Staci DeSchryver: Things We Deliberately Throw Overboard Part Deux: The Ocean Noise Sensor July 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – Aug 2

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain, Just past Mokumanamana (Necker Island)

Date:  July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Science and Technology Log:

As promised in Blog Post #3, I mentioned that “Thing number four we deliberately throw overboard” would have a dedicated blog post because it was so involved.  Well, grab some popcorn, because the time has arrived!

Thing number 4 we deliberately throw over the side of a ship does not get thrown overboard very often, but when it does, it causes much hubbub and hullaballoo on the ship.  I had the unique opportunity to witness one of only ten ocean noise sensors that are deployed in US waters come aboard the ship and get redeployed.  These sensors are found all over US waters – from Alaska to the Atlantic.  One is located in the Catalina Marine Sanctuary, and still others are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are going to be sailing right past one!  To see more about the Ocean Noise Sensors, visit the HICEAS website “other projects” tab, or just click here.  To see where the Ocean Noise Recorders are, click here.

The Ocean Noise Sensor system is a group of 10 microphones placed in the “SOFAR” channel all over US waters.  Once deployed, they collect data for two years in order to track the level of ocean noise over time.  It’s no secret that our oceans are getting louder.  Shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and even natural sources of noise like earthquakes all contribute to the underwater noise that our cetacean friends must chatter through.  Imagine sitting at far ends of the table at a dinner party with a friend you have not caught up with in a while.  While other guests chat away, you and the friend must raise your voices slightly to remain in contact.  As the night progresses on, plates start clanging, glasses are clinking, servers are asking questions, and music is playing in the background.  The frustration of trying to communicate over the din is tolerable, but not insurmountable.  Now imagine the host turning on the Super Bowl at full volume for entertainment.  Now the noise in the room is incorrigible, and you and your friend have lost all hope of even hearing a simple greeting, let alone have a conversation.  In fact, you can hardly get anyone’s attention to get them to pass you the potatoes.  This is similar to the noise levels in our world’s ocean.  As time goes on, more noise is being added to the system.  This could potentially interfere with multiple species and their communications abilities.  Calling out to find a mate, forage for food, or simply find a group to associate with must now be done in the equivalent din of a ticker-tape parade, complete with bands, floats, and fire engines blaring their horns.  This is what the Ocean Noise Sensor is hoping to get a handle on.   By placing sensors in the ocean to passively collect ambient noise, we can answer two important questions:  How have the noise levels changed over time?  To what extent are these changes in noise levels impacting marine life?   

Many smaller isolated studies have been done on ocean noise levels in the past, but a few years ago, scientists from Cornell partnered with NOAA and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab to streamline this study in order to get a unified, global data source of ocean noise levels.  The Pacific Marine Environmental Lab built a unified sound recording system for all groups involved in the study, and undertook the deployments of the hydrophones.  They also took on the task of processing the data once it is recovered.  The HICEAS team is in a timely and geographical position to assist in recovery of the data box and redeploying the hydrophone.   This was how we spent the day.

The recovery and re-deployment of the buoy started just before dawn, and ended just before dinner.

 Our standard effort of marine mammal observation was put on hold so that we could recover and re-deploy the hydrophone.  It was an exciting day for a few reasons – one, it was definitely a novel way to spend the day.  There was much to do on the part of the crew, and much to watch on the part of those who didn’t have the know-how to assist.  (This was the category I fell in to.)

At dawn, an underwater acoustic command was sent to the depths to release a buoy held underwater attached to the hydrophone.  While the hydrophone is only 1000m below the surface seated nice and squarely in the SOFAR channel, the entire system is anchored to the ocean floor at a depth of 4000m.  Once the buoy was released, crew members stationed themselves around the ship on the Big Eyes and with binoculars to watch for the buoy to surface.  It took approximately 45 minutes before the buoy was spotted just off our port side.  The sighting award goes to CDR Stephanie Koes, our fearless CO.  A crewmember pointed out the advancement in our technologies in the following way:  “We can use GPS to find a buried hydrophone in the middle of the ocean…and then send a signal…down 4000m…to a buoy anchored to the ocean floor…cut the buoy loose remotely, and then actually have the buoy come up to the surface near enough to the ship where we can find it.”  Pretty impressive if you think about it.

The buoy was tied to the line that is attached to the hydrophone, so once the buoy surfaced, “all” we had to do was send a fast rescue boat out to retrieve it, bring the buoy and line back to the ship, bring the crew safely back aboard the ship, hook the line up through a pulley overhead and back to a deck wench, pull the line through, take off the hydrophone, pull the rest of the line up, unspool the line on the wench to re-set the line, re-spool the winch, and then reverse the whole process.

Watching the crew work on this process was impressive at least, and a fully orchestrated symphony at best.  There were many tyings of knots and transfers of lines, and all crew members worked like the well-seasoned deck crew that they are.  Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana is no stranger to hauling in and maintaining buoys, so his deck crew were well prepared to take on this monumental task.

Much of the day went exactly according to plan.  The buoy was safely retrieved, the hydrophone brought on board, the lines pulled in, re-spooled, and all sent back out again.  But I am here to tell you that 4000m of line to haul in and pay back out takes. A Long. Time.  We worked through a rainstorm spooling the line off the winch to reset it, through the glare of the tropical sun and the gentle and steadfast breeze of the trade winds.  By dinner time, all was back in place, the buoy safely submerged deep in the ocean waters, waiting to be released again in another two years to repeat the process all over again.  With any luck, the noise levels in the ocean will have improved.  Many commercial vessels have committed to adopting “quiet ship” technology to assist in the reduction of noise levels.  If this continues to improve, our cetacean friends just might be able to hear one another again at dinner.

 

Personal Log

So, I guess it’s pretty fair to say that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher.  I could not fully escape my August to May duties onboard, despite my best efforts.  This week, I found myself on the bridge, doing a science experiment with the Wardroom (These are what all of the officers onboard as a group are called).   How is this even happening, you ask?  (Trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I was in the middle of it, running around to different “lab groups” just like in class.)  Our CO, CDR Koes, is committed to ensuring that her crew is always learning on the ship.

 If her staff do not know the answer to a question, she will guide them through the process of seeking out the correct answer so that all  officers learn as much as they can when it comes to being underway –  steering the ship, preparing for emergencies, and working with engineers, scientists, and crew.  For example, I found out that while I was off “small-boating” near Pilot Whales, the Wardroom was busy working on maneuvering the ship in practice of man overboard scenarios.  She is committed to ensuring that all of her staff knows all parts of this moving city, or at a minimum know how to find the answers to any questions they may have.  It’s become clear just how much the crew and the entire ship have a deep respect and admiration for CDR Koes.  I knew she was going to be great when we were at training and word got out that she would be the CO of this Leg on Sette and everyone had a range of positive emotions from elated to relieved to ecstatic.

As part of this training, she gives regular “quizzes” to her staff each day – many of them in good fun with questions for scientists, crew, engineers, and I.  Some questions are nautical “things” that the Wardroom should know or are nice to know (for example, knowing the locations of Material Safety Data Sheets or calculating dew point temperatures), some questions are about the scientific work done onboard, while others are questions about personal lives of onboard members.

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The Chief Medical Officer, “Doc” gives a lesson on water quality testing.

 It has been a lot of fun watching the Wardroom and Crew seek out others and ask them where they live while showing them their “whale dance” to encourage sightings.  It has exponentially increased the interactions between everyone onboard in a positive and productive way.

The other teaching element that CDR Koes has implemented is a daily lesson each day from Monday to Friday just after lunch.  All NOAA Officers meet on the bridge, while one officer takes the lead to teach a quick, fifteen minute lesson on any topic of their choosing.  It could be to refresh scientific knowledge, general ship operations, nautical concepts, or anything else that would be considered “good to know.”

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The Chief Engineer gives a rundown on the various ship emergency alarms.

 This sharing of knowledge builds trust among the Wardroom because it honors each officer’s strong suits and reminds us that we all have something to contribute while onboard.

I started attending these lunchtime sessions and volunteered to take on a lesson.  So, this past Tuesday, I rounded up some supplies and did what I know best – we all participated in the Cloud in a Bottle Lesson!

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Here I am learning to use a sextant for navigation.

The Wardroom had fun (I think?) making bottle clouds, talking about the three conditions for cloud formation, and refreshing their memories on adiabatic heating and cooling.  It was a little nerve wracking for me as a teacher because two of the officers are meteorologists by trade, but I think I passed the bar.  (I hope I did!)

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Teaching about adiabatic cooling with the the Cloud in a Bottle Demo with the Wardroom!

It was fun to slide back into the role of teacher, if only for a brief while, and served as a reminder that I’m on my way back to work in a few weeks!  Thanks to the Wardroom  for calling on me to dust up my teacher skills for the upcoming first weeks of school!

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ENS Holland and ENS Frederick working hard making clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook Asks, DeSchryver Answers

I polled all of my Facebook friends, fishing (ha ha, see what I did there?) for questions about the ship, and here are some of the questions and my answers!

 

Q:   LC asks, “What has been your most exciting moment on the ship?”

It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll tell you the times I was held at a little tear:  a) Any sighting of a new species is a solid winner, especially the rare ones  b) The first time I heard Sperm Whales on the acoustic detector c) The first time we took the small boat out for UAS operations….annnndddd d) The first time I was on Independent Observation and we had a sighting!

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A group of Melon-Headed Whales, or PEPs, cruise along with the ship.

Q:  JK asks, “What are your thoughts on the breakoff of Larsen C?  And have there been any effects from the Alaskan quake and tsunami?”

We’re actually pretty isolated on board!  Limited internet makes it hard to hear of all the current events.  I had only briefly heard about Larsen C, and just that it broke, not anything else.  I had no clue there was a quake and tsunami!  But!  I will tell a cool sort of related story.  On Ford Island, right where Sette is docked, the parking lot is holding three pretty banged up boats.  If you look closely, they all have Japanese markings on them.  Turns out they washed up on Oahu after the Japan Tsunami.  They tracked down the owners, and they came out to confirm those boats were theirs, but left them with NOAA as a donation.  So?  There’s tsunami debris on Oahu and I saw it.

 

Q:  NG asks, “Any aha moments when it comes to being on the ocean?  And anything to bring back to Earth Science class?”

So many aha moments, but one in particular that comes to mind is just how difficult it is to spot cetaceans and how talented the marine mammal observers are! They can quite literally spot animals from miles away!  There are a lot of measures put in place to help the marine mammal observers, but at the end of the day, there are some species that are just tougher than nails to spot, or to spot and keep an eye on since their behaviors are all so different.  And as far as anything to bring back to our class?  Tons.  I got a cool trick to make a range finder using a pencil.  I think we should use it!

 

Q:  MJB asks, “Have you had some peaceful moments to process and just take it all in?”

Yes.  At night between the sonobuoy launches, I get two miles of transit time out on the back deck to just absorb the day and be thankful for the opportunities.  The area of Hawai’i we are in right now is considered sacred ground, so it’s very powerful to just be here and be here.

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These sunsets will give Colorado sunsets a run for their money.  No green flash in Colorado = point awarded to Hawai’i.

 

Q:  SC asks, “What souvenir are you bringing me?”

Well, we saw a glass fishing float, and we tried to catch it for you, but it got away.

Q:  LC asks, “What’s the most disgusting ocean creature?”

