Meg Stewart: What’s it Like to Work on a NOAA Ship? July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: July 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54° 09.9 N
Longitude: 161° 46.3 W
Wind: 22 knots NW
Barometer: 1014.2 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 55.6° F or 13.1° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation


Careers at Sea Log, or Meet the ….

Life at sea on the Ship Fairweather, this past week and a half, with some 42  crew members, has been something I have never experienced. The closest thing that I can think of was when I was in undergraduate geology field camp, living in close quarters for weeks on end, with the same people, working together towards a goal. But I knew all of those field camp students; we were in college together. This is different. Everyone works here on the Fairweather and this is their job and their home. We’re all adults and no one knows anyone when they first come aboard. So, if you are friendly, open to people and welcoming, you can get to know some folks quickly. If you’re shy or try to ease in slowly, it may be a harder adjustment, living on a 231-foot heaving, rolling, pitching and yawing, ice-strengthened, welded steel hydrographic survey vessel. It’s a unique environment. And there are a lot of different but interesting jobs that people do here on the Fairweather. Here are but a few of the mariners on the ship.

NOAA Corps – The first group of ship crew that I’ll talk about are NOAA Corps officers.  NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (or NOAA Corps) is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services and they are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA Corps support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions.

XO Sam Greenaway
XO Sam Greenaway, the Executive Officer on NOAA Ship Fairweather

Commander Greenaway is the Executive Officer onboard Fairweather and that work entails a variety of tasks that all function under the heading “administering the ships business.” Greenaway’s number one job is as the ship’s Safety Officer and he has additional tasks that include purchase requests from the departments, lining up contractors, making sure everyone has their training up-to-date, handling human resource issues, and accounting of the ship’s finances. On the Fairweather, Greenaway is second in command. He loves being at sea and has always liked sailing, which is one of his hobbies when not on the ship. What Greenaway least expected to be doing as a NOAA Corps officer was managing people but he finds that he loves that part of the job. Greenaway has a bachelors of science degree in Physics from Brown University and a masters degree in Ocean Engineering from University in New Hampshire. 

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ENS Jeffery Calderon, Junior Officer
ENS Jeffery Calderon, Junior Officer

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon is a NOAA Corps Junior Officer and has been on Ship Fairweather for two years. Calderon was previously with the Air Force for eight years and also with the National Guard for about four years. His duties on the ship include driving small boats, doing hydrographic surveys, bridge duty on the ship, and he’s the medical officer on board. Calderon enjoys the challenges he gets with NOAA Corps and likes to manage small teams and decide priorities. He learned about NOAA Corps from his college advisor at the University of Maryland, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics.

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ENS Iris Ekmanis, Junior Officer
ENS Iris Ekmanis, Junior Officer

Ensign Iris Ekmanis is also a Junior Officer who recently completed her basic training for the NOAA Corps. She has been on Ship Fairweather for about a month and a half. She chose NOAA Corps because she wanted to utilize her degree in Marine Science (from University of Hawaii, Hilo) and had worked on boats for six years. She likes that she has been learning new things everyday, like how to pilot the ship from the bridge, learning to coxswain a launch, and learning to use the hydrographic software to collect bathymetric data. In fact, when we left the dock in Dutch Harbor at the beginning of the leg, Ekmanis had the conn, which means she maneuvered the ship through her orders to the helm (although she had plenty of people around her in case she needed assistance.)

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Survey team – The hydrographic survey team is involved in all aspects of collecting the data and generating the bathymetric surfaces that will be used to make updated nautical charts. They don’t drive the boats and ships, they run the software, take the casts that determine water salinity and temperature, tell the coxswain where to motor to next and then process the data back on Ship Fairweather.  There are six members on the survey team; here are two of them.

Ali Johnson
Ali Johnson, Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician

Ali Johnson has been a hydrographer on the Ship Fairweather for two and a half years. She told me she always knew she wanted to work in ocean science in some capacity so she earned a degree in Environmental Studies at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.  With this job, Johnson enjoys going to places that most people don’t ever get to see and one of the highlights was surveying while dodging icebergs and seeing the interesting bathymetry as a result of glacial deposits, another was seeing an advancing glacier up close. She is the hydrographer who showed me most of the ropes on the ship, the launch surveys and in the plot room.

