NOAA Teacher At Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
August 28 – September 8, 2017
Mission: Alaskan Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Location: Kodiak and Anchorage Airports and back home
Date: September 8, 2017
The last three and a half days of the experience were the transit back to Kodiak. This gave me a lot of time up on the bridge and in the surveyors’ work areas.
So many things impressed me about the crew on this trip. I think most of all, seeing that a group of young scientists between 22 and 38 (I believe) were ultimately responsible for all of the ship operations and were doing a phenomenal job! Fairweather has the largest number of junior officers on board and the atmosphere is of constant training. I kept thinking about the ages of most of the junior officers and how my own students could be in this position in a few years. The opportunity to grow as a member of a uniformed service and receive all of the training while still being able to pursue the sciences is incredible to me and I intend to make sure that my students know about the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I had just known this existed when I graduated college…”
On the long trip back, we were traveling through dense fog, narrow rocky passes in the middle of the night, and areas of high and sometimes unpredictable currents. We even managed a rendezvous with another NOAA vessel in order to pass of some medical supplies. Throughout all of it, I watched the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers handle everything with tremendous grace under pressure. But on Fairweather, I found out their work does not stop with the ship operations. Each of the officers are also directly involved with the hydrographic science, and have responsibility for a specific survey area.
The Survey team are also responsible for specific survey areas.
For each area owner, this culminates in a final report (called a Division Report, or DR) giving details of the survey and talking through all anomalies. Survey work does not stop. These folks are working 7 days a week and often 14+ hour days when they are out at sea.
In some cases the owner of a survey area will have very intimate knowledge of a survey area because they had the opportunity to be out on the survey boats. But in many cases, this will not be true. Ultimately their responsibility is making absolutely certain that every piece of necessary information has been gathered and that the data is clean. I was told that in most cases, writing the final report will take a couple months.
These reports will eventually become mapped data that is accessible to anyone through the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But it will also be sent in various forms to be housed for shipping navigation and other industries.
With all of the work they do at sea, ports can become very welcome places. The Fairweather crew had gone into port at Nome, Alaska several time through July and August and were excited to pull into Kodiak. Even on our transit south, I watched the crew get more excited as they left the desolation of the tundra and we began to see cliffs and trees again.
I am so glad that I saw the tundra finally, and that I will now be able to explain it more fully to my students, but I can also completely understand how the sheer vastness of the northern parts of Alaska could make you long for more varied terrain.
I only got to spend one day in Kodiak, but it is a breathtaking place. I didn’t get to do any serious hiking, but I did see the salmon running and ended up on an old nature trail. And the best part was that I got to see a bunch of amazing people relax and enjoy their time away from work.
Would I do this again if I had the opportunity? Unequivocally YES!! I would jump at the chance!
Would I recommend this to other teachers? Absolutely! It is an amazing experience. Granted, I think I had the best ship with the best crew…