Boy that’s a loaded question because I guarantee if I name a creature, someone out there studies it for a living.  But! I will tell you the most delicious ocean creature.  That would be Ono.  In sashimi form.  Also, there is a bird called a Great Frigate bird – it feeds via something called Klepto-parasitism, which is exactly how it sounds.  It basically finds other birds, harasses them until they give up whatever they just caught or in some cases until it pukes, and then it steals their food.  So, yeah.  I’d say that’s pretty gross.  But everyone’s gotta eat, right?

Q:  KI asks, “Have you eaten all that ginger?”

I’m about two weeks in and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten about a pound. I’m still working on it!

Q:  HC asks, ”Have you seen or heard any species outside of their normal ocean territory?”

Sort of.  Yesterday we saw Orca!  They are tropical Orca, so they are found in this area, but they aren’t very common.  The scientific team was thinking we’d maybe see one or two out of the entire seven legs of the trip, and we saw some yesterday!  (I can’t say how many, and you’ll find out why in an upcoming post.)  We have also seen a little bird that wasn’t really technically out of his territory, but the poor fella sure was a little far from home.

Q:  JPK asks, “What kinds of data have you accumulated to use in a cross-curricular experience for math?”

We can do abundance estimates with a reasonably simplified equation.  It’s pretty neat how we can take everything that we see from this study, and use those numbers to extrapolate how many of each species is estimated to be “out there.”

Q: AP asks, “What has surprised you about this trip?”

Many, many things, but I’ll mention a couple fun ones.  The ship has an enormous movie collection – even of movies that aren’t out on DVD yet because they get them ahead of time!  Also? The food on the ship is amazing.  We’re halfway through the trip and the lettuce is still green.  I have to find out the chef’s secret!  And the desserts are to die for.  It’s a wonder I haven’t put on twenty pounds.  The crew does a lot of little things to celebrate and keep morale up, like birthday parties, and music at dinner, and shave ice once a week.  Lots of people take turns barbecuing and cooking traditional foods and desserts special to them from home and they share with everyone.  They are always in really high spirits and don’t let morale drop to begin with, so it’s always fun.

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Celebrating Engineer Jerry’s Birthday.

Q:  TS asks, “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”

I’ve done lots of exciting things, but the one thing that comes to mind is launching on the small boat to go take photos of the pilot whales.  Such a cool experience, and I hope we get good enough weather to do it again while we’re out here!  Everything about ship life is brand new to me, so I like to help out as much as I can.  Any time someone says, “Will you help with this?” I get excited, because I  know I’m about to learn something new and also lend a hand. 

 

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.

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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!

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.

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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!

 

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.

 

blogelipsoid

 

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!

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
XO Stands for Executive Officer

XO stands for Executive Officer. Our Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser. She is the second in command on board.

The last Picture of the Day showed this image:

Whale caught with sonar
Whale caught with sonar

This image was captured with sonar and shows a whale swimming in the ocean. Amazing!

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Why is surveying the ocean floor so important?

Today’s Picture of the Day is:

What is this and what is it used for?
What is this and what is it used for?

What is this?

Thanks for reading this entry.

Windy day on the deck of the TJ
Windy day on the deck of the TJ

Jeanne Muzi: Aboard the Thomas Jefferson! August 3, 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 3, 2015

Weather Data From the Bridge:

Temperature                     Fair 81°F (27°C)

Humidity 65%
Wind Speed SW 12 mph
Barometer 29.87 in (1011.4 mb)
Dewpoint 68°F (20°C)
Visibility 10.00 mi
Heat Index 84°F (29°C)

Greetings from the Thomas Jefferson!

Science and Technology Log:

Now that I am onboard, I am trying to learn as much as possible. The TJ is a busy place and there are lots of jobs to be done. Basically there are separate groups working in different ways, like the Wardroom (which means all the officers on board), Engineering, Deck, Survey and Stewards, but everyone always comes together to work as a team.When one of the small launches returned to the ship late yesterday afternoon, everyone worked together to get it back on board safely. The launch had been surveying and now that data had to be processed in the survey dept.

One of the small launches returning
One of the small launches returning

 

Lifting the launch
Lifting the launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the survey dept. there are different scientists working on different projects. This is a station for “Data Acquisition” so there are multiple computers and cameras sharing images, data and information from around the ship and from the sonars.

Information Acquisition Station
Information Acquisition Station

Survey Technician Stephanie Stabile created this “big picture” diagram, which explains how the different scanning tools communicate with each other to provide the most accurate scans of the ocean floor.

Diagram of TJ's Hydro System
Diagram of TJ’s Hydro System

 

 

ST Stabile explains her diagram to me.
ST Stabile explains her diagram to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture shows how a survey ship uses its multi-beam sonar.

Survey ship with multi-beam Sonar
Survey ship with multi-beam Sonar

If you would like to learn more about sonar, check out this video:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sonar.html

I also had a chance to visit the bridge today as the anchor was lifted. I learned how orders are given clearly and information communicated accurately. Lieutenant Commander Hauser gave me a tour of the ship and answered many of my questions. She explained how the national flag is hoisted to the highest position when the ship gets underway.

Lieutenant Commander Hauser and Ensign Anderson with the American Flag.
Lieutenant Commander Hauser (right) and Ensign Anderson with the American Flag.
View from the bow of the Thomas Jefferson
View from the bow of the Thomas Jefferson

Personal Log:

One of the most important things I learned about today was safety!

Think about why we have fire and evacuation drills at school…It is important to be prepared just in case something happens! It is exactly the same here on the Thomas Jefferson! I was part of a group that was trained on safety issues like fire, abandoning ship and what to do in any emergency. Ensign Perry walked us around the ship and showed us where life jackets, fire extinguishers, steel-toed shoes and hard hats are located. She also taught me how to get in and out of a survival suit. Survival suits (also called “Gumby suits”) are made of foam rubber and are designed to be watertight. They help protect against hypothermia and can keep a person alive and floating until rescuers can find them.

An example of a survival suit
An example of a survival suit

For dinner, everyone on board came to a cookout on the deck near the bow of the ship! Delicious burgers, hotdogs, chicken, sausages and brisket were grilled up and enjoyed. What a great setting for some terrific food!

A cookout on the Thomas Jefferson
A cookout on the Thomas Jefferson

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

Think about what you know about President Thomas Jefferson…What does he have to do with the Atlantic Ocean?

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

Here is some interesting information about Thomas Jefferson and the ocean:

As most people know, Thomas Jefferson was a writer, an artist, an architect, a statesmen and a lawyer. He was also one of our most scientific presidents. In 1807, President Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast to produce the nautical charts necessary for maritime safety, defense, and the establishment of national boundaries. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey is the oldest scientific organization in the U.S. Other agencies that became part of NOAA in 1970 include the Weather Bureau, formed in 1870, and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, formed in 1871. Much of America’s scientific heritage resides in these agencies. They brought their cultures of scientific accuracy and precision, stewardship of resources, and protection of life and property to NOAA.

The first Picture of the Day shows a side sonar “fish”. Here is some information about side scan sonars.

Side Scan Sonar Information
Side Scan Sonar Information

Go to this website to find out more!

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/how_sidescansonar.html

 

Today’s Question of the Day is:

What do the letters XO mean on the hardhat of the person in the center of this picture?

XO?
XO?

Today’s Picture of the Day is:

Look carefully...What do you think?
Look carefully…What do you think?

What do you see in the scan?

Learning more each day! photo credit: Dan Connors
Learning more each day! photo credit: Dan Connors

Thanks for reading this blog entry!

 

Jeanne Muzi: Ready to become a Teacher (and Learner) At Sea! July 25, 2015

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: July 25, 2015

Introduction

Hello everyone! Greetings from New Jersey!

My name is Jeanne Muzi. I am an elementary teacher, Gifted & Talented/Enrichment Specialist at Lawrence Township Public Schools in Lawrenceville, NJ.

I am very excited and truly honored to be a part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program and look forward to working hard and learning a lot! I will be boarding NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in early August! I can’t wait!

The Thomas Jefferson
The Thomas Jefferson

If you would like to find out more about the Thomas Jefferson, check out this website: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/tj/index.html

I will be writing this blog for the next few weeks to share stories about all the different people I meet, the things I see and what I am doing. This blog will be written especially for my students, so if you are a kindergarten through third grade learner you might want to check back to see different questions I post or interesting observations I may share.

Quick! Where is your favorite place? Where do you go to think, dream, wonder, play, relax and have fun? For me there is only one place—The beach!

Stormy Day at the Jersey Shore
Stormy Day at the Jersey Shore

Growing up on Long Island, NY, we were surrounded by water, so heading to the beach was easy. I attended summer camp on the east end of the island and loved to swim, canoe, sail and collect shells. This picture was taken when I was eight years old. My family was visiting the South Street Seaport in New York City and I was fascinated with the Lightship Ambrose. Its job was to keep other ships out of danger. I always wondered what it would be like to sail on her…

South Street Seaport, NYC
South Street Seaport, NYC

 

The Lightship Ambrose at the South Street Seaport, NYC today.
The Lightship Ambrose at the South Street Seaport, NYC today.

Years later the Lightship Ambrose is still at the Seaport…And I am getting a chance to sail on a much larger ship!

As a member of the Teacher at Sea program, I figured I should find out some information about NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is an Operating Unit of the United States Department of Commerce. The National Weather Service is a component of NOAA and there are many areas that NOAA scientists are involved in including coastal restoration, fisheries management, satellite systems, climate studies and research into biodiversity. You can find out more at http://www.noaa.gov

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program, celebrating its 25th year, provides an opportunity for teachers from kindergarten through 12 grade and college, to participate with scientists working on oceanographic research projects aboard a NOAA vessel. There are three categories of missions: fishery surveys, hydrographic work or physical oceanography studies. Teachers at Sea use their hands-on, real-world learning opportunities to develop classroom-learning experiences for their students. They also share their new knowledge and skills with other teachers, schools and communities. The mission of the Teacher at Sea Program is “Science, Service and Stewardship.”

NOAA's Mission
NOAA’s Mission

Find out more at http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/home/

My mission aboard the Thomas Jefferson is a Hydrographic Survey. When I received my assignment, the first question that came to mind was: What is hydrography?

According to NOAA: “Hydrography is the science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water and the land areas near those bodies of water. NOAA conducts hydrographic surveys to measure the depth and bottom configuration of water bodies. The data is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models. During a hydrographic survey, NOAA scientists use sonar to develop charts, locate underwater hazards to navigation, search for and map objects on the sea floor such as shipwrecks, and map the sea floor itself.”

That sounds really amazing! Now I have lots of questions about sonar, mapping and why this work is so important! As I learn new things about hydrography, I will post the information. I know that the more questions I ask, the more I will learn! I also keep thinking about the connections I can make with what I am already doing with my students…

As someone who teaches younger students, I strive to help them strengthen their problem-solving skills and develop a strong sense of wonder and curiosity. Each year I develop a range of cross-curricular projects that build creativity and critical thinking. This past school year, we designed and built effective water filters, created solar ovens, mapped waterways and designed board games. We worked on engineering tasks like marble roller coasters, egg protectors and balancing puzzles.

Designing an effective water filter
Designing an effective water filter
Mapping
Mapping Waterways

 

 

One of my students’ favorite lessons each year is called “Think like a Scientist” and we try to figure out all the things scientists need to do in order to discover new things. I am looking forward to adding lots of new ideas to what it means to “Think Like Scientist” while aboard the Thomas Jefferson.