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Michelle Wiegert
Michelle Wiegert, Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician

Michelle Wiegert has been with NOAA Ship Fairweather since last September. Although she did not lay eyes on the ocean until she was nineteen, she always knew she would do some ocean-based work.  Wiegert earned a double major in Biology and Spanish from Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado and studied Applied Science Marine Technology at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC. As a Survey team member, she loves that she is working at sea and the fact that every day is different and she is always learning new things.

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Ship Stewards – The stewards are the crew members who make the three square meals a day. The food on Ship Fairweather has been outstanding and every meal seems like two or even three meals in one because the stewards offer so much variety, including vegetarian and vegan options.  There are four stewards on the Fairweather and they are all as nice as can be. Here is one of them.

Carrie Mortell, Acting Chief Cook
Carrie Mortell, Acting Chief Cook

Carrie Mortell has been a steward with the Fairweather for two years and with NOAA for fifteen. She has ten years of commercial fisheries experience in southeast Alaska and she loves the ocean. Mortell told me she feels more comfortable at sea than on land. She likes to keep busy in her downtime by reading, writing letters, crocheting, cooking & baking and drawing.

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Deck Department – The Fairweather’s Deck Department takes care of general ship maintenance, cleaning decks, painting, operating cranes, helming the ship, and coxswaining the launches. There are currently eight members of the Deck Department and I interviewed one for this post.

Eric Chandler, Able Seaman
Eric Chandler, Able Seaman

Eric Chandler has been an Able Seaman with NOAA for one and a half years. He has driven the launches, taught coxswains-in-training, been a ship medic, moved launches with a davit, repaired jammed grab samplers, and many other tasks. Chandler started working on boats in 2016 when he was a deckhand, educator and naturalist on tour boats out of Seward, AK.  He has also been a professional photographer and an auto mechanic. Chandler likes being on a ship because he sees remote places, gets to learn new skills all the time, and likes the feeling of being self-sufficient.

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Visitors to NOAA Ship Fairweather – I am a visitor to Ship Fairweather but I am not the only temporary person onboard. Here are two of the four of us who are “just passing through.”

Fernando Ortiz
Fernando Ortiz, Physical Scientist at NOAA

Fernando Ortiz has been a Physical Scientist with NOAA since 2008 and works out of Western Regional Center in Seattle, WA. He was visiting the Fairweather on the same leg is mine. NOAA Physical Scientists normally work in the office but will go on a NOAA ship at least once a year to support field operations. Ortiz will possibly do the quality control check on the data for the Cape Newenham project in the future. Ortiz has a bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Washington, Seattle WA. His advice for people looking for a similar career is to take science classes and he emphasized having Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and programming experience.

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Christine Burns, Knauss Fellow
Christine Burns, Knauss Fellow through NOAA Sea Grant

Christine Burns is visiting from Washington, DC, where she is a Knauss Fellow through NOAA Sea Grant. She is on a one-year post-graduate marine policy fellowship with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.  She wanted to see what the hydrographic research going on so came out to Dutch Harbor as part of her fellowship. Burns has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and a masters in Marine Science from the University of Georgia in Savannah, GA. As she was visiting like I was and we were both very much observers, Burns filled me in on some scholarship and internship ideas she has for high school students and those students thinking of careers and college after high school graduation. By the way, once you’re nearing the end of college or have graduated already, don’t forget that there is usually career advisory office and your alumni network at your institution. You can make connections, seek advice, ask about positions, among other important functions those offices and groups do for you.
Hollings Scholars – for current college sophomores, this is an undergraduate scholarship and internship through NOAA
EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship Program – this is the Hollings Scholarship for students attending HBCU or Minority Serving Institutions
Student Conservation Association – a good place to get work and volunteer experiences or a gap year opportunity, for people 18-35 interested in land management.
Youth Conservation Corps – a summer youth employment program that engages young people in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests, and so on.
USAJobs – this link has summer internships for college students or recent graduates.
Rotary Clubs can help students find scholarships and volunteer opportunities
Unions – you can find paid internships or educational opportunities through unions for skills such as pipefitters, electrical, plumbing, etc.

