
Sea Depth: 589 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat: 28 01.364 N
Long: 091 29.104 W

Cruising Map
Map showing our current location and the site of our first survey station

Science and Technology Log
After a one day delay in port at Pascagoula, MS we are currently motoring southwest towards our first survey station in the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, TX. Our survey area will include random stations roughly between Brownsville and Galveston, TX.

Survey stations are randomly selected from a predetermined grid of sites.  Possible stations fall into three categories: (A) stations in depths 9-55 meters (5-30 fathoms), (B) stations in depths between 55-183 meters (30-100 fathoms), and (C) stations in depths between 183-366 meters (100-200 fathoms).  On the current shark longline surveys, 50% of the sites we survey will be category A sites, 40% will be category B sites, and 10% will be category C sites.  Environmental data is also collected at each station including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Several questions you may have are why do a shark survey, how do you catch the sharks, and what do you do with the sharks once they are caught?  These are great questions and below I will describe the materials and methods we will use to catch and analyze sharks aboard the Oregon II. 

Why does NOAA perform shark surveys?
Shark surveys are done to gather information about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and to collect morphological measurements (length, weight) and biological samples for research.

How are shark surveys performed?
At each collection station, a one mile line of 100 hooks baited with Atlantic Mackerel is used to catch sharks. The line is first attached to a radar reflective highflyer (a type of buoy that can be detected by the ship’s radar).  A weight is then attached to the line to make it sink to the bottom.  After the weight is added, about 50 gangions with baited hooks are attached to the line.  At the half mile point of the line, another weight is attached then the second 50 hooks.  After the last hook, a third weight is added then the second highflyer.  The line is left in the water for one hour (time between last highflyer deployed and first highflyer retrieved) and then is pulled back on to the boat to assess what has been caught.  Small sharks and fishes are brought on deck while larger sharks are lifted into a cradle for processing.

Longline equipment
Sampling gear used includes two highflyers, weights, and 100 hooks

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used for the shark survey

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used in the shark survey

 

Shark cradle
Shark cradle used to collect information about large sharks

 

What data is collected from the sharks?
Researchers collect a variety of samples and information from the caught sharks.  First, the survey provides a snapshot of the different shark species and their relative abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.  Second, researchers collect data from individual sharks including length, weight and whether the shark is reproductively mature.  Some sharks are tagged to gather data about their migration patterns.  Each tag has an identification number for the shark and contact information to report information about where the same shark was re-caught.  Third, biological samples are collected from sharks for more detailed analyses.  Tissues collected include fin clips (for DNA and molecular studies), muscle tissue (for toxicology studies), blood (for hormonal studies), reproductive organs (including embryos if present), and vertebrae (for age and growth studies).

Personal Log
One of the desired traits for participants in the Teacher at Sea program is flexibility – cruising schedules and even ports can change.  I have now experienced this first-hand as we were delayed in port in Pascagoula, MS for an extra day.  Though waiting an extra day really isn’t a big deal, it is hard to wait since myself and the rest of the scientific crew are all anxious to begin the shark survey.  Since we also have two days of cruising to reach our first survey site, this means we all have to find ways to pass the time.  I have used some of my time trying to learn about the operation of the ship as well as the methods we will be using to perform the longline survey.  I also watched a couple movies with other members of the science team.  The ship has an amazing library of DVDs.

The Oregon II
Getting ready to leave Pascagoula aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Safety is very important aboard the Oregon II so today we performed several drills including an abandon ship drill.  This drill requires you to wear a survival suit.  Getting mine on was a tight squeeze but I got the suit on in the required time.

Safety suit
In my safety suit during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Can you name the other six uniformed services?  Think about this and check the answer at the bottom of this post.

NOAA Corps Officers perform many duties that include commanding NOAA’s research and survey vessels, flying NOAA’s hurricane and environmental monitoring planes, and managing scientific and engineering work needed to make wise decisions about our natural resources and environment.

Answer: The seven uniformed services of the United States are: (1) Army, (2) Navy, (3) Air Force, (4) Marine Corps, (5) Coast Guard, (6) NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and (7) Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Jeff Miller: Getting Ready to Sail, August 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 19, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona.  My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ.  EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year.  I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years.  I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.

Jeff Miller
A photo of me at Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park

EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students.  EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.  Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ
Great Horned Owl
A Great Horned Owl perches on a log in the desert near Tucson, AZ
Saguaro
A saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, AZ
White Mountains
Arizona is home to the largest unbroken Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. My wife (Weiru), daughter (Julia), and dog (Maya) in the White Mountains of Arizona

I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school.  However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is  limited.  Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.

To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey.  The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast.  Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data.  Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon II Facebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises.  Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.

Longline Shark Survey Map
Map showing the region of the Gulf of Mexico where I will participate in the longline shark survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise.  I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person.  All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II.  I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.

The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.

Cristina Veresan, Back in Kodiak! August 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Sunday, August 16, 2015

Calibration, Cleaning, and Camera Drops

Our final days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson were action-packed! Though our trawling operations were finished, the science team had plenty to do, mainly calibrating, and cleaning, and camera drops. For the echosounder calibration process, the ship was brought into the calm waters of Otter Bay near Yakutat, Alaska. The process involved lowering tungsten carbide and copper spheres into the water at prescribed depths; these standard targets have a known echo return at particular echosounder frequencies, so our scientists can make sure the echosounders are working properly. This calibration process was done at the beginning of the survey and now again at the end. It is important for scientists to calibrate their echosounder equipment as often as is practical in order to ensure the equipment is working consistently so that they have accurate data.

kayakselfie
Kayak selfie! Note the Oscar Dyson in the background. Photo by Emily Collins

To accommodate the calibration, the ship had to stay in place for about 8 hours. After our shift ended, the bridge gave Emily and I permission to take a kayak into the bay. Allen and Rob each held a line connected to an end of the kayak, and they lowered it into the water from the deck. To get in the kayak, we had to climb down a rope ladder to right over the water level, then lower ourselves down to our seats. Thankfully, Emily and I managed to do this without tipping ourselves over! She and I each had a life preserver on, and we had a radio with us to communicate with the bridge. It was so fun to go for a paddle. The Oscar Dyson faded into the distance as we made our way towards the shore. We hugged the coast of the bay, surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery. In the shallow water, we saw large sea stars, mounds of clams, and lots of scurrying crabs. After about an hour, we made our way back to the ship, exhilarated from our kayak adventure.

DSCF7462 (1)
Otter Bay from our kayak
DSCF7470 (1)
Great view of the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson from our kayak

We also spent a day cleaning the wet lab from top to bottom, including all the baskets, walls, and counters. We had to rid all its surfaces of pesky fish scales, so we spent hours scrubbing, soaping, and spraying everything down. At that point, we also began packing much of our gear and equipment that would be offloaded in Kodiak, as this was the last leg of the summer survey. Although we were not fishing, our camera drops also continued on both shifts. In transit, we were also treated to an awesome view of Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay. Hubbard Glacier is unique in that, unlike most of the world’s glaciers, it has actually been advancing and thickening for the last 100 years. As we cruised into the bay, we all gathered on deck or on the bridge to take in the majestic tidewater glacier terminating in the sea. We also took the opportunity to get a group picture of our science team!

hubbardglacier
Hubbard Glacier, Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
IMG_3629
The Science Team: (top row, from left) Nathan Lauffenburger, Emily Collins, Cristina Veresan, Darin Jones, Rick Towler (bottom row, from left) Denise McKelvey, Mackenzie Wilson Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir

A Farewell

This morning, under the supervision of superior officers, Ensign Benjamin Kaiser (remember him from the interview?) expertly brought the Oscar Dyson into port. The ship was back in her home port of Kodiak, Alaska, and the science team was ready to disembark and offload our gear. I must say it is a weird sensation to get your “land legs” back after having been at sea for three weeks. I was ready to go to nearby Harborside Coffee and Goods, get myself a good coffee and go for a long walk. I do not fly back to Hawai’i until Tuesday afternoon, so I am looking forward to exploring Kodiak a bit more with some of my shipmates in the next few days. I will also be able to attend a talk tomorrow in which chief scientist Darin Jones will present the preliminary results from this summer’s survey to a group of fisheries industry professionals and other interested parties.

kodiakharbor
Reflection. Kodiak Harbor, Alaska
salmon
A salmon sculpture made from marine debris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am very grateful to Commanding Officer Arthur “Jesse” Stark and all the officers and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson for a safe, productive voyage. And I would like to extend a big MAHALO to the science team from Midwater Assessment & Conservation Engineering (MACE) at Alaska Fisheries Science Center conducting the third leg of the summer Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey! Thanks for welcoming me into your team; you all are dedicated professionals whose passion for your work is obvious. A special thanks to chief scientist Darin Jones for sharing your expertise and taking the time to edit this blog.