 

Streamkeepers reporting
Streamkeepers sharing data Photo credit: Alan Chausse

A highlight for me every year as a teacher is my involvement in an environmental education program called Streamkeepers, which focuses on monitoring and observing the ecosystem of a local waterway. The Streamkeepers work as citizen scientists and it is always incredible to see young students understand how the streams, rivers and oceans of our world connect us. Learning about hydrographic surveying aboard the Thomas Jefferson will provide me with another way to teach about water and our oceans.

Student Citizen Scientists participate in the Streamkeeper Project
Student Citizen Scientists participate in the Streamkeeper Project
Streamkeepers at work
Streamkeepers at work
Here I am presenting about the Streamkeeper Project during a visit to our sister school in Taiwan.
Here I am presenting about the Streamkeeper Project during a visit to our sister school in Taiwan. Photo credit: Jennifer Dowd

As I get ready to head out on my Teacher at Sea adventure, I keep thinking about three important things I stress as I teach:

  1. Do not be afraid to take risks.
  2. It is very important to step out of your comfort zone.
  3. There is great value in looking at things through other people’s eyes.

As a Teacher at Sea, I will be able to put these ideas into action!

Ready to learn aboard the Thomas Jefferson!
Ready to learn aboard the Thomas Jefferson!

 

Each blog entry I post will have a Question of the Day and a Picture of the Day! Here are the first ones:

Question: Think about what you know about President Thomas Jefferson…What does he have to do with the Atlantic Ocean?

Picture: What is this?

Question of the Day: What is this?
Question of the Day: What is this?

Thanks for reading! I look forward to sharing much more from the Thomas Jefferson!

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck
Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross
Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola
Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales
Humpback whales; one has just spouted
whale back
The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes
Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon
Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship
Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre
Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick
Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar
Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD
Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle
Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net
Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl
Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill
A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state
The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.

Bill Henske, Sharks and Minnows, June 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East to southwest winds 15-20 kts. Decreasing to 10 to 15 kts.  Seas 3 to 5 ft. Isolated showers and thunderstorms.

Science and Technology Log

Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast

One of the best games you can play in the pool is Sharks and Minnows. The premise of this game is that you and your school are small fish that have to travel from one side of the pool to the other without getting caught by the shark. If you are caught you get turned into a shark for the next round.  Eventually the sharks are well distributed, preventing any minnows from getting through.

Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am reminded of this as the fin fish team from FWC sets up a grand game of sharks and minnows for fisheries science.  Over the past week we have been setting up several arrays of acoustic receivers that catch tagged fishes’ signals as they swim through the Florida Keys reef system.  The plan is designed to capture fish moving within and between different parts of the ecosystem.  Any tagged fish coming into Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary should come into contact with one of the receivers, as will any fish traveling out.  The placement of the receivers on the west and east of the sanctuary create and “entrance” and “exit” for tagged fish.

Within the sanctuary there are now several concentrated grids of receivers in places that make for good fish habitat (aka good fishing spots).  The VR2 receivers can record the identification number of the tagged fish as well as the time and date they connected to the receiver and their distance from the receiver.  When the receivers are collected, that data can be downloaded and a picture of fish movement created.  The data from the FWC’s arrays and tagged fish will be incorporated into a more extensive project called ITAG (Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast).   In this project, collaborators share their acoustic tag data and receiver logs with each other, extending the reach of all project.   In the vastness of our marine environments, any one project will produce only a small snapshot of what is happening.  By collaborating between projects, the complexity of fisheries and ecosystems might be more easily untangled.

Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.
Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.

Today we set up individual stations of a new device which uses an acoustic release.  These are for much deeper sites containing “humps” which are relief features rising 100 to 200  feet about the surrounding sea floor.  Because of the relief, humps offer a large variety of habitats in a small amount of space, creating a highly diverse area for aquatic life.  Since these deeper areas are inaccessible to most divers, the receivers we set out can be triggered to return to the surface.  When data is ready to be collected in a few months, a device will be lowered into the water that communicates with the receiver using sound.  This device, called a VR100, can trigger the receivers to jettison themselves to the surface with the help of two small floats.  At that time the receivers can be collected from a small boat.

Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.
Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.

This video below shows our deployment of the acoustic release receiver from the side of the Nancy Foster.

 

Personal Log

City in the Sea

The Nancy Foster has been at sea since February of this year.  While it resupplies every few weeks, most of the vital functions for human habitation are performed on board.  The ship is, for its officers, crew, and science passengers, a small floating city.

View of the engine room control panels.
View of the engine room control panels.

Electricity requirements for a large ship are quite high.  If you factor in air conditioning, navigation systems, lighting, motors and pumps, kitchen, and scientific tools, the energy consumption equals a small hamlet.  Amazingly, this electricity is all created on board with the ship’s generator and a copious amount of marine diesel.

The Nancy Foster has a main engine for thrust but several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.
The Nancy Foster has a main engine and several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.

Food is loaded on at ports but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh and delicious.  Each day Bob and Lito prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all of the scientists and crew.  These delicious multi-course meals keep all the members of this floating city very happy.  Just like the hungry generators, the humans energy levels are kept well stocked.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.

There is no sewage processing on board the ship.  Ship waste is carried in large tanks until it can be released into open ocean, far from land.  Once in the ocean, its nutrients are quickly consumed by hungry phytoplankton and converted into energy for the next level of the food chain.  Food waste is also separated from recycling and “garbage”.  Food waste, after being ground, is composted at sea.

With 40 people on board eating, showering, and using the head, the ship needs to produce water on a continual basis.  The ship keeps a reserve supply and when it goes down, The Nancy Foster has a device that uses excess heat from the engines and generators to distill water from the ocean.

Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.
Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.

Cities need organization and a specialized workforce to get all of these things done.  The NOAA Corps Officers make sure the ship stays on course and its mission objectives are met.  The ships crew ensures the small craft are launched safely, everyone is fed, and the ship keeps humming and running smoothly.  The science staff are visitors, enjoying all of the amenities of the ship while using its resources to complete their scientific missions.  Many of the science staff cruise with the Nancy Foster every year, while for some, it is their first time.

How did you get here?

I asked several of the scientists on board what they wanted to do when they were in middle school and how they became involved in marine science and research.  My middle school students are just starting to think about who they are and who they want to be.  I wanted to get some background information on how some of the scientists here got their start.

J. – A biologist had no clue what he wanted to do when he was in middle school and this trend continued until college! He loved fish and applied for an entry level fisheries job and has been at it ever since.

R. – Thinks she wanted to be a writer in middle school based on a paper she read from back then.  After pursuing her interest in ecology she is now writing about conservation issues for NOAA.

S. – She always loved science and math – After studying geology she had a chance to go to sea.  Loved it more than her geology work and now scans the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  She won’t tell you where the treasure is!

P. – He took a test when he was in middle school that said he was not particularly interested in anything.  What he always liked was fish. After a couple related jobs he has worked in fisheries for many years.

S. – When he was in middle school he wanted to be rich and work in biology.  He now works in biology!

One of the major commonalities among the scientists is that they followed, or in some cases, rediscovered their interest.  As a teacher, I hope I can help my students find what they are passionate about.

By the numbers:

226 scuba dives
5 ROV dives
5 Reef Visual Census (RVC) surveys
20 Drop camera ‘dives’
40 New stands and receivers deployed
4 sea turtles
61 square miles of seafloor mapped
1 Teacher at Sea Hat not lost

Bill Henske, Turns Out You Might Need That Skill, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Monday, June 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds 10-15 kts.  Seas 2-4 ft (1 ft inside reef) Isolated showers and thunderstorms)

Science and Technology Log

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

We were talking on board today about the olden days, you know, when Jaques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins could reliably be found on a majority of American televisions.  Remember Generation X?

Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.
Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.

Yes- we are in our 40s now.  Kids my age had the spirit of scientific adventure to look forward to on Sunday nights.  The same generation of kids grew up with monitors and joysticks, interacting with worlds that were somewhere beyond the “real world” on our Ataris and Commodore computers.  Our 1980s parents might be incredulous to learn that we are now doing these same things to investigate critical habitat, monitor fish populations, and gather geographic data.  I know many futurists predicted it would happen but the grownups I knew were skeptical, to say the least.

NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Mission
NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Miss

The remotely operated vehicle has been a staple of marine research for many years now.  Called an ROV for short, these devices are human operated machines that can do many of the same things humans divers can do but in much more difficult circumstances, for much longer periods of time, and at greater depths.  ROVs are “employed” by resource managers, marine scientists, construction crews, engineering companies, and just about anyone else who has work to do under water.

Loading ROV gear into dive boat.
Loading ROV gear into dive boat.

We have been using an ROV on our current mission on the Nancy Foster to  collect fisheries data.  With the ROV we can investigate different areas identified on hydrographic maps and from previous studies without labor intensive dive operations.  The ROV does not need to stick to a dive schedule and as long as it has power and a willing operator, it can do its job.  The ROV has several components that must all be brought onto our dive boat in order to operate.

The primary need of the ROV is electricity.  Rather than running on combustion or cellular respiration, which both require oxygen, the ROV needs a steady supply of electrical current.  Because many variables can affect the power demands of an ROV such as speed, depth, wind, and current, the FWC team has chosen to operate a small generator to power their ROV.

ROV being set up for deployment.  Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.
ROV being set up for deployment. Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.

The ROV has a specialized cable that carries the electricity from the boat to the motors. This cable, called a tether, also carries the signal from the controller to the motors to tell the ROV where to go.  The video input the ROV gathers is relayed through this cable in order to allow the operator to see through the “eyes” of the ROV, and, of course, record what it sees.

Operating the ROV requires a good deal of coordination.  The craft is controlled much like a slow, unresponsive airplane.  It can move forward, reverse, side to side, up and down, and operate at a tilt.  This dizzying array of motions are necessary to track and study the reef fish as they travel through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey
Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey

Jeff Renchen of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is, among many other things, our ROV operator on this cruise.  He is using the small ROV to collect data on spawning aggregations of several important fish species.  Jeff explained that the ROV allows researchers to explore deeper than divers are able to easily go.  ROV camera operations can follow aggregations of fish and provide insights into the behaviors and conditions of spawning fish, as well as structures and locations that are important for spawning behavior.

With the ROV in the water Jeff takes it for a swim away from the boat. Once the ROV’s line has 50 feet of slack, the tether is attached to a drop line. In strong currents, it is possible for smaller ROVs, like the one here, to get carried off.  The drop line allows us to raise or lower the ROV in the water column faster, increasing our ability to focus in on fish of interest or specific depths.

ROV swimming away.
ROV swimming away.

 


Personal Log

There are some things that seem special no matter how many times you have seem them before.  I remember a long time student of Appalachian ecology saying that he could not remember what he had for lunch but he could describe every time he had seen a bear.   There are some things in our world that have that the ability to mesmerize us, silencing the combating thoughts that often clutter our minds and setting a reset button somewhere in our brain stem.

One of those things that stands out for me, and kindly keep it to yourself if you disagree, is seeing dolphins interact.  We came in from some drop camera operations on Wednesday evening and found this pod of dolphins playing in the wash of the Z-Drive motors of the Nancy Foster.  There would more footage but if you are taking video rather than living in this moment, you are probably doing it wrong.

Watching dolphins play and interact appeals to so many of us.  I think it reminds us of the pleasure of physicality and the joy that can be had as social creatures.

Then there is the thrill of hearing “There’s a shark” from the scientist monitoring the camera you have been steadily lowering below a 17 foot dive boat bobbing in the small but steady waves.

.