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Next post: the Engineering Department of the Ship Fairweather

Personal Log

I am impressed and awed by the people who have chosen living and working on a ship. When I first came aboard the Fairweather, I felt everything was a little cramped and the space was confined. I couldn’t figure out how to get around very well. Now, I don’t get lost as often. It isn’t easy to live and work on a ship, but there are plenty of folks on the Fairweather who happily chose it.

Meg on flying bridge
On the flying bridge near Cape Newenham

I’ve enjoyed looking out at sea as we are underway. I try to spot whales and other flying and leaping sea critters. We have one more long transit before arriving back to Dutch Harbor so I am going to head up to the flying bridge and see what I can see.

Did You Know?

The Fairweather makes its own potable water. When I was shown the engine room, I was also shown the reverse osmosis water making machine that turns sea water into fresh water. The ship never runs out!

Quote of the Day

“It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” – Sir Francis Drake

Jessica Cobley: An Introduction, July 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 17 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Aleutian Islands)

Date: Monday, July 15th, 2019

Weather Data from Juneau, AK: 8:50am Lat: 58.35° N Lon: 134.58° W 

Personal Log

Hello everyone. In just a few days I will be swapping out halibut fishing in Juneau, AK for surveying walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA)…and I can’t wait! Our cruise on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will depart from Kodiak Island and sail out along the Aleutian Islands, a place I have yet to see or experience since moving to Alaska. 

Jessica halibut fishing
Fishing for Halibut near Holkham Bay. This photo was taken just after the fillet had slipped out of my hands and onto the boat deck…guess I’ll benefit from fish handling practice on the cruise! Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi

Three years ago, I left a curriculum consulting job in Portland, OR to begin teaching in Juneau. Prior to Oregon, I was living overseas in Australia, where I completed my Masters in Education and spent time with the Australian side of my family. I am incredibly excited to now call Juneau my home and be in the classroom as both an educator and a learner. Alaska is such a unique and special place – sometimes I still can’t believe I live here! 

Currently, I work as a 7th grade Life Science teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Not only is middle school my favorite age of kids to teach (yes, you heard that right), but I also love the curriculum we get to share with them. One main focus during the school year is to teach about ecosystems. Two years ago I developed a unit, along with NOAA Scientist Elizabeth Siddon, that focuses on how commercial fisheries quotas are set in Alaska. The lessons range from data collection and stakeholder input to presenting recommendations to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Alaska takes several different aspects of the ecosystem into consideration when setting quotas and I think it is a great way for students to see how the science they learn in school can be applied to real life careers. 

7th grade students
Students in my 7th grade life science class presenting ecosystem risk table recommendations to a panel of scientists for sablefish quotas in the Gulf of Alaska.

I myself have never had the chance to work as a scientist. That is why I am so excited for the opportunity to participate in data collection and analysis alongside a research team right here in Alaska. It will be fantastic to bring what I learn back to my students and be able to give them an even better understanding what being a scientist can entail. 

Lastly, outside of teaching, I try to enjoy all of the outdoor activities Juneau has to offer. With the recent streak of unusually warm and sunny weather, my friends and I have been boating, swimming, and hiking as much as possible. While it will be hard to leave those things behind, I am looking forward to this next adventure! 

Jessica hiking
Midway through a hike from Granite Creek Basin to Mount Juneau. Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi


Science and Technology Log

The research team on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is conducting an acoustic-trawl (AT) survey to collect data, primarily on walleye pollock, to be used in stock assessment models for determining commercial fisheries quotas. When collecting data, scientists will work in 12 hour shifts and be looking to determine things such as species composition, age, length distribution etc. 

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: NOAA

Trawl fishing, for those of you unfamiliar, is a method of fishing when a net of particular size is pulled through the water behind a boat. Oscar Dyson is a 64 meter stern trawler that contains acoustic and oceanographic instruments to collect the necessary data. After researching online, I learned that the main instrument used is a Simrad EK60 split-beam echosounder system. Look for more information about what this instrument is (and others) in future blog posts! 

Did You Know?

Alaska pollock is one of the largest commercial fisheries in the world! 

Thank you for reading and I am looking forward to sharing more about life out at sea! 