IMG_5120
One of my last sunrises at sea, observed from the bow

Sailing as Teacher at Sea was a rich, hands-on learning experience. I was impressed by the sophisticated techniques and novel technology helping scientists assess pollock populations, which will eventually inform fisheries management decisions. And working in the wet lab was a lot of fun! In addition to processing pollock, I enjoyed observing all the different creatures we caught in our trawls, from sea jellies to shrimps to all manner of fish. While I will really miss my shipmates, the fisheries work, and the gorgeous scenery (especially those epic sunrises), I am excited to go back and share all I have learned with my students and a larger community of educators.

So this is Cristina Veresan, once again a Teacher Ashore, and officially signing off…

Mahalo nui loa for following my journey. Aloha!

fishface
Fish faces! Photo by Emily Collins

Cristina Veresan, Lights, Camera, Ocean! August 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59° 18.31’N
Longitude: 141° 36.22’W
Sky: Overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 358
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: < 1 feet
Swell Wave: 2-3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.2°C
Dry Temperature: 15°C

Science and Technology Log

When my shift begins at 4am, I often get to participate in a few “camera drops” before the sun comes up and we begin sailing our transect lines looking for fish. We are conducting the “camera drops” on a grid of 5 km squares provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl survey that shows whether the seafloor across the Gulf of Alaska is “trawlable” or “untrawlable” based on several criteria to that survey. The DropCam footage, used in conjunction with a multi-beam echosounder, helps verify the “trawlability” designation and also helps identify and measure fish seen with the echosounder.

cameralaunch
The Drop Camera being deployed

The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and two cameras, one color and one black and white, contained in a steel frame. The cameras shoot in stereo, calibrated so scientists can get measurements from rocks, fish, and anything else on the images. When the ship is stopped, the DropCam can be deployed on a hydrowire by the deck crew and Survey Tech. In the Chem Lab, the wire can be moved up and down by a joystick connected to a winch on deck while the DropCam images are being viewed on a computer monitor. The ship drifts with  the current so the camera moves over the seafloor at about a knot, but you still have to “drive” with the joystick to move it up and down, keeping close to the bottom while avoiding obstacles. The bottom time is 15 minutes for each drop. It’s fun to watch the footage in real-time, and often we see really cool creatures as we explore the ocean floor! The images from the DropCam are later analyzed to identify and length fish species, count number of individual fish, and classify substrate type.

emilydriving
Emily “drives” the camera from the Chem Lab as the sun begins to rise
camershots
DropCam images (clockwise from top left) a skate, brittle stars, a cruising halibut, two rockfish in rocky habitat

Technology enables scientists to collect physical oceanographic data as well. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) is a probe that is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water column. The depth is calculated by a known fall rate. A very thin copper wire transmits the data to the ship where it is recorded in real-time for later analysis. You launch the probe from a hand-held plastic launcher tube; after pulling out the pin, the probe slides out the tube. We also use a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) aboard the Oscar Dyson; a CTD is an electronic device used by oceanographers to measure salinity through conductivity, as well as temperature and pressure. The CTD’s sensors are mounted on a steel frame and can also include sensors for oxygen, fluorescence and collecting bottles for water samples. However, to deploy a CTD, the ship must be stopped and the heavy CTD carousel lowered on a hydrowire. The hand-held XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations. We launch XBT’s twice a day on our survey to monitor water temperatures for use with the multi beam echosounder.

xbt
Cristina launching the XBT probe Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir
ctd
Survey Tech Alyssa servicing the CTD carousel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser

download
Ensign Benjamin Kaiser, NOAA Corps

Tell me a little more about the NOAA Corps?
We facilitate NOAA scientific operations aboard NOAA vessels like hydrographic work making charts, fisheries data collection, and oceanographic research.

What do you do up on the bridge?
I am a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), so when I am on the bridge driving the ship, I am accompanied by an Officer of the Deck (OOD). I am on my way to becoming an OOD. For that you need 120 days at sea, a detailed workbook completed, and the Commanding Officer’s approval.

What education or training is required for your position?
I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Boston University. My training for NOAA Corps was 19 weeks at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut– essentially going through Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.

What motivated you to join the NOAA Corps?
A friend of mine was an observer on a fisheries boat, and she told me about the NOAA Corps. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t know it was an option. We’re a small service, so recruiting is limited; there’s approximately 320 officers in the NOAA Corps.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love not being in an office all the time. In the NOAA Corps, the expectation is two years at sea and then a land assignment. The flexibility appeals to me because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing. There are so many opportunities to learn new skills. Like, this year I got advanced dive training for Nitrox and dry suit. I don’t have any regrets about this career path.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
There’s a steep learning curve. At this stage, I have to be like a sponge and take everything in and there’s so much to learn. That, and just getting used to shipboard life. It is difficult to find time to work out and the days are long.

What are your duties aboard the Oscar Dyson?
I am on duty 12pm to midnight, rotating between working on the bridge and other duties. I am the ship’s Safety Officer, so I help make sure the vessel is safely operating and coordinate drills with the Commanding Officer. I am also the Training Officer, so I have to arrange the officers’ and crew members’ training schedules. I am also in charge of morale/wellness, ship’s store, keys, radios, and inspections, to name a few.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I grew up in Rhode Island and was an ocean kid. I loved sailing and swimming, and I always knew I would have an ocean-related career.

How would a student who wanted to join the NOAA Corps need to prepare?

Students would need an undergraduate degree from a college or university, preferably in a STEM field. Students could also graduate from a Maritime Academy. When they go to Officer Candidate School, they need to be prepared for a tough first week with people yelling at them. Then there’s long days of working out, nautical science class, drill work, homework, and lights out by 10pm!

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy rock climbing, competitive swimming, hiking, and sailing.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
There’s no rock climbing!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Sailfish because they are fast and cool.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Chem Lab

chemlab

This lab is called the Chem Lab (short for Chemical). For our survey, we don’t have that many chemicals, but it is a dry lab with counters for workspace when needed. This room is adjacent to the wet lab through a watertight door, so in between trawls, Emily and I spend a lot of time here.  In the Chem Lab, we charge batteries for the CamTrawl and the DropCam. There are also two computer stations for downloading data, AutoLength analysis, and any other work (like blogging!). There is a window port to the Hero Deck, where the CTD and DropCam are deployed from. In the fume hood, we store Methot net samples in bottles of formalin. There is a microscope for viewing samples. Note the rolling chairs have their wheels removed and there are tie-downs on cases so they are safer at sea. Major cribbage tournaments are also played in this room!

Personal Log

It has been so calm on this cruise, but I have to say that I was looking forward to some bigger waves! Well, Sunday night to yesterday afternoon we experienced some rain and rough seas due to a nearby storm. For a while the ship would do big rolling motions and then a quick lurchy crash. Sea waves were about 2 feet in height, but the swell waves were over 5 feet at times. When I was moving about the ship, I’d have to keep a hand on a rail or something else secured. In the wet lab while I was working, I would lean against the counter and keep my feet spread apart for better balance.

waves
Seas picked up and the ship was rocking and rolling!

Remember the Methot net? It is the smaller net used to catch macroplankton. We deployed one this week and once it came out of the water, it was rinsed and the codend was unscrewed. When we got the codend into the wet lab, we realized it was exclusively krill!

methotlaunch
The Methot net is deployed by the Survey Tech and deck crew members
Krill
#krillfordays

Krill are  small crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. Krill eat plant plankton (phytoplankton), so they are near the bottom of many marine food chains and fed on by creatures varying from fish like pollock to baleen whales like humpbacks. They are not so small that you need a microscope to see them, but they are tiny. We took a subsample and preserved it and then another subsample to count individuals…there were over 800 krill in just that one scoop! Luckily, we had them spread out on a board and made piles of ten so we did not lose count. It was tedious work moving individual krill with the forceps! I much prefer counting big things.

I love it when there is diversity among the catch from the AWT trawls. And, we caught some very memorable and unique fish this week.  First was a beautiful Shortraker Rockfish (Sebastes borealis). Remember, like the Pacific Ocean Perch, its eyes bulge when its brought up from depth. The Shortraker Rockfish is an open-water, demersal species and can be one of the longest lived of all fish. There have  been huge individuals caught in Alaskan waters that are over 100 years old. This fish was not particularly big for a Shortraker, but I was impressed at its size. It was probably my age.