The enormities of life at sea give us an awe inspiring sense of scale.  Every day at sea there is at least one endless horizon and yesterday they surrounded us on all sides.  Just past sunset I caught this small cumulonimbus that had previously drizzled on our afternoon drop camera trip.  I thought about the thermal energy required to make such a structure.  I wondered at the amount of fresh water it carried.  And then my brain quieted down and I just watched it.

Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.
Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.

Bill Henske, Mind if We Drop in? June 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Drop camera operations
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Friday, June 19, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East wind 10-15 kts.  Seas 3-4 ft (2 ft inside reef).  Isolated showers and thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Drop Camera Operations

We have so many ways to see our planet using scientific tools.  The Nancy Foster, for example, uses radar to see boats and weather in the direct vicinity.  The ship uses satellite images to prepare for missions and to support surface information. Onboard, the Nancy Foster uses sonar to measure ocean depths and detect the undersea activity of marine organisms, and map the physical characteristics of the seafloor.

The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over  an area of interest.  This is the product.
The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over an area of interest. This is the product.

This technology all relies on our acceptance that a pixel of light with a specific value equals some tangible unit of mass or energy in our ocean.  The equations and processes that help us determine the relationship between the data collected and what is meaningful to us must be worked out through careful analysis and study.  In our case, we are trying to work out the relationship between certain patterns of sonar feedback and what habitat is present on the seafloor.

Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.
Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.

Don Field of NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science calls himself a pixel-pusher.  Deciphering the images and data that show up on a monitor means having an astute understanding of what each bit of data means.  Part of Don’s research involves squeezing more data from the bits collected by looking for associations between these bits of light and the real world.  Identifying the relationship between these sonar profiles and the habitat on the seafloor means matching up pixels from a screen with what exists in the actual environment.  If we can reliably identify seafloor type by sonar, for example, we could begin to quantify habitat for individual species rather than relying on approximations.

Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can't get it to work though. (Scott Donohue, NOAA)
Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can’t get it to work though. (Scott Donahue, NOAA)

Don calls this ground-truthing.  This means a researcher on the ground (or in the ocean in our case) must connect the features from satellite and sonar with images and data collected from onsite.  Our project on this mission involves deploying a drop camera from one of our small vessels and determining what is there.  Several coordinates are chosen from sonar and satellite pictures.  These coordinates are entered into the GPS of the small dive boats allowing us to pinpoint the exact location within just a few meters.

The drop camera is a fairly self descriptive term.  This is a specially designed black and white camera that is deployed from the side of the small vessel.  The camera is mounted within a protective cage with weights attached to facilitate its trip to the bottom.  While the turbidity of the water is very low, light is still limited at deeper depths.  The camera has lights that enable viewing in low light or during nocturnal missions.  The reason we use a black and white camera is that they can operate in much lower light levels than color cameras.  Think about your own color vision and how it diminishes as the sun goes down.

This is our drop camera.  The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.
This is our drop camera. The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.

The camera rig is tethered to the GPS and video recorder with a 300 foot long coaxial cable.   This cable is specially designed for this application with corrosion resistant terminals and kevlar sheathing along the entire length.  We also attached a downrigger to the camera apparatus to reduce the wear and tear on the cable and to speed retrieval of the unit.

On board, we monitor the camera as it is lowered almost to the sea floor at each chosen coordinate.  Our equipment records and geotags the video with the exact location so it can be aligned with mapping data back in the lab.

The controls of the drop camera.
The controls of the drop camera.

On the drop camera, we also utilize a fairly “off the shelf” GoPro camera.  This camera doesn’t feed information back up to the vessel and isn’t connected to GPS but it can provide other useful information about the species encountered along the trip down.  This biological information can be used for other projects and adds to the overall value of the mission.

One of the critical things for all field scientists is to check the functioning of gear before heading out. Don and I set everything up in the drylab and on deck.  There were several bugs to work out of the procedures before heading out to our first coordinates.  Once we addressed the issues we had with the equipment, our dropcam was ready to go.

Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment..
Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment.

We headed out to the locally famous Warsaw Hole.  This spot is known for spawning populations of several important fish.  We wanted to determine if the seafloor with in this structure held any clues to why it was so important to fish.  At over 300 feet deep, this area is not conducive to exploratory dives.  This inaccessibility made it a good candidate for our mission.

After heading out to the coordinates we unpacked the camera, GPS, and computers.  There was a sudden loss of power to the camera.  A little trouble-shooting and we determined it was the fuse.  Saltwater is tough on electronic components!   A blown fuse was not one of the things we prepared for the day before.  We radioed the ship with our fuse requirements and after a short shuttle back to the Nancy Foster, we were back in business.

What could be in the mysterious Warsaw Hole?  At 100 feet deeper than the surrounding seafloor, what was it about this place that encourages aggregations of the Warsaw grouper (Epinephelus nigritus)?  As the camera was lowered deeper, we were able to see everything in the water column as it swam to one side or the other.

We reached our destination depth and discovered that Warsaw Hole is a plain, ordinary sandy bottom.  In the world of science this unexceptional discovery is called “zero data”, but it is valuable information nonetheless, as we try to characterize all of the habitats in the area.

Personal Log

The Dry Tortugas is one of the most out-of-the-way National Parks in the US.  This former Civil War era fort and the surrounding small keys are a paradise of colorful fish and raucous colonies of seabirds.  While the camp site was busy, it was definitely not crowded after the Key West ferry had gone home for the day.  If you decide to spend the day or camp over night, bring water.  It is named for the fact that there is no fresh water!

We were able to snorkel almost entirely around the fort.  The submerged walls of the old fort are encrusted with corals, sea fans, annelids, and sponges of every shape and color.  The remnants of former building materials are almost unrecognizable as human detritus, instead housing a great diversity of interesting reef organisms.

Unfortunately, we did not see the infamous crocodile.  Tick Tock.

Here it is official as I stand in front of the Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.
Here it is official as I stand in front of the Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.

By the Numbers

  • Sea Turtles – 1
  • Square miles of seafloor surveyed – 21.02
  • Treadmill Miles – 6.25
  • Drop cam dives – 6
  • Teacher at Sea Hat Recoveries – 2

 

Bill Henske, Tag, You’re It! June 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Acoustic Monitoring
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds near 15 knots, Seas 3 to 5 feet (2-3 inside reef), Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic Tracking Project
The Nancy Foster is a NOAA research vessel that frequently collaborates with multiple parties – universities, state agencies, and federal managers. By working together and pooling resources, a ship like the Nancy Foster, can synergize the work of a number of connected scientists. On the current cruise we have several scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), National Center for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). Their fascinating and important work will help us better understand the way marine populations work.

You may have heard the saying there’s more than one fish in the sea. While certainly this is true, the aphorism does little to describe the condition of the sea. The assumption might be that because there are a large number of fish, the sea is a healthy one. But are the individual types of fish occurring in significant populations? Are the populations equally distributed or are they more likely in certain parts of the ocean? How do they change over time?

Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment(Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

There are many things we don’t yet know about the territory, movement, and reproduction of even our most important fish. With the acoustic tracking project, we hope to find out how species of fish use the diverse habitats in the Florida Keys.

It would be hard to follow a black grouper around 24/7. The logistics would be very difficult to work out, to say the least. Rather than following one fish, the acoustic tracking project tags fishes in the study area with what is called an acoustic tag.

Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.
Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.

Once fish are captured, they receive a small “surgery” during which one of the tags is implanted. This, in and of itself, does nothing. The tags can be customized for the characteristics of different species or needs of the study. For a habitat study, the tag might ping several times a minute while a longer project looking at movement between areas might be set to ping once every few minutes. The longer frequency extends the life of the tag.

If a tag pings in the ocean, does it make a sound? The second part to the acoustic tracking is setting up and maintaining the listening probes called VR2s. Throughout the Keys and the Dry Tortugas, VR2 probes quietly wait for these pings and nonchalantly record the fish’s visit for later analysis. Think about the smartphone app Foursquare (is that a thing anymore?). Each time a fish swims near a VR2 its presence and visit duration is recorded and time stamped.

Every 6 months to a year, the VR2 recorders have to be collected and analyzed. Each VR2 is a record of every tagged fish that came within a certain distance of the probe over the period of time it was collecting data. This is where our mission comes in. On our cruise, we are servicing a number of these probes; picking up the old ones, replacing batteries, downloading data sets, and placing new or rejuvenated VR2s.

The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area.  The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.
The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area. The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.

Dive teams go out from the Nancy Foster, using only the GPS coordinates, to recover the sensors from the unmarked expanses of ocean. This process can be tricky due to variables such as currents, weather, and the inevitable equipment glitches. A clouded over satellite, a misread latitude, or a tipped over stand make this otherwise fun diving job challenging at times.

On day 2 of our cruise we serviced several of these probes. We took a small dive boat out to sets of coordinates where a VR2 had been placed on previous missions. From there our dive teams went down with the new VR2s and came back with the old. Once the used probes are brought to the lab, the data is moved to a computer for analysis. From here we can map the fishes’ activities by tying the location of the VR2s to a geocoded map created by the bathymetric maps generated by the hydrography crew (I’ll write about that later). One additional point of interest is that the unique tag ID that each fish gets is searchable by other marine researchers in similar projects around the world. We can identify fish tagged from other projects that happen to travel, migrate or wander this way and our fish from the Keys can be located by others.

Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

Today we also set out traps in promising

Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

locations. These are specially designed devices that have been approved by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary specifically for this research project. Commercial or recreational trapping of fish has been banned for over 20 years. Remember the tagged fish? With these traps we hope to catch some grouper and snapper, key fish species in the Keys ecosystem. Once caught in these baited traps the fish may receive a transmitter to begin their role in the study. While it is easier for humans to do surgery on the surface, it is easier for the fish if it is done in the water. Amazingly, most of the implantations are done at the trap site, sometimes up to 100 feet deep!


Personal Log

These is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.
This is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.

I have to admit, for someone like me, it is hard to be the green horn. Most of the folks I know can piece together a picture of what working and living at sea would be like. I thought I had a pretty good mental collage going from my bits and pieces and random trivia knowledge. My maritime fantasy world was made of concepts and ideas from many experiences, books, friends and the like. Most of these are small snippets of truths that are sprinkled through all our memories. Drawers opening and closing with the rolling of the waves, portholes, the bustling mess at supper, escape hatches, smoke stacks, life rings. When I heard the “All aboard that’s coming aboard” as we prepared to leave port, the primeval neurons of my childhood sparked. I realized most of my snippets were from Popeye. Ak ak ak ak ak. Passing note, tonight’s wonderful dinner included spinach.

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is the smallest of the 7 uniformed services of the United States with just over 300 service members. It is eclipsed by the second smallest service, the United States Public Health Service, which has over 6000 officers.

The Nancy Foster has a Facebook page!  Like it and follow her amazing adventures.

Bill Henske, Introduction, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – June 26, 2015

Mission: Coral Reef Condition Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping, and Fisheries Acoustics Characterizations
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 8, 2015

Personal Log

This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for a student backpacking trip.
This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for our middle school summer field study class.

As a middle school teacher, I often think about the experiences I had through my education that brought me to where I am now – what led to my passion for science and exploration.  Giving students experiences, experts, and opportunities are essential to promoting a lifelong love of learning.  When I learned about the Teacher at Sea  program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) I eagerly applied.  This is a tremendous opportunity to grow in my capacity as a science teacher, role model, and colleague.  Best of all, it would be an adventure where I would learn lots of new things!

Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June's cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June’s cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am very lucky to teach and learn at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in a small, but diverse school district just outside of St. Louis, Missouri.  We have a wonderful program of expeditionary learning at our public school.  Our classrooms go from the watershed of our neighborhood, to the Mississippi valley, to the Appalachian Mountains,  to the Gulf of Mexico.  Through expeditionary learning, we can give students many similar experiences that led us teachers to enter STEM fields.  Through field experiences and connections to scientists, students have opportunities to explore their interests and ignite passions.

This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.
This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.

One of the important lessons we learn at our school from our study of watersheds during our 7th and 8th grade years is that we are really one giant watershed.  The motto that “We all live downstream” is not just a metaphor for the way that our actions have consequences.  “We all live downstream” is also very literal.  My school community exists in the largest drainage area of North America, the Mississippi River.  Our collective actions, whether they are positive or negative, have quantifiable effects downstream.

The interconnected systems of the hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere also connect all of us humans.  Because these resources are “free”, they have gone a long time through Western history without the respect of economic value.  Students across our country are confronted with the sad statistics of environmental decline.  They are bombarded with figures and facts about the negative trend in marine ecosystems.  What truly drives my and many other teacher’s passion is the opportunity to provide the next generation with the hope of science and research.  These tools will help us define problems and propose solutions that can stop or even reverse the situation.

This June I will be joining the crew of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  We will be cruising the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas region where NOAA scientists will conduct  fish sampling and acoustic tagging in order to determine the connectivity of fish populations between the various geographic entities.  This essential work will help determine the fragmentation or cohesiveness of different populations of marine organisms as habitat is protected but in fragments.  It would be interesting to incorporate this information and the techniques used as we set up our yearly pond study back in Missouri.  Do fish move from one side of the pond to the other?

On this cruise we will also be deploying and installing the Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTag) array network.  This system will help monitor the movement of marine organisms to determine larger scale movement of different populations and species.  I can see this project leading to classroom lessons on population biology, genetics, and even speciation.  The complexity of interactions between hundreds of species and dozens of distinct populations is truly astounding.  Our scientists policy makers are often asked to distill this complexity down to a harvest number or population level. I want to bring back to my students the important role science has in, not only explaining the world around us but, shaping our future and helping develop or maintain the world we want.

Area of June NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster
Area of June 2015 NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster

I am so excited to be a part of the Teacher at Sea program and cannot wait to share my work and experiences with my students and school community.  Every year we take our 8th grade class to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where we study the marine science that others have discovered.  This August, when I go back to the regular classroom, I will be one of the folks who helped make those discoveries!

As I finish this entry, I am thinking about how the coral, sponges, and mollusks of the Gulf will soon be filtering through the water that we floated through last week on the 11 Point River, here in Missouri.  The water flows so easily and generously from the ground that an unfortunate majority here take its presence for granted.  The water carried little bits of all of us, a connection, as it traveled its thousand plus miles to the ocean.  On Saturday, June 14, I cycle myself through the atmosphere and hydrosphere to begin my adventure as a Teacher at Sea.  Check back regularly for updates on our mission aboard the Nancy Foster and a taste of life on a research vessel.

My students and I became part of the watershed this past week, floating towards the sea along Greer Spring Branch in southern Missouri.

My students and I found a great way to cool off last week in Missouri.  How long can you stand the 55º F spring water?

Michael Wing: The Ocean Is Our Front Yard, May 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 26, 2015

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey
Geographical Area: Northern California coast
Date: May 9, 2015

Science and Technology Log

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you’ve seen our “front yard” many times. You have looked west while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, walked on a beach and faced into the wind, maybe even gone on a whale watching trip. How well do we know it? Besides the fog and wind, the whales and waves, what’s out there? After living here for two decades, I’m going to find out.

What's it like out there?
What’s it like out there?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the federal government. They’re the people who run the National Weather Service, among other things. They also do oceanographic research, and through their Teacher at Sea Program they place teachers on oceanographic ships. I am one of those fortunate teachers.

I work at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California. Lots of NOAA Teachers at Sea get on an airplane, fly to a distant city, board a big ship and cruise hundreds of miles out to sea; but my experience will be very local. I will never be more than about fifty miles from my house, as the gull flies. In fact, Sir Francis Drake High School is the closest major school to the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where a lot of my time will be spent. I will also be working the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. A marine sanctuary is sort of like a national park that is underwater.

The cruise I will be on is a routine one; part of a scientific program called the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS). The California Current is a cold, south-running current; part of a global circulation pattern called the North Pacific Gyre. Upwelling of deep ocean water keeps it fertile. There used to be very productive commercial fishing here, before we caught too many fish in the 20th century. There are still lots of plankton, birds, and marine mammals. The ACCESS cruises happen three or four times each year. We sample, count and/or measure seawater temperature and salinity, plankton, krill, birds and whales and other marine mammals. This way we’ll know the ecological health of our front yard.

Our Front Yard
Our Front Yard

The boat I will work on is specially designed for this environment. NOAA has oceanographic vessels hundreds of feet long for offshore studies, but I will be on the R/V Fulmar, an aluminum-hulled catamaran only 67 feet long. She is technically a “small boat” and not a ship at all. She is fast and stable and six people can sleep on board, as I will. “R/V” stands for “Research Vessel.” A fulmar is a seabird that looks like a stocky gull. It spends nearly all of its life at sea. Northern Fulmars fish in the waters of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. A catamaran is a boat with two side-by-side hulls instead of one. My jobs will include standing watches, doing science, housekeeping chores and keeping this log.

Personal Log

What do I hope to get out of this? We do a plankton lab at my school, but it is very basic. I should be more of a plankton expert after this experience. I have been interested in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary ever since Drake High became a NOAA Ocean Guardian School last year. We picked up hundreds of pounds of marine plastic debris on the beaches of the Point Reyes National Seashore and analyzed where it comes from. A lot of it is related to commercial crabbing and fishing and international shipping. Also, I and my students read flipper tags on northern elephant seals for the National Park Service, and our seals swim though these waters. So, I’ll keep an eye out for floating plastic and elephant seals.

Really, though, I can’t yet know what this experience will lead to. Serendipity is a guiding principle for most scientists; the word implies luck, chance, surprise, and the wisdom to respond appropriately to the unexpected. It means spotting opportunities and following up on them. Since I’m so local, maybe there will be a way to get a new collaboration going with NOAA. Maybe just being in a new environment with new people will make me think outside of my daily grind. All of my best ideas have come to me while traveling.

Unlike practically every other teacher in the world, I have the same students two years in a row. So if you are one of my wonderful ninth graders now, you will be one of my wonderful tenth graders when I come back from this experience. So, to my wonderful ninth graders now (and ninth-graders-to-be): Follow this blog in July! Post a comment, question, or idea. We’re going to follow up in the fall.

Did you know that Sir Francis Drake missed discovering the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay when he sailed these waters in 1579? (The “Golden Gate” is the channel of water that the bridge crosses over; there was a Golden Gate long before there was a bridge.) We shouldn’t criticize him too harshly for that because the Spanish sailed past the Golden Gate every year for 250 years without seeing it or discovering the bay! Apparently, it doesn’t look like much from out at sea.

Lauren Wilmoth: Strange Sea Creatures, October 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 16, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 7.32 °C
Wind Speed: 9.2 knots
Latitude: 57°44.179′ N
Longitude: 152°27.987′ W

Science and Technology Log

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.
ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

Wednesday, I went on a launch to do bottom sampling and cross lines.  Wednesday was our last day of data acquisition, so the motto on the POD (Plan of the Day) was “LEAVE NO HOLIDAYS! If in doubt, ping it again!”  Bottom sampling is pretty straight forward.  We drive to designated locations and drop a device that looks a little like a dog poop scooper down into the water after attaching it to a wench.  The device has a mechanism that holds the mouth of it open until it is jarred from hitting the bottom.  When it hits the bottom, it snaps closed and hopefully snatches up some of the sediment from the bottom.  Then, we reel it up with the wench and see what’s inside.

We took 10 bottom samples and most were the same.  We had a fine brown sand in most samples.  Some samples contained bits of shell, so we documented when that was the case.  At one location, we tried for samples three times and every time, we got just water.  This happens sometimes if the sea floor is rocky and the device can’t pick up the rocks.  If you try three times and get no definitive answer, you label the sample as unknown.  Two times we got critters in our samples.  One critter we found was an amphipod most likely.  The second critter was shrimp/krill-like, but I don’t know for sure.  Cross lines are just collecting sonar data in lines that run parallel to the previous data lines.  This gives us a better image and checks the data.

TeacheratSea 008 (8)
Survey Tech Christie and Me on our bottom sampling launch.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staff observations at Terror Bay.
Staff observations at Terror Bay.

Thursday, we closed out the tidal station at Terror Bay. This entailed doing staff observations, a tidal gauge leveling check, and then break down everything including completing a dive to remove the orifice.  Since I have already taken part in a tidal gauge leveling check, I was assigned to the staff observations and dive party.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for staff observations you just record the level of the water by reading a staff every six minutes for three hours.  We did this while on a boat, because the tide was pretty high when we got started, so we wouldn’t be able to read the staff if we were on shore.  Again, the reason we do staff observations is so we can compare our results to what the tidal gauge is recording to make sure the tidal gauge is and has been working properly.

While doing staff observations, I saw a small jellyfish looking creature, but it was different.  It had bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is what we have, where one side is more or less the same as the other side.  Jellyfish have radial symmetry which means instead of just one possible place you could cut to make two side that are the same, there are multiple places you can cut to make it the same on each side.  Also, the critter was moving by flopping its body from side to side which is nothing like a jellyfish.  I had to figure out what this was!  In between our observations, Jeff, the coxswain, maneuvered the boat so I could scoop this guy into a cup.  Once we finished our staff observations, we headed to the ship.  I asked around and Adam (the FOO) identified my creature.  It’s a hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina).  Nudibranches are sea slugs that come in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes.

Bilateral versus radial symmetry.
The hooded nudibranch.
The hooded nudibranch.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

After a quick return to the ship, we headed back out with a dive team to remove the orifice from underwater. Quick reminder: the orifice was basically a metal tube that air bubbles are pushed out of.  The amount of pressure needed to push out the air bubbles is what tells us the depth of the water. Anyways, the water was crystal clear, so it was really neat, because we could see the divers removing the orifice and orifice tubing.  Also, you could see all sorts of jellyfish and sea stars.  At this point, I released the hooded nudibranch back where I got him from.

Jellyfish!
Jellyfish!

Just as we were wrapping up with everything.  The master diver Katrina asked another diver Chris if he was alright, because he was just floating on his back in the water. He didn’t respond.  It’s another drill! One person called it in on the radio, one of the divers hopped back in the water and checked his vitals, and another person grabbed the backboard. I helped clear the way to pull Chris on board using the backboard, strap him down with the straps, and pull out the oxygen mask. We got him back to the ship where the drill continued and the medical officer took over. It was exciting and fun to take part in this drill.  This was a very unexpected drill for many people, and they acted so professional that I am sure if a real emergency occurred, they would be prepared.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.
Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Personal Log

Sadly, this was most likely my last adventure for this trip, because I fly out tomorrow afternoon. This trip has really been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learned and have a great appreciation for what it takes to make a quality nautical chart. I am excited about bringing all that the Rainier and her crew have taught me back to the classroom to illustrate to students the importance of and the excitement involved in doing science and scientific research. Thank you so much to everyone on board Rainier for keeping me safe, helping me learn, keeping me well fed, and making my adventure awesome!  Also, thank you to all those people in charge of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program who arranged my travel, published my blogs, provided me training, and allowed me to take part in this phenomenal program.  Lastly, thank you to my students, family, and friends for reading my blog, participating in my polls, and asking great questions.