Meg Stewart: What Does the Seafloor Look Like? Hydrography Can Tell Us, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 36.7 N
Longitude: 162° 02.5 W
Wind: 1 knot N
Barometer: 1011.0 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 58° F or 14° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Red Sky
“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” This old mariner’s adage did NOT prove to be true when I saw this sunrise viewed from NOAA Ship Fairweather at 5:21am yesterday. It turned out to be a perfect delight for a surveying day!


What is NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program?

You may be wondering what, exactly, am I doing going “to sea” with NOAA. First off, NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and originates back to 1807 with Thomas Jefferson founding the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (as the Survey of the Coast) with a mission to provide nautical charts to the maritime community for safe passage into American ports. Over time, the Weather Bureau was added and then the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was developed. In 1970, these three agencies were combined under one umbrella organization and named NOAA, an agency that supports accuracy and precision of physical and atmospheric sciences, protection of life and property, and stewardship of natural resources. NOAA is within the Department of Commerce.

Meg on flying bridge
I am standing on the flying bridge of the Fairweather where you get a fantastic 360° view.

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program has existed since 1990, sending over 800 teachers on NOAA research cruises. The TAS mission is “to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.”  There is usually just one teacher sent per leg of a mission, that way the TAS gets full exposure to the research process and attention from the crew, scientists and staff on the ship. And it is true, everyone onboard has been friendly, helpful, welcoming, and willing to answer any question I might have, like, where is C deck? (That’s where my stateroom is located).


Science and Technology Log

Now that you understand NOAA’s mission, it should not surprise you that I am on a research cruise that is mapping a part of the seafloor that has not had detailed soundings. “Soundings” means the action or process of measuring the depth of the sea or other body of water. See the map below as that is where I am right now, in Bristol Bay. By the way, NOAA nautical charts are available for free at this NOAA site.

Bristol Bay nautical chart
The NOAA nautical chart of Bristol Bay, Cape Newenham and Hagemeister Strait. Note that where there are small numbers in the white and blue sections of the chart (that is all water), you can see the sounding depths to surface shown in fathoms. The red polygon is drawn on by me. We are working in the upper, northwest part of that “poorly mapped” section. Notice that there are essentially no soundings in that region.

When I’ve told friends, family and students that I was chosen to be on a NOAA research vessel that was compiling a detailed map of the sea floor off of Alaska, it was met with great surprise. “The ocean floor hasn’t been mapped before? How could that be?” In fact, more than 80 percent of the ocean bottom has not been mapped using modern, highly precise technologies.  But we do have a very coarse ocean floor – or bathymetric – map, created in the early 1950s by Marie Tharp using sounding data collected by the U.S. military and her collaborator Bruce Heezen. Tharp’s early map of the sea floor beautifully revealed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and added another piece of evidence in support of the theories of continental drift plate tectonics. There’s a terrific Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey episode featuring Tharp.

1977 colorized ocean floor map
This is the Tharp and Heezen (1977) colorized ocean floor map. This map is used under the Creative Commons license.

Why we need a more detailed bathymetry map than the one created by Tharp and Heezen can be explained by the original mission of the early version of NOAA. Jefferson wanted to build a “…survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States…” in order to provide safe passage of ships to ports within the navigable waters of the U.S. As the Bristol Bay chart above shows, there are still coastal areas that have limited to no data. Without detailed charts, mariners cannot know where the shallower waters are (called shoals), or rock obstructions, shifted underwater sand bars, shipwrecks, or other hindrances that cause safety concerns to the movement of boats.

The hydrographic Survey Team on the NOAA Ship Fairweather use several 30 foot boats, called launches, with a multibeam echosounder attached to the hull (the bottom of the ship). The multibeam echosounder uses sonar and is a device useful for both shallow and deep water. In a nutshell, depth measurements are collected by calculating the time it takes for each of the sound pulses to travel from the echosounder through the sea water to the ocean floor and back again. The distance from the instrument to the seafloor is calculated by multiplying the travel time by the speed of sound through seawater, which is about 1,500 meters/second or 4,921 feet/second. Right before a hydrographic survey is started, the team collects information on the conductivity, temperature and depth of the sea water, as temperature and salinity will modify the density and change the travel time of the sonar pulses. The video below can explain the process further.