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Holding a Shortraker Rockfish. Photo by Emily Collins
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Smooth Lumpsucker fish: so ugly it’s cute?! Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

We also caught a Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). It was inflated because it was brought up from depth, a form of barotrauma. This scaleless fish got its name for being shaped like a “lump” and having an adhesive disc-shaped “sucker.” The “sucker,” modified pelvic fins, are located ventrally and used to adhere to substrate. These pelagic fish are exclusively found in cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific. The lumpsucker fish, and its roe (eggs) are considered delicacies in Iceland and some other countries.

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You can see the “sucker” on the bottom of its body. Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

Pollock are pretty slimy and they have tiny scales, so when we process them, everything gets covered with a kind of speckled grey ooze. However, when we trawled the other day and got a haul that was almost entirely Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), I was amazed at their scales. For small fish, the herring had scales that were quite large and glistened like silvery sequins. The herring’s backs are an iridescent greenish-blue, and they have silver sides and bellies. The silver color comes from embedded guanine crystals, leading to an effective camouflage phenomenon in open water.

As this last week comes to a close, I am not ready to say goodbye…

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Herring scales are nature’s sequins

Rebecca Loy, Hello from land! August 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: August 12, 2015

Introduction

Personal Log:  Hello to everyone from Cicero, New York. Cicero is just outside of Syracuse in the middle of New York State surrounded by some very beautiful areas. My name is Becky Loy and I have been teaching special education for 24 years.

You might wonder, why is a special education teacher going to sea…? Well, I sort of joke that I am a special education teacher by day, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) enthusiast by night.

Caught by surprise having a laugh with some volunteers with our high powered rockets.
Caught by surprise having a laugh with some volunteers with our high powered rockets.

I love my job teaching at Minoa Elementary in the East Syracuse-Minoa School District. My district is extremely supportive of me, and I look for any way to incorporate STEAM activities into my day, but it is usually after school. From space education, launching large five foot high powered rockets, Lego robotics, NASA moon rocks, writing NASA curriculum to taking large groups to Washington, D.C. or Space Camp, Canada, I try to inspire students many ways! I am very excited about going to sea in Alaska on NOAA Ship Rainier!  This will give me many more experiences to bring back to my school and community. My dream is for kids to be inspired by me to follow their own STEAM paths and careers.

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Some of my best adventures have been around water.  To begin, I grew up on the large St. Lawrence River in northern New York State and could practically swim before I walked.  A true passion of mine for over 10 years is sailing on the Maine-based, National Heritage schooner Isaac H. Evans.  While sailing, the wind takes you where it pleases and the chef cooks on a wood stove in a wooden galley.  This is where I learned that you sleep in a “berth”, go the to the bathroom in a “head” and you wash your hands in a “basin” (Think about it – you don’t want to use the word “sink” on a boat!).   Another water-based, but thrilling experience is when I went cage diving with Great White sharks off the coast of Africa!  Little did I know that the shark was going to grab the chum right in front of me – yikes!!

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Being on water is natural for me and I love it! Having the experience of being on a hydrographic research vessel is very unique. Hydrographic research is the study of our coastal waters – updating charts, maybe checking tides or the bottom of a bay/strait or going on smaller boats to look closer at the shoreline. I look forward to learning all I can about it!

This is all very exciting for me, but I must admit I am a bit nervous. Who would think that someone who swam with sharks would be more nervous about this, but I am. Since my dream is to inspire more children and adults, I want to do a great job!

Blue Flight Suit fun with fellow Honeywell teachers Jacqui and Maria and astronaut Clay Anderson
Blue Flight Suit fun with fellow Honeywell teachers Jacqui and Maria and astronaut Clay Anderson

Some of my adventures that are not based on water are attending Honeywell’s Space and Advanced Space Academies for educators, getting VIP tours of various NASA facilities, sleeping in a car to see Space Shuttle Atlantis lift off (oooohh my back and neck hurt after that experience!), star gazing in Death Valley, CA, paragliding off a mountain in Africa and traveling in Europe.  Another passion (and something I get the strangest looks for) is showing off my Space Academy Blue Flight Suit at any appropriate occasion with other space enthusiasts!  We are like our own little family.

 

My son and I with Mythbuster Adam Savage! STEAM Awesomeness!
My son and I with Mythbuster Adam Savage! STEAM Awesomeness!

In my free time, I enjoy special time with my loving family. I have an incredibly supportive husband, an 18 year old son and 2 pugs! I enjoy reading, painting, gardening and a variety of

At the TACNY Outstanding Teacher awards with my husband and son, 2013
At the TACNY Outstanding Teacher awards with my husband and son, 2013

do-it-yourself projects. I take a great deal of pride in seeking new adventures to inspire both adults and children!

Thank you for following me on this latest adventure!

Jeanne Muzi: Science, Service and Stewardship, August 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 10, 2015

As I head home to New Jersey a few days ahead of schedule, I am reflecting on what I have learned aboard the Thomas Jefferson. From day one, I was asking questions and trying to understand the process of hydrographic surveying, the equipment used and the different roles of everyone involved in the process. I learned why hydrographic surveying is so important and why the mission of NOAA (Science, Service and Stewardship) is demonstrated in all the research and activities aboard the Thomas Jefferson.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.  NOAA protects, preserves, manages and enhances the resources found in 3.5 million square miles of coastal and deep ocean waters.

The oceans are our home. As active citizens, we must all become knowledgeable, involved stewards of our oceans.

our-ocean
Our ocean. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/june14/our-ocean.pdf

Science and Technology Log

As my Teacher at Sea experience ends, I wanted to make sure I shared some of the conversations I had with the officers charged with leading the missions of the Thomas Jefferson and the hydrographic work it is involved in.

The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!
The Thomas Jefferson: Home to an amazing crew!

It is my honor to introduce to you:

Captain Shepard Smith (CO)

CO Smith
CO Smith

Captain Smith grew up on the water in Maine. He always enjoyed reading maps and charts. He received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and earned a Master’s of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire Ocean Engineering (Mapping) Program. He has worked at NOAA in many different capacities.

He served aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, NOAA R/V Bay Hydrographer and the Thomas Jefferson. He was also the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Captain Smith also served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Deputy Administrator and as Chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. Captain Smith explained how he has been involved in integrating many new technological innovations designed to improve the efficiency of NOAA’s seafloor mapping efforts. It was through Captain Smith’s endeavors that Americans enjoy open access to all NOAA charts and maps.

CO Smith on the Bridge
CO Smith on the Bridge

He enjoys being the CO very much and feels the best part of his job is developing the next generation of leadership in NOAA. He feels it is very important to have that influence on junior officers. The worst part of his job is the separation from his family.

Captain Smith’s advice to young students is to pay attention to the world around you and how things work. Try to ask lots of questions. He said, “There are loads of opportunities to be the best at something and so many things to learn about. There are new fields, new ideas and new ways to see and understand things. Never limit yourself.”

Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser (XO)

XO LCDR Hauser
XO LCDR Hauser 

LCDR Hauser grew up in New Jersey and always loved learning about the ocean. As a little girl, she thought she would like to study Marine Science but wasn’t sure how. She grew up and earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from Franklin and Marshall College and her Master’s of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies. Before coming to NOAA, LCDR Hauser spent time working for a mortgage company, which provided her with different kinds of skills. She soon started officer training for NOAA and got to apply the sonar knowledge she developed in graduate school to her NOAA work. She has served on the NOAA ships Rainier and Thomas Jefferson. She has built her strong background in hydrography with both land and sea assignments. She has been Field Operations Officer, Field Support Liaison and Executive Officer. She explained that in the field of hydrographic surveying, experience is key to improving skills and she is always trying to learn more and share her knowledge. As XO, she is the second highest-ranking officer on the ship.

LCDR Hauser feels the best part of her job is that it never gets boring. Everyday is different and there are always new things to see and learn.

XO supervises the arrival of the launch
XO supervises the arrival of the launch

LCDR Hauser also explained that the hardest part of the job is the transitions, that come pretty frequently. She said, “You may find yourself leaving a ship or coming to a new job. There are always new routines to learn and new people to get to know. With so many transitions, it is often hard to find and keep community, but on the positive side, the transitions keep you adaptable and resilient, which are important skills too.”

Her advice to young students is “Take opportunities! Explore things you never heard of. Don’t give up easily! Even the rough parts of the road can work for you. Every experience helps you grow! Keep asking questions…especially about how and why!”

Lieutenant Joseph Carrier (FOO)

LT Carrier
LT Carrier

As a young boy, LT Carrier was the kind of kid who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He joined the Navy right out of high school. When he got out, he attended University of North Carolina at Wilmington and studied biology as an undergraduate and marine science in graduate school. He taught biology, oceanography, and earth science at a community college and worked at NOAA’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, VA before attending officer training. He served on other NOAA ships before coming to the Thomas Jefferson and has learned a lot about the technical aspects of hydrographic surveying, data collection and processing while onboard. He is currently the Field Operations Officer.