Did You Know? 

1 knot is one nautical mile per hour which is equal to approximately 1.151 miles per hour.

Challenge:

Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: “Wreckish looking rock?” October 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 4.4 °C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Latitude: 57°56.9′ N
Longitude: 153°05.8′ W

Science and Technology Log

Thank you all for the comments you all have made.  It helps me decide what direction to go in for my next post.  One question asked, “How long does it take to map a certain area of sea floor?”  That answer, as I responded, is that it depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, how deep the water is and how flat the floor is in that area.

To make things easier, the crew uses an Excel spreadsheet with mathematical equations already built-in to determine the approximate amount of time it will take to complete an area.  That answer is a bit abstract though.  I wanted an answer that I could wrap my head around.  The area that we are currently surveying is approximately 25 sq nautical miles, and it will take an estimated 10 days to complete the surveying of this area not including a couple of days for setting up tidal stations.  To put this in perspective, Jefferson City, TN is approximately 4.077 sq nautical miles.  So the area we are currently surveying is more than 6 times bigger than Jefferson City!  We can do a little math to determine it would take about 2 days to survey an area the size of Jefferson City, TN assuming the features are similar to those of the area we are currently surveying.

Try to do the math yourself!  Were you able to figure out how I got 2 or 3 days?

Since we’re talking numbers, Rainier surveyed an area one half the size of Puerto Rico in 2012 and 2013!  We can also look at linear miles.  Linear miles is the distance they traveled while surveying.  It takes into account  all of the lines the ship has completed.  In 2012 and 2013, Rainier surveyed the same amount of linear nautical miles that it would take to go from Newport, Oregon to the South Pole Station and back!

Area we are currently surveying.
Area we are currently surveying (outlined in red) with some depth data we have collected.
Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.
Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.

Monday, I went on a launch to collect sonar data.  This is my first time to collect sonar data since I started this journey.  Before we could get started, we had to cast a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) instrument.  Sound travels a different velocities in water depending on the salinity, temperature, and pressure (depth), so this instrument is slowly cast down from the boat and measures all of these aspects on its way to the ocean floor.  Sound travels faster when there is higher salinity, temperature, and pressure.  These factors can vary greatly from place to place and season to season.

Imagine how it might be different in the summertime versus the winter.  In the summertime, the snow will be melting from the mountains and glaciers causing a increase in the amount of freshwater.  Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, so it mainly stays on top.  Also, that glacial runoff is often much colder than the water lower in the water column.  Knowing all of this, where do you think sound will travel faster in the summertime?  In the top layer of water or a lower layer of water?  Now you understand why it is so important to cast a CTD to make sure that our sonar data is accurate.  To learn more about how sound travels in water, click here.

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I’m driving the boat.

After casting our CTD, we spent the day running the sonar up and down and up and down the areas that needed to be surveyed.  Again, this is a little like mowing the lawn.  At one point, I was on bow watch.  On bow watch, you sit at the front of the boat and look out for hazards.  Since this area hasn’t been surveyed since before 1939, it is possible that there could be hazards that are not charted.  Also, I worked down in the cabin of the boat with the data acquisition/sonar tuning. Some important things to do below deck including communicating the plan of attack with the coxswain (boat driver), activating the sonar, and adjusting the sonar for the correct depth.  I helped adjust the range of the sonar which basically tells the sonar how long to listen.  If you are in deeper water, you want the sonar to listen longer, because it takes more time for the ping to come back.  I also adjusted the power which controls how loud the sound ping is.  Again, if you are surveying a deeper area, you might want your ping to be a little louder.

Eli working the sonar equipment.
Eli working the sonar equipment.

Tuesday, I helped Survey Tech Christie Rieser and Physical Scientist Fernando Ortiz with night processing.  When the launches come back after acquiring sonar data, someone has to make all that data make sense and apply it to the charts, so we can determine what needs to be completed the following day.  Making sense of the data is what night processing is all about.  First, we converted the raw data into a form that the program for charting (CARIS) can understand.  The computer does the converting, but we have to tell it to do so.  Then, we apply all of the correctors that I spoke about in a previous blog in the following order: POS/MV (Position and Orientation Systems for Marine Vessels) corrector, Tides corrector, and CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) corrector.  POS/MV corrects for the rocking of the boat.  For the tides corrector, we use predicted tides for now, and once all the data is collected from our tidal stations, we will add that in as well.  Finally, the CTD corrects for the change in sound velocity due to differences in the water as I discussed above.

After applying all of the correctors, we have the computer use an algorithm (basically a complicated formula) to determine, based on the data, where the sea floor is.  Basically, when you are collecting sonar data there is always going to be some noise (random data that is meaningless) due to reflection, refraction, kelp, fish, and even the sound from the boat.  The algorithm is usually able to recognize this noise and doesn’t include it when calculating the location of the seafloor.  The last step is manually cleaning the data.  This is where you hide the noise, so you can get a better view of the ocean floor.  Also, when you are cleaning, you are double checking the algorithm in a way, because some things that are easy for a human to distinguish as noise may have thrown off the algorithm a bit, so you can manually correct for that. Cleaning the data took the longest amount of time.  It took a couple of hours.  While processing the data, we did notice a possible ship wreck, but the data we have isn’t detailed enough to say whether it’s a shipwreck or a rock.  Senior Tech Jackson noted in the acquisition log that it was “A wreckish looking rock or a rockish looking wreck.”  We are going to have the launches go over that area several more times today to get a more clear picture of is going on at that spot.

H12662_DN195_2804 This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.
This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.

Personal Log 

Monday was the most spectacular day for wildlife viewing!  First, I saw a bald eagle.  Then, I saw more sea otters.  The most amazing experience of my trip so far happened next.  Orcas were swimming all around us.  They breached (came up for air) less than 6 feet from the boat.  They were so beautiful!  I got some good pictures, too!  As if that wasn’t good enough, we also saw another type of whale from far away.  I could see the blow (spray) from the whale and a dorsal fin, but I am not sure if it is was a Humpback Whale or a Fin Whale.  Too cool!

Bald Eagle Sighting!
Bald Eagle Sighting!
Sea otter
Sea otter
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Orca!
Very close orca!
Very close orca!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? 

Killer whales are technically dolphins, because they are more closely related to other dolphins than they are to whales.

Lauren Wilmoth: Shore Party, October 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 1.92 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 58°00.411′ N
Longitude: 153°10.035′ W

Science and Technology Log

The top part of a tidal station.  In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.
The top part of a tidal station. In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.

In a previous post, I discussed how the multibeam sonar data has to be corrected for tides, but where does the tide data come from?  Yesterday, I learned first hand where this data comes from.  Rainier‘s crew sets up temporary tidal stations that monitor the tides continuously for at least 30 days.  If we were working somewhere where there were permanent tidal station, we could just use the data from the permanent stations.  For example, the Atlantic coast has many more permanent tidal stations than the places in Alaska where Rainier works.  Since we are in a more remote area, these gauges must be installed before sonar data is collected in an area.

We are returning to an area where the majority of the hydrographic data was collected several weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see a full tidal station install, but I did go with the shore party to determine whether or not the tidal station was still in working condition.

A tidal station consists of several parts: 1) an underwater orifice 2) tube running nitrogen gas to the orifice 3) a nitrogen tank 4) a tidal gauge (pressure sensor and computer to record data) 5) solar panel 6) a satellite antennae.

Let me explain how these things work.  Nitrogen is bubbled into the orifice through the tubing.  The pressure gauge that is located on land in a weatherproof box with a laptop computer is recording how much pressure is required to push those bubbles out of the orifice.  Basically, if the water is deep (high tide) there will be greater water pressure, so it will require more pressure to push bubbles out of the orifice.  Using this pressure measurement, we can determine the level of the tide.  Additionally, the solar panel powers the whole setup, and the satellite antennae transmits the data to the ship.  For more information on the particulars of tidal stations click here

Tidal station set-up.  Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.
Tidal station set-up. Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.
Rainier is in good hands.
Rainier is in good hands.

The tidal station in Terror Bay did need some repairs.  The orifice was still in place which is very good news, because reinstalling the orifice would have required divers.  However, the tidal gauge needed to be replaced.  Some of the equipment was submerged at one point and a bear pooped on the solar panel.  No joke!

After the tidal gauge was installed, we had to confirm that the orifice hadn’t shifted.  To do this, we take manual readings of the tide using a staff that the crew set-up during installation of the tidal station.  To take manual (staff) observations, you just measure and record the water level every 6 minutes.   If the manual (staff) observations match the readings we are getting from the tidal gauge, then the orifice is likely in the correct spot.

Just to be sure that the staff didn’t shift, we also use a level to compare the location of the staff to the location of 5 known tidal benchmarks that were set when the station was being set up as well.  As you can see, accounting for the tides is a complex process with multiple checks and double checks in place.  These checks may seem a bit much, but a lot of shifting and movement can occur in these areas.  Plus, these checks are the best way to ensure our data is accurate.

Micki and Adam setting up the staff, so they can make sure it hasn't moved.
ENS Micki and LTJG Adam setting up the staff, so the surveyor can make sure it hasn’t moved.
Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.
Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.
Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven't moved.
Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven’t moved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I went to shore again to a different area called Driver Bay.  This time we were taking down the equipment from a tidal gauge, because Rainier is quickly approaching the end of her 2014 season.  Driver Bay is a beautiful location, but the weather wasn’t quite as pretty as the location.  It snowed on our way in!  Junior Officer Micki Ream who has been doing this for a few years said this was the first time she’d experienced snow while going on a tidal launch.  Because of the wave action, this is a very dynamic area which means it changes a lot.

In fact, the staff that had been originally used to manually measure tides was completely gone, so we just needed to take down the tidal gauges, satellite antenna, solar panels, and orifice tubing.  The orifice itself was to be removed later by a dive team, because it is under water.  After completing the tidal gauge breakdown, we hopped back on the boat for a very bumpy ride back to Rainier.  I got a little water in my boots when I was hopping back aboard the smaller boat, but it wasn’t as cold as I had expected.  Fortunately, the boat has washers and driers.  It looks like tonight will be laundry night.

Raspberry Bay
Driver Bay

Personal Log 

The food here is great!  Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs, and they were phenomenal.  Every morning I get eggs cooked to order.  On top of that, there is dessert for every lunch and dinner!  Don’t judge me if I come back 10 lbs. heavier.  Another cool perk is that we get to see movies that are still in the theaters!  They order two movies a night that we can choose from.  Lastly, I haven’t gotten seasick.  Our transit from Seward to Kodiak was wavy, but I don’t think it was as bad as we were expecting.  The motion sickness medicines did the trick, because I didn’t feel sick at all.

Did You Know? 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) contains several different branches including the National Weather Service which is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing weather alerts.

Animal Spotting

There are sea otters everywhere!

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.
Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: Officially a Teacher at Sea! October 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 10, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 10.6 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 59°00.742′ N
Longitude: 150°53.517′ W

Science and Technology Log

On Thursday, I got to sit in on Junior Officer Steve Wall and Survey Tech Christie’s discussion of their holiday plan.  This does NOT mean they were talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  A holiday is a space in an area that has already been surveyed where there still isn’t sufficient data.  This can happen for a number of reasons.  Think about mowing the lawn.  If the lawn mower is going back and forth in lines, just as the ship does, sometimes you can still miss a spot (I know I do).  With the lawn mower though, it is easy to see where you missed a spot, so you can go back over it immediately.  This is not the case with the ship.  What’s more, when you are mowing the lawn it is relatively easy to push the lawn mower in a straight line.  It is not as easy to drive a ship in a straight line, because currents and weather can be pushing and pulling it in different directions.  The purpose of a holiday plan then is to find these missed spots, so a smaller boat can be sent over to fill in those gaps in the data.  The holiday plan also tries to figure out how this can be done most efficiently.  For example, if holidays are close together you can send out one boat one time to take care of multiple holidays.