This NOAA video explains multibeam sounding and hydrographic operations.
launch with echosounder
A launch on a lift right before going out to survey. The multibeam echosounder is permanently fixed to the bottom of the hull. It’s a square, rigid box that sits flat against the hull in front of the keel.
Ali in a launch
This is Ali Johnson in the cabin of a launch. She is a hydrographic survey technician and is analyzing the multibeam echosounder data as it is being collected. The length of a launch is 32 feet, and all the technology needed for the hydrographic surveys are directly on boats in the cabin. Post-processing, or stitching the completed surveys into one comprehensive product, is done “back in the office” on Ship Fairweather.

The software used to collect the soundings is created by the multibeam echosounder manufacturer, so the collection of millions of points on a transect is seamless. Data collection runs are taken over multiple days and several “legs” or extended periods of time when the crew are all out at the same time on the Fairweather.  Following collection transects, the data are then post-processed using Caris HIPS and SIPS, which is the software that the Fairweather hydrographers use for data processing.

screen showing bathymetry
A close-up of one of the monitors that shows what the sounding data look like. By looking at these data returns, the hydrographers can tell immediately if something is not right with the equipment. The two windows that show maps colored red to yellow to blue (top right and bottom left) show the bathymetry. The red areas are shallow depths and the blue are deeper depths, relatively speaking. Also notice the window at the bottom right with a triangle and circle within the triangle; that is showing the fan-shape of the echosoundings.


Personal Log

We’ve motored to a new location, Cape Newenham, which is the name of this mission, so we will be here for about a week. When we got underway, the ship got to really rocking and my stomach could not handle it. I had one bad night but I am now fine and ship shape!

Cape Newenham is at latitude 58°N so we are up close to the Arctic Circle (66.5°N). At this time of year, there are about 5 hours of darkness per night here in Alaska, which is really cool. Compare that what we have in New York…

Anchorage v NYC
For July 11, 2019, the number of daylight hours in Anchorage, AK (closest large city to where I am now) is 18 hours and 41 minutes. Times of sunrise and sunset are also given….the sun sets at 11:25pm today! And in NYC, NY (where my school is located), you are getting four fewer daylight hours, or about 15 hours of light. Again, times of sunrise and sunset are shown. Source for both: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa
Launches and Fairweather
Launches waiting to get underway. All boats going out for surveys stay close to the Fairweather until everyone is securely in their boat, just in case of MOB (man overboard).
Fairweather anchored
This is where Ship Fairweather is anchored for the next few days, as the survey crews transect the project area. We are on the southern side of Cape Newenham. Again, the terrain is tree-less, though we are now adjacent the mainland of Alaska. I’ve seen so many types of sea birds, but the puffins are the best because they seem to not have figured out how to fly. I hear there are walrus in the area, but I haven’t spotted one as yet.


Did You Know?

You probably know that Charles Darwin was the naturalist on board the HMS Beagle which set sail on December 27,1831. Over the nearly five years the Beagle was at sea, Darwin developed his ideas on natural selection and evolution of species. But what you might not know is that the captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, was an officer in the Royal Navy, a meteorologist and hydrographer. In fact, the primary mission of the Beagle was to survey the coastline of South America and, in particular, the Strait of Magellan, at the southernmost tip. Better, more accurate charts were needed by the British government, to navigate the treacherous, rough waters of the channels. In addition, FitzRoy was a protégé of Francis Beaufort (who developed the Wind Force Scale which is still used to help explain wind speed) and both worked together to create the science of weather forecasting.


Quote of the Day

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” – Rachel Carson

Erica Marlaine: Happy Fourth of July from the 49th State, July 4, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 4-5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 48.9 N
Longitude: 159º 2.3 W
Wind Speed: 4.2 knots
Wind Direction: 186.5º
Air Temperature:  14.7º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb
Depth of water column 84.5 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius

History

On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States.  The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state.  By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.


Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style

My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST.  At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks.  (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island. 

Approaching Mitrofania Island
Approaching Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Photographs do not do it justice.  It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views.  Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares.  While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!


Science and Technology

Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat.  I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales.  It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined.  However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.

Whale carcass
Whale carcass

On a happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars). Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their blowhole.  Since different species of whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color, fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales (which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be found together.  In contrast, humpback whales are more often found alone or with their calf.