FOO on deck
FOO on deck

LT Carrier feels the best part of his job is the great people he works with. He explained that on a ship you are part of a close family that works together, lives together and helps each other.

He said the hardest parts of the job are the long hours and missing his family very much.

His advice to younger students is don’t get discouraged easily. He explained, “If you are not good at something at first, try again. Know that each time you try something…you have an opportunity to get better at it. Everyone can overcome challenges by working hard and sticking with it!

Personal Log:

Quick painting fromTJ Bow
Quick painting fromTJ Bow

The experience of living and learning on the Thomas Jefferson will stay with me and impact my teaching as I continue to encourage kids to stay curious, ask questions and work hard!

I would like to thank everyone at NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program for enabling me to come on this adventure! My time as a TAS has provided me with authentic learning experiences and a new understanding of science and math in action. I would like to thank every person serving on the Thomas Jefferson who took the time to talk with me and shared his or her area of expertise. I appreciated everyone’s patience, kindness and friendly help as they welcomed me into their home. Every crewmember has given me stories, knowledge and information that I can now share with others.

Print
Conserving our ocean and coasts. Image courtesy of http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/topics/

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day and Picture of the Day was:

What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

These containers are life rafts. The letters “SOLAS” stand for “Safety of Life at Sea.”

The First SOLAS Treaty was issued in 1914, just two years after the Titanic disaster. The Treaty was put in place so countries all around the world would make ship safety a priority. The SOLAS Treaty ensures that ships have safety standards in construction, in equipment onboard and in their operation. Many countries have turned these international requirements into national laws. The first version of the treaty developed in response to the sinking of the Titanic. It stated the number of lifeboats and other emergency equipment that should be available on every ship, along with safety procedures, such as having drills and continuous radio watch. Newer versions of the SOLAS Treaty have been adopted and the guidelines are always being updated so people at sea remain safe. If there was an emergency on the Thomas Jefferson, the crew is prepared because they have practiced many different drills. If these lifeboats were needed they would be opened, inflated and used to bring everyone to safety.

Many thanks for reading about my Teacher at Sea Adventure! 

Learning to be safe at sea!
Learning to be safe at sea!

 

Cristina Veresan, Icthysticks and Otoliths? August 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Sunday, August 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59°28.8’ N
Longitude: 145°53.2’ W
Sky: Rain
Visibility: 7 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 13 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Swell Wave: 3 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  16.0°C
Dry Temperature:  14.5°C

Science and Technology Log

Our wet lab is outfitted with novel technology that makes processing the catch much more efficient. All of our touchscreen computers in the wet lab are running a program, designed by MACE personnel, called Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey (CLAMS). Once we enter the haul number and select the species that were caught, most of the data populates automatically from the lab instruments. For example, the digital scale is synced with the computer, so the weights are automatically recorded in CLAMS when a button is pushed. Also, an electronic fish measuring board called the “Icthystick,” designed by MACE IT specialist Rick Towler, is used to measure fish lengths. The fish’s head is placed at one end of the measuring board; when you place a finger stylus (with a magnet mounted inside it) at the end of the tail, the length is automatically recorded in CLAMS. The CLAMS system creates a histogram (type of graph) of all the lengths measured, and scientists archive and review this important data.

CLAMS
The CLAMS program records our catch
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The “Icthystick” AKA “Fish Stick” Photo by Darin Jones
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A digital scale connected to the CLAMS system

What can fisheries scientists learn from a pollock’s ear bones? The ear bones, called otoliths, have layers that can be counted and measured to determine the fish’s age and growth over the years of its life. Fish otoliths are glimpses into the past and their layers of proteins and calcium composites can sometimes offer clues about climate and water conditions as well. For our sub-sample of pollock, in addition to length, weight, and sex data, we will remove and archive the otoliths. We have to slice into the head and extract the two bony otoliths with forceps. The otoliths are then placed into a vial of ethanol with a bar code that has been scanned into the CLAMS system and assigned to the individual pollock they came from. Therefore, when all the otoliths are sent back to the lab in Seattle, ages of the fish can be confirmed. We sometimes collect other biological samples as well. In Seattle, there are scientists working on special projects for certain species, so sometimes we take a fin clip or an ovary sample from fish for those colleagues.

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After a slice is made across the head, the otoliths can be removed with forceps
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The otoliths in glycerol thymol (the bar code is on the opposite side of the vial)

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An interview with Rick Towler 

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Rick Towler, IT Specialist Photo by Darin Jones

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am an IT Specialist at MACE. I spend about 4 weeks total at sea and the rest of my time in our Seattle office. I have been in my position for 11 years.

What training or education do you need for your position?
My background is in wildlife biology, but I have had a lifelong interest in computers and electronics. I was lucky enough to get an internship with a physical oceanographer and started writing data analysis software for him. That got me on my career path, but for the most part, I have taught myself.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love the freedom to creatively solve problems. There’s a lot of room to learn new things in my position. Like when we started on the “Icthystick” I had never done any electronics like that but I was able to innovate and make something that works. The scientists provide the goals and I provide the gear!

Have you had much experience at sea?
No, I get seasick! I am usually the first to go down with it. Before I joined MACE I had no real sea time. When I get sick, I just have to rest and take medication. I am so lucky that this leg of the survey has been very calm.

What are your duties of your position in Seattle and at sea?
In general, I write software and design and develop instruments to help us do our job better. Along with my colleague, Scott Furnish, I am also responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment used during the survey. When at sea, I make sure all the data is being backed up. I respond to any equipment issues and fix things that are not working properly.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I did not necessarily know I wanted a marine career, but I knew I wanted to be involved in science. I love that my job now is a mix of natural science and computer technology. It’s important to me to have a job I think is meaningful.

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy family time: playing with my kids and hiking and biking together. I also love playing with my dog and building things with my kids.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
Pizza! And my family and my dog.

What is your favorite marine creature?
Tufted puffin because they are cute. I’m a bird guy.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Bridge

bridge
The main console (left) and the navigation station (right)

The bridge of a ship is an enclosed room or platform from which the ship is commanded. Our bridge is commended by officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the uniformed services of the United States. From the bridge, officers can control the ship’s movements, radar, IT (information technology), communications, trawling and everything else to operate the ship. Full control of the ships generators and engines is from the engine room, although there is a repeater display, so officers can monitor these systems. In our bridgethere is a main console from which the ship is steered. There are also consoles on other sides of the room, so the officers can control the ship when we are pulling up to the dock or when equipment is being deployed off the stern, starboard side, or port side. There is a navigation station where charts are stored and courses are plotted. For our cruise, courses are plotted on paper charts as well as two different digital charts. The bridge is surrounded by windows and the view is incredible!

Personal Log

Each fish we catch has a particular scent, some more “fishy” than others. But when Darin told me to smell a capelin (Mallotus villosus) I discovered something quite surprising. The small, slender fish smells exactly like cucumber. Or should I say that cucumbers smell exactly like capelin? It is amazing!

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Capelin are in the smelt family: I smelt a smelt!

After all these clear sunny days, we had our first foggy one, a complete white out! It gave me an appreciation for the officers that have to navigate through these conditions using radar alone. I also noticed the fog horn sounded every two minutes; Ensign Ben told me that this is a nautical rule when visibility is less than 2 miles and the ship is underway. In between blasts, I scooted out to the bow to take the photo below.

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Thick fog surrounded us

I have seen two different whales on my trip so far. I saw one humpback whale from a distance while it was feeding. It was tough to make out the whale itself, but it was easy to spot the flock of birds that was gathered on the water’s surface. I have also always wanted to see an orca whale, and I finally got my chance. It was a fleeting encounter. I had just stepped out onto the deck and saw an orca surface. I raised my camera as it surfaced again and managed to take a picture of the dorsal fin. Unfortunately, our ship and the whale were cruising pretty fast in opposite directions. But it was still a magical moment to observe this amazing creature in its natural habitat.

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A feeding humpback whale
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A cruising orca whale

Like I have said before, working on a moving platform has its challenges. Even getting around a ship presents a unique set of peculiarities. First of all, most doorways have 4-inch rails on the floor. When you are stumbling down at 4am to begin your shift or excitedly moving outside to see a whale, you have to keep those in mind! Most interior doors are pretty standard, although some come equipped with hooks at the top in order to secure them open. However, the exterior doors are watertight and must be handled appropriately. To open them from either side, you first have to push the lever up and then open the door by the handle. It is really important to avoid placing your hand in the door frame while the door is open because the thick, heavy door would crush your hand is if it swung shut. For this reason, and to keep the ship secure, you also have to remember to close these doors behind you and pull down the lever on the other side. On account of a nearby storm, we are supposed to get some big seas overnight, so now everything must be secured!