The holidays are the places outlined in yellow.  This shows the area were are about to survey in Kodiak.
This is part of the holiday plan that Christie and Steve put together for this next part of our trip.  The holidays are the places outlined in yellow and the black are the places where there is already sufficient data.

While I have been aboard the ship, I have constantly be learning more about NOAA corps.  If you were interested in joining the NOAA corps, the first step would be get a four year (Bachelor’s) degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) field.  Many corps members have degrees in Marine Biology.  The greatest need is for people with engineering degrees.  Once you have your four year degree, you can apply to be in the NOAA corps.  If you are accepted in to the program, you will have training for 5 months.  This is a combination of class work and hands-on training.  When you successfully complete your training, you will be assigned to a ship.  You will work on that ship for 2 to 3 years.  During those years, your jobs progress in difficulty and vary, so that you can slowly learn how to do it all.  All NOAA corps officers are trained on navigating the ship!  Even though you are assigned to a ship for 2 to 3 years, you won’t be “gone” the entire time.  Each ship has a season when it operates.  For example, the Rainier‘s season runs from April to November.   When the ship is out of season, it stays in the home port.  Rainier‘s home port is Newport, Oregon.  Just because the ship is out of season doesn’t mean you don’t work.  You still report to the ship daily and work aboard the ship.  It is just docked during that time.   In the off-season, you may do additional training that would occur off of the ship.  Also, many people take their leave during the off-season.  NOAA corps officers get 30 days of paid leave a year!  After your 2 to 3 years on a ship, you work on land for 2 or 3 years.  When you return for your second ship assignment, you will likely have moved up in the ranks.

Today, we finally got underway!  I was invited to listen in on the evolution required to get the ship underway.  Evolution, I quickly learned, has a different meaning in the military then has when we talk about evolution in biology class.  An evolution is a set, step-by-step process.  To ensure that everything is done properly, there is a check list that must be completed before departure.  Some tasks begin an entire day ahead of time.  Some of the items required for the checklist include checking the fire doors, heating up the engine (for about 30 minutes), and much much more.  Just untying the ship involves multiple steps because of the ship’s size.  We actually had to leave two crew members behind to undo the lines.  Then, they hopped on one of Rainier‘s smaller boats (called a skiff) and rode back the ship.  After they got off of the skiff, Rainier hoisted the skiff up and puts it back in its place.

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The skiff coming to the ship after the ship was untied from the pier.
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The skiff being hoisted onto the ship with a crane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quickly after getting underway, we had our required emergency drills.  I had NO idea how realistic the fire drill would be!  I thought it would be like a school drill where we just go to our spot and stand around.  This was definitely NOT the case.  I was sitting in my stateroom (where I sleep) when the alarm sounded which announced it was a drill.  The announcement proceeded to say where the fire was located which was the XO’s (Executive Officer) room a few doors down from me.  By the time I was in the hall there was smoke, pretend smoke, but smoke!  People were going to their stations, some were getting on their fire fighting gear, and in no time, they were fighting the pretend fire with gear on and hoses unwound.  I was sent on border control, so basically, I had to go to a bordering area and monitor if the fire was spreading by feeling for heat.  The drill was so realistic that there was even an unconscious victim that had to be treated by the medical officer.  It is vital to have these realistic drills, because unlike on shore, you cannot just call the fire department.  You have to be your own fire department!  Almost immediately after the fire drill, we had an abandon ship drill.   My group mustered (gathered) at life raft #8 and then, we had to put on our red survival suits.

My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.
My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

Personal Log

On Thursday, Meclizine was passed out in the dispensary.  This is a medication to prevent motion sickness.  I will definitely be taking some.  Even if it doesn’t work 100%, I have been given some tips on how to settle the feelings of nausea.  It was recommended for one that I get further down in the ship and closer to the center of the ship.  There is a lounge with couches called the ward room that is in a more ideal place to reduce motion sickness than my berthing area, so I may go there if I start feeling bad.  If my nausea is still bad, I have been told to go the back of the ship (the fantail) and watch the horizon.  You might wonder why watching the horizon off the back of the ship would help.  Motion sickness is caused when your senses are giving you conflicting information.  So if you are in a ship, your inner ear ,which controls your balance, knows your body is moving, but visually, since the boat is moving with you, your eyes are telling you a different story.  This explains why it can be helpful to go to the fantail.  Your visual sensory input (what you see) will match more with what your inner ear is telling your brain if you are watching the movement.

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Selfie with my motion sickness medicine.

Between the fire drill and the abandon ship drill, the captain called me up the bridge (the place where you control the ship).  He wanted me to see all of the orcas (killer whales).  There was a whole pod of them.  There were possibly 50 orcas (Orcinus orca) and they were pretty close to the ship at times!  There were also dall’s porpoise’s (Phocoenoides dalli) swimming in our wake.  It was so cool!

 

Here is a picture of dall’s porpoises like the ones we saw today. This photo was taking by Teacher at Sea alumna Britta Culbertson.

 

Did You Know? 

There is more than one way to “rock the boat.”  The ship can pitch, roll, or yaw.

Animal Spotting

Thursday night I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by the piers.  I didn’t get a picture, because it flew way too fast.  It was still awesome though!

Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 3.82 °C
Wind Speed: 6.1 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb's Cove.  Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.
Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

The launch that I participated in on Tuesday was awesome!  We went to an area called Thumb’s Cove.  I thought the divers must be crazy, because of how cold it was.  When they returned to the boat from their dive, they said the water was much warmer than the air.  The water temperature was around 10.5°C or 51°F while the air temperature was hovering right above freezing.  One diver, Katrina, took an underwater camera with her.  They saw jellyfish, sea urchins, and sea stars.

The ride to and from the cove was quite bouncy, but I enjoyed being part of this mini-adventure!  Later that day, we did what is called DC (Damage Control) familiarization.  Basically, we practiced what do in case of an emergency.  We were given a pipe with holes in it and told to patch it with various objects like wooden wedges.  We also practiced using a pump to pump water off of the ship if she were taking on water.  Safety drills are also routine around here.  It’s nice to know that everyone expects the best, but prepares for the worse.  I feel very safe aboard Rainier.

Seastar from Katrina Poremba from the dive at Thumb's Cove.
Sea star and anemones taken by diver Katrina Poremba at Thumb’s Cove.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area.  We will be working near the red x.
This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area. We will be working near the red x.

Today, I got a chance to meet with the CO (Commanding Officer), and he explained the navigational charts to me.  Before the ship leaves the port, there must be a navigation plan which shows not only the path the ship will take, but also the estimated time of arrival to various points along the way.  This plan is located on the computer, but also, it must be drawn on a paper chart for backup.

This illustrates again how redundancy, as I discussed in my last blog post, is a very important part of safety on a ship.  Every ship must have up-to-date paper charts on board.  These charts get updated with the information collected from the hydrographic surveys.  The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet which is why Rainier‘s mission of mapping the ocean is so important.  There are many areas in Alaska where the only data on the depth of the water was collected before sonar technology was used.  In fact, some places the data on the charts comes from Captain Cook in the 1700s!  If you look at the chart below the water depth is measured in fathoms.  A fathom is 6 feet deep.  Places that are less than 1 fathom deep have a 05 where the subscript indicates how deep the water is in feet.

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One of the nautical charts that will help Rainier navigate back to its home port in Newport, Oregon. Notice the ocean depth marked in fathoms.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.
CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

Today, I also spoke with the AFOO (Acting Field Operations Officer), Adam, about some work that he had been doing on Rainier‘s sister ship NOAA Fairweather.  One project they are working on is connecting hydrographic data to fish distribution and abundance mapping.  Basically, they want to find out if it is possible to use sonar data to predict what types of fish and how many you will find in a particular location

They believe this will work, because the sonar produces a back scatter signature that can give you an idea of the sea floor composition (i.e. what it is made of).  For instance, they could tell you if the sea floor is rocky, silty, or sandy using just sonar, as opposed to, manually taking a bottom sample.  If this hydrographic data is integrated with the data collected by other NOAA ships that use trawl nets to survey the fish in an area, this would allow NOAA to manage fisheries more efficiently.  For example, if you have map that tells you that an area is likely to have fish fry (young fish) of a vulnerable species, then NOAA might consider making this a protected area.

Personal Log

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.
Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

On Tuesday, I had a little extra time in the afternoon, so I decided to ride my bike down to the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Seward.  There were Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus), Puffins (Genus Fratercula), Pacific Salmon (Genus Oncorhynchus) and much more.  I really appreciated that the SeaLife Center focused on both conservation and on organisms that live in this area.  A local high school even had their art students make an exhibit out of trash found on the beach to highlight the major environmental issue of trash that finds its way to the ocean.

Can you think a project we could do that would highlight a main environmental concern in Eastern Tennessee?  I also thought is was really interesting to see the Puffins dive into the water.  The SeaLife Center exhibit explained about how Puffin bones are more dense than non-sea birds.  These higher density bones are an adaptation that helps them dive deeper.

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center
Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

I officially moved into the ship today.  Prior to that, I was staying at a hotel while they were finishing up repairs.  We are expected to get underway on Friday afternoon.  I am staying in the princess suite!  It is nice and cozy.  I have all of the essentials.  I have a desk, bunk beds, 2 closets, and one bathroom (head).

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward Alaska
Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward, Alaska
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed "The Princess Suite."
My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed “The Princess Suite.”

 

Did You Know? 

Junior Officers get homework assignments just like you.  At the navigation briefing today, the CO (Commanding Officer) told the Junior Officers what that they needed to review several documents before going through the inside passage (a particularly tricky area to navigate).  He is expecting them to lead different parts of the next navigation briefing, but he isn’t going to tell them which part they are leading until right before. Therefore, it is important that they know it all!  It’s a little like a pop quiz and presentation in one.

Word of the Day

Bathymetry – the study of the “beds” or “floors” of bodies of water.

Lauren Wilmoth: Introductions, October 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 0.77 °C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W

Science and Technology Log

Our departure from Seward was originally scheduled for today, but the ship is having some repairs done, so our expected departure is now Wednesday or Thursday.  In case you were wondering, this doesn’t delay my return date.  Regardless of the fact that we are not underway, there is still so much to learn and do.

Yesterday, I met with Christie, one of the survey techs, and learned all about the Rainier’s mission.   The main mission of the ship is to update nautical charts.  Up-to-date charts are crucial for safe navigation.  The amount of data collected by Rainier if vast, so although the main mission of the Rainier is updating nautical charts, the data are also sent to other organizations who use the data for a wide variety of purposes.  The data have been used for marine life habitat mapping, sediment distribution, and sea level rise/climate change modeling among other things.  In addition to all of that, Rainier and her crew sometimes find shipwrecks.  In fact, Rainier and her crew have found 5 shipwrecks this season!