Whale Fun Facts

While many people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air.  The spout is their exhale. Since they are mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to breathe through their blowhole.

A baby whale is called a calf.

A group of whales travelling together is called a pod.

The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses, and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.

A blue whale’s call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.

Whales are warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay warm in cold water.


Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together

Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.

Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.

Allow your child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.

Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.


 

Catherine Fuller: A Tropical Fish in an Alaskan Aquarium, June 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 30 June 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 60.32 N
Longitude: 147.48 W
Wind Speed: 3.2 knots
Wind Direction: 24 degrees
Air Temperature: 72 °F
Sky: Hazy (smoke)


Science and Technology Log

We arrived in Seward mid-day on Thursday, June 27th to find it hazy from fires burning north of us; the normally picturesque mountain ranges framing the bay were nearly obscured, and the weather forecast predicts that the haze will be with us at sea for a while as well.  Most of the two days prior to departure were busy with loading, sorting, unpacking and setting up of equipment. 

Ready to load
All equipment and supplies are placed on pallets to load on board

There are multiple experiments and different types of studies that will be taking place during the course of this cruise, and each set of researchers has a specific area for their equipment.  I am on the particle flux team with Stephanie O’Daly (she specifically requested to have “the teacher” so that she’d have extra hands to help her), and have been helping her as much as I can to set up.  Steffi has been very patient and is good about explaining the equipment and their function as we go through everything.  Particle flux is about the types of particles found in the water and where they’re formed and where they’re going.  In addition, she’ll be looking at carbon matter: what form it takes and what its origin is, because that will tell her about the movement of specific types of plankton through the water column.  We spent a part of Friday setting up a very expensive camera (the UVP or Underwater Visual Profiler) that will take pictures of particles in the water down to 500 microns (1/2 a millimeter), will isolate the particles in the picture, sort the images and download them to her computer as well. 

Steffi’s friend Jess was very helpful and instructive about setting up certain pieces of equipment.  I found that my seamanship skills luckily were useful in splicing lines for Steffi’s tows as well as tying her equipment down to her work bench so that we won’t lose it as the ship moves. 

As everyone worked to prepare their stations, the ship moved to the refueling dock to make final preparations for departure, which was about 8:30 on Saturday morning. 

Day one at sea was a warm up for many teams.  Per the usual, the first station’s testing went slowly as participants learned the procedures.  We deployed the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) at the second station.  A CTD is a metal framework that carries various instruments and sampling bottles called Niskin bottles.  In the video, you can see them arranged around the structure. The one we sent on June 28 had 24 plastic bottles that were “fired” at specific depths to capture water samples.  These samples are shared by a number of teams to test for things like dissolved oxygen gas, and nutrients such as nitrate, nitrites, phosphate and silicate, and dissolved inorganic carbon.  

Video coming soon!
The CTD is lowered over the side of the ship long enough to fill sample bottles and then is brought back on board. (This still photo is a placeholder for the video.)

One of my tasks today was to help her collect samples from specific bottles by attaching a tube to the bottle, using water from the sample to cleanse it and them fill it.  Another team deployed a special CTD that was built completely of iron-free materials in order to run unbiased tests for iron in the water. 

By late Saturday night, we will be in Prince William Sound, and will most likely spend a day there, before continuing on to Copper River.  Usually LTER cruises are more focused on monitoring the state of the ecosystem, but in this case, the cruise will also focus on the processes of the Copper River plume, rates and interactions.  This particular plume brings iron and fresh water into the Northern Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, where it is dispersed by weather and current.  After spending some time studying the plume, the cruise will continue on to the Middleton Line to examine how both fresh water and iron are spread along the shelf and throughout the food web.  


Personal Log

As the science team gathered yesterday, it became evident that the team is predominantly female.  According to lead scientist Seth Danielson, this is a big change from roughly 20 years ago, and has become more of the norm in recent times.  We also have five undergraduates with us who have never been out on a cruise, which is unusual.  They are all very excited for the trip and to begin their own research by assisting team leaders.  I’ve met most of the team and am slowly getting all the names down. 