Ah, the joys of shipboard living!

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(from left) a raised door frame, a latch on the back of a door, and a watertight exterior door

Jeanne Muzi: STEM in Action, August 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 8, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 73°F (23°C) Fair
Humidity: 59%
Wind Speed: N 10 mph
Barometer: 29.94 in (1013.6 mb)
Dewpoint: 58°F (14°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Science and Technology Log:

It is amazing that with hydrography, scientists can “look” into the ocean to “see” the sea floor by using sound.

All the data collected by the TJ, and other NOAA Hydro ships, is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models.

 

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This is important work because the charts are used to warn mariners of dangers to navigation, which can mean everything from rocks to ship wrecks. They also record tide or water level measurements to provide information about water depths. Surveys also help determine if the sea floor is made up of sand, mud or rock, which is important for the anchoring of boats, dredging, construction, and laying pipeline or cables. Hydrography also provides important information for fishery habitats.

The work being done on the Thomas Jefferson is a great example of STEM in action since hydrographic surveying combines science, lots of technology, the engineering of new devices and procedures, and the application of mathematical computations.

Here are two amazing survey images:

A crane discovered underwater
A crane discovered underwater

 

Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor
Image of the sunken ship, USS Monitor

A few of my students emailed me yesterday to ask how does the information gathered out on the launch become a chart. That’s a great question!

My XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Olivia Hauser provided me with a great explanation of how the data becomes a chart. She explained it this way:

It starts with deciding where to survey, and ends with an updated chart that is published and available for mariners to use. The decision where to survey is steered by a document called the National Hydrographic Survey Priorities document. It outlines where the top priorities to survey are based on the type of ship traffic that travels the area, the age of the survey in the area, how often the seafloor changes in the area, and specific requests from port authorities, the US Coast Guard, and other official maritime entities. Please see the following link for more information. http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm

The operations branch of the Hydrographic Surveys Division of the Office of Coast Survey in NOAA (where Patrick works-see below) uses this document to decide where the ship will survey next. This branch then provides the ship with project instructions that identifies where the work will be done and divides the survey area into manageable chunks.

The data is raw when we first acquire it, and once it comes back to the ship, we need to apply some correctors to it, to improve the data quality.

Working in the survey room
Working in the survey room

One corrector we apply to the data is tide information. The water gets shallower and deeper depending on the stage of tide, and we need to make sure the depths on the chart are all relative to the same stage of tide.

Another corrector we apply to the data is vessel motion. When we acquire depth data with the sonar, the boat is moving with the waves, and the raw data looks like it has waves in the seafloor, too. We know that is not the case, so we take the motion data of the boat out of our depth data.

A third corrector we apply to the data is sound speed. The sonar finds the depth of the seafloor by sending a pulse of sound out and listening for its return, measuring the time it takes to complete that trip. We also measure the speed of sound through the water so we can calculate the depth (see the picture of ENS Gleichauf deploying the CTD to measure sound speed). Speed =Distance/Time. Speed of sound through typical seawater is 1500 meters per second. The speed of sound changes with water temperature and salinity (the saltiness of the water) .If we measure the time it takes for the sound to get to the seafloor and back, 1 second for example, and the sound speed is 1500 meters per second we know the seafloor is 750 meters away from the sonar. (the sound is traveling two ways).

Once all of the correctors are applied to the data, a digital terrain model (DTM) is created from the data to make a grid showing the depths and hazards in the area. A report is written about the survey, and it is submitted to the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch (Where Jeffrey works- See below). This branch reviews the data and makes sure it meets NOAA’s specifications for data quality. They also make a preliminary chart, picking the important depths and hazards that should be shown on the chart.

Once the data has been reviewed, it goes to the Marine Charting Division. This group takes the preliminary chart of the area surveyed, and adds it to the official chart that is being updated. These charts are then distributed to the public.

I had a chance to talk with some of the Survey Techs and project scientists who work on the TJ to find out more about their jobs.

Allison Stone
Allison Stone

Allison Stone is the Hydro Senior Survey Technician (HSST). When Allison was 12 years old she clearly remembers her school’s Career Day, when lots of parents came in to talk about their jobs. She recalls there was one mom who had a sparkle in her eye when she talked about her job. She was an Oceanographer. That mom became her advisor when she attended the College of Charleston. Allison had an internship at the Atlantic Hydrography Branch in Norfolk and she first came to the TJ as a Student Scientist. She later became a full time technician. She enjoys her job because she gets the opportunity to observe the seafloor like no one has ever seen it before. She gets to solve problems and think outside the box. When she is going through raw data, she is able to make connections and interpret information. The work is interesting and challenging. Allison’s advice for young students is to keep being passionate about things you are interested in. Try to find out more and stay flexible. Try to volunteer as much as possible as you grow up so you can find out what you like to do and love to work on.

Jeffery Marshall
Jeffery Marshall

Jeffery Marshall was visiting the TJ for a project during my time aboard. Jeffery is a Physical Scientist with the Office of Coast Survey as a member of the Hydrographic Surveys Division, Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Jeffery grew up on the Jersey Shore and loved being out on the water, down at the beach and learning about the ocean. He loved surfing and was always wondering what the weather would be like so he could plan for the waves and the tides. So when he went to college, he studied meteorology. Following graduation, he taught middle school science and loved being a teacher. When he was ready for a change, he decided to attend graduate school and got his masters degree in Coastal Geology. He really enjoys having the opportunity to get out on the ships. His job is usually applying the processed data to charts, what he calls “Armchair Hydrography.” When he gets a chance to work on a NOAA ship mission, he has more opportunities to collect and analyze data. Jeff’s advice to young students is to read a lot and think about lots of different things, like how we use maps. He thinks everyone should take a look at old maps and charts, and think about how they were made. He encourages students to look for patterns in nature and to think about how rocks and sand change over time.

Patrick Keown
Patrick Keown

Patrick Keown is also a Physical Scientist. He was also working on a project on the TJ. Patrick works at the Operations Branch of the Hydrographics Survey Division in Silver Spring, Maryland. Patrick is usually working on plans for where surveying needs to take place. He started college as an Anthropology major but ended up in a Geographic Information Systems class and found that it came easily to him. Geographic Information Systems are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. He had an internship with the Army Corp of Engineers which provided some “on the job learning” of hydrography. When Patrick was young, he didn’t have the chance to travel much, so he spent a lot of time looking at maps and wondering, “What else is out there?” Now he loves to travel and likes to look at what he calls “Social Geography.” Patrick thinks the best part of his job is the chance to experience new things. He has had opportunities to try the latest technology and is inspired by all the new types of equipment, like drones and the Z boats. Patrick’s advice to young learners is “Never be afraid to explore! Never be afraid to ask questions! Most importantly, stay curious!!”

Cassie Bongiovanni
Cassie Bongiovanni

Cassie Bongiovanni is a GIS Specialist who works at The Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. The center is a partnership between the University of New Hampshire and NOAA, and it has two main objectives: to develop tools to advance ocean mapping and hydrography, and to train the next generation of hydrographers and ocean mappers. Cassie grew up in Texas and did not like science at all when she was young. She attended the University of Washington in Seattle and fell in love with the ocean. She received her Bachelors of Science in Geology with a focus in Oceanography. She is now working with NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping group on processing lidar and acoustic data for post Hurricane Sandy research efforts. Cassie explained that she loves her work because she loves to learn! She has lots of opportunities to ask questions and discover new things. The kid in her loves making maps and then coloring them with bright colors to create 3-D images of things like shipwrecks.

 

Personal Log:

IMG_4023

The launch headed out again today to try to find a ship that sank earlier in the summer. Information was gathered and lines were surveyed, but so far no shipwreck was found. The day ended with a beautiful sunset.

Setting lines to survey
Setting lines to survey
Looking out from the cabin of the launch
Looking out from the cabin of the launc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sunset

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day was:

How was the ocean floor mapped before sonar was invented?

Mariners have used many different methods to map the ocean floor to try to “see” what was under the water. For thousands of years a stick was used to see how deep the water was. Eventually, the stick was marked with measurements. Once ships started exploring the oceans, sticks were no longer good options for finding out the depth of water or if anything was under the water that could harm the ship. Sailors started tying a rope around a heavy rock and throwing it over board. In the 1400’s, mariners began using lead lines, which were marked lengths of rope attached to a lead weight. The lead line was good for measuring depth and providing information about the sea floor. The standard lead line was 20 fathoms long–120 feet–and the lead weighed 7 pounds. In the early 20th century, the wire drag was invented. This meant two ships had a set system of wires hung between them and it enabled mariners to find hidden rocks, shipwrecks or other hazards hidden in the water.

