Oktay Ince: Learning of a Lifetime Begins! June 21, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Monday, June 20, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31′ 52 N

Longitude: 82° 12′ 00 W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 25 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 19.88 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 25 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 18 °C

Relative Humidity: 88.93

Barometric Pressure: 28.57 in

Science and Technology Log

I have been immersed in many science concepts in my very first day on the ship. Science is everywhere from how the engine works to navigating the ship to mapping the lake/ocean floor. I guess first I’ll start with explaining the science behind the research that the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson does in Lake Erie. 

NOAA’s Ship Thomas Jefferson uses technology called multibeam sonar to map the seafloor and detect objects in the water column or along the seafloor. It is mounted on the bottom of the ship, also known as the ship’s hull. A multibeam sonar sends out multiple, simultaneous sonar beams (or sound beams) in a fan-shaped pattern which allows it to cover the space both directly under the ship and out to each side and then listen for reflections (echo). 

An illustration of how a ship like Thomas Jefferson collects multibeam data. A cutaway view of the ocean depicts the multibeam sonar as a swath along the topography of the ocean floor.
An illustration of how a ship like Thomas Jefferson collects multibeam data (Credit: NOAA)

Why are sound waves used in water but not radar or light waves? 

Because sound waves travel farther in the water than radar and light waves, and sound waves are  created by vibrations. That means that sound waves travel faster in denser substances because the molecules are densely packed together.  When one molecule vibrates the amount of time to vibrate neighboring molecules is shorter, meaning sound  travels faster. What a great way to talk about different waves here but I am going to leave it here for curious readers like yourself to explore!

So, sound waves. If you were to compare one bottle of water with one bottle of air, the one bottle of water would have 800 times more particles than the bottle it has air (According to Scientific American). 

Here it comes to the question. Do sound waves travel differently in saltwater than freshwater? The answer is yes! Because seawater has more particles due to salt (salinity) than freshwater. Remember, the more particles there are in a substance, the faster the sound can travel through it. The comparison can be extended among sea, ocean and freshwater systems. 

Many sea mammals use sonar to communicate with each other. Take the humpback whales, for example. Researchers believe that humpback whales’ low frequency sounds can travel more than 10,000 miles in the ocean. Imagine you are a whale singing, how far can you reach out? Mind blowing!

This also reminds me of the science behind human hearing. Our ear detects the sound vibrations that travel from the air through the ear canal and strike the eardrum and vibrate. These vibrations are then passed to three tiny bones in the middle ear. Those tiny bones then amplify the sound by sending out sound waves to the FLUID-FILLED hearing organ called the cochlea. Meaning, we as humans, eventually use water to amplify what we heard outside in the air. 

What a great way to learn the physics of sound within real-world applications. I challenge you to find out more real-world applications of sound. 

Personal Log

While I have so many  science concepts to talk about, I also have so many other things to talk about. 

Let me start off by saying what I did when I got on the ship prior to our departure the next day. First, I received Covid-19 testing prior to boarding and thankfully after getting a negative result, I was allowed on the ship. The OOD (Officer of the Deck) showed me my stateroom (where I sleep). It is like a bunkhouse with two people and I chose to sleep on the top. Between two staterooms, there is one common bathroom with showers. Every room has safety equipment, refrigerators, lockers etc. It was really way better than I expected. 

Anyway, soon after one of the ship’s deck officers told us that we were  meeting at a restaurant for dinner at 7pm. While I was enjoying my hot fried coconut jumbo shrimp ( it was so hot that it didn’t cool even 15 minutes later!), one of the crew members asked my name. I responded to him in a way that could be pronounced in English. After waiting a couple of seconds, he responded “ Benim adim Justin, sen Türkçe biliyor musun?” With the shock that Justin gave me, I couldn’t say a single word. Justin said – “My name is Justin, and do you speak Turkish?” He knew that I am of Turkish origin and wanted to make sure I could speak. If the time of this conversation is around 8 pm then we had so much deep conversation that we couldn’t keep track of time and realized it was around midnight when we got back to the ship. His wife is Turkish and he knows how to speak Turkish very well. Imagine how odd it is to meet a person on a ship who happens to know how to speak Turkish in a place far from Turkey. Justin is an electronics  technician (ET) for the ship. Ohh I forgot to tell you, we also went bowling after the restaurant.

When I got to my stateroom, it was well past midnight. Even though I drove 4 hours on the road and was worn out from the day, spending more than 9 hours with this incredible team recharged me. I couldn’t be more excited about what my days will look like onward. 

I put my head down and could hear the loud generator noise. I was so tired that I could not get up to put my ear plugs on. I slept like a torn out elephant until the next morning! 

I ate my veggie burger with scrambled eggs in the mess deck (crew eating area) for breakfast, spinach ravioli for lunch, and baked salmon with alfredo sauce macaroni and potatoes for dinner. Believe it or not, their mess deck is sooo awesome that I picked one convenient spot as my “office” desk. You can find every type of snack (that includes ice cream), tea, coffee… in this small place. There are coffee makers, water fill stations, soda machines just to name a few. NOAA is clearly taking care of their crew very well. Keep up the good work NOAA!

We departed around 2:30 pm from Cleveland and headed out to the Lake where we started to survey. About an hour and a half later, the ship started sending out multibeam sound waves and our official work started. Again, there is more talk about the crew, the work they do, and how I feel. I think I will intentionally make you curious more about my adventures and stop here. 

view of water in Lake Erie
It was heartbreaking to see so many dead fish flooding on Cleveland shores.

Did you know?

First Fact: The last time a NOAA ship visited the Great Lakes was in the early 1990s which means updated nautical charts of the Great Lakes are long overdue. Ohio’s primary economic force comes from manufacturing, and many factories rely on water systems in Ohio such as the Ohio River and Great Lakes. Updating nautical charts for the Great Lakes is significant, not only for Ohioans, but also the entire nation. 

Second Fact: Water in the Great Lakes (consists of five lakes: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario) comes from thousands of streams and rivers and the flow of water continues to move eastward. Lake Superior drains into Lake Michigan/Huron via the St. Mary’s River. Lake Huron drains into Lake Erie via the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario via the Niagara River. The entire system eventually flows to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River. Four of the five lakes are shared by two nations, the U.S. and Canada; only Lake Michigan is entirely within the U.S.