I have to admit that I’m feeling out of my element, much like a fish in a very different aquarium.  I’m used to going to sea, yes, but on a vessel from another time and place.  There is much that is familiar about gear, lines, weather, etc., but there are also great differences.  The ship’s crew is a separate group from the science crew, although most are friendly and helpful.  Obviously, this is a much larger and more high tech vessel with many more moving parts.  Being on the working deck requires a hard hat, protective boots, and flotation gear.  There are viewing decks that are less restricted. 

I am excited to be at sea again, but a little bit nervous about meeting expectations and being as helpful as I can without getting in the way.  It’s a little strange to be primarily indoors, however, as I’m used to being out in the open! I’m enjoying the moments where I can be on deck, although with the haze in the air, I’m missing all the scenery! 

Did you know?

Because space is limited onboard, many of the researchers are collecting samples for others who couldn’t be here as well as collecting for themselves and doing their own experiments.

Something to think about:

How do we get more boys interested in marine sciences?

Questions of the day (from the Main Lab):

Do whales smell the smoke outside?

Answer: Toothed whales do not have a sense of smell, and baleen whales have a poor sense of smell at best.

Do scorpions get seasick?

Catherine (Cat) Fuller: An Introduction, June 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

(Not Yet) Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 18 June 2019

Weather Data

(From Honolulu, HI)

Latitude: 21.33 N

Longitude: 157.94 W

Wind Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23

Wind Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft

Secondary Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft

Humidity: 47%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.1 mb

Heat Index: 93 F (34 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: clear and sunny

(From Seward, AK)

Latitude: 60.12 N

Longitude: 149.45 W

Wind Speed and Direction: S 9

Swell Height: 2 ft

Humidity: 77%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.0 mb

Heat Index: 56 F (13 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: Overcast

Personal Log

Aloha kākou! Greetings everyone! In about a week, I will be exchanging currently very warm and sunny Honolulu for the vastly different climate and ecological zone in Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska.  I will be embarking on R/V Sikuliaq there to participate in one part of a long-term study of the variability and resiliency of species in the area, but I will get to that in a bit.

In August, I will begin my seventeenth year as a sixth grade social studies teacher at ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school that is academically competitive at a national level.  In sixth grade social studies, our students focus on the development of the modern world from ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  I enjoy challenging my students to broaden their worldviews, especially about the impacts ancient civilizations have had on today’s world. We cover those for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we examine the choices these civilizations have made and whether or not they contribute to a sustainable society.  I want my students to understand that sustainability is more than just picking up trash and conserving water, but it is also about choices in government, society, culture, behavior and environment. The content of our fourth quarter is predicated on the reality that we live in Hawai’i, an island group that is roughly 2000 miles from any other major point of land.

Living in Hawai’i can be just as idyllic as advertisements make it seem, with daily rainbows, colorful sunsets and blue ocean waves.  However, it also comes with challenges that we all have to face.  Our cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and we face constant struggles between maintaining culture and environment in a place with limited room for population growth.  We have a high homeless population, yet many of us joke that the (construction) crane is our state bird.  We are also braced to be at the forefront of climate change.  With a rise in sea level of 3 feet, most of Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu is at risk of inundation.  In addition, changes in sea surface temperature affect our coral reefs and fish populations as well as minimizing or eliminating our trade winds through changes in weather patterns.  For these reasons, I hope to plant the awareness in my students that their generation is poised to make some major decisions about the state of the world.

My passion for sustainability and ocean health stems from the amount of time I spend in and on the water.  I have been a competitive outrigger canoe paddler for the last 30 or so years, and in the summers, I paddle five to six days a week.  I go to six-man team practices as well as taking my one-man canoe out with friends.  I also have coached high school paddling at ‘Iolani School for the last sixteen years. Being on the ocean so much makes me much more aware of the wildlife our waters shelter: monk seals, dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.  It also makes me aware of the trash, especially plastics that are more and more present in the ocean.  I’ve picked up slippers, coolers, bottles, bags and even pieces of cargo net out of the water on various excursions.  Being on the water so often also fuels my interest in meteorology; you need to know what weather and ocean conditions to expect when you go to sea.  One major impact that being on the water has is that it allows you to see your island from offshore and realize that it is an ISLAND, and not a very big one at that!