 

leadline

Find out more about the history of navigation tools at http://www.vos.noaa.gov/MWL/aug_08/navigation_tools.shtml

In my last entry, The Picture of the Day showed Ensign Gleichauf lowering an instrument into the water. That is a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is made up of electronic instruments that measure these properties. The CTD detects how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes as it goes deeper into the water. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is how salty the seawater is.

What is that?
This is a CTD

Today’s Question of the Day and Picture of the Day: What is this and what do the letters mean?

What is this? What do the letters mean?
What is this?
What do the letters mean?

 

Thanks for reading this entry!

Safety first!
Safety first!

 

Jeanne Muzi: Out on the Launch! August 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
August 2 – 8, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: August 7, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature:79°F (26°C) Partly Cloudy
Humidity: 41%
Wind Speed: W 9 mph
Barometer: 29.89 in (1012.0 mb)
Dewpoint: 53°F (12°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi
Heat Index: 79°F (26°C)

Science and Technology Log:

The Thomas Jefferson is in port at the naval base at Newport so the small launch boats are being used for hydrographic survey training.

Last minute instructions on deck.
Last minute instructions on deck.
Lifting the Launch into the water!
Lowering the Launch into the water!
Onto the launch
Onto the launch..
And we are off!
…and we are off!

On my two trips out, I have absorbed an enormous amount of information about how to set up all the computer equipment so each part “talks” to the other, how to know if the underwater multi-beam sonar is set correctly, how to lengthen or shorten the swath of the beams so the “pings” travel the correct distance/speed and how to examine the survey data and discuss what is seen (for example, is that disturbance we see the wake from a passing ship? Are we running the lines too close to the jetty? Is that an underwater cable? Do you see that large school of fish moving?).

Coordinating all the tasks on all the screens is important
Coordinating all the tasks on all the screens is important.
Learning about multi-beam sonar
Learning about multi-beam sonar
Examining data
Examining data

Doug Wood, a senior hydrographic survey technician, explained how to start the generator on the launch, turn on all the surveying and charting technology and created different scenarios so that we could set various lines to survey. Once we had our location, the Coxswain (the person in charge of steering and navigating the boat) could guide the launch along that line and we could begin logging data. As the sonar began delivering data to the screen, we were able to see rocks, buoys and even large fish that appeared along with their shadows. The multi-beam sonar was capable of picking up lots of information about what was on the sea floor.

Gassing up the launch
Gassing up the launch. Photo credit: Stephanie Stabile
Returning to the ship!
Returning to the ship!

If you are interested in finding out more about how NOAA maps with sound, take a look at this article by clicking on this link:

Seeing the ocean floor clip 2 copy

http://www.noaa.gov/features/monitoring_1008/seafloormapping.html

Look at how detailed NOAA’s nautical charts must be:

noaa chart copy

Personal Log:

One of the most interesting parts of being on the Thomas Jefferson has been having conversations with everyone onboard. It seems that every officer, engineer, seaman or steward has a remarkable story about the path that brought him or her to serve on NOAA’s TJ.

Yesterday, I had a chance to ask three Junior Officers and a Lieutenant J.G. some questions about their work. Ensign Katie Seberger, Ensign Marybeth Head and Ensign Max Andersen were kind enough to let me chat with them as they worked in the chartroom updating checklists and working to improve safety routines. LTJG Matthew Forrest took a minute to talk with me in the mess. When I asked what the best thing about their job was, each answered that they really enjoyed their work.

Ensign Katie Seberger and Ensign Marybeth Head
Ensign Katie Seberger and Ensign Marybeth Head

Ensign Seberger explained that she had loved the ocean and wanted to study marine science her whole life and the best part of her job is being out on the water. Ensign Head said that doing something for the big picture is the best and it is easy to get really excited about her work. Ensign Andersen said the best part of his job has been getting a chance work with the Z boats; the newest surveying tool the crew of the TJ will begin using soon. LT.JG Forrest said that it was the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than you, and contribute every day to something important. He also said an enjoyable part of his job is working with a great team.

Ensign Max Andersen
Ensign Max Andersen

Each of the officers had to think about what the worst part of their job was. Ensign Seberger said that while it is exciting to travel, it is sometimes hard not knowing where you are going next. Ensign Head said that for her, it is difficult to be disconnected from the water, and that even though she is sailing on a ship, she grew up on small boats with the salt spray on her face, and she misses that. Ensign Andersen said the worst thing is the uncertainty of the ship’s schedule and not knowing where you will be next. LTJG Forrest said the worst thing is the lack of sleep because it is not unusual for them to be up working for 16 hours sometimes. He also said it was hard to be so far from his family and disconnected from everything going on at home.

LT.J.G. Matthew Forrest
LTJG Matthew Forrest

Each of the officers had great advice for young students who would like to one day do the type of work they do. Ensign Seberger suggested that its important to volunteer doing what you think you would like to work at so you can find out if it is for you. Ensign Head’s advice to students was to be “persistent and memorable.” She explained that you need to keep at whatever you are doing and not give up. The people that quit will be forgotten. The people that keep working will not. Ensign Andersen’s advice to young students is to make your own path and don’t settle for the status quo. He thinks you might have to work harder to make your way, but it’s worth it. LTJG Forrest felt that kids should understand that all the work done on the Thomas Jefferson is built on a foundation of the fundamentals of math and science so all kids should try to soak up as much math and science as they can. He also said to always be ready to work hard.

Each of the officers said they enjoy their work very much and could not imagine doing anything else!

 

In my last blog entry the Question of the Day was:

Why is surveying the ocean floor so important?

The ocean floor is covered with all sorts of things including natural things, like rocks, reefs, hills and valleys, and manmade objects, such as cables, docks, shipwrecks and debris. If ships don’t know where things are it can be very dangerous. Storms often change the position of things underwater so it is very important that charts are accurate and updated. Hydrographers capture the data from the seafloor using sonar, process the data and utilize the information to create precise and informative ocean charts.

In my last entry, The Picture of the Day showed an anchor ball. An anchor ball is a round, black shape that is hoisted in the forepart of a vessel to show that it is anchored. It must be taken down when the ship is underway.

Anchor Ball
Anchor Ball

 

Today’s Question of the Day is:

How was the ocean floor mapped before sonar was invented?

Today’s Picture of the Day: What is Ensign Gleichauf lowering into the water?

What is that?
What is that?

Thanks for reading this entry!

Heading out to the deck!
Heading out to the deck!

Kathleen Gibson, Conservation: Progress and Sacrifice, August 6, 2015

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast
Date: Evening, Aug 6,2015

Coordinates:
LAT   3035.997   N
LONG   8105.5449 W 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.8
Sea Temp (deg C): 28.3
Air Temp (deg C):  28.9

I’ve now had the chance to see at least 9 different shark species, ranging from 1 kg to over 250 kg and I’ve placed tags on 4 of the larger sharks that we have caught.  These numbered tags are inserted below the shark’s skin, in the region of the dorsal fin.  A small piece from one of the smaller fins is also clipped off for DNA studies and we make sure to  record the tag number. If a shark happens to be recaptured in the future, the information gathered will be valuable for population and migration studies. The video below shows the process.

Tagging a Nurse Shark Photo: Ken Wilkinson
Tagging a nurse shark.
Photo: Ken Wilkinson

 

After checking that the tag is secure, I gave the shark a pat.  I agree with Tim Martin’s description that it’s skin feels like a roughed-up basketball.

 

We’ve had a busy couple of days.   The ship is further south now, just off the coast of Florida, and today we worked three stations. The high daytime temperatures and humidity make it pretty sticky on deck but there are others on board working in tougher conditions.

Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.
Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.

Yesterday, during a brief period of downtime, I took the opportunity to go down to the engine room. Temperatures routinely exceed 103 o F, and noise levels require hearing protection.  My inner Industrial Hygienist (my former occupation) kicked in and I found it fascinating; there is a lot going on is a small space.  My environmental science students won’t be surprised at my excitement learning

Here it is... The RO unit!
Here it is… The RO unit!

about the desalination unit (reverse osmosis) for fresh water generation and energy conversions propelling the vessel.

I know, I know… but it was really interesting.

 

Science and Technology – Conservation

Sustainability,  no matter what your  discipline is, refers to the wise use of resources with an eye toward the future. In environmental science we specifically talk about actively protecting the natural world through conservation of both species and habitat.   Each year when I prepare my syllabus for my AP Environmental Science course, I include the secondary title “Working Toward Sustainability”.  I see this as a positive phrase that establishes the potential for renewal while noting the effort required to effect change.

Sustainability is the major focus of NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) as it is “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.”  I’m sure that most readers have some familiarity with the term endangered species or even the Endangered Species Act, but the idea that  protection extends to habitats and essential resources may be new.

Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.
Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.

Regulation of  U.S. Fisheries

Marine fisheries in the United States are primarily governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, initially passed in 1976. Significant reductions in key fish populations were observed at that time and the necessity for improved regulatory oversight was recognized.  This act relied heavily on scientific research and was intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild stocks, and increase the long-term biological and economic viability of marine fisheries. It was this regulation that extended U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles from shore.  Previously, foreign fleets could fish as close as 12 nautical miles from U.S

Two sandbar sharks on the line.
Two spinner sharks on the line.

shores.

Under this fisheries act, Regional Fishery Management Councils develop Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for most species (those found in nearby regional waters) which outline sustainable and responsible practices such as harvest limits, seasonal parameters, size, and maturity parameters for different species. Regional councils rely heavily on research when drafting the FMP, so the work done by NOAA Fisheries scientists and other researchers around the country is critical to the process.  Drafting a Fishery Management Plan for highly migratory fish that do not remain in U.S. waters is challenging and enforcement even more so.  Recall from a previous blog that great hammerheads are an example of a highly migratory shark.

Threats to Shark Populations and Conservation Efforts

Shark populations around the globe suffered significantly between 1975 and 2000, and for many species (not all sharks and less in the USA) the decline continues. This decline is linked to a number of factors.  Improved technology and the development of factory fishing allows for increased harvest of target species and a subsequent increase in by-catch (capture of non-target fish). Efficient vessels and refined fishing techniques reduced fish stocks at all levels of the food web, predator and prey alike.

More significantly, the fin fishing industry specifically targets sharks and typical finning operations remove shark fins and throw the rest of the shark overboard.  These sharks are often still living and death results from predation or suffocation as they sink.  Shark fins are a desirable food product in Asian dishes such as shark fin soup, and are an ingredient in traditional medicines.  They bring a high price on the international market and sharks with big fins are particularly valuable.

A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.
A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.

Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) and scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) that we have seen have very large dorsal and pectoral fins, which are particularly desirable to fin fisherman.  There are many groups, international and domestic, working to reduce fin fishing, but the high price paid for fins makes enforcement difficult. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act implemented in 2000, in combination with the Shark Protection Act of 2010 sought to reduce this practice.  These acts amended Magnusen-Stevens (1976) to require that all sharks caught in U.S. waters have their fins intact when they reach the shore.  U.S. flagged vessels in international waters must also adhere to this ban, therefore no fins should be present on board that are not still naturally attached. The meat of many sharks is not desirable due to high ammonia levels, so the ban on fin removal has dramatically reduced the commercial shark fishing industry in the United States. (Read about some good news below in my interview with Trey Driggers )

The video below featuring the Northwest Atlantic Shark cooperative summarizes these threats to shark populations.

It must also be mentioned that in the 25 years after the release of the book and film “Jaws”, fear and misunderstanding fueled an increase in shark hunting for sport. The idea that sharks were focused human predators with vendettas led many to fear the ocean and ALL sharks. In his essay “Misunderstood Monsters,” author Peter Benchley laments the  limited research available about sharks 40 years ago,  even stating that he would not have been able to write the same book with what we now know.  He spoke publicly about the need for additional research and educational initiatives to spread knowledge about ocean ecology.

Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark.
Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark. This is one of my favorite pictures.

The United States is at the forefront of shark research, conservation and education and in the intervening years, with the help of NOAA Fisheries and many other scientists, we have learned much about shark ecology and marine ecosystems. It’s certain that marine food webs are complex, but that complexity is not always fully represented in general science textbooks. For example, texts often state that sharks are apex predators (top of the food chain).  This applies to many

This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose. Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan
This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose.
Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan

species including great white and tiger sharks, but it doesn’t represent all species.  In truth, many shark species are actually mesopredators (mid level), and are a food source for larger organisms.  Therefore conservation efforts need to extend through all levels of the food web.

The Atlantic sharpnose  (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) and Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) are examples of mesopredators.  It was not uncommon for us to find the remains of and small Atlantic sharpnose on the hook with a large shark that it had attracted.

Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.
Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.

 

William  (Trey) Driggers – Field Research Scientist – Shark Unit Leader ( is there a III?)

Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William" Trey" Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit. Photo: Ian Davenport
Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William” Trey” Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit.
Photo: Ian Davenport

Trey is a graduate of Clemson University and earned his Ph.D at the University of South Carolina.  He’s been with NOAA for over 10 years and is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit, headquartered in Pascagoula, MS. His responsibilities include establishing and modifying experimental protocols and general oversight of the annual Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Trey has authored numerous scientific articles related to his work with sharks and is considered an expert in his field.  He is a field biologist by training and makes it a point to participate in at least one leg of the this survey each year.

Sandbar shark ( Carcharhinus plumbeus)
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

I asked Trey if analysis of the data from the annual surveys has revealed any significant trends among individual shark populations. He immediately cited the increased number of sandbar sharks and tied that to the closure of the fin fisheries. Approximately 20 years ago, the Sandbar shark population off of the Carolina and Florida coasts was declining. Trey spoke with an experienced fisherman who recalled times past when Sandbar sharks were abundant. At the time Trey was somewhat skeptical of the accuracy of the recollection — there was no data to support the claim.  Today the population of Sandbar sharks is robust by comparison to 1995 levels, and the fin removal legislation is likely a major factor.  Having the numbers to support this statement illustrates the value of a longitudinal study.

Trey notes that it’s important for the public to know of the positive trends like increases in Sandbar shark populations and to acknowledge that this increase has come at a cost.  The reduction and/or closure of fisheries have had radiating effects on individuals, families and communities.  Fishing is often a family legacy, passed down through the generations, and in most fishing communities there is not an easy replacement. In reporting rebounding populations we acknowledge the sacrifices made by these individuals and communities.

Personal Log- Last posting from sea. 

Thirty minutes before leaving Pascagoula we were informed that the V-Sat was not working and that we would likely have no internet for the duration of the cruise.

Pascagoula at night.
Pascagoula at night.

We had a few minutes to send word to our families and in my case, TAS followers. I think most of us were confident a fix would happen at some point, but we’re still here in the cone of silence. It’s been challenging for all on board and makes us all aware of how dependent we are on technology  for communication and support.  I’ve gotten a few texts, which has been a pleasant surprise. One tantalizing text on the first day said “off  to the hospital  (to give birth)”, and then no follow-up text for weeks.  That was quite a wait!  I can imagine how it was aboard ship in times past when such news was delayed by months—or longer.  I was looking forward to sharing photos along the way, so be prepared for lot of images all at once when we get to shore!  As for my students, while it would have been nice to share with you in real time, there is plenty to learn and plenty of time when we finally meet.

Captain Dave Nelson
Captain Dave Nelson

I’d like to thank Dave Nelson, the Captain of the Oregon II, who greeted me each day saying  “How’s it going Teach?” and for always making me feel welcome. Thank you also to all of those working in the Teacher at Sea Program office for making this experience possible.  Being a part of the Shark Longline Survey makes me feel like I won the TAS lottery.  I’m sure every TAS feels the same way about their experience.

Special thanks to Kristin Hannan, Field Party Chief Extraordinaire, for answering my endless questions (I really am a lifelong learner…), encouraging me to take on new challenges, and for her boundless energy which was infectious. Sharks are SOOO cool.

Here’s a final shout out to the day shift–12 pm-12 am–including the scientists, the Corps, deck crew and engineers for making a great experience for me.  Ian and Jim – It was great sitting out back talking. I learned so much from the two of you and I admire your work.

Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers
Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow, and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers

And, to all on board the Oregon II, I admire your commitment to this important work and am humbled by the personal sacrifices you make to get it done.

Day shift operating like clockwork Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Day shift operating like clockwork.
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Awesome day shift ops. Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Awesome day shift ops. Getting it done!
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

This has been one of the hardest and most worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had. It was exhilarating and exhausting, usually at the same time.  I often encourage my students to take on challenges and to look for unique opportunities, especially as they prepare for college.  In applying to the TAS program I took my own advice and, with the support of my family and friends, took a risk.  I couldn’t have done it without you all.  This experience has given me a heightened respect for the leaps my students have made over the years and a renewed commitment to encouraging them to do so.  Who knows, they may end up tagging sharks someday. Safe Sailing Everyone.

Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015
Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015

“Teach”

Learn more about what’s going on with Great White sharks by listening to the following NOAA podcast:
Hooked On Sharks

A few more photos…

The ones that got away...
The ones that got away…  It took something mighty big to bend the outer hooks.