 

This is what a shipwreck looks like to the sonar. This is a picture of a shipwreck found by another NOAA hydrographic ship. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Simplified, hydrographic research involves sending multiple sonar (sound) beams to the ocean floor and recording how long it takes for the sound to come back.  You can use a simple formula of distance=velocity/time and divide that by two because the sound has to go to the floor and back to get an idea how deep the ocean is at a particular spot.  This technique would be fine by itself if the water level weren’t constantly fluctuating due to tides, high or low pressure weather systems, as well as, the tilt of the ship on the waves.  Also, the sound travels at different speeds according to the water’s temperature, conductivity and depth.  Because of this, the data must be corrected for all of these factors.  Only with data from all of these aspects can we start to map the ocean floor.  I have attached some pictures of what data would look like before and after correction for tides.

 

This shows the advantages of using multibeam sonar to complete surveys. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Hydrographic data with correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie.
Hydrographic data with correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie.
Hydrographic data without correction for tides.  Photo courtesy of Christie
Hydrographic data without correction for tides. Photo courtesy of Christie

I was also given a tour of the engine room yesterday.  Thanks, William.  He explained to me how the ship was like its own city.  In this city, there is a gym, the mess (where you eat), waste water treatment, a potable (drinkable) water production machine, and two engines that are the same type of engines as train engines.  Many of my students were interested in what happens to our waste when we are aboard the ship.  Does it just get dumped into the ocean?  The answer is no.  Thank goodness!  The waste water is exposed to bacteria that break down the waste  Then, salt water is used to produce chlorine that further sterilizes the waste.  After those two steps, the waste water can be dumped.  The drinking water is created by evaporating the water (but not the salt) from salt water.  The heat for this process is heat produced by the engine.  William also explained that there are two of everything, so if something fails, we’ll still be alright.

Me working out at the Rainier gym.
Rainier’s gym
Rainier's back-up generator.
Rainier’s back-up generator 

Personal Log

Sunday, I drove from Anchorage to Seward.  The drive was so beautiful!  At first, I was surrounded by huge mountains that were vibrant yellow from the trees whose leaves were turning.  Then, there was snow!  It was actually perfect, because the temperature was at just the right point where the snow was melted on the road, but it had blanketed the trees.  Alaska is as beautiful as all of the pictures you see.  The drive should have been about 2.5 hours, but it took me 3.5 hours, because behind each turn the view was better than the previous turn, so I had to stop and take pictures.  I took over 100 pictures on that drive.  Once I arrived in Seward, I was given my first tour of the ship and then I had some time to explore Seward.

TeacheratSea 074
One of the views on my drive from Anchorage to Seward

 

Trying on my survival (gumby) suit
Trying on my survival (gumby) suit

Yesterday (the first official day on the job), I learned so much.  Getting used to the terminology is the hardest part.  There are acronyms from everything!  Immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and I have been immersed in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) language.  There is the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer), FOO (Field Operations Officer), TAS (Teacher at Sea or Me!), POD (Plan of the Day) and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I also had to learn all of the safety procedures.  This involved me getting into my bright red survival suit and learning how to release a lifeboat.

Today, I am going on a dive launch.  The purpose of this launch is to help some of the divers get more experience in the cold Alaskan waters.  I will get to ride on one of the smaller boats and watch as the Junior Officers scuba dive.

Did You Know? 

NOAA Corps is one of the 7 branches of the U.S. uniformed services along with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC).

Lauren Wilmoth: Get Ready! October 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island
Date: October 2, 2014

Introduction 

My name is Lauren Wilmoth, and I have been teaching biology at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge, TN for 3 years.  Prior to teaching in Jefferson County, I conducted research on pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) caterpillars in East Tennessee as a part of my master’s thesis at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  My research involved a lot of hiking in the woods and catching butterflies with my net.  Who wouldn’t enjoy that?  I learned a lot about how science works while obtaining my master’s degree, and now, as a teacher, I get to share my fascination with nature and my expertise with my students!

Portuguese Man-of-War
A Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) like the one I saw as a child. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

I grew up in Alabama, and like many families in Alabama, mine spent many spring breaks at the beach.  We camped every year at state parks on the Florida panhandle.  It was on these trips that I began to appreciate the ocean as a fun and interesting place.  We enjoyed the dune trails and the peculiar dune ecosystems.  We even went deep sea fishing one time, and I didn’t get seasick!  (Hopefully, I will be able to say the same after this trip).  I distinctly remember one time when a Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish (Physalia physalis) washed ashore.  It was the highlight of my trip to see this strange creature I had never even heard of! Although I grew up enjoying the ocean and it’s bounty (crab and shrimp are my favorites), I didn’t start to understand its importance until I became a biology major in college (oddly enough in the landlocked state of Arkansas).  No matter where you live, you are connected to the ocean through its role in our climate, our water cycle, and as the main source of oxygen on our planet among other things.  The ocean intrigues me with its mystery, and that is the reason I applied to be a part of this NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program. I am thrilled about this once in a lifetime opportunity to help with hydrographic research off of the coast of Alaska this fall.  In fact, I learned the news of which cruise I would be on while at Dublin Airport after an amazing vacation with my husband in Ireland.  I checked my e-mail and let out an audible shrill of excitement.

Ireland
My mother-in-law and me at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland earlier this summer.

I have never been to Alaska, and I know very little about hydrographic research.  This cruise excites me, because I will have the opportunity to learn something complete new, and after the cruise, I will be able to share what I learned with my students and colleagues! In case you were wondering, hydrographic research involves mapping the ocean floor which is particularly important for safe navigation in these waters.  Also, hydrographic research can involve determining the composition of the seafloor.  If you want to learn more about hydrographic surveys, click on the link.  Of course, you can also learn more about our hydrographic survey by continuing to read my blog during my trip. To complete this hydrographic research, I will be working with the NOAA team aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.  It contains a lot of fancy equipment used to complete these surveys that I hope to gain a better understanding of on this trip.  This is a large ship.  It is 231 feet long and is equipped with a dining area and 8 smaller boats!  To give you some perspective on its size, it would reach from the end goal line on a football field to the 23rd yard line on the opposite side of the field!  To learn more about NOAA ship Rainier click the link.  Stay tuned to my blog to hear firsthand what life aboard NOAA Ship Rainier is like.

Rainier through an iceberg. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Amy Orchard: Days 9-13 – Conch, NOAA Corps, Seining, & Mission Stats, September 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Conchs Surveys and Fish Seining
Geographical area of cruise: Marquesas Keys Wildlife Management Area
Date: September 22-26, 2014

Weather: September 25, 2014 17:00 hours
Latitude 24° 27 N
Longitude 82° 14 W
Broken clouds, Lightening, Funnel Clouds
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (85.8°Fahrenheit)

MONDAY

Typical Day

Today started as it has every other day – up at 5:15 am, a trip to the gym, 30 minutes of yoga under the stars on the “Steel Beach” on the top deck of the ship, a sunrise and a delicious breakfast by Lito & Bob.

Then science begins at 7:30 am and usually goes till 7:30 pm or later if I am writing, studying fish identification books or asking a million questions of the scientists!

Conch

Today I began with small boat trip to assist the conch scientists Bob and Einat (pronounced A KNOT)  Their surveys will be the same all week (in different locations)  They drop a weight tied to a rope with a bouy and dive flag on top.  They dive down the line and survey four transects, to the north, south, east then west.  Each transect is 30 meters by 1 meter.  They only count the Queen Conch within that defined area.  Then they come back up the line and move to the next site.  They have already made 270 dives this summer alone.  Einat told me they may dive up to 11 times a day!  I’m not sure Einat’s hair ever dries out.

measuring tool
This is the tool used to measure the lip (or the curled up front part of their shell) The largest slot would indicate a sexually mature adult, the middle; a young adult and the skinniest (TL stands for Thin Lip) for the youngest.
Einat on the transect line
Here you can see Einat as she glides along the measuring tape which marks the area of study. In her hand she holds a measuring caliper and her clipboard (which she can write on underwater!)
Einat measuring conch lip
Einat measuring a Queen Conch with her measuring tool.

NOAA Corps

While our coxswain ENS Conor Maginn and I waited for Bob and Einat, I asked lots of questions about the http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/about/about.html  As I have mentioned before, I am impressed with the character, quality and kindness of everyone on board.  I truly hope I am able adequately convey the experiences I have had to my Junior Docents and Earth Campers and perhaps inspire many of you to look into NOAA as a career option.  It’s very possible my career would have taken a different direction if I had known about the NOAA Corps earlier in my life.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  They are not trained for military action, but rather for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft which support scientific research.  Conor told me about his training which included leadership, 1st Aid and CPR, firefighting, navigation, seamanship and radar.   In addition to the 320 officers in the Corps, there are 12,000 civilian employees; some of these positions do not require an advanced college degree.

Seems like a wonderful agency to work for with great benefits such as seeing the world and supporting scientific data collection which leads to making the world a better place.

Stowaway

Stowaway
We had a stowaway today! It seemed really exhausted once it had finally caught up with the ship. Seems that a storm is blowing in, perhaps it got knocked off course. Can you identify what type of bird this is?

 

TUESDAY 

More on Conch

Einat was happy to have me out on the boat with them again.  She claims I am a lucky charm because the only time they have found conch on their surveys has been while I am aboard.  Perhaps I should become a conch whisperer.

really pink conch
I took this photo last week of a Queen Conch at Fort Jefferson. Bob was surprised how pink & purple it was. They get their color from the algae they eat.

Queen Conch have an average life span of 8-11 years, although some in the Bahamas have been aged up to 40 years old.  About the only way to age them is to date the corals which grow on their backs.  They are herbivores which graze mostly on red algae.  They are docile and Bob says “very sweet animals”.  Bob and Einat are surveying to collect more information about their population densities as they will not reproduce unless there are enough numbers in one location.  The Queen Conch is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act.  Harvesting of conch has been illegal in Florida and its adjoining waters since 1986.  This is a big deal because collecting conch for meat, fishing bait and their beautiful shells has been an important part of the Florida Keys since the early 19th century.

When all conditions are just right, a Queen Conch will lay 400,000 eggs at once, called an egg mass.  Only 1 in 8 million of these eggs will survive to adulthood.  Many efforts are being made to help their populations increase including raising for release into the wild.  Bob told me that they have even taught these captive-raised conch how to avoid predation so when they are released they can survive.

conch with egg mass
Bob and Einat were very excited to see Queen Conch laying egg masses. Understandably so since the eggs hatch 5 days after being laid, there is a very short time frame in which to see this in the wild.

I try to be as helpful on the small boats as I can be.  Here is a slide show of me working really hard to pull the weight dive flag back to the boat.

 

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WEDNESDAY 

Receiver Data Retrieval

Today the divers retrieved acoustic receivers from the ocean floor which have been out for a year in order to bring the data top side for analysis.

The work the FWC has been doing in this area has been vital to providing the data necessary to show that these reserves act as connected highways essential to numerous species of fish and to justify the creation of these large ecological reserves which closed 150 square miles to commercial and private fishing.  Their data shows an increase in both the abundance and size of at least 4 species of fish in the protected areas where there was a decrease or no change at all in the non-protected areas in the same region.

It has been fulfilling to give a hand in collecting this critical data.

THURSDAY

Seining

The small boat took us to the Marquesas Islands today for some seine netting.  The fish biologists were not sure what to find since they don’t have opportunities to get this far out.  They were especially pleased to see Lane Snapper since they rarely find them.  We also saw 17 other fish species.  These mangrove islands are crucial habitat for juvenile fish.  Many species will spend the beginning of their lives in the sea grass beds near the islands, seek refuge as they grow within the mangroves and then head out to deep waters to live their lives as large adults.