Cat on Canoe
Me on my one-man canoe off He’eia, O’ahu

Some of the biggest lessons about the ocean that I’ve learned have come from my experiences with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a non-profit organization founded in 1973 to recreate the original settlement of Hawai’i by ocean voyaging canoes, as well as revive the ancient art of non-instrument navigation.  PVS is most well known for the voyaging canoe Hõkūlea, which sailed to Tahiti (and back again) in 1976 to prove the validity of these cultural arts.  I began working with the organization in 1994, helping to build a second voyaging canoe, Hawai’iloa, and have been there ever since.  As a part of this organization, I have sailed throughout the Pacific, to locations such as Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Mangareva, and the Marquesas.  With Te Mana O Te Moana, another voyaging canoe initiative, I sailed to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen many faces of the Pacific Ocean on my travels and I look forward to seeing another. 

Between 2012 and 2017, PVS sent Hõkūle’a on a journey around the world.  The name of the voyage was Mālama Honua (To Protect the Earth) and the goal was to visit with indigenous communities to learn what challenges they face and how they work to preserve their lands and cultures.  One of the founding principles for this voyage is a Hawaiian saying, “he wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a”, which means “the canoe is an island and the island is a canoe”.  The saying refers to the idea that the choices we make about positive behavior, bringing what we need as opposed to what we want, and what we do with our resources and trash while living in the limited space of a voyaging canoe are a reflection of the choices we need to make living on the islands of Hawai’i as well as living on island Earth.  I strive every day to make my students aware of the consequences of their choices.

voyaging canoe
Hõkūle’a en route to Aotearoa, 2014


Science and Technology Log

I’m pretty excited to go to Alaska, first of all, because I’ve never been there!  Secondly, we have species in Hawai’i (birds and whales) that migrate between our shores and Alaska on an annual basis.  Although the two locations are distant from each other, there are connections to be made, as Hawai’i and Alaska share the same ocean. 

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). R/V Sikuliaq is an NSF ship working with the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  LTER encompasses 28 sites nationwide, of which the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) is one.  In this area, three surveys a year are made to monitor the dynamics of the ecosystem and measure its resilience to environmental factors such as variability in light, temperature, freshwater, wind and nutrients.  The origins of the NGA portion of this project have been in place since 1970 and have grown to include the Seward Line system (s series of points running southeast from Seward).

On our trip, we will be looking at microzooplankton and mesozooplankton as well as phytoplankton, the size and concentration of particles in the water, and the availability of nutrients, among other things.  Information gathered from our study will be added to cumulative data sets that paint a picture of the variability and resiliency of the marine ecosystem. I will be a part of the Particle Flux team for this expedition.  I have a general idea of what that entails and the kind of data we’ll be gathering, but I certainly need to learn more!  If you’re curious, more detailed information about ongoing research can be found at https://nga.lternet.edu/about-us/.

I always ask my students, after they complete preliminary research on any project, what they want to learn.  I want to know more about particle flux (as previously mentioned).  I would like to learn more about seasonal weather patterns and how they influence the NGA ecosystem.  I would like to find out if/how this ecosystem connects to the Hawaiian ecosystem, and I REALLY want to see the kinds of life that inhabit the northern ocean! For my own personal information, I am really curious to see how stars move at 60 degrees north and whether or not they can still be used for navigation. 

Mahalo (Thank you)

I’m spending my last week sorting through my collection of fleece and sailing gear to prepare for three weeks of distinctly cooler temperatures.  I’m going to be doing a lot of layering for sure!  My two cats, Fiona and Pippin are beginning to suspect something, but for now are content to sniff through the growing pile on the couch. While packing, I’m keeping in mind that this is just another type of voyage and to pack only what I need, including chocolate.  As departure gets closer, I’d like to thank Russ Hopcroft, Seth Danielson, and Steffi O’Daly for their information and help in getting to and from Seward.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon and learning a lot from each of you!  Thanks also to Lisa Seff for her on board life hacks and detailed information…much appreciated!

Erica Marlaine: Introduction

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 24 -July 15, 2019


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: June 14, 2019

Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.

Erica holding a stuffed lamb
Me at the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by. 

little scientist
One of my little scientists
magnifying glasses
Checking the growth of our tadpoles.

Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)

When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship.  I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about.  Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.

When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock.  We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.