 It took teamwork to get a hold of this silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis).

silkyondecksilky measuresilky hold

 

Cristina Veresan, Sorting the Catch, August 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 60° 46.4′ N
Longitude: 147° 41.0′ W
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: E
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.8 °C
Dry Temperature: 16.0° C

Science and Technology Log

What about all those fish we bring onboard? Our Lab Lead Emily oversees the processing of the catch and determines which protocols or sampling strategies are most appropriate. She and I, along with the Survey Tech on duty, work together to identify, weigh, and measure the catch and collect any necessary biological samples such as otoliths or ovaries. The first job is to sort everything, and we continue sorting until the table is empty. We identify the creatures and organize them by species into different baskets. We end up with many baskets of pollock, usually hundreds of individuals. If distinct length groups of pollock are present we sort them by length (which is indicative of age class) and sample each group separately. All of the basket(s) are weighed to get a total weight per species (or length group) for the haul.

One of many baskets of pollock
One of many baskets of pollock
'Bloke' or 'Sheila' pollock? It's all sorted out here
‘Bloke’ or ‘Sheila’ pollock? It’s all sorted out here

For pollock estimated to be age two and older, we sex and length about 300 individuals per haul. When I say sex a pollock, I mean we must determine if the fish is male or female. Pollock do not have any external features to determine which sex they are so we must slice open the belly of the fish, pull back the liver and look for the gonads; females have a light pinkish to orange colored two-lobed ovary, while males have a whitish bubbled string of testes. The sex-sorting table has a large basin next to a partitioned bin cheekily labeled with a “blokes” section (for males) and a “sheila” section (for females). Once the sex of the fish is determined, we toss it in the proper bin. Each bin opens to a length board from which we measure all of the fish in the bin. For creatures other than our targeted pollock, we collect unsexed length and weight data from a smaller sample of individuals.

Pollock gonads: female ovaries
Pollock gonads: female ovaries
Pollock gonads: male testes
Pollock gonads: male testes
spawning
A spawning female! Note the ovaries, swollen with eggs.

Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Darin Jones

Darin Jones, Scientist and Field Party Chief
Darin Jones, Research Fisheries Biologist, Field Party Chief (and my awesome blog editor)!

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am a Research Fisheries Biologist. I am also the field party chief in charge of the scientific team for leg 3 of our summer survey. I have been with the National Marine Fisheries Service for 8 years.

What training or education do you need for your position?
The ability to go to sea and not get seasick is key, and a solid marine biology education with plenty of math and statistics. I earned my undergraduate degree in marine biology from UNC at Wilmington, then a Masters in Fisheries Resources at the University of Idaho.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Being able to get out in the field and see the beautiful scenery of Alaska instead of being stuck behind a desk all the time. And, of course, meeting wonderful new people on each cruise.

Have you had much experience at sea?
After my undergraduate work, I was an observer for five years in Alaska on trawlers, longliners, and pot fishing boats and got lots of sea time. In New England I worked for about 4 years on a cod tagging program where we went out to Georges Bank and caught Atlantic Cod to tag and release.  I have also worked at fish hatcheries in California and South Carolina where we went to sea to collect brood stock. In my current position, I am at sea for about 3 months a year.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do?
Most of my work is in “the Cave” (Acoustics Lab), where I monitor the acoustics equipment and analyze the data. When we are trawling, I go to the bridge to help guide the fishing operation. As field party chief, I direct all science operations, make daily decisions pertaining to the survey mission and its completion based on weather and time available, and I’m the liaison between the science party and the ship’s officers.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I have loved the ocean since I started surfing in high school. During college, I was looking for a career that would keep me near the ocean, and marine biology was a natural fit.

What are your hobbies?
I am a surfer and a woodworker, and I enjoy and playing the guitar.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
My family for sure. My own bed!

What is your favorite marine creature?
My porcupine pufferfish that I had during grad school; he had a personality and was always happy to see me.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Lounge

The lounge
The ship’s lounge

When you work hard at sea, you need a place to unwind and relax after a 12-hour shift. The lounge is right across the hall from my stateroom, and it is a great gathering place. It has comfy couches, a big bean bag chair, and a book library. The large television, like the televisions in the staterooms, has Direct TV with many channels. I have not watched television until this week when I began watching the last ever episodes of the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. The ship also has a large collection of DVDs.

 

 

Personal Log

We left Seward and headed up the coast to Prince William Sound. I can see why the region is known for its breathtaking wilderness scenery: mountains, islands, and fjords. The coast is lined with both dense spruce forest and tidewater glaciers. In fact, most of this area is part of the Chugach National Forest, the second largest National Forest in the United States. The sound’s largest port is Valdez, the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef after it left Valdez, which resulted in a massive oil spill that caused environmental destruction and wildlife deaths.

Cruising through Prince William Sound
Cruising through Prince William Sound

My favorite part of working in the wet lab is when it’s time to sort the catch. We tilt the table, open the gate, and all the fish roll in on the conveyor belt. You never know what you will find among the pollock and rockfish. A lot of the time, there are krill and shrimp mixed in with the fish. Occasionally, there will be another big fish like a Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus). A few times this week, there have been some very interesting baby creatures in our trawls. When sorting, you have to take care not to miss them!

My Alaskan fisheries adventure continues…

COD
Here’s a big Pacific Cod…Photo by Emily Collins
littlefish
And here’s some of the baby creatures found in our catches: (clockwise from top left) an Atka mackerel, an Alaska eelpout, Squid, and Snailfish.

Jeanne Muzi: Problem Solving on the Thomas Jefferson! August 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeanne Muzi
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson|
August 2 – 13, 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise
: North Atlantic
Date: August 5, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Temperature: 71° F (22° C)
Humidity: 84%
Wind Speed: S 5 mph
Barometer: 29.89 in (1012.1 mb)
Dewpoint: 66° F (19° C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi

Hello again!

Science and Technology Log:

One important thing that every single person has to face, no matter how old they are or what kind of job they have, is what to do when things go wrong. We are always happy when things are going smoothly—but what do you do when they don’t?

I found out about how important it is to be a thinker and problem solver on the Thomas Jefferson because we are experiencing engine problems. First the launches were not running. Then the TJ’s engines were having difficulties and it was discovered that we had water in our fuel. The engineers and officers all started to ask questions: Where is the water coming from? Is there a problem with the tanks? How are we going to fix this situation? What is the best solution right now? It was determined that we should sail into the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island so the fuel could be pumped out and the fuel tanks examined. This is a big job!

Heading to Newport
Lighthouse
Jamestown Bridge
Jamestown Bridge

We sailed into Newport on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I got to spend some time on the bridge and watched as Ensign Seberger and GVA (General Vessel Assistant) Holler steered our large ship around obstacles like lobster pots and small sailboats. AB (Ablebodied Seaman) Grains acted as the look out, peering through binoculars and calling out directions in degrees (instead of feet or yards), and port and starboard (instead of left and right). LTJG Forrest explained how to chart the route to Newport using a compass, slide rule and mathematical calculations. His computations were right on as he plotted the course of the Thomas Jefferson. 

Charting TJ's course to Newport
Charting TJ’s course to Newport

When we arrived at Newport, the tugboat, Jaguar, needed to help us dock and then the gangway was lifted into place using a crane.

The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.
The tugboat arrives to assist the TJ.
The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport
The tugboat Jaguar helping the TJ dock at Newport
The walkway is lowered from ship to shore.
The gangway is lowered from ship to shore.

Now we are waiting in Newport to see how the ship will be repaired, and how that will impact the surveying mission and the work of all the scientists on board. The fuel is currently being pumped out of the tanks so the engineering department can figure out what is going on.

Personal Log:

Some of my students have emailed to ask where am I sleeping. When you are aboard a ship, you sleep in a stateroom. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate has the top. We have storage lockers and shelves to hold our stuff. The bathroom (called the head) connects our stateroom with another room.

Bunks in our stateroom
Bunks in our stateroom

Everyone eats in the Mess. You pick up your hot food on a plate in front of the galley and then sit down to eat at a table. Some of our meals so far have been omelets and cereal for breakfast, shrimp, rice and vegetables for lunch, and fish and potatoes for dinner. There is always a salad bar. Yogurt and ice cream are available, along with lots of different drinks.

Everyone eats meals together in the mess.
Everyone eats meals together in the mess.

The passageways are pretty narrow around the ship and the stairs going from one deck to another are steep whether you are inside or outside.

Lots of ups and downs outside...
Lots of ups and downs outside…
Lots of ups and downs inside
Lots of ups and downs inside…

 

Everything on a ship must be well-organized so equipment can be found quickly and easily.

Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.
Equipment must be organized so everyone can get what they need.

The view from the outside deck has been beautiful…

There is always something to see on the TJ
There is always something to see on the TJ

The last Question of the Day was: What do the letters XO mean on the hardhat of the person in the center of this picture?

XO Stands for Executive Officer